Fudge and Popcorn

My boyfriend Arnie and I were parked on a side road necking when he leaned back and said, “I want to take you to Antler’s Supper Club Friday night.”

I smiled and said, “Wow, that sounds great. It’s a popular place. Everyone who’s been there raves about how great their food is.”

Antler’s was a fancy restaurant one county over from where we lived. Friday night was Halloween. Since Arnie hated costumes, I knew he wasn’t interested in Halloween parties, but would happily stop to visit with friends at one on our way back to Marshfield.

Our date on Friday night didn’t get off to a very good start. I teased Arnie, but he wasn’t in the mood. He seemed preoccupied. After pulling into a parking place at Antler’s, instead of getting out of the car, he turned toward me holding out a small square box. He said, “Will you be my wife?”

We’d been talking about getting married for the last three months, so I wasn’t entirely surprised, but his stiff, formal way of asking, touched me. I took the box and very formally answered, “I’d be proud to be your wife.” Opening the box, I took out the ring that we had admired at the jewelry store a month before and handed it to him. Arnie took it and slipped it on my left-hand ring finger.

I honestly remember very little about the fancy restaurant. There were too many stars in my eyes, butterflies in my tummy and sparkles on my finger to focus on food. Just as I had known, Arnie was more than willing to stop at a Halloween party on our way back to Marshfield. I showed off the ring and laughed when friends joked that I had told Arnie, “Trick or treat!”

The year was 1969 and my good looking, dark-haired fiancé drove a 1966 navy Impala. We were entering into an old-fashioned marriage where the maintenance of the car and house was entirely the man’s job, while only the woman made meals, cleaned and did laundry. What wasn’t 19th century traditional was that I would work outside of the home, too.

One month before our wedding it finally occurred to me that I would soon be required to make meals every day. I would be providing food for someone who wouldn’t be happy with just a slice of bread or an apple, as I’d been sliding by on between dates. Taking stock of my culinary skills didn’t take long. I only knew how to make two things, fudge and popcorn.

My Mom was a great cook, but she never wanted help in the kitchen. Was 18 years of watching her cook and bake enough of an education? My lack of hands-on experience scared me. Why hadn’t I watched her more closely?

A large part of being a good cook is common sense…except I didn’t have all that much common sense. During our first few months of marriage, I learned that if the bratwurst are slimy, you shouldn’t cut them up and fry them for your husband’s breakfast…unless you want to be a widow.

I learned that if you make a casserole and your husband hates casseroles, especially a questionable seafood one, there’s going to be a big fight. The look of disgust on Arnie’s face would have been funny if I wasn’t so outraged that he didn’t appreciate my efforts. With exaggerated motions, he’d slapped butter on a slice of bread, slammed the butter knife down on the table and stalked off all of four feet away to our mobile home living room to angrily drop down on the couch with a thud.

Having a cast iron skillet to fry potatoes was a big deal for Arnie. I was told I had to season the pan. What exactly did season mean? I shrugged, smeared lard on the pan, salted and peppered the mess for good measure and put the pan into a hot oven until it began to smoke. Done and done.

In the fall, I looked forward to serving my first pumpkin pie to Arnie. While waiting for him to come home from work one afternoon, I’d made the crust and even attempted, with limited success, to press fluted indents around the edges as I’d seen Mom do. Opening a can of pumpkin pie filling, I dumped it in and placed it in the oven. Looking at the clock, I calculated that by the time Arnie was finished with his after-work shower, my special supper and pumpkin pie dessert would be ready.

What a disappointment! The pie tasted like mud. I couldn’t understand what had gone wrong. Eventually I discovered that I’d been misled by the label on the can. It was labeled, ‘pumpkin pie filling’. What it should have said was, ‘Pumpkin Mush’. Cans of cherry, blueberry and apple pie filling contain just that…ready to use pie filling!

Once I figured out how to cut-up and roast a chicken, boil potatoes and carrots, I invited my in-laws over for a meal. My fifteen-year-old sister-in-law told me that dinner parties were old fashioned and that people didn’t do that anymore. I didn’t care, I felt like a housewife extraordinaire and gourmet maven whose talents needed to be showcased. A small amount of knowledge is indeed, very dangerous!

 

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