Food connects us with memories of people. When I think of some people, I think of the foods they brought into the lives of my brothers and me. Here are some memorable foods and their people in my life.
Cambric tea. What? That was the name of the sugar-water I often sipped with my childhood neighbor, Roberta Brown, on her back porch in Park Ridge. Her mother warmed it up and called it cambric tea. We were pretty young. She was afraid to come to our house because she was afraid of Omar, our St. Bernard. We played dolls and colored in our coloring books for several years.
Chocolate chip cookies and date bread. Who could forget Sweetie Pie’s cookies that awaited us whenever we visited her or she visited us? Sweetie Pie was my maternal grandmother. Her cookies were very good, and the memory probably makes them better. Once when we were older children, she tried store cookie dough on us, but we caught her forging her stellar product. She went back to the originals. She also was famous for date bread. Where would we have been without it?
Pinwheel cookies and chocolate pudding. Delicious. These were Grandma Allen’s specialties. Who could not love them and her? She baked a lot of other things for us, too. When we spent weekends with her in Oak Park, she told us we ate like birds, meaning we didn’t eat enough to satisfy her. She gave us old fashioned cooking. Aunt Lina lived with her after Grandpa died, and I remember Aunt Lina chasing brother Eddy around the house trying to kiss him.
The food memories abound with Father. When he liked a food, he loved it and proclaimed how good it was. He praised cauliflower until I decided it must be good even though I didn’t like it. Father also was fond of beef brains There was no mad cow disease then. He would bring them home from Fritz Ripp’s meat market and fry them immediately with enthusiasm, regardless of what really was on the menu. He brought home a jar of dried grasshoppers once.
At Christmastime we were required to eat lutfisk, which Father cooked; he carried on this tradition for many years. He is the only person I know who liked it. I had to make the horseradish sauce. It was a kind of bonding with him. He also made glogg for three days on the back of the stove during the Christmas season. He was even enthusiastic about dog food, although he didn’t eat it; he simply thought our dogs were lucky to have such good food.
Father’s big claim to fame was the Door County fish boil. He embraced this Door County tradition whole heartedly. When the parents entertained, it often meant having a fish boil outside. My brothers and I were his assistants, so we know how to do it, too. He entertained Governor Warren Knowles with a fish boil in our yard along the bay.
Mother had the good sense to let him do his thing with food. She was the person who cooked normal food for us. She was famous for her recipe program on WDOR, which is probably the longest running radio program in Wisconsin history. It went from 1951, when the station went on the air, to mid 2005, shortly before her death. She was the convenience food queen. She told other people how to cook.
White sauce and muffins. Accolades for these go to Mrs. Robertson, my home economics teacher in 7th and 8th grade. Without her I never would have learned to cook or sew. I think white sauce is the one thing everyone should know how to make. It is flexible enough to work in sauces of all kinds. With cheese melted into it, we had a lot of macaroni and cheese after I was a mother. Mrs. Robertson’s muffin recipe was very good, too. It wasn’t sweet cake like muffins of today.