Sunday, March 27, 2011

On Rendering Compotes

Sally Mann's Candy Cigarette

When I was a child, my sisters and I had a schedule. For everything, it seems. Feeding the chickens, watering the flowers, washing dishes, taking showers. In a household with hardwood floors, no dishwasher, five children, usually around seventeen pets, and a well instead of a water main, a schedule was often a necessity to keep things in order.

We also had a schedule for breakfast.

Mondays and Tuesdays were "egg days." Eggs and toast. And a glass of milk, of course. Wednesday through Sunday was oatmeal and toast. And a glass of milk, of course. We could have fruit, if we wanted, but trying to shove a fried egg and two pieces of toast down one's throat at six in the morning on schooldays was often all our stomachs could handle.

On weekends, if we wanted to, we could have pancakes. The hitch was that we had to make them from scratch--which, now that I actually know what Bisquick tastes like, I am very thankful for--and so instead of getting up at our normal nine a.m. rising time, we had to get up at seven a.m.

Presumably, this was to ensure that the preparation and clean-up didn't extend too far past the nine a.m. wake-up call we would normally be subjected to.

I know many people who were denied foodstuff as children who cannot get enough of it, now, or people who were forced to eat a certain thing and will no longer touch it: adults who guzzle whole milk because their parents forced them to drink non, parents of children who refuse to feed them macaroni and cheese because of childhoods spent eating Kraft night after night. I, however, have stuck pretty close to my childhood's imposed eating habits. I drink non-fat milk--because anything with a higher milk fat makes my lips feel greasy--I eat oatmeal or eggs and toast most days of the week, I still find tuna melts extraordinarily satisfying. I will not, however, eat baloney in any shape or form, but that is a story for another day. I grew up in a household where boxed, sugared cereal was a treat, and because of that I rarely--if ever--have boxed cereal in my house. And as a rule, we also had no store-bought jams or sweets (aside from the occasional box of dough-nuts brought over by my grandfather), including syrup.

So in the summer, our early morning weekends spent sifting and measuring pancake ingredients usually also required a trip out to the backyard, where we filled an old orange plastic measuring cup (that looked something like this) with blackberries, with raspberries, with huckleberries, with currants, with apples. Instead of maple syrup, we chopped, we stewed, we simmered, and we rendered the fruit into a compote, and served it with the pancakes, usually before nine a.m.

When I first told this story to Jess, a poet in the program here, she insisted I take the memoir class here at UNH--or at the very least start writing about my childhood more on my blog. I suppose it had never occurred to me that people didn't have schedules about the foods they could and couldn't eat for breakfast growing up, or that I could add to the world of memoir and creative non-fiction by writing about boiling down fruit.

I still do it, by the way. Though I usually take advantage of the pure maple syrup produced 'round these parts in New Hampshire and Vermont, sometimes nothing can beat a good old fashioned rendered compote on top of my pancakes.


Anonymous said...

One day, let's sit and talk about lives as children, and similarities and gardening. It sounds like the kind of life where you'd garden.

Nothing is better than something hand-made. This memoir of yours, I'll read.

Chelsea said...

Um, now I want pancakes. And I would absolutely read this memoir. And not just because I know you.

Lyla said...

I made homemade pancakes Saturday morning and thought about when I prepared them for you kids on the weekends, (plus extra's for you to eat during the weekdays)while you were growing up.