Memorable Encounters with New Foods
Fall is harvest time, so I am reminded of foods and their importance in our lives. My readers may not know that I am a retired Food Scientist and Registered Dietitian. My career choices were heavily influenced by my interest in foods and nutrition. I grew up eating an organic “American” diet. It was organic because that was the way food was produced until the second half of the 20th Century. We ate home grown chickens, eggs, milk, beef, pork, the products of my Mom’s garden augmented by purchased apples, grapes, peaches, melons in season, dried pinto beans, flour, corn meal, spices, sugar and coffee. My Dad’s contribution was game and fish. The result was balanced and healthful diet that had been common for generations and was still followed in the Ozark Mountain culture of my youth.
As I grew older, I began to learn about new foods and expanded my dietary experiences. Some I adopted and some I vowed to never touch again.
I vividly remember my first encounter with pizza. I was 13 years old and visiting a dear friend, Judy R. in Oklahoma. One night we drove to Oklahoma City for dinner. My first slice tasted like heaven on a plate. It was absolutely delicious and so different from anything I had ever eaten before. I still love pizza and am still in touch with Judy. Some things in life are worth continuing.
My brother introduced us to Spaghetti Bolognese (we called it spaghetti with meat sauce, having no idea how to pronounce Bolognese). Bill’s college roommate was an Italian boy from St. Louis who shared his mama’s recipe. It was my “go to” company dish for years.
Later, Joyce, my new sister-in-law introduced me to tacos. Mmm. So good and so much fun to assemble to my taste. They are still a favorite.
While working as a waitress at Ginger Blue (a local resort) I discovered Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy. Not a promising sounding recipe, but a fried ham steak swimming in a sauce made from the drippings and hot coffee is quite good. I haven’t eaten it since but remember it well.
I moved to Minnesota as a young wife and learned about Lutefisk. It is a popular addition to Christmas menus in some restaurants. A Swedish colleague insisted I try it. We went to a nearby high-end restaurant and ordered it. First of all, I should have been suspicious when I learned it was codfish treated with lye, dried and finally reconstituted for cooking. The result was a fishy tasting translucent gel served with boiled potatoes. My friend said it was “almost as good as her grandmother’s”. I marked it off my list of “things to try”.
Another menu item I found unpleasant was raw oysters. I had my first one in the New Orleans French Quarter where they are very popular. I ate one. It reminded me of having a very bad cold. Twenty years later, I decided perhaps I had been hasty and tried another. It confirmed my original conclusion.
On the plus side, New Orleans Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce is a keeper. I tried it at several restaurants and the one at the Bon Ton Café on Magazine was the best by far. (Once the pudding was a way of using up the French bread returned from tables, but the Health Department took a dim view of that, so now it is made from scratch). They willingly share the recipe. The waitress whispered “Honey, the secret is cheap bourbon”.
A vacation to the Wisconsin Door Peninsula was memorable due to our dining at a Fish Boil. It sounds dreadful, but it is a literal description of the outdoor preparation of white fish in a huge black cauldron. The big finish is tossing some kerosine on the fire so the cooking water overflows carrying away the fishy tasting oils. The meal is served on cafeteria trays with boiled potatoes, green beans, cherry pie and a roll. All I can say is I ate it and have no need to repeat the experience. It was dramatic, I’ll admit.
While living in New Jersey, my husband and I went to a fancy French restaurant. (Other than Filet Mignon, it is a mystery to me why the French treasure foods that I regard as offal. Liver and Sweet Breads are heavily featured, for example. I decided to try the Lapin. My mom had prepared fried rabbit, so I thought it would be good. When the whole naked rabbit covered with a thin sauce arrived, my appetite disappeared. I won’t repeat what it reminded me of. I will say their desserts garnished with spun sugar were delicious.
To end on a pleasant note, I discovered ginger ice cream in China Town in San Francisco. I still remember its creamy, tangy taste some 50 years later.
Now I eat an organic diet whenever possible. It is no surprise that it is more expensive because it has become desirable to those who see value in keeping their diet as simple as possible.
Does anyone know where I can get an organic pizza?