Fierce Foodie: Collector of Food
A blogumn by Roya Hamadani
As a child I never needed to check the expiration labels in my mother’s pantry. But now as a returning adult, I find that a walk through her hoard is a stroll through the Museum of Old Food. Cake mix boxes are yellowed with age and smell of mildew, while the date stamps have faded off the cans. On one trip home I found a hefty glass bottle of Heinz ketchup. This was long after the switch to plastic. Instead of the usual cheery red this ketchup was dark brown like the color of old blood. I could find no expiration date, but the washed out label did offer me a chance to win tickets to the Superbowl – for the year 1982.
When I approached my mother with the over twenty-year-old condiment, she told me not to throw it away because she could still cook with it. Cook what? I asked. What recipe calls for 60 oz of ancient ketchup? I eventually made her admit that vinegar does not confer immortality, and that even if you heat something for a very long time and at a very high temperature, you can not through sheer force of will compel it to be edible again.
Quite simply, my mother has become a collector of food. She simultaneously practices frugality and over-consumption, which translates into the buying of a lot of cheap stuff. She especially stockpiles the food of a simpler time, that which must have larded the shelves of bomb shelters: kidney beans, chickpeas, canned tomatoes, corned beef, canned tuna and condensed soups, as well as her all-time favorite and my childhood nemesis, Vienna sausages. She is a victim of culinary nostalgia.
But I can’t be too hard on her. After all, those pale, mushy, log-shaped potted meats take her back to her childhood in the Philippines, when the hardships of the war and the Japanese occupation were finally over and the Americans came to build naval bases and share their predilection for canned animal products.
In honor of the Filipinos who survived to assimilate potted meat into their diet, may I present the recipe for my mother’s Filipino-style corned beef after the jump:
Filipino style Corned Beef
1 can of corned beef (Note: get the kind that opens like a pop can; the other stuff will rip your hand open on jagged metal)
1 large onion
2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped (Do not used canned. Just don’t do it.)
1 tbsp veg oil
In a medium nonstick skillet, heat the oil and sauté the onions until they are just soft and translucent. Add the tomatoes and cook for another few minutes until they soften. Then add corned beef, which, I won’t lie, will pop out of the can with a “thunk” noise. It won’t be pretty, I know. Add a cup or so of water and break up the meat chunk so it mixes with the tomato and onion. As the meat softens the dish should have the consistency of a stew. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, then season with salt and pepper. Serve over white rice. It’s perfect in cold weather, cheap and tasty.