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Friday, August 31, 2012

Of Rhubarb Pie and Other Sweet Memories

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I stopped by Flying Star Cafe, a New Mexico restaurant chain, for dessert. I had a slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie, something I hadn't tasted in many, many years.

I mentioned this to a friend who also volunteers at the food pantry every Wednesday (as I do), and we started talking about the seemingly lost art of home cooking. She makes her own granola, croutons and salad dressing, among other things. I mentioned that my mother and maternal grandmother used to make rhubarb pies.
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My grandparents grew their own rhubarb, along with corn, tomatoes, green beans and other vegetables. The pie crusts, of course, also were made from scratch, which made for some very tasty pies. My mother always said that her homemade pie crusts weren't very good, but no one in our family ever complained.

This discussion opened a floodgate of memories for me, as I recalled that both of my grandmothers, as well as my mother, were excellent cooks. Of course, they didn't have a lot of choice, as there were no frozen dinners, ready-to-eat meals, take-out or any of the other convenience foods we take for granted.

My mother's fried chicken was the best, bar none. A typical Sunday meal after church might include fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy (all made from scratch) and corn, followed by a homemade dessert. Her roast beef and homemade noodles was just as awesome. She made wonderful chicken and dumplings, too.

She canned fruits and vegetables during the summer, and made jams and preserves, so we ate a lot of natural foods, with no preservatives or artificial ingredients. There were some things I didn't care for, such as liver and onions, brussels sprouts and stewed tomatoes. But those are the only foods I recall not liking.

I remember the first time I had pizza. My mom had bought a package of Chef Boyardee pizza mix, and she made this strange but wonderful new food for us one Sunday evening. Another treat that heralded the coming change in the way Americans eat was an occasional trip on Sunday evening to McDonald's for burgers and fries. Burgers cost just 19 cents each. I think there was just one McDonald's in our city, and the other fast food places such as Burger King, Taco Bell, Sonic and others hadn't yet made their appearance.

I haven't yet tried to make my own rhubarb pie (I don't even know whether it is possible to buy fresh rhubarb in the stores here in New Mexico), although I have in the past tried my hand at pie-making. My yard in California had peach and apple trees (among others), and I made apple crisp and peach cobbler, which were delicious. But I cheated and used a store-bought pie crust. I have tried to find a frozen rhubarb pie, but both stores I searched had only a limited selection of pies, and neither carries rhubarb pies.

My daughter, who has grown up on prepared foods, has shown little interest in real cooking, although she likes my homemade soups. She wants us to attempt to make her all-time favorite Russian food, pelmeni, dumpling-like things filled with ground meat. They are, I'm told, not hard to make, but very time-consuming. She wants to have pelmeni and borshch for Christmas dinner, so we will need to do a trial run with the pelmeni before then.

I guess the occasional slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie from Flying Star will have to suffice for now. Maybe this little trip down memory lane will prompt me to do some real cooking, rather than relying on prepared foods. I know the food will taste better, and be better for me, without all the added chemicals, artificial colorings and flavors and the preservatives. And just maybe it will help keep those memories of days gone by alive a bit longer.