Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My syncretic Food Culture – Part 2

Dad was from the heartland, and we lived there, too. He grew up on a farm, and even though he eventually went to school and work in the city, he always had a huge vegetable garden. It wasn’t too fancy by today’s standards, but we had all the basics. The garden was strangely ark-like; there were two kinds of lettuce, two kinds of squash, two kinds of beans, etc. We also had two kinds of apples: wormy macintoshes and wormy yellow delicious.
Summer mornings were spent picking, washing, weighing and delivering tomatoes and squash for sale to all the neighbors. I lined up the tomatoes by size to dry on the patio before packaging them in paper lunch bags. I weighed the tomatoes on an old baby scale, decorated with blocks and a stork. It was not legal for trade, but nobody turned me in to the authorities. As I recall, I did not collect or turn in any sales tax either.
Summer evenings were spent on the porch shelling lima beans or cutting worms out of fruit. Mom made peach and strawberry jam and several batches of grape jelly, and they were lined up in a large red cabinet in the basement, all topped with slabs of creamy white wax. Every year Dad put up a huge ice-cream tub full of sweetened apple sauce that nobody else would eat because of all the “worm juice”. It disappeared into the freezer and I am not sure what happened to it after that.
We lived near a woods that we explored and caught craw-dads. During a thunderstorm, a big old tree was struck by lightening and fell over the creek, simultaneously shortening our travel time to the other side considerably, and revealing a secret and extensive honey stash. Well, you’d think that Dad and discovered El Dorado, and soon we had a pot of honey on the kitchen table.
I was endlessly entertained by Dad’s stories on the farm, especially when he grossed everyone else out at the dinner table with his hog-butchering stories. It really helped if we were eating pork steaks or bacon. And this was often, as most food that wasn’t boiled was cooked in bacon fat. I am not sure how many containers of bacon fat we had in the back of the fridge, but the selection was extensive.
Except for summertime, our other food came from the suburban supermarket. The butter came in a plastic tub, the fish was square, the round steak was flat and the corn, sprouting what looked like a serious case of periodontal disease, was stripped and lobotomized on both ends and placed under plastic wrap. Nobody ever called it sweet corn. I learned that it was supposed to be sweet only after I moved to New York.

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