I'm not a WASP. But I've had my brush with this culture through my Grandfather.
When people think WASP, they immediately think of the Connecticut/Long Island Gold Coast elite. But they are only a subset of this group. There are more of them and most of them aren't rich nor particularly powerful. My Grandfather's family were solidly middle class with proud breeding. My Great-Grandmother always spoke of being able to trace her bloodlines to the Dutch founding of New Amsterdam and the Mayflower voyage. She was just as pleased that through me, she could claim relatives who crossed the Bering Strait...the first people in North American itself.
Because my Grandfather had to be difficult and marry an Irish woman, he was cut off from the rest of the family. When I was very young, I was unaware of my family's turbulent past. As I got older, I only received part of the story and even still there are large holes in the family narrative. What I was aware of were certain strange impressions that I didn't understand. For instance, when we would discuss heritage...I could claim Native American. When my mother would name her various blood heritage my Grandfather would always roll his eyes when she would announce Irish. I always thought that maybe he would have preferred if she forgot the Irish part. That its very presence in the mix devalued her Dutch, German and English lineage. But even as he grumbled about the Irish or his family's Papist ways, I never received the impression that he particularly cared that he was banished from WASPdom.
Anyway, to put it simply the family history was knotty and never spoken about in any fashion. That skeleton was shoved firmly into its appropriate closet where it jangled and still jangles from time to time. Haunting. As I grew up, I forgot about these thorny elements of my childhood. It was only recently, as I started reading books by John Cheever, Richard Yates and other WASPs that awoke ancestral memories. Of Course not all of it rings true to my family. We weren't rich folk. But there were commonalities; the stiff upper lip (Don't be a pill my Grandfather would tell me), the noblesse oblige (all those afternoon walks with my Grandfather to pay afternoon calls to the neighbors) and the food.
Holy Bells the food! Stuff of Nightmares!
My Grandfather liked to cook and due to his days volunteering in the mess hall during WWII, he deemed himself proficient. So family meals were planned and directed by him. My Grandmother let him do what he wanted. She was always a thin, svelte figure. This was due to the fact that she didn't live for food. She ate what was in front of her, never choosy, and only ate until hunger was gone (which wasn't much). She also didn't like to cook and was perfectly content to allow my Grandfather to do so. My mother was also disinterested in cooking except for when she wanted something non-WASP such as spaghetti. Her cooking wasn't often though especially since my Grandfather had firmly ensconced himself in the family kitchen.
So this is where the culture of stiff upper lip comes in as necessary. Because, lets face it, you need to be imperturbable when eating the blandest food on the face of the planet.
The Spice of WASP life.
Everyday Seasoning (as the McCormick bottle claimed) which was Salt and Pepper mixed together.
We didn't have red pepper flakes nor garlic, etc. etc.
I only started eating more advanced seasoning in my late teens. And then I went overboard, pouring garlic over everything.
Iceberg lettuce with a bottle of Blue Cheese Dressing (living FANCY!)
I ate my lettuce plain. Can you believe I was picky! Picky even while eating the tasteless manna of WASP life. Even my Grandfather couldn't understand it.
I'm sure we ate more than what I will list here. But these are the dishes that stand out to me. Probably because they were frequent.
Anything Lamb. Lamb is a holy touchstone to the WASP meal.
Lamb chops with peas and garnished with a side of Mott's Applesauce. No mint sauce, we weren't part of that set. In my Grandfather's mind, mint sauce craziness was for the weaker lot and for the spendthrift.
Leg of Lamb again with Peas or Potatoes.
IMPORTANT Potato side note:
WASPs eat their potatoes baked with skins still on. Not for any particular reason except that is the simplest way to cook potatoes. They are usually garnished with a little butter or if feeling daring...sour cream and a dash of baco bits.
Did I mention I was picky? I only ate mashed potatoes with lots of butter. It was to the point where every meal was served with jacket potatoes AND mashed potatoes for me. At some point my Grandfather had a psychological break. He cooked only baked potatoes, pounded one on my plate, cut it open, dolloped it generously with butter and told me to mash it myself. Extremely cowed, I ate the baked potato and forever more ate baked potatoes without complaint. It is now my favorite way to eat potatoes. I'm my Grandfather's granddaughter.
Main Course Con't:
Roast Chicken with Stove Top Stuffing and, you guessed it, baked potatoes. At my Grandmother's insistence (one of the few food requests she had), pearled onions.
After chicken night...
Chicken Salad sandwiches and potato chips (chips purchased by my Mom).
Chicken Mash (just leftovers thrown into a pot with some veg).
Open faced Chicken sandwiches on white bread with gravy AND baked potatoes.
White Bread....we had lots of it. But I have to cut my Grandfather some slack here. It was the 1970's, the only bread available in supermarkets was white bread. The only people eating whole wheat were health food addicts. We may have moved to Roman Meal as the years passed but that is really akin to caramel colored white bread.
On special nights, my Grandfather would go to the local bakery and buy fresh Rye bread (there were never left overs).
Back to Main Course:
Hamburgers (one of the few meals catering to my pickyness) with homemade french fries. My Grandfather would spend a lot of time cutting the potatoes into just so wedges. They were good, I wish I could still eat them.
Meat balls with buttered egg noodles (I don't know if we were attempting Swedish meatballs or whatever).
Fish cakes with potato pancakes. Any Mott's applesauce leftover from lamb night. All of it made fresh, my Grandfather didn't believe in ready made, only the incidentals were from the store (applesauce, stuffing).
On really fancy nights, Crab Cakes were served instead of fish cakes.
Steak (on special nights) with canned mushrooms and canned string beans. Something this special couldn't just have baked potatoes (although we did have them with steak from time to time), instead scalloped potatoes!
Roast Ham with sugar glaze (one of the few main courses purchased ready made) with canned vegetables.
Homemade Chicken soup (made with chicken from roast chicken night).
Matzoh ball soup. Which baffles me. I don't know why and I only remember it because I wouldn't eat it.
Split Pea Soup
Beef with Barley Soup (made with leftovers from steak night).
Clam Chowder (Manhattan or New England) with Oyster crackers.
Ritz Crackers with Cracker Barrel Cheese. Sometimes cheese whip from a spray can!
I loved dessert as a child. But I don't think it jived with my Grandfather's spartan WASP nutrition ethic. So baking wasn't his thing and our dessert choices were bland. There were no Julia Child dessert delicacies in our household.
Entenmann's Chocolate cake or donuts
Breyer's Ice Cream in Chocolate, Vanilla and Strawberry
Sherbert in various flavors.
Canned fruit salad courtesy of Dole
Sometimes the Jello and canned fruit salad would meet and create that Frankenstein's monster of a dessert...
Jello Fruit Salad
Odds and Ends
My Grandfather didn't believe in takeout. But when he relented we had:
Chinese food but only the blandest food the culinary advanced Han were capable of cooking:
Chicken Chow Mein, Spare Ribs and White Rice.
Another thing my Grandfather didn't believe in. When we did go out, we went to....
Howard Johnson's - They cooked the food we had at home but only marginally better.
Chock Full O'Nuts Cafe - They used to be all over NYC.
So that is it, the meals of my childhood cooked by my WASP Grandfather. Because he wasn't raising any pills in his household!
Labels: commentary, cooking, culture, food, funny, personal