Heirloom Meals: Savoring Yesterday's Traditions Today

Friday June 29, 2012

Storytelling Saturdays:
Picky Eatin’ by Michelle Anderer

I grew into adolescence a picky eater. One incident my mother is fond of retelling involves the two of us when I was fairly young, about two or three, and ends with me being fed ice cream, quite reluctantly. New tastes were a trial. Acquiring a new taste for something, required years of pressure, threatening, and frustration from my parents. Often, it the trial would end with me hiding the food in a napkin or feeing it to our cat under the table.

My main food staples consisted of hamburgers, French fries, beef, carrots, PB and J sandwiches, chicken noodle soup, pizza, Cheerios, and my personal favorite: apples. With these items, and these items in majority, I spent much of my years in elementary school a happy eater. Dinner athome was quite a contrast. Though my mother was, at the age of 42, studying at a local University to get her college degree, healthy, whole food meals for her children and spouse did not strike her as any less  of a priority. With her determination that we would be fed well and often, my family and I were treated to pot roasts, chicken cacciatore, vegetable soups, baked chicken, beef stroganoff, and many many mashed potatoes based dishes. For my older sister Emily, food was the gateway to the soul. With each new addition to our dinner menu, she grew brave and assertive in choosing to fight for the last garlic broccoli rather than to let it vanish at the fork of another family member. For me, meals at home were a jack-in-the-box experience. Often times they were filled with too many nasty surprises for them to ever really be enjoyable.  When, on the rare occasion, for instance, we got shrimp for dinner, the beady eyes of each tiny shrimp face were enough to make me pinch up my face in disgusted anguish and clamp up my mouth tightly. Should my mother dare command me to either load several small bits onto my plate or go without dessert, I went without dessert.

My approach to food has always been one of distrust. I blame this on the destructive cycle that I applied to any new food that made its way out of one of my mother's cookbooks and into the oven. It began with smells. That was always the first official declaration that we weren't, in fact, having leftovers. Unlike leftovers, daily meals commonly cooked for hours in my home and this gave sufficient time for their aromas to waft though every corner of our living space. Often this would torture my sister and stepfather with the constant smell of food that was, of course, still only half cooked. Leftovers, on the other hand, were really only a five minute preparation in the microwave and thus lacked any genuine  surprise or anticipation. With this knowledge, it was then critically important for me to try and identify the meal in order to “custom” a reaction to it. If it smelled of, say, hamburger meat than it was likely to be the beginnings of a spaghetti sauce, meat loaf, or a casserole. In this case, my “custom reaction”  allowed me to remain calm. For I knew that the sections of meat would be cut into chunks big enough for me to locate when the dish was served. I could then separate them from the rest of the meal and enjoy them on their own with only so much as a fiery look of disapproval from my mother's direction. If, on the other hand, I was either unable to distinguish, or worse yet, knew and disliked the smells that filled the kitchen, my “custom reaction” told me to it was time to. Get. Away.

When dinnertime finally arrived, I would have either been already present in my own chair for the past half hour in hungry anticipation or else ordered out from under my bed or closet in a state of uncontrollable panic. My food cycle was thus so efficient that by the time the dish was finally placed in the middle of our small dining table, my mind was already made up, either way, about eating it. 

Since coming to work for Carole Murko, I have given up many restraints to foods that I swore I would never touch again in my own home. From raw broccoli to fresh asparagus and organically grown cherry tomatoes, Carole’s meals have transformed my inner perception of taste. Though I still hold the right to tread the path of new food lightly, I have learned to disregard any immediately negative judgment and openly embrace the first forkful.