I was never afraid of the kitchen. A great joy of my early years was to play with pots and pans on the kitchen floor while my mother was cooking, and then I learned the pleasures of helping her, especially in grinding things up. I’ve never been afraid of cooking, although I spoke truly when once, on being asked if I loved to cook, I replied that I loved to eat and therefore I had to endure the other.
The desserts I really did like: Home-frozen vanilla ice cream (store-bought was an adequate substritute). Yellow cake with chocolate icing. Apple pies made by my mother’s helper, Viana. Mam’s homemade chocolate fudge.
I started off as a meat and potatoes or rice and gravy fancier. English peas started sticking to the mashed potatoes and were easy to cope with. From there to English pea casserole, and then I started to get turned on by Mama’s squash and eggplant and green bean and even asparagus casseroles (the English peas and asparagus and sometimes the green beans would have come from cans). Cheese and some chopped onion and a sauce and breadcrumbs seemed to make any vegetable better. Sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top, now that was always good. Black-eyed peas joined the party, particularly if I added chopped onion and pickle relish. Somewhere along the way I started to enjoy turnip greens and collard greens, especially if you seasoned them by shaking homemade hot pepper sauce made with hot peppers in a bottle over which hot vinegar had been poured. Over time I learned to eat more and more things. I seldom felt pressured, and I have no particular aversion to any of the childhood table offerings, with the exception of pig’s feet, canned sardines, and fried chicken gizzards. Fried chicken livers, on the other hand, I consider a great delicacy.
I still don’t go out of my way to get scrambled eggs and brains, or even tripe, for that matter. Brains I’m probably going to continue to avoid (mad cow and all that), but tripe I’m willing to give a try again, if somebody else prepares and serves it.
Let me tell you about a particularly favorite meal from those early days. Saturday night suppers in the store. During the World War Two years and perhaps a year or so beyond, Saturday shoppers would come early and stay all day and well into the night. Ten o’clock often found the stores still open, and the Pickens juke joint across the highway would be jumping.
Saturday would be the one night of the week when we didn’t gather around the table in the house. Mama would go over to the house about dusk and assemble a pot of coffee which she would bring back to the store and plug in back in the post office area. If memory serves, she would bring a sugar dish with her. All else came from the store.
We’d open a sleeve of Saltine crackers, slice some bologna sausage and some of the hoop cheese, open cans of Vienna sausage and potted meat, and have a feast. Daddy might open a can of sardines, but I didn’t like those. Upon occasion Mama and Daddy might have picked pig’s feet. I didn’t. The cream for the coffee came from a small can of Carnation or Pet milk, which would be punctured so it could be poured from the can. It was a wonderful feast.
And somehow all of us survived it.