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What's for Dinner?
Then and Now

Standing in line at the Grocery store I like to look into peoples carts and imagine what's for dinner, their likes and dislikes, how many in the family and their ages. It makes the wait go quicker and it's always interesting.

Last week a lovely couple, probably in their 80's, was in front of me. The stuff in their cart and conversation brought back many memories.

He asked her if it was pork chop night. "No", she reminded him. "It's Tuesday, meatloaf." They had ground meat, 2 chops, Jell-O, pudding, macaroni, a bag of potatoes and 2 cans of vegetables.

Do we realize how cooking has changed?

We always had macaroni on Friday (no meat). Occasionally my mother would make creamed mushrooms on toast, (or creamed chipped beef, but not on Friday). Tomato soup and toasted cheese were other Friday favorites.

My mother was an excellent cook. Her meatloaf was to die for. Just about every meal had potatoes of some sort, mostly boiled or mashed. Scalloped potatoes and potato pancakes were a treat.

Chicken or veal paprakish, (oh those noodles!), pork chops, pork roasts with sauerkraut and applesauce, roast beef, stews, roast chicken(whole not pieces), soups, (beef, chicken, vegetable, ham and split pea). No one ever made chicken noodle soup like my grandmother!

We weren't big on vegetables. Often we'd open a can of something, but we always had one. Mom made cucumbers in vinegar and oil (which I still do).

I can just imagine my Dad saying, "What is this, a joke?" if he had been given a salad for dinner. That was rabbit food!

There was always dessert too - be it Jell-O, pudding, cake, pie or cookies. Mom made the best cookies I've ever eaten but no two ever looked alike.

No one cooked out doors on the grill - we could all afford stoves.

The only time we went out to eat other than at relatives homes was to a corner bar for a fish fry. I don't remember take out foods. We always ate together at the table (another column for another day - stay tuned).

We didn't have Mexican or Chinese food. I once went to a carnival in Little Italy. My date asked if I ever had Pizza pie. Of course I said I did. When he brought me this flat thing with tomato smeared on it I was shocked. I thought he said "piece of pie" and hoped it was peach.

My younger brother threw away freshly baked pita bread that his future mother in law gave him to bring home. How could he give mom this bread that they forget to let raise?

Now, words like Risotto, couscous and basil all roll off our tongues. There are all kinds and shapes of pasta, and lettuces like endive, arugula and radicchio (I still prefer head lettuce and on occasion leaf lettuce if it's wilted with bacon and vinegar).

Button mushrooms were all we knew. Now portabella and other varieties with prices up to $17.00 a pound are in the marketplace. There is a section for organic foods, ugly as sin, but good for you, or so they say.

The lunchmeats I remember are bologna, spiced ham, boiled ham, and salami, although peanut butter and jelly was the favorite sandwich. Now there are about a dozen kinds of turkey alone - low fat, low salt, Cajun, Teriyaki, honey etc. All lunchmeats we never heard of before.

It's hard to find good old Dutch loaf. Many roasts now cost less than sandwich meat. We used to only have turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Now it's cheaper and more plentiful than sausage.

What would the cooks of old think of deep-frying the turkey instead of baking? Remember when politicians promised a chicken in every pot? Today they would have to promise sushi on every buffet.

The only fish (other than canned salmon, tuna or sardines) we had was ocean perch or pike. We especially liked northern pike from a friend who fished in Canada.

Tilipia, Salmon, Orange Roughy, Swordfish and Monkfish are now common among the many varieties. They tell me they are now pushing Ostrich meat because it is leaner than beef…. Well, ok!

Baked beans, Great Northern or Lima were the only beans I remember. Now there are black beans and packages of 7 or 10 bean soups.

I don't remember snacking on junk foods unless we had company. We did have ice cream often if mom didn't have time to make dessert.

Salt and pepper, plain mustard, (the yellow kind), catsup and horseradish were the common spices and condiments. Salsa is now bigger than catsup, and have you seen the spice shelves. We'll go there another time too - it would take a whole column.

As for coffee and tea the only question used to be "Do you take cream and one lump or two?". Flavored teas and gourmet coffee now take up a whole aisle at the grocery store. Do you want it frothed?

Strawberries can now be found in any season. And how about those new frozen dinners?

And oh, the bases, broths and gravies. We sometimes make chicken soup with no chicken! My grandmother made homemade bread and kuchens. Kitchens today often still smell of homemade bread thanks to the bread machines.

The Food television shows have brought new foods, different ways of cooking and new heights of presentation into our living rooms. I still like the meat, potatoes and vegtables all in their own corner, not stacked high.

While I don't make most of the recipes I see on these shows they look so good that I rush off to the computer to get a copy of the recipe. I have boxes of them… someday……maybe, hey I didn't say I cooked them. I just collect the recipes. I fear I'm ready for the other television show - Clean Sweep - to get rid of my stacks of untried recipes.

As I remember, my mother had a rolling pin, potato masher, grater and strainer. We now have microwaves, blenders, ice crushing machines, smoothie makers and indoor grills. Do you know anyone without a Foreman?

Then there's bread machines, juicers, frothers, deep fryers, slush makers, electric coffee pot, electric roasters (all sizes and shapes) and pop corn machines. Waffle irons are on the way back as are slow cookers.

Electric knives, deep fryers and fondues pots, oh and the cookie guns! (I have 3 and none of them work). There are so many more - I'm just trying to think my way around our own kitchen.

I have more choppers than I will admit to and when I want to cut something I get out the old paring knife. How about you?

Two rows of cookbooks, (remember I told you I collected, not cooked). Have you seen them on QVC or the HSN? There are recipe books that claim to need only 3 ingredients and gourmet books that have about 20 ingredients but take only 30 minutes. It's amazing! Maybe I'll make them someday, maybe not - But you have to have them just in case, right?

Have you noticed, for good or for bad, television seems to be the common denominator here? Hmmm.

I hope you'll think about your food memories and share them with us. I have some more coming to mind but I suddenly need to eat something.

Memories, like cooking shows, sure make you hungry.

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Pat


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