Family Food Culture, Part 1

28 12 2010

I’m not sure who coined the phrase ‘Family Food Culture,’ but I’m all for giving props to Mrs. Olsen because that’s where I first heard it. I grew up next door to Mrs. Olsen on Apache Avenue, and if you search her archives you will find some mention of the various forms of torture she performed on her sweet younger sister and her darling friend (that’s me).

Anyway, in one of her posts she talked about the family food culture she had growing up, and the family food culture she has now. It got me thinking. What specific things are a part of my family food culture? What was my family food culture growing up? What is my family food culture now? What affects family food culture? As you can clearly see, I find the whole subject fascinating.

Perhaps it’s because I read Mrs. Olsen’s post knowing–better than pretty much anyone outside of her own family–what her growing up family food culture was like. We were next-door neighbors, her sister was my best friend–we knew each other’s houses as we knew our own. There were certain Anderson things–food things–that I really liked, but we didn’t do them at our house. One of my favorites was crackers, cheese, and sweet pickle relish. I still eat that, but I didn’t learn it at home. I never knew the glory of dipping buttered toast in hot cocoa before Niki taught it to me. And Mrs. Anderson made this carrot-hamburger soup that would simmer all day long. It was delicious. My brain can still smell it.

Of course, I also remember the time Mr. Anderson (who, even now, dwarfs me, but was basically a giant when I was 2 1/2 feet tall) had just eaten beets. He laughed a sort of evil laugh, opened his eyes really wide, and grinned. His teeth were red from the beets, and it really freaked me out. (I still have never eaten beets.)

It’s interesting to remember how definite things were in childhood. Roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, and rolls for Sunday dinner were as solid and immovable as truth, justice, and the American way. It simply was. I didn’t know there was an option for eating something else on Sundays; who would want it, anyway?

As I’ve aged, moved away, and had to myself cook on Sundays, I can tell you my children don’t have that immovable truth, justice, and all that jazz on Sunday afternoons. Their mother is generally so wiped out from surviving church and choir practice they get stuck with leftovers. Or even–gasp!–cold cereal. (In my defense, the one who chooses to eat cold cereal is the one who really likes cold cereal.)

I digress. This isn’t a self-incrimination session, simply a look at food: what I grew up with, what I do now, and why.

Since reading Mrs. Olsen’s post on the subject so long ago (I’m pretty sure it’s been at least a year), I’ve started wondering about it. What did I grow up with as an “Archibald thing?” I’ve thought of a few oddities that I didn’t know were odd at the time.

  • Sugar on pancakes. Instead of syrup, we’d drown our pancakes in melted butter and then shake on the sugar. They’d blend together to form a heavenly butter/sugar crust. WAY better than syrup if you ask me. This is still part of my food culture.
  • Frizzly Dicks. I think this came from my dad’s family, or the name did. When you have leftover buns that start to get stale, butter them and stick them under the broiler until nice and frizzled. I still make these, although my kids don’t love them as much as I do. And I stopped using the cool name after one of my sisters-in-law pointed out that, well, “frizzly dicks” is easily (and unfortunately) misconstrued.
  • Honey toast. Here’s what you do: make toast. Slather on butter and honey (preferably the really thick, creamy kind from Cox’s), sprinkle with straight cinnamon, and broil until bubbly. This was a ‘special treat’ when we were kids, and my mom would cut each piece into four squares. Even as adults, we refuse to eat it unless it is cut in four. This is still a special treat at Grandma’s; I don’t think I’ve ever made it.
  • Orange rolls. My mom makes the best orange rolls ever. I make them once a year, for Thanksgiving, and can never get them quite as good as hers. (Perhaps if I practiced more often?) However, I’m always comforted by the fact that the people I eat Thanksgiving dinner with haven’t tasted hers. I’m safe for now.
  • Lamb. My mom’s family have always had sheep, and so we absolutely followed the “eat lamb, wear wool” adage at our house. I haven’t kept this up in my own family food culture because, shoot–lamb is expensive. And delicious. I ordered lamb at a restaurant once and was sorely disappointed; they just didn’t make it right. And the crazy mint sauce they had with it made completely no sense to my down-home taste buds. Good gravy, my mom makes good gravy!
  • That can be its own bullet point: GRAVY! There is an art in making gravy, and my mom definitely has it.
  • Homemade white bread. One of the sounds of my childhood is the distinct thwap the dough would make as my mom slapped it to make sure all the bubbles were out.
  • Cookies. I could write an entire chapter on cookies. Chocolate chip. Cream wafers. Sugar cookies. Snickerdoodles. Gingersnaps. Oatmeal. I took for granted that all moms knew how to make cookies. It was just something moms did, like hanging clothes on the line and baking bread and putting patches in the knees of your pants when they got holey. (Mom, have I thanked you lately?)
  • Waffles. I know lots of people eat waffles, but on special days we would eat them with melted butter (filling up every square), homemade raspberry jam, and whipped cream. Heaven on a plate.

I could probably go on. Hamburger rolls. Meatloaf. Cubed steak (or is it cube steak?). No-peeky chicken. Potatoes, potatoes, potatoes. Enough about me, though. What was unique to your food culture growing up?