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?


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10 responses

28 12 2010
Mike

Wendy-

This is a great list, but I think there are a couple of glaring omissions. 1- Waffles. Maybe it is because we had them on Sunday, but not only is Mom’s waffle iron the most amazingly perfect waffle iron (even after 40 years) there is nothing quite like the sweet mix of homemade raspberry jam, butter and whipped cream. And 2- homemade candy. Toffee, caramels (licorice and cinnamon especially) are as much a part of Christmas as the tree.

Additionally, I have made many converts to sugar on pancakes. And after looking at a bottle of Aunt Jemima this morning, I think is it probably more healthy for you to put on sugar and butter. Sandi is also a convert to honey toast (I mean, how could you not?) but she still prefers packet gravy. And I think she’s crazy.

Thanks for the list. I hope you were able to put your Chicago Manuel of Style to good use.

28 12 2010
Mike

Oh, and I’m pretty sure it’s just “cube steak.”

28 12 2010
Dina

As one of “the people” you eat Thanksgiving dinner with, I look forward to those orange rolls all year! You make a mean orange roll.

I have one for your list. You eat pancakes that aren’t cooked all the way.

Our Sunday lunch tradition was always fried eggs, bacon, toast and orange juice. It was the only day we had any of these things (including juice) and the only juice I had until moving to college. I had never had a glass of apple or grape juice until I was a freshman! I thought the dorm was delightful. I still can’t eat eggs without oj. They don’t taste right with milk. I have no idea what we ate for Sunday dinner–not a tradition.

We ate chocolate Malt-O-Meal every morning for breakfast because it was “hot” and “healthy.” Hmmm, really? I do still like that even though I can only buy it in Rexburg when I’m there. I didnt’ try oatmeal until after I was married.

I had a best friend like yours that had food that was different from my house and I LOVED certain things. They had Wonder bread. All we ever had was Home Pride wheat. They had SODA. We only had milk and water. They had CHIPS OF DIFFERENT VARIETIES. Every once in awhile my mom would buy plain potato chips. They had FROZEN PIZZA. Every once in a while we went out to a favorite pizza place, but no pizza at home. They had KRAFT mac and cheese (back in the day when it really had cheese in it and tasted good). We had noodles with Velveeta sauce. I still like that, but my kids, not so much.

We only ate canned fruits and vegetables. I can’t eat them anymore. Bleck. I never want to look at a light green pea as long as I live.

For leftover roasts, my mom warmed up the gravy in a saucepan with all the leftover bitesizes pieces of meat and poured it over a piece of bread. Like chipped beef, but with bigger hunks of meat. I still LOVE that, but I dont’ make a gravy very often. Or a roast.

My mom worked every Saturday when I was growing up, so my dad, who couldn’t cook worth a darn, was in charge of lunch. We alternated between canned corned beef hash warmed up–eaten straight–and slices of spam fried in a pan. Now there’s some good cookin’.

Every Christmas my mom made batches and batches of fudge and we delivered it in tin foil. 🙂 Still have to make fudge at Christmas. Another thing we did was buy whole nuts and crack them and eat them. My kids don’t see the enjoyment in this.

Oh! I almost forgot a great one! My parents got a gas BBQ grill when I was somewhere around 8-10. My dad would grill chicken breasts (with the skin on) with no seasoning until it was burned black. When you ate it, you peeled off the skin and ate the juicy meat inside. I thought that’s what a grill was for. I had no idea how versatile it was and that you didn’t have to burn it black. 🙂

Every family sure has it’s own food culture! (Just ask Robert!)

29 12 2010
Wendy

Mike–You’re right; waffles should be on there. I’ll go and edit. As for the other, I think Part 2 is going to deal specifically with holidays.

Dina–I totally forgot about the raw pancake thing. I haven’t had one of those in forever. Actually, you have to be in the right mood, because presently the idea makes me gag a tiny bit.

I loved reading about your family food culture (and singing the “Home Pride, butter-topped wheat, it’s the goodness of whole grain and honey so sweet” song). And we used to do the leftover-gravy-and-roast on toast thing, too. Thanks for sharing!

29 12 2010
HBA

Thinking about my family food culture, I think more of things we didn’t have. I was at least 8 or 9 when we were being babysat by my aunt & uncle and I found out you could call the pizza store and they would make the kind you asked for and bring it right to your house! I also tried spaghetti-Os, bologna, (and a few other mysteries that pass for “food”) for the first time when I started babysitting. I’m grateful my mom usually brought me a plate of our family dinner. I don’t remember many specific items, but I liked my mom’s cooking.

By the time I left for college, my mom baked 15 loaves of bread a week. We loved it! She usually gave a few to neighbors and our family ate all the rest. Warm bread with homemade jam can’t be beat. Oh, and she didn’t have a Bosch.

29 12 2010
Monique

Ugh you’ve re-traumatized me. I am first generation American so my family ate, what at the time, would have been considered “ethnic” food. We’re French. So our fare consisted of ox tail soup ( yes they use REAL ox tails), blood sausage, blood pudding and lots and lots of rabbit. Occasionally, for extra special holidays and what not, we’d have lamb. My grandma made the best fish on the face of this planet. I didn’t even like fish but I happily ate it when she was cooking. As for the rest of it, I haven’t touched it since the “your not leaving this table till your finished” threat was effective. Bleah!

31 12 2010
Mrs. Olsen

Ha ha! That post was a while back. Mrs. Archibald definitely is legend for those orange rolls, choco chip cookies, and my favorite licorice and cinnamon caramels. Yum!

Makes you wonder what food culture your kids will remember huh? It’s been a while since I pulled out saltines with cheese and sweet relish…but I’m totally craving it now. Happy New Year!

31 12 2010
Niki

Oh man, I was laughing SO hard about my dad’s beet-red teeth and evil laugh. He had no idea how terrifying he could have been perceived by 2 1/2 feet tall little blondies.
I was definitely also thinking about the caramels. That was my favorite thing that your mom made by FAR!! I’m glad you’ve carried on the orange rolls tradition. AND the butter/sugar on syrup is definitely ARCHIBALD and I still do it! BUT HOLD the phone I never had those waffles and I’m feeling like I was ripped off because I KNOW I would have remembered them.
So, what is your children’s family food culture Wendy? This has made me think that I want to be more like our moms and create these memories for my children.

1 01 2011
Tami

Loved this post! Might do one of my own like it someday!

2 01 2011
Kathleen

Oh, waffles, yum. I remember going and picking fresh raspberries from your garden for breakfast. I should not have read this while fasting! It made me drool and cry at the same time. I remember some if the wonderful things my mom made when I was really young. Then Lori brought a bunch of new culture. Plus every summer trip to
Idaho and all the food at our reunions, you could do an entire post of big ball reunion goodies!
This post makes me want to go bake some bread. And eat some ritz with cheddar and pickles (I still remember when you fed me it, i was like ewww, wait this is good. I still crave it every
so often).

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