Posted: Sunday, June 17, 2012 12:27:44 PM
Until I was three years old we lived with my grandparents on my mother’s side in their home south of Pittsburgh. Then my parents and grandparents bought two adjacent properties out in Nottingham Township, farther south, out in ‘the country”
My parents had one acre and built their home on top of a hill. The grandparents on my mother’s side had an acre next to that on a lower plot.
I remember running out of my ranch house kitchen door, down the steps to the driveway, where I crossed and leaped over the hillside a bit, then tore across the grandparents back lawn at full speed to enter through the attached garage.
When I came in through the attached garage prior to entering the kitchen, my grandfather might be doing some woodworking or tinkering there. Occasionally he might have the meat grinder attached to his workshelf where he did woodworking. This was a good sign…they were going to make ham salad and I’d have a good lunch coming up soon.
Their ham salad was CHUNKY. Any deli ham salad that I have come across over the years is 1 part ham to 9 parts mayo and other mystery ingredients that result in some sort of mushy spread. My grandparents’ ham salad was primarily diced ham with a little mayo.
If ham salad was not on the lunch menu it might be Braunschweiger. I cannot believe that I ate this as a child or that it was considered a treat to me. But I ate Braunschweiger sandwiches at my grandparents with a little mayo and tomato and lettuce on a regular basis.
If you are unfamiliar with it, information about Braunschweiger (I refer to a local newspaper) can be found here:
In Western PA, another specialty was Isaly’s Chipped Chopped Ham. This is an extremely thin cut of lunchmeat. The meat is chipped so finely that you can see through the slices. We often had these sandwiches when I was a child. Frequently this turns up in polls as being one of the most-missed-food-items to ex-Pittsburghers.
Whatever sandwich I had, it was always with rye bread. I do not recall ever eating white bread sandwiches at my grandparents’ house. The beverage would be tea. I don’t know if they ever drank coffee at all; I just remember tea. They drank theirs plain with no sugar or milk and that is how I learned to drink it as well.
We were a church going family. Sundays after church generally consisted of a sandwich tray, baked beans, and accompanying side dishes. My grandmother would have made a homemade cake of some sort. One of my favorites was a moist vanilla cake with a streusel topping. My uncle and aunt and cousins would usually attend. After lunch there might be badminton or softball or checkers depending on the season. Sometimes for a special treat, my uncle might take us children to Baskin and Robbins for ice cream later in the day.
My grandparents had a large garden and we enjoyed its bounty from spring on. Early lettuce and onions and strawberries and rhubarb were the first treats. While my grandmother often made coconut cream pie or banana cream pie, a seasonal treat was her rhubarb meringue pie when the rhubarb was ripe in the garden.
Later on came green beans, cantaloupe (my grandfather called this “mush melon” ) and watermelon, corn and tomatoes. My favorite childhood dinner of all time would be in my mother’s kitchen, enjoying the foods from my grandparents’ garden: corn on the cob, fresh tomatoes, German cucumber salad, and German fried potatoes. Later on my grandfather might come up for a visit bringing fresh watermelon. He put salt on his and I still eat watermelon that way.
The western PA area has a rich ethnic food heritage including German, Italian, Greek and Polish cuisine. Basically our repertoire consisted of German foods, and plain cooking. While my mom might occasionally serve Italian spaghetti, generally I remember our common meals between my grandmothers’ or mothers kitchen consisting of chicken soups, chicken and dumplings, homemade noodles, basic meat and potatoe dishes, ham, and of course kielbasa and sauerkraut. My favorite soup is still chicken rice soup the way my mother made it. She’d make it from scratch but add a can of Cream of Chicken soup to the pot towards the end for a slight thickening of the broth.
Coleslaw was a specialty of my grandmother and my mother made ours that way as well. I rarely find coleslaw “their way”. The key is the finely shredded cabbage and the Carnation milk that gives it lots of juice / liquid.
Salads: salads during the spring and summer were always from garden lettuce. It just kept coming.I don’t recall having Italian dressing …mostly the dressing was a sweet mayo based dressing or just oil and vinegar.
Rice Pudding: My grandparents had a baked rice pudding dinner at least every two weeks or so. Who would eat Rice Pudding for dinner now? AH, the same people that are busy and stressed from their work schedules and who might cook a gourmet recipe on the weekend but on a Wednesday have cereal for dinner. In their case it would be due to time and energy constraints. In my grandparents case it was most likely due to their budget. I am not sure but MY mother did not cook it, so when my grandparents did it was a treat for me. There is nothing like hot baked rice pudding redolent with cinnamon and other spices coming out of the oven, scooped into a dish, sprinkled with sugar, and served with a little milk to cool it down.
Canning: my grandmother canned tomatoes and I believe that she canned jellies made from the strawberries and rhubarb. I also remember homemade applesauce at both her house and my mothers.
Aside from the holidays, and our church Sundays, my grandparents ate quite frugally. I often remember seeing them having a simple dinner consisting of just her canned, stewed tomatoes and a hamburger patty of some sort, and perhaps some applesauce or canned fruit.