Sunday, February 17, 2008

Food Doesn't Have to be Expensive to be Good

I’m sitting here browsing the Internet for the latest news, eating my typical weekend breakfast delicacy of biscuits and gravy. It’s my weakness. Every once in awhile, usually on weekends, I get a craving for sausage gravy and biscuits, although any creamy white gravy will do. I’m particularly fond of Cracker Barrel’s sawmill gravy or Bob Evan’s black pepper gravy.

On rarer occasions, I also get another biscuit-based craving for breakfast. When I was a kid, Mom called it sugar molasses. She made it herself, although the ingredients and cooking directions are not very complex. Basically, you get some water, some brown sugar, and then heat them to boiling. Boil for a few minutes and serve hot over a biscuit. Yummy!

I’ve written before about snacks I used to eat, thinking they were common for everyone. Yet they turned out to be almost uniquely ours. Gravy and biscuits are very common. Most restaurants that serve breakfast have the dish. But sugar molasses, I’ll bet, probably is one of those down-home items that most people who are not from your own down-home haven’t heard about.

I believe most of those menu items were developed more through necessity than good taste. I don’t think I’m revealing any family secrets when I say we were fairly poor when I was young. Both Mom and Dad worked at factories, and they held varying hours which left us kids at home with our aunt, Ruby, much of the time. I believe the sugar molasses and biscuit dish was probably her idea. And she used white sugar.

Anyway, when I was around five or six years old, dinnertime consisted of a meal of sausage gravy over white bread. Sometimes we would also get fried potatoes. So most of my preschool years were spent consuming a diet consisting mostly of starch and meat fat. Oh, we had canned veggies, too, but I didn’t like veggies.

The fact is, those meals were cheap to make. And halfway between paychecks, sometimes that’s all Mom could afford to feed us.

Back then, Mom also wasn’t the world’s best cook. I remember her fried chicken. The pieces were small, dripping with grease, and always burned on one side. Her hamburgers were like semi-flattened meatballs, cooked to a crisp. And spaghetti was what you might call extra al dente.

But, we never ate out, even though at one time Mom worked at a restaurant. A little later on, though, when my parents had started earning a little more money, we would have the occasional luxury of sharing a big bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. The first time I had it was when I realized for certain what I had long suspected: Mom’s fried chicken had much more love in it than it did flavor.

I must add this disclaimer before I go further. Mom’s cooking improved greatly over the years. She is a good cook today, even contributing to a published cookbook and serving up entrees at church functions and family gatherings. There are no more burned meatball hamburgers or undercooked spaghetti.

I eat out a lot today. I can cook pretty well. There is not much to it. If you have a recipe, just follow it. If you don’t have a recipe, or if you’re missing ingredients, just improvise. It usually works out. But although I used to enjoy making up recipes, today I just like eating out.

But I still crave some of those cheap, making-ends-meet meals I had when I was a kid. I hated them back then. I love them today. Unfortunately for me, they are still little more than meat fat and starch.

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