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From corn starch to fruit bats to stinging nettle, returned missionaries share food stories

Mission experiences with food are often some of the most memorable

Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, March 13 2013 3:00 p.m. MDT

The banana slices were followed by some ketchup and topped off with some grated cheese. The whole thing didn't look very appetizing, but I had learned that I had better eat my evening meal (tea) and be grateful. I sprinkled a little salt and pepper on it and then ran into my room to get my camera to take a picture.

I hope I didn't offend my landlady, but I knew my family wouldn't believe me without a photo. I must say, it tasted pretty good.

I never learned what it was called so I named it Australian Surprise.

— Phil Blackwell, Orem, Utah

Most Latvian food is quite plain and simple. They eat a lot of soups with very little meat in their diet.

Most of the time we were feeding others. Some of the favorite American dishes that we prepared were chicken enchiladas, taco soup and chili.

Once, Sanita and Santa, twin young single adults, wanted to fix us a traditional Latvian meal. They said we were going to have soup and they would bring the special ingredients. Our contribution of vegetables, potatoes and small portions of meat was rather predictable. We were curious about what they were going to bring.

Their secret ingredient was something they picked up on the side of the road as they traveled from the country to the city.

As they carefully removed the "weeds" from their bag, they told us not to touch anything because it might bite us. These weeds looked vaguely familiar but we weren't quite sure what this last ingredient was. They showed us how to only use the bottom sections that were picked in the spring. They carefully poured boiling water over the weeds three times before adding them to the broth.

We wanted to know what kind of soup we were eating and Google Translate wasn't helping very much. Finally the Internet told us what we had for dinner with our two Latvian friends. We were eating stinging nettle soup.

And, no, it didn't bite a bit.

— Ron and Brenda Jacques, Tremonton, Utah

I'm a very picky eater, so even though I served my mission stateside in the Pennsylvania Harrisburg Mission (2000-02), I was still served food I did not enjoy. I genuinely tried to eat what our generous members provided us and came away liking many foods I previously would have turned down.

One evening we were invited into the home of a couple who took care of foster children along with their own kids. They had been busy that day and picked up some Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner. It was nothing that most people would turn their nose up at. I hear KFC makes some spectacular coleslaw, though anything with cabbage is not among my list of palate-friendly foods.

At this particular time this member couple were caring for a toddler whom I was seated next to at the dinner table. I had been given coleslaw with my meal because who doesn't like coleslaw?

In an attempt to avoid insult, while the other adults were away from the table I moved to spoon my coleslaw onto the toddler's plate. I was sure I was sneaky enough to evade detection. I only managed one spoonful when I heard from the doorway, "Elder Butler! I saw that!"

This sweet sister had turned around just in time to see my vain effort to place the blame on her foster child.

Thankfully, that experience came relatively early on in my mission and I learned tactful honesty was much better than deception and subterfuge.

— Dave Butler

The first and foremost fact that you need to understand is that I hate cantaloupe. On the other hand, I love watermelon.

When summer came to the California Anaheim Mission (1991-92), where I served Spanish-speaking, and I found out that every house we went to wanted to serve me "Agua de Melon," or cantaloupe-flavored water, I was, well, a little disappointed. However, having been prepared to be offered cow brain and cow eyeball tacos by my MTC teachers, I was relatively relieved to just get cantaloupe water. Not wanting to offend, I quickly came to a sort of truce with this cantaloupe water. My strategy was down it as quickly as possible.

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