I’ve often spoken of my mother in these pages, always with affection, though she did occasionally make me a little crazy. After all, making me crazy was part of her job, just as it was part of mine to make her a little crazy.
Part of her craziness was her conservative approach to food, especially when her children were very young. In those days she had definite ideas about what people ate and what they didn’t. The fact that an item was sold at the grocery story was no guarantee that it wasn’t poison. This included condiments–foodstuffs that you sprinkled or spread on top rather than mixed in.
We always had mustard in the house, probably the yellow stuff with the red flag on the jar, but I really don’t remember. We also had something that the label called sandwich spread but we called mayonnaise. Something that as an adult I call pickle relish but we called piccalilli. I don’t know where Mom got that word. Maybe it is regional to Chicago, which was where she grew up.
But the condiment that caused me the most trouble was catsup. I liked it fine and put it on everything because it was all we had, but sometimes what I really wanted was barbecue sauce. I wished with all my little kid heart that the stuff in the bottle in our refrigerator would magically change in the night. After all, catsup was red; barbecue sauce was red, or at least reddish–why couldn’t it become barbecue sauce? It never did, of course, though I kept hoping. But, just as she blackballed pizza and other foods with which she was unfamiliar, she refused to purchase barbecue sauce until I was well into high school, no matter how much I pleaded.
Speaking of pizza, after her boys got her to try some at the Hancock Park elementary school Halloween carnival and we suffered no ill effects, we convinced her that the Betty Crocker do-it-yourself pizza would probably also not kill us. The Betty Crocker pizza was a pop-open can that contained ready-made dough and a can of pizza sauce. If you wanted toppings, you were on your own. (When nobody was looking, I would sometimes dip one finger into the open can of pizza sauce and then lick it off. What a rush!)
Pizza toppings are not condiments, exactly, but as the name implies, you do put them on top. Mom was a little slow to catch on with these as well. Instead of pepperoni, which I believe she had never heard of at that point, she might allow salami. Instead of an alien cheese such as mozzarella, she would apply Velveeta. As you might imagine, this made for a pretty strange pizza, but we had limited experience, and so it mostly seemed OK to us.
I grew up and eventually was able to try forbidden foods on my own. Sometimes I brought one of them home and was able to persuade Mom to give it a shot. Occasionally something I brought home was a hit. Toward the end of her life she became quite a connoisseur of restaurant barbecue. With sauce on it. What I would have given for some of that sauce when I was a kid!