When trying to get suspicious toddlers to eat something new, it helps to have a very, very short list of "no way will I eat it’s" of your own. Thankfully, my list is really, really short.
I can eat angel food cake, marshmallows, trout, pickled beets, and texas squash if I want to -- though not mixed together -- but I choose not to. The deal-breakers for me are Sunkist Fruit Chews -- SHUDDER -- and rhubarb.
I have vivid memories of being a very young child bopping around Mom’s kitchen when she was boiling some poor innocent vegetable to death. The smell of rhubarb was enticing -- sweet, but mostly sour, and I’m a sucker for both. But the taste -- well, yikes. Talk about being taken in by the sirens’ song; the taste is in no way related to the delicious sour-sweet smell which permeated the kitchen those decades ago. Blechh.
Now my little brother Bocci has an interesting deal-breaker food: tomatoes. The fact that he is a chef makes this even more difficult to work around. I understand that he has made peace with this particular fruit, though he will never pick one off the vine and devour it, as I will. But as a teenager (and a large, hungry teenager he was) he would sooner have eaten dung.
My parents went away for a weekend one time, leaving Bocci, who was the last to leave the nest, to fend for himself. At the time my maternal grandparents, Mormor and Papa (it’s a Swedish thing) were living across town from us. Mormor, bless her heart, was not very well in those days, but insisted upon cooking dinner for Bocci that Saturday night. Mom said okay, but with reservations because of how fragile Mormor was. "Just don’t give Bocci any tomatoes," she warned Mormor. "He’ll eat anything, but he won’t touch tomatoes."
Now the following could explain the profound stubborn streak which threads through my family bloodlines on my mother’s side. It came from Mormor.
When Bocci sat down to eat the dinner Mormor proudly served, he nearly gagged. It was "tomatoes on parade." Tamale pie, rife with tomatoes. Green salad chock full of tomatoes. And, worst of all, tomato aspic, a revolting gelatinous mass prettily disguised by the copper pan it was molded in. It looked like blood Jell-O.
Bocci refused to eat. I guess Mormor was sure he’d be so hungry he’d cave in, decide he DID like tomatoes, tell her how wise she was, and be forever in her debt for expanding his culinary horizons. NOPE. I think he just went home and ate a box of cold cereal out of a Big Gulp cup.
But what about the rhubarb, you ask? Oh, impatient souls, I haven’t forgotten you. A few years later after Bocci had gone off to school, Mantel Man came home on leave from the Navy. Mormor invited the two of us over for dinner. We joked on the drive over about Bocci’s tomato nightmare, but since we both liked tomatoes we weren’t worried (I was worried about her boiling technique, which reduced broccoli to pablum). She made her pineapple chicken, and all was well (other than the broccoli-like substance, anyway) UNTIL . . .
DESSERT. Mormor had, in her younger days, been known for fabulous apple pies. Making a pie from scratch is a challenge even to the healthiest individual, and she was quite limited by this time, so I was not surprised to notice that she had bought a pie instead. As she busied herself in the kitchen, Papa asked over his shoulder, "What kind of pie is it, Esther?"
"Oh, I bought it at Holiday Market today. It looked pretty good."
"Is it apple?" Papa asked, a little annoyed at her for evading his question. I sensed something was up, and shot Mantel Man a glance.
"They have good pies there," Mormor continued, again dodging the question. One or two more evasions and Papa was cranky.
Mormor put a generous slice in front of Papa. I could see the pie’s pink filling oozing from the cut. OH NO – RHUBARB! I shot Mantel Man another look, and kicked him under the table. This last move was very risky on my part, as Mantel Man is famous for turning to people who kick him under the table and barking, "WHY ARE YOU KICKING ME UNDER THE TABLE?!" But I think he was just as horrified as I – NOT apple. Rhubarb.
“This doesn’t look like apple, Esther,” said Papa, prolonging my agony as the shrieking violins from the Psycho shower scene rang in my ears.
"It's rhubarb," Mormor finally admitted."
“Just a tiny sliver for me, please, Mormor?” I choked it down. Never did learn why Mormor was being so furtive about the pie, though I know how much Papa loved apple pie, and how much Mormor didn’t like disappointing Papa. I suspect that even Papa heard horror flick music in his head at the thought of rhubarb pie.
Mormor died a few short months after that dinner. I’d like to blame the rhubarb, but the truth is her heart had just had enough. But I will always believe that she had been tipped off that I didn’t like rhubarb, and she was gonna make me learn to like it, by golly. I can hold out a long time, however; I got my stubbornness from Mormor.