My Dad was one of 13 children born to immigrant parents. Hearing Dad and his siblings’ stories about their growing years during the 1930’s and 1940’s gave me the impression that if you were late to the table at meal time and the food was gone you’d better be faster next time. You were grateful for whatever was put in front of you to eat and there was no such thing as picky eaters in that family. That is probably why one of Dad’s rules when we were kids was that you had to eat everything that was put in front of you at meal time. This was not always a pleasant experience because, of course, you are not always going to like everything that is put on the table. I remember the time Dad had Mom cook a raccoon; it was awful and made the house stink. Mom opened all the windows to air the house and some of the neighbors actually commented on the smell. That might have been the only exception to Dad’s rule about eating because I don’t remember having to actually eat that cooked raccoon Dad tried it and he must not have been too impressed because he never asked Mom to cook raccoon again.
One morning, a couple of years ago, I woke up thinking about spinach. I know it’s a strange thing to think about upon first waking; that green leafy vegetable full of vitamins and minerals that kids are told is good for you. I’ll eat spinach raw in a salad but there was absolutely no way I’d eat cooked spinach until the early 1990’s. At that time I worked at a Law Firm with lady who was Italian and she would always bring different dishes into work to share. One day it was cooked spinach and the sight of the dish took me back to the first time I had to eat the vile green stuff as a child. I refused to try the dish and told her why but she insisted. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings so I took a taste and I’m glad she insisted because it was delicious. She called it “beans and greens”. Spinach sauteed in olive oil with garlic powder to taste, crushed red pepper to taste, salt and pepper and a can of rinsed cannellini beans. Believe me it’s really good with a piece of Italian Bread. My eldest grandson enjoyed this so much that when he was older he had me write the recipe down for him so his Mom could make it and he now makes this dish himself.
When I was about 7 years old one particular dinner included cooked canned spinach. As I looked at the mound of green, stringy stuff that was put on my plate I just knew it wasn’t going to taste good. I’m sitting at the dinner table, moving the green stuff around with my fork and wishing I could sneak it onto one of my sisters’ plate. Dad noticed and gave me “the look” which said I’m watching and you’re going to eat it. I remember my first mouthful and the shudder I felt in my entire body. It was just as yucky as it looked; mushy and bitter. I told Dad I didn’t like it but he said “eat it, it’s good for you”. Another taste, another shudder and I managed to swallow the green stuff. I don’t remember why but Mom gave me a glass of root beer. She probably thought it would encourage me to eat the spinach and avoid any problems. So it was a taste of spinach, gag and shudder, then wash it down with a drink of root beer. I had to keep going until the spinach was gone. “Now that wasn’t so bad was it” Dad asked me with a grin. I looked at him and without answering his question promptly vomited said spinach, with root beer, all over the dinner table. My younger sister Pat had, and still does, a very delicate gag reflex and she followed suit loosing her dinner too. Spinach and root beer is not a pretty sight and there were no leftovers kept from that meal. Dad started gagging too and very quickly ran for the bathroom where we all heard him loosing his dinner. I never had to eat cooked spinach again.
As our boys were growing up my husband also had this “eat what’s put in front of you thing”. It must be a latent gene that becomes dominant in males upn attaining fatherhood. I didn’t use root beer like my mother but I always made sure there was a plate of bread with peanut butter and jelly on the table at meal times. My husband, wise man that he was, never said anything. Our boys were expected to try new foods but if they didn’t like something they didn’t have to eat it; they could enjoy peanut butter and jelly. Fussy eating eventually worked itself out as our boys got older.
I’m still not sure, though, why I woke up thinking about spinach that morning.
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