When I was a kid, my mom used to make the best home-cooked meals. I guess most moms were “the best” in their kids’ eyes. I remember her making meatloaf — I’ll never forget her squishing the hamburger, eggs and ketchup together with her hands. Sometimes she let me do some of the squishing if I washed my hands really good — in front of her. Her salmon patties were the best and her pie crust was undeniably the most wonderful treat in the universe. I devised a test — I’d take a piece of the crust about the size of a quarter — lay it on my tongue — and count to ten. It always passed the test. It dissolved into a delicious morsel of delight without chewing or even moving it around. Of course, the pure lard would be condemned as unhealthy, but my dad ate it most of his life and lived to be ninety-nine.
Even my friends asked for my mom’s cooking when they came around. One of my friends always said he wished his mom cooked as good as mine — he said his mom only made TV dinners and stuff out of a box. That takes me to the point, though. The idea of quick freezing food has been attributed to Clarence Birdseye. He lived in Canada for a time and learned that freezing fish immediately after catching them was a great way to preserve the taste and quality. Later, other pioneers in the food industry designed divided aluminum trays for freezing and cooking. Back then, what we know as ‘TV dinners’ were heated in the oven before microwaves were on the market. I remember eating sweet and sour shrimp dinners while watching old Charlie Chan movies on Saturday afternoons. There were little packets of sauce included in the box. Back in 1966, I felt pretty worldly eating ‘TV egg rolls’ with real chopsticks. It was exotic and glamorous fare as far as I was concerned.
Then came the microwave. Exotic turned into space age. Not only was food ready without cutting and cleaning and adding spices, it was ready in a few minutes. No squishing raw hamburger and eggs between your fingers. No more tears shed over onion cutting. No measuring cups and hand graters. It was quicker, more convenient, and much less work. There were turkey dinners, chicken dinners, lasagna dinners. There were potatoes au gratin, chopped sirloin, and chicken and dumplings. There were Chinese, Mexican, and German style dinners. They even had kids’ meals like Pirate Picnic and Safari Suppers. Dinners came and went, but one thing they couldn’t produce was a meal like mom made. They tried to make you think so, but it wasn’t possible. There’s no substitute for mom picking out the best apples for a pie, or picking tomatoes from the backyard garden, or going to a ‘u-pick’ strawberry patch and making shortcake at home. Mr. Birdseye had a good idea, and the profit-minded big companies may make life more convenient, but the advertising slogans comparing an industrial plant to mom’s kitchen are a lie. They may be able to make corn taste like chicken, or maybe even turn tree byproducts into something that looks like hamburger, but it’s all smoke and mirrors as far as I’m concerned. And there may never be another pie crust made with lard and cane sugar and mom’s love after the machines take over completely. I’ll just have to remember the quarter-sized piece of crust melting in my mouth in ten seconds, and the hours it took to make it.