Thursday, February 20, 2020

Cracker Supper

A bit of pointless nostalgia, 1960-66.

We ate cheap starches a lot.  My mother was a single mom working full time, and she had neither time nor money for complicated dishes.  Welsh Rarebit was four saltines with a Velveeta-type sauce.  We sprinkled a little paprika on it to be fancy.  Cream dried beef was big as well, as were pancakes with Vermont Maid syrup.  Grilled cheese and Campbell’s Cream of Tomato was often the high point of the week.  The invention of little frozen pizzas was one of the highlights of our childhood.  

My mother could cook quite well, as she demonstrated when she later remarried and had resources. But when that happened, our favorite meal of the week disappeared: Cracker Supper.  The point was to make a saltine or Ritz-based stack with as many layers as possible. PB, Fluff, jelly, quarter-squares of American cheese, Miracle Whip, baloney*. I don't think girl-children would have found this so fascinating. We made these in advance of watching Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color every Sunday night, chomping down from our thin tray tables.  Toward the end of the run we got a dog who hovered expectantly, teaching us to have better reflexes. No one in our neighborhood had color TV, but we had rich cousins who did. Very occasionally we would be down there and get to see that magic.

In memory we had more possible ingredients, an unlimited amount, but I can’t think of what those could be.  We did not buy ham for sandwiches. We did have tuna, but we went through that quickly. Cracker supper was for spreadable things anyway. Ah, ketchup!  Yes, we must have had ketchup as well.  Goes great with PB and Fluff. No mustard – we weren’t that adventurous. Maybe there was an occasional leftover that could be shoved on a cracker somehow. It was a relief for my mother that we had a meal we could make ourselves.  I think she napped through these. It might have seemed irresponsible parenting to an outsider, but I doubt it was nutritionally inferior to every other night of the week,

*Later we moved up to bologna.


RichardJohnson said...

Sunday supper in our house was also non-standard: cocoa with popcorn. The popcorn came from our grandparents' farm in flyover country, making it both cheap and exotic. I guess Sunday night was the mother's night off. IIRC, my father usually prepared the popcorn, and probably also the cocoa.

I had never heard of ketchup on Fluff. But ketchup and peanut butter went well with anything. I liked peanut butter and mayonnaise. Peanut butter w baloney and mayonnaise sandwiches - loved 'em.

We made a snack of "mock pizza," which consisted of ketchup on a saltine cracker, with oregano sprinkled on top. Nowadays, my "mock pizza" consists of bread-machined bread dough rolled out into a flat bread, then cooked on a skillet, with appropriate toppings added towards the end. No need to heat the whole oven up.

We had grilled cheese sandwiches at least once a week- Saturday lunch especially- which were enriched with my mother's homemade relish. I imagine that store-bought relish would have done fine.

Thus, a lot of your starch choices were also used in two-parent households. My mother made a lot of bread, which your working mother probably didn't have time to make.

Elected officials of the Democrat persuasion periodically complain that you just can't eat well on a food stamp budget- or whatever they are called today- and to "prove" the point, they will try eating on a food stamp budget for a week. Unfortunately, their food stamp weeks most often prove the inability of Democrat officials to make good choices.

Often the Democrat elected officials will choose saltine crackers as an example of eating on the cheap. Problem here is that flour is much cheaper than store-bought crackers, and with a bread machine, it takes all of five minutes to prepare a loaf of bread. Cheap and fast. Or as one of my profs would have said, quick and dirty.

Grim said...

My mother quit cooking when we were teenagers. She said my sister and I decided we just wouldn’t eat the same things, so she told us we’d have to learn to fend for ourselves. We both turned out to be good cooks as a result. Having to make do does that for you.

roadgeek said...

Sunday night was always pancakes made in the electric skillet. Friday nights my parents would go out to eat at a nice restaurant, and we got Swanson TV dinners. We were thrilled to get TV dinners; we'd sit and watch "The Brady Bunch" while eating our turkey slices and peas. We thought it was a great treat. We also enjoyed a sheet of corn dogs. We were taught to use the electric stove early on, and could heat things up, and make soup. During the summers we ate Lipton's Cup-Of-Soup every day along with a swiss cheese sandwich, on Rainbo white bread of course. We thought we had it good, and looking back at the late 60' and early 70's I think we did.

My wife's father was a janitor, and her mother was a stay at home mom, and she tells me today that they ate a lot of potato pancakes and kidney beans. Her mother was a good cook, but there were lots of potato pancakes. She never went hungry, but her sibs can't look a kidney bean in the eye.

Tom Bridgeland said...

Sunday dinner, at noon after church was a big meal. Supper was break time for mom. She'd pop some popcorn and make hot cocoa. The rest was on us, usually sandwiches. A lot like Richard noted above. PB and mayo. American cheese. Bologna. Grilled cheese sandwiches.

Christopher B said...

Similar nostalgia here. Saturday lunch was usually whatever leftovers were still in the fridge, and supper was often franks and beans with the franks cooked on one of those hot dog electrocuters for several years. Sunday night was usually grilled cheese and potato chips or frozen pizza once those became available, after a bigger meal after church, and could be eaten while watching a Disney movie in the living room. TV dinners were an occasional treat if mom and dad were away during the day.

My dad was also the popcorn maker, and ice cream dipper :).

Christopher B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RichardJohnson said...

In a recent visit with family friends- my earliest memory was a telephone conversation with a family member who is my age- we compared our childhood meals. Their chicken was always roasted. Because of my mother's Southwest origins, we had fried chicken at least as often as roast chicken. We hardly ever had fish, most likely due to the prairie/plains origins of my parents. By contrast, they had fish every week or two.

The family friends added an interesting detail I had forgotten. For a while they raised their own chickens for both eggs and meat, with their father doing the necessary beheading. As their father had grown up on a farm, he had the requisite skills. Other family friends kept a goat for several years, for milk.

While I didn't try Fluff with ketchup, I ate plenty of Fluffernutter sandwiches during my childhood.

Parents would break the seafood fast when college friends made their annual visit, and serve lobster. At the time, lobster was inexpensive. Because I wasn't accustomed to sea food, I would decline to eat lobster, and was quite content with a hot dog. For some funny reason, my parents, whose usual response to picky eaters was "YOU WILL EAT WHAT IS ON YOUR PLATE," made no objection to my abstaining from lobster. When I was 12, I finally had the courage to try lobster, and realized why my parents didn't object to my abstaining- more delicious lobster for them.

Sam L. said...

You got bologna? High on the hog!!

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Balogna came later, and then we could even afford sliced ham as well. Baloney was cheaper. you could fry it, which was cool because it curled up.

@ Richard Johnson - my wife worked with a teacher who had five children. She told them that they had tried lobster and didn't like it. It worked until the oldest was well into highschool.

Estoy_Listo said...

Bologna, cut from six inch chubs w/ a dull knife; slices 1/2 inch on one side, thinning out to a feather on the other. Then there was tongue.

Nuff said.

Aggie said...

We had tough times when I was a kid too, some lean months. Welsh rarebit on occasion. Mac & Cheese (home-made). Funny the early treats you learn to enjoy. My great-grandad had a taste for bread & gravy as a late Sunday evening snack after the Sunday feast left-over, and if you've ever tried it - it's great. Kind of like an open-face meat sandwich, without the meat. But the all time great comfort food from his day is saltines, crushed up in a cereal bowl with cold milk poured over them and eaten with a spoon. Every once in a while.....

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Aggie - same, but with graham crackers. Mmm.

Starches and unattractive variations of meat seem to be figuring prominently in this discussion