Column: In hometown, there was little we couldn’t stomach

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 4, 2002

It’s scary to remember how many things we did and ate when I was a child that would be classified as possibly fatal if indulged in by children of this generation.

Thursday, April 04, 2002

It’s scary to remember how many things we did and ate when I was a child that would be classified as possibly fatal if indulged in by children of this generation.

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Easter eggs, for instance, were not refrigerated in my childhood, even though Easter weather in that part of the country was usually pretty warm. The eggs sat around in peoples’ houses looking pretty in baskets. We treated our friends and our friends treated us until the eggs were gone. Since there were a rather large number of eggs floating around they lasted satisfactorily (from our point of view) and despite present day warnings of the dangers involved, when the eggs were gone we were all still around.

Many of my mother’s best desserts were made with raw eggs. I miss those desserts. My favorite summer snack, too, was an eggnog made with raw eggs, cream, sugar, vanilla and ice, all beat together in a large glass, topped with a rounded cap pierced by a metal beater. The whole lovely cold beaten drink was served up with a sprinkle of nutmeg over the top.

Many are the critical articles I’ve read about serving sliced onions and cucumbers in vinegar. In my town, not only in my home, but in the homes of friends and relatives, a meal, other than breakfast, was seldom if ever served without an accompanying bowl of onion and cucumber slices. They were served no matter how many other salads and relishes decked the table. The plainness or elegance of the bowl in which the slices and vinegar were placed indicated whether one was being served a family or a company meal. The onion and cucumber slices tasted pretty much the same for both.

On Easter, in addition to other salads and appetizers, we always had hard-boiled eggs which were shelled and soaked in beet juice until they were a lovely deep rose color. The beet slices were arranged around the cut glass bowl of vinegar containing the cucumber and onion slices. Elegance beyond measure.

My mother had her own way of doing things. When called on to bring potato salad to a church or Eastern Star picnic, she made it with her own mayonnaise, cooked from scratch, and to the other ingredients added crunchy English walnut halves. Her potato salad was usually the first eaten – a tendency that annoyed her family so much that she took to making us a separate bowlful at home to stop our whining about it.

The potato salad is another no-no for present-day outdoor consumption. Carefully covered great bowls of it sat out on tables under the bright sunlight from midmorning until noon, along with the fried chicken and other goodies that we make a point to keep refrigerated until time to eat now.

Well-behaved children usually napped on the hot summer afternoons. That was not for me. One of my best friends and I took a masochistic pleasure in the heat. We would speed through the almost deserted streets on our bicycles, down through the rubbish and gloom of the river banks to observe the rats.

When we were hot beyond measure we would pedal our way to the big vacant block across from the GAR Hall, the block where farmers tied their horses and brought their produce on Saturday morning. A weed, called &uot;pepper grass,&uot; grew there. It was hot and dusty. We picked and chewed clumps of it with an intensity that might have served us better in other projects.

Then for our final adventure of the day, we made our way to the most elegant jewelry store in town. It boasted an ice-water fountain just before you reached the doorway.

We took turns gulping down large draughts of the lovely cold water. Then we jumped up and down to hear it splash. Written down it looks as if we were a bit on the stupid side. I guess you’d have to have been there.

I don’t know whether anyone ever suffered from ptomaine poisoning in that unenlightened era. I’m fairly sure that no one ever died from it. But it was a town well-peopled by fairly tough inhabitants, too. I think Nebraska had prohibition even before the rest of the country did. It stands to reason that anyone who could slurp up bath tub gin and home brew without visible ill effects could stomach almost anything.

Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column appears Thursdays.