|(Not quite this bad, but... Read on!)|
One of my brothers is now adding more war stories from our respective younger years to his blog. Already he covered an analysis of my blog post on Mom's meatloaf, a funny confession of electrocuting our youngest brother, and now a post giving the enduring tale of Mom's grits.
Somehow I think he still thinks Mom was a good cook. I loved my Mom and I miss her all the time. At some level I can say that Mom was a good cook. She had the fabled ability to take a quarter pound of meat and expand it to a complete meal, including vegetables, for four growing boys, my Dad and herself. Let me be clear, however. I'm the eldest, and I watched Mom cook. I can say with absolute authority that she imbued beef flavor into a steaming pot of water and beef bouillon by waving a small piece of left-over beef over the top of the kettle. This was her beef stew recipe.
She tried, as evidenced by the foray into cooking Southern grits (my shorter version). She managed to make passable fried chicken in the months and years that followed, yet each try remained a unique dish. Mom did have recipes and recipe books. I saw them, the books neatly arranged on the book shelves and the recipes on scraps or three by five cards stuffed in the book pages. Following recipes? That's something else altogether.
Mom made a great pot roast. All of us loved her pot roast. As an adult I discovered that it doesn't require much cooking skill to make a great pot roast. Not to detract from Mom's ability with a pot roast; it was mostly meat, which was a great change.
Okay, let's leave the pot roast. Mom was good at hot dogs. I'm pretty sure they have some meat in them, but that isn't Mom's doing. We had a Great Uncle who said he liked hot dogs until he started making them. He worked in a sausage factory in Ohio.
Mom’s hamburgers started as meat. When I discovered that most people didn't add filler to their burgers, I was a little amazed. Mom’s technique for cooking burgers was to convert them to black charcoal briquettes. I still like that style, but don’t prefer burgers that way.
Mom made great spaghetti. I guess I need to clarify that a little bit also. I loved her spaghetti. Discovering that you could eat spaghetti with sauce on a plate astounded me. We used bowls, since Mom's sauce was, well, sauce (and a little meat).
I won't reminisce about Mom's cooking skills any longer. By now, you get the idea. She wasn't a gourmet cook, but we loved most of what she made; well, we didn't have a lot of choice, did we? (One brother said that I didn’t need to mention SPAM™ so I won’t.)
There was one incident involving Mom's cooking that is now a family tale - at least in my family. The tale of Pizza Fish.
I should clarify something about me before I proceed. I was asked once by a boss whether I knew how to change a gasket on a centrifugal pump. I told him the story of pinching my thumb. Someone once asked if I could fix a ceiling fan. I told of the time I thought the electricity was off - and it wasn't. Why? Because of the dozens of times I changed gaskets or fixed fans, those were the funny stories!
So, for my children, here's the written version of Pizza Fish. I checked with my brothers and they have no memory of Pizza Fish, so whatever I say must be true. How very cool (since memory has faded).
I was off in college, at Central Michigan University (CMU). Of all my colleges, CMU remains my favorite - well, the first year there remains my favorite. I had a girlfriend, surprising everyone who knew me at the time. I was not very comfortable with girls, let's just leave it at that and move on with the story.
Dorm food was the only edible fare I had available to me at college. Oh, I'd occasionally get a few extra dollars and go to the local burger place for a burger and fries, and even more rarely manage to pitch in for my share of delivered pizza. Once in a great while I'd order the vegetable sub from the pizza place. It arrived hot, with melted cheese and oven-roasted vegetables limply lying in the long bun, including hot lettuce. I really did like the veggie sub; it certainly didn't hurt that it was the least expensive item on the delivery menu.
I didn't go home very often. I didn't have a car, so I had to hitch a ride with one of the very few friends heading into my hometown of Rockford. I don't remember the circumstance, but I caught a ride home and was delighted to be there.
I just talked about the dorm food. Good, standard food that filled us and provided nutrition, but I was looking forward to Mom's home cooking. Yes, I know that sounds like it contradicts the entire first part of this narrative, but we love what we know, and I knew Mom's cooking.
As we sat down at the table, Mom was all smiles. She had a new recipe and spent hours preparing a special meal for us, since I was home.
I still shudder a little at the name. Some sort of tomato sauce as a base, or perhaps just canned tomatoes. I don't really recall. A layer of fish fillets. They were some sort of white fish, but still quite fishy. More tomato-something and spices, topped with melted mozzarella cheese. No doubt Mom added bread crumbs to top it off.
One look had me doubting. One taste removed all doubt.
The Pizza Fish was just short of terrible. I'm pretty sure my brothers and I all exchanged glances and reached a mutual understanding. We ate the Pizza Fish and thanked Mom profusely. After all, we were older now than when the Grits Incident occurred.
If it ended there it would still be a slightly sad tale. Boy starved for home cooking comes home to a new recipe that is worse than any dorm food. Eats it anyway. Goes back to school and gladly eats in the cafeteria.
That isn't quite the end, though.
I don't know how much longer in the future this was, but I actually came home with my girlfriend, JL. You don't need to be psychic to see where this story goes; Mom served Pizza Fish again. After all, it was such a hit last time...
We rebelled. I'm pretty sure my brother B spoke up first and we all decided that real pizza would be the better meal. JL thought the entire incident was funny and cute. She admired Mom for trying something new and different.
Looking back, I admire Mom too, even for trying Pizza Fish. I won’t be making it any time soon, though.