Mother’s Cooking

No. 7 – My Mother (Continued)

My mother was a pretty fair country cook. I think she did not enjoy cooking all that much, but in those days, that was the woman’s role. Balanced meals were usually prepared from fresh ingredients and included a meat, a vegetable, and a salad. If my father and I were fortunate, there may have been a dessert. There was no question like “What would you like for supper?” We—my father and I—ate what she fixed—and liked it. That became part of my personal behavior throughout my life. I have tried (almost) anything new to eat set before me. Where ever I traveled, I figured if the local people could eat something, then I could at least taste it. Food has been a constant adventure for me (I did not say I have always liked everything, but would not have known that if I had not tried it). I have my mother to thank for that.

The only concession Lois ever granted me was that I did not have to eat country cured (“old”) ham. If she fixed that for dinner, she would fix me something else. Not sure why I refused ham, but that lasted about five years, then one day I announced, “Oh, I like country ham.” That was end of that. (I could be a strange kid.)

Throughout my preschool and elementary school years, mother prepared most meals from scratch, except that about once a week we had Swanson “TV” dinners.

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Swanson introduced the TV dinner in 1954. Mother must have discovered them within the next year.

Lois was the equivalent of a modern pioneer woman. She would cook anything we brought in from hunting—so long it was cleaned and ready to cook. We ate well, even in lean times. We ate squirrel, venison, rabbit, duck, as well as many kinds of fish. My father trapped the marshes for muskrats for their pelts, and we ate muskrat on several occasions. It has a definitely gamey flavor, but it certainly was palatable. Not all of mother’s cooking efforts, however, were so successful.

One day, several hunters who had launched their boat into the river from the farm left us four or five ducks. I recall mother being happy about the prospect of fresh duck. She spent some time cleaning and preparing the ducks, then put them in the oven to roast. Within an hour, the house began to fill with the most noxious odor—a very nasty oily-fishy aroma. It turns out that the ducks were mergansers—fish-eating ducks that were not fit for cooking because of the fish oil their bodies stored. It took a week to get the smell out of the house. As I recall, we ate at Susie’s house the next several nights. My father thought it was funny. Occasionally he would say, “Remember the time you cooked those fish ducks?” All he got in return was a glare.

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