The Food (Fat) Pyramid

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) newly released Food Pyramid (found at MyPyramid.gov) has a dozen models geared to different people.  Mama had only one—it was built around FAT.

Mama never saw a fat she didn’t like—except lard.

My earliest recollection as a child is being fed hot cereal every morning.  Mama loaded the cooked cereal with sweet cream and honey.  Her trick was to show me the picture of a bunch of cherries at the bottom of the bowl.  As she fed me each spoonful, she urged me on like a football coach until the cereal was “all gone.”

No Rice Krispies or Corn Flakes crossed our doorstep.  Mr.  Kellogg was not a welcome guest in Mama’s house.  It was Cream of Wheat, then Oatmeal, and finally Wheatena (sometimes Maltex), each twice a week.  Mama never varied this routine, and never cooked on shabes (Saturday).    

Mama had good reason to feed us the fat stuff.  All of her boys were skinny and you could see ribs sticking out like keys on a piano.  She was very determined to fatten us.

Dinner and supper were no stepchildren.  My memories are much clearer after we moved to the farm in New Jersey.  In the winter we shivered and in the summer we sweated.  Food and drink were very important to Mama and us boys.

With plenty of rich milk from our Guernsey and Swiss cows, there was plenty of fat.  No Holstein cow with the standard 3.5% butterfat, 2% lowfat, or skim milk ever sat on our kitchen table.  The rich, dark yellow butter was fully a ¼ inch thick on our thickly sliced pumpernickel bread.  Often we just tore off a piece of bread rather than to take the time to slice it.  We joked about eating “butter and bread” rather than “bread and butter.”

Our cows gave plenty of milk so we made pot cheese that Mama mixed with sweet cream.  There was no gum thickener like you find in “store bought” Philadelphia Cream Cheese.

Each evening, supper was chicken soup and chicken with mashed, baked, or fried potatoes and some form of beans.  The pumpernickel or rye bread was smothered with shmalts (chicken fat) as thick as the butter at breakfast time.  Mama fried onions and put it in the shmalts.  There never could be too much fried onions for us boys. 

Mr. McDonald — you may have those impressive and famous “golden arches,” really fast service, low prices, drive-though service and colorful children’s play areas, but you could never rival Mama’s cooking.

Once a week we had “heldzl,”—stuffed chicken necks.  When we plucked the chickens, there was special care taken not to tear the neck.  When Mama saw torn skin on a chicken’s neck, the veins bulged in her neck.  This was the only time Mama severely admonished us (other than if we dared bring home a B on our report card).

I still can see Mama sewing up the “heldzl” after stuffing it full of mashed potatoes, “shmaltz,” onions, and “matse mel” (matzoh meal).  To this was added plenty of kosher salt and spices.

Papa loved soup.  Chicken soup and other soups were a regular part of our evening meals on the farm.  The chicken soup was loaded with parsnip, for Mama said it made the soup sweet.  Mama never skimmed the fat off of the cooled chicken soup.  I still can remember those beautiful, shimmering, golden globules of fat floating in Mama’s chicken soup.

Most of all I remember Mama’s “gehakte leber” (chopped liver).  There were no string bean substitutes to lower the cholesterol.  We had plenty of chicken livers and hearts to be mixed with the onions and shmalts, and shmalts, and more shmalts.

Today I still am paying with cholesterol-lowering drugs for the high cholesterol food that Mama fed us, but that luscious taste, the “geshmak“ (tastiness) of her hearty farmhouse meals, are still embedded deep in my memory. 

Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have Mama cook me a shabes meal of gehakte leber dripping with shmalts, a loaf of good Jewish rye bread with seeds, a hearty chicken soup in which to dip my bread, and a rich, plump heldzl.

Yes, Zocor, has lowered my total cholesterol down below 150 and my HDL is fine as well as the triglycerides, but it has come at a very high price.  No butter enters our house.  No shmaltz is used in our kitchen.  At the supermarket all cans, jars, and boxes are scrutinized for salt and fat content.

The price is high.  My wonderful Sally does her very best, but without butterfat and shmalts it is like eating cardboard and drinking dishwater.  Maybe later it will make no difference, and Mama can cook for me again.