Thursday, February 28, 2008

Kurt Phillip Caminer

World War II, Wales, British Islands, Food shortage, Rationing

I am a Jewish refugee from Germany, eighteen years old, working on a farm in Wales, since this is the only work I am allowed to do. Recently released from an internment camp as an enemy alien, just as the Japanese were dealt with here.

Farm work entails getting up at about 4:30 a.m., milking the cows (no machines yet) mucking out stalls etc., feeding the livestock, other necessary labor, 4:oo p.m. milking cows again. Day in, day out. Seven days a week. Pay: about 5 shillings a week. Just enough for maybe 1 movie and a serving of fish and chips on the rare day off.

One would think that working on a farm, one would have food galore and would not be affected by rationing. However the Welsh lifestyle is just not conducive to this. Most farmers in Wales live on potatoes, fatback and if available some cabbage or turnips from the garden. Bread is home baked and sometimes available at more than two slices.

Food is plentiful and delicious when the neighbors come by to help during thrashing time, once a year. Every farmer's wife competes with each other as to who cooks best and serves the most luscious and nutritious meal. Desserts are served and consumed with vigor, and then back to work.

And the eggs: There are a few chickens in the yard, and their eggs are prized highly since once a week a man comes by and buys them for six shillings a dozen to sell them on the black market.

Now fast forward to what happened in the winter of 1942. Snow has piled up in and on the lane from the farm to the highway and is stopping the farmer from getting his main product, milk, to the road to be picked up by the distributor. For days now, income is lost since there is no way to get our product to the market. We work feverishly shoveling snow from the lane to clear our way to the main road. There is no bulldozer, I suggest that I will work all evening, night and next day, if needed, until we can clear enough to get the horse and buggy through. I suggest that I want an extra shilling or two for my labor and that I would like to have two soft boiled eggs for breakfast in the morning if successful. Eggs for breakfast was unheard of, but under these circumstances it is agreed upon. I work tirelessly until morning, with shaded light, since there is a black-out all over the British Isles. Unbelievably, I manage to get enough snow removed to get the full milk cans to the road. They did not believe that I could possibly be successful by the next morning and was celebrated and praised to high heaven for the endeavor.

But I was never forgiven for having asked for the eggs. It must have been an insult to the farmer's wife. Eggs were a commodity, not food. Our good relationship seemed to be at an end and it was not long before it was time for me to change my place of employment.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Janine Marie Serresseque

Uh-Oh, SpaghettiOs. Such an aptly created slogan.

When I was a little girl, my favorite thing to eat was my mom's spaghetti with meat sauce. In retrospect, it wasn't anything gourmet-- just hearty and comforting.

imagine my enthusiasm when I saw a commercial for SpaghettiOs! My favorite food, redefined in a cute circular shape! And you could eat them with a spoon, for heavens sake. They had a little song with the tag line, "Uh-Oh! SpaghettiOs!" I had to have them.

I commenced to beg and beg and beg. Of course my mom knew they were total crap, and repeatedly said NO. I don't remember what made her finally give in, but she probably said something like, "Well if I buy these SpaghettiOs for you, you better eat them and not turn your nose up at them!" or some similar mom-like decree. The day she served them for my lunch, I was filled with a sharp anticipation that I can still remember like it was yesterday.

My mom places the steaming bowl of SpaghettiOs in front of me and I am immediately accosted by their puke-like aroma! I mean, the smell of this food was truly funky and unnatural. I vehemently expressed my disenchantment with the SpaghettiOs, but after all that shameless begging, she was having none of it and insisted that I eat this crap that I'd spent the last two weeks pleading for. It was a big showdown, with lots of tears and protestation. I finally did lose the battle and forced myself to eat the whole bowl, all the time threatening to throw up if I was forced to finish my lunch. That's how repulsed I was.

After finishing the SpaghettiOs, I promptly vomited them up all over the place. So lets see...I won the battle, then I lost the battle, then I guess I kinda won the war.

But, for what it's worth, Mom, you were right!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Theodore Mazur Bonk

In 1980, Luciano Pavarotti performed for the Virginia Opera at a sold-out Chrysler Hall in Norfolk, Virginia. I was asked to cater a post-concert fundraiser at the the Chrysler Museum a few blocks away. It was quite an honor, as Pavarotti was in the prime of his career (and a great connoisseur of food). For the people who paid thousands per seat to charity for the concert, we set up two 60-foot long tables- one with an elaborate array of anti-pasta including salamis, vinaigrettes...everything you can think of (we didn’t want it to be ordinary) down the center, with plates scattered all along the way and the other table overflowing with beautiful desserts, displayed similarly. For Pavarotti and his entourage, a total of 12 people, I prepared an elaborate, multi-course meal- including fried baby artichokes, Roman style. In 1980, they didn’t sell baby artichokes in markets like today- we had to get them flown in from a farm in California. The main course was a superb veal dish, there was soup, salad- I pulled out all stops for this menu.

Two short hours before the concert, Pavarotti informed me that he was dieting, and requested only plain broiled fish. I had to scour Tidewater to find fish suitable to serve Luciano Pavarotti! I called a fisherman friend and he had some flounder in his freezer. We rushed to pick up the flounder, defrosted it, and prepared it the way Pavarotti requested.

After the concert, we knew that Pavarotti and his entourage wanted to be fed upon their arrival. He was seated and we carried out his meal of broiled flounder on a big silver tray, and started with the soup course of the meal for the rest of his entourage. They progressed through many courses with appreciative smiles and gestures. Pavarotti, of course, only ate the flounder, prepared plainly - the only flourish on it was a lemon wedge.

After savoring his flounder, Pavarotti walked up to me and thanked me, saying it was a wonderful dinner. Then he pulled me over towards him and kissed me on both cheeks. It was wonderful. I didn’t wash up for days.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Jo Manning

When I was growing up in Astoria, Queens, in the '40s and '50s, I thought everyone ate as well as we did. My dad had a backyard garden where he grew figs, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, and basil -- his older brother, who lived in an apartment building, rented a space where he also grew veggies, fruit, and herbs. Their mother -- my paternal grandmother -- was a fabulous cook. (My mother learned to cook from her and we have her treasured tomato sauce recipe, which I handed down to my children.)

My father always said, "We may not be rich, but we eat a lot better than most rich people." He might have been right :-)

Anyway, the food we ate and loved -- fresh tuna, wheat berries, broccoli rabe, artichokes, cardoons (my father and uncle used to pick them outside of Poughkeepsie, where they went to hunt rabbits and squirrels), ricotta, mozzarella, and all manner of what Anglos called offal, these enriched our food palate. I still remember eating fresh ricotta on fresh Italian bread (my mother scoffed at what she called the soft, white, packaged stuff favored by Anglos "American bread") and breaded, fried cardoons fresh from the pan.

The French have their madeleines to remind them of times past (I bake a killer madeleine, by the way, following Julia Child's recipe), I have cardoons, fresh ricotta, and sauteed squash blossoms... It gives me a kick to see Anglos -- foodies and food critics -- "discovering" these delicious foods of my Sicilian childhood.

Jo Manning,, author of -- among other novels and non-fiction -- The Sicilian Amulet, which is a paranormal romance with a lot of food talk, too.

P.S. My cousin's cousin, Renee Restivo, has two web sites, and, that you all might want to visit -- she also conducts tours of Sicily during the olive harvest.