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My Writer's Journal

My History with Food

I was a picky eater when I was a child. Most kids are. My mother didn’t like to cook and had no interest in trying anything new, so we ate well-done meat and I pushed aside the overcooked vegetables, except corn and tomatoes. Iceberg lettuce made an occasional appearance. Applesauce was acceptable, and I loved strawberries from the garden in summer.

Just don’t serve me anything strange—like spaghetti and meatballs. Too spicy.

Forget sauerkraut (too sour), a family favorite. On New Year’s Day my grandmother served it with roast pork. “A pig roots forward, and a chicken scratches backward,” and therefore on January 1st we ate pork (no chicken--not even an egg) for luck and prosperity. Sauerkraut was also on her table on September 29th, Goose Day, a feast peculiar to a very small area of Central Pennsylvania. Nobody could explain why, but I learned years later that September 29th is Michaelmas—St. Michael’s Day—when farmers paid their quarterly rents to the landowners. “Quarter days,” as they were called, originated in England, and apparently the custom carried over to Pennsylvania. How the goose got involved, I’m not sure—maybe the poor bird was part of the rent. But my Pennsylvania Dutch (actually Deutsch: German) family faithfully observed it, ate goose and wished for good fortune in the year that followed.

My food pickiness continued unchallenged until my parents took me to New York City when I was in junior high. My father had come home from World War II with a taste for French and Italian food, and he proposed eating in a French restaurant. Somehow I was coaxed to order coq au vin—chicken in red wine with mushrooms and little onions. I ignored the mushrooms and onions, of course, and approached the chicken with trepidation. What a revelation! I was a convert. My dad bought me a little French cookbook, and although I didn’t attempt any of the recipes then, I started to see food in a new way. A revolution had begun.
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