Friday, August 24, 2007

Fruits and Veggies (Did Someone Say Green?)

White peaches and white nectarines are probably my favorite fruit. When we were growing up we did have fresh fruit but we hardly ever had a vegetable. Fresh fruit however, did not include white peaches or nectarines. We only had the regular orange-y kind of those. We also had apples, oranges, pears, bananas, grapes, melon, and an occasional cherry. Fresh in our house was only fruit.

A PEACH of the White Peach variety

Except for berries, which were always frozen in heavy syrup. Vegetables were either canned or if my mother got very exotic, they were frozen. Salad was a whole other issue...

The only time we had lettuce was as a garnish for tuna fish salad. And this was no small deal because ‘Dubroff’ is quite amazing. The tuna is always the same and always good. But you don’t try to fancy it up. It’s just canned albacore – it can be any type although if you can find Rubenstein’s, that’s the best. And never use brown tuna. [Editor’s note: In Salt Lake City, we thought brown tuna was the ONLY kind that existed. Imagine how freaked out we were when we discovered, in our twenties, Albacore!] You mix it with Helmanns mayo. Never Miracle Whip or some store brand. I think it’s Helmann’s on the east coast and something else in the west, [Editor’s note: west of St. Louis it’s called Best Foods, and we DID know about it!] but the jar is the same. Some people put onions or relish or even celery in their tuna. We do not. And you can’t mix it in a blender because then it becomes mush. Some of my cousins do this, but the rest of us run screaming from the room and we don’t eat it. (And here’s a secret, one of the great treats is to make simple tuna and eat it on a toasted bagel with cream cheese). Back to the ordinary... Tuna salad is best eaten on a toasted bagel, Triscuits or a Wonder Bread type white, but if you want to eat it without a sandwich then you put some lettuce on a plate and pile the tuna on top. Which brings us back to salad. (I know it was circuitous but that’s half the fun).

When I got to college and we ate in the dining hall, the food was disgusting (food fight material and that’s was more than it deserved), but salad was one of the offerings. It was usually a combination of tomato, lettuce, cukes. I don’t think I had ever seen these three ingredients mixed together. As I said, lettuce was a tuna garnish. Tomatoes were sliced and eaten on the side of something. I mean as a side for something. I’m a Jersey girl so Jersey beefsteak tomatoes were not a treat, they were just something we had everyday in the summer along with Jersey corn. In fact, we ate the tomatoes like they were apples or pears. We just ate them whole. Even today I can’t eat a tomato unless it tastes like summer. When I go to a restaurant and they charge $8 for a caprese salad I insist on tasting the tomatoes before I order the dish. Eating a hot house mealy tomato is like eating dirt. Actually, eating those southern beans that they eat on New Years Day is like eating dirt, but this is a close second.

We ate a great deal of fried food and always the same sides with the same meat. My brother and I play a game where he says fried veal chops and I say, mashed potatoes and corn. Or he says broiled lamb chops, and I say mashed potatoes and frozen peas. Or I say roast chicken and he says mashed potatoes and corn. Or I say pork chops and he says, we never ate pork chops because we were Jewish people who pretended to be somewhat kosher. We actually kept kosher for a few years. Mom thought that she wanted her parents to be able to eat at our house. That means we had one set of dishes for dairy and one for meat. We didn’t eat pork products in the house and we didn’t mix meat and milk. But my grandparents never came to our house to eat and my dad couldn’t get around very easily and he wanted to have a BLT occasionally so the kosher part of the program was over.

Anyway, as I said, the accompaniment to meat was a lot of corn and potatoes, and sometime frozen peas but not many other green things. My mother didn’t like green vegetables so she didn’t cook them. If we wanted vegetables we went to my Aunt Sophie’s. What was great about growing up with extended family was that we could eat at any one of four houses. All we had to do was call our mothers and say that we were going to eat at one of the Aunts. Uncle Phil liked Italian food and spices so Aunt Helen cooked “foreign food”. She also made the best scrambled eggs and, if there was a sale, always had a wide variety of cold cereal. Aunt Sophie was a great baker and cooked from all the brown food groups—so that was a treat. Aunt Fritzie couldn’t cook but she had wonderful dishes and it was fun to eat in her gum drop colored kitchen. We never got bored with a venue. And if we wanted to eat at a friends, which was really not permissible, we would just say we were eating at one of the Aunt’s. Our mothers never checked as long as we were home on time.

And some things never change. For example, today when Mom was in the hospital, they served meatloaf and mashed potatoes—something we ate frequently—and there was broccoli on the side. She ate the meat and potatoes but opted to eat a piece of chocolate cake instead of the green. “Are you sure you don’t want the broccoli?” I asked knowing the answer. She just looked at me and shook her head. It was not a “no”. It was more of a “what kind of idiot are you?”

The surprising thing is that my brother and I both love vegetables. We still love fried, but we do like it accompanied by something green and fresh. So that’s a change but you know when you see a sign that says “fresh frozen” and most people snicker. Not me. I get “fresh frozen” —it’s the way we grew up. I still can’t eat berries unless they are covered with sugar or frozen in syrup – and on vanilla ice cream, fugettaboutit! Of course, I wouldn’t knock it unless you’ve tried it—that or I suggest you simply go with white peaches and nectarines. They are pretty special. As in just the fact that they are available at Costco for a pretty fair price. We’re just sayin...Iris


Anonymous said...

I dont know if this is strictly a french-canadian thing, but we put diced pears in our tuna salad.

Personally I prefer it sans pear and with good dose of mayo and ground pepper with mustard.

Somehow cheese and fish doesnt sound right.


Anonymous said...

Reminds me of an experience of learning watermelon is of the veggie group, as well...Depends on the culture;African, if i recall correctly(?)

Adam Lerman said...

Hey, I've got a question about this entry. Give a call soon? We should catch up anyway.