Food Memories: Comfort Food & Family Recipes

A comment by @Auspicious on the current WFD thread got me thinking of food memories and the comfort they bring. Nostalgia for family recipes has always had a very strong pull on me, and I’ve collected many recipes in several 3-ring binders (pre-Internet, computer/online software days).

I want to know how many of you have hard-coded food memories as I do, including:

  1. I remember eating the Fattigmands Bakkelser cookies that my Norwegian grandmother used to make at Christmas, and never realizing the time and patience it took her to make them until I tried it myself as an adult. Once. Never again! LOL

  2. I remember my father creating his own peanut satay sauce (ubiquitous now, not so much in the early1970s in white-bread northern New Jersey) after having enjoyed it several times in an Indonesian hotel while he was directing/shooting an industrial film there (the hotel chef only gave him a general idea of what was in the sauce). While Dad’s recipe is NOT authentic at all, as the ingredients were what was readily available in NJ at the time, it is still my personal go-to for peanut sauce.

  3. Being asked to make my apple pie (technically, the 1976 Better Homes & Garden with the red-checked gingham cover cookbook recipe I still use to this day for pie crust and filling) within 15 minutes of getting to my brother’s apt. in Chicago in the mid-1980s (I barely had time to pee first before he asked!) back in the early 1980s for the Thanksgiving holiday I was going to spend with him…and him not having a rolling pin, so I used a bottle of wine I had stuck in the freezer, and him being thoroughly impressed and saying I made the best pies he’d ever had. :heart:

  4. Dad making sukiyaki at the dining table in the electric skillet. Our friends who joined us for satay or sukiyaki were always fascinated by the “weird” things we ate (again, it was a very white bread neighborhood, and the 1970s. I know/hope they realized it wasn’t weird as they became adults and began to experience new foods; just different from what they were used to at the time. And seriously, sukiyaki is NOT weird!).

  5. Getting double-yolk eggs from the farm near my Grandma’s house in central PA. Not a common occurrence for someone growing up in northen NJ in the 60s and 70s.

  6. Making a key lime pie for a pie baking contest in my sophomore year of high school, and winning the contest. I think the prize was a $20 gift certificate to Sam Goody’s, and I bought the blue Beatles compilation album with it (already had the red one). When I went back for the pie plate and any leftovers, the pie was all gone. My brother made me make another one that weekend. (He REALLY liked my pies! LOL) And many fellow students talked to me about that pie several years later. LOL

  7. Bringing my grandma back to her house from her nursing home for a visit and early dinner, which was comprised of over-done steaks cooked in a little standalone broiler, Minute Rice (because I hadn’t yet figured out how to make “real” rice) and peas, and Grandma enjoying the hell out of that meal because she was in her home and I had made it for her. :heart:

  8. Cooking my first Thanksgiving meal for my Mom, sister and BIL in my new townhouse, and chopping off a small chunk of my fingernail while mincing herbs and my Mom coming to my medical rescue. The meal was still very good, despite “The Great Thanksgiving Knife Incident of 2011” and me finishing the cooking with a big ol’ bandage on my left forefinger. And no, I still don’t have a proper finger curl down pat, although I’m better at it.

  9. My sister insisting I make the gravy for Thanksgiving at her house one year, because “you know how to do it best” (and I learned it from our Mom). And her waving off my attempts to show her the method, saying “I don’t need to know, that’s what you’re here for. Just tell me what you need.” I have subsequently learned to ask what herbs and spices she has and bring my own if she doesn’t have them…although she’s gotten better at having more “normal” herbs and spices in her house. LOL

I think that’s enough from me, although I’m sure I have plenty more food memories. What are yours?


Neither of us have a family background where there was memorable food. In fact, both of our mothers were truly lousy cooks in their different ways (although I don’t think we really realised just how bad until we left home and had to start fending for ourselves). I think the only thing that comes from that time is how Mum made gravy for the Sunday roast, which is basically how we still do it - basic roux, seasoning, water from cooking the vegetables (in those days really, really long boiled). Although today, we might add a splash of red wine or pomegranate molasses.

And the only memory from our early time together is the Great White Sauce Debacle. Now, it is traditional in the UK to have a brandy flavoured white sauce with the Christmad pudding. But, of course, we had no idea how to make a white sauce, so we bought a packet mix that just needed milk adding. It was only when we were tucking in that we realised something was wrong. Yes, there is also a onion white sauce (traditional with roast lamb in the winter, when there’s no opportunity for mint sauce). That was Christmas 1972 and, yes, I still bring it up regularly.


LOL All part of the cooking live-and-learn process. And it’s a worthy story to dredge up when the occasion requires. :smile:

Great thread - thanks for starting it. Here are some of mine.

My parents got divorced when I was 11, and my mother went to work. I realized that, if we were going to eat, I would be the one cooking, so I taught myself. I enlisted my younger brother as my sous chef, and we did pretty well. Our most memorable collaboration was making bastilla (Moroccan chicken pie), probably from a recipe in Gourmet. This was in the late '60s, early '70s. Much to our surprise, it turned out really well, a real confidence-builder for both of us.

After my parents divorced, my father moved a few miles away, and we would eat dinner at his house every week. He had two menus: broiled flank steak, canned green beans, and rice-a-roni, and hot dogs and Kraft macaroni and cheese (the deluxe version only). I still follow his flank steak recipe (Worcestershire sauce and pepper), and it comes out perfectly every time.

When I was in middle school, I had a friend who lived with her mother and uncle. The uncle was obsessed with cooking, and we watched the Julia Child shows whenever I visited. I learned a lot about cooking from that. Our most memorable cooking incident happened when the uncle was cooking a French rabbit stew in a pressure cooker. He had to go out, and asked us to keep an eye on it (whatever that meant - I’d never used a pressure cooker). I’m sure you can guess what happened - rabbit dripping from the ceiling when some malfunction occurred. We all had hysterics about it when he got back.

I hope to add some more, but I can’t wait to hear your stories. Thanks.


Linda, I will cook with you any time.

Memories new and old:

My paternal grandmother and mother made matzo brei. It was pretty awful. I’ve researched and experimented and have my version that is comfort food. The only thing that has survived my family version is “one egg per cracker.”

Grandma Linahan’s macaroni salad. I have no idea who Grandma Linahan is. Recipe clipped from Parade or Good Housekeeping in the very early 80s and one of my first exercises in independent cooking. I love it.

Peanut sauce. My late Thai sister-in-law taught me. We have a picture somewhere of me sitting cross-legged on the floor with a one-gallon mortar and a pestle the size of a baby’s arm pounding peanuts under Lamoun’s watchful eye. You can’t make peanut sauce if you don’t start with peanuts. When I got it right Moonie (nickname) gave me a big mortar and pestle of my own which I still treasure.

Sticky rice. Another Moonie teaching. She gave me a steaming cone that fits in the mortar. Very efficient.

Lasagna. Another early independent cooking experience. I’ve posted before that my wife’s entirely Italian family likes my lasagna best. I’m proud of that.

Mussels. I was a young GS-13 on a trip overseas as a subject matter expert. My boss got very ill and flew home and I ended up in a one on one dinner meeting with a government minister. I didn’t cause a war. He ordered for us both and I ate mussels for the first time. Very nostalgic for me. We ended up with an international agreement to sign and my agency director authorized me to sign it for the country.

Meadle. Mix of elbow macaroni, ground beef, diced tomato, onion, bell pepper, whatever else is floating around. My mother made this when money was tight. Mine is better. grin I make this in bulk, vacuum seal it, freeze it, and take it on deliveries. My crews really like it.

Chicken Tikka Masala was the first thing I really made by looking at a number of recipes and generating my own.

Meatloaf was the first time I looked at recipes and decided they were stupid and did something different and had it work.

Nostalgia I don’t eat: my first cooking ever was a sandwich, rye bread with ketchup and potato chips. My taste is toward sourdough now, I don’t use much ketchup, and I don’t eat potato chips but I think about that sandwich from time to time. That experience is where my personal aphorism to “eat my mistakes” comes from.

Failure story: big family Thanksgiving in New Jersey. Shooed my wife, her sister, two brother, all but one spouse, FIL, and a passle of kids out to an amusement park. Remaining SIL and I made dinner. Partway through prep we discovered that cancelling the timer on the fancy new range turned off the oven. sigh We caught it after about a half hour. We managed to recover and dinner was only a little late. Turkey was not my best work but rescued without being dry (butter was my friend). Getting the rest of what we were making to hold was actually the biggest challenge. That SIL by the way is a vegetarian. Major lesson learned: get noncombatants out of the kitchen and preferably out of the house.


C’mon now :cowboy_hat_face:.
As any red blooded American knows, the proper and correct nomenclature is Johnny Marzetti!

1 Like

That’s EXACTLY what I was going to say! :::fist bump::: Oh…and I have my Mom’s Johnny Marzetti recipe in my 3-ring binder as well. :wink:

1 Like

A school lunch standard

1 Like

No cheese - too expensive. More like American goulash, not baked either - all stove top.

Wow, like @LindaWhit I have so many.

1-Dad was was a stickler for dinner. Mom, Dad and the 4 girls had appointment dinner at 6 pm every evening (OK, 4 on Sundays). A meat, a starch and a veggie every day. Dad had to have his soda with dinner; coffee and dessert every evening. (Can I mention it was the 60s-70s and mom didn’t work?) Mom was a pretty good cook with a broad repertoire of dishes.
2-Some of dad’s desserts were cakes I made in my Easy-Bake oven. Probably not great, but at least he pretended they were.
3-Every summer we had at least 3 or 4 BBQs at Uncle Red’s and Aunt Doe’s house. Chicken, corn on the cob, watermelon. Lots of lawn games. Uncle Red was a Missouri farm boy transplanted to Philly after WWII and he had the best BBQ.
4-Mom always made the deviled eggs for every occasion. Then she decided to get creative. My oldest sister fired her and appointed me the deviled egg maker. I hate deviled eggs (really, anything mayo-based) but I hold that title to this day.
5-Just a few years ago we had Thanksgiving at my sister’s. Everything was delicious–my BIL loves to buy fresh heritage turkeys. After dinner was complete and the oven was needed to warm the pies, sis discovered the stuffing was still in the oven. Turns out we were all too polite to ask why there was no stuffing :thinking: :confused:

Mom’s meatloaf is great. Roasted chicken or fried chicken are wonderful. She does a great steak and London broil. She’s also a helluva good Italian cook (and yes, she’s Irish-American–meatballs, lasagna, stuffed shells chicken piccata are her forte).


I think there are certain things you just don’t mess with, and when family is used to deviled eggs one way? Don’t change how you make them. LOL


Yep. my niece now lives in Colorado, but she brings my deviled eggs back to “prove” they are the best deviled eggs. As I say, I don’t eat them so I can’t weigh in on the debate.

1 Like

You east coast folks are quite comical in your provincialism.

1 Like

You West Coast folks are hysterical for putting pineapple and Canadian bacon on your pizza. I bet you put ketchup on your hot dogs. grin


Hotdogs? We don’t eat no steekin’hotdogs…


Nice memories. My parents, who were Eastern European and about as far from Norwegian as possible, made a very similar fried cookie they called “hazen blossoms” that looked almost identical to the photo I found of yours:

What got me curious was your mention about trying to make them as an adult, but only once. We had the same experience – very labor-intensive and not fun at all. Plus, ours didn’t come out nearly as good as when my mom made them.


Yeah, the whole frying foods thing and I don’t get along. It was a total Three Bears situation. Some were overly dark, some weren’t dark enough, and some were just right. Plus my apartment at the time smelled of fried dough for days after.

So same thing…mine weren’t as good as when Grandmother made them. Although my brother and sister appreciated them when they got them.


My best friends Nonna .I think we were 11 year old
. She told us to harvest some sparrows. Bb gun in hand we completed her request . Cleaned , stuffed with garlic , bread crumb , parsley. And other magical ingredients. Baked in the oven over polenta. I’ll never forget it .


My husband always says I have an eerie 6th sense. Well, it happened again several days ago. We’re in Iceland right now and we bought a jar of peanut butter which we probably can’t finish off…unless I make takeout-style peanut/sesame noodles one night for dinner. I immediately thought of @LindaWhit’s dad’s sauce. I found the recipe in the April 2020 WFD and even those 1970’s NJ white bread ingredients are too exotic for my traveling Icelandic kitchen. I was stunned when I saw it mentioned a day later in WFD and in this fun offshoot thread.


Who is going to argue with Clint Eastwood, that “no one puts ketchup on hot dogs?” For those who would like a more expert position, the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council states:


Use ketchup on your hot dog after the age of 18. Mustard, relish, onions, cheese and chili are acceptable.

NHDSC is more gentle than I, giving a pass to young people until 18. I still think 8 but will defer to their expertise. grin

Now that I know the NHDSC exists, I will start a write-in campaign to get Snuggies and/or Caddies back to market. <- nostalgic memory to get back on track.

Another piece of nostalgia: sometime in the mid 80s after working 32 straight on a customer deliverable I came home and stuck a couple of hot dogs in a pot of water (my mother boiled hot dogs and I do too - grilled hot dogs seem too dry to me, although grilled sausage is great). Anyway I fell asleep on the couch, the pot boiled dry, and I was left with two pieces of charcoal and a shrieking smoke detector. The faint outlines of those hot dogs remain in that pot today.