Even though we grew up in the age of technology, we still knew how to use our imaginations. I spent many days outside playing with the neighborhood kids engaging in a timeless tradition of making inedible foods. Even though we never truly believed we would eat these concoctions, we put a lot of effort into finding the materials, taking care to stir it well, and coming up with ideas on how delicious and profitable it would be when it was done. Sooner or later, we’d all get called in for supper, eat a real meal, and forget about our entrepreneurial pursuits as chefs. But today we remember!
If something looked like it could be eaten, then it was more fun to use it as “food.” One thing that comes to mind for me were the red berries off of the holly bushes outside of my house. The older kids always warned us that they were poisonous, but that increased the thrill. You could use them for decoration or mash them up into a paste. Really anything that could be mashed was instantly more fun because you could pretend that you were living in the wilderness and living off the land.
Our neighbor had a peach tree, but the peaches took forever to ripen and were usually still green and baby sized. We would pluck these off the tree and add them to our feast. Eventually, the neighbors got mad that we were stealing all of their peaches before they could ripen (not like the squirrels had a bigger part in taking peaches than we did), and the tree became off limits.
The closest thing I ever made to an appetizer was something rolled up in in a leaf and kept closed by a twig pierced through like a tooth pick. inside could be grass, rocks, acorns… really anything. This is where the berry paste or even some mud came in handy. They looked fancy and good enough to eat… I secretly wished they were edible.
The part I found most fun was making soup or stew. It was almost like a witch’s brew; stirred with a stick and probably tasted nasty. We would start with a bucket (the kind you take to the beach), filled it with water, and then added the ingredients. This was a neighborhood effort. One person would watch over the process and was in charge of the stirring. Everyone else was a gatherer. We’d find the most colorful flowers, handfuls of grass, tree bark, leaves, pine straw, etc. The more unusual the better. Every once in awhile we could even find mushrooms to include. The soup would get more outlandish with the more things that were added. Even though there was nothing heating it up, I swear I could smell the delicious aroma that was coming from our exceptional cooking. It was always disappointing when we had to call it quits and dump out all of our hard work.
The tastiest part of the meal was also the messiest. One of the most obvious desserts was of course the “mud pie.” It took very little effort and materials. All you needed was water, dirt, and your hands. Apparently some people get a little more creative then just making mud patties. I wish I had thought of decorative flowers. My mom would not have been a happy camper if I put mud in the same stuff she used for cooking. The messier you got, the more fun it was… although you probably made your mom freak out when you came back in covered in mud. Of course it was always a good excuse to get to wash off in the hose. Where I grew up, we only had red clay, which was sure to stain your clothes.
What sorts of culinary creations did you come up with as a kid? Any favorite ingredients or recipes?
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