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Friday, October 15, 2010

A Story Sprouts Up

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?


Val said...

For me and my sisters, it was tripe. Not sure if this is eaten in America, but my mother would cook it for my dad, who loved it. Mom's rules dictated a long stay at the table until the food was finished and one day we all snapped. The tripe was scraped out the dining room window into the hydrangeas. With impeccable maternal radar, my mom checked out said garden almost immediately, but at least we never suffered that vomit-inducing meal again!

Bish Denham said...

What a wonderful story!

For me it's liver. Can't stand the smell of it cooking, the flavor, the texture. Nothing. Everyone in my family, except me, loved liver. My mother, an excellent cook, tried all manner of ways to get me to eat it, once going so far as to disguise it in meat loaf. I of course knew better, there was liver in with that hamburger. I nearly threw up as I spit out the offending material. After that she just fixed me a hot dog or a burger on the nights the rest of them ate liver.

rae said...

Love it! Mine was soy milk. My mom went vegan for a while. BLECH! I haven't yet learned to love it...

Pam Houghton said...

I hated peas, and now I love split pea soup. I also couldn't stomach asparagus, but now? I love it as an appetizer as long as it's been sauteed in garlicky oil and baked in some kind of dough thing.

I love the references to numbers 5 and 6! You were pretty far down on the food chain there! :-) I was the misunderstood middle child myself.

Helen Ginger said...

My mother was the "cook everything down to mush" kind of cook. I don't remember ever having Brussels sprouts though.

I saw where Val said tripe and Bish said liver. I would second both of them as things I do not like. To be truthful, I've never tasted tripe, but I know I would hide it in the centerpiece.

J.B. Chicoine said...

I honestly can't think of a food I couldn't eat when growing up, thought one time I did get a little grossed out when my mother got creative with some leftover bay mussels in some sort of overcooked pasta mush (I think the overcooked thing must have been a variation on the "boil-it-to-death" school of culinary mindsets.) Perhaps if she hadn't doused it with tomato sauce and stuck to her standard 'Cream of Mushroom' condensed soup, it would have been okay...I ate it anyway...

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

My mom could cook with the best and I mean the best. Liver though was beyond her. No matter how she did it cold have saved the bottom of your shoes for years.
I love it now as I cook it with wine but there are quite a few horror stories from when I was a kid.

Manzanita said...

We ate only what we raised or grew. There's not a vegetable alive that I didn't love but chicken and apple pie were my bugaboos. My Mother insisted I eat chicken. It was either chicken or fish and I still love fish but no thank you to chicken. I never had a sweet tooth for any deserts and my Mother always had fresh apple pie, apples from our trees. Since that was her signature dish, and the raves poured in, I'd be sure she saw me eat a sliver of pie occasionally, so I wouldn't hurt her feelings. I've been vegetarian for over 35 years so no chicken and I eat my apples raw. But the memory lingers.

Liza, I really like your writing. Great stories. Thanks for coming over. Interesting blog.
Wanna buy a duck

Robin said...

I am with Bish. Chicken liver. I could smell it cooking when I came in the door. I remember going down the street begging my friends to let me eat dinner at their house. I usually found someone and called and asked if I could eat with so and so, never letting on that I had been home (knowing that chicken liver was on the menu). Of course, sometimes I got stuck with it. Then I fed it to the dog under the table. Liver sent my gag reflex into motion. I literally couldn't eat it.

Connie Arnold said...

Fun post, Liza! I love your story about the pachysandra! Our tastes defintely change as we get older. I watch my daughter trying to get my grandson to eat his veggies and remember doing the same thing with her, and my mother doing it with me. It's nice to discover things we used to despise can be quite good when prepared creatively!

Anonymous said...

Brussel sprouts ranks high on the list. Mayonnaise and sour cream are up ther too. Meatloaf too. Blllccghhh!!!

Stephen Tremp

WritingNut said...

For me, the list is a bit long... yes, I think I used to be a fussy eater.

Eggplant, liver, cabbage just to name a few!

Ann Best said...

I have said that Brussels sprouts is the one veggie I don't like; but I can see now that it is indeed the chef that determines whether or not it's palatable. What a delightful story; you're a very good writer and I loved reading this.

My worst food nightmare when I was young was our mother's rice pudding. She forced me and my sister to sit at the table until we ate it. I know we never did finish the stuff, but I can't for the life of me remember what happened! Maybe I'll have to invent something--isn't that what fiction writers do?!

Thanks for stopping by my blog and wishing me well on my few respite days in my daughter's Halloween House. I hope you have a lovely week also.

Jon Paul said...

Great story!

I am one of those strange folks who grew up loving Brussels sprouts, for which I have accepted my fair share of strange looks over the years.

We cook them in our house, and now the little one likes them too, although I can see why it is an acquired taste.

Those sprouts cooked with apple and ham sounded divine!

Anonymous said...

I never had an issue with brussels sprouts, for some reason. It was mushrooms that made me gag whenever I smelled them cooking. Not surprised my kids do the same now.

I'll eat them now, though. Just not if I don't have to. Depends on the preparation, as you so adequately demonstrated, good lady. :)

glnroz said...

you must have hidden this, but anyhow,, along with the story line, which made me think of my girls more than myself, I apologize if this was NOT meant to be humorous because I actually laughed out loud in places. You moved from serious to funny and back to "ah ha" all in the same sitting. Good story and writing,, But, not sure i will do the brussel sprout thing though,