Many of you know my dad passed away late December in 2008 at the tender age of 85. I’ve written before of his signature dish, Eggs In A Frame, and of his despising melted cheese in any form even though I have a photo of him eating pizza. But while I’ve posted a lot more about mom regarding her cooking techniques and recipes, I really haven’t spent a whole lot of time discussing dad’s cooking techniques. And the Eggs In A Frame dish is really his only recipe that I’m aware of.
That’s because dad really didn’t cook much that I can recall. Why?
Because when it came to cooking or even doing dishes, that was mom’s job.
Dad was a classic child of the farming communities of the 1920s and 30s. The menfolk, if you will, headed out into the fields or the livestock barns and worked their butts off. Meanwhile, momma and the girls would be inside taking care of the cooking and cleaning. That’s just how it was. Dad told us he would look forward to coming home to find a couple slices of thick, buttered and still-warm bread on a plate in the kitchen as an after-school snack. Of course, that was after the 4-mile walk from school so he was pretty tired, ya’ know?
Early in my own life I do recall he had his outdoor cooker. However, it wasn’t much. No matter what time-period I think back to, there was that Hibachi. He always had the little cast iron version, set on top of a 2′ square concrete block set on its side on the patio. He would use both wood and charcoal to fire it, along with paper and lighter fluid. Dinner then was hot dogs and burgers, with the burgers being rather thin and kinda dry. Still he tried so it was good. He might also put a can of baked beans on the grates to heat as a side dish.
One time, when he was finished and was getting ready to clean that Hibachi, he set the grates on the patio tile to dump the coals … and promptly put all of his weight on the still-hot grate. He had to peel that grate off his foot before going to see the doctor. I believe he probably still had that scar when he passed away.
For most of the time they lived in that house from the late 1950s onward, dad had a rather active garden. I remember being directed to go out there to weed, or pick beans, or help plant the corn. There was always the corn and beans, along with onions, carrots, cucumbers and peas. Dad also dabbled in potatoes and peanuts. One gentleman from the GM plant dad worked at wanted to plant some lima beans but no one would let him use their garden space as he was black. So he ended up planting at our house, to which I owe my love for those limas. But I do hate gardening.
Dad wasn’t a hunter (I haven’t hunted a single day in my life) but he fancied himself a pretty good fisherman. He had a lot of old fishing poles, a couple casting reels, a fly-fishing reel or two, and even a couple bamboo poles we could tie lines to. We’d go to one of the “fish farm” ponds up on old US-23, but mostly we went to what was then Wildwood Park, a Michigan State Park south of Flint. We’d rent a canoe and head out for perch, trout, bass … whatever we could find. We’d get it home and mom would either cook it up, or wrap it in foil for the freezer only to throw it away a couple years later after it ended up with some bad freezer burn.
In the mid 1970s Dr Walker diagnosed dad to be hypoglycemic. Dad mis-interpreted the diet page to mean he was supposed to eat six times each day, including a half head of lettuce. This made for dad occasionally eating way more than he could handle, and ending up being miserable by the end of the day. None of us had the heart to sit down with him and explain it correctly.
When it came to restaurants dad had a tendency to seek out some seriously good family places. We had a tradition on Friday evenings of heading out for dinner at a restaurant and then we’d go to the grocery store for the week’s shopping. (Dad always disappeared to the meat department and spend the whole time shopping finding six packages of meat.) On occasion we’d go to a Flint coney place or Haloburger for a deluxe cheeseburger. But dad’s penchant for finding good family diners was unmatched. As it turned out, dad was finding Greek-owned places that had become all the rage for what was “real food”.
Dad would have a real issue later on when prices started climbing above $3.50 per entrée. He felt no meal was worth more than that, and that particular price-point, along with the demise of Hamady Bros. grocery in the Flint area, marked the beginning of the end of our Friday night family tradition.
While I was in college I asked dad when he was coming to Columbus to visit. He said he’d have to ask mom, to which I said I wasn’t asking about her. After a pause dad mumbled, “I’ve never been anywhere without your mother.” He came down to Columbus by himself for a four-day weekend during which he enjoyed a Bahama Mama at Schmidt Sausage House, and some good ribs. Later during my own US-based travels with the Navy I got dad to eat some more “exotic” foods outside of his Veal Parmesan comfort zone, such as crab legs, and steak that wasn’t always cooked to be well done. In the years after my divorce he’d eat chilled taco salad, my oven-roasted potato salad, Tex-Mex breakfast burritos, and even some good Hungarian food.
In the last few years before his death the old softie, who fought the savage “Japs” in WW II, acquired a taste for both Japanese and Americanized Chinese foods, happily visiting the Chinese buffet in his hometown many times.
Helping him eat a couple last meals in the nursing home, I got to thinking about what I was feeding him. Obviously it cost a bit more that $3.50 for the whole meal from the nursing home kitchen. I doubt he would have liked that at all.
Happy Father’s Day, dad, I miss you, my friend.