I told myself to beware of flying buttons.
I attended a traditional Norwegian Smorgasbord at the Nora Unitarian Universalist Church in Hanska, Minnesota. Foods on the menu included herring, tongue (if you don’t like tongue, look away while others eat it), meatballs, sot suppe, romme grot, rice pudding, flatbread, rosettes, krumkake, sandbakkels, ham, mashed potatoes, deviled eggs, carrots, cookies and lefse. Lefse is the Swiss Army knife of foods. It’s a bread, it’s a desert, it’s a napkin. The smorgasbord and the company were superb. I hope the lefse made me a better person. Or at least kept me from worsening.
I frequent church potlucks featuring covered dishes, bean hotdishes and dessert bars. Some offer egg coffee or both chicken salad and fried chicken. I’m happy to find a favorite like tater tot hotdish or funeral potatoes (scalloped potatoes and ham). Potlucks are where small talk abounds, but it stays out of the silverware’s way. I know it’s time to stop eating when my paper plate is worn thin.
As a boy, I wanted to sample everything, even the stuff I didn’t like. My motto was “Bring nothing, eat everything.” My mother did some basic foodsplaining by telling me, “Don’t take that. You know you don’t like it.” Good advice. I had to clean my plate. I had to man up and eat every bit of food piled there because of all the starving children in Iowa.
I was told that not licking a plate clean was akin to allowing a camel’s nose under the tent. I thought that meant the sandwiches had camel meat in them. But it meant a small, seemingly innocuous act or decision could lead to less desirable consequences later. If a camel gets its nose inside a tent, it’s impossible to prevent the rest of it from entering. Clean my plate or my life would be filled with uneaten foods.
There was a short prayer before food consumption commenced. We waited for the pastor to say “Amen.” He could just as well have said, “Drivers start your engines.”
“Don’t eat too much, the pastor is watching,” my mother cautioned. It was a lot of pressure having mother, pastor and Santa watching me. I decided to watch the pastor and eat only what he did. Then I couldn’t be guilty of gluttony. He ate twice as much as I did.
I make it to many church soup and pie suppers. Me, oh my, I like pie, especially with ice cream or whipped cream. I’m fond of chili with oyster crackers. I resist the temptation to cut in line to ensure the best desserts wouldn’t be gone. I break sliced bread with souper people.
“Lime Jell-O Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise” is a song written by William Bolcom that could have been about a church potluck but wasn’t. “Ladies, the minutes will soon be read today. The garden club and weaving class I’m sure have much to say. But next week is our culture night, our biggest, best event. And I’ve just made a dish for it you’ll all find heaven-sent. It’s my lime Jell-O marshmallow cottage cheese surprise. With slices of pimento. You won’t believe your eyes! All topped with a pineapple ring and a dash of mayonnaise. My vanilla wafers round the edge will win your highest praise.”
I recall foods of my youth fondly, but salads have improved over time from those dark days before everything smelled of pumpkin spice. There’s always room for Jell-O. Jell-O invited odd combinations that passed as salads. Jell-O housed grapes or tiny marshmallows for people who weren’t hungry enough to eat a regular-sized marshmallow. I’ve had lime Jell-O with Miracle Whip, chopped celery and green onions. I’ve eaten Miracle Whip on top of shredded carrots encased in lime Jell-O. The Lord works in mysterious ways. There’s a reason you can’t order those things at McDonald’s. Red Jell-O, my favorite Jell-O color, was often served unadorned as a healthy version of a dessert. Orange, lemon, strawberry and raspberry were the first flavors when Jell-O began in around 1895. Lime was introduced in 1930. The people of Salt Lake City consume more lime Jell-O than any other U.S. city. I’ve eaten lime Jell-O in Salt Lake City. It was good.
The rule of food is: If you make it, someone will eat it. Some will gag it down. Some will think it’s OK. Others will think it’s the best thing they’ve ever eaten.
And someone will eat from the serving dish.