Eating History (Or No one Makes it Like Mom). by
(27 Stories)

Prompted By What We Ate

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My father grew up in a

Irish-catholic family of 9,

In the city of San Francisco,

so his comfort food was

usually canned- he would

say “creamy”

and I would say “mushy.”

Later, I would barely recognize

the diarrhea green spinach,

the small skinless egg potatoes,

the orangish spaghetti-Os and

pungent Dinty-Moore stew that Dad

swore was the best food.


My mother grew up poor,

but in rural areas,

where you could collect

collard and mustard greens

on the side of the road,

you had your own chickens,

and a backyard garden

that you put up in canning jars

to stretch thinner winter meals.

Then you saved the bacon grease

to make tasty gravy for the

country biscuits she punched

out of the simple dough

with a water glass.

She clipped coupons

and made mystery meatloaf,

complex left-over casseroles,

and special twice baked potatoes

for our best meals.


We got our raw milk delivered, and

mom used to get mad at us,

when we would drink the cream

off the top of the bottle,

or the milkman forgot to leave

the cottage cheese she ordered.

Frosted flakes and Lucky charms

began to supplant the special K

Cheerios, and corn flakes that were probably

a good deal more healthy, but

not nearly so brightly colored,

nor brilliantly advertised.



Mom began to work longer hours

outside the house,

but her deep values,

of at least tasting everything once, and

of sitting together every evening stayed.

We’d discuss how our days went,

as we talked with our mouths open,

elbows and more on the table,

laughed until milk squirted out

of my little brother’s nose,

or being told that reading didn’t belong

in the family circle,

previewing my forbidding

of phones with my grown children.

And there was always at

least one extra dinner guest

because growing up with scarcity

made my mama want to share

with any hungry body

what we had gathered in our kitchen.


Later we would beg to go

to the new cool restaurant


with its chocolate shakes, orange soda

and Fish fillet sandwiches with tartar sauce.

Sometimes my parents would

allow us to have the cool, space age TV dinners-

all packaged, shiny and ready to go!

Or, if we were going camping in the Sierras

we would stop at the “5 for $1” hamburger stand,

then scarf up mom’s camping stew, Tang,

Kraft Macaroni and cheese,

and blueberry pancakes on the camp stove.

Somehow eating outside always made us more hungry-

And the smells, more tantalizing.


We had a local pizzeria, that knew

our family’s Friday night order-

2 large specials-

to this day my brother goes out of his

way when visiting to stop and pick up

a couple of slices of warm nostalgia.


We traditionally had huge

Thanksgivings, in which 40-60

people (any strays) would bring their own

favorite childhood traditions to share,

and over the years we knew

that aunt Melissa would make sweet potato pie,

aunt Patty would whip up real whipped cream,

uncle Mike would carve the turkeys,

and Diane and family would bring creamed corn

and special mashed potatoes.


But mom always had to make the stuffing,

because no one makes it like mom.

Profile photo of January Handl January Handl

Characterizations: been there, right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    I love “couple of slices of warm nostalgia”. Your description of Thanksgiving reminds me having Passover with my father’s large, extended family. Warm, loving memories of happy, family times. Your mother sounds like an impressive woman, who knew how to imbue the family meal with love and fellowship.

  2. John Zussman says:

    Nice reminder of the warmth and meaning even simple food can bring when shared, and how even fast food and TV dinners can be treats when they are rare. And I love the way every rule of table manners was shattered in a single stanza!

  3. Constance says:

    This whole thing sounds eerily familiar. Love the concept of hospitality, everyone gets fed generously.

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