I’ve never eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
There. I said it.
Every time I tell someone that little tidbit about myself it is met with stares of disbelief: widening eyes, mouth slightly agape, if they are holding a mug sometimes it will fall from their loosened grip and crash to the floor, coffee with the pungent scent of bourbon splashing about (my friends are drinkers)… People look at me as though I were raised on another planet. “How can you have never eaten a PB&J?” they ask. “You’re lying, you liar! Why would you lie like that?”
But it’s true. I’ve never had that staple of American snacks. I don’t think I had a grilled cheese sandwich until I was in my early teens, either. I’m not one for apple pie or bagels and other people find that distressing as well. For that matter, I’ve never watched an entire episode of the Brady Bunch either. This fact is often met with accusations of being a communist sympathizer.
So the question is, what did I eat?
My folks will be the first to tell you that I was an extremely finicky eater. Everything had to be as plain and boring as a meal at Applebee’s. Hamburgers, just the meat and the bun. Pizza, everything peeled off they slice from the cheese and toppings to the sauce- it may as well have been a tortilla with a hint of tomato. No seafood. I hated trying new things. Luckily much has changed in that respect since my childhood and I am a big fan of food. If it walks on God’s green earth, I’ll probably eat it someday.
The snacks I ate as a child were, despite my Orange County upbringing, rooted in my ancestry. With mom and dad at work all day, my brother and I would spend our days away from school with our grandmother. Our snacks were flour tortillas with butter, bean burritos, or maybe a quesadilla from time to time. Nothing takes me back like a flour tortilla heated over the range until it gets a slightly crispy and flakey texture, then smothered with butter and rolled tightly with a napkin at the bottom to keep the butter from dripping out. Sopa de fideo was another one. It’s just a simple noodle soup but the preparation is distinctly Mexican. You take some vermicelli noodles and brown them up in a sauce pan, from there you add some water and tomato sauce or paste or puree or however you want to make it. It can have onions, ground beef, chili, garlic… it can be made any number of ways but I just remember the way my grandma makes it.
My grandmother on my father’s side, whom I see less frequently, is one of the most amazing cooks who has ever existed. Her tortillas are the stuff dreams and clogged arteries are made of. When you throw them on the skillet, usually a blackened cast-iron pan that has a permanent home over one of the burners on any Mexican family stove, you can actually hear the tortilla sizzle from the amount of shortening she uses. Her tamales, gorditas (smaller, fat tortillas that are either topped or filled with meat, cheese, beans, or whatever you like), her refried beans, they’re to die for. And these were just the simple snacks she made. When it came time for the big events, holidays and birthdays, she really went all out.
Of course there are also the little store bought snacks, some of which I really enjoyed, others I did not. While the ice-cream man did drive through the neighborhood we just as often sought the paleta cart at the park after a soccer game or on a sunny afternoon at Leg Lake park. A cool and refreshing Orange Bang (or Lemon Olé or Piña) was the drink of choice at the Green Burrito before it was purchased by Carl’s Jr. At Super A Foods, particularly the one in Pico Rivera, across from Smith Park, one could get some pan dulce, some saladitas, maybe some Nila wafers or choco-milk to accompany your Pan Bimbo… My mom says she used to like the pickled pig’s feet as a child but I just think that is pretty wretched.
So I may not know PB&J and I may have been a late comer to grilled cheese sandwiches, but I knew all about tortillas with butter, bean burritos and the Chapulin Colorado.