Mom was a child of the Depression. She was born two months before the market crashed and she grew up one of eight kids in a rural Florida family where the father was frequently unemployed and the mother was frequently in mental hospitals. A large percentage of what they ate, they grew or raised themselves. One simply didn’t waste food.
Even after she put herself through college at Florida State, went off to grad school at the University of Michigan and then at Duke, and then wound up living a prosperous middle-class college town life, she hated to waste food.
She would make jam and jelly from the raspberries and blackberries whose bushes grew in profusion around our house in the mountains of Virginia and she’d seal the jars with canning wax. The seals didn’t always hold well and we’d find thick layers of mold on top of the jam, but Mom wouldn’t hear of throwing it out; she’d scrape the mold off and insist that we eat the jam anyway. More often than not, it’d gone to sugar and was grainy and unpleasant, but again — waste not, want not.
When I was in middle school, she was diagnosed with high blood pressure and told to avoid salt as much as possible. So, the next time she canned tomatoes and made tomato sauce, she used “No-Salt” instead of regular table salt. “No-Salt”, in case you’ve never had the misfortune of tasting it, is a vile salt alternative that, I swear to God, tastes more or less exactly like plutonium. It’s a nasty, bitter, metallic-tasting abomination from the pits of Hell, and Mom had a bumper crop of tomatoes that year. A decade later we were still unearthing jars of that that year’s sauce and staring at each other across the dinner table, afraid of pointing out that we’d rather go chew broken glass than eat any. Mom would not have been amused.
In the end, though, the memory of Mom and food gone wrong (but eaten anyway) that I treasure the most is the time she had couples from Dad’s department at Virginia Tech over for dinner. She had purchased a couple of large tubs of sour cream and some Lipton dried onion soup mix to make what the people of that era called “California Dip” or “French onion dip”.
Only… she’d grabbed the wrong box of dried soup mix off the shelf at Radford Brothers’. When she went to open it, she found she’d wound up with Lipton … chicken noodle soup mix.
She used it anyway. Little tiny noodles and all. It wasn’t the worst thing any of us had ever eaten, and I had to admit that the little tiny noodles gave the dip an interesting crunch, but still, the look on her guests’ faces when they dipped a potato chip and took a taste was something to behold. Expecting onion, they got … poultry.
In her defense, Mom never let her refrigerator get packed with spoiled or ancient food — she made sure things got eaten well before they’d evolve sentience. And she was a very good cook. It’s just that, like anyone, she made mistakes… and we all got to experience them right along with her.
Miss ya, Mom.