Our Most Memorable Family Meal

What do you do with 10 hungry kids and nothing in the house but flour, spices, and several cans of corn?

Sonia Billadeau March 06, 2014
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It was the busiest time. It was the most broken time. It was a time of worry and invention.

We were a new group foster home, housing up to eight teenaged boys at a time. Kids always arrived at the end of our pay period, but before the next check was cut. It was not uncommon to have two or three new kids arrive one month, but not receive payment for them until two months later. Our budget was extremely tight. All of our kids were good eaters, as well. Our food budget would often exceed $1000 a month.

During this time, we were also fostering a pair of siblings. They were two and three years old and a full-time job. Their eating habits were strange, to say the least, since they had been severely neglected. The only thing they knew was junk food and sweets.

As foster parents, we decided we would spend whatever it took to properly feed all of the kids in our house. We were unprepared for what that meant. My boys could eat several large boxes of cereal a week, three chickens at a meal, and 5 lbs of potatoes at one sitting. Many of our kids had abused alcohol and drugs, and part of their recovery involved feeding them very well. As they came off that other junk, food tasted better to them, and they were always starved.

But, back to the situation; it was bad. The check was late, and the cupboard was bare. Not one to ask for help, I decided to make the best of it. We were assured the check would be there the next day.

I peered into an empty closet and found a few spices, flour, and a couple cans of corn. There were a few other items that were in no way going to help the problem. I believe I’m a moderately good cook, but this would be a challenge. My back-east heritage immediately brought to mind corn fritters. They are delicious, but I had no eggs. No syrup or confectioners sugar to top them either. My husband and I talked. He reminded me of another ethnic dish called “Corn Pie.” He had never made it, but he had eaten it before. After questioning him a while, I gathered that it was a pie crust with corn, onion, hard-cooked eggs, and potatoes inside. He said it was great with lots of bread and butter. Well, we did have bread and butter. However, I informed him that we had no potatoes. There was not an onion in the house– not even a sprouted one we could save. Eggs had gone during the last huge breakfast we’d prepared. I did have flour and a bit of shortening and corn. I had nothing to lose. So, despite not having all the ingredients, I decided to attempt making it.

I put it together, added a few seasonings, and prayed for a miracle. I actually made a very large one corn pie, so I hoped it was edible. The little ones were excited when they heard me say pie. The poor dears had no idea. All day long, they kept asking if we could eat pie yet. It didn’t dawn on me what they were expecting.

They were a really good bunch. They were very understanding. They knew it was a temporary condition; they had never starved at our house. Nevertheless, I apologized for the poor meal.

We sat down at our 12 ft. picnic table, which served as our dining room table. It was quite a motley crew that gathered daily at that table. They were wide-eyed, innocent children– man-boys, too big to be kids, not yet adults. Long hair and rough looks, with rougher pasts. All of them trying to get well together.

I brought out the pie. The guys exchanged looks of doubt. It was much less than they were used to sharing, and it looked different. They were not sure this was actually going to be edible. The tiny ones got huge smiles on their faces. “Pie!” they squealed in unison.

We said grace, thankful there was food of any kind. We cut the pie and served the little ones first, as was the custom. The babies were the first to dig in, and the others watched them, maybe for signs of poisoning, I don’t know. Then it happened.  The expressions on their little faces were priceless. It was pure and simple disappointment. Their little faces dropped when the anticipated sweetness was not delivered. It wasn’t quite a face that said, “Yuck,” but it did ask,” What is this?” Suddenly, everyone burst out laughing. We all started to eat and told each other that it really wasn’t that bad.

Our former foster kids and biological kids talk about this often. Our kids said it wasn’t the best meal I ever made, but the one they remember the most.

That day, we were really a family. My kids learned a lesson in survival. They learned that it’s possible to “make do.”

It was the best thing that could have happened to us all. We were closer than before, with a new respect for each other and each other’s problems.

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Sonia Billadeau


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