Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Little Debbie Can Suck It

My blog pal, the Taoist Biker, got me thinking about childhood. His wife brought home some Little Debbie snack cakes, and TB was instantly returned to the time when he was young and his mom used to bring Little Debbie home to play. Then I got to thinking about the things my mom used to make or bring home when I was a kid. It really is amazing how the taste, the smells, the textures bring me back to being a little kid.

My Mom, as I may have mentioned, emigrated to the US from Poland in 1961. She used to tell me stories about growing up on a farm in post-war Poland. She told me stories about how she and her classmates at school would line up to get a daily dose of fish oil when meat was scarce. She milked the cows, she chopped the wood (and subsequently took the butt end of the axe to her own forehead at age 9), and she harvested the crops with her brothers and sisters. My grandfather would store meat in snowmen in the winter because there was no refrigeration in their home.

Usually she would tell these stories when I complained about the lack of Hostess, Little Debbie and Oscar Meyer products in the house. My cousins had these foods, but we didn’t often have them in our house. The boys who lived next door snacked on Slim Jims while we snacked on homemade kielbasa that was smoked in my Grandfather’s basement smokehouse. Hot dogs were bought from the deli case, burgers were made of ground beef and contained hunks of onion instead of the preformed burger patties, and we didn’t eat Oscar Meyer bologna, we ate Gem Polish Loaf from the deli case instead. Of course Mom would tell me how they didn’t have a deli in Poland, and how I should be glad I wasn’t slaughtering the cow, roasting it and cutting it up myself just to have a sandwich.

When I was in kindergarten Mom brought in paczki (pronounced PUNCH-key) for my birthday. Paczki are the Polish equivalent to the donut, only it’s spherical, is filled with marmalade, and weighs about a metric ton when ingested and mixed with saliva. Most of the other moms at Warehouse Point School would bring in clever looking cupcakes baked into an ice cream cone, or sugar cookies cut into this shape or that depending on the season. Of course, kindergarten me was completely mortified at the mound of paczki she brought in. She carried them in a gigantic white enamel bowl that she would use to kneed dough. This bowl was something you’d see on the set of M*A*S*H and the enamel was faded from overuse. The pile of paczki was barely contained by this bowl, so she covered the pile with a dish towel to keep any paczki with ideas of escape from hopping out, rolling down the hall and out the doors to the freedom of the playground. Just the week before Mom brought in the paczki, Mrs. Sheldon brought in her sugar cookies, in the shape of letters of the first name of every kid in the class. I ate my “B” shaped sugar cookies, which were brought in on a platter covered in saran wrap and not in a stainless steel bowl covered in a towel. Yet, my Mom proudly held out this bowl, proclaiming that the paczki would be the best thing Mrs. Burg’s kindergarten class would ever eat.

There are certain things that instantly bring back memories of my Mom when I was a little kid. The smell of cinnamon bread brings me back to when Mom would bake it from scratch, and the loaves cooled lined up on the counter. Her cinnamon bread was such a treat, and she would even make it for me when I’d go home from college for the weekend. I’ve since made cinnamon bread, and am instantly reminded of Mom kneeding dough, and giving me little lumps of it to play with.

A few summers ago one of my customers at the dive shop, a Polish man, brought me some blueberry pierogi (pyeh-RUG-ee), which are kind of like ravioli, but are half-moon shaped. That night I ate them and tears streamed down my cheeks as I remembered Mom making my favorite, blueberry pierogi, on a summer day. The chewiness of the dough, the tartness and sweetness of the blueberry, the sour cream and sugar I mixed and put on top melting in the warmth of the pierogi, stained purple from the hot blueberry filling oozing out from where I just cut into the dough with the side of my fork. Blueberry pierogi aren’t just a food, they are an experience to be had—especially when your mom makes them because she knows they are your favorite. I ate the pierogi that some other Polish mother made and I was instantly transported to childhood, when Mom said “If you go outside and pick the blueberries, I will make you pierogi tonight.” And I grabbed the colander and raced out to our bushes and sat in the sun frantically plucking the berries off the bush, an equal number of berries landing on the bowl as were stuffed into my mouth.

Little Debbie and Oscar Meyer still are not staples in my home. I tried a Little Debbie snack cake not long ago and was largely unsatisfied with it as I felt like all I could taste were the chemicals that Debbie uses to make her cakes last for years on the shelves. But I have blueberry bushes that I cannot wait to pick this summer, and my sisters have Mom’s pierogi recipe.

And now that I think about it, now I would give up all the “B” shaped sugar cookies in the world for one of Mom’s paczki.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, paczki sounds like heaven to me...never tried it myself.

But when you're a kid, it does tend to be not so much about what you have as what you don't have, doesn't it? So stupid to look back after all those years and see the energy you wasted in being embarrassed or envious or whatever.

June 19, 2008 at 1:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Isn't amazing what you miss when you can't have it?

June 19, 2008 at 5:59 PM  

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