Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Your Typical Family Dish?

I am reading 97 Orchard Street for my book group and enjoying it quite a bit. It looks at five waves of immigrants (German, Irish, Eastern European Jews, Italians, that came to inhabit this address on the lower east side of New York (where the East Side Tenement Museum now sits). And it is worth a visit if you're nearby. (You can even take a virtual tour online).
And most especially, the books deals with their cuisine. Amazing how much work dishes that looked simple entailed from the recipes included.

I finally have a reason for the dull cuisine I was brought up on. The Irish truly had no foods to work with in inventing their cuisine. And once the potato famine hit, things got worse. My mother's maternal ancestors were Irish, English, Scottish and Welsh. The only spices or condiments really in our cupboard was salt, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg (for holidays). There might have been some garlic salt. Our typical dinner was a piece of meat, a potato and a frozen vegetable swimming in butter. Dessert, which we always had, was pudding or canned fruit.

Although my maternal grandfather was German, the only salute to that was sauerkraut on occasion.

My father's family was also German and what a treat it was to go to their house for a meal.

What was the typical meal from your childhood? And what ethnic group did it come from?


Anonymous said...

Patti - You're right I think that ethnicity has a lot to do with the foods we remember from our childhoods. I have to say, though, that my family didn't do a lot of strictly ethnic cooking. I wonder if I missed out...

Charles Gramlich said...

I grew up with a fair amount of German cuisine, and the other type of stuff my mom invented herself, like our type of goulash. She didn't use a lot of spices either but I sure did like her cooking anyway.

Anonymous said...

We had pretty plain cooking when we were kids, only partly because I was an incredibly picky eater. We had roast beef, post roast, turkey and fish sticks (my father didn't do fish then).

Of course, we also had liver and onions and tongue.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Meat was certainly the main thing, wasn't it. I remember eating Mrs. Paul's Fishsticks every Friday even though we weren't Catholic.

Dana King said...

Meat (or chicken), potatoes, and a vegetable. Spaghetti on Thursdays and macaroni on Fridays. Both my parents worked (Dad usually during the day and Mom at night) so she always made something we could either finish or heat up without too much trouble.

As for ethnicity, my ancestors were thrown out of every self-respecting country in Northern Europe. (England, Ireland, Wales, Germany.) I developed my interest in some ethnic foods after I moved away and couldn't take them for granted anymore.

pattinase (abbott) said...

We would strangely have spaghetti (canned sauce) with a hamburger (or meat patty as Mom called it) and peas. There was no sense we were eating an ethnic food. Just an alternate starch. When Mrs. Murphy down the street had me over for dinner and I tasted real meat sauce, I was in heaven.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Shepards Pie, American Chop Suey, and lots of variations of beef. Always fish on Friday's during Lent.

pattinase (abbott) said...

That's quite a combo, Sean. We could never eat anything where food was mixed together because my father didn't like it. Hence no stews or such. Even in a Chinese restaurant, he ate ribs and told them to hold the rice.

Anonymous said...

We ate a lot of canned stuff - not just vegetables (which were mostly awful) but also Chef Boyardee Ravioli and Beefaroni.

Jeff M.

Rob Kitchin said...

My mother told a story at the weekend that my brother once told visitors that it was great that they'd come as it was the only time we got food. We seemed to have a pattern, with fish on one day, chicken on another, spagetti bolagnaise on another. The deal was my mum cooked, we took turns to wash-up.

Anonymous said...

I have an English-Canadian ethic background. What I remember is on Monday through Friday a lot of casseroles, pasta dishes like spaghetti, chicken and noodles, enchilada casserole, beef stroganoff, beef and broccoli,stews, home made soups, these served with salad and a veggie unless the veggie was in the main dish. We never had seafood, my mother was allergic to all forms of it. About four times a year my Dad would take my brother and I out to a seafood restaurant, that was a big deal. On weekends, we'd have pot roast, roasted or fried chicken, leg of lamp, ham, pork chops, meat loaf. We lived in Southern California so there were a lot of fresh veggies and fruits.

Breakfast was hot or cold cereal, eggs or, on Saturday, pancakes. Lunch was a sandwich: peanut butter (no jelly!!), ground ham, bologna, leftover meat loaf or chicken, egg salad, once in a while a hot dog.

For really special occasions, in summer there was grilled steak or chicken, and of course the Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas roast beef.

My mother baked pies and made cakes from scratch, same with cookies, and we had fruit desserts like strawberry shortcake and peaches and homemade ice cream. Gotta stop, I'm getting hungry...

pattinase (abbott) said...

Wow! No wonder you like to cook!

pattinase (abbott) said...

My kids did the cleanup too. I used to read books to them while they did--ones I thought they had overlooked. Neither had much appetite for fantasy and since I thought I had missed out on that, I read mostly fantasy.

Todd Mason said...

Hmm. Reads like your childhood household culinary blandness was driven perhaps even more by your father's eccentricity (and perhaps your mother's nonchalance) than by anything ethnic.

As with Rick, my parents have both been excellent cooks, and while my mother is Italian/Cherokee/Irish and my father is English/Canadian French/Scottish/German/Mohawk, I most loved the stroganoff (on rice), chili and tacos we'd have (not in the same meal), was a little soft on the spaghetti (but liked the lasagna more) since we had it so often (both my folks were fiends for spaghetti, and I'm certainly spoiled for any restaurant spaghet' one gets what the locals love to call the gravy right)(jar sauces of a certain standard can be forgiven for costing a fraction as much...pretentious expensive jar sauces get a stern going-over). I went lacto-ovo-veg in 1989, but since I started broiling my own steaks at about age 10, apparently Alice and her omnivorous friends still find my occasional broiling more to taste than their own, much less what (again) most restaurants put the poor seared flesh through.

As it's usually given in English:

What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child? ~Lin Yutang

Yvette said...

We come from good Puerto Rican peasant stock. :)

I grew up eating a lot of wonderful food my mother learned to cook as a young girl.

Lots of platanos (look like bananas but taste bitter raw), yautia (spelling it phonetically because I simply don't remember) - a kind of potatoey vegetable but different), yucca, occasionally codfish, all liberally sprinkled with olive oil. The dish was called 'vianda'. Still my favorite meal though I don't make it anymore myself. I can't do it as well as my mom and she's gone.

She made potato pie layered with sauteed beef and baked in the oven.

She made empanadillas.

Once in a while she made the best beef roast.

Let's just say this: we didn't have a lot of money, but we ate well.

I surely do miss dinners at my mom's.

Charlieopera said...

My old man was brought up on the lower east side and before Pitkin Avenue (Brooklyn) became a second Orchard Street (for wholesalers), he'd take us there for cheap clothes.

Our menu was the same certain days of the week growing up: Mondays was leftover from Sunday (which was always pasta and meatballs/sausage); Tuesdays was pasta fagioli (beans and pasta or pasta fazeal (peas and pasta); Thursdays was veal cutlets (my old man's choice). Friday was "no meat" back in the day (pizza or fish).

These days my wife and I eat Mexican every Friday night and I'll cook gravey (sauce to yous nons) Saturday night for Sunday.

Ron Scheer said...

My German grandmother made something called "hans" which I believe were big dumplings. Her daughters were very modern and never learned to make them. So my grandmother took hans with her. I'd love to have some again.

Jerry House said...

I grew up on a small New England farm and we ate what was in season. Since the only crop my father grew was corn, our choices were limited. The corn on the cob was great, but my mother used to make a corn cassarole that I remember was hideous; I would smother that sucker with ketchup in an attempt to get it down. My memory is that we had that cassarole every blessed night of my childhood; my mother firmly insisted that we only had it on occassion.

Meat was usually served well-cooked -- you can go wrong if your food is gray. Toast was also burnt but (as I was told repeatedly) carbon is good for your digestion. Oh, did I mention the daily dose of cod liver oil?

The wife of a neighboring farmer grew strawberries for her pin money. When they were in season, we would feast on strawberry shortcake every night, on baking soda biscuits with a dollop of real cream.

My mother was great at desserts. Pineapple upsidedown cake, rich chocolate cake, sour cream cake, and the best apple pie this side of my wife's.

At least once a summer, we'd go to Kimball Farms and each of us would get the world's biggest and best banana split.

Kitty's mother was also a true phenomenon in the kitchen. For breakfast, she would pour out ceral into bowls, then add milk, then sit down and have a cigarette, then call the kids to a breakfast of very soggy cereal. For school lunch it was balogna sandwiches smothered in ketchup; by the time lunch came around, the bread was just one big red soggy mess. (Soggy seemed to be her basic cuisine.) Kitty's father was a meat and potatoes man, so supper was usually edible. He was also ex-Navy and forbade "that stuff on a shingle" in his house.

When I met Kitty, she made a killer grilled cheese sandwich, something I considered an exotic meal.

Todd Mason said...

Of course, Lin Yutang probably gave it that way in English himself, as I should've remembered.

Hey, when my folks didn't feel like springing for the extra expense of steak for stroganoff, we often had a pretty darn good hamburger SOS, sometimes on biscuits (which make everything better). Geez louise, I can rarely remember suffering at the table, and when I had to shift for myself, that was fine, too, as long as we at least had, say, clam chowder in the red & white cans or such similar modest resort.

Anonymous said...

Our usual meal went something like hamburger patties, canned string beans and mashed potatoes.
My grandfather was from Cornwall, and on occasion my grandmother would make pasties. Now that was a treat!
Fun reading everyone's memories.

pattinase (abbott) said...

We would do our own cookbook which would vary from adventurous exotic cuisine to canned beans and bologna.

Deb said...

We're English/Scots/Irish with a dash of Jewish thrown in from a great-great-grandmama (whose family quickly assimilated and threw out any ethnic associations--including their surname--unfortunately). My mother is a wonderful woman, but she'd be the first to tell you that she's not a good cook (doesn't like to cook and doesn't do it much now that her children are grown and she and my father are in their golden years) and her kids would be the second ones. Growing up our food was pretty bland and fairly standard. My Dad cooked Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys (using lots of sage--the smell of sage still conjures up memories of holidays for me). It wasn't until I finished college and moved out on my own (30 years ago) that I started cooking myself. I remember the sense of accomplishment when I made my first omlette. Unlike mom, I love to cook and try new recipes. Unlike mom, I also have access to a lot of the ingredients and produces and spices that simply weren't available in small communities in the 1970s.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sounds a lot like my story--except I never came to love to cook either. I am proficient if not enamored. My husband is the cook.

kathy d. said...

My mother, being of Eastern European heritage, made very good potato pancakes. She cooked many main dishes very well, especially macaroni and cheese and fried potatoes -- actually, anything with potatoes, her favorite food.

I have no complaints about her cooking, except I was well into adulthood when I realized that vegetables did not have to be overcooked.

My father, of Irish ancestry, made great scrambled eggs, kidney and bacon on Sunday mornings. He also made sure that there was mince pie on holidays, and plum pudding with hard sauce. (Yes, we all liked sweets and bad teeth to go with that.)

And my father spoiled me with his fantastic giblet gravy. I've never had gravy as good as that, so I gave up eating it years ago.

Everyone liked good bread and butter so that was always available.

pattinase (abbott) said...

My grandmother made giblet gravy although I never acquired the taste for any organ meat. Everyone else raved about it. Our potatoes were baked, mashed or fried. No macaroni and cheese that I remember.