Gruel… and other family history.

20171018_131002Nope you read it right – Gruel. Watery paste that has little or no taste. Our family history seems to have several versions of food related stories. Let me start with the oldest ones first:

Grape Jelly: A delicious concoction made from grape juice and sugar. Or honey. Cheap and with home made bread a meal fit for a king! Or a family trying to make it to the next payday.

Family history of Grape Jelly:

Mom was born in 1929. Grandpa had a garage. The jobs were plenty but payment not so much. With four kids Mom’s family lived in an apartment that would have been classified as a tenement or ghetto today. But back then they were all poor so no one thought anything about the way they lived. There was a woman that had a yard that backed up to the apartments. She was elderly and would sometimes watch the kids while Grandma went shopping or what ever. She also had a grape orchard (?) and it always had grapes in the spring and summer. Yep, you guessed it. Tons of the stuff. Grandma was canning everything, like they all did back then. Mom said once that they had a pig in payment and Grandma canned everything except the squeal. Mom got so sick of grape jelly. I never even knew what it was until I got one of those little packet things at IHop!!

Hash: a cheap and inexpensive meal usually make with corned beef and potatoes. Or by the wash TUB full by teenagers.

Family history of hash:

When my Mom (Kate Shurtz Moe) and her younger sister (Jo Shurtz Bemis) were left with two little siblings while their parents went to some family emergency. The older girls were about 15 and 16. The parents didn’t want to take them out of school, not knowing how long they were going to be gone. They left them with money for food, my Aunt decided that hash was the best thing in the world. Aunt Jo took all of the money and went to the store. She came back with a brisket and enough potatoes to have fed the entire population of Ireland during the potato famine! She set about scrubbing the skins off of the potatoes and set the meat to cook. By the time Mom had gotten the two younger kids from school and let them play for a while Aunt Jo had made a WASHTUB full of hash. They managed to lift it onto the cook stove and there it set for a WEEK!!! Guess what we NEVER ate at our house? The first time I ever had it was on a Girl Scout camp out. I came home and was raving out this new thing with an awful name. Mom tried to figure out what I was talking about when I mentioned the name I thought she would blow a blood vessel. “NOT IN MY HOUSE!” she almost screamed! I was thinking that maybe I had gotten the name wrong. When I mentioned it she said “No, you got the name right. You ask Aunt Jo the next time you see her about HASH!” She almost spat out the word.

The next day when we went to Aunt Jo’s. I wasn’t even all the way in the door when I heard Mom’s “Tell her about HASH!” Aunt Jo laughed and Mom was still cringing from the very word. I think I got my sense of humor from Aunt Jo! When she explained the story she of course told it with a little different slant than my Mom. In her version she was smart and had fed everybody for a week! On just $5.00! The other $5.00 had gone to a dress… which Mom and Aunt Jo shared! Funny how Mom forgot to mention the dress?!?

Cream of wheat: A concoction of ground grains that properly prepared is a filling and delightful breakfast for cold fall and winter meals.

Family history of gruel:

This one I got to witness first hand. We all knew that Grandma Shurtz couldn’t cook. She always fried her steak. Not a bad thing, but by the time she got done the once delicious steak looked and tasted like a hockey puck. The gravy could stand a spoon up in it. She loved her cream of wheat. She ate it winter, summer all year around. Now is when I describe her breakfasts. Most people like cream of wheat, well, creamy. Hence the name. My Grandma always made it so lumpy that you had to use the spoon to flatten the lumps out. Sugar was DUMPED on top along with what could be described as butter, oleo and sometimes just lard!! When we spent time at Grandma’s we all knew what breakfast would be. Lumpy cream of wheat. I had a cousin named Sharon. She gained my everlasting respect by looking at the bowl and stating flatly “I am NOT eating THAT!” Back in the day the answer to that was “OK, go hungry!” which she did. When I told Mom about what Sharon had done I got the “DON’T ever let me catch you doing that!” speech.

Canned Bacon: Mom would buy it on sale at KMart. It came in a can with a key (I still carry a scar from it. ‘nother story!) it was kept in the camper and used over either an open flame or on the camp stove. After that is you opened the can, pulled out the plastic slippery fat coated slab of bacon.

Family history of canned bacon:

If Grandma was camping she actually did a fairly good breakfast. Bacon and eggs. Even though her bacon was REALLY crispy and the eggs that she fried in the bacon grease were more charred than fried.  She cooked for her and grandpa. We kids got the little individual cereal boxes. Which was OK, until the bacon started cooking…. just the smell on a chilly camping trip would start my mouth watering. Mom decided she could cook bacon for all of us. Mom started cooking the bacon and it was heavenly. Even now my mouth is watering!! Last time I looked canned bacon had gone the way of bell-bottom jeans and no expiration dates! I think I remember cleaning out Mom’s basement and finding a couple of cans. Dad tried to save them but Mom was just not having it. Dad decided now that he had bacon on his mind bacon it would be! We enjoyed BLT’s that night! Bacon is always the answer to what’s for dinner. Here piggy, piggy, piggy!!

Nope I can’t cook… must take after Grandma Shurtz!

Well, that is some of my family history of food. After reading this can you guess what I have in my pantry? Yep, jars of grape jam, jelly, cans of hash and Cream of Wheat! What you can’t have when you are younger you get to have when you are older. Thanks to my family history I have a new appreciation for foods. Wait, NO BACON!! What an over site – to the store James and step on it!! Here piggy, piggy, piggy!!!