|Breakfast in the 1940s|
We get so used to the way things are that we forget how they once were. For instance, when I go to buy meat--I get pre-packaged meat; alas, our good butcher closed--there are basically five choices: lamb, pork, beef, chicken with ground turkey in the freezer. Back in the '40s and '50s, my mother used to come home with mutton, heart, tongue, liver. Bones were free. We also ate a lot of our own rabbit and chicken during the war, rabbit being as common on our table as chicken.
The veggie department, on the other hand, had many fewer choices. Stores didn't carry such things as bok choy or broccolini or rainbow chard or fennel. Or even a variety of fresh herbs, though there was always parsley, free for the taking, since it acted as a display decoration. So there was nowhere near today's choice, but then, if I'm correct, we also didn't have the problem of pesticides in our food, everything then being still organic. And no one had yet invented that GMO horror.
When I was growing up, watermelons were a half cent a pound. Except for bananas, if you wanted something exotic like papayas or mangoes, you had to visit a place with a tropical climate. I remember my father (who, being an Easterner, had spent summers in Maine as a boy) once told the story about the time he was at Paramount filming a movie. (In the '20s or '30s sometime.) The film was set in Maine and had a scene where the set designer had placed a bowl of persimmons on the dining room table. At that, my father complained, saying that was not realistic as no one in Maine even knew what a persimmon was. Persimmons were a California thing. (We even had a persimmon tree in our back yard.) But the set designer didn't care and simply left it there.
I also remember the day mayonnaise came back on the shelves after having been non-existent during the war. My mother sent my brother and me up to the corner grocery to buy a jar. I was in third grade. We also found bubble gum for sale, something I'd never heard of though my brother (who was older than I) seemed to know about it. Soon after, we saw our first bag of corn chips. I'd say that was 1947.
My mother was what is now called a "stay-at-home-mom"--then called "a housewife". (No one called a woman "a mom"; only one's children used that term. A woman with children was "a mother." Like in Happy Mother's Day.) So, staying home, she made fudge, pineapple upside down cake, scalloped potatoes, meatloaf, creamed tuna on toast, waffles --start to finish, everything from scratch. There were no packaged mixes, no take-out, no micro-waves, no frozen dinners. At least not just then.
We ate home-cooked, wholesome. Not exotic. No garlic, no mushrooms. A little tabasco or paprika was about as adventurous as we got. Plus poultry seasoning in turkey stuffing. The only pasta was spaghetti or macaroni. Chicken was usually floured and fried in fat. Or it was boiled, boned, and made into a gelatin aspic, particularly nice on hot days. Salads were iceberg lettuce with mayonnaise. Or Waldorf salad with apples and walnuts.
Then things started shifting and the first fast food burgers arrived. They cost 15¢. That was maybe 1954. I had my first pizza in 1955. It was then called pizza pie.
Until they closed up, my mother adored going to drug store soda fountains, sitting on a stool, and getting a nice coke with a squirt of cherry or lemon syrup mixed in. Or else she got a chocolate ice cream soda. The "soda-jerk" (usually a young man) made it as you watched. A tall glass with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, some chocolate syrup, and a splash of soda water, all mixed together with a long spoon. Then more ice cream, syrup, and soda water with whipped cream on top. Being so fond of them, my mother used to reminisce about the last ice cream soda she ever got. It was at the drug store on San Ysidro in Santa Barbara. It had cost 45¢. She could make them herself and did sometimes. But it was never quite the same.
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