As a child who enjoyed frogs’ legs and snails while still in kindergarten and loved eating street food on excursions to Mexico with her grandparents, Susan has always been open to new food experiences. So much so that she tried her hand at catering when she was only 20. She treasures the food traditions that she grew up with in Los Angeles. How they show love, how they knit people together. Her parents guarded family dinnertime, and they loved to entertain. She does too, taking turns hosting dinners with a regular group of good friends, holding family meals sacred, and organizing big summertime potluck feasts in the backyard. Her daughters seem poised to carry on and — just maybe — she’ll start teaching cooking to teens.
Living in a small town in south central Pennsylvania, Chris’s childhood experience of food was limited. Although her family lived in an agricultural area, most of their food came frozen or in cans from the supermarket and was served without seasonings. With little interest in homemaking, and having lost her sense of smell and taste through illness, it was scarcely surprising that her mother was not much of a cook. She heated frozen fish in the oven just as it came out of the box, in a block. Her Giant Stew sounded intriguing but actually was a time-saving way of chopping ingredients. In contrast to meals at home, Chris thought the lunches served in her school’s cafeteria were delicious. Yet, despite her limited eating experiences as a child, she became an adventurous eater once she left home. She tried new foods eagerly, especially from cultures far removed from her Pennsylvania childhood.
Poppy was raised as a vegetarian by her mother Vera. Growing up in Vermont, she enjoyed eating what the state had to offer, not only fresh vegetables from local farms, but also ice cream and cheese, lots of cheese. She and her mother belonged to a food co-op and her diet was based almost entirely on alternatives to products sold in mainstream supermarkets. Still, she was intrigued by what her school friends ate — Wonder Bread sandwiches, fruit rollups, packaged cookies. And once a year she and her mom would indulge themselves with non-natural Fritos and supermarket sour cream dip while they watched the Oscars. As she grew older she tried eating meat. But she always came back to the fundamentals of her childhood diet. When she discovered kale, she loved it right away. And when she began to shop and cook for herself she realized that not only was food pleasurable to eat but its preparation was a relaxing and creative activity.
Even though her family lived in a cramped Greenwich Village apartment with a small kitchen and her mother had a demanding full-time job, Vera enjoyed good home-cooked meals. There were recipes handed down by her Romanian and Russian grandparents, and her mother’s dinners of pot roast, chicken, and pork chops. Plus, there were bagels from the Lower East Side and fresh vegetables in summers spent in rural New Jersey. She especially loved sweets – cheesecake with her father, fudge sundaes with her grandmother, and the brownies she and her friends raided from the kitchen of their boarding school. She still loves sweets but gave up eating meat long ago.
Read interview with Vera’s daughter, Poppy.
For Jonathan, memories of food and family are almost inseparable. He studied in France, cooked professionally, and can turn out elegant French dishes, but the food he loves best, the food most deeply entwined with memory, is the simple food of home and the roadside stands and diners of New Jersey. Buffets at the Claremont Diner made a big impression. He loved his mother’s corned beef and cabbage, his grandmother’s sunnyside-up eggs, his aunts’ expertly constructed sandwiches. But it was his father’s almost insatiable appetite and love of food that really affected him, linking food and happiness tightly together. Not surprisingly his future career was going to be about food and the joy it could bring.
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.