The Great Celery Discovery

“This is like your childhood’s greatest hits, isn’t it?” I asked Sister #3 as she gleefully dove fork first into last night’s Family Dinner. She grinned at me around a mouthful of something my mom calls hamburger hotdish or sometimes goulash and still other times spaghetti with short noodles.

By Minnesota definitions it is most definitely NOT a hotdish. There is no cream of soup involved and therefore unworthy of the title. Basically this meal is ground beef browned with onions, elbow macaroni, Hunt’s Italian tomato sauce, and ketchup stirred together and baked. It was one of the few meals my mom made us when we were kids.

As I might have mentioned before, my waitress mom and my short-order cook dad rarely prepared meals. We were raised on a steady diet of fast food, pizza, and meals at the local Country Kitchen where my parents worked. Our meals were chosen on a day-to-day basis, decisions made by how much my mom made in tips.

A home-cooked meal was a special and rare treat. There were occasions where my parents had enough money to actually grocery shop and would decide we were going to eat at home all the time. This usually lasted about a week. Our house was not the place for juice, fresh fruits and vegetables, or anything remotely healthy-like. We did have all the sugary cereals you could eat and fixings for bologna sandwiches.

In fact, until I got to college I had never even tried broccoli, cauliflower, or any vegetable that wasn’t canned by Del Monte, and even then it was limited to peas and corn. My mom has a very limited palette and thus that is how we grew up.

So last night as Sister #3, who has the same taste in food as our mom, chattered happily about the delicious hamburger “hotdish” she talked about how she tried to make it herself but couldn’t never get it quite right.

My mom started talking about the recipe and the importance of adding chopped celery to the hamburger as you brown it.

“What?” I screeched in disbelief. “You add celery?”
“Yeah,” my mom said. “That’s the way my mom made it.”
“I’ve never seen you chop celery in my entire life,” I said.
“I always add celery, Jod,” Mom said, because she’s the only person on Earth who can call me Jod without getting lectured.
“No way,” I said.
“Yes she did,” my dad said backing her preposterous claim.

When I looked to Sister #3 for support she just shrugged and said, “I didn’t know about the celery. That’s probably why mine never tastes right.”

This claim of celeryness blew my mind. Since the power was out in Portland, Sister #2 + Fam were not available to Skype. So I took to the text, where Sister #2 verified the lack of celery and fresh food in general during our childhood despite what our parents were saying.

I’m not sure why the celery has thrown me for such a loop. Maybe because I have zero memory of my mom ever chopping celery and as the oldest kid I helped cook dinner whenever there was dinner to be cooked. And I have the kind of good memory that borders on creepy, just ask any of my friends. I’m convinced I wouldn’t have just forgotten it, and yet now I’m questioning everything I ever knew.

Celery, man. I’ll never believe it.

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