Aunt Clarice was an excellent cook. I’m sure she and my mother got their special culinary education in French cuisine from their mother, Maria.
Since my Uncle Augie was a company man and wasn’t on a time clock for the Rolland Glass Plant, he had an hour for lunch at noon. The glass plant was only a few blocks down the street, so he came home for lunch every day. I was frequently invited to join them for lunch, which I often did. My father was a glass cutter at Adamston Glass Plant and was paid for each piece he produced; his time was of the essence. He carried his noon meal to work and took only 1/2 hour for lunch. Hence, we had our big family meal in the evening when my father returned from work.
I have always been at least a few pounds overweight—I presume my weight problem started during these early years, when I ate a big meal at noon at Aunt Clarice’s and another big meal at home in the evening.
At one of these noon meals with Aunt Clarice and Uncle Augie, I had my first encounter with frog legs. The dish in the center of the table was a turkey platter heaped high with frog legs.
As I watched the muscles of the frog legs contract and appear to jump in the pan, I was quite reluctant to try them. However, being aware of just how delicious everything that Aunt Clarice cooked was, I did relent.
I don’t remember that you could buy frog legs in grocery stores in those days, but I do remember our fathers and uncles going out at night to “gig” frogs.
We always had lettuce salad with our big meal and after the lettuce was washed it had to be dried so the dressing would cling to each leaf. There was a small porch off the Malfregeot kitchen door and Aunt Clarice could frequently be seen standing there shaking water drops in the grass below as she swung the wire basket to and fro.
Turtle soup was a monumental French culinary delight. The men in French families often “felt” for snapping turtles in local streams. “Feeling for turtles” simply meant that you waded in the stream as you felt beneath the water for submerged turtles. The only problem was that on occasion one might grab at the wrong end of the turtle and encounter a vicious and sharp beak.
On one such outing, Uncle Augie raised his hand from the stream, a huge snapping turtle hanging from one of his fingers. There was an old wives’ tale which proposed that if a snapping turtle bit you, it would not let go until the sun went down. Imagine my chagrin when I contemplated Uncle Augie with that ugly beast holding onto his finger until nightfall. Many of the turtles I saw were large, ugly, vicious and very frightening to a child.
I often watched as my father and uncles cleaned snapping turtles in the basement of our house. First they teased the turtle with a stick until the turtle latched onto it with fury, then the holder of the stick stretched the neck out while someone else chopped off the head. The turtle was then skinned in much the same way as the hide of wild game is removed from the body. After the ordeal, when my father carried the meat to the kitchen, the meat was a pinkish white and looked very much like chicken. It was delicious, either fried, or cooked in soup.
Olga S. Hardman