Just Take One Bite

Tales of Vashon

“I loved my peas with honey.  I’ve loved them all my life.  The honey is kind of runny, but it keeps them on my knife.”

Mike, our eighty-pound Labrador was snuffling under the table, looking for tidbits when Brother Mike dropped a handful of peas from his plate, lifting the tablecloth to make sure that his big-old lab had found the evidence.  Being only four or five, Mike had never heard of the honey trick and Mom would never have bribed him with honey anyhow.  He hated peas.

All of us had root cellars..  usually with no lighting and treacherous steps leading down to a door that usually was very heavy and hard to open and worst to close.  The banks to the steps down were dirt which sloughed off, to make the door un-manageable.  We would be sent to get some specific item and frequently return with the wrong thing and thus sent back with more specific instructions and if we were lucky.. a feeble flashlight.  Then we had to stand on a rickety apple box to reach a shelf higher than a ten year old..  sometimes with glass splintering consequences which we had to clean up.  The worst job was retrieving eggs from a crock filled with a gooey mess called water glass.  We called it “pig snot” and tried to pass the job off to a sibling.. but welcomed the eggs that the hens had laid when they were “laid off” in the dark part of the year.  We especially appreciated the eggs when our Moms used them for baking in the holiday season.. such as lemon-meringue pies and butter horns.

We had all sorts of good things to eat that were homemade, but most required the use of butter which Mom couldn’t afford, so we had margarine which was white and didn’t look or taste like butter, but came in a plastic package with a capsule of red dye inside, which burst when you pinched it.  Us kids were given the job of squeezing the package until the dye had suffused in the margarine until it looked like the color of butter.  Mom sent us back to do more squeezing if the color wasn’t even enough.

John’s Mother churned milk to the relief of having a bit of seasonal butter.. and real sparkling cold buttermilk with real butter flakes.  In those days.. cream was usually sold for “pin money”.. whatever that was.. and we were left to drink skim milk for a lot of the year.. thus we had to buy that disgusting margarine.

The cultures in Mom’s fridge were legendary, always mysterious but edible such as her candied ginger which came from Japan in a little green crock with many flat sides and hard to get into because of the rice straw netting it hung in.  We had all sorts of foods in our Roy Rogers lunch boxes; sea foam candy coated with chocolate and hazel nuts which we gathered ourselves.  The “seafoam” was the trickiest because it required precise timing.  I think it was adding some sort of baking powder at the right moment, but with assorted kids demanding attention and timing being of the essence… it sometimes came to a lesser state of result, resembling beach tar but better-tasting.. we ate it anyway after it was covered with chocolate.  Sometimes a portion of old cheese would be found in the recesses of the fridge while looking for something else..  it was passed around for examination of all the colorful displays of what we came to know as fungi or mold; a source of amazement.  When Mom looked at what we had discovered, a frequent response was…”Just slice the mold off and it will be fine.”  She did the same thing if the paraffin leaked that sealed the top of a jar of jam and mold set in; “Just scoop the mold off with a spoon, there is nothing wrong with the jam underneath.”  Both our Mom’s were excellent candy makers and John still has his Mother’s candy thermometer.   In the winter, Mom would make a kind of hot chocolate taffy that we would pour in the snow to make it stiff to eat.  John thinks that his Mom’s sea foam was a technique that she learned from someone at the Bon or maybe See’s candy in Seattle.  Mom made bon-bons for Christmas though her favorite candy was almond roca, from Roger’s Candy which I keep a can of in the cupboard.

John’s family always made sauerkraut in fifteen gallon “sauerkraut vessels” and the heavy un-wieldy lids.  And in the early stages it had to be maintained.. as in.. taking the heavy stones off the top and skimming off the natural lactic acid-scum that developed.  The stones were heavy and had to be set aside and cleaned after the foamy scum was taken off and discarded into a can of debris meant for the chickens or pigs.. nothing was wasted.  After cleaning, the stones sitting above a plug of hard maple were set back.. after a number of weeks determined by adult supervision.. the kraut was ready and we were sent down to dip it out into an old enameled bucket.. with a vine maple forked stick.  Usually this occurred in late November when the remaining cabbage in the garden had been harvested and used.  The best cabbage for fall was “Savoy” which is still grown on Bainbridge and Vashon, although it’s probably no longer necessary to cover it with straw after Halloween.

There were also carrots stored in sawdust boxes.. layered.  Along with the evil and horrible snarpips.. or as you might know… parsnips;  we had to sort those out of the root cellar as well.  And lower down were potatoes.. in sawdust and newspaper.   John relates how their Mom made scalloped potatoes and had run out of their own stash of potatoes in the late spring.. and substituted “parsnips”… or as his Father called them derisively..” snarpips”…

We hated it, but Mom
Was insistent..

“Just take one bite!  You’ll see.. you’ll love it!”  Well, we didn’t and for once, the entire table rebelled and did not clean our plates.

Usually, it had been only a single sibling resisting something that was not liked.. as in over boiled cauliflower.. but this time, it was unanimous.  Later, I learned to like “snarpips”.. roasted thru.. and drenched with butter and parmesan.

We hated squash and Mom went to great extents to make it interesting, such as sugaring the top or adding melted marshmallows.   Mike screamed, “I hate squash and you can’t make me eat it,” to which Mom’s standard reply was, “Just take one bite!  You’ll love it! “  He didn’t!

Sean@vashonloop.com