Saturday, February 03, 2007

Just Plain Yucky Food

Something got me to thinking about unappealing food tonight, and I started thinking about the worst foods or meals I’ve ever had or heard about. Thankfully, most of them are just things I’ve heard about, rather than actually been forced to eat and be polite about. Most of them seem to be the creations of relatives. I’m not sure if this is because I eat more of my relatives’ food than I do of other peoples’, or if it says something about my relatives’ cooking.

The only unappealing food that I thought of that I’d actually eaten was pre-cooked bacon that had been microwaved. I don’t mean the packaged stuff from the grocery store that’s intended to be heated up in the microwave. I mean bacon that has been cooked by conventional means, put into a baggie in the refrigerator for a day or two (or more—I don’t even want to know), and then reheated in the microwave.

Interestingly, I’ve not only heard of this being done, but actually been forced to eat it. My friend’s mother in law does this and she told me about it. My own mother in law did it, as does my grandmother (or did—I’m not sure she really makes bacon anymore, since she really only cooks for herself now). The thing about bacon that has been subjected to this treatment is that it becomes bacon bits. On both occasions I was served it, it was really more a pile of dark brown crumbs than anything resembling strips of bacon. I can understand if this is the way you serve bacon occasionally, but in all three cases, this was their standard. They would cook off a package of bacon one day, then store it until they needed it, and reheat it in the microwave, whereupon it would dissolve into the aforementioned crumbs.

I think my grandmother did this because she bought a microwave back in the early 80s when they were still novel and interesting, and she was testing out its capabilities. When she discovered that she could have bacon in 15 seconds, well, she was thrilled. My mother in law did it out of a need to eat quickly. When hunger overtook my mother in law, there was no waiting. She was going to eat the first thing that came to hand, and if that was microwaved bacon, fine. If it was a box of graham cracker crumbs, or a raw onion, fine.

I think my friend’s mother in law was motivated by a total lack of caring about food quality. She was the type of woman who claimed that she’d provided meals for her family for twenty or thirty years or whatever it was, and she was “retiring.” Hanging up her apron, thanks. I’ve found that most women who claim they’re going to stop cooking because they’ve been doing it for so many years were never very good cooks to begin with. They turned out barely edible, largely uninteresting and unmemorable meals for all those years. Generally their families applaud (if silently) when they announce their retirement from culinary responsibilities.

Beyond that, I’ve mostly been treated to descriptions of unappetizing meals.

My husband came home from a visit to his cousin/godmother’s house one year with a horror story. First let me say that his cousin knows she’s a dreadful cook, and doesn’t try to do it often. They eat out every night. They’re an interesting combination: non-cookers, but cheap. As a result, they only eat at restaurants that are all-you-can-eat buffets, or for which they have a buy-one-get-one-free, or early bird coupon. On the occasion of my husband’s visit to their house, she decided to try to cook.

She served ham left over from Easter (it was only a week or so after Easter, so that’s not as bad as it might sound). It was a purchased ham, so there wasn’t much she could do to screw it up. The side dishes she made were Au Gratin Potatoes from a box (actually OK with my husband, because he kind of likes those), and green beans. It was the green beans that were notable. She made them in the pressure cooker. They were, according to my husband, grey. She couldn’t figure out why he didn’t want seconds.

My father in law has a stock of revolting recipes that he pulls out every now and then. He’s since moved to a small condo, but we used to go visit him when he lived in a larger house, and for some reason our visit always inspired him to have a “cookout” or a “family dinner” (depending on the season, and despite the fact that we’d already seen everyone who was invited at least two other times on any trip there). My husband and I always cooked for these gatherings, with superfluous menu input by my father in law. We’d set the menu, and he’d spend the 24 hours leading up to the event trying to add things that were unnecessary, unappetizing, and unwelcome.

“What about a cake?” he’d suggest at breakfast the morning of the party, “I have one downstairs in the freezer.” What he failed to mention was that the cake was a fully frosted cake (generally not the sort of thing that freezes well) that had been frozen since my mother in law had passed away two years earlier. We’d decline.

Always, without fail, he would suggest the addition that I found most vile, and to which we responded in the negative most vehemently. This was canned ham cooked in the slow cooker with pineapple juice. It seems this was kind of a specialty of his. Canned ham is disgusting to start with, but cook it in the slow cooker with pineapple juice and I think you really would have the most revolting concoction known to man.

My family has come up with a few winners too, most memorably a meal my grandmother offered to cook my husband when I was in the hospital after the birth of my first son. She’d come to stay and help out, and she offered to make my husband something along the lines of oriental tuna served over a baked potato. I’m not sure he how, but he managed to decline politely and without offending her.

As I say, somehow I managed to dodge most of these bullets one way or another. I’m sure when my children grow up and get married, their spouses will complain about my cooking for one reason or another. However, it won’t be because I’ve served them canned ham or microwaved bacon. They’ll have to find something else to complain about, I guess.


Anonymous said...

ok, the canned ham in pinapple wins Most Revolting award. I imagine it on a platter garnished with coconot shavings and little paper tropical drink umbrellas.

My only addition here is I have a friend whose mother used to make something she called "gush beans". Near as I could tell it was the standard green bean casserole recipe that everyone knows of, but with velveeta cheese added in. Ew.

Then there was the time I was served Mac & cheese that had been made with sweetened condensed milk as opposed to the evaporated milk that the recipe called for. It was gross and to this day we laugh about the Candy Mac!


Emma Shannon said...

Because it's my father in law, and he has no presentation capabilities whatsoever, it gets served pretty much right out of the crock pot. Really, it so adds to the experience.

That sweetened condensed/evap milk mistake is one that everyone makes one time. And they only make it once. It's less nasty (altho equally unsuccessful) if you make it the other way, which was how I did it. Usually your sweet thing just turns out bland, but in my case, it was a sweet thing calling for evap milk, so my sweet thing turned out to be so sweet it made your teeth hurt.