Friday, August 03, 2012

Eating as a Child

While I'm on the recipe kick, I've been trying to hunt down recipes for food from my childhood. 

My grandmother made (from scratch, of course) the best pies, pot roast, cucumber salad, and bread pudding I've ever tasted.  Her sage turkey stuffing was better than any other part of her delicious holiday meals -- always served on turkey plates with sterling silverware, both tablecloth and napkins that required ironing, and candles on the table.  Even though I have her stuffing recipe, I've never been able to duplicate the taste of any of her dishes.  Maybe it was the love that surrounded her cooking that made the difference. 

Grandmother didn't drive.  Grandfather inherited money during the depression -- plus land and rental property and land in Oklahoma that produced gas wells in the 1950's.  However, he and Granny had strong work ethics and I never realized they were rich. 

Grandfather, Me, and Grandmother in their back yard -- this was about 1950 and Grandpa was still wearing those brown shoes in 1960. 
Grandfather, who never got beyond the 8th grade because he was required to work in the family dairy, was an auditor for the Kansas City terminal (meaning he worked for the train station and his office actually was in Union Station).  He worked every day until he turned 65.  He never drove flashy cars or lived in expensive houses.  He was middle class down to his worn out shoes -- that could always go another round before he had to purchase new ones. 

Still, Grandmother was able to have Wolferman's deliver her groceries three times a week -- and what gourmet treats she ordered over her phone.

Wolferman's was an upscale grocery here in Kansas City - they had a store in downtown KC, one at 59th and Main / Brookside, and one on the Plaza.  In at least two of the stores they also had wonderful restaurants.  The downtown store had a restaurant downstairs and one on the upper level called the Tiffin Room.  Of course, they served their special English muffins, the only thing Wolferman's is known for today since all the stores are gone (and Harry and David's own the muffin franchise).  

When we went shopping downtown, we ate either at Wolferman's or a Emery Byrd Thayer, a local department store.  At Wolferman's, my mother preferred to eat in the basement which was a grill type restaurant.  She would have their hot dog with relish.  I didn't care much for the hot dog -- but that relish was divine!  I always had the hamburger though I don't remember anything special about it, except I didn't get hamburger sandwiches often. 

If Grandmother was feeling especially generous she would treat us to lunch in the Tiffin Room.  This was where the "ladies" of Kansas City lunched.  White table clothes, linen napkins.  Huge chef salads filled with the choicest of hams, cheeses, and greens.  It was always served with Wolferman's Thousand Island dressing and an English muffin with butter and orange marmalade. 

Later you could buy a huge jar of the dressing in the store on the main floor -- and Granny always kept a jar of that dressing in her refrigerator.  It was the only salad dressing ever served in Granny's house (at our house we ate French salad dressing for 39 cents a bottle from the A&P -- and we NEVER, ever got any other kind). 

The Plaza store had a balcony restaurant that looked over the grocery.  I don't remember if the store on Main had a restaurant.  Grandfather and I would have a Christmas date once a year at the Plaza store -- for the chef salad, the English muffin -- and afterwards, he would let me pick out the biggest box of chocolate candy to take home.  How I loved that huge, round box filled to the brim with assorted chocolates. 

This was the Wolferman downtown store -- the first floor was the grocery; in the basement was the grill, and upstairs was the Tiffin Room

This, of course, was the Plaza store in keeping with the Spanish architecture. 

Wolferman's also sold Hermit cookies -- the size of dinner plates.  They were rich and full of raisins and nuts and so, so good.  You could never eat more than two at time.  During the holidays, they also sold salt-rising bread and Granny would order several loaves so we could all have salt-rising toast slathered with real butter for our Christmas breakfasts.  If you've never eaten salt-rising bread, it's an experience when you first smell it.  For many people this is an acquired taste -- and I acquired my love of it early. 

The awful thing I learned about Wolferman's when I was an adult was that it was segregated well into the 1950's -- when I was eating there as a child.  Blacks couldn't eat in the Tiffin Room.  They could go to the basement grill, but NOT upstairs for the elegant lunch.  I was horrified to discover how much I had anticipated and enjoyed a meal where a whole segment of Kansas City was denied service.

Granny also had a milk man, an egg man, and the Manor Bread man.  They came at least bi-weekly, maybe more.  She had a maid once a week for help with the cleaning -- always a black maid.  She had a handyman, Archie, who came to fix things outside the house and sometimes, but rarely, inside.  Archie, too, was black.  She had a carpenter -- but he was white and we called him Mr. Hadley -- where the black help were known by their first names.  

It was a different time.  Sometimes I remember sweet, halcyon days of summer delights.  Then I remember the inequities we forced on people.  But the tastes of those days linger in my memory.  The Hermit cookies, the Thousand Island dressing, the cucumber salad.  I'd love a taste of those things just one more time, even if I wouldn't wish a return to their inequalities. 


Margaret said...

Love the memories! I still have a milkman. I don't think I realized as a child that life was segregated in many places because I grew up in the PacNW. Pretty liberal here.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone reproduced the relish and thousand island dressing?

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Kansas City, near the Plaza. My mom and I ate lunch both upstairs and at the counter on the {Plaza and also in the restaurant downtown after my singing lesson. I have been searching without success for a recipe for the relish I used to eat on my hamburgers. Upstairs in addition to the Chef's salad, I sometimes had frozen fruit salad and sometimes for desert we had rum cream pie--all very yummy.
If someone could put together a Wolferman's olsolep cookbook I would buy it.