Thursday, February 26, 2009


I took this several months ago down New Point. What exactly it's a picture of I cannot say for certain. Is it of the marsh grass? That piece of driftwood? The sand and the water? It's rather unimaginative, uninspired and boring. The angle is all wrong. The only reason I'm sharing it is because I have no time or energy to load any better pictures, and this one was already handy. In other words, I'm settling due to exhaustion.

Speaking of unimaginative, boring, and settling for what's put in front of you, I turn now to the topic of the plain vanilla diet we had growing up in the country.

In Mathews there was very little chance for cultural or culinary experiences other than your church social halls, your birthday parties, your sleepovers, the skating rink or the tastee freeze--hardly hotbeds of epicurean experimentation.

In our household, at least, we were strictly a Meat, Potatoes, One Side Vegetable, Bread and Butter family. Vanilla ice cream for dessert. Nothing fancy, no condiments, everything Plain Jane. Seasonings were salt and pepper. The End.

In fact, I never had salad dressing until I went away to college at age 17. Come to think of it, I don't remember having salad until I went away to college, and probably only ate it then because of this newfangled contraption called a salad bar. (Remind me to tell you about the guy who climbed into the salad bar once. Good times.)

If it wasn't fried chicken, hamburger, or fish, we pretty much didn't eat it growing up.

To really put a punctuation mark on this, I remember having my first pizza--a frozen one--at my grandmother's. She called it a peesapie (pizza pie). "Chesapeake Bay Kids, come try this peesapie." I couldn't stop talking about it for months afterwards. These were not your "bigger than a sombrero, cheese-filled crust, super deluxe, make you wanna slap your mamma" pizzas either. It was a very thin, very simple, very tiny frozen pizza. Yet still a novelty.

We just didn't get out much.

Take note of this entry from my childhood diary:

Wednesday, February 27, 1974 (9 years old)

Today I went to school. We had a geography test on the Netherlands. I only got 1 wrong. I got a 95. Mrs. Thomas was taking 5 points off. Today was hot dog day. I helped to serve lunch. I served 1st grade. They eat a lot of JUNK on their hot dogs. They eat mustard, ketchup, onions and relish all on one hot dog! I thought I would throw up before I even got finished serving! When I got home I rode Thunder. She's my pony.

-Chesapeake Bay Girl

I think this was when I began to realize that it wasn't simply Mathews that was responsible for our limited menu options; there was something inherently different about our family. If they were eating all that junk over in neighboring Gloucester County, then surely Mathews must have caught wind of the whole mustard/relish/onion craze. We were being deprived and sheltered.

Legend has it that Chesapeake Bay Father never drank iced tea or ate a strawberry before he met my mother. (Can you imagine? Living in the south and not ever tasting iced tea? I'm pretty sure that's against the law in the state of Virginia. They deport you if you aren't drinking tea right after you're weaned from a sippy cup.) CB Mother--even if she wanted to expand our horizons--was very limited in what she could pursue. Factor in one very finicky sister (I will not say which one, but she liked to say, "Qwah"), and we were pretty much doomed to a life of meat and potatoes.

Over time, we've all changed and expanded our horizons. CB Father is now a member of that wild and crazy club of people who eat strawberries. I have danced in that mysterious world of salad dressings and savor Thousand Island, Honey Mustard, Parmesan Peppercorn--even one that sounds inherently disgusting: blue cheese. "That Certain Sister" eats salmon and sushi. Yes, we've all branched out. No more "just meat and potatoes."

But please do NOT ruin a perfectly good hot dog with junk like relish, mustard and onions. Ketchup only, please. Otherwise, I just might throw up.


Unknown said...

My Irish roots (yes, even with my ethnic French name) left no room for salad growing up. I mean is there salad on the Emerald Isle?
I love salad but I still don't like dressing. The rest of my family evolved...not me. And hotdogs get mustard and onions or catsup and absolutely no kraut.

Some day I will tell you about the blue potatoes.

Annie said... dogs with all that on...we never even had hot dogs..! the only hot dogs we had were the family pet on a hot summer's day...and then we didn't eat them either! We were also a meat and potatoes and veges people. And maybe fruit salad for dessert.

Love that photo..there is something fascinating about water and sand for me...and I don't even mind the marsh grass...I can't imagine what it is like to live beside the water forever! sigh. lucky you!

What I really find fascinating was that at aged nine you were keeping such a detailed diary. I know I kept a diary, but didn't start till about eleven ish..maybe 15 ish...and then because it was a 5 year diary there was only space for one or two word sentences. Were they sentences..probably not!

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

GJ - I want to hear about the blue potatoes. I've had them, but most certainly not in Mathews.

Annie - My parents loaded us up with MSG and sodium nitrites/nitrates between the hot dogs, bacon and bologna. It is a rare event now if I have any at all. I love them, don't get me wrong, but it is the knowledge of all the chemicals and the processing (not even the type of meat so much as the processing) that prevents me from indulging.

My sister and I both kept diaries for a short period of time; they're pretty funny. I wish I had kept a journal on our cross-country trip, though.

mmm said...

Ah, but we did have the occasional delicacy - a wide variety of seafood; steamed crabs, crab cakes, oysters etc.

As a kid, I never fully appreciated Chesapeake Bay seafood; I never thought picking crab meat was worth the effort - ten minutes per tablespoon full at the hands of the unskilled picker like me.

But, as an adult, I appreciate sitting around a picnic table with five or six other like-minded folks, steamed crabs piled high, melted butter in little bowls and a cooler of beer nearby. Ten minutes per tablespoon full, it doesn't matter and it doesn't get much better - unless it involves the right crab cake recipe. God, how I love crab cakes...

Can I come back to Mathews now?

Mental P Mama said...

I have to have mustard, onions and dill pickles on my very black hot dog. Just remember that for the blogfest. K? We got a "likely letter" from UVA!!! I hope that fun salad bar is still there!

Anonymous said...

When we were growing up, we pretty much lived off of the farm. My grandfather was rather adventurous with his garden. Each year, he got SO excited when the seed catalog arrived. He would always choose something "exotic" to grow, and was quite successful. One year, he grew an assortment of red, white and blue potatoes for the Fourth of July. Another year, he grew white pumpkins for Halloween, and spaghetti squash.

Good times!

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

MMM- You're so right. We had a treasure chest of delicacies right under our noses and didn't appreciate (or even know) what we had. I actually couldn't stand crabs as a kid - it also didn't help that Chesapeake Bay Mother's hands would peel like crazy whenever she handled them, so she wouldn't fix them very often. (I also felt sorry for them going live into boiling water, but that's a different story altogether.) Then when I moved away, I learned to like them just in time to get food poisoning from crabs left to rot under a heat lamp at an All U Can Eat buffet in Newport News. Now, the only crab I can eat is krab, which is fish. Sad. Also, I never had a fried oyster until adulthood. I have no explanation as to why, but I am certainly making up for lost time. I HATED fried fish growing up - mostly because of the bones in those tiny little spot or croakers--although we were forced to eat them. (I have a story about bones for another time.) Now, I could eat fried fish all day. I do enjoy sitting around lollygagging over crabs, even if I don't eat much of them. It's the experience that counts.

MPM - One cajun blackened hot dog coming right up at the Blog Fest. GREAT NEWS ON U.VA! I see many trips to Virginia in your future (the state not just the college).

BHE - Good point about the garden. I neglected to mention that that one side vegetable was almost always from the freezer - frozen GARDEN vegetables from the previous summer. Remember pattypan squash? Is that what those little white disk-like squash are called? They looked strange but tasted heavenly covered in melted butter and salt. I could eat peas right out of the shell. I wish I could have seen your grandfather's garden, I am sure it was spectacular.

Good times indeed.

Icey said...

For some reason all I can think of right now is College Inn pizza.

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

Icey - College Inn might have had the best pizza ever. Of course no evening on the town was complete without a late-night stop at Little Johns. The Virginian for Sunday brunch. Macados for the nachos. Fiesta Cantina for the all you can eat salsa (if there was anything else on that buffet, I don't remember it). Racks for another buffet. We might not have eaten food that was good for you, but we ate some mighty good food and plenty of it, Ramen noodles notwithstanding.

Lordy I am hungry, and just by talking about all this I have put on 10 pounds.

Anonymous said...

Oh CBW, this is where our road forks......(and I thought our main differences were that the CB Sisters were tall, blond, athletic and gorgeous, whereas I was merely, tall.)

Finicky wasn't allowed at our house. Finicky was ridiculed at our house. Actually, Finicky still is ridiculed at our house (just ask my poor, long-suffering husband). No wonder you people are still slender and gorgeous after all these years.

I was required to TRY everything at least ONCE when I was growing up. And I had to try at least a mouthful of whatever-it-was AGAIN, if it had been more than a year since the last time I tried it.

For a woman who has eaten squirrel, rabbit, pigs feet, tongue (never taste anything that can taste you back, UGH!), raw oysters, raw clams, souse, head-cheese, you-name-it-I've-probably-tried-it, sushi was NOT a big deal.

Now, I can barely muster one side-vegetable when I'm cooking dinner (and it would be OK if I forgot it, as far as hubby's concerned). But, when I was growing up, we had more than one vegetable, and they all had to be different colors!

Actually, I'm thinking of suing my mother for false advertising, because she made this working-mother schtick look way easier than it really is.

We did not have culinarily artful food, but we had a fabulous variety of good, home cooking when I was growing up. Nowadays, they refer to it as "soul food".

At beach week one year when I was in college we all took turns cooking dinner. When it was my night, I'd brought frozen fish fillets from home (spot and trout) and I baked them and served them with stewed tomatoes, field peas, kale (seasoned with bacon), and homemade cornbread. It was delicious.

By that time, I had sense enough to be proude of my culture and not try to pretend to be just another suburbanite.

One of my friends who also hailed from rural Virginia (and is black) levelled her gaze at me after tasting the first bite and said, "You've been holding out on me, you're really black, aren't you?" Highest compliment my cooking's ever received.

My friend from Staten Island was amazed that you could eat kale and that it tasted so good. He'd only seen it used in the deli display case.

When I was growing up, we made casseroles that contained condensed soup, and ate WAY too many biscuits (and not the ones from a can). So, gourmet we were not -- but it was delicious!!!

These days I'm losing my touch. My husband (who had nary a condiment in the house when we got married -- boy, that was an expensive shopping trip!) does most of the cooking now.

He doesn't like tomatoes, onions, green peppers, celery, or fish (and as host of other good stuff). Unfortunately, I don't know how to make anything that doesn't contain at least one of those items, so he cooks. He's a very good cook, but mostly we have meat, potatoes (or rice) and one vegetable. [sigh]

Can we have fried oysters at blogfest?


Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

AMN - Squirrels! I remember opening up a friend's freezer one time and there was a bunch of really strange looking meat stacked up in there. I gave her a look and without waiting for me to ask, she said, "Squirrel." I quickly slammed the door to.

Our neighbors used to trap muskrats too. I prefer not to know whether they ate them.

We actually had a lot of that "soul food" too...I always thought it was more southern than soul. My Gloucester grandmother would give "Down Home with the Nealys" a run for their money. Kale was a staple, collards, mustard greens, loved 'em all. (Daddy didn't eat them at the time, though.)

I think fried oysters would be wonderful at the blog fest...but I thought you were only supposed to eat them during the months that had the letter "r" somewhere in the name. May/June/July/August = no r. What do we do?

We'll think of something.

No matter what, we're going to be eatin' good! (If you want to bring stewed tomatoes and kale I'll be your BFF.)

YOu can leave the squirrel at home, though.

Big Hair Envy said...

Is pattypan squash the same thing as symlins?? If so...YUMMO!

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

BHE - YES! They're delicious. I haven't had any in years.

Rosaria Williams said...

This is such a sweet nostalgic piece. Thanks.

Pleasing Procrasinator said...

Hot dogs with ketchup, mustard and onion...YUMMY!! Even better a brat without the ketchup:)
I think for the first 7 years of my life hot dogs and macaroni & cheese was the only thing I would eat.

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

Lakeviewer - thank you, and thanks for commenting.

Pleasing P - Oh, the heavenly indulgence of a salty hot dog sliced UP in the macaroni and cheese. Yes, it's been done. I won't say who did it, though. Salt and fat have never been in closer contact, but have mercy it's good.

Or so I've heard.

Anonymous said...

yes, you are right about the oysters and the months ending in "r"....wishful thinking.

Wow, sorry to "clog your blog" with my comment (long!).

You see, I am giving up eating for Lent, and therefore am obsessed with food after one day on the wagon!


Meg McCormick said...

My grandma made homemade pizza before anyone around us had it in their culinary heavy rotation. My babysitter's mom used to make us the Chef Boyardee pizza in a box - you can still buy the kit, and I still love it, but I love it for what it is and not as a quintessential example of "pizza." Otherwise, in the school cafeteria, it was pizza day every Thursday, but it was those rectangular pieces, like the Elio's you can buy in the freezer section. Not exactly what I would consider good pizza, but it got the job done.

When Curt and i were first dating, I was at his parents' house and his grandma was there. We made tacos for everyone. She eyed the taco, looked at us and said, WELL, WHAT IS THIS? NEVER SEEN SUCH A THING! And in rural Central Pa, she wasn't kidding.

Anonymous said...

Things were pretty much the same in Alaska in the 1960's. Except the meat was mooseburger.

"what is this beef you speak of?"

Hot dogs with ketchup... YUM!

foolery said...

My one hot dog a year has a buttload of ketchup on it. But I don't mind any and all of those other things on it, too -- I'm an Equal Opportunity Lowbrow Glutton.

And my brother (now a chef) used to wrinkle up his nose at me, every time, when he saw me break out the ketchup. "Ketchup on hot dogs?!" he'd whine. "Nobody -- I mean NOBODY puts ketchup on hot dogs!"

I think it was a line from a movie. Maybe a Robert de Niro line. Probably not.