Monday, October 13, 2008
Of Victory Gardens and Slumgullion
We have garden plots in town that are leased to green thumbs who have no property on which to garden. They were busy folks today, hustling like ants on a hill, anticipating a freeze that will surely take their gardens down. Watching their efforts triggered memories of the community gardens I knew as a child. Victory gardens - war gardens - were planted wherever there was vacant land, even on rooftops, to help reduce pressure on a heavily rationed food supply. The gardens actually produced 40 % of the vegetables and legumes consumed during WWII and one of the first signs I was able to read as a child was the slogan "Grow More in 44." Digging was done with a pitch fork and water was hauled by the bucket; it was hard, hard work and most of it was done by women. If you had a car chances were you had no gasoline, so my Mom would load her gear into a red wagon and drag it, and us, to the drained swamp where our garden was grown. She carried my brother on her hip and her right side was always damp. Soakers - heavy crocheted diaper covers - didn't quite do the trick and rubber and synthetic substitutes were strictly rationed - there were no rubber pants. We would spend an hour or two in the garden and start home when Mama, whose hip was by this time wet and dirty, would smile and say, "Sufficient to the day." Indeed it was. We were never hungry - we never felt unsafe. She was our taproot.
Meals during the war years were plain affairs. You made do with what you had and Slumgullion - a ground or cubed meat casserole extended with anything that was available - made a weekly appearance on most dinner tables. The name pretty much says it all. The funny part of all this is that Slumgullion is the precursor to the ground meat casseroles that are popular today. I can't look at Hamburger Helper without smiling. Today's recipe came from the back of an Uncle Ben's rice box back in the sixties. They called it California Rice Skillet and, as you've probably guessed, it's Slumgullion putting on airs. I can't tell you how many teens or church groups this recipe has fed and while I know this is going to take a leap of faith - this recipe is worth trying. I'm going to call it Slumgullion for nostalgia's sake; you might prefer California Rice Skillet. Whatever you call it, it's a 45 minute wonder that's nice to have in the recipe file. This is also a great filling for stuffed peppers - a truc (trick) passed on to me by my first born.
Slumgullion - California Rice Skillet
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 green pepper, chopped
1 pound ground beef or turkey
1 cup rice
3 beef or chicken bouillon cubes, crushed
1 teaspoon ground dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 (14.5-oz.) can stewed tomatoes, drained
2 cups water
1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1) Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion, garlic and green pepper; saute until wilted. Add meat meat and brown. Stir in rice, bouillon cubes, dry mustard and black pepper; toss to coat rice. Stir in stewed tomatoes. Add water. Bring to a simmer: cover pan and cook for 25 minutes, or until rice is tender and water absorbed.
2) Sprinkle cheese over top. Cover; let stand until cheese melts, about 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley. Yield: 4 to 5 servings.