Friday, November 15, 2013

A Bit of Nostalgia - The Foods I Ate

Maneuvering my shopping cart at the local supermarket through a maze of aisles, colorful displays, produce, meat, prepared food, bakery counters, and products from every corner of the globe, I am amazed at the variety available. New foods and different variations of common foods are always featured. Unfortunately both my pocketbook and my stomach have their limits. The gap between today’s market and the grocery stores of my youth (in the 1950s and 60s) is simply incredible.

Call it cultural differences, regional variations, evolving gastronomic sophistication, technological advances, the yearning for change - the foods I grew up with are different today.

We did not eat pasta when I was growing up. We ate spaghetti and macaroni. Now we eat different pastas, although sometimes the pasta looks and tastes exactly like what I ate as a kid. With numerous choices deciding what to buy is a mind-boggling task.

White bread was a staple in my home. I have not bought a loaf of white bread in decades. The store bread aisle expands constantly, offering new products all the time - gluten free, quinoa-based, rice bread, flat bread, soda bread, sourdough, leavened, unleavened, mini-sized, maxi-sized…

As a kid cilantro, curry, saffron were unknown, at least in my house…iceberg lettuce was the only green used in salads…fish was eaten on Fridays (whether or not you were Catholic – that is when stores stocked fresh fish)…chicken did not have fingers…sugar was a good thing…flour was always white…chocolate was Hershey bars or kisses and M&Ms…water came out of the kitchen sink…no one ever heard of vegan, and vegetarians were rare, strange creatures.

We had shelves of canned food stacked in the basement. I guess my parents prepared for a snowstorm that would keep us in the house for weeks or a strike by supermarket employees, neither of which ever happened. There was enough food to feed our family of four for weeks. Mom stocked up at sales, and often there would be sales again before we depleted the first stash. I, on the other hand, do not invest heavily in non-perishables.

Mom always seemed to serve canned peas and carrots. I hate canned peas and carrots, and especially dislike the squishy peas in those cans.

We ate ice cream. On special occasions we bought Carvel ice cream in Carvel stores. Today we eat ice cream, soft serve, frozen yogurt, frozen custard, gelato, sorbet, sherbet, ice milk, and other derivations on the frozen dessert. Flavor options were chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and maybe a couple of other choices. Today selections are copious and always changing. Seasonal offerings appear and disappear. Baskin Robbins originally offered 31 flavors – one for each day of the month. They now boast of producing over 1,000 flavors over the years.

Canned, frozen, processed and ready-to-eat foods filled home pantries and freezers. Processed lunchmeat made preparing school lunches quick and easy. Canned soup was a standard ingredient in casseroles and other recipes. I have not purchased a can of soup in years.

Ah, the good old calorie-laden, chemical loaded, faux food, ignorance-is-bliss days. How did we survive!?

Today we are (hopefully) aware of the negatives of many of those products, better-educated consumers, and the marketplace offers more alternatives – some healthy and some not so much.

Yet age-old habits persist. Favorite sugary breakfast cereals…yummy, easily prepared packaged desserts (just add eggs and water and bake)…candy treats…our minds and stomachs fondly remember and reminisce.

Once in a while it is OK to indulge in culinary fare enjoyed since childhood, even if the food does not meet today’s nutritional guidelines.

Just remember, as my mother-in-law is fond of saying, “Everything in moderation”.

Bon appetit! 


  1. My mother was on the fresh, local, in season food band wagon way ahead of her time. She was a great cook.

  2. The only Chinese food I had as a child came in a can, and spaghetti was seldom served. They were our "foreign" food adventures. I didn't have piazza until I was out of high school and had never had bagels or English muffins until I left my home in the South for New England. I had such dietary shock!

  3. See? I even have trouble spelling "pizza."

  4. This is so true, for me too. My mom was thrilled when instant potatoes came out. I don't think she ever peeled another potato. You reminded me of her wonderful turkey hash, however, my favorite part of Thanksgiving... served for days afterwards.

  5. My mother was Irish so while she wasn't much of a cook she only dealt in real potatoes -- boiled, baked, mashed, fried, roasted ... you name it. Fortunately, I like potatoes. My favorite difference between then and now? Sushi and Japanese food in general. Love it!

  6. You really nailed those early days and lack of choice.
    My dad was a gourmet cook out of necessity (Mom was in invalid) and he loved to experiment. Most of what we ate, I couldn't pronounce.
    However all my friends ate just as you described. Oddly, I preferred to eat at their houses till I developed an adult appetite.

  7. Wonderful post. My husband and I often compare notes on our "growing up" food. He thought all spaghetti came out of a can, and while my parents were very adventurous eaters and cooks (lamb kidneys, raw oysters), things like bagels and tortillas were never seen, and most likely not available in our suburban world.

  8. Wonderful memories and great post. I was a lucky kid, I suppose. Growing up in the agricultural South, we had access to fresh foods. Mom kept a kitchen garden, cow, and chickens, so even during WWII we ate well. We fished and ate the fish…or living near the coast had access to fish markets.

    Yes we ate sugar, salt and those things supposedly "bad" for us. Somehow, I ended up with reasonably good health, which probably goes to show, if you eat your veggies, a little cake never hurts.

  9. All the foods you wrote about were staples in my childhood home, too. Because my grandfather raised a large garden every year, we had plenty of fresh vegetables and home-canned ones. With the exception of fresh corn on the cob, which I loved, I preferred store-bought canned vegetables to the fresh ones. Can't imagine why.