The needler in the haystack.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Remembering 'poverty foods'

Though not 'poverty food', homemade Rice Krispie treats were beloved.

A friend passed up an opportunity for tuna casserole that a workmate had brought in to a recent office potluck in their Plainfield workplace, saying it reminded them of 'poverty food' -- meals eaten by their family during hard times.

That got me to thinking, and remembering meals my mother served during what were probably hard times for us.

My Dad was a US Navy Seabee during World War II. Those were the guys who built the 'Victory ships' and the airbases on the islands across the Pacific theater.

While he was in the service, my Mom, brother Bill and I lived in one side of a small duplex at 23 Canadaway Street in our hometown. The family on the other side was headed by Marie Walker, whose husband Bill was serving in the Army in the European front.

Their three kids, Richard, Allen and Beverly were the same ages as my brother and I, and we made a 'rat pack' that were constantly together through those war years while our fathers were away.

Though we were too small to understand rationing, I do remember coupon books that my mother would take to the store, and that meat and eggs were enough of a rarity to be remarked on when they appeared.

Mostly though, I remember that my mother made some meals seem like they were very special, though looking back they were probably what my friend would call 'poverty food'.

One was simply a handful of saltines crumbled into a bowl, with a sprinkle of sugar and a splash of milk. That was it. But the fun of crumbling our own crackers to make the meal made it special.

Another was a bowl of steaming rice. I was allowed to help my mother by stirring the rice as it was poured into the boiling water; then we would cover it tightly and let it steam for a while until it was completely fluffy. We would then put a helping in a bowl, top it with a pat of margarine, a sprinkle of ground nutmeg and a little milk. That was it, and we loved it.

Another was an all-time favorite, though it would not qualify as 'poverty food' -- rather 'party food'.

My cousin Betty moved in with us for her last year of high school during the war, since we were within walking distance of the school as opposed to her father's farm which was way out in the country.

Betty would make a special treat with Rice Krispies that we loved -- and which is now sold commercially (but it is definitely not the same!).

This involved melting marshmallows with Karo syrup in a double boiler and then stirring the goo into a bowl full of Rice Krispies. All would then be patted into a cake pan that had been greased, then set aside to cool and be cut into squares. Beat any candy ever bought in a store -- and it was fun to make.

How about you? Do you have stories of 'poverty food' or other special foods you remember from your youth? Please feel free to share.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Virginia said...

Ha, I love this story ! My sister, Nancy always says; "No wonder we were all thin .We were on weight watchers !"I remember Tuna casseroles and Rice Krispie Treats .Our fav was Chef Boyardee pizza mix .It was fun to make together ,yummy and cheap !

Anonymous said...

I call it food from the fool old days. Great childhood memories. Not poverty food. Some very wealthy people I know say their favorite food is a good burger and not lobster! I do not thin of tuna as a poverty food. So sorry to hear that someone would say such a thing about a casserole .