After years of thinking that fishing was my favorite pastime, I now realize that I was mistaken. My favorite pastime actually is eating.
Who knows where it all began? Some of my passion for food is probably hereditary, and some learned. Whatever, I’m definitely a foodie. Have been ever since I was born, in 1937.
My dad worked as a mechanic and auto-body man for a Ford dealership in a small town, so my family wasn’t rich by any definition. We got by pretty much from pay check to pay check. Not that we ever missed a meal, but we ate from the lower part of the hog, so to speak. I didn’t know it at the time, but we were “poor,” at least by today’s standards. I never felt deprived because I didn’t know anyone who was any better off than we were, and some were worse off.
Odds are good that I was weaned on pancakes, which we called hotcakes. We had them for breakfast every day except Sunday, when Dad would take over in the kitchen and make waffles.
I was the oldest of three boys in my family. My brothers and I were all serious eaters, but I was the most serious. We never missed a chance to steal bites of food from one another. We learned this from our father, who got a kick out of distracting one of us so he could sneak a forkful off our plates.
Mom cooked mostly in a frying pan. I remember her frying patties made from left-over hot cereal we’d had for breakfast. Served with home-canned corn or green beans and whatever meat she could afford, that fried mush wasn’t bad. We were lucky that Mom and Dad’s parents lived nearby. Without the fruit and vegetables from their gardens and orchards, life would’ve been pretty grim. It wasn’t until I had left home that I confronted my first beef steak.
By the time I entered high school, I could really put away the grub. I never turned out for sports, but I had a solid hour of PE every day of high school. Between that and my after-school paper route — eight miles by bicycle, six days a week — I rarely got enough food to satisfy my appetite. At my peak — or was it my pit? — I’d come home from school and eat an entire box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes with a quart of milk, a quarter-cup of brown sugar and a quart of canned raspberries. Our milk came straight from a farmer, and it was about 20 percent cream. I was six feet tall, still growing, and didn’t have an ounce of fat.
The Dairy Queen was the highlight of my afternoon paper route. After rolling my newspapers and putting them in the bag, I’d stop at the DQ for a pineapple milkshake. I couldn’t go past that place without buying one.
When I was 14 or 15, I earned enough money to buy enough fishing tackle to fish for pink salmon at the nearby Skagit River. When the “humpies” were running, I’d ride my bike to the river and fish until dark. What I remember most about humpy fishing on the Skagit is that it was a big deal. Lots of people did it — and still do. No one ever “released” one of those salmon. Every one of them that I caught ended up in Mom’s frying pan.
Until I left home to join the Air Force, it was all my folks could do to keep groceries in the house. Only after I left were they able to save enough money to send one of their sons to college, buy a later-model used car and do some of the things they’d always wanted to do.
When you’re a foodie, you tend to hang out with other people who like to cook and eat. In the 1960s, when I lived in Fairbanks, I remember going to friends’ houses for dinner, eating a big meal, and then talking about little else but food until the wee hours of the morning. The subject of food seemed to eclipse all others, even during the Vietnam War. Maybe especially during the Vietnam War.
I had hoped that putting some of these memories on paper would help me to better understand my cravings for food, and maybe even to do something about them. All I want to do right now is steam some rice and warm up the chicken gumbo I made for dinner last night.
Les Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.