Fundamentally, we ate a healthy diet. Every dinner saw salad, a vegetable, a starch and meat on the plate, but here’s the thing. The salad was -- and I mean every night -- a wedge of iceberg lettuce with a blop of bottled dressing on top. The green vegetable was boiled until there was nothing left but stringy fiber. I was an adult before I learned that, yes, vegetables have flavor, and what’s more, I like them. Meat, the cheapest cut on sale in the about-to-expire bin, was cooked, to be kind, well done. Any lurking germs were good and dead along with any flavor.
My parents were in early adulthood during the Depression. The mark it left on my Mom, the mean, black mark was never erased. It was too bad, really, because when the time came that she could afford to buy new, pretty clothes and tender, flavorful meat, she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. To the end of her life, she was, let us say, careful, with her money. Clothing was worn until it had holes in it and then was darned. My Dad told me that if you'd ever been hungry, really hungry, any food was good. He was happy; she was happy; we kids never knew any better.
On top of the quality of the food, my Mom wasn’t that much of a cook to begin with. Conscientious, yes -- we certainly never went without -- but intuitive, inspired, creative in the kitchen? Not so much. Her best meal, our “company meal”, was brisket, frozen green beans, potatoes and packaged rolls. The green beans and potatoes were fine. The rolls often suffered from distraction with the company and got burned. The brisket, I must say, was unparalleled. It was indeed a show-off piece, and I often am asked the secret to its tender succulence. However, it wasn’t brisket every day, let me tell you. It was thin, tough pork chops or dry meat loaf.
Yes, dry. The brisket might be covered with a can of brown gravy, but the meat loaf was served as it stood, not even ketchup to tease the taste buds. There was no ethnic food. Oh once in a while spaghetti made it on to our plates, soggy and limp, covered with a jar of something. French food? No sauces were stirred in our kitchen. Indian? She didn’t do spices.