Food & Other Important Things

 The Christmas Season of 1936

 by Don Curto

General Motors Corporation is in possible danger of going out of business. Can you imagine?
But GM has been in big trouble before. This is a company that tends to cause its own serious problems. It also is a company that thinks it is bigger than the nation. At one time, Charles E. Wilson, president of GM, said: “What’s good for GM is good for the country.”
Wilson left GM to become Secretary of Defense in the Eisenhower administration. The man who said that later gave a somewhat oblique apology for the statement, but I thought then and think now he really believed his first statement. It’s been an arrogant company from the days when it ruled the automobile world, and it would appear it continues the same this year.
I am not knowledgeable enough to know whether it is wise to give them the $25 billion they want. It is fair, I think, to note that GM in recent times has been building some very fine automobiles. It also is fair to note that GM was forced there by the Japanese. I hope GM understands that life goes on, and age does not guarantee immortality.
The holiday season of 1936 was not a great year—anywhere. And it, like 2008, certainly was not a great year for General Motors. Right after Christmas and into 1937 was the time of the great Flint sit-down strikes ,which validated the power of the fledgling United Auto Workers union. In short, the union guys beat the hell out of the GM giant because they were tougher and smarter—but mostly smarter. I mention this because, in a small way, my family from Calumet—that tiny village that refuses to die—was involved. Two of my father’s sisters married two of the Bronzo men.
When today’s Calumet still was known as Red Jacket (it did not officially become Calumet until 1929, the same year the Vatican became a city-state), the Bronzo men moved to Flint where they both prospered.
Peter, the older brother, ran a small farm and bought and sold valuable properties just south of the city. Tony, married to my aunt Ann, opened a restaurant close by one of the main gates to the Fisher Body plant Number One. I visited the restaurant just once in 1935, and about the only things I remember are the place was very busy with auto workers and my plate had too much food on it.
When the sit-down inside of the plant first began, GM announced no food or anything could be given to the striking workers inside. Someone in the GM administration realized that inside the plant were 3,000 men who could do great damage to valuable machinery. The food ban was lifted and the union set up a large kitchen to feed strikers. In addition to this, local people provided what they could. Tony’s restaurant sent in food every day of the forty-four-day sit in. As far as I remember, the restaurant continued to be successful. It’s amazing how small towns can be so important in big issues.
Too much money and too many subordinates who only tell you what they think you want to know can get a guy in big trouble. When this happens for too long, a big company like General Motors can become a General Mess.

Some un-Christmas-like things
Even the good side of the bad year of 1936 had a small disaster built into it. I am sure, against some tough odds, my parents bought me a new bicycle from the Gamble Store on Washington Street for Christmas and it was a surprise, too. I am not sure of prices, but I think it cost almost $30, a big pile of money in those days.
I no longer believed in Santa Claus, but my parents did, so the bicycle was set up late at night next to the Christmas tree in the small living room of our house at 821 North Third Street. If I lifted my head just right while I was in bed, I could see, barely, into the living room. About 4:00 a.m. on Christmas Day, I awoke, looked toward the living room, and saw the glint of light on the fender of the bike.
Not being able to wait until morning when my parents got up, I went to the living room—and sure enough there was the gleaming bike, chrome fenders, red frame, black tires with white sidewalls. It was on its stand that looked pretty sturdy to me. So up I went and started slowly to pedal, as the rear wheel was off the ground.
I bet I hadn’t gone a tenth of a mile when the bike and I tumbled over, making a mighty big noise. I will not repeat here what very un-Christmas-like things my father said, except to note they were fairly frightening words from a man who almost never raised his voice nor said anything unpleasant. I recovered from my fall, which caused no damage to the bike, and once more my parents tolerated me. This seems to be one of the principle tasks of parents.
And in Flint, General Motors capitulated to the new union in February 1937. There was joy in the workers’ union and clenched teeth and determination amongst the GM executives.

It wouldn’t be the holiday season if I did not pass on a couple of recipes. This year, these two recipes are selected for low cost, but high taste and simplicity in preparation. The macaroni and Feta cheese looks so simple it is hard to guess how good it tastes. Try it and see.

Elbow Macaroni and Feta Cheese*
1 pound of high quality elbow macaroni
1 cup crumbled bulk Feta cheese
1/4 pound of unsalted butter
Cook macaroni, put in warm bowl, keep warm.
Sprinkle the crumbled Feta cheese over the warm macaroni and toss until well mixed.
Melt butter until lightly browned then quickly sprinkle over macaroni and serve. This dish can take a good amount of fresh coarse black pepper.
*To make this simple dish elegant, and a little more expensive, use a small amount (about three slices) of very thinly sliced Prosciutto (Italian dry cured ham), chop it coarsely and add with the browned butter. In the Marquette area you can get Prosciutto at the Vineyard and possibly at the Marquette Food Co-op.

Fettuccine with Chicken Liver Sauce
A very traditional Italian dish, sometimes served with gnocchi.
Today’s supermarkets have chicken livers, frozen and nicely cleaned, at modest prices. Liver is nutritious and very tasty prepared properly.
One pound of good quality (Italian) fettuccine cooked and held warm.
1 pound of frozen chicken livers, thawed.
4 ounces of unsalted butter (No, you may not use margarine. I do not consider margarine an edible food product.)
One quarter cup of dry Marsala wine. Among other places, you can get Marsala at Econo Foods. This semisweet wine keeps well in a dark, cool place and you will find many other uses for it. It also drinks well, at occasions where you would use Port.
1 large fresh sage leaf shredded or 1/2 tsp dried sage. Actually the dried sage gives more flavor.
1/2 cup of whipping cream. I prefer Jilbert’s because, to date, it does not have any additives as do most of the other brands.
2 tbls finely chopped fresh Italian parsley. Containers of dried “parsley flakes” are best used on icy steps and walks because they certainly add no flavor to food.
Cut the livers into three or four pieces and sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, melt the butter and sauté the livers on medium heat just until the raw redness is gone.
Pour on the Marsala, raise the heat to medium high and reduce liquid by cooking two or three minutes. Lower heat and add sage.
Stir cream into the livers and bring to boil. Reduce heat at once and simmer for about two minutes. Pour over the pasta, toss and garnish with parsley.

Last week, Alltel had a sale on the famous Blackberry—cell phone, camera, computer and home to even more magical functions. It has a keyboard slightly larger than the new forty-two-cent postage stamp. Trading in an ancient cell phone (five or six years old), my significant other couldn’t resist the chance to get into the big time.
So, she wishes to announce to the civilized world that she now has both requirements to become either a radio or television pundit. Requirement 1: own a Blackberry. Requirement 2: be able to “deliver opinions in an authoritative manner, usually through the mass media.” Telephone me and I will set up an appointment; pundits do not do their own secretarial work.

Thanksgiving Day is only days away. It is just past 8:00 a.m. and as I look out of my study window, snow is coming down heavily, a fairly strong wind is blowing and the surface of the pond is beginning to freeze, leaving less and less open water.
The ducks continue to come every morning, making those graceful landings. Yesterday, I stopped counting at one hundred ducks. Soon the ducks will have to feed elsewhere. The pond will be all ice-covered. Then those red squirrels that didn’t prepare in advance will be frantically racing over the ice, looking to top off their winter hoard.
So, as Tiny Tim said in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, “Don’t eat too much at Thanksgiving dinner and may you have abundant blessings at Christmas.” Or something like that.
—Don Curto

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