Once-upon-a-time comfort foods

Eons ago when I was a kid, my grandparents owned a small lot on the Magothy River south of Baltimore. Apart from a pier, a few picnic tables, and a hammock strung between 2 trees, the only structure was a small wooden shack where we stored our swimming toys, spare bathing suits and towels, a push mower, a rake and shovel, and similar miscellaneous things, as well as a small cabinet that held some canned goods.

We’d spend every sunny Sunday there, swimming, running around, paddling in inflatable boats, and generally wearing ourselves out as kids do. On the rare occasions when it’d rain in the afternoon, we’d flee to the shack to get out of the rain (in our soaking wet swimsuits, of course) and my grandmother would get out the single burner propane stove, a battered saucepan, and a big can of Chef Boyardee ravioli. She’d heat it up and we’d devour it as only “starving” kids can. It was a special treat that always tasted wonderful after a strenuous day of being kids.

Some years later - I think I was in college - I picked up a can while grocery shopping. Maybe they’d changed the recipe, maybe my palate had become more sophisticated, maybe it only worked with the battered saucepan and the single burner propane stove, because it just wasn’t the same. It was bland and unimpressive, not the magical stuff of the shack. To this day, I feel a bit wistful when I see cans of ravioli on the grocery shelf. My grandparents sold the property when I was in my 20s, and both have long since died. But I still remember the bliss of those rainy days at the shore…

So, what foods of your youth have lost their magic?

Chicken dredged in flour and fried. The first time I ever made this myself, the smell took me right back to my grandmother’s kitchen. I’ve never had that experience again, though I do still like chicken prepared this way.

Swedish pancakes. I’ve tried making them myself, and never quite got them right. My mother can make them, and they’re OK. Grandma’s were really good. But great grandma’s? Heavenly. I think that part of the charm was the musty smell of her house. Mostly the charm was her, though.

Campbell’s Manhattan-style clam chowder. When I was a kid, we used to often have this as part of Friday dinners, especially during Lent and I really liked it. Mom didn’t do anything to fancy it up, she just added water and heated it. Yet, when I buy a can now and do the same, it just doesn’t taste right.

The blue box of macaroni and cheese was my carby comfort of choice years ago. It was a forbidden food when I was a kid, and I ate a lot of it in college. I bought some on a whim when my husband was out of town a few months ago. Nasty stuff.

Macaroni cheese was always my comfort food, but never out of a box. That just seems all kinds of wrong. Macaroni cheese is one of the world’s easiest foods to prepare from scratch, so why would you make it from a packet?

I used to like Pot Noodles (chicken and mushroom flavour) after going swimming as a kid. I still like them, actually, even though they’re junky.

Chocolate milk and mild cheddar cheese.

I’m no longer a fan of milk in general, and mild cheddar lacks the tang I now enjoy.

But it was my standard comfort food in 1st grade.

Chicken strips/fingers. I was a latch-key kid, so I had a narrow range of options for cooking, since they didn’t trust me to make a full meal with multiple burners on and the oven going and all that jazz. So I discovered this brand of chicken fingers I really loved, and getting home from school, popping them in the oven and having them with ketchup was great.

The allure is all gone though, I have no idea how I loved them so much. They’re either too overcooked or too soggy.

Because that’s what our mothers gave us when we were kids.

I make a divine Mac & Cheese, but I still love love love Kraft Dinner. Alas, I don’t eat it at all anymore, far too many carbs. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like it.

[quote=“Colophon, post:6, topic:619161”]

Macaroni cheese was always my comfort food, but never out of a box. That just seems all kinds of wrong. Macaroni cheese is one of the world’s easiest foods to prepare from scratch, so why would you make it from a packet?


Because it’s a lot better than the homemade crap.

Mine didn’t. I don’t think that she gave us anything from a box.

But I do remember the taco salad that she used to make for us. Hamburger, beans, cheese, lettuce, Fritos, and french dressing. And we were grateful for it!

Tea & milk: Sweetened iced tea with a small amount of evaporated milk.
Mayonnaise sandwiches and chocolate milk: I’d make a sandwich with nothing but a decent dollop of may, cut it in half, then eat the halves after soaking them in chocolate milk.

Orange pop. Every August the factory would go on shutdown for two weeks, and our family would take a vacation in the Ozarks. We’d go to a little “resort” with a swimming pool and a miniature golf course. Halfway through the afternoons at the pool, my dad would buy a can of orange pop from the vending machine and we would split it. It was icy-cold, teeth-achingly sweet, and a perfect foil to the taste of chlorine.

Garlic bread.

My oldest brother and I would wrap up a hunk of garlic bread with some dried peppers and a couple bottles of Coca-Cola and ride the trains for a 1-2 days at a time.

Sometimes I’ll find myself idealizing those times in my life and complaining about how unadventurous “kids today” appear to be. Then I remember the time I was stuck on the back of a train for hours and hours during a raging, freezing-cold storm and had to hitch rides/walk back home through some very rough areas of circa 1950s NY/PA.

That snaps me back to reality and I realize I don’t even like garlic bread anymore…

I’ll second mac and cheese. As an adult, it’s OK, but I wouldn’t bother to make it for myself. But it was my favorite dinner when I was a kid.

I’ll still make me a grilled cheese sandwich, or poach a couple of eggs, though.

Alton Brown’s Stovetop mac and cheese is really easy (takes about five minutes longer to make it than it takes to make it from a box), and it’s amazingly better. Highly recommended.

As for my comfort foods from childhood, cream of wheat.

Butter sandwiches.

Devilled ham and/or Vienna sausage and cheese on crackers. I shudder at the thought now. But when we were kids and asked for a snack, that was the official snack of the house.

I also occasionally made mayonnaise sandwiches with white bread (minus the chocolate milk). Now I hate mayonnaise.

Mom’s bread pudding with lemon sauce.

Also her rice pudding, and it’s the only thing she ever made with rice. For years, I didn’t know rice was used for anything except rice pudding.

Croissants from a tube. My mother would very, very rarely bake them on weekend mornings, and I considered them a special treat. Now they’re just a quick, easy, portable breakfast. She also used to make something we called Russian Chicken, which was just drumsticks with Russian dressing poured onto them and baked. I ate too many drumsticks as a kid, and now I can barely stand them.