Buried Treasures: Swiss Steak

We bought a house! Now we just need to move into it, made far easier by our intrepid realtor getting the deal done with a bit of over-lap between apartment and house. My free time is now spent schlepping boxes to the new place, and reveling in having time to organize it just right.

Because I’m neurotic, I’ll just own that here, I always clean a place before I move into it, no matter how clean it looks. I feel better if me, my sponge, rubber gloves, and our good friend, Bleach, have given everything a once-over. Yesterday we all went over and started on the kitchen, wiping out the cupboards in preparation for lining the shelves, and what to my wondering eyes should appear in the tucked-away corner cupboard but this little stash of forgotten treasures:

Buried Treasures
Buried Treasures

A full set of Ginsu knives! Fondue pot with Sterno! A can of Budweiser Paul will want exorcised from the house (Fr. Mark, I hope you do house blessings). But what I loved most was the well-used old electric skillet thingy. How many delicious meals came out of that? Because except for the color, I think it’s the same one my mother had. Hers was, of course, avocado green since it was born in the 1970s.

Following my nose from the front door to the kitchen, it was a good day to come home and find the electric skillet on the counter, nearly as good as opening the door to the scent of chili, or a big pot of beans and ham hocks bubbling away on the stove. It meant two things: my mother was up and active that day, and something particularly tasty was nearly ready to serve. Pot roast and Swiss Steak are the two things I best recall simmering in my mother’s avocado green electric skillet.

“What on earth is Swiss Steak?” asked Charlotte when I sent her the photo. I never incorporated it into my own cooking repertoire because it wasn’t one of my favorite childhood dinners. Though it was delicious in flavor, it contained two of my then-least favorite ingredients.

The flavor of my childhood.
The flavor of my childhood.

“It’s some cut of cheap beef, usually round steak, pounded within an inch of its life, seasoned, floured, seared and then simmered in a tomato gravy. My mum served it with mashed potatoes, which was my favorite part. But my mum made hers with big, gloppy, stewed tomatoes and green bell peppers, both of which I hated, so I would dramatically scoop them off of my plate and dump them on my mum’s, complaining the entire time.”

“Sounds about right – no one likes stewed tomatoes.”

No one except the grandmother Charlotte never knew, but from whom she inherited slender, elegant feet, perfect teeth, and beautifully arched eyebrows (though not the ability to cock one independently, which my mother did at me often, and to terrifying effect).

“I’d give a lot to have a dish of that now, though. I’d even hide the green bell peppers so she thought I ate some.”

Maybe once we’re settled in I will attempt my own Swiss Steak and if it’s good, I’ll make it for Charlotte when she next visits, though with noodles rather than potatoes (she hates potatoes – still haven’t figured that one out, what with all the Irish); she can taste a bit of my childhood while imagining her mother as an impossible middle-schooler complaining about abundance and a meal prepared with love, as children do the world over, never knowing in their innocence how much they’ll miss it once it’s gone.

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