Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

How we ate growing up


ivan
 Share

Recommended Posts

There have been threads dealing with childhood food memories (in fact, one was started over in General Food Topics while I was typing this). This thread, however, is not about specific memories, but about the food cultures in our families when we were growing up. I'm sure bits and pieces on this have been posted here and there, but this thread is meant to bring the pieces together.

What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

Was meal time important?

Was cooking important?

What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table?

Who cooked in the family?

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occassions?

Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over?

When did you get that first sip of wine?

Was there a pre-meal prayer?

Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)?

How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

Even though other threads cover memories of specific foods or dishes, please include those memories here if they illustrate your family's food culture.

These are personal questions (which is why I hid this thread in the Bios section), but I hope many can contribute. I am not looking for anything extraordinary, although I am sufficiently ignorant about family food cultures around the world that anything might appear extraordinary. Ideally, given eGullet demographics, this thread can become an International Comparative Study of Family Food Cultures in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century. I'll make a contribution to this thread after a few sessions with my repressed memory therapist.

--

ID

--

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I like questions:

What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

Very broad: let's say lower middle class English home-cooking, with the most hesitant ventures into the unknown (occasional curry). I used to be the one to introduce new foodstuffs.

Was meal time important?

No. Only on special occasions. Otherwise, meals were taken as convenient, and usually on trays in front of the TV. Probably why I do things quite the opposite way now.

Was cooking important?

It was a job which mother did. She liked it some of the time, and she would try out new recipes occasionally, but essentially it was part of her job profile.

What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table?

Table?. No, I don't think my parents were that fussy, so long as one was well behaved.

Who cooked in the family?

Mum. Me from about the age of seven or eight. Not dad.

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occassions?

Special occasions. Even casual Chinese or Indian meals were thought fairly special.

Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over?

No.

When did you get that first sip of wine?

Would have been much later than beer or spirits. I think I first drank beer at a Christmas party when I was - I'm guessing - eleven or twelve. Wine was a rare thing.

Was there a pre-meal prayer?

No, no.

Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)?

Sometimes. Mum would get into a routine for a while, but it would eventually change. In my early youth, roast chicken was a big Sunday treat.

How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

As little as possible.

I hope other people step up with some answers. Should be a wide variety of experiences here.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'll play too. The sociologist in me can't resist. Perhaps some larger trends will be revealed.

What was your family food culture?

African-American, suburban middle-class American 1950's/60's

Was mealtime important?

Dinner was extremely important. We ate as a family every night at 6pm.

Was cooking important?/ Who cooked?

Yes, my mother was a very good cook. She was not well so she started teaching me the basics when I was about 8. I took over the cooking as a teenager. My father had a few "specialities" turkey soup, grits(real, not instant).

Penalties for elbows on the table?

I was physically chastised for any breach in table manners.

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occasions?

Both. We dined out casually once a week. We dined in special places for special occasions.

Did children have a kiddy table?

I'm an only child. As much as my mother may have wanted to quarantine me she couldn't, in good conscience, do it. Instead when I was very young she would not let me use the good china or crystal at the formal table. It was always easy to find my place, it had a Flinstone jelly glass.

First sip of wine?

I was probably about 10. Also my first sip of bourbon in a whiskey sour. By 12 I had been taught to bartend for my parent's parties.

Pre-meal prayer?

Absolutely!

Rotating menu?

Fish on Fridays and we weren't Catholic. We never had my favorite meals often enough and the meals I didn't like seemed to come around too often.

Replicated today?

I'm single, no kids. Not as often as I would like.

  • Like 1

Kitchen Kutie

"I've had jutht about enough outta you!"--Daffy Duck

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There was a rotation of meals in my house. A short one indeed. Pork chops (chuletas), bistec encebollado (cube steak with onions), Fried Chicken. Once in awhile Spaghetti with ground meat. This was accompanied invariably by rice and beans. Mostly white rice and red kidney beans. Fried plantains, ripe or green. No prayer. Often each one eating his own separate way. My mother cooked. My father, today, has problems boiling water. No penalty for elbows on the table that I remember. No kiddie table. Meal time was important insofar as it took care of our hunger but it was not the family event of the day. Wine? I guess at some Thanksgiving dinner. Restaurants were very uncommon. Family culture replicated today? None that I can identify-perhaps the informality at dinner time.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

I GREW UP AS ONE OF 8 CHILDREN OF A FIRST GENERATION ITALIAN AMERICAN MOTHER AND AND A SECOND GENERATION GERMAN AMERICAN FATHER. FOOD IN THE HOUSE WAS MOSTLY AMERICAN WITH A LOT OF ITALIAN AND SOME GERMAN THROWN IN.

Was meal time important?

VERY! WE ATE DINNER TOGETHER EVERY NIGHT, ALL 10 OF US!

Was cooking important?

MY MOTHER LOVES TO COOK, HOWEVER SHE WAS QUITE LIMITED BY FINANCES, AND FAMILY SIZE, NOT TO MENTION A COUPLE VERY PICKY KIDS!

What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table?

MY PARENTS WERE PRETTY EASY ON THE RULES, BUT THINGS LIKE SITTING WITH YOUR KNEES UP, OR LICKING KNIVES, DISHES, ETC WERE BIG NO-NO'S

Who cooked in the family?

MOSTLY MOM, DAD DID A LOT OF PICKLING/CANNING AND ON WEEKENDS WOULD MAKE CHILLIS, SOUPS, ETC.

THE KIDS WERE PRETTY MUCH KEPT OUT OF THE KITCHEN EXCEPT FOR DESSERT MAKING TIME, OR MAKING OTHER THINGS LIKE PIZZA AND RAVIOLI. THE OLDER KIDS (ME) WERE OFTEN CALLED IN TO RIP UP LETTUCE FOR THE SALAD, CUT THE BREAD, AND OTHER SIMPLE PREP THINGS.

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occassions?

WITH 10 PEOPLE THEY WERE SPECIAL OCCASION ONLY! USUALLY FOR THINGS LIKE FIRST COMMUNION, CONFIRMATION, AND GRADUATION.

Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over?

YES! AND I WAS STILL SITTING AT IT WHEN I WAS 18!

When did you get that first sip of wine?

PROBABLY AROUND 11 OR 12, I WASN'T INTERESTED IN THE WINE THOUGH IT WAS THE COFFEEE THAT I WANTED! WE WEREN'T ALLOWED COFFEE UNTIL THE AGE OF 18.

Was there a pre-meal prayer?

NO

Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)?

FRIDAY NIGHT IS PIZZA NIGHT, MY MOTHER BUYS THE DOUGH FROM AN ITALIAN DELI NOW, BUT WE USED TO MAKE IT WHEN I WAS A KID. WE WOULD MAKE ABOUT 8 PIZZAS, MOM WOULD SET OUT ALL THE TOPPINGS AND WE COULD EACH MAKE OUR OWN.

How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

I COOK QUITE DIFFERENTLY, BUT I AM VERY INSISTENT ON EVERYONE EATING TOGETHER.

SORRY FOR THE CAPS BUT I COULDN'T FIGURE OUT THE ITALICS, I AM NOT ACTUALLY SREAMING OUT MY LIFE AT YOU.

  • Like 1

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

Food was of average importance in our immediate family, but was far more important with my grandparents. My grandmother canned everything and anything that grew. Some of my earliest food memories involved going to pick berries, or making hard candy for Christmas, or cooking fresh-caught fish -- all of them with my grandmother. She made the entire experience enjoyable and enlightening. My parents viewed themselves as gourmets, although that certainly wasn't the case. We did beef fondue a lot, and if we ate after 7:00, my dad would always say, "We're eating when the rich people eat." It was very middle class. Lots of cube steak, pork chops, ham, pot roast. No ethnic food in our house. I didn't have Mexican or Chinese food until I went to college in 1981. Yowza.

Was meal time important?

I don't recall it being all that important, but we were generally expected to eat as a family. All six of us were usually together. We often ate an early dinner on Sundays, around 3. I think that was so we could cram in another snack at 6:30 or so.

Was cooking important?

As I mentioned above, it was very important to my grandmother. I still have dozens of jars of her jelly (several eGulleteers received jars as gifts a couple of months ago). Recipe swapping was very important to my mother and grandmother.

What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table?

Elbows weren't the big issue. Making unnecessary noise (i.e., lips smacking, clanking your teeth with your fork) was grounds for immediate dismissal from the table. It was a pet peeve of my grandfather, then my mother, and now me. I have one child who tends to smack his lips. It drives me bonkers.

Who cooked in the family?

Mom did the day to day cooking. Dad did the grilling and would occasionally do a special item, like beer braised roast, or a caesar-like dressing made in a blender.

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occassions?

They were for special occasions. We ate out fairly often, but when we did, it was a big deal. My parents always wanted to impress us kids with restaurants (which they still try to do -- it's quite fun now, as my parents are quite picky eaters these days). I remember two of my brothers and I would try to order the most expensive items on the menu, whereas my one brother would meekly ask my dad, "Do you have enough money so I could order a hamburger?" Of course, this is the brother who is about to file for personal bankruptcy for the second time!

Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over?

Only if there were lots of guests that warranted a second table. That always sucked -- not because I was with other kids. It was because it always involved uncomfortable chairs and a very wobbly card table.

When did you get that first sip of wine?

My parents always gave us wine glasses that they filled with sparkling grape juice (followed after dinner with candy cigarettes, of course). However, dad would always let us have a sip of wine when I was about 7 or 8 -- usually something like Riunite or Cold Duck. This wine was so sweet that it really wasn't that different from the sparkling grape juice. We lived in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania, so there wasn't any decent wine available.

Was there a pre-meal prayer?

Only on special meals for holidays.

Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)?

Not usually, but during Lent, it was fairly predictable. Macaroni and cheese on Fridays.

How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

Things are much more hectic, and we rarely eat as a family during the week. Our kids go to bed so early (7:30), that they eat dinner at 5:00. No way in hell I can get home at that time. Plus, I have no desire to eat Mrs. Varmint's cooking. Not good. Not good at all. During the weekends, we eat as a family. I cook, but we also go over to my in-laws fairly frequently. Grandma Varmint is quite a good cook (and she has a kick-ass kitchen), so I'm always up for that. We go out fairly often, but not to anything very exotic. We have 4 children, ages 8 to 2, so fine dining isn't part of the equation at this moment. The L'il Varmints like to cook, particularly the 7 year old girl and the 4 year old boy. They helped me make dessert for a small dinner party I had on Saturday.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is really interesting! I'll play too.

What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

Mostly homemade food, with a little more prepackaged meals when they became more available in Switzerland. We were taught to respect food and not to waste it. We ate a lot of Swiss and French-type dishes, but my mom always loved experiencing with ethnic dishes. We've celebrated Christmas with Moroccan tagines, for example.

Was meal time important?

Very, very important. We'd better be home at 6, to help setting the table for dinner that was promptly served at 6:30. Even in high school we had to have extremely serious excuses not to be there. I hated it at the time but now really appreciate that special time we had together.

Was cooking important?

Yes. Cooking, and mainly baking, was a group activity for the women of the family. As kids we always made edible gifts, such as truffles, for Christmas. My mom enjoys cooking very much, and wanted us to share that love.

What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table?

Verbal reprimands, and a smack when needed (pretty often). We were taught very strict table manners.

Who cooked in the family?

My mom. My dad loves everything gourmet, but only cooks when the only alternative is starving. For him it's a woman's job.

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occasions?

Before my teens they were only commons when visiting other family members, because we couldn't really afford restaurants often, but later on they became rather common, often weekly.

Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over?

We ate before the guests arrived and then were allowed to participate in the "aperitif."

When did you get that first sip of wine?

I really don't remember. Probably not before my early teens.

Was there a pre-meal prayer?

Yes for many years, and then it stopped.

Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)?

No, but we always eat cheese and bread on Sunday nights.

How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

I replicate some of the basic principles, i.e. good food is important, homecooked meals, etc. And when I have kids I want us all to eat at the same time, which is a concept a bit foreign to my American husband! All in all, I hope to replicate most of that culture to my future family.

Thanks for that trip down memory lane. It made me realize that I miss these meals that were often quite turbulent!!!

Anne E. McBride

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is even more interesting than I hoped. Thanks to everyone who's posting here! I didn't realize that my original post looked exactly like a questionnaire -- I meant merely to suggest the kinds of questions that could be asked in the context of family food culture. Now, I can think of many more questions I wish I had included.

--

ID

--

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I can't really answer the questionaire because I was rarely in one country for more than a year or so until I was an adult, except for a couple of years in girl's boarding school in England. (Gah. Tapioca.)

But meals were always considered to be important. One rule was always serve from the left when pouring wine for the table and such. The other was never ever argue. If one was having a disagreement, do not bring it to the table.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I can't really answer the questionaire because I was rarely in one country for more than a year or so until I was an adult, except for a couple of years in girl's boarding school in England. (Gah. Tapioca.)

Again, I regret making my original post look like a questionnaire. Your case is exactly the kind that can prove the persistance of family culture. You take it with you.

I started life in late-50s and 60s America, and my family culture then was a mix of working-class American and Russian emmigre. I still haven't sorted it all out exactly, but meal time was very important, and we always ate together. Then we moved to the erstwhile Soviet Union where it was difficult and often impossible to put together the kinds of meals my mother cooked in the States. Shopping for ingredients was quite different, as well. But the importance of eating together and observing table manners never dwindled, even though that was one of our most alien (non-Soviet) customs. I'm certain that my parents would have tried to preserve the family food culture no matter where in the world they ended up. I don't know why -- it sort of flies in the teeth of the anti-bourgeoise ethic to which we paid lip-service. Why did my parents, who abandoned their comfortable middle-class San Francisco life to go live in the worker's paradise, insist on our very middle-class family rituals? Shouldn't we have all eaten like my friends' families ate, by turn in the kitchen, fork in one fist and hunk of black bread in the other?

(I miss that bread. What was it... sixteen kopeks a loaf? Four kopeks a quarter loaf. Black sour rye -- butter, salt, eat.)

  • Like 1

--

ID

--

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"What was your familie's food culture growing up?"

Mostly middle class American. My mother when she cooked, was not particularly adventurous.

"Was meal time important"

We generally ate together, at least my mother, brother and I. Dad was often late or travelling" Sunday dinners though were mandatory attendance.

"Was cooking important?"

Not until my dad decided to take it up.

"What were the penalties for elbows on the table?"

Most of our table rules involved things like, no hats at the table, no arguing, no reading (my husband reads during breakfast, and it drives me nuts). Dinner was considered a time for everyone to share parts of thier day with each other.

"Who cooked"

My mother until I was about 11. Then my dad took it up, and started creating more interesting things like Welsh Rarebit, homemade Chinese food, fondues etc. That's when I started to learn to cook.

"Were restaurant meals common?"

From the time we were about 8 and older, we went out usually every couple of weeks to a "nicer" restaurant. These excursions were to "teach" us how to act in public dining establishments. I do the same thing with my son now.

"Was there a kiddy table"

Again, until we were about 10, my parents always fed the kids first, when entertaining. This was usually because they tended to eat around 8 and none of us kids could last that long.

"First sip of wine"

At 12 years of age, we began to have a half glass of wine with Sunday dinner. At 15, my brother was invited to have a beer with dad on a Sat afternoon. Beer was not considered an acceptable lady's drink, so at 15, I got offered sherry or dubonnet. 18 was the legal drinking age in Ontario then, and I turned 18 just before they upped the age limit to 19.

"Was there a pre-meal prayer".

Yes, very short. "We Thank our Lord for what we are about to receive, AMEN."

"Was there a rotating menu"

Not really, although my mother's repetoire, while tasty, was limited, so we seemed to have the same things from week to week. What never varied was the routine before dinner if my father was home. He would come home, say hello to my brother and I, then he and my mom would retire to the living room to have 2 drinks, no more no less, before dinner. During this time, my brother and I were not allowed in the living room unless someone was dying. This was considered to be my parent's time together.

"How much do I replicate"

Becuase I have joint custody of my son, one week on and one week off, during the weeks I have him, I make dinner every night. My husband's schedule is pretty hectic, so I usually keep his dinner warm for him. My son does homework at the kitchen table, while I'm getting dinner ready and we talk about our days togeher, and he gets to eat dinner in front of the TV 3 nights a week. He gets to choose the nights. Every Sunday that we are together as a family, we eat together. On the weeks I don't have my son, we split eating in with eating

out.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

My family and I belong to the Kayastha community. Our traditional cooking has powerfully influenced my own. We are a close knit, religiously inclined community committed to fighting social injustice and to the tolerance of all religions and faiths. Kayasthas were the first Hindus to create close relationships with the Muslim rulers (the Moguls), including intermarriage. And so my ancestors became the clergy, accountants, advisors and legal aid to the Mogul dynasties. This fusion of Hindu and Muslim cultures has been a rich source of cultural creativity in India. The beautifully poetic language of Urdu, the gorgeous, sensuous dance form that we call Kathak and Mogul foods (largely Kayastha with Muslim influences), all result from this successful marriage of cultures. Kayasthas live well and richly and we are famous for the excellence of our food, dance, music, poetry and hospitality.

My family called themselves Dilliwaale (Delhi folk) but came from different parts of Northern India and Pakistan. Our family would be difficult to fit into any one demographic for many reasons. But it would be appropriate to say that we lived rather comfortably and well. Food was a very important part of our lives. The day began and ended with food. And food was taken very seriously. It was the most important ritual of the day. In fact food was considered to be very important for according to my paternal grandmother (dadi), you are what you eat. She would begin her day very early in the morning... And after rituals of prayer and sheer habit, food was offered to the Gods and then to mortal humans and at least enough was left for the birds so as to feed them and help narrow their flight for sustenance. If there is one thing I remember the family to have formed my life in absolute terms, it is food and culture.

Was meal time important?

Meal time was sacred and of utmost importance. Nothing was considered more essential and necessary. It was the time to not only nourish our bodies but also to bring comfort to tired minds, bodies and souls. It was the one routine of the day that could not be played with. We ate late, but every family member and any guests visiting would have to ensure their presence at the dining table.

Was cooking important?

Cooking was more important than all rituals for it was the reason that thee family came together at every meal time. Cooking was also a means for my parents to keep us connected to an India of yesteryears. It was also their way of keeping us abreast with those that ate differently. Cooking as a chore was taken very seriously. And Panditji (our families Brahman chef) ensured that it was carried out with all reverence for a custom as old as India and its legend.

What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table?

In the home that I grew up, there would have been no penalty. My dadi (paternal grandmother) was less a stickler for such rules, more a stickler for us understanding the wealth of personal expriences that one would only have if they understood the importance of age old rituals in our lives today. In my Nana and Nanis home (maternal grandmother) we would have been punished for putting elbows on the table. My Nana (maternal grandfather) was quite a stickler for certain rules.

Who cooked in the family?

I got my first and most important training in the kitchen of my New Delhi home from a man named Panditji. Panditji was (and still is) the chef of my family’s household and one of the best cooks and human beings I know. Like many chefs in India, he is from the Brahmin class and was trained as a priest. His family has been chefs to our family for generations. This should give you some idea just how central food and cooking were to my household. Food was the constant, the medium of spiritual and emotional expression. So whatever the occasion, whatever the drama or grief or celebration, there was always the appropriate food served.

When Panditji went home for vacation, twice a year, my mother would cook. Since even though we had others employed for kitchen work, my grandmother was only comfortable eating food cooked by Panditji or mom.

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occassions?

Restaurant meals were only for special occasions or for those times when we had been invited by friends who felt embarassed to cook for my family for they feared they could not serve us food like Panditjis, and so decided to take us out instead. And when I say special occasions it does not mean holidays... more like birthdays, anniversaries and other private affairs.

Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over?

Nope. We kids ate with the elders. In fact this was both the best thing my parents could do and also the worst. Best for we never failed them about some shocking stuff. And worst for we thought my parents were most afraid. The idea was to ensure that the kids played with scrabble.

When did you get that first sip of wine?

At Gokul bar in Bombay at ag 18.

Was there a pre-meal prayer?

One can’t really understand Indian cooking without a sense of just what an important role food plays in Indian spiritual life. Panditji’s kitchen was a sacred place, as is the kitchen, traditionally, in most Indian households. It housed our family’s temple, set up on shelves behind the cupboard doors. There were images of gods and goddesses, statuary, incense and other ritual objects. Very early every morning my grandmother, having bathed to purify herself, would go down to the kitchen to perform morning prayers at the temple. Panditji’s part in the ritual was to prepare the first food of the day. This was offered to the gods during prayers, then later used to feed us kids.

As a young child I was so fascinated by this morning ritual that I planted myself outside the kitchen every morning at around 6 o’clock to watch. This was frowned upon but eventually my grandmother and Panditji relented and invited me to participate in the rituals. I fast learned to sing and chant the prayers. And although Panditji didn’t allow anyone to join in the sacred work of cooking, I used to stand by and watch. I even kept journals of his many movements. By adolescence, I’d worn Panditji down so that he finally began to teach me to cook, including reading and studying religious texts. To cook well as also to be a priest!

From Panditji I learned to love and respect my ingredients. To prepare ingredients in India is to “entertain” them – that is, to be alive in one’s senses as one touches, smells and sees. By “entertaining” the food with my senses, I also imbue it with my love. Panditji taught me to trust all of my senses, not just taste. We were preparing food for the gods so it was forbidden to defile it by tasting it. I learned how to sense the ripeness of produce with my hands, eyes and nose and to listen to the food as it guided me in its preparation. Panditji also taught me the culture of Indian cooking: why certain vegetables are cooked at certain times of the day and year and which foods are to be eaten when.

So while there was no formal pre-meal prayer, I know Panditji would take care of it and the rest of us would sit and enjoy a meal together at the table.

Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)?

The menu changed depending on day, season, how many guests we showed up with. My grandmother ensured that us kids got some of everything we loved each day.

How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

My cooking has been shaped by a number of influences. I got my first and most important training in the kitchen of my New Delhi home from a man named Panditji. Panditji was (and still is) the chef of my family’s household and one of the best cooks and human beings I know.

When I was a small child, my family moved to Nagpur, a city in western India. My parents left the servants (note, as kids and even today, we cannot use this word in our home. Panditji and the rest of the gang were treated by my parents as family and as elders by us.) at home – they wanted us to learn how to take care of ourselves. During those three years, my mother cooked and I got to see how Panditji’s more traditional food could be revised and simplified when there was no chef. My mother’s food was always delicious and she didn’t spend all day making it. I also fell in love with south Indian cooking in Nagpur where I had a friend whose mother cooked in that style. I’m still very attached to that cuisine and the recipes in my book and those I cook at parties reflect that. I also kept a diary of things Panditji did and also spent many days and hours watching him.

Between his training and that taught me by my mother, my present day life is richly influenced by those formative and very food centric years of my childhood.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

the food culture? hard to tell, really. my mother's family are francophiles, experimenting, and easy going, my father's are more related to some sort of thomas mann'esque traditional work and life ethic (and he was an officer of the royal guards). as my father is also a very picky eater, the choice was limited to traditional danish food. very little salad or green stuff, lots of potatoes, with flour based sauce, and lots of minced meat. all of it, though, well prepared and with a french touch...:blink: things changed slowly for the better over the years as my mother got a job and we had more money. but as you can guess, my father still doesn't hardly know how to cook an egg.

good formal manners were thought very important. meal time, too, with lively, and sometimes heated, discussions of just about everything. no prayers. atheists. kiddy table at parties, which tended to be of the luxurious and formal style, with very fine wines that we were allowed to taste at a very tender age :smile: . i can't recall us kids being brought at one single dining out. :sad:

sadly, my mother was not very good at letting us participate in preparing meals, perhaps because it is rather time consuming, but also because my father is so picky...i have brought with me rather the general belief in having the best ingredients that can be afforded, and doing the best you can with them. a basic sense of quality, you could say. but only slowly i've come to believe that i may one day become a decent cook. i think i've become much better at balancing tastes, not least thanx to egullet. for a period of time, i tried having a rotating menu, but even with about 25 different things on the list, it became boring. except that once a week we have either pizza or lasagne! oh, and we make a lot more salad and greens and curries and pasta and fish, now, involving the big boys whenever there's time.

we're very unformal, but we think eating together is important, so we're all collected at breakfast and dinner, and keep up the tradition of lively debate. of course, the general rules of behaviour are still there.

christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

There was a lot of arguing in my family. The food wasn't really the focus of the meal. Food was often a reward- we'd be allowed one bottle of soda a week if we were good.

Was meal time important?

It was deemed important but in a sort of "We're going to get together at the table, damnit, and you're going to sit there and behave and listen to what a hard day your father had" way.

Was cooking important?

I have fond memories of potato-chip chicken, stewed peaches, and...brownies? I used to help my mom make them. Let me put it this way: there was cooking, there was food, but there didn't seem to be any enjoyment in either of them.

What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table?

Elbows on the table would be luxury, so to speak. Pot smoking, beer drinking older brothers bore the brunt of the penalties.

Who cooked in the family?

My mom.

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occassions?

We'd go for Chinese food occasionally and to Friendly's on Tuesdays when my dad had late office hours. (I'd be interested in hearing from other children of physicians, by the way, regarding the importance/ lack of food in context of childhod).

Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over?

I often ate at a pull-out drawer in the kitchen but only because my brothers teased me quite a lot. When guests were over, I was lucky enough to 'help' in the kitchen and enjoyed listening and sometimes sharing in adult conversations. One of the only times I felt included and vital.

When did you get that first sip of wine?

Had to be at a Passover sedar.

Was there a pre-meal prayer?

Does my mother muttering, "Can we just get through this once without fighting?" count?

Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)?

Tuesdays at Friendlys for awhile. Apparently I wasn't an adventurous diner for awhile and ate spagetti with meatballs quite often when dining out.

How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

Hopefully not much. Davy and I cook together each weekend, planning the menu together and taking turns with the CD player accompaniment. We eat dinner together every night we can, and usually he'll plate mine and I'll plate his - even if it's just a sandwich. No fighting at all.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

I grew up in a kosher home. My father was a kosher butcher. He didn?t own his own shop, but worked in a meat packing factory in the Bronx. This pretty clearly defined how we ate. We literally ate red meat of some sort every night (except Sundays, when my mother refused to cook), to the point where my siblings and I used to moan, "steak AGAIN?!!?" quite often. But my mother did not like to cook and was not very adventurous at all (although she did make great soups). Dinner was usually broiled steak or hamburgers, potatoes of some sort, and a "vegetable" (which meant canned corn or canned peas and carrots). Sometimes a salad. The only spices I remember in the house were salt and sweet paprika.

When I got older of course I ate plenty of non-kosher foods. I can remember years of going to steak houses with friends and listening to everyone rave. And I remember being very puzzled. I always wanted to rave along with them about how wonderful this or that steak was, but the truth is that I never ate anything that came even close to the quality of the meats my father brought home. I do think the restaurant stuff was cooked better (my mother had a fear of seeing any speck of red on a piece of meat, but as we got older we harrangued her enough that she did try to change that), but I remember even "back then" being able to distinguish between how it was cooked and the actual quality of the meat. The steak restaurants simply didn?t come close. These days I keep kosher again, but, unfortunately, my dad is no longer around to bring home the bacon, er, steak. I rarely eat red meat at all.

Was meal time important?

Oh yes. We all had to be there, and usually were, especially Friday nights. Even after I was living on my own, I used to go home for dinner Friday nights. It was always chicken soup, chicken, chopped liver, hallah. When we were kids it would just be the boiled chicken from the soup. As we got older we rebelled and my mother always made roast chicken as well. That was a treat.

Was cooking important?

Feeding was important. Cooking was what my mother did to enable her to feed her family.

What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table?

I?m sorry, I can?t take this seriously. Where else would we put our elbows?

Who cooked in the family?

My mother. Sigh.

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occassions?

That hazarai? Restaurant meals were virtually non-existent.

Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over?

No kiddy table, no guests. But there were always, always people over, and they almost always ate with us. It really is a different concept. People dropped by, they stayed for a while, they ate with us. With four kids in the family, someone?s friends would be there more often than not. They were not considered guests, they were just there. If they were hungry, they ate with us. It was a whole different world, and in truth I miss the spontaneity of it.

When did you get that first sip of wine?

Passover seder. I remember telling my father, "it?s very hot in here," and he laughed and said "it isn?t hot, it?s because of the wine."

Was there a pre-meal prayer?

No prayers. As we approached adolescence my older sister and I were extremely antagonistic toward one another, and the dinner table was the only place we absolutely could not avoid close proximity. Prayer meant "can?t you two sit quietly just this once?" The answer was usually no. If it got really bad my father would have a fit, and we would shut up.

Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)?

Just the Friday night menu.

How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

It?s just me, but if I had a family I doubt I?d replicate much of it at all. I?m more interested in cooking for the sake of cooking now. Not that "feeding" is not important, I love to have friends over or bring stuff in to work. But there is a much greater distinction now between the "cooking" part and the "feeding" part. Or perhaps a much greater integration of these two aspects. I'm really not sure which it is.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

Dad was Indiana Quaker, one generation off the farm. His mother did all the cooking. Mom lost her mother when she was 12 (but wasn't told until she was 13), and since she was a girl, her father wasn't much interested in her. So she was raised by rich relatives and servants in Westchester. The result was that neither of my parents knew their way around the kitchen, except what little Dad picked up in the Army. (For many years, I thought that "corporal" was the Army word for "cook.") Mom resorted to Better Homes and Gardens (I still have the 1951 edition she used), Joy of Cooking, phone calls to her MIL, and the girlhood memory of lonely Sunday roast beef dinners.

Was meal time important?

Not particularly when I was younger. Dad was always travelling during the week, so Mom didn't feel the pressure to live up to her MIL's cooking, and would either let us go for take-out (usually burgers or sandwiches; I don't remember pizza until I was 11 or 12), or she would make something quick and easy. Later on, we were one of those families that watched the Vietnam nightmare splash across our dinner table, and it became a setting for political and religious discussions, up to and including preliminary planning for a long stay in Canada circa 1973. Luckily, my lottery number was 263 or thereabouts, and nothing ever came of it. But Mrs. Dave (and her pre-matrimonial predecessors) tell me that dinner at our house was intimidating, due to the relatively high level of discourse.

Holidays were special. My Dad had three brothers, and from 1953 to 1968 (excepting one year), two of them were within 100 miles of us, so there were big family gatherings, and food was one of the drawing cards.

Was cooking important?

Not by itself.

What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table?

I guess nothing, since I don't recall. Or maybe they were so horrible that I....

Who cooked in the family?

Mom. Dad prepared Sunday morning brunch (bacon, scrambled eggs, pancakes) while we were at church, and occasionally he would burn something on the grill. Around the time I was seven or eight, Mom got a job that required her to be out of town once in a while, too. So me and my brothers fended for ourselves.

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occassions?

Inexpensive take out fairly often. Real dinner out maybe once a month; more as we got older. I don't think it was our age, I think it had to do with money.

Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over?

Yes for big family holiday dinners--there were usually upwards of 30 people, so there was a grown-up table, a teenager table, a kid table, a toddler table... I don't remember having people over for dinner in any other sense. Mom and Dad must have gone out instead.

When did you get that first sip of wine?

Probably at 12 or 13. I remember asking Mom one late Saturday morning why Dad wasn't up yet. "Too much Cold Duck," she said. The bird? Did it make him sick? "Not the bird. Here," she said, pouring a short glass (Flintstones, I believe) of the leftover, still slightly fizzy stuff. "See for yourself." Oh my.

Was there a pre-meal prayer?

Only when Grandma and Grandpa were present.

Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)?

Probably, since Mom's repertoire was limited. But I only remember fish on Friday, in keeping with our mostly Catholic neighbors.

How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

Not much. Mrs. Dave doesn't cook--she can, but considers it a chore, except for holiday baking. Her sister also married a cook-husband. Their mother was Pennsylvania Dutch, but grew up in an Irish-Italian neighborhood. She was a strict gray meat cook, per my FIL's wishes (second-generation Irish Catholic), and kept her kids out of the kitchen. When I met the woman who would become my wife, she had never had: chili, lamb, pork loin, duck, spare ribs, barbecue, any fish but fried (previously frozen) perch, asparagus, artichokes, or beef cooked medium rare, let alone any cut of beef besides eye of round or hamburger. OTOH, she introduced me to: Philly cheesesteaks, hoagies and grinders, scrapple, Italian sausage, marinara (by way of her brother's best friend), old-man bars and Lancaster County turkeys. Our kids are adventurous when it comes to food. I was driving Thing 2 (11-year-old boy) and a friend to the skateboard park the other day, and his buddy mentioned how weird he thought asparagus was, and that they had had it for dinner. Thing 2 asked if there had been a sauce with it. Receiving an affirmative reply, he ventured, "Hollandaise, Polonaise or Beurre Blanc?" :smile: Sometimes you just want to hug 'em..

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow this topic is really close to my heart.

What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

My parents are Taiwanese American. They were big yuppies (yes we drank pelligrino/perrier at home during this phase) and really into food.... I don't know any other way to describe them. It was great, I got to taste things that none of my friends or classmates of my friends or classmates experienced. My dad used to scuba dive and had a fishing boat. Since my dad is half Japanese, he was used to fresh seafood and knew how to slice sashimi and make sushi: hamachi, albacore, tuna, salmon, whatever, you name it. This was a great treat for all my family and their friends. We would have fresh fish, fresh uni (I mean he would crack open the urchin for me and my 4 year old self would gobble it up). My dad would slice lobster sashimi when there was company, or make chawanmushi with crab. The essence of the crab seeps into the egg. I still haven't found any restaurant that makes this dish. In some ways I was very spoiled. I STARVED when I went away to college. Literally, I lost about 20 lbs my first quarter at school because I hated dorm food so much and there was only so much In N Out I could stand. I didn't know how expensive sushi was until I went to college and had to pay for mediocre sushi myself. My parents spent a lot of money on groceries, on dining, on entertaining. They would throw big parties at our house and we would have either Asian night where they would make their favorite dishes or Western food night with caviar, oysters, roast beef... I was and still am very appreciative of them.

Was meal time important?

Meal time was extremely important. We had dinner together practically everyday. And Sunday mornings were a big deal, because I would either make french toast or omelettes at home, or we would go eat dim sum, or we would go have a nice brunch. Fridays were not as a big deal, because they either had to entertain their clients/business associates or eat with their friends. So I had to stay at home and eat dumplings in front of the tv, but I never minded because we weren't allowed to watch tv or read when we ate as a family.

Was cooking important?

Yes. I starting cooking when I was about 11-12... my parents were very encouraging even when I made a nasty cheese souffle. Or when I burned the peach preserves because the flame was too high and I put too much sugar.

What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table?

I would be yelled at if I misbehaved. I was too scared.

Who cooked in the family?

Me, my parents, but not my sister. There is always a black sheep.

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occassions?

We ate out at least twice a week for dinner. It could be any cuisine. We ate more Chinese/Japanese food though. My mom and I would always want to try a new place that we read/heard about, or a new type of cuisine. My dad and my sister tend to stick with the familiar.

Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over?

If there are a lot of kids over then we always ate at the table in the kitchen, instead of the dining room. I really didn't mind, because if the other kids didn't want chicken feet or crispy duck skin or oysters on the half shell or smoked salmon or curry or sashimi that meant more for me. Haha! Suckers!

:laugh:

If there was room for my sister and I to sit with the adults, my parents made sure we ate with everyone else. They thought it would be a good time for us to practice our table manners.

When did you get that first sip of wine?

Around junior high. Although I hated it and never developed my liking of it until college.

Was there a pre-meal prayer?

No way.

Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)?

No rotating menu. I wasn't allowed to snack, so we never had chips or cookies or anything. My mom liked to cooked Shanghai style food. So we always had wontons in the freezer. Always stir fried beancurd (not tofu, the solid brown ones you have to slice) with pork bits and chiles. There was always soup, Cantonese style-something with freshly slaughtered chicken, so wonderfully rich because ham was added, which had slowly simmered forever.... We ate a lot of seafood because of the paternal influence. My mom didn't eat beef and since we were Taiwanese, more pork than other meat. But once a month they made sure my sis and I had a nice juicy rib eye.

How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

I don't have a family now, so it's just me.... I don't cook as often as I would like. Actually I hardly cook unless I have company, even though I love the whole process. I find it hard cooking for one person, I always make too much! Food is very much a part of who I am though. I enjoy wine with my meals and I hope that one day I'll have a big family I can cook for and share my love for them in that way. I wish I knew how to cook more Asian food but my repertoire (sp?) is limited, basically what I learned from my parents. It's not like I can turn on the food network and learn how to make Asian dishes that require real skill as a homecook the way Mario Batali does with Italian.

Thanks for starting this topic.

I love reading about everyone else's experiences as well.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maybe I'll write more on these questions later, but for now the "elbows on the table" caught my eye.

We ate at a large round table and I was to my father's right and not so far away that he couldn't reach my elbow with his fork if I put my elbow on the table. Needless to say the lesson was quickly driven home.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

Very traditional middle-class American, with Southern roots, and a heavy dash of the exotic via my father, who had traveled a lot and had been reared by a mother that was a fabulous cook and had owned several restaurants.

Was meal time important?

Very. I and my brother and sister were all expected to be right there at the table when Dad came home from work. We sat down and ate family style every night.

Was cooking important?

Very. It symbolized home and warmth and nourishment and tradition and "our people" and fun and family. What we ate was who we were.

What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table?

Any infraction received a stern look from my father and believe me, that was all it took.

Who cooked in the family?

Mom, God love her, turned out meal after meal after meal. A brilliant bookish woman that, had she been born later, would probably have been a medical researcher or something. She read encyclopedia as though they were novels. She didn't much like cooking and wasn't too good at it. But she loved her family and did the best she could. Dad was a terrific cook, and on weekends and holidays made interesting exotic things like curries and paella and couscous and stirfry that he had discovered during his travels. And my grandmother often came to visit and when she was in the kitchen, she was a magician weaving magical aromatic culinary spells.

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occasions?

We ate out practically every single Sunday after church.

Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over?

Depended on who the guests were. All adults, kids ate early and got stashed away in their rooms. Adult- and kid-guests, arrangements of some kind were made. One favorite was when Dad made up special picnic baskets for the kids, and we took blankets and went out into the back yard and ate, well away from the grownups. We thought this was a particular treat, and didn't view it as being a convenience for the adults. Which, since I did it in later years for my own kids, I now know was the object all along. If weather was inclement, yes, kids got a special kiddie table.

My dad loved having interesting and unusual dinner parties. One time, where we lived, we had a wider-than-normal hall, and he took three interior doors off of the hinges and removed the hardware, and placed them low on cinder blocks down through the middle of the hall. Then he decorated these makeshift "tables" beautifully, and scattered big pillows alongside. Guests sat on the floor along the doors and were treated to a grand Japanese dinner complete with sake, etc. He did all the cooking with great theatrical flourish at the "head" of this improvised table. Of course, he told everyone to come in Japanese dress and he wore a robe he had picked up in Japan. It was all very festive. I did this myself a time or two, but our halls were too narrow, so I just put a door or two down low in the middle of the living room.

When did you get that first sip of wine?

Very early on. Can't really remember. Dad loved good port and often had a glass of it with some cheese for dessert. I got sips from his glass as far back as I can recall.

Was there a pre-meal prayer?

Yes. Always the same. "Bless us O Lord and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty. Amen." I remember being absolutely stunned the first time I heard a "freeform" prayer while eating at the home of a Protestant friend. I thought, "That sounds like just chatting. Does that count?"

Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)?

Not really. Oh, fishsticks on Friday I guess. And marvelous, complicated, wonderful brunches on Sundays with waffles and French toast or pancakes or omelets or Eggs Benedict or something.

How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

A great deal. How can you ever completely dig out and discard those roots that entwine themselves around your heart.

  • Like 2

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Cakewalk nailed it except for the keeping kosher thing. Yes, boiled chicken sucks. To this day I still prefer to sit at the kiddie card table. My first sip of wine was probably of Mateuse or Boones Farm but it came after drinking Colt 45 behind the junior high school.

PJ

"Epater les bourgeois."

--Lester Bangs via Bruce Sterling

(Dori Bangs)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is the best thread.

Food culture growing up at my house was middle-class American, first generation off the farm. Lots of chicken, beef (no steaks) with a little pork thrown in once in a while. Absolutly no ethnic foods or anything adventuresome. The time meals were served was not that important, although I can't remember everybody not being there unless my Dad was at work (shift worker at a refinery). Cooking to my mom was the method used to feed her family, and she never got much pleasure out of it. The quickest was usually the route she took. Elbows on the table was met with a quick reprimand, although chewing with your mouth open was a bigger infraction (I have to agree). Mom cooked most of our meals, although Dad did pitch in occasionally. Few dinners out - once in a while there were carry-out burgers and fries. The only guests also had kids, and we were sent to the basement to eat in front of the TV-a rare treat. My parents were and are non-drinkers, so the first wine I ever had was Riunite with my boyfriend (now my husband) at the drive-in. There was always a prayer, the pray-er rotated among us kids. No rotating menu.

I replicated the eating together and emphisis on manners, but my family is much more adventuresome, and we eat out often.

Stop Family Violence

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

Hmm... this is hard to answer, since I'll say "normal" when that's not the case. Good food usually cooked at home by my mother from a variety of cultures from around the world, made from cookboks rather than experience.

Was meal time important?

Yes. It's a time to gather and discuss what's going on. The comments about 'no arguments' are quite odd, since arguing around the table is normal. Philosophical arguments of course. Well other arguments also happened too.

Was cooking important?

Yes, good food is important. Also table settings were always nice. I don't mean formal, but metal utensils and cloth napkins and nice serving dishes are always used. When eating by myself I'll use a paper towel and sometimes eat out of the pot, but to this day I find it strange to use paper napkins when eating with more than one person.

What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table?

Hmm... Don't know.

Who cooked in the family?

My mother, almost always. Sometimes me. My father can boil water but not much more than that.

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occassions?

Yes, fairly common. A few times a month or even a week.

Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over?

No. Well maybe once or twice, I was just discussing that with my mother this weekend since we'll have too many people to fit in the dining room this Thanksgiving. Growing up the dining room opened onto another room so we could squeeze in probably 20 people.

I don't know where this fits, but guests came over somewhat frequently, and we went to other people's houses fairly frequently. My friends also were welcome. Also my parents often hold parties on July 4th and January 1st. Food and people are a focus at these parties.

When did you get that first sip of wine?

Probably a passover seder. To this day I rarely drink.

Was there a pre-meal prayer?

No.

Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)?

No, but certain dishes were fairly common. In particular, sauteed chicken breast with something. The something varied qute a lot and the accompanyments varied a lot, but the basic preparation was the same.

How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

I don't have a present day family life. There are many things I'd rather do than cook for myself, so I don't cook as often as I really should.

These are personal questions (which is why I hid this thread in the Bios section)

I think this fits perfectly here.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

I'd been contemplating contributing to the bio-thread along the lines of an anti-biography, in the spirit of self-erasure. I'm sure this is much more constructive.

I have failed to 'grow up' in some form of deracinated English middle class family. My mother had grown up in a 1950's English boarding school - rationing & lacrosse. My Father had grown up on a mid-western (US) small farm. My mother cooked - I realised much later - as a duty not a pleasure.

It was much more important how one ate than what one ate. Exemplified by the annually trying visits to my Mother's parents for christmas where the fact that my sister had tried to eat a banana without using a knife and fork caused endless anguish. Later I realised that they too were only aspirational diners in a world that had slipped away. By then, of course, they were slipping away, endlessly into the past.

Meal times were important - from when I can remember - but it depended when my Mother was working, so sometimes it was 8:30 and sometimes it was 6. When I was in my teens they occasioned terrible deja-vu. Like a stuck record we failed to have the same conversation for every evening of the rest of our lives - or at least the early 80's.

Having napkins and worcester-pattern china was for a long time more important than what we ate. Roast on sunday, cold on monday, reheated (cootage pie) on tuesday. Chops on wednesday. 'Curry' (with apple and cloves) on thursday.

A treat on Friday - briefly I can recall my parents cooking together with laughter on Friday - but this disappeared at some point. It was years later that I discovered that food was more about what it tastes of than how you eat it.

When I was in my teens I started cooking. Now I find it impossible to spend time at my parents' house without cooking for them.

'Kiddy table' - since we were supposed to be poorly formed adults this has no relevance.

Restaurants - we couldn't afford - except for the occasional trip around friends in Germany or the US where the key issue was embarrassment. i.e. Would we embarrass ourselves.

Wine - we started to afford to drink it when I was 12 or 13. It would be another 9 years before I understood how spectacular it could be. And then some more before I found how it interacted with memory.

Prayer? what would that be?

Wilma squawks no more

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ivan, I have enjoyed this thread as much as any other on eGullet. Thank you for thinking of asking these questions and thank you to everyone who has responded so far. I look forward to reading more replies. Working on my response has brought back so many memories!

What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

Was meal time important ?

Yes. We ate very early, as soon as my parents arrived home from work. My father insisted on being fed the moment he walked through the door. Oh, you mean mealtime! Was the time spent together at table important! No. It was something to get over as soon as possible, before the nagging began. Sometimes, a friend would call me right before dinner and I would say, “I’m sitting down to eat; I’ll call you back in five minutes.”

Was cooking important?

My grandmother, who cooked, (see below) took great pride in her accomplishments. Her repertoire was basically Russian-Jewish, but our beloved Italian next door neighbor taught her about pasta and eggplant.

What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table?

I didn’t know that there was a rule about this until I started having meals at the homes of friends.

Who cooked in the family?

My grandmother did all the cooking. She was considered by the family to be an excellent cook, but even as a child I suspected that there could be more to home dining than was to be found at our table. Years later, she and I used to watch the early Julia Child programs. Gram would imitate Julia, saying “Butter, more butter.” Imagine Jackie Mason imitating George Plimpton.

My mother’s only dish was banana cake, from the Settlement Cookbook. She made it in a tube pan and frosted it with a chocolate cream cheese frosting. The cake always cooked unevenly, with a gummy layer on the bottom. That was the best part. I mean it.

Once in a while, my Aunt Bessie would come to stay overnight, bringing her cast-iron pan and a pound of hand-sliced bacon from the non-kosher butcher shop where she was the cashier. While my grandmother excused herself, Aunt Bessie would cook bacon while I watched...and smelled. She made it “half-done” for me, sometimes with eggs, sometimes using it in an exotic BLT. I never knew anything could taste so good.

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occasions?

We went out almost every Sunday, usually for Italian food, at Marsilio’s Kitchen, still there in Trenton, but sometimes for Chinese food, or steak at a place near Camden called, The Pub, or seafood at Fisher’s, on Broad Street, in Philadelphia, in a wonderful Tudor-revival dining hall. When I was older, I read an article in the New Yorker about Restaurant Associates and was so intrigued by the description of “knife and fork oysters” that I asked to be taken to the Newarker (at the Newark airport) for my birthday. I had the oysters, followed by chicken curry. This was a “French” style curry, served with a wide variety of condiments, none of which would have ever been served in India, I am certain. It wasn’t until years later than I learned what real curry was. We often took a ride to New York to go to Katz’s. People were amazed that such a little girl could put away a whole sandwich.

Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over?

No.

When did you get that first sip of wine?

It must have been at Passover, but I don’t remember.

Was there a pre-meal prayer?

No.

Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)?

If it’s Tuesday, it must be fish. Yes, there was a strict rotation, but I have to admit I only remember Tuesday. That was the day the fish man came round. He had a regular store, but also a special truck with refrigerated cases that he drove from neighborhood to neighborhood. The housewives (most women still stayed home) would gather round the back of the truck and make their choices. Our household was not kosher, although my grandmother made a point of not eating “traif.” Since the rest of us loved scallops, she would buy them and make them for us. I’ve never had better fried scallops.

There was a vegetable truck, too, as well as a milkman who brought un-homogenized milk in glass bottles and, best of all, the Dugan’s man, who also drove a truck but came right up to the door with his box filled with goodies, including my favorites, the apple spice cupcakes.

How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

Alan reassures me that the answer is, “none,” except the bacon.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is great! My turn!

What was your family food culture when you were growing up?

African-American. Southern cooking in the Midwest.

Was meal time important?

Absolutely! That was the time when we all came together to talk about our day and catch up. Meals on weekdays were a little different from meals on weekends. M-F, breakfast was on the fly, and we didn't eat lunch together. On Saturdays and Sundays, we ate all three meals together, and breakfast and dinner were huge meals. On Sundays, there was no lunch. DINNER was served early, around 3:00 P.M. after church. Sunday dinner was planned throughout the week, and there was always some member of the clergy (Baptist) present. My sister and I can still imitate a majority of them. They were all characters. If said invited clergy member did not make some reference to the meal on the following Sunday, they were never invited again. My great-grandmother denied that until her dying day, but it's true.

Was cooking important?

Yes. Cooking was/is the source of many traditions and stories. Several cast iron pans in my kitchen are heirlooms, and a number of family members both living and dead have signature dishes that they are credited for regardless of who prepared the dish. Deference is given, and it is expected. It's not uncommon to hear some one say, "Is that Grandma's gingerbread/pound cake/sweet potato pie/rice pudding?" or "Who made Auntie's corn chowder?" or "If you want some gumbo, you need to call cousin______."

What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table?

No one raised a fuss about elbows. Stiff penalties resulted from 1) not saying grace, or being disrespectful while grace was being said 2) eating before everyone was seated at the table 3) getting up from the table before everyone finished their meal without asking to be excused.

Who cooked in the family?

Cooking was a collaborative effort. I grew up in an extended family. We lived in a huge duplex. My mother, father and sister lived in the upstairs flat, my maternal great-grandmother lived in the downstairs flat. Family members also lived in another duplex that was right next door. We all ate together. Everone helped in preparing meals, but people took turns in taking the lead. There was no rotation, it just went according to what people wanted to do. Someone would take the lead, and the rest of us would follow. Children peeld vegetables and fruit, or ran to the store for last minute items. Children also set and cleared the table and washed the dishes. My great-grandmother's cooking was traditionally Southern. My mother could be counted on to be the experimental gourmet, my father did all the grilling, and he loved to make chili and Ethopian dishes, of all things. My aunt, was a horrible cook, but we never stopped her. My uncle was always good for meals of easy, fun, convenient food. He was responsible for introducing taco kits to our meals. Anything that West Bend made was something that he had to have. In the 70's, because of him, we had one of those burger cookers, and a Fry Daddy. He Was also big on putting leftovers in his Seal-A-Meal.

Were restaurant meals common, or for special occassions?

Restaurant meals were special occassions.

Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over?

No! We all sat at the same table.

When did you get that first sip of wine?

Thanksgiving, 1974. Mogen David and Cold Duck.

Was there a pre-meal prayer?

Grace was an extemporaneous prayer that usually began with "Heavenly Father." What seemed like hours later, it ended with everyone saying, "Amen." This was especially true when the clergyman was asked to give the prayer on Sundays.

Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)?

No. We cooked according to what inspired us on any given day.

How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life?

About 90% of it. I cook very differently these days, but the core components of many family dishes remain the same. I always try to update things, or add different nuances here and there, and I like to incorporate dishes that were not typically prepared in my childhood home into meal plans that also include dishes that have been in my family for years. No one in my family has taken the cooking as far as I have, and they have finally learned to trust me--they know I haven't forgotten any of the "old ways." I've left the Mogen David and the Cold Duck behind. :biggrin:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...