He’s never had people food and thus has no concept of tummy ache. He also has no concept of, “It would burn your mouth.” Or, “You wouldn’t eat it. After you get one sniff, you’ll walk away.”
Or, “I don’t eat your food, so you’re not going to eat mine.”
Truth to tell, I wasn’t crazy about it myself. It came from a can. Thinking canned chili appropriate for sheltering in place, which I assumed would be like spending several years in an underground bomb shelter, I bought two cans. After a month inside I gave in and opened one.
When I say I wasn’t crazy about it, I mean it it’s okay, but it doesn’t measure up to my mother’s. Well, what does?
She didn’t use as much chili powder as the factory does. She sautéd onions, browned ground meat, and added Chili Quick. She might have used a little chili powder, but not much. Chili Quick did the job. No catsup, no tomatoes, no jalapeños. Sometimes we spooned chili over rice, but the two were never combined at the stove. Like rice, pinto beans were served on the side.
She usually delighted my father by making it for the first cold snap.
“Oh, I can’t cook,” she often said. When I disputed that, she said she didn’t cook exotic or complicated dishes. I told her she was a plain cook. For the most part, she made what my father liked, which meant she cooked what his grandmother had (for example, fried chicken unencumbered with layers of crust, homemade peach ice cream, meringue pies). There was one exception: She served only one kind of meat dish per meal. The Waller women put three meats on the table (for example, roast beef, ham, fried steak); his aunts apologized if they served only two.
My father ate everything my mom cooked, even fried liver, which he hated, but he never complained. When he wasn’t home, she cooked creamed chicken on toast. Home from World War II, he had banned creamed everything, Irish potatoes, and Spam. He got over the Irish potato phobia but not the other. My first week in second grade at a new school, I reported that the cafeteria offered a choice of ham or something else that was flat and sort of pinkish. I’d never heard of Spam.
I understand I’m not the only Baby Boomer unfamiliar with that delicacy.
Having been stationed for several months in Scotland and England, my dad also banned mutton. For a while after the war, mutton was the only meat my mom could get. She pretended it was beef.
Casseroles were not a favorite so we didn’t often have them. Once, when I was in high school—a good twenty years after D-Day—my mom came home from work with a new recipe for tuna casserole and said she liked it and was going to make it, so there. It was terrible. We ate peanut butter sandwiches and gave the casserole Desiree, our Collie. Desiree looked at it and walked away. Randy, the enormous yellow dog who lived next door, came over and finished it off. How he managed to gobble up every scrap, even soupy white sauce, and leave the asparagus I don’t know. I guess it’s a dog thing.
Back to Ernest. He was interested in the chili but ignored the green beans. Also canned. I sympathized. I love fresh green beans. The green pintos that came from my great-uncle’s Maurice’s garden on the farm were delicious. So were the mature pintos.
I’ve picked rows and rows of those, then sat at home in the air conditioning, shelling same. Most went into the freezer, as did black-eyed peas. Cream peas, rarely planted, we’re exquisite.
Uncle Maurice was generous with his produce, but gathering it could be hazardous. Once when a group of women were picking beans and peas for a Methodist Church dinner, one of them came upon a rattlesnake. The story goes that she ran but her shoes stayed put.
One year, Dick Ward, of nickel ice cream fame, stopped my father outside the ice cream parlor, then went back inside and brought out a paper sack of dried cream peas and asked my dad to plant them on his farm, where Dick had once lived. At the end of the season, my dad delivered to Dick the entire crop—one pea. The seeds were either old or passive aggressive.
Back to Ernest again. As I said, he wouldn’t have eaten the chili. But he would have snuffled it, and eating chili that’s been cat snuffled is almost as bad as eating chili that’s been cat licked. I’ve caught him licking cream cheese off English muffins I’ve carelessly set on the table beside my recliner and walked away from. I can’t be sure he won’t branch out, and that would be a certain recipe for tummy ache.
And, most important of all, I’m Ernest’s mother. I should do as well by him as mine did by me.
Except for the tuna casserole.
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Image of rattlesnake public domain via Wikipedia.