Saturday, February 25, 2012

Food Infection: How Food Turned Me On



The author tasting sweet potato pie at a Baptist Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Estelle Dorsey serving (1985). The Minnesota Ethnic Food Book (1986) recorded this and other field research throughout the State.

The Author Writes:
ME and FOOD: A HISTORY

 Unlike so many of the verbose, affluent and sophisticated food writers today, I grew up without the benefit of a kitchen redolent of garlic or oregano, guided by an experienced and gifted hand of an Old World nonni or mom who deftly churned out exotic and memorable dishes like matzoball soup, cannelloni, sauerbraten, or piroshky. We didn’t even bake our own bread or biscuits. Not even cornbread. We bought commercial cracked wheat wrapped in waxed paper at the A&P (waxed paper was good for cleaning the wood stove top).

I lived as a child on a Dutchess County truck farm in the 1930s, half way up the verdant Hudson Valley, well beyond the smoky City with its tangy kitchens and fish markets.  Our sweet corn, berries, potatoes and eggs were picked early in the mornings, carefully picked over for defects and only then taken to the large river-side market in town five miles away in our 1928 Overland truck. We were paid in in cash by 8 AM and home for noon dinner, which very likely was a bland meat loaf served with boiled rutabaga and lettuce sprinkled with sugar.
Summers, we ate string beans with brown spots (too-long-on-the vine and tough), tomatoes, black caps, peaches, rhubarb, currents, and yellow plums or, later, autumn MacIntosh apples that had “dropped” and bore bruises and were thus unmarketable but good enough for family consumption. In the shed kitchen the women folk turned out mason jars of apple sauce, stewed fruit, tomatoes and green beans; potatoes and turnips were stored in the root cellar for winter eating. 
  In colder weather we had stewed pullets (not Chicken Kiev or even crispy fried) and for breakfast we ate oatmeal (with milk from a herd just next door) or the eggs that hadn’t passed the simple candle test. Fried potatoes that had been pulled from the rich soil too small or misshapen for city folks. Breakfasts of eggs, potatoes and home-made apple sauce we called “apple hay.” And I never knew why, but it is still a favorite.  No bacon. Never a pancake, a waffle or French Toast.

  Fearful of garlic as “foreign” and likely dangerous, we sprinkled sugar on fresh greenleaf lettuce and on huge juicy tomatoes (never dreaming of using my current French-influenced preparations: marble mortar & pestle, garlic, virgin cold pressed olive oil and balsamic, anchovy paste and a little mustard, not to mention goat cheese or shaved Parmesan). Cider vinegar was sprinkled over cucumbers but sugar was added. Salt and pepper were the only spices. A meat loaf weekly. Hamburger or pork chops fried to a crisp. Never pasta. 
But we had things virtually unknown today’s suburban or urban types. Rhubarb sprouted along the driveway and while edible raw, it made us squint and grimace, but it was unsurpassed in pies or cobblers. Evan preserves, bubbled on the back of the stove with sugar. Pity we had no biscuits.

   Autumn was the season for Sunday drives, as all Mid-Hudson Valley residents New Yorkers know. After World War II and our move to town,  occasional restaurant visits were an adventure. Inexpensive family dining rooms along the highway and diners, usually out of town along the rural roads or near a filling station. Chicken croquettes fried fish, once fried oysters and another time, a downtown Chinese restaurant, dark and mysterious, smelling of chow mein and boiled celery, and staffed by serious men in white jackets.


                      How I Learned to Notice Food
                                in the ARTS
Robert Indiana constructed a flashing electric EAT sign on the outside of the New York State Pavilion at the New York World's fair, which opened on April 15, 1964. The sign had to be turned off, however, because it attracted too many hungry tourists looking for a place to eat. (FAW13) 


They say that on the night before appearing in Andy Warhol's film EAT (1964), Robert Indiana saw the film, Tom Jones (Tony Richardson, 1963). Inspired by the movie's "orgiastic eating scene," he had starved himself before the filming, bringing along a large amount of fruits and vegetables to eat. Instead, Andy asked him to slowly eat just one mushroom. 


In my early thirties I had a very similar experience. Tom Jones (starring a young and devilish Albert Finney) stirred something in me that needed cooking. It fed my exuberance, pricked my imagination and hastened my step. I planned a weekend pot luck with a hearty stew as my center piece  


Of course, this is only coincidence. Early on, I took notice of unique meals.  And I reflected more and more about food  that seemed foreign and therefore exciting and desirable.
 Food led me to thinking of the possiblity of leaving that beknighted area. Places like Paris, Genoa or San Francisco came to mind.


before and even the lack of certain things as I looked at more and more of the world through magazines, ethnic homes in my neighborhood and films featuring the likes of Cary Grant 
or Tyrone Power. In the late 1940s, my high school girl friend asked me to help her family by tarring their back porch roof.  I had never heard of tarring a roof but I did it superbly and was invited to lunch where I experienced my first tossed salad. I'd never heard of that either but I loved it.

  These girl friend family encounters continued, iontroducing me to freshly-made buttery Oyster
Stew and tomato aspic and outdoor grilled steaks.  Now this is the late 1940s and early 1950s, so it was unusual for working class folk. At college I discovered garlic and became a salad specialist at my fraternity house. I regularly rubbed mMy wooden bowl was  and once prepared lobster tails with cognac and cream sauce  on the night before my departure for military training, 1954.


ME & FOOD: A HISTORY

Unlike so many of the verbose and sophisticated food writers today, I grew up without the benefit of a kitchen redolent with garlic or oregano under the experienced and gifted hand of an Old World nonni or mom who deftly churned out exotic and memorable dishes like matzoball soup, cannelloni, sauerbraten, or piroshky. We didn’t even bake our own bread or biscuits. Not even cornbread. We bought cracked wheat wrapped in waxed paper at the A&P.

I lived as a child on a Dutchess County truck farm in the 1930s, half way up the verdant Hudson Valley, well beyond the smoky City with its tangy kitchens and fish markets.  Produce was picked early in the mornings, carefully picked over for defects and taken to a large market in town five miles away in the 1928 Overland truck. Paid for in cash by 7 AM and home for dinner.
Summers, we ate string beans with brown spots or too-long-on-the vine toughness, peaches, currents and yellow plums or, later, autumn apples that had “dropped” and bore bruises and were thus unmarketable but good enough for family consumption—In the shed kitchen turned into apple sauce, stewed fruit, and the occasional pie or canned and stored  in the cellar for winter eating.
  In colder weather we had stewed chickens (not Kiev or even crispy fried) and we ate for breakfast the eggs that hadn’t passed the simple candle test with fried potatoes too small or misshapen for city folks. Breakfasts of eggs, potatoes and home-made apple sauce we called “apple hay.” And I never knew why.
Shopppng at the A&P cost about $6.oo on a Frfidaynight.  Four  larger paper bags full. Ilongered ,curious over the wooden boxes of salted herring and 
  Fearful of garlic as “foreign” and dangerous, we sprinkled sugar on fresh greenleaf lettuce and huge juicy tomatoes (never dreaming of garlic in a morter & pestle, virgin olive oil and balsamic, not to mention goat cheese, in a later life). Cider vinegar was sprinkled over cucumbers but sugar was added. Salt and pepper were the only spices.
Meat loaf weekly, never pasta
But we had things virtually unknown today’s suburban or urban types. Rhubarb sprouted along the driveway and while edible raw it made us squint and grimace, but it was unsurpassed as pie or cobbler. Evan preserves, bubbled on the back of the stove with sugar. Pity we had no biscuits.
  We bought
Restaurants were the usual:  Old diners, usually out of town along the               rural roads near a filling stationiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii but even one truly unique constructed from a cart that was attached to the east wall of a drugstore  on the edge of town.
   Autumn was the season to drive as all New Yorkers know and  thousands of outlanders besides (once with my brother nearly ten, we risked going to a roadside diner for chicken croquettes Such an experience, 1949,  was so rare that I remember it  still

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