The Long Way Home

Government cheese and other foods from my childhood
April 30, 2009, 11:04 AM
Filed under: Kitchen, Pennsylvania | Tags: , , ,
I love to read about food. I read cookbooks, food history books. I pour over recipes, repeating words like ‘asparagus’ and ‘orzo’ because they are beautiful to my ears. I love to eat bowls of buttered egg noodles with pepper while I read articles in Gourmet and Saveur. It gives me comfort to be eating one of my staples from childhood while reading about grilled mahi mahi with capers in lemon dill sauce.
But I’ve wondered why I don’t see articles about the foods that nobody wants to talk about. I  grew up eating dishes such as city chicken, that tasty concoction of veal and chicken, lightly battered and panfried. I loved sloppy joes made in a creamy sauce of mushroom soup instead of tomato sauce. It was muddy-looking, like something stuck to the bottom of your shoes. But smothered over yellow potato bread offset the uglines of it so you could enjoy your after-school feast. The beginning of the month marked food stamp time, so we could get good lunch meat, like cappicola, fresh mozzrella cheese, or bratwurst for saurkraut. As the month went on, we were left with Kraft slices and pickles between regular white bread. Nobody wanted to swap lunches with my sister and me then. Government cheese made the best grilled cheese sandwiches because it melted so quickly, like Velveeta, but not as orange and not as waxy.
I don’t remember going to the welfare office for the block of cheese, or if it came in the mail. It just seemed to appear in our fridge, half of it left over until we’d get another block the next month. What did President Reagan expect us to do with all that cheese? A 3-woman household surviving on buttered noodles and pepper that lasted week till the first of the month. Reading about rack of lamb, or coq au vin helped to make the butter in the noodles taste richer, the pepper spiking my tongue with flavor. It was my first experiences with denial, or what I like to think of as imagination – that some foods we are taught aren’t so sophiscated can be really, really good.

3 Comments so far
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PS I have to add that I started making buttered fresh egg noodles with cracked pepper after reading your blog and all I can say is… generations of my un-born children thank you!


Comment by Stacey

You have made me hungry. I love food too.


Comment by discounderworld

Thank you! If my food writing has made you hungry, then I’m doing my job okay.
Thanks so much for reading!


Comment by Lisa

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