Saturday, February 18, 2012

Try It! You'll Like It!

Growing up in the rural mountains of North Carolina, we ate Southern-style meals and had rules for eating. No, we didn’t have ‘possum, chittlins or pickled pig feet, so you can get those negative stereotypes out of your head right now. We did have vegetables that were overcooked, seasoned with fatback and lots of salt. Because my grandfather and my mother were into gardening, most of our one acre of downhill backyard was tilled, planted, weeded and harvested. Fresh veggies like kale, collard greens, tomatoes and rhubarb were featured on the dinner table, no matter how disgusting they appeared to the finicky eyes of my younger sister and me.

When my grandparents ate Sunday dinner with us, we heard a lot of comments like, "Eat your vegetables. They’re home grown, fresh from the garden," "Much better than store-bought" and my personal favorite, "Sharon, eat the stewed tomatoes or you will hurt Granddaddy’s feelings.” Stewed tomatoes was one of our grandfather’s specialty dishes. "It looks like vomit," I whined, wishing the dog was allowed in the house so I could slip him my food under the table.

My mother required that we at least try everything on the table, no matter how repulsive we found it. I would take a small bite of collards or some such green thing, make a face and swallow. Sometimes I’d hide the food in my napkin or under my plate. My sister and I were skinny little kids. Our older brother was what you’d call a “good little eater” and not so little.

I remember one week it seemed like Mom served cauliflower every night. Regular broccoli was gross enough, but WHITE broccoli had to be a mutation of some sort. Still, I tried it with chocolate pudding being the reward for my compliance. Oh, the inhumanity of my pain and suffering just to earn dessert!

The next evening, there it was again. Was there any wonder why there was cauliflower left over? I dutifully took a bite and went on to my applesauce chaser.

Third night, I realized I was actually eating cauliflower and it wasn’t so bad. I looked at Mom suspiciously. Did she do this on purpose? Serving a vile vegetable so often that my taste buds were numb to the intrusion? Or maybe she was right; some foods just need to be given a chance without consideration of how they appear.

Now that I cook for a finicky child of my own, as well as my husband’s grandchildren when they visit, I find myself quoting my mother. “Kelsey, if you don’t eat your food, you’ll hurt my feelings.” Like a typical teenager, hurting her mother’s feelings is a constant game. Score one for the kid.

The same teenager was also diagnosed last summer with Celiac Disease, an auto-immune disorder of the small intestine that reacts to gluten, a product naturally found in wheat, barley, rye and many prepared foods. The challenge of creating meals that will not only be gluten free, but also appealing to Kelsey, is daunting. Kelsey, like her mother, already wouldn’t eat red meat even before being diagnosed with Celiac. She also doesn’t like any seafood. That leaves us with chicken. Ironic that we have a flock of 15 backyard chickens as pets.

Although it’s gotten easier for me to “de-gluten” any recipe, I will typically spend an hour-and-a-half preparing our dinner from scratch to ensure that it’s not contaminated with gluten from prepared products. My husband Jay and I usually love the food (we are no longer skinny kids) and Kelsey often turns her overly critical little nose up, claiming to be full. That’s when I pull out the “You’ll hurt my feelings” and “Take a least one bite” quotes.

The other night we had Jay’s grandchildren, Amanda and Ben, stay over. Amanda is ten, polite, and a good little eater. Ben is seven, outspoken, and picky about his food. I planned to use the only meat I had left in the fridge, two packages of ground turkey, to make naturally gluten free Shephard’s pie for supper. I had already used up the russet potatoes earlier in the week, but decided that I should try it with the sweet potatoes I had sitting around. Why not make a sweet Shephard’s Pie?

I served the Shephard’s Pie with the orange-colored mashed potatoes on top. Kelsey and Ben were pretty vocal with their disapproval when they saw it. Kelsey claims she hates sweet potatoes even though I’ve seen her eat them many times. The only reason she likes Shephard’s Pie is the mashed potatoes on top, she whined. She was no longer hungry. Ben loudly claimed that it looked gross. Actually, since Ben has a hard time pronouncing his R’s, it was “gwoss.” He was twice denied his demands for a hotdog substitute. Amanda stared and said nothing.

Jay chastised Ben for being so rude and I lamented about how long I’d been cooking only to have people complain. In the end, they were all hungry and had to give it a try as I’d made nothing else for supper. Jay and I smiled at each other as each disbeliever was converted with the first bite and cleaned their plates.

The kids prefer Shephard’s Pie with sweet potatoes now. Ben must have eaten five helpings by himself. Kelsey decided she was hungry enough to take thirds. Amanda complimented me on the meal. Like I said, Amanda is the polite one of the group. The orange Shephard’s Pie was a huge hit.

This one is for you, Mom.

Me with my sister, mother and brother in 1979


  1. My mother used to tell my brother, Carroll, and me to eat our greens because they were good for us. To my great surprise, when I was looking after Mother in her late years, I noticed that she did not order collards at a country-style restaurant. When I asked why, she said she never liked that stuff! Apparently, we children were required to eat collards and other such gross foods even she did not like because she had grown up with the belief they were good for you. Sort of like a church doctrine you don't understand but have to accept because "they" say you must. One of the advantages of getting older was that she didn't have to eat anything she didn't want.

  2. I am gratified to know that while you posted a horrifying picture of me from my youth, you did manage to find one of the few where you looked a little worse. As for your food stories, I am a little disappointed you did not tell the story about the great and lengthy war you and our beloved mother had over whether or not there was any onion in the spaghetti sauce. As for our grandfather and his gardening habits, those were born from having survived the Great Depression, when people discovered the hard way that if you did not have food growing in your yard, you might starve. The vegetables they favored were typically ones that our grandparents described as “hardy”, which translated to “so hard to kill, you were going to have food no matter what the weather was like”. Even though those were horrifying times for your palate; I loved that stuff. Your post brought back good memories for me.

    1. Thank you Dear Brother Paul who goes by the stage name of "Howard" for reminding me of my childhood issues with onions. I don't remember it as a "lengthy war" though, more like a battle. Kelsey has the exact same complaint every time I use onions for cooking (which is often; I like them now).

  3. My Mom isn't too internet savvy, but she emailed this response to my blog:


    I enjoyed reading your blog. Did I ever tell you that you are a very good writer?

    Seems like this saying goes from one generation to another.and you succeeded. My Mom said the same to me. (My brother ate everything). The food I hated were stringy green beans, and tough meat. My bite was so far off there was no way I could chew that awful food...and I wanted that chocolate pudding. So I stayed at the table until everybody had left. All those unchewable things I placed in the trash can. Then I got my dessert. My Mom knew everything. So she probably figured out what I was doing, but said nothing.

    Love ya,


  4. I was thinking more that the garden was weeded - sometimes; and it wasn't fatback - just the ol' garden variety bacon. None of that fancy turkey bacon for us! I just buried the cauliflower under the cheese sauce - everything is better with cheese sauce!