Mary Jane Behrenbrinker
Early Memories

One of my earliest memories is of food, so you can imagine the importance food ingestion occasions play in my life. I'm not sure how old I was, but my dad was transferred to an airplane engine plant in Chicago sometime after we entered the war. I returned to Flint, Michigan before I started kindergarten, so I was between one and four years old. I remember vividly the first taste I ever had of pizza. It was definitely in Chicago—pizza was virtually unheard of in Michigan at that time. As a matter of fact, I never had any other pizza until I was in high school.

When I described to my mother my memory of pizza being served in a rectangular pan, she was amazed. The only pizza I'd ever seen in Michigan was in a round pan. That "square" pizza was the most delicious food I'd ever tasted.

But, there were so many family parties where ethnic food was served and important occasions were observed that I loved. Thanksgiving at my Grandmother's house—Christmas at my Grandpa's—how could I possibly pick out a "most?"

Grandma Cherry always gave me the most delicious stick candy I've ever had as well as fantastic pumpkin pie with "real" whipped cream.

My mother's family cooked ethnic Slovak food, notably, their version of pigs-in-a-blanket (or glomki) which is not made with tomato sauce.  This dish was cooked all day in an electric roaster on Christmas Eve and we ate it after Midnight Mass. It was the ambrosia of the gods to me.  Then there were the nut and poppy seed rolls served on Christmas day.  Holidays were not just about presents for me—they were also about FOOD!

However, on an entirely different level, probably the most memorable meal occurred when I was at Girl Scout camp. We were senior scouts and divided up all the tasks involved in everyday life amongst us. I was assigned to dinner duty. We were going on an all day trip. Before we left, our group mixed up a chocolate cake and placed it on a reflector oven to bake. This is an oven that sits over active coals.

When we got back from our trip, we took the cake (which looked delicious) from over the long dead coals and placed it on the grill in the pavilion where we were to eat. While we were mixing up the "fancy" hamburgers, someone noticed the ants running out of the cake. We all watched, horrified, as millions of ants abandoned our wonderful cake.  But the stream of ants ended and we all looked at one another. We all decided that what the rest of the seniors didn't know couldn't possibly hurt them and we all enjoyed that cake! (Yes, of course I had a piece.  Chocolate is right at the top of the "must have" list. [Ants be damned!])

But, see, the most memorable meal is still coming up. Living in California, you probably can't relate to the hunger people in "winter" states feel for "home-grown" vegetables. You couldn't believe how much I look forward to that first summer meal of sweet corn on the cob, tomatoes, new potatoes and hamburgers. Oh, yes, hamburgers are a whole ‘nother subject!

I haven't even started on Italian food which is an integral part of my life. (Of course, I also love Chinese...) Boy, you really had no idea what a malestrom you created in my life when you urged me to think even more than I already do about food. I woke up at 4:00 am and started thinking about your instructions. I, basically, didn't get any more sleep that day.

Mary Jane Behrenbrinker

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