Random Thoughts

Favorite foods of my childhood

... sensory images are the best

by Ann Robbins Talbot

My earliest days were spent with my Swedish mother and half-Yankee father. While the country was struggling through the Great Depression, I lived a pampered life for four years as an only child -- until my sister was born. Each day I was invited next door to be a role model for my best friend Ronnie. Ronnie's mom was trying to put some meat on his bones, so she would make two thick banana milkshakes. "Ronnie, look at Ann drinking her milkshake," she would say. Ronnie would look but did not drink. Ronnie remained skinny, but Ann developed into a little butterball.

The culinary rage of my childhood was the masterpiece called Rice Krispie Squares. The ingredient list was short -- melted marshmallows and Snap-Crackle-Pops. The process was quick -- mix and press into a pan. Period. I could devour a pan full by myself.

My mother had a frying pan with seven round indentations cut into its black surface. In this she made my favorite meal -- Swedish pancakes. They were very thin and not very browned. With butter and syrup I could eat a stack as fast as my mother could make them. Breakfast, lunch or Sunday night supper -- her pancakes were the best.

There were always packages of Necco Wafers around the house. I liked the brown ones, never ate the black ones. They could be separated into piles by color or laid out in straight lines. A toy and a snack all at once. Occasionally we would buy chocolate malted balls from a lady who sold products from her bicycle. My mother would hide non-pareills that she bought at the five-and-ten as her own special treat. Made with dark chocolate, they were spread with teeny white balls. They came in a white paper bag, sold by the pound. I do not recall ever eating one myself.

When I entered first grade in Stoneham, I walked to school and stayed for lunch. My favorite sandwich was mustard on Wonder bread or ketchup on Wonder bread. Something about those condiments soaking into the white bread appealed to me visually and satisfied my hunger. It certainly was easy to make in the morning. One food story that appears in family lore concerns the day that friends came to visit unexpectedly. Being the old age of six, my mother gave me a few dollars and sent me to the store to buy "something for the table". She had a coffee ring or cookies in mind, I'm sure. I proudly returned with salt and pepper shakers.

Perhaps you have noticed that the foods I remember the most are not on any healthy diet list. Combined with treats from Nelson's Bakery in Maplewood Square, my food regimen could be titled Comfort Food Specials. But I do remember my mother's wonderful meatballs served with gravy over noodles. At least a little protein appeared in my diet. And she made fantastic roast beef hash.

Outings during World War II were few and far between because of gas rationing, but a Sunday afternoon drive always ended with ice cream cones. The favorites in those days were vanilla, of course, frozen pudding, butter pecan and orange pineapple, all made by hand. Another source of ice cream was the pony boy. A man came through our neighborhood pulling a refrigerated cart. When we heard his bell, we would run outdoors with our nickels to purchase a push-up or chocolate-covered.

After moving to Melrose our Sunday afternoons often included hiking to the Stoneham Zoo on the bridle paths through the Fells woods. We had to pass a Howard Johnson's on our route. The neighborhood gang would pool its money and buy as many hot dogs as we could afford. HJ always grilled its rolls a golden brown in pure butter. We would each get 1/2 or 1/3 of a hotdog and a glass of water as an ending to our hike.

Other childhood favorites included wonderful drinks that have disappeared from menus: root beer floats (a scoop of vanilla ice cream floating in a glass of root beer), black cows (chocolate ice cream scoops floating in a vanilla milkshake) or orange freezes (orange sherbet floating in orange soda). Those amazing drinks seem to have gone the way of the soda fountain.

The only vegetable that fits the category of favorite foods is corn on the cob. We never had any fancy handles to poke into the ends, so we probably liked getting so messy. Sometimes we ate two rows at a time, sometimes three. We looked forward all year to the short corn season and ate our fill while it lasted. My father could eat the cob so clean that it was ready to fashion into a pipe.

I hope my remembrances have jogged your memories of a childhood full of favorites.

November 5, 2010

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