FOOD! Glorious Food
Philadelphia is considered one of the top locations for great restaurants and fantastic food. I mean, what could be better than an Italian Hoagie, a Steak Sandwich on an Amorosa roll, a couple of soft pretzels and, of course, a Cherry Wishniak Franks soda? I would take these Philly favorite foods over any high-quality restaurant, any day.
There are those who would say I am crazy. “Why,” they say, “would you take peasant food over high-quality cuisine?” I’ll tell you why. I grew up eating what I call “factory workers’ food,” and it was wonderful. Now I have to say my dad did not work in a factory when I was young. He owned a poolroom. But during WW2, he worked at the Budd plant, and later my mom worked at Gerald Electronics. My grandfather worked in the textile business most of his life. So, what we ate was determined by what we could afford and what our ancestors taught our grandparents and parents. I would bet you feel the same way.
The first aspect of eating “factory workers’ food” is that you probably ate supper at 5 PM or, at the latest, 5:30 PM. This was when the factory workers were getting home, and they were hungry. The second aspect was the type of food. This might be slightly different for families that were Irish, German, Italian, Polish, Jewish, Hispanic or African American and so on. In fact, the dishes from all of these households are often cross-pollinated. The younger you are, the more that happens.
I’ll tell you what foods we most often ate and which day of the week we were most likely to find them on my Grandmother and Mothers’ menu. It would be very cool to hear about your eating habits as a kid. So please post in the comments.
I don’t remember eating much cereal, including oatmeal, as a kid. I was born in 1944. The predominant breakfast included bacon or pork roll, eggs, white bread toast or better yet, snowflake or Kaiser rolls from the local bakery. Occasionally we had scrapple, and my brother, Bill and I liked it almost burnt and crispy. When young, we drank milk that was delivered daily. You had to be sure to shake the bottle to mix in the cream that floated to the top. My grandmothers always also had Danish available.
Of course, this depended on where you were for lunch, school or home. It isn’t worth talking about school food, so I’ll tell you what we ate for lunch after playing in the street all morning. My all-time favorite lunch was Lebanon Baloney, American Cheese, Kosher Pickles (the kind in a barrel), Guldens Mustard, topped with Wise Potato Chips and German Rye Bread. Every time I talk about this, my brother Bill, who lives across the bridge in Jersey, goes out and buys the fixing for this sandwich.
Occasionally, we would have some other types of sandwiches like ham and cheese, boloney and cheese, grilled cheese and maybe Campbell's Soup. Soda was the lunch drink, and it varied. If it was after a holiday, my favorite was the leftover Ginger Ale from mixing highballs at a party.
This depends on which day it was, but there were some givens. Sunday always included a roast, mostly roast beef, roasted potatoes, corn, green beans and maybe peas. No salad. There was often no bread at our dinners, maybe because we ate it all at breakfast and lunch. 😊 More likely, it was because my grandmother always had Butter Cake or Crumb Cake for dessert. Mostly they came from Webb’s Bakery on Front Street.
Friday was a given also because my dad grew up Catholic. We had Mac and Cheese. The good homemade kind. Also, canned Tuna with mayo, coffee from the A&P on Front Street, and dad-like pie. But at some point, he got onto a health kick and gave up smoking and drinking and started eating canned fruit salad. I am not sure canned fruit salad was all that healthy.
Thursday was spaghetti night, and it was great. No, it wasn’t the kind of great meal some of our Italian neighbors made, but it was wonderful. My mom had learned how to make the right sauce, and, of course, that made the difference. Beef meatballs with breadcrumbs were the best.
Mondays, Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Wednesdays were open for creativity. My favorite was meatloaf, but we also might have homemade pea soup, homemade veggie soup, meat cakes (also a favorite of mine), baked ham, scrabbled hamburger or fried or baked chicken. Occasionally, we had chicken pot pie or beef pie.
My grandfather liked to eat fish, especially if he caught it, and he often made Flounder. Sometimes he scrambled eggs and puts the flounder in them. Not my cup of tea. Learned from the hard times of his childhood, my grandfather also liked to lay down slices of white bread in a roasting pan. He put tomatoes on top and then played cheese and baked it. It was very good.
Christmas and Thanksgiving were always Turkey days. Of course, that included stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce (canned) and three different pies or cakes. It was the only time of the year that we had Turkey.
Easter was always baked ham with cloves and bathed in ginger ale, potato salad, a couple of veggies and, of course, cake or pie from Webb’s. New Year’s Day was also a baked ham day, but no potato salad, just masked potatoes. Of course, there was plenty of ginger ale from the night before. New Year’s Eve often meant hotdogs and roast beef sandwiches at midnight. My grandmother always had coffee cake and coffee at 12 on New Year’s Eve.
Soft pretzels, TastyKakes, penny candies, 10-cent ice cream cones, soda such as Hire’s Root beer, Pepsi, sometimes Coca-Cola, Frank’s beverages, Yahoo and Bireley’s Orange or Grape drinks were normal. Popcorn, Good and Plenty’s at the movie were highlights, and Hot Tamales, Hersey’s and other candies came with two features, a serial, newsreels, and sometimes a Yoyo demonstration or bike giveaway.
All these foods, and many I probably don’t remember, always came with a family gathering to celebrate a holiday or just to have a meal together. That is the real appeal of the Philly foods I experienced. It was enjoying them with family and friends.
What were your favorite foods? I can tell you that if you post them, the simple act of describing them will fill your brain with fond memories of days long gone.
Post also on The Kensington Neighborhood Alumni group on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/KensingtonAlumnae