Monday, February 20, 2006

Family legends

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One of the storytelling workshops I offer involves helping others--- storytellers, scrapbookers or simply the family raconteuer--- to save and share their own family legends. The whys and hows I've shared freely in several venues, but one that is easily accessible to anyone reading this entry is but a click away.

You might have guessed by the images beginning this post that this bit of family lore involves cooking. It does. The images above are absolutely not my mother, but Artist Trading Cards left over from a swap titled "Oh sh**, I've become my mother!" I've started a new fun venture for myself releasing leftover art projects into the world as found art. I honestly can not recall my mother ever burning our dinner. Quite the contrary, Mom is an excellent cook. We ate well as kids. Home made bread every single meal. None of that yucky Wonder Bread! Mom liked to try new things and most of her experiments were tasty. Except one.

Mom had the notion in her head that our health and well being would be ensured if only we'd eat enough liver. Another bit of family lore says that as a small girl, I used to gobble it up, proclaiming to anyone whose jaw had dropped upon witnessing this act of carnivorous delight, "I love liver!"

I think that's probably not true. Legend. Maybe I loved the fried onions. To this day, the only thing that makes liver even slightly palatable in my mind is the fried onions.

Anyway. Mom would try every so often to sneak some liver into our diet somehow. Most often, this was done on nights when Dad wasn't home, because Dad hated liver as much as the rest of the family. Dad, like Mom, was a child of the Depression, and it was one of the rules in our household that no one left the table until our plates were cleaned. I don't think we ever heard the "starving children in China" guilt trip. It was simply wasteful to throw away food. I really can't disagree with this viewpoint. I still find it almost criminal that grocery stores throw out food that's perfectly fine but no longer "pretty." Too many hungry people living near that grocery store would be happy to have that food, myself included.

I digress from the legend, however. One night at dinner, we were being served meat loaf. Unlike Randy in "A Christmas Story," my brothers and I loved meat loaf. On this particular evening, however, the meat loaf tasted really strange. Not like spoiled meat or anything. More like a tough, chewy piece of ground leather.

No one said anything. We didn't want to hurt Mom's feelings, after all. Silent looks across the table told the story. This stuff was disgusting! What in the world had she done to our favorite meat loaf? It must have been a food experiment gone bad!

I dimly recall that it must have been nice outside, because I had this sense that the fleeting evening hours playing outside were slipping away as I tried to chew and chew...and chew. My younger brothers Erik and Fritz were similarly preoccupied. We just could not down this stuff! We knew what was at stake, freedom to run in the warm evening sun if only we could clean our plates before sides were chosen in the neighborhood "Starlight, Starbright" game. All three of us struggled, aching to get out there but unable to swallow quickly enough.

Looking around, we noticed Dad was not moving much faster. Finally, he voiced the suspicions we'd all harbored.

"There's liver in this meat loaf, isn't there, Betty?"


All eyes were on Mom at that point. Would she really have gone to the trouble to grind up liver and make it into meat loaf, all in the name of an iron rich diet? Wouldn't those cool Flintstones vitamins have worked just as well? We'd always hungered for the fun shapes advertised between "Underdog" and "Mighty Mouse" on the Saturday morning cartoons.

Finally, she spoke.

"I just thought that maybe this way, we could get some liver into the kids without them gagging on it!"

Without a word, Dad walked over to the trash can, plate and knife in hand, and for the only time in my life that I can remember, scraped the offending liver loaf into the garbage.

Turning to the three of us sitting stunned at the table, Dad said, "You don't have to eat the liver loaf. Betty, don't ever try this one again!"

We could hardly believe it. Without stopping to give him a chance to reconsider, the three of us were right there behind him, dumping the glop into the garbage and gaining our ticket to freedom.

Mom never did try to feed us liver loaf again. She relinquished her fight to get the stuff into us, waiting instead for those times when she could make herself a plate of her beloved liver to enjoy like a forbidden treat.

She can have it. As for me, I'd much prefer a plate of her homemade fudge. Same color as liver, far better in both the taste and forbidden qualities department.

So, share your own family food legends in the comments. Is there anyone whose mother tried to feed them anything more gross than liver disguised as meat loaf?


At 11:03 AM, Blogger Rachel said...

Ugh! Liver! Makes me shudder to even think about liver in meatloaf. Ewww!

I admit it, I am a picky eater. It must have been horrible trying to feed me - I remember countless hours sitting at the dinner table after everyone else was done, staring at my plate of congealed, cold food.

So, I love hamburger, but ONLY in burger form. Not in meatloaf or any other kind of food, except tacos at home. I also loved mashed potatoes when I was a teenager. And I loved peas, but only with rice. :) So, one day my mom decides, just like the mom in the movie "Better Off Dead," that since I like all three of these things singly, I will just simply adore them in ONE DISH - casserole! No way, no how! Did I mention I have the palate of a 2 year old - all food must be separated and the foods can't touch. Casserole means touching. Ewww. Needless to say, it was not successful. Yet another evening at the dinner table after everyone else was done.

At 12:03 PM, Blogger Amy said...

Ok so mine isn't from my childhood but it is tragic none the less...
Ok dh and I have never ever EVER had a dine out dinner that went right this includes going through the drive through at fast food places. Some examples on our first date dh started to eat his country fried steak at crackle barrel and it was literally so tough that instead of actually being able to cut it with his knife he ended up chucking it across the table and it ended up in my face gravy and all!!!
Another one was for his birthday I had set up a dinner with some of his friends at a buffet style rest. well we all ordered steaks his friend ordered steak tips and he ordered a steak. Well as the waitress starts to come at us and all of the sudden she trips about two steps away from danny and ends up dropping it in his lap and the plate bounces off of him and lands on the floor.
These are just two of the thousands of problems and the worst part is that I can't cook.

At 12:51 PM, Blogger SageHen said...

I am laughing so hard I'm gagging. Or maybe I'm gagging so hard I'm laughing.
Liver Loaf, or the horror!

At 1:19 PM, Blogger ~~~Drama Queen's Mom~~~ said...

My dad was our cook. It got to the point we HATED to eat. He would serve us coon, snake, buffalo, ANY type of meat. The only thing I think we did not eat was dog and cat, however, HE had both when he was over seas :0(

The only time in my life I was skinny!

At 1:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too funny! My Mom didn't try to disguise the liver - she just kept telling us, "Just put more ketchup on it. That'll make it taste better." She didn't like it any more than we did, but made it for Dad.

We used to have to eat all sorts of stuff (semi-farm family). The two most memorable were cow tongue soup and rabbit.

Mom made a huge pot of "beef and veggie" soup. It smelled wonderful and although it was for dinner that night she gave us all little sample bowls when we came in from the cold. A couple of hours later, she asked me to stir the simmering pot and up floats this HUGE cow tongue! GROSS! When it was time for dinner, she shredded the tongue meat into the soup.

We had rabbits as kids and when Dad first brought them home, we named them. We played with them, we took care of them. One day we came home from school and asked Mom what was for dinner. She didn't say anything, but Dad came into the kitchen with a huge grin and exclaimed, "Mopsy!" Needless to say I will NEVER try rabbit. I went without dinner that night.

Too funny to think back on these memories!


At 1:42 PM, Anonymous Laura (scrapsomniac) said...

Loved your story. Lucky for me my Mom hated liver(and was forced to eat it as a child) so I never had to eat it. Having 6 kids to feed, my parents were always trying to come up with ways to save money - I can't tell you how many Saturday mornings I spent baking bread. Anyway, one my Dad was a very generous person who often did side work for neighbors one farmer always paid him in food. One time he was paid in tomatoes. My parents decided to make homemade ketchup - something we used in mass quanities. It didn't turn out very well. It was runny, it tasted odd(cloves?)and worst of all it was an awful funky brown. They bottled it in a plastic gallon milk jug. It was in our frig for a very long time. I do think it saved them money - I know everytime I saw it in the frig it took my appetite away. Of course, my mom quit buying real ketchup- It was either the jug of sludge or nothing. I think this is when I developed my love of mustard. At least they never made it again.

At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have told this story many times but I never tire of the telling.
When I was growing up my parents didn't have much money and my father was always hunting something for meat. I am sure I ate many an illegal deer.
One night my Mum made a real treat for us all, beef stew. We loved beef stew because it was store bought meat and made us feel like the not so poor kids and well it was yummy! Needless to say all three of us kids gobbled it up with enthusiasm and got to have SECONDS. We all thought we must have died and gone to heaven, beef stew AND we got seconds. Ahhhh yes all was right with our little world.
After dinner my Mum causally asks us how we liked the beef stew, we were all like "It was great!" In the back of my mind and I am sure my brothers we were wondering where the meat had come from but didn't really want to ask and look a gift horse in the mouth. The answer was soon to follow after our "it was great' commment. My Mum proceded to tell us that what we just ate was not beef stew but was in fact BEAVER stew. ewwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!!!!!!!!! We were horrified, disgusted but full.
Yes that's right ladies I ate beaver and I liked it!

Liz aka APeaCalledLiz

At 2:57 PM, Blogger Mary Kay said...

My mother was not a BAD cook. She'd best have been called competent, I think. The main trouble with Mom's cooking was that she made the same seven things over and over. Since roasts (both beef and pork) weren't in that regular rotation, they were always a welcome treat.

Once, when my neices were staying with us, she made a roast that we all raved about. After dinner, when the two little girls had run off to play, she made me promise not to tell them what they'd eaten: venison. Bambi. Oh, boy.

I wonder if that has anything at all to do with the fact that I've been vegetarian for over 15 years??

At 3:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your stories, they are the best and I have to scrap more of my own.

But this time around I agree with your mother ... and I love liver too. My husband cooks it beautifully--he marinates it first in lemon juice and herbs (he's Trinidadian and their style of cooking is wonderful), and then fries it in flour. I've had pork liver twice this week! LOL


At 4:22 PM, Blogger Cammy said...

I grew up in the country and my dad hunted every fall. I grew up eating, moose tongue, liver, heart, kidneys and never with a single complaint.

Then, one year, my dad decided to buy a side of beef from a nearby ranch. Our family trucked over there to butcher the animal. I did not SEE it being killed or cut up, but boy, did I ever SMELL it. UGGGHHH! I was gagging and crying to go home.

There was no way I was going to eat that stinking cow. So, whenever my mom was cooking supper, I would ask, "What are we having?"

Her reply, "Roast beef" or "Beef steaks".

I'd be happy, thinking that I was saved. At least we weren't having cow. LOL!

At 9:07 AM, Anonymous Amy Sorensen said...

One of my two senior projects in college was a folklore study on foodways, so I adore this blog entry! I think that stories about food are some of the most important ones because they tie us very securely to our own family values and ISSUES!

My mom's yuckiest meal was salmon loaf. I'm not a fish eater at all and I firmly believe that my issues with fish date back to this salmon loaf. I will never forget gingerly picking through the gross pink mass and seeing little white lumps. "Umm, what IS that?" I asked. Her reply haunts me still: "They're bones. You just chew them up."



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