Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Treats and Traditions, Part 1

My food memories have their origins in my parents’ cultures, as they do for most people. Both of my parents are from Buffalo, NY, where my Mom was raised in a German Catholic family, and my Dad was raised in a Polish Jewish family. Their mixed marriage in the early 1940s caused quite a stir in the two families, who never really associated with each other. So I grew up shuttling between the two cultures, especially at the holidays. And when it came to food, the two cultures had their own special treats and traditions.

My Mom was an excellent cook and did most of the cooking for our family. Some of the meals she served my Dad and me were based on the traditional German cuisine that she learned from her mother such as pork loin with sauerkraut and boiled potatoes. Most meals were based around meat, such as pork, beef, chicken, and lamb. Her lamb chops were also famous in our family. Occasionally, when she was cooking a beef roast, Mom would give us a treat and get a couple of marrow bones from the store and cook those with the roast. We then enjoyed the delicacy of the bone marrow on toast before dinner.

When I was in my teens in the 1960s, Mom began to experiment quite a bit with different types of food that lead to some interesting reactions from both my father and me. She would have us try out Tigers Milk protein drink, some soy-based products, and yogurt before they were widely accepted. I remember her first attempt a cooking a quiche, which I think was a mushroom quiche made from a recipe in a cookbook by James Beard. When she served the quiche for dinner, Dad took a few bites and asked where she had learned to cook this new dish. When Mom said it was from Beard’s cookbook, Dad silently got up from the table, went to the kitchen and picked up the cookbook from the counter, then went to the garbage can and forcefully threw the book in to the garbage. Then, without a word, he returned to the table and returned to picking at his meal. (We didn’t discuss things much in my family as I was growing up.)

My Mom also picked up some of the recipes from Dad’s (Jewish) side of the family from my Aunts Tess and Sylvia, who had the reputation as the best cooks in the family. Mom made a delicious beef brisket that she learned from Dad’s sister Tess. However, when she made chicken (or turkey at Thanksgiving) for dinner, she would always make some other meat dish for Dad since he did not eat poultry. He tells the story that when he was young, he was often sent to the butcher to pick up a chicken for his mother Rose to cook. There he had to watch as the live chicken was killed and koshered before taking it back to his mother. He remembers having to always eat the “part that goes over the fence last”, and now as a result he never willingly eats any poultry. I remember once when we visited Grandma Rose in Brooklyn when I was a kid, she served us chicken soup, and because Dad was her “special boy” he got the bowl with the chicken foot in it, claw and all. He was not amused.

Paul W.

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