Tuesday, April 12, 2005


In Which I Explain Why I Hate Pot Roast...

During our little getaway, Her Lovely Self and I dined at a restaurant that fancied itself a purveyor of Dutch cuisine, whatever that is. I ended up with a dish of "spiced Dutch beef" which I thought would perhaps be some kind of pepper steak or, at worst, a tricked-out variation of Italian beef, which I consumed by the pound in thousands of drippy sandwiches during my time in Chicago.

But then the dish arrived and I saw the "Dutch beef" for what it was: pot roast.

I hate pot roast.

I suppose it's somewhat sacrilegious to admit this, given that I am from New England and so should therefore love such dishes as "Yankee pot roast," but I don't. I also don't care for clam chowder or lobster either. So much for my solidarity to regional cuisine.

But pot roast. Ugh. Really cannot hate it enough.

Of course, my hatred stems from childhood (doesn't everything?). I remember--and if I had forgotten, I would have been reminded numerous times while my parents were here--that I was a stubborn, picky eater. This often left me sitting at the dinner table well past suppertime, staring sullenly at a cold plate of chops or beef stew, or whatever it was I was determined not to eat.

This left my dad in a state of apoplexy. He was and is an omnivore. On the farm where he grew up, the family was just poor enough that you were grateful for whatever food you got, and sometimes what you got was pretty weird shit: dandelion greens, possum, woodchuck, anything that happened to get run over in the dirt road out in front of the farm. So you can imagine what he would make of a little boy who refused to eat beef stew, and who so hated peas that, rather than give in and eat them, he opted to stuff them up his nose (8 in one nostril, 7 in the other. Mom had to pin me to the floor and extract them with tweezers).

The peas came from our acre of garden. Wherever we've lived, my dad has always planted a garden, and probably always will. To him there was nothing better than eating food you had seen to yourself. And even I have to admit that we grew some pretty amazing sweet corn when I was a kid. Unfortunately, we also grew turnips and radishes and onions and cauliflower and, well, pretty much every vegetable I hated. Not my dad, though. He was God in the garden, and loved all his children equally.

But there was one thing he hated: four-legged pests.

If my dad were in charge of classifying wildlife, he would have just one category for Varmints, and in it he would include porcupines, raccoons, rabbits, woodchucks, squirrels, possums, and our neighbor's cat, which had a taste for green pepper plants. As a boy, my dad was trained to hunt down and kill any and all varmints that might find their way into the barn, the henhouse, the garden. And when he had so thoroughly eliminated all traces of varmint presence in and around the farm, he took to hunting critters down in the surrounding woods. As a lad, my dad was well known not just for his marksmanship, but also for the Hills Bros. coffee can he carried, and into which he would place the severed nose of every varmit he caught and killed (the State of New Hampshire used to pay a 15-cent bounty on every porcupine nose you brought to the game warden, so there was some financial incentive for keeping these morbid little trophies. Or so my dad says).

As a grown man, Dad's hatred of varmints turned into genuine pathology. One of my earliest memories is of digging potato holes around dusk one evening. Dad was digging holes, into which I would drop potato halves. Without a word, Dad suddenly tore across the garden, shovel in hand. About 10 yards distant, at the perimeter of the field, a luckless porcupine was ambling by. Both Dad and varmint disappeared behind a bush and a second later I heard the thwong of metal on prickly flesh. Like a spiny baseball, the lifeless body of that porcupine came flying over the top of the bushes, landing back in the garden. Dad buried it where it fell. When woodchucks showed up, my dad set all kinds of interesting traps, just waiting for the furry perps to break into the garden. Raccoons were pretty infrequent, but when they showed up, it could sometimes turn into a mighty battle of the wits.

In fact, one year, we had a raccoon that had cleaned out an entire stand of Indian corn in one night. My dad tried all the usual tricks--laying newspaper in the rows, putting a radio under a wheelbarrow out in the garden and letting it play all night. Finally, he bought a second-hand electric fence and staked out the entire garden. Although the fence did a good job of keeping me and my brother out of the garden, the raccoon managed to defeat even this measure. Each morning, we'd wake to find something new had vanished from the garden.

After about two weeks of this classic struggle of man against nature, my dad had had enough. One evening after supper, he got a shotgun and a lawn chair and went on stake-out, positioning himself at the east end of the garden, which commanded a view of the full acre as well as the woods on one side, the side from which the raccoon was most likely to come.

Dad spent two nights outdoors, waiting with all the patience of a saint (well, a saint with a rifle). Finally, on the third night, just after my brother and I had gone to bed, we heard the thunderous BOOM of the shotgun. Then we heard laughing and hooting. We ran to our bedroom window and opened it, yelling to my dad. Presently he came around the back of the house, a shadowy form carrying a giant mass in one hand. It was almost full dark but in the light of our bedroom window, we could see that in this battle, man had won: Dad was carrying the largest raccoon I have ever seen. The thing was as large as a medium-sized dog and was so outsized it looked like some prehistoric creature--the saber-tooth raccoon.

Dad was jubilant. "By Gorry, we got him!" he crowed. "From now on, fresh vegetables will be on our dinner table instead of his!"

And sure enough, at dinner the next night, we had a veritable feast. The garden had been coming in strong so the dinner table was laden with fresh corn, green and red peppers, tomatoes, peas (yuck) and so much more. My parents were in a bright, almost festive mood and so was I, until my mom brought our dinner plates out from the kitchen and I saw that we were having Yankee pot roast.


I crabbed about it, but really, everyone was too happy to pay attention to me. Especially my brother and my dad, who adored pot roast. And there were plenty of vegetables I did enjoy on the table, so I dutifully gulped down the small amount of pot roast I was forced to eat, and then gorged myself on corn. My brother, meanwhile, had cleaned his plate and went for seconds. He took his plate into the kitchen to help himself...and appeared in the door a second later, his face a little pale.

"What--what kind of pot roast IS this?" he asked. "It looks funny."

I was nearest the kitchen and a curious little boy, so I jumped right up and ran into the kitchen to see what he was talking about. There on the platter was the roast. And my brother was right: it didn't look like any pot roast we had ever seen. For one thing, it had the tiniest rib cage...

"Oh no," whispered my brother. "It's--"

"Hey!" called my dad. "Get back in here and eat your raccoon."

I was 6 years old at the time and so did not have the full menu of profanity at my command. If I had, I'm sure I would have yelled something like "Jesus H. Christ, what kind of sick-fuck parents feed their kids a mother-fucking RACCOON?!?!?!?"

But at the time, the best I could manage was a blood-curdling shriek, followed by a keening, wailing, "Yuck-A-DOOOOOOOOOOO-dle!!"

No photograph exists to show the stunned expressions my brother and I were wearing at the moment of realization, but they must have been pretty funny because my dad collapsed on the floor of the dining room, and was laughing so hard that tears actually squirted out of his eyes, something I had never seen before. I couldn't believe it. This was FUNNY to him.

I went up to him, my face the face of the most serious 6-year-old you ever saw in your life. "You mean to tell me you fed us raccoon?" I whispered, hoping it was just a big prank (he WAS laughing a lot).

"No," my dad said, when he caught his breath, and I started to relax. Maybe it was a joke.

"No," he continued. "I didn't mean to tell you. But you ARE eating that raccoon."

As we later found out, once my dad had done his victory lap around the darkened yard, my mom appeared, dragging the trash bucket out of the garage. She held open a bag for Dad to dump the body into, but inspiration hit him.

"This sumbitch has eaten half my crop," he told her, shaking the dead raccoon at her. "By Gorry, I'm gonna harvest those vegetables one way or the other!"

Upon reflection, I don't know which is more disturbing: that my dad arrived at this decision at all, or that my mom just went along with it, as though devouring varmints was something we did every day. The only glitch in their plan was that my mom had trouble finding a recipe in which raccoon figured as the prime ingredient (imagine!). So in the end, after my dad produced the cleaned and dressed carcass, she decided to treat it like a roast and stewed the ever-loving crap out of it. Then they fed it to their unsuspecting children.


But after the initial shock, even my brother recovered quickly. For one thing, he actually ATE the seconds he had gone into the kitchen to get. My dad finished off the rest, eating a couple more helpings himself before using the leftover meat to make a sandwich for work the next day.

But I didn't eat another thing that night, not even dessert (which was apple pie). And for a long time thereafter, I would hover in the kitchen to watch my mom prepare dinner, just in case she was planning to make porcupine patties or possum stew. I just couldn't get over it (and as some of you may have surmised, I'm still not quite over it yet). It was like something out of a fairy tale, one of the more gruesome ones. And it ruined me on pot roast forever.

So perhaps now you can understand my disappointment at the restaurant a few nights ago, when our server brought me the heaping plate of "Dutch beef."

Her Lovely Self wanted to know why I wasn't eating, but I just couldn't bring myself to tell her--no sense in ruining her dinner too. Instead, I pushed the plate aside and asked our server to bring me the dessert menu. Thankfully, poetically, they had apple pie.

I ordered three slices.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Holy Crap Batman! I don't blame you one little bit for hating pot roast. I'm surprised you didn't become a complete vegetarian. Could the 'dutch' have possibly meant Dutch Oven?
But, Lobster too? Oh, that's just wrong.
Amen for apple pie.
Thanks for the good laugh.
My grandma had a whole clan of racoons in her backyard. Once she thought they had been robbed when they returned from vacation, but when they found her jewelry in the toilet, they knew they had only been raided by the coons.

My dad told my brother when he was five that if he could catch one he could keep one. He was FIVE. My dad thought that there was no way a five-year old could catch a coon. My brother caught one with a bucket, a stick, a peice of string, and a french fry. Be careful what you tell your kids they can do, or you could end up with something wild with very sharp teeth for a pet.

I didn't know racoons could be eaten.
InnersOul, must be from the north of the mason dixon.

As for hating foods, I didn't think it was possible, but then again I never imagined being traumatized like that either.
This is your best story ever! I was howling.

I want to sit next to you at dinner though... I'll take all the lobster, clam chowder, and pot roast you can fling my way.

But you have to take my grits, black-eyed peas, and turnip greens, ok? Right there with you on the non-solidarity to regional cuisine. :)

Can also relate to being a picky eater as a kid - I think the only vegetable I liked was corn. But the thing that had me sitting at the table long after everybody else left was MILK. Ugh.
Man, I thought I had it bad having to eat my dad's Pritikin menu.
Uh, the food, not the actual menu.
I'll eat just about anything, butI hate beets and radishes as well.

I don't know why God created those things.
You ate a raccoon?! That is a frightening experience. I don't blame you for being traumatized. Question: Have you done anything remotely similar to your own kids? I think parenting was extremely different in those days.
Well.....can't be as bad as the stuff seen on fear factor.

I have no idea how I missed this post the first time around, but I did, meaning I have only now discovered the true horror that was your childhood. Well, I mean, the gun thing gave me a pretty good idea, but feeding your children raccoon?

Lord have mercy.
Three Words: Rocky Mountain Oysters. Even after I knew what they were, I still scarfed 'em down (all the while refusing to eat cottage cheese and vomiting on my father's lap if forced to do so.)

And yes, I grew up in the Midwest too -- Kansas, the home of all that is evolutionarily challenged!
This is how I grew up. I actually like squirrel and dumplings. I eat a lot of deer, rabbit, geese and duck.
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