KITCHEN TABLE MEMORIES

RECOLLECTED BY
INKY RETIRED-FRIENDS

The original thread to this dialogue seems to be lost. We were originally discussing our adult children (we think) – and took a right turn into Kitchen Table Memories.

Rosie’s email:
“Sandy wrote: when my younger brother Bill would always spill his milk”–
This brought a smile to my face, because when we’d all sit around the kitchen table for supper (and we all sat in the same spot every single night for all the years we were at home and even when we left and would come back home to visit, we still took our old spot at the table!), there would ALWAYS be one kid every single evening who would spill their milk or water, and we’d listen to Dad give the same speech about how he wished, just one night at the supper table, he (note that he said HE and not WE) could eat his meal without having a mess on the table from a spilled glass of milk (or water). Every night he’d make that speech (or he’d make the speech to Mom that he worked hard for a living and by God, just once, JUST ONCE he’d like to have a decent piece of meat that wasn’t like shoe leather when he tried to chew it!) More than once he’d shove his plate back and get up and leave the table. (well, okay, so Mom really wasn’t a good cook and we laugh about all this now but back then, we were all kinda hoping Dad would make that particular speech because then we’d reach for his plate and finish off whatever was left! I always thought Mom never ate meat so Dad could have 2 pieces of meat (heck, he didn’t even want one most of the time!) and us kids would get 1 but maybe she knew more than we did about her ability to cook meat, huh? 🙂 I always thought Mom was a vegetarian by choice and it wasn’t until I left home that I realized why she never took any meat. Times were really tight in our household.

Sandy’s email:
Makes me smile, too Rosie -WE all always sat in the same chairs too. Mine was on my mother’s right (she was at one end of the table and my father at the other) – I was to her right because I was the leftie in the family. Bill sat across from me – so the spilt milk went in mom’s direction -until they decided NOTHING to drink at the table. My parents drank coffee with dinner with EVAPORATED milk in it. Years later I was out of milk once and tried some evaporated…ew, ew! Why did we think that was any good?

And my sister Becky always maintained that none of us got anything except the bones from the pork chops and dad got all the meat. I do know my mother used so much bread in meatloaf and hamburgers, none of us had any idea what ground beef really tasted like until Frisch’s came along with their double patty hamburgers (no McDonalds yet) -on Friday nights we almost always had salmon patties….I’m baffled how my mother fed seven of us on one can of salmon -when I make them for US – I like to use two large cans of salmon + 1 sleeve of crackers – a lot of onion, dill, some egg – I make a bunch because Bob & I will both eat them cold for days. (Truthfully, I have spent my entire adult life cooking way too much of everything, as if to make up for never feeling like there was enough when we were kids…and our pantry is always stocked to overflowing)

The first dinner I cooked by myself (my parents were going out) was salmon patties, mac & cheese, cottage cheese and maybe…peas or spinach. As my parents were leaving, one of my brothers whined, “do we really have to eat this meal?” to which my father shook his finger at them and said “every bite!” I was 11 or 12. They ate their dinner and then of one accord, stood up, clutched their stomachs, moaned and fell on the floor. I either cried or kicked them, or both. (They love to tell that story).

And speaking of salmon patties…Bob & I used to have a little Chinook camper–just one step above tent camping -and we had driven all the way up the coast to Point Arena. Got there on a cold foggy night…I began making dinner for us -salmon patties and mac and cheese…and peas…when the propane gave out. The salmon patties were done enough but the mac and cheese was somewhat … al dente.

But ever since (and this was in the 80s) whenever I make salmon patties, Bob will say “this is good but you know what was really GREAT? Remember the time you made salmon patties at Point Arena?”… So I guess it wasn’t the food so much as -the surroundings. That was one of our best trips together (another was Hawaii).

MY mother was not all that good of a cook, either – but we were a hungry bunch and ate everything on the table, regardless – unless it was something one of us didn’t like (and then there were plenty of other takers for your dinner) – my mother cooked everything to death. Rice was as thick as library paste (I grew up believing I hated rice until I began to discover REAL RICE dishes in California. I hated rabbit – but the rabbit we always had was hasenpfeffer, soaked for 3 days in vinegar and spices. ugh, ugh. I’d get a sinking feeling as soon I walked in the door and smelled it. ew, ew. Becky hated lima beans and I also hated my mother’s boiled cabbage (she started cooking it at 9 am for 6 pm dinner). it was … to my mind…slime. (I love corned beef and cabbage today). I could go on and on…I have a lot of stories about my mother’s cooking. But years later, when she told me she had $10 a week to feed 7 of us during and after the War – I realized she was doing the best she could with what she had. And we had to sit at the table until we ate what was on our plates. Biff was the smart one – if he knew we were having something he didn’t like, he’d come home late for dinner and get sent to bed without eating. (I would sneak food up to him; years later he said he ate very well – Becky and Jim snuck food upstairs to him too). And if Bill knew we were having something he didn’t like, he’d go to Aunt Dolly’s and hang around until she would ask him if he wanted to stay for dinner (Aunt Dolly is a fantastic cook) – so that’s how HE got out of meals he didn’t like. (I was never that foresighted).

Rosie replied:
Have to laugh here Sandy, because Bernie’s mom always set out the carnation evap milk for coffee drinkers so I “acquired” a taste for it in my coffee (if that’s all there is), but I don’t like the fact that it cools down my coffee right away. But occasionally, if I make something and don’t use all the evap milk, I’ll finish it up in my coffee.

I sat to my dad’s right. That started when I was a child and it was just Ronnie and I (Ronnie is 6 years older than I am and Kathy is 5 years younger than I am so like you, I didn’t have anyone near my age so I was kind of a loner and always went to Grandma’s house for company and she and Grandad would entertain me for hours or even days!) so I was always put to Dad’s left and that’s where I maintained my seat forever after.

Probably the one single meal Mom would make that I absolutely refused to eat so never bothered going to the table was the nights she had hamburger gravy over toast. OMG! UGH! She never bothered draining the grease and would make milk gravy in that skillet with the meat. It’s a wonder any of us didn’t have carotid arteries back then! To this day I won’t even eat chipped beef gravy (which is how it should’ve been made). Most of our meals were some form of hamburger (and I’m not talking the ground chuck either). On Friday nights in the winter we’d have pancakes and eggs. Sundays were comprised primarily of chicken (and even now I don’t like chicken but will eat it if forced to) because it was cheap. One of my favorite hamburger meals, tho, was Mom’s porcupine meatballs in a tomato sauce with spaghetti. And I can remember, I think it was 1958, Mom brought home from the grocer store a pizza pie mix (Chef Boyardee I think). It was new out and she wanted to try it. I’d never heard of pizza and I thought it smelled horrible when the dough was rising (it was the yeast smell) but sure liked the pizza once it was done. That was always a huge treat for us. Never had desserts until Dave (one of the twins) was old enough to make cakes from mixes. I think he was around 9 or 10 when he started doing that. Mom would buy one mix a month for us. I was always the pie maker in the family. When I started taking home ec in 7th grade, that’s when I learned so we enjoyed that on occasion, too. Our meals weren’t your ordinary meals but we survived without feeling starved and Mom would set out “fillers” to help fill in such as cottage cheese, lettuce salad, bread. And no cans of fruit. Remember, those went under the couch in the middle room! God help the kid who decided to eat that can of fruit!

Sandy wrote:
You brought back more kitchen table memories– one of the things I love about this group is the inspiration I get from it, from everyone. My brother Jim sat to my dad’s right. Biff must have been between Bill and Jim because I think Becky was always on my right.

Anyway, although we rarely had desserts – when Jim was a teenager he began working after school at the Durkee food warehouse, across the viaduct from us. Our Uncle Georgie worked for the company–I think he might have been a salesman–but he got Jim a part-time job in the factory or warehouse and Jim was allowed to bring home expired food products. It was our introduction to canned biscuits, first coming out – they sometimes exploded when you tried to open them but we never gave a thought to expired dates (I still don’t) – and I learned to make a lot of things like little cinnamon rolls with canned biscuits. He also brought home expired boxes of a Nestle cookie mix that only needed water added to it…I have written about my mother turning me loose in the kitchen but I made mostly cookies or muffins. I don’t recall making desserts. On Sundays we almost always had a STEWED chicken with carrots and my mother’s library paste rice…if you dipped enough of the pot liquid onto the rice, you could sometimes break down the consistency a little.

When I was 15 I invited one of my first real boyfriends over for a Sunday dinner and made cherry pies for dessert…so it’s not like we never had it. Just rarely. I began baking cakes (I think cake mixes first starting coming out around in 1949) and would often make the birthday cake or cupcakes.

My mother made a kidney stew over noodles that I sort of cringe thinking about (and it smelled terrible) – but we all liked it. I wouldn’t cook kidney stew for love nor money today–but we also had liver and onions and Bob likes it so I do make it on occasion. (Once you get old enough to think what part of the animal it came from, it’s kind of a turn off). We had a stringbean dinner that I liked then and like now but I cook mine with a lot more ham than my mother did. She would buy something called a cottage butt, just a small hunk of fatty ham…but it was cooked with string beans (canned) and potatoes and carrots. We all liked that meal but we NEVER had fresh green beans (I learned to cook them from my mother in law). Also learned how to make biscuits and white gravy from my mother in law. Another meal we had frequently was a beef stew, not very much meat, a tomato-base sauce with potatoes and carrots. When my mother made soup it was always a vegetable soup made with soup bones. We’d have the broth with noodles first and then some vegetables separately…while my father and brothers ate the bone marrow on crackers. I never knew anyone else who ate veg. soup this way but then read about it in one of my cookbooks on the early history of food and recipes in the USA. I think the only fresh vegetables we ever had were carrots and potatoes and as for fruit – it was seldom around…my grandmother had sour apple trees which were made into applesauce, which was always available (during the war it was made without any sweetener–so you’d have to add a little sugar when you ate it)..And the neighbors across the street had a pear tree, which we kids stripped, I imagine. We had a cherry tree and my mother made a cherry pie out of the fruit- but she never removed the seeds. My sister and I laughed about that years later, talking it over. You’d have to sit there spitting out seeds.

One very good thing my mother made was … bread. She’d make two big loaves a week in her roasting pan–so we always had bread. I majored in home ec in high school (one of my majors) but had my infamous sewing class in freshman year – but found my niche the following year in cooking class. I LOVED cooking class, and I loved Mrs. Cunningham, the teacher who taught it. There was a third class in junior year that was called home ec and covered everything else you should know. That may be when I started baking pies, too. Thanks for bringing back many kitchen table memories…

Marge N wrote:
Growing up we seldom had dessert. For one thing my Dad was diabetic and could not have them. We did have Jello now and then – my mother always LOVED Jello. For years I wouldn’t touch it but I will eat it now and then. When we had Jello, we had dietetic Jello for my father – it was called D-Zerta. I know it was fairly expensive and we had to buy it at the pharmacy but that was before all the artificial sweeteners we have now. If we had someone coming for a meal, it seemed like Mom always baked a pie. She sometimes made my Dad a pie, too, but it would be sweetened with saccharin. I grew up with a lot of saccharin sweetened things, Mom canned fruit for Dad the same way. To this day I would rather have saccharin in my coffee than any other sweetener. I drink it black if I don’t have saccharin with me. No milk or cream in it though. My parents always used evaporated milk in their coffee.

I baked a lot when the kids were small, but I don’t recall that they ate it as dessert after meals – it was more of a between-meals or evening snack to have a piece of cake or a cookie or piece of pie. After I left Joe I rarely baked because I didn’t need the calories and never cared that much for them. Maybe growing up with a diabetic father and not having a lot of sweets made a difference? Now I seem to eat more sweets than I ever did – Jeff likes sweets (and he DOESN’T need them!) so there is always something here – even if it is only ice cream. Never used to eat that either and now I do – as long as it has enough “stuff” in it. We will eat fruit or pudding with a meal but anything else is usually an evening snack. And I need to QUIT eating them!!!

Marge Sallee wrote:
Oh my! I don’t know where to begin with this topic. There are just so many stories to tell from my family. Maybe I’ll just say that son Richard earned the tag “Richard the Spiller” when he was nine or ten, and it applied for a while. We would put his glass where there was no way he could touch it when he came to the table to sit down. He was growing fast and sometimes I think he just didn’t realize where his body was and what he was doing. It was always an accident. Every meal I had a nice fluffy kitchen towel on the table somewhere knowing the inevitable was going to happen. Sometimes he would bump the entire table and several glasses might tumble.

And food accidents were common, too. My kitchen walls and ceiling could tell you many stories. I remember making a big bowl of chocolate pudding for supper (It was easier to have one bowl in the fridge than to have half dozen smaller bowls). Someone got it out to bring to the table, dropped it, the bowl shattered, the pudding hit the ceiling and at least three walls (small kitchen). Talk about “what goes up must come down.” The ceiling dropped pudding for the longest time. What a clean up job!

Another time I worked hard to make some sweet/sour pork for our dinner (with rice). Youngest Wendy wanted to carry it to the table (she was small, but felt she could handle the job). I allowed it and the same thing happened. Sticky red sauce all over and the bowl broke, so there was no way I could salvage any of it. We had a lot of rice and nothing to eat on it. At least we had our supper on the table when the pudding bounced.

Thank God for fast food! I think we ordered in pizza that night. I might have stirred up something else like Hamburger Helper or whatever.

The funniest story is the time we decided on a hot summer day to go for a ride in the country and ended up in the county seat town about 8 miles away. The kids were small, and they wanted a soft serve cone on the way home, so we pulled into a Sonic where they brought the food to the car. While we were waiting, Super Mom when into action. I got the extra roll of paper towels I had in the trunk in the car. I all but wrapped each child in it; the cones arrived, and I all but wrapped the cones in paper towel to catch the drips. Then I went to the passenger seat to enjoy my large lemonade feeling very smug that I was prepared for every possible risk. I sat down, grabbed the door handle, and pulled the door shut. As I did, the tall cup tipped right over covering me with ice and lemonade. I didn’t have any paper towels. I’d put them back in the trunk.

The very worst moment was when I looked up and saw some middle aged guy sitting at a table by the window who watched the whole thing coming down. He was roaring with laughter, and I was red as a beet. I couldn’t wait for the kids and Dorman to finish, so I could get out of there and go home to get into the shower. I expected that one to show up on Candid Camera.
Marge N wrote:
I have to tell you a funny little story. When I was about 10 years old I went to Baltimore with my parents. We visited some old friends of theirs – he had done very well and was some sort of VP at York Refrigeration. They had this gorgeous house with a maid and all – certainly out of our class! Since I was going to be there, they invited their granddaughter who was a couple years younger so I would have someone to hang around with. Well, the first night at dinner I had a glass of Coke or Pepsi – of course the maid served the meal, etc. In trying to be on my best behavior, I managed to spill the glass of soda all over her beautiful lace tablecloth. Donald, the husband, was saying “Oh, don’t worry – that’s OK, etc. etc. etc.” to smooth things over. At that point the granddaughter piped up and said “It sure makes a difference who does it!” I think my parents were ready to crawl under the table!

Doreen wrote:
I loved this story. I had a similar experience with my step-dad’s sister. She was married to a teacher and I was in 3rd grade. We were invited to their home – a new home in the city and they had already had a housewarming but because of us kids, our family was invited separate and we ate a meal off of TV trays – the latest thing. We ate in the living room, with the TV on and their carpet was turquoise blue. They had a small kitchen but I don’t know if they had a table in it.
She served whole beet pickles. My Mom made them but hers were soft. We kids were not given a knife so I went to take a piece out of it with my fork and this hard little beet bounced (3 times) over that turquoise blue carpet. Pickled in vinegar the stain was hopeless. My mom was mortified but my step-Dad told his sister it was a stupid idea expecting kids to eat in a living room anyway and we would not be coming back until she could afford a table.

Final note: We had another lengthy discussion on dining room tables! Give this group a topic and we can write a book about it! – sls

–Collected by Sandra Lee Smith

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One response to “KITCHEN TABLE MEMORIES

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