Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Before I started on real food I was weaned on breastmilk and homemade babyfood. No bottles and Gerber for me or my sisters. I remember a little dolls' cutlery set made of tin and a cast iron pot with a real hinged handle that had a capacity of about 2 tablespoons. The first thing I remember "cooking" was a cheddar cheese soup. I was about 3 years old, so for me soup was a liquid first and foremost. I didn't understand about roux and heat, melting and simmering. Nor did I understand the concept of western esthetics and hygiene - I went about making my soup in the same fashion that chicha is made. I don't remember, but I am sure I enjoyed the finished product as much as my dolls did, if not more!

When I started going outside without supervision I used to treat my friends to mudpies made in my sand bucket. Even then I shopped for in season local produce, taking only the choicest freshly dug earth, making sure that there were no roots or stems or wriggling earthworms lurking at the bottom to make this less than palatable. I. would judiciously add water enough to make an emulsion and then I would whip the mixture vigorously with a twig broken from a maple tree. What resulted was almost a mousse that was smooth and light, with a froth on the top like the crema from a topnotch espresso .

From there I progressed to helping my mother in the kitchen, though I suspect I hindered more than I helped. But the memories are there of pricking her special Christmas shortbreads with an extra large fork, or buttering and flouring the pans for a cake. By the age of five I was a specialist in hamburger patty patting and corn shucking. I could also pour a beer with a two finger head on it, being extra careful to tilt the glass just so.

When I was a little older I was allowed to make supper once a week, choosing what we would eat. At the time (and even today when I am feeling particularly vulnerable) my favourite meal was roast chicken with roast potatoes, green peas and pan gravy. So every week that is what I made. No matter who was cooking, my mother, my sister or me, dinner always came with a big bowl of salad that always had carrot coins and green onions and a finely chopped hardboiled egg, sometimes it had leftover broccoli or raw cauliflower, sometimes tomatoes, sometimes corn.

My mom's salad dressing recipe was (and is) the simplest, tastiest dressing ever; and it is made directly on the salad, no faffing about with bottles or whisks. It is put on the salad in this order: salt and freshly ground pepper, oil – depending on whether it was for everyday, or for good, mom would use either corn oil or olive oil, but if it was for semi-good then it would be half-and-half, and Allen's salad vinegar (Heinz also does a salad vinegar, but I don't think it has the same flavour). The oil and vinegar was poured on to the count of seven (said not too fast, but not too slowly either, after all, you want dressing on your salad and not the other way 'round). Give the whole thing a toss, taste for seasoning and serve. That's the whole recipe, but don't forget about the chopped hardboiled egg, it "finishes" the dressing and is the final touch for the salad.

I did have a few (well, many) disasters, memorable among them was my steamed steak dinner with mashed potatoes. This is what happens when everybody is telling you to hurry up they are starving and you are about 7 and of course your head is not yet filled with useful bits of knowledge. I knew that you put the lid on a pot to make it boil quicker, so it made sense to me that if I put the lid on the pan where the steaks were busy sizzling away they would cook quicker too. Graciously, everyone ate their dinner. The steaks tasted ok, but were an appetizing shade of grey that nicely set off the bilious green of the Brussels sprouts and the creamy colour of the billowy clouds of lumpy mashed potatoes (the lumps were left in deliberately as my sister trained us all to like them that way). At least the salad had nothing anybody could complain about!.

1 comment:

burekaboy — said...

wow -- flashback to the past. that doll looks suspiciously like my sister's. is that miss raggedy? looks like you gave her a haircut.