Sunday, December 28, 2008

Practically Gourmet

My mom rarely cooked when I was a kid. We seldom sat down to eat together and most of our food was whatever I could cook or whatever she could make in 5 minutes or less. She often brought home leftover food from whichever restaurant she was working at, but we mostly got by on packaged foods, hot dogs, tv dinners, donuts, candy bars from the gas station on the corner, that sort of thing. We qualified for food stamps so once a month or so there was a trip to the grocery store and that was pretty exciting. Chocolate pudding in cans! Fruit Loops cereal! Bologna! Wonder Bread! Those were big treats for my sister and I. So obviously I grew up with food issues, childhood food habits that I have been trying to override almost all my adult life. At least I don't really crave any of the specific foods that I grew up eating, mostly since we had the same foods so often that I still can't bear to even look at certain things. Velveeta cheese and Hamburger Helper would be good examples of that. Heh.

But once in awhile my mom would pull out her cookbook and make a real dinner, especially if family was coming to town to visit. We were always excited about that but I am afraid it always ended badly. She had two dinners in her repertoire; one was a chicken/rice/Lipton onion soup mix casserole which wasn't bad (I make it once in awhile) except that she always overcooked it. I was shocked to learn as an adult that rice was actually soft and not crunchy. The other thing she made was meatloaf, which always smelled good, but then had a suspicious vomit like flavor to it that was pretty disappointing to say the least. I never did figure out what she added to get that flavor.

Anyway, my mom died over a year ago and last summer I received some of her belongings. I have been slowly sorting through things and greatly appreciated the irony of getting her cookbook and box of recipes. I make most of our food from scratch and while my kids certainly have the occasional crappy food, mostly we eat unprocessed, organic foods. I was so proud when my children expressed utter horror when they saw these three recipes:

In case you can't believe your eyes, the recipes are for Coca-Cola Cake, Dump Cake, Wacky Cake (wacky ingredient seems to be vinegar?) and the real stomach turner is Mayonnaise Cake. I have a vague memory of that one, it was actually a chocolate cake and the mayo was supposed to make it more moist. I suppose it tasted ok but well, maybe it should have a different name. And who wants Miracle Whip (of course we only had Miracle Whip) in their cake? yuck.

There were other interesting things in the book too. I left my mark on her notes for her work in a furniture repair shop, and yes that is a cigarette burn mark on the paper, my mom was never without a Kool Menthol in her hand. Don't get me started on how everything of hers STILL smells like smoke....

This was a coffee cake recipe written by my grandmother:

And oddly, my mother's tax return from 1975 was tucked in the cakes and cookies section which was just classic. But it was also a poignant reminder to me of my childhood and of how hard she worked; she mostly had waitress jobs, but that year she got a "better" job refinishing furniture, a job that she thought might have a future. Unfortunately, there were no tips at this job and her income - $2,450.83, was far less than what she earned as a waitress. She went back to waitressing the following year and stuck with it until a few years before she died.

Well, I am off to bake something, anything to rid myself of thoughts of Mayonnaise Cake running through my head!


Lori Skoog said...

Tracy....your site was given to me by Fe at Coyote Road....probably because I am an Art teacher (retired but still teaching at out farm)...and partly because of your content. I love your paintings and what you write is very interesting. We live in Brockport, NY and I have a feeling you don't live to far from here.
Lori Skoog

Binky said...

Yikes!! I remember those recipes and that food. They used mayonaise to replace eggs in the cake.
As an adult I have never eaten bologna which as children we fried and made a sandwich with peanut butter spread on the bologna. It just grosses me out and we pretty much lived on it.
Also, Friday fishsticks and tuna noodle casserole..

Kesha Bruce said...

"Crazy Train" by Tracy Helgeson.

Chapter 2: "Mayonnaise Cake".

Tracy said...

Hi Lori, thanks for saying hi! is Brockport near Rochester? If it is we are quite a bit east from you, about two hours east of Syracuse. Pretty close in upstate terms though. I love your farm journal and could totally relate! Our 3 feet of snow has nearly all melted in the last few days too.

Binky, bologna and peanut butter sounds HORRIBLE! I didn't like bologna too much actually, and the only way I would eat it is if it was on bread with, yes, Miracle Whip. I can't stand either of those things now, blech.

Kesha, blahaha! Ok, maybe:)

Shanster said...

This post was great - like you, I am sorta suprised I didn't get rickets or some similar disease from eating processed foods as a kid.

Musta been the Flitstones vitamins I ate by the handful that saved me. Uh, is that even safe?? I'm here so I guess...

Bologna, Chef Boyardee, boxed maccaroni and cheese, Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies, Hydrox, Kool-aid, Tang... I used to eat mayonaise sandwiches... and frozen hotdogs like they were popcicles.

There was no fruit around EVER cuz it "spoiled too fast". Veggies included one of 3 things: instant mashed potatoes, canned corn or canned peas.

Oh - we got guv'ment butter and cheese... but since we didn't ever really MAKE anything, the butter lasted a long time... tho' I think I did used to eat it? Ewww.


Cheers -

Tracy said...

Hi Shanster, wow, memory lane, those were foods we had too, I remember the government cheese, but no butter, we always had a tub of the fake kind, I think my mom liked that. No fresh fruits or veggies either, unless grape jelly counts as a fruit:)

I didn't have rickets, but I did have horrible problems with my teeth. Nearly all my permanent teeth needed fillings as soon as they came in and I had big sores on my gums, filled with pus.

Shanster said...

Wow - I never had the tooth problems... I'm telling you, it had to have been the Flintstones vitamins?? My sister has/had tooth issues... maybe I ate so many preservatives my blood runs chemically? Maybe when I die, they won't have to do anything and my body will just stay preserved forever - like a twinkie -

Isn't it crazy to look at the foods you eat now? I like all kinds of stuff that was totally new to me in my 20's - stuff people ate all the time. Like - grapes, apples, strawberries to name a few!

And where I got my love of sushi I'll never know. Neither of my parents ate fish and I lived in NE - not exactly a seafood mecca!

I've still haven't tried a lot of things... sometimes I get adventurous and will eat something new - shallots are the most recent discovery I like - but other times I'm the stubborn little kid that won't try it cuz I ain't never had it and ain't gonna eat it!

Tracy said...

Yeah, Shanster, I have struggled with new foods too, but I love sushi now too!

Alas, no vitamins for us, but my teeth eventually settled down and while I have more issues than I would prefer, they are ok, all things considered. Still have them all anyway:)

Oh and I forgot about McDonalds. At one point we lived about 6 blocks away from one and my sister and I would raid my mom's tip jar and go eat there almost everyday. So that was really good too, hehe. I actually still yearn for their cheeseburgers. Once a year, maybe I have one but always regret it! I am happy that my kids are militant about not eating there.

Angela Wales Rockett said...

I've heard of most of those recipes only when I lived in the Deep South a few years ago. I showed up to a family Thanksgiving with a made from scratch apple pie and my husband's family almost all fainted.

But I do remember my mom cooking most things out of cans and packaged goods (and Miracle Whip - now I can't stand the stuff). I think it might be a generational thing.

Tracy said...

Angela, that is too funny about the pie! I have had similar experiences, too, still a lot of people cooking from mixes everywhere I have lived, anyway. I have a reputation for being a great cook when really I just cook mostly from scratch and it all tastes better because of that!

The Epiphany Artist said...

LOL I love the picture of the old cookbook I have these as well as one for teens/kids from when I was a kid. the pages are falling out. Some of the recipes are out there and some use strange numbers for measuring like a #10 can etc... When my daughter inherits my cookbooks she will get good and bad and added this or that on the pages too!

CMC said...

Ha ha....brings back some memories of my eating habits and my mom who couldn't and wouldn't learn to cook. I couldn't eat beans or fried potatoes for years.

Tracy said...

Teri, Good for you making notes, I keep meaning to do that but forget.

Cheryl, yeah I got a long list of things I couldn't eat for years either, plus a lot that I still can't eat. At least most of them are UNHEALTHY so that's something:)

sarahfburns said...

I remember "Wacky Cake". My grandmother made it.

But my mother only fed us food that our family had grown, milked (goat and cow), churned, butchered etc. We bought honey from a neighbor and bought flours from an old Water Powered Mill.

I was so envious of kids who had white bread and jiffy, hamburger helper, McDonald's etc. It was embarassing in kindergarden when the other kids were having graham crackers, I'd have rye crisps - and it was before they came in nice small squares, the teacher had to break a chunk off a huge wheel of cracker.

As an adult, I appreciate it, but I try to be more balanced with my family. (By the way, by the time my little sisters were in high school she was buying them PEPSI!)

Tracy said...

Sarah, Wow, that sounds awesome, what your mom did. All that work must have tired her out by the time she was buying pepsi, huh?:) I get that, my first two kids didn't have sugar, or any processed foods until they were at least two, maybe even older, my youngest got sugared up much earlier and I was just too exhausted to stop it. She is still our sugar hound, although the diabetes has put some limits on that. Balance is good though, you are right. My kids have sure had their share of junk food, but they know not to have it on a daily basis and are pretty good about choosing healthier foods.

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