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 were 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.