Friday, February 15, 2013
Po' Folks Eatin'
Let’s be clear before going any further… the vast majority of us have never experienced true poverty. We don’t really know what it is like to be truly poor. We don’t know what it is like to really not know if there will be food on the table tonight or even tomorrow. Too many people do know this feeling as we enjoy reading about food-inspired travel, expensive ingredients, and elaborate feasts. We need to keep in mind both our good fortune and responsibility to help those in need. As I title this entry “Po’ Folks’ Eatin’” please do not mistakenly think I am making fun of those less fortunate.
While fortunately few of us have experienced true poverty, many of us do remember times when our families were not as affluent or as worldly as they are now. And if we look back on these times we can probably remember a few dishes that made the most of leftover ingredients and created some odd combinations. And if we are really honest with ourselves, we recognize that these dishes remain sentimental favorites. We might tell our foodie friends about them, not will we long for them with that amazing bottle of wine we just found…but we love them just the same. Here are some of the simple, efficient, economical yummy eats I remember…and might still enjoy, not that I would ever tell.
American Chop Suey – this was as standard as anything could be in my family. Spaghetti, some ground beef, stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, maybe a hint of cream. It was a wonderfully simple, inexpensive, quick meat sauce or Bolognese imitator. And until living in Europe as an adolescent I knew no different. As for the name…God only knows!
Macaroni and Cheese with hot dogs – yes, Kraft! Have you made it from scratch?! All that cheese gets expensive! Besides, as a kid I didn’t like the “real” thing, only the stuff in the blue box. The crust on the “real” thing grossed me out. Now I get it, it really is the best part. The hot dogs…cut into disks or quartered longwise and heated up quickly in a frying pan…and we called them nickels and worms. Why? Watch the long ones curl as they cook. I still love this with the kids.
S.O.S. – a delicious combination of white bread, topped with turkey, some stuffing, maybe some cranberry sauce and doused in turkey gravy. Wonderful post-Thanksgiving! The name…? Look it up. I think this was the first dish that I knew by a name other than its ingredients. I also seem to remember my dad doing something like this with leftover sauerbraten – a subject for a later entry.
Turkey Mornay – or something like that – This was a creamy, baked combination of turkey meat, broccoli (I think) and maybe some pasta or rice… My memory has been blocked on this one. We seemingly had it once a week from 7th to 10th grade. Every guest ate this. If you were a guest more than once, you ate it more than once. My mom is laughing right now – and telling me I am wrong – and that it was delicious.
Elbow macaroni and Hunts tomato sauce – mix together and done. This was pretty standard too. You can feed a family of four on $3 with this unless you insist on a salad. In college I could make this stretch for a couple days, though I used two pounds of pasta! Later I started adding some olive oil, garlic, and pepper and it actually became quite yummy. The thought of this dish automatically makes me feel like I am 8 years old.
Chinese Chop Suey – I actually haven’t had this in years and I think it is best kept in the past. Rice topped with a sautéed combination of a recent roast chopped into small bits, celery, sprouts and some sort of brown sauce. I am pretty sure there’s a good reason I haven’t had this in a while.
There were other possibilities for dinner. Scrambled egg sandwiches, grilled cheese, cereal…you probably did some of these too. I will bet your family has some spectacular creations. My wife’s family has Irish Burritos. What…? Never heard of that? Left over corned beef gets turned into amazing hash and thrown in a tortilla with some hot sauce. Didn’t know the Irish used tortillas, did you? (Actually the corned beef is an Irish-American tradition, but that’s for an entry in March.)
So what were your childhood dishes of efficiency and low cost?