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Favorite Childhood Foods

Writing this blog has its ups and downs. There are times when I am dry – not an idea in my head, nothing I want to write.

Other times, the future-topics list is so long that the problem becomes choosing. That's what I have now – certainly nothing to complain about.

But yesterday, as I was eeny, meeny, miney, moeing the list, I saw Wednesday's story from Mark Bittman, the lead food writer at The New York Times:

"The comfort food of others rarely appeals to us; it’s our own that matters. I know people who drool at the sight of a bowl of rice, who cannot possibly resist it and, almost needless to say, many people feel the same way about pasta...

"Last weekend I chatted with a third-generation Irishman whose wife is a vegetarian and does the cooking; he sneaks out once a week for meat, potatoes and gravy.

"My younger daughter seeks comfort in white beans with garlic, oil and greens, which I often made for her when she came home from school during a particularly poignant period of our lives.

"Your environment teaches you what comfort food is."

While reminiscing about how childhood Sunday mornings with bagels, lox and cream cheese persist as an adult craving, Bittman then turns his essay into a lament about unhealthy food traditions:

”...when childhood food preferences are formed around foodlike substances that were invented in the last 50 years by scientists and marketers looking to develop 'food' that appeals to that same comfort-craving part of your brain — without any consideration of tradition or quality — that’s a bad situation.”

There's no arguing against that but let's ignore Bittman's high-minded food fit for today and anyway, a whole lot of our homemade childhood favorites aren't much healthier than a bacon double cheeseburger.

Like, for example, macaroni and cheese – at least the way I make it.”

For most of my life, it was a homely, homemade dish that has, in recent years become a staple of supermarket deli departments and shows up even on the menus of a few higher end restaurants. That's cheating. If you don't make it yourself the way mom did, it's not worth eating.

Although Bittman's lox and cream cheese on a bagel is on my list of comfort food too, the one always at the top of my list is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And no, you really don't know what you're talking about if you call it a “PB&J.” (That's a modern innovation of the awful American need to reduce every phrase in the English language to an acronym.)

You gotta say the whole thing – peanut butter and jelly sandwich – and you can't use that nasty stuff that combines the peanut butter and jelly in a one jar. Wrong.

But that's just me.

I don't indulge in any of these three favorites often anymore but when I'm feeling down or blue or tired of living now and then, there's nothing like a big bowl of macaroni and cheese (homemade, my recipe), lox on a bagel or peanut butter and jelly – foods that have been making me feel good since before I can remember.

What about you? Our palates may become more sophisticated when we grow up but I'm betting that most of you, like me, go for the simple pleasures from childhood when you need a little TLC.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: Artful Aging


When I am under stress I find myself buying a bag of Brach's Mandarin Orange Slices. I can still remember sitting in my mother’s lap and her reaching into her side table drawer and giving me one of her orange slices. We kids were not allowed to touch her bag of Brach's and the only time I got a piece is when I needed to be rocked in her lap. Oh, yes, this qualifies big time as a comfort food for me.

In spite of having parents who were ahead of their time gastronomically (think Sunday morning kippers, or perhaps broiled kidneys, or the family dinner staple, Coq au Vin), my Oklahoma roots still kick in. Iced tea with mint from the garden, fried chicken, and mashed potatoes with cream gravy.
By the way, our family version of PB&J was a sandwich of peanut butter, mayonnaise and crispy iceberg lettuce. Don't knock it till you've tried it.

I wouldn't think of knocking it, Marty. A peanut butter and jelly is not what it is for me without the mayonnaise too but I discovered that part as an adult.

One of the most long-lasting gifts my mother gave us was the association of comfort with grilled chicken and broccoli.

Warm potato soup usually does the trick. I love the thick and creamy kind with little tiny bits of ham. This is what I go to when I need to curl up in my favorite chair and pretty much shut out the world for whatever reason. A comforting drink is warm tea sweetened with actual sugar. This is to drink while reading a good book and basically retreating from the world. I'm not anti-social, but I do have times that I get overwhelmed and need my comfort foods to help me regain my equilibrium. Thank-you Ronni for another great blog and conversation this morning! I'm enjoying it as always.

My favorite childhood food was, as it is today, pizza, and I'm not particular about what kind it is. It can be hot and fresh from a pizzeria or cold and stiff from the box the next morning. In a pinch I will even eat a reheated frozen pizza. Deep dish Chicago style or thin crust New York pizza, it's all the same to me. I have made "emergency" pizzas out of English muffins, American cheese and ketchup. When you got that pizza Jones, it must be satiated. If I were ever in a position to have to order a last meal, it would be pizza with mushrooms and anchovies. "Go ahead warden, pull the switch, I'm done.

My comfort food: thick soup and warm-from-the-oven bread. Oh, and perogies, made with potato and onion with butter.

Sheesh- I hate to admit it, but I have so many comfort foods! Grilled cheese w/tomato, my mother's creole spaghetti, macaroni & cheese, my father's dill seed bread and just about any homemade soup. One of the reasons I walk every day is to be able to eat anything I want.

I called my mother a "Bad Mother" once when we ran out of peanut butter. Peanut butter and jelly will always be a comfort food, but was the bread always so gummy? Pepperidge Farms Very Thin wheat is the only way I'll eat it now, and best enjoyed with a champagne chaser.

Baked custard ~~ (eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla and a sprinkle of nutmeg). Second best: French toast with maple syrup.

My favorite was a lunch that my mother would put in a brown paper bag for me to take to school. It was a tuna salad sandwich, a hard boiled egg, and a bag of Fritoes. I can't think why I never got food poisoning from the tuna salad as we lived in a warm climate and at that time there was no air conditioning much less coolers for kids lunches.

Okay, southern roots showing: cornbread and milk. Most southerners like their cornbread crumbled in with buttermilk, but I always liked regular milk.

Unfortunately I've never been able to cook the particularly moist, crumbly cornbread my grandmother did, but that combination always felt soothing since it was her favorite.

Buttered toast dipped into hot chocolate. And an old-fashioned juicy, flavorful hamburger, though not enjoyed for past 10 years, and it's the only meat dish I sometimes crave.

When we were sick it was always Mom's "milk toast" - hot buttered toast torn up and covered with warm milk and sugar. And now "any day I need a little boost" it is grilled cheese and almost any soup (growing up it was Campbell's chicken noodle). In the late 40's and 50's "prepared" foods like canned soup were in most pantries. We thought these items were wonderful as we could have any type of soup any time we wanted without adult supervision or help.

Peanut butter sandwiches dipped in tomato soup, macaroni and cheese (I even ate the Kraft variety when I was in my twenties in my first apartment), and tapioca pudding.

BLTs. But thereby hangs a tale. I have been a vegetarian for many years now. I also still eat fish, which makes me a vegetarian who strays. But years ago someone asked me what I missed most, and I said BLTs. And her resolute response was: well, when you find one somewhere that you think is probably very good, eat it. I did my own survey, asked vegetarian friends what they most missed, and the great majority said - yes - BLTs. So one day on a trip I saw what looked like the best possible BLT, fresh, not hothouse tomatoes; not iceberg lettuce, maybe it was a spring mix; and incredibly crisp-looking bacon.

I ate it. And ever since I will do that if the circumstances seem to merit it.

So there.

Tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich for me. Or, oddly, fried chicken. If I'm sick, it's the former. If I'm in a funk, then the latter.

My Pennssylvania Dutch mother's cracker pudding, made with crushed up Saltines,eggs, sugar and milk. The ultimate comfort food.

Now it's a BALT - a BLT with avocado, Hellman's mayonnaise and crisp real bacon. On whole wheat toast. I had it for lunch every day when I lived in Mexico for a month.

Florence, I've often wondered the same thing. Growing up we had to buy hot lunches unless we made our own. My favorite was "baloney" and mayo. Now I toss anything that may have sat out for a little too long. Lest you think the processed meat was bad, Mom's version of mac and cheese was made with Velveeta! Still long for it even though I won't buy it because I know better. Sometimes it's almost irresistible though. Favorite treat was crumbled graham crackers folded into whipped cream (from our cows) made with vanilla and sugar. Fun to think about Ronni!

Potatoes in any form; preferably scalloped with lots of cheese. And two of my comfort foods have been mentioned by others. Tapioca pudding and milk toast. Those are comfort foods to me as they were the first foods I ate after being sick. And I was sick quite often as a child.

Toasted cheddar cheese sandwiches along side Campbell's tomato soup with cream in it. We always had that after the Christmas tree hunt along with hot homemade chocolate. And fresh bread hot out of the oven dripping with butter. Mom's homemade tapioca pudding when we were sick.

Have already read some of my favorites in other comments here ... but have some to add to the list: Hot milk toast (no sugar, just butter, salt and a little pepper); coffee over toast (lots of butter, no sugar, thank you!); Mom's homemade potato soup (no meat, it was still the Depression); cottage pudding (1-egg cake with chocolate syrup over it); peanut butter and banana sandwich with butter (still love peanut butter, never could stand jelly on it); peanut butter sandwich dipped in Ovaltine! As I said, I was raised in the Depression - mid-1930s through WWI rationing. We HAD to eat simple food, most of which we raised ourselves or squirrels and rabbits that Dad shot.

Ooops -- that was WWII in my previous post, not WWI.

A bowl of pastina with a dab of butter, a dash of milk, and a generous dollop of grated parmigiano reggiano cheese. Eaten with a spoon....slowly.

Somebody else mentioned potatoes, which I crave in any form. My favorite, though, is hot crispy tater tots from a Sonic drive-in. (No, the frozen Ore-Idas are not the same.) And McDonald's french fries did it for me for years, until the government made them take the beef fat out of their recipe and ruined them. Also, from childhood, Kraft macaroni and cheese (aka "Kraft dinner" at our house). Back in the day you could buy separate cans of the "cheese" and add lots more to taste. For years, as an adult, my go-to comfort food was Sara Lee Cherry Cheesecake, but it's often hard to find. Everybody stocks the strawberry, but I like the cherry.

In the "olden" days when we did not eat meat on Fridays, my Italian GM would make fried bread when we got home from school. We used olive oil, then she let us use butter & on special occasions, powdered sugar to sprinkle/drizzle over the very warm bread. Pure love. :) Dee

Crumpets - don't know if there is an American equivalent. Toasted till the top is crispy then lashings of butter that dribbles down into the crumpet and all over you when you bite into it.

My other all-time comfort favourite is very strong cocoa with sugar.

Does anybody else remember Hemo? It was a powdered something you added to cold milk to make chocolate milk. Like ovaltine but better. i liked the layer of chocolate on top that resisted stirring in.

My grandmother made the best fried chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, fresh corn and fantastic thick gravy. And biscuits. Light fluffy biscuits with melted butter. After the meal was over we'd take whatever remaining biscuits (or white bread if the biscuits were gone) and ladle gravy over the top..Gravy Bread. No wonder that my entire family carried around extra pounds and had hypertension!
Now I'm a vegetarian but there are times when I drool at the thought of Nana's chicken and gravy.
However, it took me 2 years to lose the extra 150 lbs I had on my body at age 50 and I did it following a vegetarian diet. I'd rather dream about chicken than carry the fat around! If I'd have continued to eat the way I grew up eating, I doubt I would have reached todays healthier 71.

I'm babysitting my 9 year old grand daughter today-she's sick. After I read the blog and read aloud some of the comments to her, I asked what her comfort food was.
She was raised vegetarian-my whole family pretty much is now. She drinks soy milk but hates soy cheese...
Her comfort food: Pacific's Roasted Tomato soup and a Tillamook sharp cheddar grilled cheese sandwich. Second is homemade lentil soup and my biscuits from Nanas recipe Third favorite "A really good big salad with pumpkin seeds-no dressing". OK she's weird-has never been to a fast food drive thru, had a hamburger or fried chicken (gross, she says). The girl is a real athlete-gymnastics, dance, running and disgustingly healthy.
My how time changes things.

Mom fixed mac 'n cheese Friday nights, alternating with Tuna noodle casserole. I still go for the mac 'n cheese once in a while if I'm feeling icky and don't want to cook, only I jazz it up with tomatoes and chilis. Peanut butter and home made jam or jelly was a staple. I can't keep peanut butter in the house because I binge on it with apple slices or as a peanut butter and sweet onion sandwich on whole wheat. Cream of tomato soup with toasted cheese sandwich, another old favorite I've not indulged in lately. There's some serious food sinning ahead, I think.

My grandmother made the best fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits and gravy. I dream about them sometimes but these days, my chicken is grilled, no potatoes, biscuits or gravy - got to watch the diabetes numbers. Still, when it's a rainy day in my soul, I love tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. Plus a lot of the food items mentioned above.

This has been my favorite blog and comment posting since I began reading your website in late March. It brings back so many wonderful memories of my grandmothers' and my mother's cooking and baking. Thank you!

Mayonnaise (Hellmann's)then and now on most everything and now I will give it a try with peanut butter another favorite then and now.

I'm comforted by a sandwich made with lean ham slices on rye or wheat bread coated with cranberry sauce. It's a family joke that I measure the success of an Easter or Christmas dinner by how many sandwiches can be produced from the leftovers.

Mine is what could be best described as a mixed up shepherd's pie to which my mum gave the unappealing name of Dry Hash. Mince the left over lamb from a roast and a couple of onions. Mix with mashed potatoes (don't layer it as in the pie). Cook in the oven. Eat with tomato sauce (that's ketchup to Americans) and it has to be White Crow brand (still around, fortunately). I only have this about once a year these days as I seldom cook a lamb roast.

I grew up with Southern comfort foods---fried chicken, cream gravy, cornbread (no sugar), mustard greens with hot sauce, banana cream pie. But I haven't eaten any of these things in so many years that I've forgotten how to crave them. Now my go-to comfort food is an unhealthy dinner of Top Ramen oriental flavor with maybe a chopped boiled egg, for one reason: there's virtually no preparation involved, so all the comfort comes from just nestling in with the bowl and not having to cook. My mother would turn over in her grave. Of course when I really want to comfort myself and I have enough clothes on to answer the door, I order in: sesame chicken and garlic eggplant from the best Chinese restaurant within two miles of my home.

What I remember craving was raisin bread toast and watching the butter melt. Then later, when I used to visit my mother, it was her homemade chopped liver with hard boiled eggs. No more. Having been a vegetarian for 13 years, it doesn't even interest me. My comforts now are good ice cream (when the weather is warm enough) or an evening glass of wine.

Reading the comments has been especially entertaining for me today. I'm happily surprised by the number of us who have become vegetarians in our 'Golden Years'. Cool Beans for us.

I'm doing internet dating (it's pretty much a drag, honestly) and had to turn down a date to 5PM dinner at "Old Country Buffet". First-thats too early for me to eat and second, it may be inexpensive but the food is not that good and it's quite limited when it comes to vegetarian options. He looses!
Thanks Ronnie for a fun blog post today. Your neighbor
Elle in Beaverton, OR

I am totally with Celia as far as childhood comfort foods go! But now I head - or send my husband- to our favorite neighborhood Chinese place for their "Wor Won Ton a Soup", seafood in a chicken stock and soothing especially when you have a rotten cold! But I am surprised no one mentioned chocolate as a comfort food, DOVE, especially!

Very yummy topic. My mom, who was not a good cook, fed me creamed tuna on toast. I had legs like strings. I have the opposite problem now. My German grandfather taught me to like Jewish rye bread. My all time favorite is Mary See's chocolate.
Peanut butter must be Skippy chucky.

Crusty sourdough bread and good sharp cheddar. Yum!

Pickle and mayonnaise sandwich on Wonder bread. Yummm!

Many of the aforementioned are favorites of mine, but my all time comfort food is the Finnish pasty my mother made when we were growing up. Though it's originally from Cornwall, the Finnish miners in the UP of Michigan took them to the mines for lunch. I now occasionally make one at her request, but they're not as good as her's--I don't have her pie crust knack.
Made with ground beef, chopped potatoes & onions, in a pie crust, smothered with butter, though my husband has the nerve to use catsup!

Spam Hawaiian! That's sliced Spam, fried, with a ring of canned pineapple on top. Fast. Easy. Yummy. The whole house smells like our home did sixty years ago whenever I make it. Very comforting and full of memories for me.

Nana--My church in Kalamazoo sells several thousand pasties every year at its bazaar. Big drawing card.

The hardest thing for me to forego as a 12-year vegetarian was homemade chicken noodle soup. My German-born mother made excellent soups and still does. As a lapsed vegetarian, the first thing I went back to was homemade chicken noodle soup.

Macaroni and cheese, lox and bagel, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are also my long-time favorites that I relish occasionally. Dark chocolate is not so much a comfort food as a special treat for me.

Thanks for a fun post that prompted us all to share.

Mom's Meat Loaf, real French Onion Soup, spaghetti Carbonara and Sushi. Now that's comfort

The "milk toast" that several have mentioned was called "graveyard stew" by my grandparents; supposedly you would eat it only if you were so ill you were headed to the graveyard! (not a comfort food, in my case)

I was brought up on a working farm and we killed our own pigs. My grandma would make sausage and my absolutely favorite childhood food is certainly not on my food list now unfortunately.
She would fry sausage patties, then using a little of the fat, make a milk gravy with flour and scrape all the tiny pork bits into it. It would then be served over he prize winning buttermilk biscuits.

Thinking of this meal makes me remember the smell of strong coffee, feel the chill in the air, smells of the wood burning stove fires, the sound of many crows in the corn fields, and my grandmother's voice saying grace before breakfast

the famous food of the famous bee,with a red costume. FRIED CHICKEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEN.

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