I was perusing an old cookbook the other day.
I love to read cookbooks. I collect them. You’d think I did a lot of cooking.
Of course, at one time I DID do a lot of cooking. Preparing meals for nine growing children and two adults qualifies you as either a cook in training for the Army or school lunches. But those days are gone. …
Looking back, one of the most unexpected aspects of marriage for me was adjusting my cooking habits. I had been preparing meals at home for more than two years, ever since My Mother The Nurse went back to work on the 3-to-11 shift. I was adjusted to preparing the food that she designated. Then, I was married, and suddenly I was totally responsible for feeding two folks with no directions.
No problem, I thought in my young innocence. HAH! Suddenly I was faced with the reality that we (husband and I) came from two totally different culinary backgrounds. And no one warned me!
Here I was, a well-trained Yankee cook. Trained to boil everything; rely on root vegetables and season lightly.
I was wed to a well-trained Southern Boy … used to white bread on the table, rice in a dish and something to pour over both of them.
What a challenge. They didn’t teach that in home ec, and I never went within 100 yards of home ec.
So began my search for “proper” foods to feed a stranger … a quest that is still going on at my house.
I grew up with Irish relatives who genuflected before the potato. Here was a man who believed that rice was second only to ham as an essential food group. How many other families, I thought, had gone through the trauma of “what the heck is that?” at the supper table?
Nowhere in those many cookbooks is there any recognition that brides and grooms bring a lot of baggage to the supper table, and no one addresses the reality of adjusting to the differences that food makes.
For more than 60 years, I have been adjusting my menus to entice the taste buds of a totally alien culture.
That adjusting took a lot of reading, a lot of measuring and very large lot of retraining of expectations and traditions.
I have fought the primary vegetable war and won. Potatoes are a regular feature at my meals. Rice occurs occasionally, but not every day, regardless of what else is on the table. A plate of white bread is not available at every meal. Beans are addressed as friends, not constant companions.
My one concession was learning to make proper sweet tea for Southern palates. In my family you drank tea hot, with milk and sugar.
My mother’s forebearers were all straight from Ireland a couple of generations ago. Good, solid people who came from the Old Country to the wilds of the Maine seacoast, where fish jumped into the menu regularly.
My father’s family went back to the Mayflower, so they were big on cranberries year round and corn as a staple.
I married a man of Irish heritage, too … with roots in Charleston and Augusta. The REAL South. The little bit of German tacked on to the family was responsible for a history of brewing beer and drinking it.
So began the great integration of Fowler/Schweers appetites. It took me a long time, but I finally came up with a meal plan that fed both traditions and created its own traditions.
We’ve lived through the great creamed onion debacle of Thanksgiving. Christmas still occurs, even without ambrosia after Midnight Mass. Baked beans are a reasonable addition to Sunday morning breakfast. Yes, we can survive without a veal roast every single Sunday dinner.
Today, my children are hosting potluck dinners all over the world, with friends and family from a variety of backgrounds, and they have learned the fun of sharing food traditions from vastly different backgrounds.
I still love to cook. And read cookbooks. Discovering new treats for my aging taste buds. Opting for alternatives to fast-food hamburgers when cooking is NOT an option. Dinner can be late or early or forgotten completely under the right conditions. Potluck dinners at the church stir my creativity and my continuing competitiveness.
I’m still searching for the perfect chicken soup.
I’ve also learned how to make a darned good chicken bog. I can fry chicken with the Colonel and his friends. My Coquilles St. Jacque is delicious, and my German potato salad ain’t bad. I can even cook up a real pot of Boston Baked Beans if you insist.
Not bad for 65 years of cooking. Drop by some evening.
When folks talk about America being the great melting pot, they speak with experience. Food is a necessity; making it tasty and interesting and challenging is the diversity we find around the dining room table … even in our own houses.