Writing 101 – Day 10
( I’m late and out of order with my Writing 101 assignments. This is supposed to be “Happy _____” a memorable childhood meal, but for me it led to memories of my grandparents and their garden.)
Why did I like it? I don’t know. It is very unusual for a child to love liver, but when my grandmother would announce that she was cooking “liver and onions with bacon,” I dashed across the yards to her house to enjoy the meal.
I loved my grandparents. Sitting at the table with Grandma and Georgie (my name instead of “Grandpa”) is a warm memory. The felt-backed plastic tablecloth, the spoon jar and vinegar cruet, the salt, pepper and sugar all in the center — a sensible table setting when I think of it, everything on hand ready to be used at any meal.
Grandma was a great cook, and now I wonder if it was of necessity or if she really loved it, but the variety of her meals astonishes me today. We lived next door and I “took” many of my meals in her kitchen. I have her cookbooks and recipe files in my kitchen today and use them often.
We weren’t Pennsylvania Dutch, but we ate like Dutch farmers much of the time, the many sweets and sours, lots of greens — dandelion, endive, fresh lettuces from our garden. We had one-food meals called “messes” when the time was right: strawberries with shortcake, milk and sugar; chicken and waffles; fresh picked corn-on-the-cob; green beans with ham. Nothing else required; they were so delicious. Scallions or radishes picked fresh from the garden in buttered bread sandwiches, asparagus stewed in cream on toast. The evening’s entertainment was the meal.
As I look back now, the family garden was very large and filled with variety — everything from rhubarb and asparagus to raspberries, corn, peppers, tomatoes, squash, melons. And flowers, every kind of flower, names that I still recall but can no longer match to the colorful blooms — mountain pinks, bottle -brush, coxcomb, delphinium – and many that I can: columbine, asters, marigolds, bachelor buttons, dahlia, daisy, delphinium, peony, iris, snap dragon.
I remember the Burpee seed catalog on Grandma and Georgie’s dining room table. On winter evenings they would plan their order for the spring, and one day a package would arrive in the mail – packets of seeds. I would shake them and look at the colorful illustrations on the packets, and later I’d help Grandma plant them in her gardens around the house.
Georgie eventually got a gas-powered tractor to prepare the garden for the new spring planting, but I remember the neighboring farmer coming over with his horse to plow the garden long before that. We kids would sit cross-legged on the grassy border watching as Mr. Frantz and his horse lumbered up and down the garden turning up the soil.
Another thing I remember about our garden horrifies me now. All kinds of terrible insecticides/pesticides were either sprayed or shaken dry onto the plants to keep away the voracious bugs. I also recall a row of yellow Japanese beetle traps – a cloyingly sweet liquid to attract them, then catch them in the bag below. During especially bad years, Daddy and Georgie emptied bag after bag, making a mound of dead beetles to be burned in the refuse pile where the family trash was burned – a bare, charred circle of earth surrounded by rocks the size of cantaloupes.
And even worse, I remember squashing yellow bean bugs with my fingers as we went up and down the rows and shaking Japanese beetles off the asparagus ferns till the quart jar was almost full. We would smash other small destructive worms between two leaves, and WORST OF ALL, would search the tomato vines for the long, green tomato hornworms to crush them. ( grimacing as I write this!)
As I look back over this, it’s not the liver and onion meal that’s memorable, but the memories that it brought with it.