February 15, 2011

Fried Macaroni - A Memory from My Childhood

My father worked in a factory for 33 years.  He retired in 1981.  He packed radiators and was a member of the UAW.  Many times he did not really like being a member of a union as the union would vote to strike and my father never wanted to strike.  My dad knew that when you went on strike, it meant lost wages that you would never get back.  One strike lasted 9 months and during that time he took on odd jobs at farms picking apples, cherries and even grapes.  He was allowed to bring home some of the fruit that was not deemed worthy for sale and my mother canned everything he brought home.  My mom went to work cleaning houses and during that 9 months they never missed a mortgage or utility payment. 

My sister and I knew not to ask for anything, but I also remember that my parents, though worried about their financial situation, did their best to give us a happy home life.   We would come home from church on winter Sunday evenings and my home would make homemade hot cocoa and cinnamon toast.  Yummy.  We played board games on the weekends.

The strike that lasted 9 months brought my parents to the point of stretching and coming close to all but depleting all of their resources.  Normally we would purchase half a hog and a side of beef from a local farmer for our meat for a year or so.  My parents didn't have the money the year of the big strike to purchase a large supply of meat at one time.  There was meat left from the previous year so we made it last.  My mom was able to get some meat each week at the grocery store as sales would allow.  Also, we qualified for some food assistance. We would go to the government food surplus store each month and we would get institutional sized supplies.  I remember we would get one large block of processed cheese, rice, macaroni and peanut butter.

My father's favorite hobby was gardening.  We lived in a small city in western New York.  We had a big yard but my parents didn't want to put a big garden in our backyard as we kids loved playing in our backyard and my mother always hung the clothes out in the yard to dry.  My father was able to rent a small plot of land from a widow who lived just outside the city limits.  As I recall it was a minimal sum of money as my father would also do some chores for this elderly lady. 

The garden was big and he raised potatoes, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, corn, peas, green beans, pumpkins, squash and melons.  That year we lived off of our garden produce, the food from the surplus store, sales items from the grocery store, the meat in the freezer we had left from the previous year and extra produce from farmers where my dad worked off and on.

My dad was born in 1917 and my mom was born in 1930.  So, my dad  was born in the middle of World War I to a very, very, very poor family and my mom was born in the midst of the Great Depression to a poor family.  It was from their years of growing up poor that they gleaned the skills necessary to keep our family fed and the bills paid during those 9 months.

Up until that 9 month strike, the longest strike my dad experienced was 3 months.  So when the strike went into the 4th and 5th month, my parents really started to get nervous.  My mom started to look at our food supply and even though she was serving frugal meals, she started to serve some extremely frugal meals at different times during the week.

One night my mom served us Fried Macaroni.  She cooked up some macaroni.  While it was cooking she browned some diced onion in some oil in a frying pan.  She added a little garlic.  Then when the macaroni was done cooking she drained it thoroughly and added it to the frying pan.  Instantly the macaroni started to crackle and fry.  She was careful to cook it on medium heat and let the macaroni brown and get crispy before turning it over.  The result was a crispy fried "pasta."  Okay - I'm trying to give it a "rich" label here.  The key here is she took very minimal ingredients, cheap ingredients and made a tasty filling meal for us. 

When my sister and I tried it, we gobbled it down.  It was delicious and filling.  The fried macaroni actually had a pop corn like taste.  We loved the crispy, chewy texture and flavor.  The onions and garlic also gave it more flavor.  Even after the strike ended and things got back to normal, we would beg my mom on a Saturday night to make Fried Macaroni. 

Okay, I'm not going into the healthiness of this meal. If you were faced with feeding your family on very little, you would find something that would fill their tummies. She not only filled our tummies, but she filled our tummies with something that was very tasty.
One night I made this for my kids.  They loved it.  If I were to make it today (and I think I will this weekend), I would make it with whole wheat macaroni and use olive oil along with the onion and garlic.  I would also serve some marinara sauce on the side.  Actually, think about it, fried ravioli is on appetizer menus everywhere now.  My mom was ahead of her time.

What can you learn from this?  Necessity definitely is the mother of invention.


Kris Watson said...

Martha, I adore your blog.

Dad didn't belong to a union; he worked for the Department of the Interior. Oh, and mom loved to spend money !!! Our "it's almost payday" meal was creamed tuna and canned peas on toast.

Dad started out as a part time janitor when he was 18 and just out of high school. He ended up retiring at 55, 30 years ago, as a heavy equipment foreman. The day after he retired, he took over the daily operations of his parents' farm, retiring a second time when he was 78.

we are having a hard time in our family right now, as Dad is dying and Mom wants to. Hard to keep my spirits up. Your blog today was a blessing, as I am thinking happy thoughts and bringing up good memories. Thanks so much.


P.S.: The fried macaroni sounds amazing !

simplyaltered.com said...

I absolutely LOVE THIS STORY!!!!!!! you were raised well. No wonder you are so resourceful. How proud your parents would be Martha.

Maureen said...

Not sure about the fried macaroni, we are a family who never use a frying pan, but I love that your Mum managed as well as she did.

I am taking it that you have the same coping skills as your Mum as I am constantly amazed at how you manage your family,s grocery bill.

Martha said...

The macaroni was fried in a very small amount of oil - mainly because my mom didn't want to waste it as it was costly.

You don't appreciate all the things your parents teach you until you are grown to middle age it seems.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I loved this post, brought tears to my eyes. Your parents were very resourceful people and it sounds like "little" during the time of the stike was "more" as it brought joyful, fond, happy childhood memories, something even those who are monetary rich may never experience. Beautiful post and tribute to your parents.

The Single Saver said...

I just found your blog. This story was the best thing I have read on the web this week. I really enjoyed it. i think your parents sound like great people.

Denise @ TheSingleSaver.com

Martha said...

It's interesting how when I write a post, I'm not sure if anyone will post a comment or not. This post surprised me. I'm happy that many of you enjoyed it. I enjoyed recalling those memories and writing about them.

pammycakes said...

How long have you been blogging? I loved the macaroni story . Keep writing . Pam

Martha said...

@pammycakes - I've been blogging since Sept. 2009. I enjoy it.

Paula said...

Martha, sometimes when reading through your blog, I wonder if we are some sort of twins. My parents were the same number of years apart in age as yours, and my father rented extra garden space from a neighbor lady.