I don’t remember ever helping my mom make cheeseburger pie. They say that letting kids help in the kitchen encourages those kids to eat the food they helped to make, but I’m pretty sure my opinion of cheeseburger pie wouldn’t have changed whether I had helped or not. Cheeseburger pie was simply awful.
I recently found the cheeseburger pie recipe while I was going through a family recipe book I had received as a wedding present. Seeing it written out brought back a cavalcade of memories. I could just taste the slightly gritty ground beef, the backbone of the dish. The beef bathed in a slime of ketchup (half a cup!) and evaporated milk. The recipe called for half a cup of diced onions, but we never—I mean not once that I remember—had fresh onions in the house. Instead, Mom used minced dried onions, which were never quite soft enough to just disappear nor quite crunchy enough to add interesting texture. This combination of meat, ketchup, milk, and onions always proved too much for the storebought frozen pie crust, pasty and sodden even after baking. Topped with shredded cheese mixed with just the wrong amount of Worcestershire sauce, cheeseburger pie was the food of my nightmares.
Our dining room wasn’t really big enough to fit our table and, by extension, the four of us kids and my parents. As a result, many nights my parents ate dinner in the living room and watched the news, while we kids were left to our own devices in the dining room. But cheeseburger pie was a dining room meal. We had to pull the table out from the wall, leaving little to no room to get into the kitchen or living room. Moreover, in a household where paper plates were all but ubiquitous, for cheeseburger pie we got out the Pfalzgraff.
My eight-year-old self, picking at the edge of the crust (the only part I deemed edible), didn’t appreciate this opportunity for gathering. Not everyone in my family felt the same way—in fact, cheeseburger pie was a beloved family treat. Whereas I stewed in a puddle of aggrieved tears in the corner of the dining room every time it was served, at least one of my brothers once requested cheeseburger pie for his birthday dinner. (When I asked my older brother just a few weeks ago for his opinion of the dish, he replied, “The nectar of the gods.”) I was the only dissenting voice.
In a weird way, cheeseburger pie means a lot to me. Now, I appreciate the lesson that even in a tightly knit family, tastes differ, and you don’t always get your way. It’s good to try new things that you might not like. I try to teach my kids these lessons every day. But I’ll never feed them cheeseburger pie to illustrate the point.