a lifetime of sunday dinners
Mom circa early 70s
Sunday dinner revisited
Sundays used to be a traditional day for families to gather round the dining room or kitchen table to reflect back on the week and spend quality time together. Stories were exchanged, laughter was plentiful and the only restriction was no singing. According to superstition you were singing to the devil for your dinner or causing angels to cry. Being a rather feisty little girl I would hum, which I was able to get away with.
Sound familiar or more reminiscent of an old episode of Father Knows Best or Happy Days? Well, my childhood was in the late 50s and early 60s so I grew up with the Sunday dinner ritual. We didn’t have much, but my mom worked her backside off cleaning other people’s houses and waiting tables to make that special dinner happen. I looked forward to that Sunday meal all week long and it didn’t really matter what it would be. My mom wasn’t an adventurous cook, but she was inventive.
It usually ended up being ground round or chicken because back in the day neither was very expensive. I would be sent to the butcher’s to purchase five pounds of tasty, ground round morsels for three bucks. Yesterday I sent myself to the butcher and paid three times that amount for less than five pounds of ground beef. The question is not ‘where’s the beef?’, but ‘what part?’ Have you purchased a chicken recently? They’re more the size of Cornish hens and cost a wing and a leg, what’s up with that?
Anyway, I digress, let’s get back to dinner. Vegetables were more abundant in our house than meat, so casseroles and stews were a common occurrence. My mother was also thrifty, so stretching meat out as far as it could go was of vital importance. She could turn those five pounds of hamburger into at least four meals. For a Sunday dinner treat, every once in awhile, mom would use a good portion to make Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes and cream corn on the side. When not feeling that extravagant she would make one of her signature dishes she affectionately referred to as wreckum. A casserole of sliced potatoes, carrots, onions, whatever bits of other veggies were on hand and ground round. Ingredients were layered one at a time, repeated until the dish was almost full, then completely covered with tomato soup and baked for an eternity. I remember asking one day why she labelled it wreckum. Her response, ‘you can just throw it together; it doesn’t have to look good’. Well, maybe it didn’t look good in her eyes, but it most definitely was scrumptious. Both are still favourites for me, its comfort food that brings back fond memories of my mom.
Chicken dishes were also a delicious, Sunday staple. Pot pie with a biscuit crust was a Sunday frequenter. Served up piping hot, it came with a warning… really hot, let it cool. Rarely did that happen. Bites were usually juggled inside your mouth followed by quick in and out takes of air in an attempt to bring down the now burning inferno. As I recall about the only time rice was taken from the pantry, with the one exception of rice pudding, was when accompanying a rather bland, yet tasty casserole of chicken pieces and veggies. Mom was basically a salt and pepper gal, probably because herbs were too expensive and you couldn’t buy them in bulk yet. She always made sure to cook extra rice to make pudding and she never scrimped on the cinnamon, raisins or mounds of whipped cream.
With the introduction of shake-n-bake in 1965 things spiced up a bit at the table on Sundays. Mom became a shake-n-bake junkie so, unfortunately chicken pot pie didn’t make an appearance as often. That same year Cool Whip also came on the market and rice pudding took a back seat to Jell-o served with the oily substance that coated the inside of your mouth like you had taken a shot of cooking oil. Yuk!
But, still, on very special occasions a chicken, that was bigger than a breadbox, would be stuffed and roasted until juices ran clear to be turned into not-so-smooth gravy. Gravy wasn’t one of my mother’s fortes in those early years. Or a roast of beef slowly cooked surrounded by carrots, onions and potatoes until the meat almost fell apart and served with yummy Yorkshire pudding and, again, lumpy gravy. The lumps didn’t matter much to any of us; however we would give her a round of applause when the gravy turned out perfectly. Eventually with the discovery of a plastic, whip cream shaker from Tupperware she was provided with many opportunities to take a bough for smooth, creamy gravy.
When I had my own kids I continued the ritual of Sunday dinner, frequently going to either my mothers, when she was alive, or my mother-in-laws, still alive and kicking at 99. But, for the most part, we shared dinner at home talking about the events of the week and sometimes discovering things we may not otherwise have been privy to. Even when we chose to eat in front of the TV watching a favourite program or movie there were always instances that reminded us of something that had transpired that we wanted to share. More often than not it would take us three or four hours to finish an hour and a half long movie.
Sadly, kinda-sorta, the last of my children has left the roost and all live busy, hectic lives. Every once in awhile I lure them home on a Sunday afternoon with the promise of shepherds pie, home-made spaghetti sauce or wreckum. I am confident that as years pass they will rediscover, like I did, the importance of the Sunday dinner ritual. All good things take time.