Some of my most vivid childhood memories involve foods. Ok, duh. A child spends a larger percentage of his life eating than an adult. Take little Mini-Mo, for example. At two months, he has a very small repertoire of things to dream about: eating, eliminating what he eats, smiling at Mommy and Daddy, playing with his rings, and staring at random weird family members. Aside from sleeping, most of his experience is with eating. That’s why when he sleeps, his mouth is either working to eat or pouting because he isn’t.
Anyway, my point is that food is a significant issue for a kid. Even bigger kids who have teeth and can actually chew. I have fond food memories of cornstarch pudding and peach tapioca. My mother can probably still quote the recipe for the 1-2-3-4 cake she used to make all the time. There are less fond memories: Dad forcing Eddy to eat his spinach (that did not go down well!); Mom lining up quarters on the dinner table for those who finished their liver (sorry, but even in 1966 twenty-five cents was not enough of a bribe to get me to eat liver).
Then there are weird food memories like sardine sandwiches. I have a very vivid memory when I was four or five years old of sitting at the table in the breakfast room eating a sardine sandwich. (I don’t know where my other three or four siblings were at the time, but clearly they were not of an age where they were invited to eat sardine sandwiches.) I was wearing a navy blue cardigan sweater and all the sardines slipped out of the bread. Just then my cousin Denise came over to our house and saw me with silver sardines sparkling all over my navy sweater. Years later, I wondered why I only remember sardine sandwiches from my early years. Mom said that she only craved sardine sandwiches when she was pregnant. Take a look at my Facebook photo and you can guess that my childhood was filled with sardine experiences. So, I don’t particularly care for sardines. I think I liked them ok as a child, but I associate them with that weird experience of the sardine sweater.
Another food that I don’t like is beets. Let me re-phrase that…another food that I don’t eat because of childhood associations is beets. My mom loves pickled beets. With cottage cheese. She ate beets a lot when I was a kid. She probably tried to get me to eat pickled beets with my sardine sandwich. (That is something a pregnant woman would do.) I just didn’t like them. They were too red and too pickly…but not in a good way like pickles. So fifty years later, I go around saying I don’t like beets.
But poor, long-suffering hubby John. He loves beets. He loves sardines, too, and I put tins of them in his Christmas stocking every year. Beets, however, don’t go in his Christmas stocking. One recent Saturday, the farmer’s market was offering free chiogga beets, so I took some. I told John he could cook them however he wanted and he could eat them all. He peeled and boiled them and seasoned them with salt, pepper, and some butter. They weren’t “beet red” because they were the candy-stripe variety. Contrary to my memory of beet-stained cottage cheese, these beets actually looked rather tasty on his plate, so I just had to have a taste. Well, maybe several tastes. They were sweet and earthy and yummy.
The next week at the farmer’s market, I actively sought out the beets and asked for help. It helped that the July 2011 issue of Bon Appetit was sitting open to a recipe for a raw chiogga beet and carrot slaw. Wow, the beets were even good raw. I made the slaw for our Fourth of July dinner and it was a hit.
And then there are the greens. You can eat them too, and we did. We sautéed some onion and garlic in a bit of bacon grease, added water, a blop of Maywood honey and some red pepper flakes to the skillet and tossed in the chopped greens to cook for about 10 minutes. At the end we added a bit of vinegar (I used tarragon because that’s what I usually put on kale). The greens tasted sweet like spinach but earthier. They taste like the beets. Huh, imagine that.
Last week, dining out in my hometown with my cousin Bill mere blocks from where I suffered sardine trauma, I actually ordered a roasted beet salad as my first course. They were red beets. The kind of beets my mother would want to put on her cottage cheese. I don’t think they were pickled, but they had a vinaigrette on them which accomplished a similar tangy effect. And I must say, it was delectable.
Bill, the younger of two, was not traumatized in his youth by pregnant mother food cravings, but he played it safe anyway with shrimp cocktail. I’m sure he has his own food traumas, a topic we can mull over when we next visit!