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Bad Home Cookin'


Chris Amirault
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Today in the car, Andrea asked me, "What was the worst thing your parents cooked at home when you were growing up?"

I paused, placed finger to chin, and drew a deep breath.

You see, my wonderful mother, who cannot be judged for juggling a teaching job, raising two kids, and running a house, was a cook of limited interest and ability, and she prepared dinner at perhaps the nadir of US home cooking, from about 1963 until I left for college in 1981. In addition, both she (Mainer) and my dad (Nova Scotian) were raised in flavor-free, cook-it-until-way-past-done Yankee households. Finally, as a working mom, she relied on the wave of convenience foods that really took off in the late 60s.

That is to say, I ate some really atrocious food growing up. I have so many examples that I will be parceling them out over the life of this thread, but I'll start with a family staple: broccoli. Of course, this is a fine vegetable, at least, when green. In my house growing up, we were regularly served frozen broccoli (already cooked, of course, that) that had been boiled at least half an hour and had thus turned a camouflage gray. Broccoli in this state has the texture of tofu gone wrong, and the flavor and smell revealed that its chemical composition resembled that of elementary school paste.

But this is just the tip of the bad food iceberg. Surely your wonderful mom or diligent dad deserve nothing but honor and love. But, surely, too, you must have a few tales from your raisin', eh?

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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My mother, whom I love dearly, used to feed us Steak-Umms, Hamburger Helper, scalloped potatoes from a box, and the occasional TV dinner.

When I was a teenager, she realized that assembling food from various boxes probably wasn't the healthiest (or cheapest) way to feed the family, and she began cooking more food from scratch.

allison

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My list would be short but quite bad.

My mother hates to cook. Always has. When I was a child her one specialty was to fry hot dogs and\or bologna in bacon grease and call it lunch. I learned quickly to make pb&j. It was that or hop on my bike and ride to the club for a taco or club sandwich.

Occasionally, a pang of guilt would pinch her chest and and she would empty a packet of lipton onion soup mix onto some unsuspecting roast and then bung the whole foil wrapped package in the oven until it resembled a hunk of burnt rubber. That was pretty much the taste as well.

As a small child I thought mothers didn't cook. I thought they played tennis.

If only Jack Nicholson could have narrated my dinner, it would have been perfect.

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Grey, dry, stringy lamb with mint jelly. Later in life she came to visit and I made her a boneless, BBQ, marinated leg and she asked what it was. When I told her it was lamb she apologized for all those years. :biggrin:

Bruce Frigard

Quality control Taster, Château D'Eau Winery

"Free time is the engine of ingenuity, creativity and innovation"

111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321

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my mother was a great cook so i dont really have any bad food stories growing up..at least not from her...however when the family moved to arizona from texas when i was 17... westayed with some of my stepfathers friends and the wife was an atrocious cook....her idea of good cooking was to cut up hot dogs....cut up cabbage...trow it in water and boli the hell out of both..she called this garbage...hot dog soup..... :wacko::blink:

im thinking she had no taste buds at all

a recipe is merely a suggestion

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For years and years I absolutely abhored steak. Being only exposed to my mother's version of it, I assumed that all steak was a bone dry, tasteless, carbonized item not be enjoyed but endured. I figured that it was a way for adults to test their mettle and display proudly the sharpness their teeth and the ability to produce enough saliva to make a piece swallowable.

It wasn't actually until recently that I had steak again. My friend, knowing my aversion, dragged me out to Morton's one night and ordered me a ny striploin cooked med rare. I took a bite and said "oooooooh, so THIS is what it's supposed to taste like!"

I feel so bad talking down on my mother's cooking, whom I love to death. What she lacks in ability to cook steak she makes up for in her ability to make a damned fine minestrone soup. :-)

Nothing to see here.

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My parents are both damn fine cooks. However, my mother, bless her, was interested in serving us spicy foods, because we lived in the bland food capital of the universe. Spicy foods in this context equalled "curry." Curry was made with tinned tuna, white sauce with a couple of teaspoons of curry powder in it, raisins, and rice. Maybe peanuts if we were being fancy.

When I was about 11, a Malaysian student came to the University and was in our social circle. He came over and taught mum how to cook genuinely spicy foods, and all were reprieved from the horror of "curry", that was never cooked again.

I could say horrible things about her smoked cod and potato pie, but actually it's a traditional recipe, and she does it well, I just can't stand the taste.

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One of my grandmothers was a great cook. The other one, I didn't see cooking that often but whenever I did it was scary. I remember her trying to get a toaster pastry out of the toaster by sticking a fork in while the thing was still plugged in. Another early memory was of her making stuffed potatoes by baking potatoes, scooping them out and throwing the scooped-out part away, and then filling the skins with mashed potatoes out of a box.

She also happened to have a way of talking about unappetizing subjects (I'll spare everyone exact descriptions) during meals, thus making it difficult to eat even decent food. My father picked that habit-- along with bad cooking-- up from her. I've heard people say "Please don't talk about that while I'm eating!" to him. He always looks kind of puzzled, like, "People don't want to hear about [fill in the most disgusting thing you can think of] over dinner?"

My father's cooking-- blech. This was a person who would serve milk that had gone off, chicken that was bloody and eggs that were rotten, and not seem to have the faintest idea anything was wrong.

My mother was a decent cook, nothing memorable until about the time we left home and she got into cooking as a hobby, but no horror stories either.

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My mom and grandmothers were all decent cooks, so no horror stories there (that I can currently recall), but I do have a bad memory of something made by a babysitter. She decided to make us what she said was supposed to be cake without frosting, but turned out to be a vile green horror. She used green food coloring on something that resembled cornbread but tasted like nothing I've ever tasted before or since. I'm pretty sure I threw up, and Mom never hired her as a babysitter again.

Edited by patti (log)

Dear Food: I hate myself for loving you.

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Occasionally, a pang of guilt would pinch her chest and and she would empty a packet of lipton onion soup mix onto some unsuspecting roast and then bung the whole foil wrapped package in the oven until it resembled a hunk of burnt rubber.  That was pretty much the taste as well.

I think that Lipton onion soup mix may well be responsible for untold horrors throughout the 60s and 70s....

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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For years and years I absolutely abhored steak.  Being only exposed to my mother's version of it, I assumed that all steak was a bone dry, tasteless, carbonized item not be enjoyed but endured.

Oh, man, oh, man, bad steak. This is a special nightmare for me, because of something that I never see anymore but was ubiquitous in our household growing up: cube steak. This was some appallingly sinewy cut of beef that had been malleted and pierced to "tenderize" it. I still remember getting up and feeling like I had had jaw surgery. Did anyone else eat this strange thing?

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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It wasn't my mother, but my grandmother that created the culinary nightmares for me. Canned mushroom soup, ketchup and ground beer = sloppy joe. :wacko:

Tobin

It is all about respect; for the ingredient, for the process, for each other, for the profession.

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For years and years I absolutely abhored steak.  Being only exposed to my mother's version of it, I assumed that all steak was a bone dry, tasteless, carbonized item not be enjoyed but endured.

Oh, man, oh, man, bad steak. This is a special nightmare for me, because of something that I never see anymore but was ubiquitous in our household growing up: cube steak. This was some appallingly sinewy cut of beef that had been malleted and pierced to "tenderize" it. I still remember getting up and feeling like I had had jaw surgery. Did anyone else eat this strange thing?

Yes! This is the stuff that a lot of people make chicken fried steak out of, right? Yup, we ate it, but without the slow cooking to help tenderize it, or the breading to give it some actual flavor. Oh yes, I remember it well. I think we called it "minute steak", probably because it was so tough and flavorless that cooking it any longer than a minute was a waste of energy.

The other transgression was a recipe my mother picked up at a dinner after a neighbor's funeral. It was called "Chicken a la Can Can" and as you can probably guess, it had chicken, rice, and several kinds of Campbell's cream soups in it. I hated it with a passion. My mother was an otherwise decent cook. She tended to get into a rut, and cook the same things over and over, and I was well into adulthood before I realized that I am not a picky eater; I just don't like having the same dish several times in a month. The last time I lived with my parents was 1981, and I still cannot even think about pepper steak without wanting to get up and run.

And my mother was a nurse, so we discussed anything and everything at the dinner table. Finally, as her children married and we began to acquire other relatives, her manners improved and that's no longer a problem. I have taken great pains to not let her and my father get to know my husband too well, so that the "company" manners will last as long as possible.

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Oh, man, oh, man, bad steak. This is a special nightmare for me, because of something that I never see anymore but was ubiquitous in our household growing up: cube steak. This was some appallingly sinewy cut of beef that had been malleted and pierced to "tenderize" it. I still remember getting up and feeling like I had had jaw surgery. Did anyone else eat this strange thing?

Oh do I remember my nemesis: cube steak. It was on a weekly rotation in the house o' mom. I am certain that our family dog, Ginger, was driven to her death by this evil meat.

Cube steak (or as it was sometimes called in our house 'minute steak') is an odd subdivision of the beef family, small bits of meat stitched together by endless chewy indigestible cartilage. It's cow-flavored nylon. My sister and I would chew and chew until it would break down no further and then, discretely cough the residue into a napkin, ball the napkin into hand, drop hand to lap and hurl the nylon beef ball to the floor where sweet, unsuspecting Ginger would chomp happily for a long, long time and seemingly hours later, swallow it. When Ginger died, many years later there was a tumor of some sort in her stomach the size of a golf ball. No one needed to tell me the cause of death.

"And when there were no crawdads to be found, we ate sand."

"You ate what?"

"Sand."

Raising Arizona

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My mother made a bean and sausage stew. It was kind of a 70's Americanized version of cassoulet. It would have been fairly decent if it wasn't for the "special ingredient"-- ketchup, and lots of it.

peak performance is predicated on proper pan preparation...

-- A.B.

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My mom was a decent cook, but had a bad habit of cutting recipes out of women's magazines during the 70's. Her worst concoction - I can still remember the taste - had the innocuous name "Seafood Casserole". Cubed frozen fish, tiny frozen shrimp and Campbell's Cream of Shrimp soup mixed with a little cooking sherry. It was topped with Kraft Parmesan cheese (the green can) and baked. The thought still makes me gag. Served over Uncle Ben's converted rice, which is responsible for making me think I hated rice until I was an adult and could cook the real thing.

Edited to say that she was an army wife on an NCO's budget until I was 7, then worked full-time after dad got out of the service. I'm sure our food budget, and her time were extremely limited. Hence the "time and money saving" experiments.

Edited by hjshorter (log)

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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My parents are both adept cooks, nothing fancy, but most everything they whipped up was pretty solid. The one exception was whenever either one would attempt to cook 'Chinese Food'. 'Chinese Food' would always involve lots of bags of random frozen vegetables (usually carrots, snow peas, broccoli, green beans, etc, nothing too scarey here), cut up bits of meat of some sort, and bean sprouts. Actually sounds pretty tasty so far, eh? Then came the sauce and the cooking:

All if it was cooked together for a while, then the sauce, which was soy sauce, sugar, duck sauce, and pretty much any other random asian condiment that was availible in grocery stores in the 80s and early 90s. On added to this would be about half a can of LaChoy chinese crispy noodles (the deep fried ones, how I still loathe those things), and it would be allowed to stew even longer. Mind you, this was cooked in a wok, and our stove was definately capable of enough heat for a proper stir fry, but something in my parents' southern cooking genes wouldn't let them serve up anything that looks like this without letting it simmer endlessly on the stove before dinner.

When it was time to eat the whole mess would be dumped into a bowl, more crispy noodles thrown in, and it would be glopped down onto a plate, normally with a side of a baked potato (rice? what rice? ;) ).

At least everyone and my family knew that 'Chinese Food' night had little resemblance to real Chinese Food, as we would occasionally dine at local Chinese Restaurants (whose food probably also bears little resemblance to real Chinese Food, but at least it was pretty tasty).

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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Cube steak (or as it was sometimes called in our house 'minute steak') is an odd subdivision of the beef family, small bits of meat stitched together by endless chewy indigestible cartilage.  It's cow-flavored nylon.  My sister and I would chew and chew until it would break down no further and then, discretely cough the residue into a napkin, ball the napkin into hand, drop hand to lap and hurl the nylon beef ball to the floor where sweet, unsuspecting Ginger would chomp happily for a long, long time and seemingly hours later, swallow it.  When Ginger died, many years later there was a tumor of some sort in her stomach the size of a golf ball.  No one needed to tell me the cause of death.

Welcome, kriskitchen, to eGullet! And a welcome member you'll be if you keep up with the great tales and apt metaphors: "cow-flavored nylon" is spot-on.

Your and my means of disposal were the same. I distinctly remember, having been caught in the act of improper disposal and told angrily to eat the shite, the horrid taste of napkin-wrapped, pre-chewed cube steak.

So, I shed a tear for Ginger. Those who did not die salute you.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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We generally ate very well when I was growing up. However, there was a period of time when I had trouble eating many of the dishes served at dinner, including spaghetti, meatloaf, roasts, etc. The problem was that these used an ingredient that was difficult to hide the flavor of - goat. We always raised a few farm animals on my parents' few acres of land, and my mom at one point decided to have a young goat slaughtered (actually, she decided to do it herself, which didn't go very well and I'm glad to this day that I didn't witness it). We had goat spaghetti, goat meatloaf, goat sausage, etc., for about a year. When I would ask what was for dinner and my mom said, "Casey" (the name of the goat, obviously), I would immediately feel sick. I'm an adventurous eater, but I haven't tried goat again since that time. I don't know if I ever will.

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My mother was a good cook, nothing too "fancy" ( well, there was that fondue period) but lots of Southern style staples.

The worst thing she made me eat - smashed up Vienna sausages mixed with mayonnaise and sweet pickle relish . She would put this vile mixture into sandwiches for our lunch. I would throw mine out the window of the school bus on the way to school just to get rid of the smell.

My mother loved Vienna sausages. She once told me that as a girl during the lean times of the depression, all she wanted was to grow up and have all the Vienna sausages she could eat.

Your dream was not mine mom :biggrin:

If you can't act fit to eat like folks, you can just set here and eat in the kitchen - Calpurnia

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When I would ask what was for dinner and my mom said, "Casey" (the name of the goat, obviously), I would immediately feel sick.

:blink:

Not to sound too PETA-y, but I think that knowing the name of dinner is... onerous.

Yeesh.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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