One of the questions I ask people when we look at their humor background is this:
"Were mealtimes fun times at your house?" It is interesting to see the variety of
answers to these questions, particularly among Mennonite families. Some families
used "suppertime" as a time to review the day and discipline the children. Others
found the supper hour to be a time of celebration, light-heartedness and fun.
However, beyond meals, it occurred to me that various households had a short or
long list of fun foods.
Here are some of the fun foods from my childhood and how I viewed them.
Ice cream, but not just any old ice cream, but two special kinds of ice cream
Homemade. The first kind of ice cream was homemade, hand-cranked,
everybody-helped-turn-the-crank-is-it-ready-yet type of ice cream, with about thirty
percent cream. This was fun food because it always signified a get-together with
friends or relatives and lots of food. Later, when we boys learned more about
mechanics, we figured out a way to hook up the ice cream churn to a tractor power
take-off. So much for the everybody-help idea. The point is, it was fun food! Just
thinking about it makes me smile.
Boxed ice cream. Smith Dairy in Orrville, Ohio sold the second kind of ice cream. On
the way to my grandmother Lehman's house from Burton City, North Lawrence or
Dalton, (depending upon where we were living at the time), we would stop at the Smith
Dairy outlet on Market Street and pick up several pints of ice cream. This ice cream
came in wax-covered cardboard containers. Then, when we arrived at Grandmother
Christina's house, Dad would carefully perform the ritual of taking out his pocketknife,
opening the blade, and cutting each pint of ice cream in half. The open face of ice
cream became the top. Each of us children would get a half-pint of ice cream, a flat,
small wooden spoon with which to eat it and a place to sit. The celebration would
begin. Good memories, good ice cream.
Freshly popped. We lived on the farm and rarely came in contact with the processed
junk food such as potato chips, snacking crackers, or pretzels. That came much later.
However, almost like clockwork on Sunday evenings, Mother would get out the big
skillet and would pop corn on top of the stove. With seven children, a few foster
children and often a guest or two, it seemed as though mother could barely keep
ahead of the foraging youngsters. Oh, yes, it was popped in butter and heavily salted.
It was truly fun food, even if it was not health food. The memories of the smells and
salty, buttery taste make me smile.
Popcorn balls. These were the pull-your-loose-tooth-right-out-of-your-head type
popcorn balls. They were reserved for Christmastime and were made by a single lady
who lived down the road. Popcorn balls were her specialty. You could always count on
getting a navel orange and one of Lydia's popcorn balls at church some Sunday
evening during December. We loved it. Each of us had his or her own softball-sized
popcorn ball and we did not have to share it with anyone, not even Shep or Fezer, the
hungry dogs that scampered to get a bite. Fun food. I remember.
Perhaps it was the social setting that made this "food" a fun food. It was always related
to a gathering of young people and buttery hands. The way it worked was quite
simple. Someone knew the recipe for taffy and would cook the batch in a large pan. At
just the right time the taffy batch was poured out onto waxed paper. As the hot,
syrupy, sticky goo began to cool, each person would get a big handful. Sometimes it
was almost too hot and there were some minor burns. But usually it was a matter of
stretching the taffy back and forth, allowing air to get into the mix and turning the clear
batch into frosty taffy. Some young people would stretch the taffy back and forth
between their hands, in pairs, making long, sagging strips and then reuniting the
gooey mass to stretch it again. Ouch, too hot! Ah, just right. As the taffy ropes were
rolled out onto waxed paper, they were cut into bite-sized pieces, allowed to cool, and
distributed among all who helped in the festivities. Fun food, er, candy.
All right, so I may be alone on this one. Baby lima beans are delicious - at least the
way Mother made them. She always made a white sauce, or at least a butter-type
sauce, and the little lima beans were cooked just right. Ymmmm! It meant that the
summer harvest was going on in full swing, with peaches soon, and sweet corn, and
the bustle of canning. Maybe it was the fact that I was the only one in my family that
really liked lima beans. Maybe it was just that Mother always asked me if I wanted her
to cook up some lima beans. Maybe it is all a myth and none of this ever happened.
Wherever the truth lies, I liked lima beans the first time I tasted them and they make
My father was a barber all his life. He would often barber on Friday evenings and then
again all day Saturday, late into the evening. It was a way to keep the family budget
from sagging too far. On rare occasions - I guess it would be about once a year - Dad
would bring home a can of oysters and announce that tomorrow, Sunday, we were
going to have oyster soup. (Actually, Dad was a friend of our local grocer, Mr. Berg,
who would tell Dad when a fresh shipment of oysters had arrived.) It is no longer clear
to me whether my father actually made the soup or mother produced the savory
slurry, but we looked forward to the taste of this special treat. Not only was the soup
special, but also it was the only time Mom would buy oyster crackers. I never was
certain why one could not use saltine-type crackers for this occasion, but oyster
crackers were the order of the day. Oyster soup, special soup, hot soup, and
memories. It makes me smile.
Mennonite Historical Bulletin