Last week in a frenzy of chopping stuff for homemade salsa, the bowl of our food processor broke. “What will we do,” we wailed. There was a mountain of peppers, onions and garlic left to pulverize and we had no food processor.
I thought back to my mother’s cooking which included neither a processor nor salsa.
Cooking these days barely resembles the preparation of food in my youth. For one thing, we didn’t have TV and therefore we had no Food Channel. My mother faithfully subscribed to Gourmet but there was no Bon Appetit, Cooking Light, and Real Simple magazines. Her cookbook collection consisted of Fannie Farmer and a first edition of Joy of Cooking.
Her gadgets were an electric egg beater and an ice cream maker (propelled by children). Her pans were cast iron; her pots were cast aluminum.
She could not buy cooking spray or semisweet chocolate. She used vegetables that were in season; probably never saw an avocado in her life. She peeled her vegetables with a non-stainless steel paring knife that knew how to hold an edge. If something called for cream, it came off the top of the bottle of pasteurized milk. She, I’m sure, never tasted yogurt, plain or otherwise, in her life.
Chicken was always purchased whole and the cook cut it up and skinned it. Buying hamburger with four different selections of fat content would have mystified her, I’m sure.
Crackers were either graham or saltine.
The vast cold cereal selection would not have presented a problem with her; she just forbade it. “Empty calories,” she grumbled disapprovingly eyeing other people’s grocery baskets. All hot cereal was acceptable and encouraged. “Sticks to your ribs,” she would announce. Soda was totally banned, as was chewing gum.
A friend once sent my parents a little wooden keg upon which was pasted a sign that read “Live Lobsters.” My older brother folded the label over so that it read “Liver,” prompting moans of “eeeyoooo!” from my dismayed siblings. And it was with good reason they feared; liver was a common staple in our house and unanimously despised by us all. The theory behind that tasty treat was that it was good for you and cheap. It could only be tolerated by being washed down with pounds of bacon. When I did the cooking I found the best way to disguise the taste of liver was to burn it.
And speaking of cholesterol, we had plenty of it. We ate real butter _ real as opposed to the vile margarine_ and made efficient use of any bacon fat saved from the forced liver meals. Hash-browned potatoes are nothing without bacon fat. We drank gallons of whole milk. Saturday morning breakfast, the special treat might be creamed salt pork, rendered chunks of pork fat in a cream sauce and served on toast. It was heaven!
Desserts were rare and not encouraged. That probably gave our hearts a break from the salt pork and butter abuse. If one questioned the lack of an after-dinner treat, one was encouraged to “have a nice apple.”
My mother would have been amazed at my spice rack, and probably envious of the jars of pre-chopped garlic in the fridge.
Cooking has been around for a while, but it’s a lot more fun these days. Gotta go pop a veggie burger in the microwave.