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Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Perhaps it was a weed

Feeding me (aged 5 to 10) during WW2 was a nightmare. Not that I wasn't hungry - I ate morning, noon and night - but I was picky and there was so little to be picky about. Vegetables were the problem.

Carrots, parsnips - sweet, woody. Onions, leeks - slimy. Turnips - fit only for cows. Cauliflower - rare, bad karma since one had to eat the green bits. There wasn't much else other than dreaded cabbage.

These days I love cabbage: de-veined, chopped small, seethed in butter for a few minutes with caraway seeds. Then, there were no caraway seeds and anyway I was a suspicious little bugger; I'd have said my mother was failing to disguise cabbage's true and horrible nature.

Good grief, how my mother tried with cabbage. The deck was stacked against her since the only variety available was very dark green with thick leathery leaves and a rank un-vegetably flavour. No way I'd take it straight, even threatened with a light beating and I was normally a terrible coward when facing pain.

Covered with gravy didn't help. Grated cheese? Nah, cheese was rationed.  How about the “good” (ie, quasi-nutritious) water cabbage had been stewed in? No go; cabbage water is, unsurprisingly, cabbage flavoured.

Desperate to make cabbage water palatable mother added an Oxo cube (Ingredients: wheat flour (with added calcium, iron, niacin, thiamin), salt, maize starch, yeast extract, flavour enhancers (monosodium glutamate, disodium guanylate), colour (ammonia caramel), beef fat (4.5%), autolysed yeast extract, dried beef bonestock, flavourings, sugar, acidity regulator (lactic acid), onion powder.

Dig that ammonia caramel!

“Drink it quickly,” mother advised. As far I can remember I did. What followed I’ve forgotten. But then WW2 did finally end and ten years later proper food appeared in the shops.

13 comments:

Avus said...

I, too dislike unadulterated cabbage. The only way Mrs Avus gets me to eat it is chopped small and mixed with bacon - quite OK for me with a dash of vinegar. I have not tried it with caraway seeds.......

Roderick Robinson said...

Avus: Have you tried sweetheart cabbage - it's a palatable step up from the old leathery stuff. Kale too has become quite fashionable; rather chewy.

We too have the bacon variant. But by then it's hardly a cabbage dish given bacon's strong flavour, saltiness and grease production. More like bacon with cabbage garnish.

Sabine said...

Well, that is a great head of cabbage! Calls for a spicy stir fry, with ginger, garlic, chili and soy sauce.

My mother (almost 18 at the end of WWII) had experienced food shortages and, yes, hunger, during and in the years after the war. She was also seriously traumatised, something that was never addressed in the years of Germany's economic miracle.

Anyway, I was raised by a woman who felt it was her duty to have us kids experience what it meant to eat scraps and bits and god forbid, any food was ever wasted.
Once a month, she made bread soup from the hard end bits of sourdough bread. There was milk soup from sour milk, cabbage soup from stalks, fake banana pudding (turnips) and some other thing made from potato peel. Thankfully, I forgot the rest.

This was her therapy, I think. We had other stuff, of course, she was a great cook and a fabulous baker, never a failed yeast dough etc. She was also a great gardener and produced magnificent cabbages, which were used for equally magnificent Kohlrouladen (leaves stuffed with mince and rice) and of course, there always was a barrel of her home made sauerkraut in the basement.

One thing she insisted on was that we always finished what we or she put on our plates and if this took all afternoon or evening. I spent many hours pushing food around my plate while she waited, smoking and doing the daily crossword puzzle. No mercy.
She rarely ate a proper meal herself.

Avus said...

RR & Sabine

Sabine's comment stirred my memory of German. Was your post on cabbage, I wonder, a result and homage to the memory of that great German statesman (as opposed to a mere "politician"), Chancellor Kohl?

Roderick Robinson said...

Sabine: Needless to say our deprivations were nowhere near what your mother suffered. However the war left me with one powerful instinct - never to waste food. Even these days, if the last part of loaf has grown green mould I'm reluctant to bin it.

I too am a great fan of stuffed cabbage. Very rare in Britain and quite rare in France, probably because of its unfavourable labour content/asking price ratio.

I'd have had a hard time with sour milk soup. Milk, even when unsour, acts as an emetic on me; haven't drunk any since age nine.

Avus: It wasn't a homage but it could have been. I have great admiration for a whole string of German politicos, Kohl among them. Notably: Adenauer, Schmidt, Brandt and Merkel. I'd struggle to find their equal here in the UK.

marly youmans said...

Lucky me. I was a picky eater but would only eat raw vegetables. And dessert. Unfortunately, I hated both milk and meat and now have insufficient bones, which I combat with exercise and kefir. Fortunately, I had a mother with a green thumb who always had a garden. And once I got onto cooked vegetables, I learned she was a good cook, too.

My daughter would eat anything, no matter how foreign. My sons were absolutely picky. I remember mentioning the current diet of the younger one to our pediatrician. Strawberries and boiled egg whites. He said he had heard worse. I wasn't the forceful type, having hated much food myself. And struggled with that. Besides, when you grow older, it's exciting to learn to like the things you once hated. My sons are both 6'1" or a bit more, so it didn't hurt them much. My daughter is disappointed in being 5'3" like me, though she had a much better diet than I did, I suppose, not being picky.

Rouchswalwe said...

your cabbage was my wax bean ... my grandfather, who had been a POW in Texas, would not let me get up from the table until I had finished my allotment of wax beans (the ones I let drop to the floor for our cocker spaniel lay there uneaten ... even good Suzie knew). But cabbage I've always loved with liberal amounts of danish caraway seed (toasted if possible).

Other than wax beans, I'm not a picky eater. I ate things that wriggled off the plate in western Japan and at a recent wedding, surprised myself by eating tendon soup Vietnamese-style for breakfast.

Prost!

Roderick Robinson said...

Marly: One outcome of eating through WW2 is that it left me with insatiable hunger; I never really knew where my limits were. I put on weight horribly. A combination of rigorous (possibly dangerous) dieting plus cycling to and from work for a year saw me lose 63 lb - then, alas, I chose to work in the USA and you can guess what happened then. Over the last five years I've paid more attention to my diet and for most of them I've been on the 5:2. Dressing all in black helps.

Had to look up kefir. I'd be worried it suggested I was faddish and I don't move in faddish circles; come to think of it in no circles at all, only dodecagons. Height as a measure of health? A US thing I think. In the days of rampant tuberculosis fat was thought to be healthy.

Always envied being able to use the possessive pronoun with regard to professional relationships: my offshore-account tax evasion adviser, our Porsche mechanic, his proctologist. I suppose pediatricians simply wither away with the passage of time; who decides (and when?) on the appropriate time to part?

RW sZ: I'm surprised the German flag doesn't incorporate a cabbage.

I'm being bombarded with nutritional exotica (See Marly above) and have had to look up wax beans. Wow! I'm not surprised you refused: the first website reads: Depilatory Hot Hard Wax Beans Pellet Waxing Body Bikini Hair. It was suggested you eat them?

Ah, I see. A later website says: "Yellow Wax beans have a pale cornflower colored, stringless pod with a translucent yellow flesh that clings tightly to its petit lime green legumes inside its shell. The label "wax" may seem less inviting in its implications, as yellow bean varieties actually have either a matte or satin finish with nearly a faint hint of wax in their texture. Yellow Wax beans, ideally harvested young, are crisp, succulent and tender firm, with mellow grassy sweet and nutty flavors."

Mellow, forsooth.

I've seen them in French supermarkets but have ignored them. We're off to France in a month, perhaps I should give them a road test and report back.

Re. Japan. Yes we've all eaten those weird things. It's what's called a rite of passage.

marly youmans said...

I have a friend who always used to say, "Black the fat girl's friend!"

You know, I now have three kefir colonies, two in New York and one in North Carolina. I feel like a settler! And now if my grains die, I can go snitch some of their grandchildren from my colonies.

My father was a prince of weird food before the war. He was the child of south Georgia sharecroppers, and I believe they ate everything that moved on "their" little farm, including songbirds and woodchucks and possum. When he was 17 he joined the war effort and became a tail gunner on a B-17, stationed at Bassingbourne. I"m sure he found the food just fine.

marly youmans said...

Oh, forgot to say "my" pediatrician turned out to be more mine than I expected. I spent a long time picking one out when we moved to Cooperstown. A year later we were at a party, and he started quizzing me on my Southern background. So I said that I had relatives in Georgia and upstate South Carolina who came over before the Revolution. He said that he also had upstate South Carolina ancestors. I said, well, there weren't all that many people in the upstate back then. Guess what? We had a batch of the same direct ancestors, which I only knew about because they were extremely active in the Revolution, and one was a peppery Welshman who founded the Spartan Regiment. He and his wife (a Yankee--maybe the only one in my tree, for all I know) brought up a brood who all were active (including the daughters and their husbands) in the war. His wife, visiting her captured husband at Old Ninety-Six prison at Star Fort, once rode 60+ miles when she overheard women talking about a British plan to ambush her boys. And she made it in time, and so the Spartans drew back into the woods and then ambushed other women's boys when the soldiers arrived. I've always wondered how she felt about that. Very colorful, wild, and entertaining people in my maternal line!

So "my" pediatrician who I took so much time to choose turned out to be my distant cousin.

marly said...

Take the "e" off Bassingbourn(e.) Ooops.

Roderick Robinson said...

Marly 1 & 2: There's nothing quite like a WW2 airfield for stirring up memories, even if one has to invent the necessary memories to clothe the tarmac. I felt your father deserved some effort on my part given I admire the guts he must have shown in what was a hideously dangerous form of warfare and that even now (for me anyway), distant in time as it is, we should continue to applaud the fact that he survived. And without access to cooked songbirds, woodchucks and possums.

I wondered whether I'd ever gone anywhere near Bassingbourn but I see it's in Cambridgshire and that's a county I've rarely visited. It continued to be used for decades after the war, first by the RAF and then by the Army. For what it's worth it remains the home of Tower Museum Bassingbourn which focuses on the airfield's usage during WW2. I wonder too how your father would react to this final Wiki detail: The site was reopened for training Libyan soldiers in 2014 but closed down the same year.

As to distant relations I fear I've shown no curiosity at all. There were some in Lancashire, farming folk, and we visited them once (for less than hour) when I was about 11 or 12. They were rude about my father's fatness ("Bet you haven't seen your toes for years.") and whereas I wasn't a great fan of my father, young as I was I felt this was going too far. That I could do without them. I doubt that any US citizen would ever make such an admission

However one eerie event involving the past has remained with me. As a magazine editor I was lunching at an industrial conference and found myself sitting next to a man who came from Bingley where I started out in newspapers as a teenager. We exchanged a few details and it turned out he was married to the first woman I ever took out on a date, the first non-relation I ever kissed. And who quickly lost interest in me. By this time he already knew that she and I worked in the same office, though I didn't vouchsafe any other details. He vowed he'd mention my name to his wife and I tried to imagine her response. Years have past since that lunch and I've become a realist: ten-to-one she's forgotten those three awkward encounters back in the fifties.

marly said...

I have never lifted a finger to do genealogy, but I have one cousin and one deceased uncle who were. Maternal side. So I know some entertaining stories, at least.

That's an amusing story about the conference--make a good short story. As is the Lancashire tale. "I felt this was going too far." Hahaha!

I always wished that I knew more about my father's childhood and teen years. His crew lost one man, my father's friend, the mid waist gunner. He died on the very last day that position was used. They were phasing it out. Shrapnel killed him.