Jun 15th, 2010

American Pie

Over in Ravelry the other day, someone started a thread about food memories. Here are mine…

One of my earliest memories at all is sitting in my high chair, and my mother (who was left handed) feeding me. I didn’t like the direction the food came from, and took the spoon from her hand, dumped the food out, refilled the spoon and announced “SELF”. The number of jokes in my family about how the twig is bent, yadda yadda yadda….

I remember being about 5, and my mother took me to see my Grandma D* in the big house on the river. She had made potato pierogi, and Mom was going to pick some up for us. She asked me to come in, but I didn’t want to get out of the car (tiny town in 1959, it’s ok to leave a child in an open car on the street). So she came back out and stuck this pasty, white thing through the window and said, “Try this” and before I could clamp my mouth shut or turn away, I had had my first taste of Grandma D*’s legendary pierogi. Mummy had to go back and get more. I still wish I could duplicate her recipe.

My father could only make one dish: fried kippers and onions. He’d make them on Sunday mornings for us. My mother found the smell repellent and would gag, but my brother and I adored them. Stinky, salty fish and almost burnt onions. Served for breakfast with garlic toast. When he was dying, he still insisted on making them for us when I would go to visit him. Only Star ever loved them like I did, and she’s Swedish.

My Grandma K* made rice pudding. Not all soft, and fluffy, but baked in a casserole, with a sort of layer of custard on top, and cinnamon, lemon zest and raisins all baked in. That I can duplicate.

And of course, the raspberries. My K* grandparents had a summer home in Newport, RI, and the whole length of their back yard had a double row of raspberry canes. We’d go out first thing in the morning, and pick all the ripe ones, and still have enough for Grandma to make jam. Then we’d go out in the late afternoon, and eat all the ones that had ripened during the heat of the day. Also in Newport, Grandpa would take my brother and me for a walk in the morning before the fog/mist burned off. We’d pick wild mushrooms, and Grandma would fry them up in butter for breakfast.

Other memories: the old Korean gentleman who had an Asian vegetable farm in the glades and would come to the store with a box of samples for my family. Yard long beans, and cukes and chinese cabbage. My uncle, who was a produce shipper would come from the glades with sugar cane. We could just strip off the outer peel and chew the canes. Sitting in my Grandpa A*’s lap in his packing house, watching the oranges get packed into crates. My father cutting a cone-shaped plug out of the stem end of the orange, so I could suck the juice. Picking Surinam cherries off the hedges and eating them. Climbing in the mulberry tree, and picking enough that I could eat them to my fill and still have enough for Mummy to make a pie. Daddy opening coconuts with a machete. Sitting double, bareback on the SisterGirlFriendGirl’s horse, so we could reach the REALLY big kumquats on the tree in her front yard.

There was an A&W drive-in in my hometown (the only fast food shop in the whole town, BTW) and it was always a huge treat to go there and get a baby burger. They had momma burgers, daddy burgers and baby burgers. And waitresses who’d hang a tray on the car window.

Learning to swim at the pool at the Anchorage Hotel, and the coke machine (cost a dime and you could watch the bottle roll down the ramp) had banana soda. Bright yellow, tasted like banana popsicles only carbonated. I LOVED it. Haven’t seen it in 45 years, but recently someone brought in soda from Haiti and it was that: banana soda.

Every year, when my grandparents returned from RI, they would drive home with bushels of apples from their backyard trees. And jars and jars of Grandma’s raspberry jam.

Driving up to RI, we stopped for lunch on the first day at Cape Canaveral, at a pavillion on the St. John’s River. We’d have hard boiled eggs, and my mother would have put salt into a little twist of waxed paper for us to put on the eggs.

Then, later, when we drove through Georgia, we would buy fresh peaches from the side of the road. They had the thickest velvet on their skins. You had to rub it off on a napkin to be able to eat them.

My dad showing me how to pull a heart of palm from a young palmetto and eating it. Then trimming a bigger frond to a point to stick hotdogs on and roast over the camp fire.

Eating the following fresh from the tree: loquats, kumquats, mangos, oranges, calamondins, mulberries, lychees, avocados. Eating fresh smoked king fish.

The day I learned “tongue” at the deli was exactly what it sounded like, and it wasn’t Yiddish for something else.

And buying fresh garden peas, and sitting on the floor in front of the tv shelling them into a colander. And eating them by the handful, raw.

Going to the cranberry bogs in Massachusetts. AND OMG!!! the pecan rolls at the Stuckey’s on the highway.

How about you? What are your early food memories?