Deja Pseu's evocative, touching Thanksgiving memoir reminded me of things I just don't get to eat anymore, because no one I know makes them. Unlike some of my mother's weird casseroles, I genuinely miss these treats, as much for the memory of permissive, nurturing love as for the tastes.
Nuts and Bolts, also known as Chex Mix or Bits and Bites
My mother's version included (but was not limited to) the cereals, pretzel sticks, loads of redskin peanuts (an endangered species in themselves), liberal use of worcestershire sauce, and the irresistible secret ingredient, that, added to the butter for the sauté, lent a smoky, rich basenote: bacon fat.
Divinity Fudge An ethereal, fluffy confection of sugar, egg whites and nuts, the specialty of Mrs. Edith Garvin, whose hair matched the candy. Mom and her bridge club crowd also prized classic fudge, especially penuche and chocolate with black walnuts.
Water chestnuts and pieces of sauteed chicken livers wrapped in bacon, proving bacon is an effective carrier for anything. Considered an exotic hors d'oeuvre, my quota was usually three.
Mixed Nuts, No Peanuts
My father's courtship weapon (the no peanuts proved he intended to make a certain life for my mother) and a hospitality staple. Mom later learned that the girl behind the nut counter at the drug store where Dad stopped to buy them had a crush on him, so he got the deluxe for the price of the cheaper peanut-studded mix. Every decent drug store had a nut counter, a closed case where the nuts glistened and revolved under a heat lamp, on a segmented tray.
Fountain drinks: malteds, shakes and sodas
My sister took me to real soda fountains, with their siphon bottles and shakes so thick they clogged your straw. You sat on a stool at a bar, legs dangling, watching your batch whirr up. Mine was served in a tall glass with the overflow placed at hand in a stainless steel cup. That lavish proffering of more!
'50s-style replica diners rarely get it right but now and then you find a place that never stopped making them. And a real fountain Coke, made properly, with no chintzing on the mix, tastes so different from a bottle or can, it's simply not the same drink.
I never liked eggnog all that much, but it was the one boozy (adult, glamourous, racy) beverage I could sample from about the age of 14. I certainly would not have been offered a Manhattan, which was the house cocktail for ladies, but when a punchbowl came out, the adults didn't seem to care who dipped in.
I don't remember actually drinking eggnog till at least 18, but the idea of being allowed was thrilling. Eggnog was an aberration; my Midwestern American parents believed anyone who mixed spirits with a sweet ingredient (ginger ale, Coke, etc.) was depraved, and needed to be protected from himself.
I think they considered eggnog kind of a reverse Metrecal, fortifying and festive to boot.
If offered some of these treats today, I might decline: too rich, too salty, too much. But they conjure such memories of indulgence and gaiety that I'd have to sample just one. And my hand might sneak back for another, as years slip away.