I was born in Trenton and grew up in Hamilton Township. Marrying my husband and moving to the mountains of New Jersey I did suffer a bit of a cultural shock. I would stop at McDonald’s and eat before going for dinner with my husband’s parents because I never knew what she’d be serving for dinner.
I was from an Italian family and raised on pasta and hoagies. I was not accustomed to squirrel potpie, venison, rattlesnake, frogs’ legs etc. that was customary fare for my husband’s family. He was raised living off the land for the most part and they ate what they caught, trapped or killed. But it didn’t take long before I realized this was where I belonged, (culinary eccentricities excluded)! I still don’t eat rodents with fluffy tails, rattlesnake or frog legs.
I learned early on as owner/operator of a campground that mealtimes are never on schedule and sometimes are skipped altogether. Because there was no kitchen facility at the office, there was no way to fix a meal while working. When you go into work at 8:30am and leave often at 11pm, and candy bars are the only edible snack in the store, you must improvise.
When my son was only 5 years old, I was working in the office. He had breakfast before we left the house, but before I knew it, he was complaining that he was hungry. I was busy signing in campers, answering phones and working in the store so I kept promising him that I’d go home and fix lunch as soon as things slowed down.
After repeatedly coming in and asking if it was time to leave, I glanced up at the clock and was appalled to see it was already 3:30 and the poor child was starving. I was still quite busy with people and phone calls, so I decided this was as good a time as any to teach him how to fend for himself.
I grabbed a yellow “stick it” note, drew a microwave on it and colored the necessary buttons to press. Then I handed him the house key and told him where to find a corn dog in the freezer. I stuck the note on the front of his shirt and told him to get a corn dog and press the colored buttons.
He did as he was told and returned full and satisfied and quite proud of himself. The yellow “stick it” note with the “recipe” for cooking corndogs remained on the fridge for months!
After that, we decided to have a campfire in front of the office so that during the slow periods we could cook over the fire. It was the only way to get something to eat before closing at 11 pm since there was no kitchen at the office, and back then, you couldn’t get a newspaper delivered let alone food.
It became a social gathering place for campers, and everyone enjoyed chatting around the fire with their cups of coffee. Being from Trenton, it was a challenge baking on a campfire. And being the true diabetic that I am, I would crave something with my coffee. Rice cakes didn’t make it unless they were coated in caramel, and I hated s’mores. I would try something different every week and by far the favorite was pineapple upside-down cake in tuna cans.
It was a perfect serving for one. Being told I was a type two diabetic; I’d interpret the two as the recommended number of servings! In trying to change my diet from lasagna and hoagies, I decided tuna might be a better alternative. I always kept the cans and ran them through the dishwasher. After all, “waste not want not” and they came in handy not just for baking but for crafts too.
- Spray the can with pam and put one slice of canned pineapple on the bottom.
- Pour a little pineapple juice from the can until the liquid is level with the pineapple.
- Sprinkle a tablespoon of brown sugar and drop a cherry in the center then pour the batter from a boxed yellow cake till the can is two thirds full.
- Set it on top of the grill and tent loosely with foil.
- Cook thirty to 40 minutes till toothpick comes out clean.
- Run a knife around the edges to loosen and turn onto a serving dish.
Voila! Delicious! I later started experimenting with other ingredients and branched out to pecan sticky buns and cherry or peach upside-down cakes.