I have no clue why we’re told to say, “cheese” when preparing to have our photos taken. I do know that I often said cheese when asked as a kid what I wanted to eat.
Specifically, cheese toast.
That was my go-to quick meal growing up in Ashdown, Arkansas. I wasn’t allowed to eat it every day, but I ate it as often as my mom would make it for my sister and me.
Cheese toast was one of the simple, yet hearty lunches that was quick to make. It tided me over between the Cap’n Crunch at breakfast, and the chicken fried steak, fried potatoes, and biscuits and gravy we frequent had for supper.
Eventually, I was old enough to be trusted with a small appliance and was allowed to make cheese toast on my own.
This was before American companies were allowed to individually package pasteurized process imitation cheese slices and advertise them as if they were actually cheese.
This fake cheese is still available today. Don’t be fooled. It’s not fit to eat.
However, you can make cheese toast with it and allow it to sit for a day or two, then use it replace a shingle on the roof or make a new gasket for your tractor.
Cheese toast wasn’t the only Southern delicacy. Future epicureans were also using other fine dining to please our palates.
One frequent meal was weenies and kraut. I know that wieners and sauerkraut have German origins, but folks in the South like to expand our dietary adventures.
So some mom along the way decided to whip out a cast iron skillet and toss in a few chopped up weenies, brown them and then add some sauerkraut. My mom was no exception.
It was one of my favorites, but it certainly wasn’t one of my sister’s.
The minute my sister found out that’s what we were having, her protesting began. She couldn’t say, “weenies and kraut.” She called it, “weenies and crap.”
Elsewhere in the nitrate-laden processed meat family, we also frequently had SPAM. Today, spam is something you don’t want to receive on your computer. It was no different back then in the dining room.
These days, SPAM is expensive. It wasn’t when I was being raised. So in that same cast iron skillet, mom would fry up sliced SPAM to make sandwiches.
I’ve never been to Hawaii, but my friend Mindy lived there for awhile. She told me that SPAM is considered a delicacy there and is even served in their McDonald’s. Mindy described how it seemed to be everywhere she looked. People in our 50th state eat it all the time.
Now I understand why they hula so often.
Related, but not the same, Vienna sausages were also considered a meal. A can of Vienna sausages (Or as my sister pronounced them, “Vie-a-nee sausages.”) and a bag of Frito’s and you had a balanced meal. Vienna Sausages were just potted meat that had been pressed into a cylindrical shape so that you could eat it right out of the can. For some reason I could eat those but not straight potted meat.
Potted meat is as good as it sounds. Another name for it is deviled ham, which is completely appropriate. As a kid, I’d stare at the devil on the can and wonder how long it took the underworld to come up with potted meat.
Thankfully, my mom didn’t serve potted meat, but I did have to endure it when I spent time with some of my lower-class friends.
Another meat that was served to kids as a passable snack was olive loaf, also called pimento loaf. Picture perfectly good baloney that’s been forcibly violated with sliced olives and pimentos. This was then formed into long sticks of meat, which was then cut up into slices for sandwiches.
It’s as disgusting as it sounds. If children are still being fed olive or pimento loaf today, they should find a long stick, throw their belongings into a handkerchief, and tie the handkerchief to the stick. They can run away to my house where they’ll be fed only the finest foods.
One of which is baloney. Considered a delicacy in the Cold War homes of Southern America, baloney (or bologna, as the fancy folks call it) was as versatile as it was tasty.
I’d ride my bike to Shur-Way where Mr. pope would cut it nice and thick for us. Thicker baloney was less likely to curl up around the edges when my mom fried it in the skillet.
A hot piece of baloney on two pieces of light bread with Miracle Whip on it is hard to beat. It may be better than cheese toast.
Think I’ll head to the kitchen and make both, just to test that theory. Just in case some kid shows up with a stick and a handkerchief.
©2022 John Moore
John’s books, Puns for Groan People and Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, are available on his website – TheCountryWriter.com, where you can also send him a message and hear his weekly podcast.
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