Mama and Daddy celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary recently!
Five (of seven) of us children, with our spouses, gathered at my parents’ dinner table last week to celebrate .
We had some old time-y foods, like tenderized round steaks smothered in gravy, fried potatoes, and Harvard beets (sweet/sour red beets.) Dessert was angel food cake with 7-minute frosting served with ice cream, a repeat of Mama and Daddy’s wedding reception. Our centerpieces were two goblets filled with flowers and stuffed with candy bars and packs of chewing gum. That was how they decorated their wedding table.
During supper our conversation went to some of the foods we ate when we were children. Mama was an exceptional cook, especially with desserts. I remember my childhood as a time of guests, lots of them, both for overnight and for meals. One time a couple showed up unexpectedly at mealtime and all Mama had on hand that we could cook fast were hotdogs and some sort of salad. In only a few minutes she quickly stirred up a dark cherry dessert with whipped topping and the man said he had never seen someone who could turn a lunch of hotdogs into a 5-star meal like my mother just had.
Some of the foods of our childhood that have all but disappeared came up in our reminiscing. One was a gelatin dessert called “Crown Jewel.” It required making four or five different colors of gelatin in shallow pans, cutting them into 1″ squares when cold, and mixing them in lightly sweetened whipped cream (from our one milk cow.) Then Mama turned it all into a pretty glass bowl (always the same one) lined with graham cracker crumbs. Mama’s pies were exceptional treats, too, crowned with her signature fluting at the rims of the crusts. Then there was the old standby that she often made for guests, “Graham Cracker Fluff.” It was a cooked custard pudding with Knox gelatin dissolved in it, then fluffed with whipped cream and stiffly beaten egg whites. This, she also turned into a graham cracker crumb crust. Mama usually served it in a glass 9×13 pan and cut the dessert into squares. I liked it best when frozen and served only partially thawed.
Mama’s two favorite cookbooks.
Our pleasant conversation, however, didn’t stay with only the treats. Among the foods we all seemed glad to have left in our childhood were fried cucumber sandwiches and cold bread soup. The fried cucumbers were sliced lengthwise, dredged in seasoned flour and pan-fried in butter. They were then placed between two slices of bread spread with mayonnaise. Similar sandwiches were also made from crook neck squash and at times from dandelion flowers (although rarely) and eaten on hot, summer days when time was short and our supply of cucumbers was long. They were often served with cold bread and milk soup, with some sort of fruit added. My youngest sister joined our family as a 10-year-old foster child and she laughingly told of her dismay at having to eat soggy bread soaked in cold milk upon her very first day at our house. She thinks it had sliced bananas in it, but thought it may have had applesauce. Oh my. We all feel sorry for her now, but at the time we didn’t know that cold bread soup was something the rest of the world was not eating, too.
One highlight of every summer were cold watermelons, often served in the evenings just before we went to bed. We’d gather in the kitchen and share it together. We owned a family ice business, and we children did most of the deliveries in our little pickup truck that had a refrigerated box on the back. We delivered bagged, cubed ice to small country stores in about a 100 mile radius. At some of those stores the owners threw a watermelon into the back of the truck to chill on our way home. That was always a highlight and I rated the quality of our summers by the number of watermelons we’d had that year.
I can still do that! Today I had my first, and its only May. Its going to be a good summer.