Top Ten Tastes of My Childhood
My mother had four bratty kids to feed, and ground beef was cheap, yo, so it made an appearance on our dinner table at least once a week. This meatloaf was pretty standard; a bit dry, but you could fix that with the trusty ketchup, whose presence on the table could always be counted on.
9. Paprika & Garlic Salt
If I were to tell you what my childhood tasted like, it would be paprika and garlic salt (plus ketchup, see above). These totally innocuous flavouring agents (I don’t even think they count as spices) may as well have been the only tenants in the spice rack, as they were the only two that ever saw food. Paprika and garlic salt went on just about everything, and along with ketchup, complete the holy trinity of perfect seasoning according to my mother.
8. Spaghetti & Meatballs
The only thing more economical than ground beef is pasta, so you can guess how many times we sat down to this meal in a month. The sauce was always from a can, and my dad would add so much parmesan cheese and dried red chilis that it would make my eyes water from across the table. I was out of the house for more than a decade before I was able to cook this for myself. And I have never, ever used canned sauce. On anything.
7. Ham ‘n Eggs
Like the good Jews that we are, we sat down to a brunch of ham ‘n eggs on English muffins pretty much every single weekend of my childhood and youth. A testament to how much my dad enjoyed this dish is that, once he and my mother stopped having anything to do with each other, he continued to cook ham ‘n eggs for himself several times a week. Or maybe it was just the only thing he knew how to cook. Either way, Sunday mornings at my house smelled decidedly more Gentile than we like to admit.
Every Jewish person will tell you this, but seriously, my mother’s brisket is better than anyone else’s brisket. She makes it the traditional way – with onion soup mix – and puts rice in the bottom of the pan to cook in the juices. Holy Moses, but my mother’s brisket (and rice) is so good. Too bad she always ruined hers by drowning it in ketchup. I loved it as a kid, but then became quasi-political and shunned red meat. Thankfully, any pretense I ever had of being a vegetarian went out the window during the Rosh Hashana of my first pregnancy. Baby wanted meat. Lots and lots of meat, and I happily obliged. I now eat my mother’s brisket without shame. (And without ketchup)
5. Sausage & Peppers
More pork, don’t tell the Rabbi. This was actually a really tasty dish. So easy, and great for a chilly autumn day. I now make this for my own family, though I use organic peppers and nitrate/sulphite/additive-free sausage – things that did not even hit the radar of an economically-minded housewife in the 70s and 80s. Chunks of spicy sausage with onions and green and red peppers simmering slowly in their own juices and then slung onto a bun – just yum. No need to add ketchup (I’m looking at you, MOM).
4. Bubilehs & Matzo Brie
As far as my heritage goes, I would say that I am a cultural, rather than religious, Jew. We observe the holidays in our own special way (like, we eat a lot and not a single prayer is said), and this includes Pesach (Passover), which is observed by (among other things) not eating anything with yeast for 8 days. We usually made it one day – one meal really, the seder – but would supplement our heathen ways by diving into our two favourite ‘Passover’ foods for breakfast, bubilehs and matzo bries. A bubileh is a huge, fluffy, eggy panckake that you sprinkle sugar on, and a matzo brie is essentially French toast, but made with matzo. We kids ate it like you would French toast, that is, drowning in syrup. My mother would douse it with – you guessed it – ketchup. Good thing we are the chosen people, otherwise I’m pretty sure my mother would not be let into the kingdom of Heaven for that reason alone.
3. Salmon Patties
I do not like canned tuna. I have never liked canned tuna. My sister has not eaten canned tuna since she got sick as a child after eating a tuna sandwich (it had nothing to do with the tuna and everything to do with the flu, but still, she blamed the tuna). My mother likes canned tuna. My father liked canned tuna. Canned tuna is economical. So my mother made tuna patties. And called them salmon. She didn’t tell me that the salmon patties were really tuna patties unitl l I was in my 20s. I retaliated by telling her that we once put a hole in the dining room wall during a party, and patched it up with materials stolen from a nearby construction site. Take that, mom.
As in, a cow’s. Pickled and sliced. In a sandwich. All bumpy and European and gross. I did not eat tongue, but my mother, my grandmother and my aunts did, and seeing it sitting there on the platter from the Pickle Barrel, contaminating the lovely pastrami and corned beef beside it with its nastiness was enough to make me eat tuna. Almost.
1. Ketchup Stew
So named due to the main flavouring ingredient, this stew will be the butt of family jokes until I
die. Chunks of bargain-priced beef alongside potatoes, carrots, peas and onions, in a soupy, ketchupy sauce, my mother would add more ketchup once the stew was in her bowl, because she is gross. I have not had ketchup stew in almost 20 years, but it still haunts me today, and I would not be surprised if, like Citizen Kane’s Rosebud, it is the thing that I stupefyingly cry out for on my death-bed. Curiously, my vegan sister craves ketchup stew when feeling under the weather.