As the youngest child in a family of nine children, June was not pampered. There was no room for pickiness. She ate what was on her plate, didn’t go to MacDonalds, and rarely ever saw soda or candy. Her treats were popcorn and Kool Aid. But she didn’t feel she was missing out. There were holidays, backyard barbecues, and Sundays filled with delicious food with her aunt and grandmother. When the family moved to the country, her mother canned food from their large garden. And her naturally inquisitive father was always exploring new foods. She didn’t know it then but she was on her way to becoming immersed in food culture.
Friday night in suburban New Jersey was the time teen-aged Alexander and his friends cut loose and headed out to the mall. Freedom. Maybe they’d stop for a burger or a slice on the way, a quick bite. But there was something Alexander couldn’t get out of his mind. Back home about now, his mom and dad and their best friends, the Ks, would be pouring wine, laughing, and sitting down to a stupendous, beautifully grilled Pacific salmon. He had tasted some once in Seattle and it was out of this world. And here he was, about to eat fast food out of a bag and miss everything.
When Maria was a young girl her mother began taking her along to family gatherings with her mother’s sisters and sometimes her brothers. Those were days of cooking and eating the kinds of food that reflected the family’s Mexican heritage. But at home Maria’s mother disliked cooking and turned out bland meat and potato meals with tasteless overcooked canned vegetables. It was a relief on weekends when the family turned to fast food chains like McDonalds or Wendy’s, but even better when they went over to an aunt and uncle’s house on Sundays for a delicious home-cooked dinner.
Once in a while, when he would leave his Dallas high school to deliver the school newspaper to the printer, Humphrey would stop off at Peggy’s Barbecue for a brisket sandwich with onion rings. Another favorite place was Jack’s Burger Shack where burgers and fries were sprinkled with celery salt. Simple, but it made all the difference to Humphrey. He loved food. His whole family loved food. It bound the generations and the siblings together, connecting them to the foods of his grandparents in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Whatever it was, chitlins, duck with shot still in it, Tex-Mex, his mom’s fried chicken and cream gravy, his grandmother’s apricot fried pies. And especially the barbecue his dad introduced him to.
It was so hot on the prairie that 9-year-old Benjamin’s leather chaps stuck to his legs as the horse trotted around on the dry earth. It was the first time he’d worn a genuine cowboy outfit and rode a horse on a real working ranch, so he ignored the flip-flops in his stomach as he bounced along. At lunch he still felt queasy. He drank the ice cold glass of dark red juice his friend’s mother gave him to settle his stomach but it had just the opposite effect. He decided then and there he would be very, very cautious about trying unknown foods in the future and he would never drink currant juice ever again.
Late on a steamy summer night Estella’s mother and father went to the shed and took out their spears. Quietly making their way down to the footbridge by the stream, they stopped just below it and stepped into the water. They took turns as one of them held a flashlight while the other deftly wielded the three-pronged implement, bringing out four eels in just a couple of minutes and dropping them into a canvas bag. As they made their way back home, they imagined how delighted little Estella and the other two children would be when mother put tomorrow’s fried eel dinner on the table.