If you don’t like it, you are not allowed to eat it

I had 3 young friends to tea yesterday. I made meringues and served them with glasses of mango juice.

I took a strong position when I had grandchildren. “If you don’t like it, you are not allowed to eat it.” Announcing that position to young children and their parents is pure joy. The shock! The incredulity! The stunned silence! The entire lack of any statement from anyone that starts “But your grandmother made it…You don’t want it to go to waste…Just 1 taste…You can’t have dessert till you eat your dinner…” No stubborn children staring at a plate of peas and mashed potatoes and liver.

Dinner was VERY IMPORTANT in our house. You could get away with a lot but you couldn’t be LATE FOR DINNER. We all had our jobs around dinner. One daughter set the table and helped any last minute food preparations. The second daughter cleared. The third daughter stuffed (the dishwasher.) Setting the table was a lot like the last minute flight checks a pilot has to make. Proper forks in proper places, the knife blade side toward the plate. Napkin under the fork. Plates at Dad’s place. Carving knife. Carving fork. Carving steel. Salt and pepper shakers. The red glasses filled with milk. Except Mom’s who got water. Serving spoons for the side dishes. Sitting all together. No one hopping up and down. Grace. Serving. Conversing. Finishing our plates. Asking to be excused. Clearing our own plate and glass.

It all seems pretty straightforward, and one of us should have made a list. And we all should have used it, because every night the indignation over …no serving spoon, or no salt in the salt shaker, or no steel. “WHO SET THE TABLE?” Would get us all jumping in our chairs. “WHO FORGOT THE SALT?” incriminated everyone around the table of course. The person who set the table would say grace. Then the food would be served. If something was unlikely to be popular a very small portion would be served. Dad served himself 2 peas, for instance. He could not abide peas. He had worked in the canning factory canning peas, working over vats of steaming peas all day long. The smell did him in.” But he would eat the 2 peas.

There would be no jumping up, no jumping down. There would be conversation. In sentences. Grammatical. No “You knows,” to fill in gaps and give the speaker a moment to figure out how she wanted to end the sentence. If “you know” was said, the speaker had to pay a penny in the James Thurber You Know Bank. No interrupting. And voices had to be modulated. “Lower your voice.”

There were friends that dared to eat at our table. In fact some enjoyed the experience. Tommy liked to eat over. He was a talker, and enjoyed the audience of people around the table for his jokes. He once had to pay an entire quarter into the James Thurber You Know Bank in 1 meal.

Mom served liver sometimes. She liked liver. Dad liked liver. I liked liver. My younger sisters hated liver. We said grace. (Secret gratitude that there was salt in the salt shaker, carving implements properly organized, serving pieces at the ready.) Dad cut translucent slices for the youngest, then the the next youngest. I ate mine, wonderful with bacon and onions and mashed potatoes. My sisters drank their milk. They ate their potatoes. They put the liver in their mouths and stealthfully released it into their now empty red milk glasses. One was clearing. The other was stuffing. No one ever found out, that is, till I heard what they had done long after they couldn’t get into trouble any more.

I love a table with children around it. I am delighted when they talk about what they did that day. On a fortunate day, all the necessary implements are on the table when I sit down. I like the head of the table (a little hard to discern as it is a round table) serving the food in a proper order. But I have taken a strong position: “If you don’t like it you are not allowed to eat it.”

My young friends loved the meringues. I already knew that. They loved the mango juice. We talked about what we would do after tea, and we made a plan. It was just lovely! They are coming back next week.

Liver and onions and mashed potatoes. Peel baking potatoes, 1 for each person and 1 for the pot, being sure to get any dark portions entirely off the potato, and cut them into quarters to cook more quickly. Keep them in cold salted water until you are ready to cook them. Peel and slice the onions into narrow circles. Have 3 plates, one with flour amply salted and peppered, 1 with an egg lightly beaten with a little milk, and 1 with bread or cracker crumbs by the side of your range.

If the potatoes have been soaking, pour off the water and cover them in fresh salted water and bring it to a boil, uncovered. Finish your mashed potatoes before you start the liver. They will keep warm for those last couple of minutes while you cook the liver. When the potatoes are completely tender, pour off the water and mash them, using lots of butter. At the end, add a bit of milk till they are the consistency you like, but not too liquidy. Cover with a dish towel while you make the liver.

In a large cast iron frying pan gently sauté bacon, a slice for each person, and then the onions in the bacon fat. Remove the onions. Put the liver pieces first in the flour, then the egg mixture, finally the bread crumbs and then into the hot frying pan. Cook quickly on both sides, and cut into 1 to make sure it is just cooked through and remove. Put the liver and onions and bacon on a serving pan, the mashed potatoes in a dish, with an extra pat of butter in the middle of the potatoes. Bring them to the dinner table. And remember, “If you don’t like it, you are not allowed to eat it.”

Like what you read? Give Nancy Adams a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.