Celebrations of holidays change in kitchen, too

Did you have a happy Memorial Day? Seems to me a strange question to ask about a holiday originally meant for soberly, somberly remembering our honored wartime dead, doesn’t it? But it has morphed into something very different …
TV ads show crowds of happy kids running around while moms overload outdoor tables with bounty that makes Thanksgiving look positively under-celebrated.  Did you fire up your grill? In those ads, grills are center-stage areas for dads only.
I don’t feel deprived that I’ve never — not as a child or in adulthood — been part of that kind of Memorial Day. Maybe because I can remember back to when the holiday was still Decoration Day, and cemeteries with veterans’ graves came into bloom.
Or maybe because there were always too many ants, mosquitoes and flies to make outdoor eating on such a lavish scale popular — sometimes not even possible. Or maybe because in my family, hot dogs were always boiled, and hamburgers were not flat discs, but large, pan-fried meatballs with chopped up onion and others of today’s add-ons already inside them.
There was an assumed condiment couple in my childhood and beyond: French’s yellow mustard was a stripe down the center of every hot dog, and Heinz ketchup was pooled next to the burger on every plate. But TV ads celebrating this year’s Memorial Day have shown me the breakup of that long, happy marriage.
Two new shidduchs have been announced: Heinz is introducing its own yellow mustard, and French’s has unveiled its own ketchup!
In my family, the original pairing has always been honored, as has been one other kitchen staple, celebrated by my dear Aunt Esther in an unnecessarily written “recipe” for egg salad that is nothing but a short list — chopped-up boiled eggs, salt, pepper and mayonnaise — followed by what amounts to an order: “We Always Use Hellman’s!”  I had two children of my own before I even realized there were other brands!
I must say that in later years I was tempted by Kraft, whose mayonnaise jars looked suspiciously like Hellman’s but cost somewhat less. I never gave in.
However, I was never even tempted to put a bottle of ketchup other than Heinz on the table, although in the privacy of my kitchen, I found it a perfectly satisfactory money-saver to use a supermarket house brand for cooking. (I did, however, always store this intruder on the lowest door shelf of the refrigerator, with the label turned away from any potentially prying eyes.)
The new additions to our already overburdened store shelves remind me how much smaller our choices were in those “olden days.”  Or in same cases, we had alternate choices, but consumers spoke with their cash, and that would end the competition.
For example: If you were a kosher cook who liked solid shortening for frying, you might have used Crisco, or you might have chosen Spry instead. Spry?  How many today can even recognize the name?  (True confession:  I still keep a well-covered small can of Crisco tucked in the back of my fridge, to be used for greasing a very occasional baking pan. But no merchant I’ve asked can remember ever selling Spry…)   And I’ve also searched in vain for Junket, a creamy dessert mix that lost popularity and place on the pudding and gelatin shelves a half-century ago.
Today you can buy its “secret” ingredient, rennet, in tablet form, but the prep is no longer as fast and simple as using a box of Royal or Jello.
And so it goes. Times change.  Holiday customs change. Food offerings change. We’ll have to wait a while to find out if Heinz yellow mustard can eclipse French’s, or if French’s ketchup has a chance to outsell Heinz. But we already know that Memorial Day has become primarily a celebration of renewed life with food, rather than a somber day of remembering the fallen with flowers.

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