My mother occasionally made a loaf of homemade bread which we devoured hot from the oven in thick, crumbly slices with butter melting through. Aunt Dutie made homemade bread too, but it wasn’t the same. Homemade bread at Aunt Dutie’s house was cold and cut into thin slices almost like store-bought bread.
My mother’s cooking was pretty standard for the ‘40s and ‘50s—meat, potatoes, gravy, and a canned vegetable. After our mother died, Dad dashed home from the family grocery store each night with the kind of instant food available in the early 1950s. One night a week we had meat pies from the butcher case with cardboard-flavored crusts topped with Franco American beef gravy—a thick, dark brown sauce that had no more than a nodding acquaintance with beef. Another night was Franco American spaghetti—similar to the Spaghetti-Os which contemporary mothers serve to condition their small children for school lunch. Thursdays were best with paper-wrapped tamales from the butcher case, topped with catsup. Salsa was unknown in Provo in the 1950s. Pan grilling was too slow, so one night a week Dad charred cheese sandwiches under the broiler and served them with Campbell’s tomato soup stretched with two cans of milk to feed the four of us. Dinty Moore beef stew was also stretched with a can of water. Dad owned a grocery store, but didn’t want to eat up all the profits.
Except for my mother’s homemade bread and sugar cookies, I don’t really have a yen for the food of my childhood. And neither do my grown children who now try to “introduce” us to exotic foods they refused to taste at our table. You know, it really wasn’t me who picked celery out of the turkey stuffing and begged for Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup at every meal.
I tried to serve my kids nutritious foods while they were growing up, but, except for broccoli, they balked. They only ate broccoli because, in a stroke of genius, I called the florets trees and said only giraffes could eat them. Unfortunately, I was never inspired with an animal motif for any other vegetable. By the time our kids hit their teens, our menu was limited to five items: hot dogs with sauerkraut (they would eat fermented vegetables), hamburgers, spaghetti, tacos, and enchilada casserole. I can’t tell you how an empty nest has improved our diet.
Now George and I cook vegetarian. We love foreign foods—Thai, Indian, Middle-Eastern. For us, comfort foods are not from a nostalgic past that wasn’t all that good. Comfort food is now.