I grew up in America’s breadbasket, and most of what I ate in my formative years could be defined as a classic white Wonder bread world. Illinois was prime farmland, and I grew up in the middle of it. My family ate the things that were grown in the our garden. Our garden was big and contained largely common things like corn,tomatoes, and beans. It also contain a few not so common things at the time such as …kale…cauliflower…beets. My parents bought their pork and beef from the local meat lockers. It allowed our family to have extravagances like steak. But we also ate some not common things because nothing was wasted, such as the heart, liver and things like pudding meat. (I am not sure today what pudding meat was even was made up of, and I probably don’t want to know.)
My family also were hunter-gathers. We ate wild asparagus that we cut from along fence rows, my dad remember the location year to year from his time driving the milk truck. I never knew morel mushrooms were a delicacy. We used to go out and bring home empty feed sacks full each spring. My mom would freeze them and put them on pot roast in the winter. (That seems almost obscene knowing what they sell for today). The men in the family hunted, as a result we ate all sorts of small game. Our family fished and occasionally ran bank poles. It meant we ate blue gills, sunnies, bullheads, catfish and turtle that came from the local rivers, creeks and backwaters.
My mom was a town girl, but here wasn’t a thing that she would not try to make. It was the days before the internet so she was at the mercy of friends, family, cookbooks and the recipes reported in the newspaper. If something bombed she would look for a new recipe for the next time. Some of them years later as an adult I confess they were not anything I would want to repeat. (No disrespect intend Mother).
What this did do, was set me up so that as an adult I would have an open mind about trying new foods. Eating my mother’s forays into the less than common cuts of meat and veggies, I learned that I may not like someone one or two ways, but there were just as likely five or six ways to prepare it that were worthy of repeating often. It served me well when I moved to the city. In the city, I was always wanting to try new ethnic restaurants. I did not want eat just at Italian, Chinese and Mexican restaurants. Even in the more common cuisines, I did not want an Americanized menu. I ate food from Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Viet Nam, India and other countries I had never heard of. I often had to go home and look up to see where many of the countries were on a map. I wanted to learn more about the culture of country where the food I was eating came from. I quickly learned like the US there were many regional flavors within a country, so eating at different restaurants yielded different menus.
I may never travel the world, but I have gotten to experience the cuisines of the world through my palate. It will never be the same as going to these countries, but I have used it as an opportunity to travel in my mind. Expanding my palate has expanded my world.