Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hello Kitty and Ring-Come-Ditty

Stories out of two news reports on the same day:

This morning the shocker was that the head of "Hello Kitty" announced that she isn't a cat. She's a little girl. From London, even.

Silly us. How could we not know? After all these years, yet.

Wait a minute: check the calendar. Nope, not April 1st. Maybe a publicity stunt? How's the corporate bottom line been doing lately?

Let's examine the product again. Hmmmm.... whiskers on each side of the mouth... perky ears on top of the head... yep, looks like all the little London girls I've ever seen all the many times I've been over there. Oh wait: I've never been. Somehow I have managed to live my entire life imagining that all the little girls in London looked exactly like little girls here and elsewhere, resembling cats only on special occasions like Halloween. Apparently, between myself and the head of the Hello Kitty company, one of us seriously needs to get out more.

The other story comes from MPR. It's state fair time. Translation: every media conglomeration in the state is reporting from inside the fair, the number one absolutely mandatory story to cover being fair food. After a panel discussion this noon on good and bad foods, favorites and hates, one speaker opined that we all have one food from our childhood that may not have been good but the nostalgia makes up for it and we continue to enjoy eating it throughout our adult lives.

He got it half right. There is a food from my childhood that - no may about it, simply was not good. The part about nostalgia and continuing to eat it, well, forget that part.

Mom called it ring-come-ditty. Or at least that's how she pronounced it. No clue where the name came from. I have my suspicions where the actual dish came from though: the depression. A lot of Mom's cooking came from there. A breakfast staple, for example, was a slice of white toast on a plate covered with a sprinkle of sugar (a spoonful if we could get away with it) and a bit of milk poured over it, called Yankee Pudding. A few decades ago I heard it referred to as Depression Pudding. But hey, sugar!

Mom's cooking had a lot of hallmarks that I believe hail from the depression. It was cheap, usually had many ingredients from cans, had little flavor, and tended to be seasoned only with salt and pepper. Not too much, though! The only spices  in the house were a few basics used in baking: vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves, nutmeg and ginger for pumpkin pies. Sage came out once a year for turkey stuffing. Words like basil, rosemary, thyme, garlic, peppers, may all have been a foreign language. Onions were occasionally present, not as a spice but as a vegetable, battered and deep fried in rings when there was also fresh-caught fish to go with  it. That she did very well.

Ring-come-ditty was a simple dish, carefully prepared. There were four ingredients, evenly layered in a casserole dish before baking in an oven. The layers were crumbled saltines, stewed tomatoes, cream style corn, and bits of fried bacon. They were repeated, and covered with a final layer of cracker crumbs. Lest you think, "Bacon, yummm!" just be aware that she could manage to do the whole hotdish with at  most 4 slices, or almost enough to actually taste. All the liquids would soak into the bacon, eliminating flavor and crispness, before sogging up the cracker crumbs.

Somehow we ate it. It wasn't spectacularly bad or disgusting, just completely blah. She usually cut the stewed tomatoes into small enough bits that I could choke them down without having to actually chew, and thus taste, them. I guess we were hungry - enough, anyway. Certainly we'd been taught to eat whatever was put before us with no waste and few complaints, a rule that held with only one major exception. Ask me someday about boiled potatoes. They, like ring-come-ditty, are neither served nor eaten any more. And nobody suddenly comes upon hiding places with old dried boiled potatoes, such as the framework under the kitchen table.

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