Thursday, August 25, 2005

I've been tagged for a meme! I'm a real blogger!

This is very exciting. I've actually been tagged for a meme, like the real bloggers. Thanks, Haverchuk!

(My first link, too.)

Okay, I'm supposed to come up with five childhood food memories. Forgive my longwindedness. Here goes:

1) Blackberry picking. In my adulthood, I have come to understand that not everyone considers berry-picking a basic family activity, like going to the beach. But my mother grew up on a farm, and my father could never resist anything free, so beryy-picking was a big thing for my family.

Our mainstay, berrywise, was blackberries. A small patch of blackberries grew behind my grandmother's house, so we could always get a few there, but the serious picking happened on state land under the pylons. We were suburbanites to the core, but we always knew which little patches of public land held blackberries. To protect from scratches, we would dress in jeans and flannel shirts despite the heat of summer, and we would spend hours picking bucketsful of berries, which my mother would make into jam and pies. The best and biggest blackberries, as any picker knows, grow deep in the brambles. After getting covered in scratches maneuvering to the center of the patch, I would be rewarded with perfect berries hot from the sun. One day we picked 18 gallons.

I live in the city now, and I can't bring myself to pay 4 dollars for a tiny box of flavorless blackberries, so I lead a sad, berry-free life.

2) Grandma W.'s biscuits. Grandma W. wasn't much of a cook. She served the same meal for pretty much every Sunday dinner - eihter roast beef or ham, with green beans, potatoes (usually scalloped), piccalilli, a simple salad of lettuce and tomato, and biscuits, with very dry brownies and coffee ice cream for dessert. Not a bad meal, and not badly prepared except for the brownies, but joylessly unchanging and served in neat, somewhat stingy portions. But those biscuits represented my Platonic ideal of biscuit. Not the high, fluffy biscuits promised by many recipes, these were almost dense and very flaky. The closest I've come to matching them has been with the recipe on the back of the Bakewell cream can. In her later years, she would give me some of the leftovers to have the next day, and I would eat them the next day with slices of cheddar cheese and butter.

3) If I have a Grandma W. memory, I should really have a Grandma J. memory, because that woman could really cook. I found out after she died that she had worked as a cook for the Mayor of Lowell in her younger years. Meals at her house were the polar opposite of Grandma W.'s - piles of food, sometimes two types of roast, all sorts of vegetables from her big garden, lots of the quickbreads the New England cook adore, big unfrosted sheet cakes, handsome pies. Her cooking was simple, in the Yankee/Canadian maritime tradition. But it was all good.

My strongest recollection of food from her house, though, is not the food itself, but the smell. My grandfather believed in a real breakfast of eggs and bacon and toast. (Cereal was a addition, not a replacement, and it was served with cream, not milk.) I can't imagine that the coffee was very good, because she sometimes used a percolater and sometimes boiled the coffee in an open pot, cowboy style, with an eggshell. Those methods, bad as they may have been for the coffee, make the whole house smell wonderful. Add in the smell of bacon. Then add a touch of the sawdust smell from my grandfather's basement workroom. I come upon that particular combination of smells sometimes, particularly in country stores that serve breakfast, and it always makes me feel seven years old.

4) God, I hope my mother never reads this. My mother is, well, a terrible cook. So any honest list of memories from my childhood has to include something borderline inedible. I guess the most appropriate choice would be liver. My mother believed firmly that children needed liver at least once a month for iron. She cooked liver like she cooked steak - a little water in the frying pan to keep the meat from sticking, then a nice long cook on each side, until the meat was gray all through. Note: no oil, no seasonings. I think that the liver was often served with onions, and I'm not sure how she made those. Also steamed? Or did she pull out the rarely used bottle of Crisco oil? At any rate, the kids weren't required to eat the onions, but we did have to eat our liver. I haven't touched it in years, though I love pate and liverwurst. I just shudder to remember liver night.

5) Baking. My mother was a much better baker than she was a cook, and she was very good about teaching me how to read recipes, measure, and so on. She was allowed me full freedom in the kitchen from a very young age, for which I am deeply grateful. My failures made the strongest memories, not surprisingly - blackened cream puffs that didn't puff, a tragic attempt to make fondant, and the Baked Alaska I tried to make on a very hot day that my family called "Baked Disaster." But I had successes, too, and I loved the process of baking, putting on the apron, finding a recipe in Fannie Farmer, measuring the flour, mixing the batter. If I had to pick a single dish as a locus of memory, I would choose gingerbread, which I made often and still do and which feels more comforting than any other food.

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