Welcome to our special 'food and drink' theme issue of Mimosa. While Rich and I have featured themes in previous issues, in a very subtle manner, this is the first time we had a theme in advance and solicited contributions directly. As you can see, the result is our largest issue ever. It was also our most difficult to put together, which may make us think twice before attempting something like this again.
One of the hardest things about this issue was coming up with food stories of our own. I didn't really have any food 'adventures' while growing up. But I do have some pretty strong memories of food and mealtimes from my childhood, and I'll share some of them with you.
In our family, food was sacrosanct; one did not play with or waste food. We never had food fights or threw away perfectly good food. Nothing was wasted. I suppose much of this attitude came from the era my mother grew up in -- the Depression. She grew up in a small town where everyone had enough land to have a cow, a few chickens, and a garden.
My father died when I was five, so my mother, sister and I moved in with my grandparents and back into the saving ways of small town folk. We knew we had to make do or go without. Unlike the throwaway economy we have today, everything was saved and used again, no matter how long it took to find a use for it.
While growing up at my grandparents, I learned quite a bit about how food was produced. Grandma had chickens and would occasionally kill one to eat. She also had a large garden that we helped out in, planting the various crops in the spring (according to the moon), caring for the plants in the summer, and harvesting the vegetables in the fall. During the winter, we ate what had been canned and planned for next year.
Meals were an important part of life in those small town days, especially with a large family. Since most of my aunts and uncles still lived near my grandparents, there was rarely a meal that had only those living in the house there. Relatives and neighbors were always dropping by and sitting in at the meal. One uncle always stopped by for a cup of coffee before work and would bring back anything my grandparents needed from the city where he worked. Since when we first moved in my mother's two younger brothers were still 'at home', meal time could be quite a production. (Holidays were an incredible production that I won't describe here.)
Even though the upstairs of my grandparents' house had been redesigned as an apartment for us, we often had meals with my grandparents. At the time, it didn't seem unusual to have meals that featured several types of meat (usually chicken, ham, and beef) along with two types of potatoes (boiled and fried) and numerous types of vegetables fresh-from-the-garden (I know because we kids usually picked them). The meal also always included gravy and sliced bread and rolls as well as something to drink and always concluded with dessert -- pie and ice cream, cookies, and cake (yes, all three). This was the usual fare at both lunch and supper (or dinner).
Breakfast was a different sort of meal in that it included much of what was left over from supper, as well as cold or hot cereal (depending on the season) with fruit, toast, and fried eggs and bacon. The best part of breakfast was that we got to eat pie if we wanted it, since my grandmother concluded it wasn't much different from a Danish.
At my grandmother's table, children drank milk. We weren't allowed coffee or tea until we were 16 or so as it was felt such things prohibited growth. We also weren't allowed soda pop until we had our glass of milk first. However, we could have juices, soda pop, or the latest Kool-Ade concoction anytime, as my grandmother kept all of the above as well as a pitcher of water in the refrigerator at all times.
While it may sound like an ideal food situation, it did have its drawbacks.
The 50's were the era of "clean your plate, children in China are starving" and our household was no exception. My sister and I were expected to try a little bit of everything, even if we didn't take more. Since my grandmother liked to try growing different things each year, we tried lots of different vegetables. I don't recall many times that either of us balked at eating vegetables since we usually had a major hand in growing them.
Being finicky was not tolerated. Since there was so much food on the table anyway, it would have been difficult not to find something someone liked. The only thing that removed one from tasting everything at the table was demonstrable food allergies. I guess we were a hardy lot as only one or two of my cousins turned out to be allergic to one of the major staples of grandma's table -- tomatoes.
Tomatoes, and to a lesser extent potatoes, were always on the table at every meal. Usually fresh sliced, they were also in salads and available stewed. I don't recall tomatoes being cooked in a cassarole or other dish very much; most meals were plainly prepared and served. I do recall that when grandma discovered spaghetti, she usually made it with stewed tomatoes and it was almost a soup when served.
Looking back, I guess we were all a bit overweight, but not excessively so. We children walked to school (a few blocks away) and played outside in most weather. If we weren't playing, we were digging or harvesting in the garden or visiting relatives. It was also an era where adults believed children should help and be active all the time. If someone made the mistake of saying they didn't have anything to do, grandma always had something, whether it was showing her what you were doing in school on the slate board that hung in the kitchen (she had taught in a one room school room before she got married) or being put to work helping out in whatever she was doing.
Usually, she was cooking, so my sister and I learned how to peel potatoes and other general cooking skills. One of our favorite times was in the fall when grandma was making fruitcakes. We collected the butternuts from the tree in the front yard and let them mature in the 'summer kitchen' as she called it. Then in the fall, we were allowed to use a hammer and nutpicks to get the nut meats out for the fruitcakes. If we found any shells, there was a lot of finger pointing.
In a way, I suppose growing up with my grandparents prepared me for large meals with a large number of people. I enjoy con banquets and going out with large groups of fans. I will eat with just about any fans who asks me and am likely to ask anyone in earshot if they'd like to come along. I grew up with the fannish adage, never eat alone -- it's no fun.
Title illustration by Sheryl Birkhead