When dinners were frozen

I grew up on canned and frozen foods, and bologna sandwiches

I grew up on canned and frozen foods, and bologna sandwiches

When did we get caught in the foodie era?

Maybe it’s the Portlandia culture but somewhere along the cooking path, I took a turn to foodiedom.

My friends and family adore Bittman and Pollan, Kasper and Katzen.

Weekends are highlighted by trips to the farmer’s market.

Our holiday table is adorned with fresh spinach and squash, herbs from our garden and a fresh—never frozen—turkey or duck.

But how different is our menu compared to the one my mother prepared.

My mother was a working mum. One day I had the chance to accompany her grocery shopping.

Most likely I made an excuse for skipping elementary school so she took me in tow to the store—a twice monthly excursion.

After we entered our local Safeway, my mum grabbed two shopping carts, and briskly tossed cans of fruit and vegetables into the cart.

She then found giant-sized jars of peanut butter and jelly, mayonnaise, salad dressing, jello, canned tuna, spaghetti pasta and loaves of white bread. Everything got dropped into the cart.

She streamed down the frozen aisle, throwing into the cart fish-sticks, packets of corn, lima beans, broccoli and peas, accompanied by Neapolitan ice cream (chocolate, strawberry and vanilla slabs merged into one rectangular carton).

Celery, carrots and iceberg lettuce, along with bags of apples and a hank of bananas, were rescued from the fresh food aisle.

Meat parcels filled a corner of the cart, followed by sliced bologna, bacon, cheese bricks and margarine.

We skipped milk and eggs, which were delivered to our Southern California home by a milkman.

Mum and dad were part of a new wave of eating and shopping—at least in our corner of the world.

Working full-time called for lots of canned and frozen food, and meals were far from memorable, with the exception of liver.

Occasionally my mother would fry liver in bacon grease, which she kept in a tin by the stove.

I detested liver.

Today we have duck fat in our refrigerator, which gives roasted potatoes a delicious crust.

In some ways, our meals today resemble more my grandmother’s generation. Growing up in an Indian village in Oklahoma, she helped her mother prepare fowl and rabbit caught by family members.

Sometimes they had squirrel or opossum—not granny’s first choice.

They had a garden for fruits and vegetables and, to prepare for winter, canned a larder-full of produce. Apples were dried and meats were cured.

My grandmother’s generation mixed fresh with home-canned, depending on the season, while my parents relied on boiling up frozen corn and heating up fish sticks.

My mother’s version of “fresh” still makes me smile.

One of her favorite desserts was something she called fruit compote.

She would open cans of peaches, apricots and pears, and, when we were lucky, a tiny tin of mandarin oranges.

She’d slice up a banana and add it to the bowl of tinned fruit.

We’ve got something special for dessert, she’d announce.

“Fresh fruit.”


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, Indian, journalism, Native Science and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to When dinners were frozen

  1. The salad looks so colorful!! 🙂


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