EDITOR'S BLOG: Frigid weather awakens warm memories
By Bryan Salvage
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From the windows of my office, I can look over a portion of our commons pathway that snakes through the Blackberry Creek subdivision next to a long, irregularly shaped pond. The weather finally got frigidly cold last Friday afternoon, which marked the first time I could see the breaths from kids who were lumbering home from the middle school several blocks northwest of us. It was so cold that the annoying grey squirrel that bit through and ruined our brand, new strand of outdoor Christmas lights earlier this week was running, not walking, everywhere.
One little boy, in particular, looked as though my mom dressed him for school—he had on a too large winter hat with bill and earflaps, boots (even through there’s no snow), a heavy/too-big winter coat and mittens snapped onto his long, bulky coats sleeves. I’m not sure why, but the sight of that little guy stiffly shuffling along stirred some memories of cold-weather meals from long ago.
During cold weather months (November through February) during the 1950’s and early 1960’s, my mom worked miracles with basic foods and her favorite dinner ingredient was ground beef. One dish she served quite often when the snow started flying was something she called Pig in the Blanket. I’m not sure why she called it that name because it was a mixture of ground beef (no pork included), white rice and tomato sauce rolled into cabbage leafs that were pinned together by standard, wooden toothpicks and heated up in her very old and heavy Dutch oven. Another dish she’d make quite often in cold-weather months was macaroni and cheese, but it contained elbow macaroni, melted hunks of Velveeta cheese, tomato sauce—and, yes…a little ground beef. And another dish she’d make a lot during winter was good, old-fashioned ground-beef-and-bean chili served with white-bread toast. Back in those days, she bought Wonder bread…I still remember that loaf’s stiff, white wax-paper package folded and fastened at each end. Even back then the packaging graphics included colorful red, yellow, black and green balloons and its slogan “Helps build strong bodies 8 ways” appeared on each loaf.
Another dish she would make often on cold nights was spaghetti and meatballs and home-made garlic toast. Her meatballs tasted more like Swedish meatballs, which isn’t really kosher for Italian spaghetti—but they were still good! Another favorite was barbecued hamburgers simply made with ground beef and Open Pit or home-made BBQ sauce. Sometimes she’d grill hamburgers on the electric broiler of over broiler, filling the kitchen with a light, blue haze from the broiling, crackling, splattering grease. We also often had meatloaf with strips of bacon on top. She would make three or four loaves so we could fix cold meatloaf sandwiches during the week for lunch, which was always a treat for me.
Perhaps the most unusual and convenient dinner she made on occasion was several cans of Campbell’s vegetable soup mixed into ground beef, which she’d heat up in an old, black skillet and serve over a huge mound of homemade mashed potatoes. Mom was ahead of the curve regarding ethnic foods. Every now and then she’d make home-made tacos.
Ground beef-based meals weren’t the only foods she whipped up for her hungry family during winter months. She would also serve toasted cheese sandwiches made on our old, portable broiler/waffle iron and soup—usually split pea soup and sometimes it was home-made—almost always on Sunday nights while we watched some new show called Disneyland. We also had our fair share of bone-in, skin-on chicken; mashed potatoes and gravy; apple and banana salad; and another vegetable—usually Brussels sprouts (because mom and dad like them). Sometimes we’d have a bone-in ham or beef pot roast for Sunday dinner, which meant leftovers for days—and no one minded at all.
On special, cold nights (usually on Saturdays or Sundays), she’d make waffles, French toast or pancakes and pork sausage patties or links. Back in those days, the sausage patties weren’t very lean but they sure tasted great!
Today, it’s a vastly different world where convenience reigns supreme. Some supermarkets with delis and other carry-out food departments are open 24/7 and late-hour fast-food and pizza venues are everywhere. Most of today’s younger cooks at home don’t have the time, knowledge or desire to make dinner from scratch like most moms did decades ago. My ground-beef consumption is now pretty much limited to consuming fast-food cheeseburgers maybe several times a month. Most of those home-made dishes we ate decades ago for dinner during cold-weather months are just memories today. I realized long ago that nothing stays the same. But when it comes to remembering the many dinners made decades ago during the cold nights of winter, the lyrics from one of my favorite Carlene Carter songs from 1991 sums it all up : “It’s the sweetest thing - remembering."