I ran this post early on and only 15 folks read the story, so I’m reposting this as well as a recipe I scanned yesterday from one of Carmen Rath-Wald’s cookbooks. I believe it was a piece of paper in a notebook. There were many other treasures including a recipe on the back of a receipt. I wrote the following piece for the Mandan News after a family dinner at Uncle Ed and Aunt Alices’s house.
Family fear factor
Even if you don’t watch the popular television show called “Fear Factor,” you may have caught the commercials or just tidbits of what happens on the show. There are people who actually admit to watching it.
There’s Fear Factor Teen, Fear Factor Siblings, Fear Factor Couples and plain old Fear Factor. There may be more, but I can’t stomach the show myself.
It is a program where people are asked to stick their heads into boxes filled with spiders or eat slugs or other very obscene things. The announcer always tells the audience you can’t show people throwing up, but they show everything else.
Imagine that, people getting paid to eat weird and unheard of things. Obviously, these folks have never been hungry or German.
In this day and age of abundance, I was gently reminded of the way things used to be and the things we ate because we were hungry and didn’t have many choices.
You guessed it, I went to a family Christmas gathering last week.
My daughter, my mother and J.C. were standing in front of the pantry doors watching some of the cousins place heaping plates of food on the island in the kitchen.
The table was covered with a beautiful red cloth, and candles perched on top of vintage glass cups and bowls. There were decorations and relatives strewn about the rest of the house with many rooms belonging to my cousin in Bismarck.
“What’s that?” JC said.
“I don’t know,” daughter said pointing to a large crockery bowl being filled with grey and white flesh covered with wriggling cloudy gelatin.
“Pig’s feet,” my mom said.
“Wow,” I said, “I haven’t had pig’s feet in ages.”
“No way,” JC said. “People don’t eat pigs feet.”
Maybe not people, but Germans do.
After our first plates of ham, salad and Jell-o, Uncle Ed sat down in the vacated chair at the end of the table and asked how we liked the pig’s feet.
“I wasn’t impressed,” JC said.
“I didn’t like them,” the daughter said.
“Well, what side of the table did you get them from?” Uncle Ed said. “Mine were on this side of the table.” He pointed.
“Oh, I must have missed those,” I said hopping up from the table. I found a small “foot” and brought it back.
There were groans and faces as I sampled the spicier of the two batches of pig’s feet. “I like these better,” I said. “More bay leaf.”
“How can you eat that,” my daughter asked?
“Hey, it’s our own family fear factor.” I scooped the rest of the gelatin with my fingers and slurped it down.
That’s not the end of it either. We got to talking about the other foods we don’t eat very often, but remember from our younger years. Things like pigs in the blanket, halupsi and potato pie. Of course, Uncle Ed said if you make pigs in the blanket with beef, you have to call them “cows in the sheets” instead.
Although I haven’t seen any in years, my mom loved to eat the chicken feet. That’s the yellow part, not the drumsticks by the way. We also enjoyed things like Halvah and St. John’s bread for holidays. After butchering, there was blood sausage and head cheese.
Some of the things we considered “treats” as youngsters were foods like the garlic from the jar of dill pickles, a slice of bread soaked in the drippings from cooked sausage or dipped in fresh cream with salt and pepper. Before bed, we ate tomatoes sliced with sugar and if we were really lucky, strawberries from my mom’s patch. One of my grandmothers made the very best canned crab apples.
My mom made breakfast juice from all the rhubarb we couldn’t eat as pie or freeze and Jell-o for flavor. We ate ice milk sometimes because we couldn’t afford ice cream. At that time something without fat was considered the “cheaper” choice.
Fresh fruit was most abundant at Christmas and usually came from the grandparents if it wasn’t grown on a tree.
I have an aunt from California that sent dried fruit trays to my grandparents. Oh, how I love dates, figs, apricots and prunes. That’s right. I think Germans are the only people I know that eat prunes because they love them and not because they have to.
It amounted to the simple fact that back then (doesn’t matter if it’s 30 or 100 years) resources were scarce.
Not just every animal part, or vegetable from the garden, but everything was used and used up. Grandma’s dresses became our dresses and eventually rag rugs, woven or sewn. Buttons were cut off and reused, jeans were patched, quilts were made from worn clothes, shoes were handed down until the soles fell off.
Designer labels were unheard of and in their place was grandma’s spidery scrawled name on, you guessed it, recycled pieces of paper. Some of them I still have in my children’s keepsake boxes.
It was a simple life.