Out of the six kids my parents raised, the “must eat two bites of everything on your plate rule” was the least difficult for kid number five (yours truly) and kid number six, my younger sister. We both ate peas, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, cabbage, any manner of squash— just about every veggie that arrived on our plates. She and I snacked on sliced carrots, celery, and radishes coated with salt. Though less healthy, together “Number Six” and I even created our own special dish, a peanut butter and dill pickle sandwich topped with confectionery sprinkles, to which we treated ourselves on special occasions.
While we, the two youngest, leaned toward adventure in our eating, the other four kids were slightly more particular. That said, the six of us united on one front. Supper stopped dead when a meal featured Brussels sprouts. A Yankee boil-it-to-death chef, mom cooked those things to mush—they emerged from the pot as lead-ball sinkers, the color of the ocean on a stormy day, and let me assure you, every manner of subterfuge occurred on the nights that she served them. We spread food about the plate to make them look gone, hid the them under our spoons, insisted we’d swallowed a sprout when she wasn’t looking and suffered the Mean Mother Eyeball when we coughed into our napkins. Alas, we had no dog. Though if we did, I’m guessing it would have bolted to the depths of the basement at one whiff of those overcooked cabbages
Even my sister and I, who ate everything else, could not force ourselves to ingest one of those vile vegetables. The last time I remember being served sprouts, Number Six and I ended up sitting at the table all alone, knowing we couldn’t leave until there were two less sprouts on our respective plates. I recall gagging on a bite after what seemed like hours at the table—figuring, I suppose, that I’d either die from the sprout or expire from old age and this way seemed quicker. The story of how our other siblings escaped however, has been absorbed into family lore.
My mother, an avid gardener, used to grow roots from cuttings of various plants to enhance her landscapes. That particular night she had displayed a copper bowl as a centerpiece in which stems of pachysandra, a shiny green ground cover, soaked in water. Let’s just say, the plants received plenty of organic fertilizer that night. It was a clever gambit, except that a few evenings later, the centerpiece began to smell. Mom removed it from the table, lifted out the greens to change the water…and well, the Mean Mommy Eyeball had nothing on her reaction after that.
Whether or not the pachysandra incident was the proverbial last straw, soon after, she stopped feeding us the nasty things, and years later, confessed to hating them too, “I just served them because they were good for you,” she admitted. To my knowledge, no one in my family ate them again until recently.
Then, one night at a family restaurant, because the other choices didn’t thrill me and, to ascertain if they could be anywhere near as awful as I remembered, I selected sprouts when the waitress offered them roasted, as a side dish. Rolling them around with my fork, I mustered up the courage and lifted one to my mouth. Hmm. Mild, crunchy—tossed with garlic and butter, dare I say they were…palatable? Upon arriving home, I called Number Six to brag about my accomplishment and she cheered, suitably impressed. Soon after, I bought a few sprouts and roasted them myself. My husband and daughter abstained, smirking as I forced myself to swallow the veggies, which tasted…fine…and that’s where my opinion remained; squarely on the side of “meh” until this week.
The chef/co-owner of the cheese/gourmet food shop where I work (one of a husband/wife duo), cooks seasonal produce daily to sell to our customers. He and his wife encourage their staff to taste the food he creates in order to better market it to the clientele. Before the lunch rush on Wednesday, he came out of the kitchen bearing a platter of sizzling Brussels sprouts, tossed with roasted apples, sprinkled with shavings of crispy ham. You eat with your eyes, as they say, and to use a cliché this dish looked, “to die for,” though, unlike that childhood night when I wasted away at the table, this time, I mean die in a good way. But still, they were Brussels sprouts. The revulsion born from ancient history percolated up as I stared at the colorful plate.
In the line of duty though, I grabbed a plastic fork, speared a piece of apple, a sprout, a bit of the ham and tasted. Nutty, salty, spicy, sweet; the flavors covered all levels of deliciousness, including a peppery little nip at the back of my pallet. My eyes widened in disbelief and swallowing, I moaned: “Oh my God.”
I don’t know if my Wednesday reaction could actually be attributed to God or just to a darn good chef, but folks, those sprouts were tasty enough to inspire a whole new religion.
For me it was Brussels sprouts. For my husband and his family, it was turnips. What was your worst food nightmare?