October 05, 2005


Those of you who read the essays on my main site have already been subjected to a large number of my memories of food from my childhood, so when Ana of Pumpkin Pie Bungalow tagged me to participate in the Five Childhood Food Memories meme, it took me a bit of head-scratching to come up with five that I haven't already blathered on about ad infinitum.

Here we go:

1) Topless Tarts. One Christmas, when I was about five or six, I was helping my mother bring out holiday goodies to our guests. After a long afternoon of baking, I was very pleased with the number of different items that we had created, and was proud to serve them up to company. The very last batch of mincemeat tarts were open-style, as we had used up all the pastry and didn't have time to make more. I blithely took a tray of them in and loudly offered all of our guests "topless tarts." My mother had to explain to me what all of the arched eyebrows and giggles were about, but I don't think the explanation really took hold until I was older. I managed to be mortified anyway.

2) Bread-bun crabs. I helped my mother bake bread as far back as I can remember, from the time when I thought that greasing up the loaf-pans, or fetching ingredients from the cupboards or storage room was a real privilege as opposed to a chore. If I had been good, I would get a small amount of risen dough, sliced evenly from the six loaves that she was shaping, to make a bun for dinner. The earliest buns were simple round affairs, where I would attempt to mimic the shaping and spanking procedure that my mother used to shape her bread. As I got more skilled at handling the dough, my buns became more and more elaborate, culminating in the crab, complete with dough pincers and little currants for eyes. After that one, every bun that I made was a crab.

3) Peeling potatoes. We were a decidedly meat-and-potatoes family, although I understand that the portions of meat that we ate in proportion to the vegetables, was considerably smaller than average. Potatoes were far and away the most common starch, to the point that one of us kids was usually deputized to peel them and put them on to boil. If for some reason, five o'clock had rolled around and mom wasn't back from whatever excursion she was on, one of us would inevitably get started on the potatoes to speed up the process of getting dinner ready for the moment when dad got home. We ate a LOT of potatoes. Mostly boiled, but sometimes mashed, scalloped or baked.

4) Writing it down. My mother often cooked her most common dishes from the top of her head, not needing to look at a recipe. Many of these dishes didn't have a recipe to begin with, and existed solely upstairs. In a fit of journalism or pragmatism, I can't recall which, I began writing down the recipes while my mother was making them - laboriously writing on little recipe cards. I was fanatical about amounts, because I didn't realize how unimportant they are outside of baking, and thus still have recipe cards that instruct me to use .580 kg of beef for baked spaghetti for six.

5) More jam. My dad was probably one of the biggest supporters in my learning how to cook, for one specific reason: Anything that I made, he ate without complaining, and said "thank you" when he had finished. Eventually, I began to judge the relative worth of different dishes by how he managed to eat them: straight up and quickly was a very good sign, more slowly, and with an abundance of condiments was a clue that I had gone wrong somewhere. I remember particularly when the light dawned on me. In a fit of "cooking healthy" I had made pancakes with neither salt nor sugar. Never in my life had I seen my dad put so much jam on a pancake, and gradually, the reason for it sank in. My respect for him rose even higher when I realized how many years he had been doing this. He only ever complimented the things that I had done very well but his stoic acceptance, even appreciation of the effort that went into the dishes that weren't so good is an enduring memory. To me, that showed a greater love than any unearned praise.

I guess it's my turn to tag someone, so I'm picking on Joe from Culinary in the Desert.


Ana said...

Dawna, I had a good chuckle reading these. I remember my grandmother cooking. She loved it and did not trust cooks but in my own house we always had a cook so I can't remember my mother cooking at all. I saw her baking and making dessert and actually, before I married, baking and desserts was all I knew how to make. Fortunately, my fiancée was oblivious to the shortcoming.

Amazing what spells love for a kid! I still remember vividly my father taking a whole tablespoonful of cod liver oil just to show my brother and me how easy it was to swallow. I must have been seven or eight at the time and, of course, we both loathed cod liver oil, of which we only needed to take a teaspoon a week. Bleh! The gelatine pills are so much easier.

Dawna said...

Heh, this may gross you out, Ana, but when I was a kid, I used to pop the gelatin capsules in my mouth. I didn't mind the oil at all! My siblings thought that this was abnormal and disgusting. Now, however, I can't imagine how I could stand it.

Templar said...

Happy Thanksgiving

Dawna said...

Thanks, Templar! Happy Thanksgiving to you and all the other Canadians out there!