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Nostalgic Recipes

What are the recipes that take you back to a special place in your life? How long has it been since you've made it/them?

For me one of them would be cod fish cakes. Reminds me of summers in my great aunt's kitchen in Maine in the 50s. I made them once many years ago and my family --one and all and after I'd soaked and soaked dried cod -- decided they were vile and I was nutz... Oh well. They're still special to me. ;>

Then there were my great aunt's cakey date-filled cookies. Alas! I don't even have a recipe for those.

Another is good old tuna casserole with cream of mushroom soup and topped with crushed potato chips. That's my childhood! Mom wasn't much of a cook and that was the era of convenience foods. But I still have to make a tuna casserole every once in a while just because nothing tastes like those salty potato chips stirred into the fishy ragu.

Finally, there's homemade bread. My great aunt made a loaf of bread every other day *before* she went off to work at the university. She made a lovely basic white bread that she shaped in large balls. Then she put two of them into a bread pan and baked what came out looking like a soft brown tush. I still make bread in her memory all the time. Not so much white bread and none of the tush bread but I always hope mine will make my house smell as good and be as satisfying and make a memory for my kids.

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  1. My grandmother's meat loaf. I'm sure it was nothing special speaking from a culinary standpoint, but it was special to me. I never thought to get the recipe from her.

    Everything else from childhood is something I cooked. It's hard to work up nostalgia for your own cooking, LOL!

    1. Yeah, codfish cakes! Only mine were GORTON'S canned codfish cakes--no longer made. But I loved them.
      When I think of childood food (1950s) I get memories of jelly omelets and carrot-raisin salad. Still like 'em both!
      I remember waiting HOURS for hard boiled eggs to cook (to dye). I was truly astonished to learn as an older kid that it only took 10 minutes.
      My dad once made a "marble" cake with swirls of pale pink and blue colored batter (in white) for my birthday.
      It was a strange and wonderful thing to learn how to eat artichoke leaves!
      Curry--or anything spicy over rice--seemed exotic--now I suppose what I had was not too authentic. (Though curry powder is actually a British invention, not Indian?)
      I learned that Limburger cheese smells bad but tastes wonderful--to this day I love stinky stinkier stinkiest cheese.
      Rare visits to German Grandma in New York--sweet sour red cabbage! And she sent fancy anise-flavored cookies at Christmas--they were whitish, not brown like the cookies I knew.
      But pretty much I lived right smack in the center of Minute Rice and Betty Crocker cake mixes and Wonder Bread (and cigarettes too!) Ain't it a shame! I'm catching up little by little.

      8 Replies
      1. re: blue room

        I wouldn't have bet a thin dime that someone else would think fondly of codfish cakes. ;>

        My husband still loves carrot and raisin salad. Have to make it for him frequently.

        Have you got a good recipe for red cabbage? I think this Ruth Reichl one is great.

        Braised Red Cabbage

        • 1 medium-sized head red cabbage (3 1/2 lb.), quartered, cored and thinly sliced
        • 1/4 pound bacon (about 4 slices), chopped
        • 1 tablespoon butter
        • 2 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
        • 1 Granny Smith or other tart apple, peeled, cored, cut into eighths and thinly sliced
        • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
        • 3 tablespoon brown sugar, packed
        • 1 tablespoon salt
        • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

        Rinse the cabbage under cold water, then drain; do not pat dry.

        Cook bacon in a 6- to 8-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring, until crisp, about 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Add butter to bacon fat, increase heat to moderate, and add onions (I also added a tart apple that I had peeled, cut into eighths, cored and then sliced thin). Cook, stirring until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Stir in cabbage, vinegar, brown sugar, salt, and pepper, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is tender, about 1 1/4 hours.

        Sprinkle cabbage with bacon just before serving.

        1. re: rainey

          You'd have lost that dime. There *must* be a way to combine mild fish with mashed potato and fry 'til golden and have it come out nice, not vile.

          As for red cabbage, I use this from Patricia Wells:

          2 tablespoons butter or lard
          2 medium onions, thinly sliced
          1 red cabbage (about 2 pounds)
          1/2 teaspoon salt
          1/2 teaspoon sugar
          4 apples--(no mention of tart or sweet) peeled, cored, sliced thin
          4 whole cloves, stuck into 4 quarters of another onion
          1/2 cup good-better-best red wine vinegar (hah! I've got what I've got!)
          about 3 cups dry red wine (seems like a lot, but it's goood in the end!)
          This all gets braised--the sliced onions first. She says:
          "Never blanch or cook red cabbage in boiling water, or all the bright red color will end up in the cooking water. If you don't braise the cabbage, as in this recipe, use it raw, grated, or sliced for salads."
          Braise over very low heat for about 2 hours. The cabbage should be very soft and almost all liquid absorbed. We love it.

          1. re: blue room

            Well, it *is* nice to me! They just don't get the attraction of soaking something that looks like tree bark until you can fry it all golden brown. I guess it's a good thing we're not Scandinavian and have to eat lutefisk...

            1. re: rainey

              Ugh! Lutefisk - the OTHER white glop! LOL!

            2. re: blue room

              << You'd have lost that dime. There *must* be a way to combine mild fish with mashed potato and fry 'til golden and have it come out nice, not vile. >>

              Actually, the Portuguese do it very well. I make a fried codfish ball that is very tasty, of course you have to add a little garlic, onion and parsley to the fish and potato to make it yummy.

              1. re: NE_Elaine

                I've seen another Portuguese dish that was codfish braised in tomatoes and vegetables. Looked wonderful to me but I've passed on it since my family is so negative about dried cod and it's the distinctive flavor of dried cod that appeals to me.

                1. re: rainey

                  You can make those dishes - there's a ton of variations - with fresh cod too, and they're very good. My basic Mediterranean Fish Thing is potatoes, onions, peppers (I use poblanos because Mrs. O can't stand sweet ones), tomatoes and fish, with the ingredients cooked or not, fried or boiled, and with or without wine, garlic, smoked paprika and/or saffron. And maybe a handful of olives. I usually start these things on the stovetop and finish them in the oven, as they would be done by old granny ladies on a Greek island or Catalonian shore. Hey, it's just food, and it's damn good.

                2. re: NE_Elaine

                  We eat them when in Brazil. Yummy snack.

          2. Shredded carrot/raisin/pineapple salad rings my nostalgia-bell. Definitely the tuna casserole, which I still make about twice a year, either in Winter or when I'm a bit down. My Grandma Mimi's oven brisket, and her "cheese dreams", which were basically blintz filling spooned into tiny muffin cups lined with pie pastry, served with strawberry or sour cherry preserves and sour cream.

            1. Growing up in the 60's, my mother made pan seared pork chops which she put in a casserole dish & topped with Campbell's condensed tomato soup, sliced onions & green bell peppers. It was finished in the oven and she got the recipe on the side of the soup can. She still makes the recipe and I only eat it at her house. When I was a kid & got sick, I'd have a bowl of Campbell's chicken noodle soup and cinnamon toast, which was bread lightly toasted, spread with softened butter which had sugar & cinnamon mixed in. It was the best combination. I don't buy canned soups because I love soup making but I do have a can squirreled away for emergencies & since you bought up nostalgia, I might have to dig it out..

              My folks were southern born & raised so I grew up eating a lot of goodies. My grandmother, who raised her own food was a master of any ingredient she put her hands on. She made biscuits a couple times a day...no measuring of anything, she just mixed up everything and they came out light and perfect everytime. Paired with some crispy fried fat back & home made peach preserves, I think it was the best thing I ever ate. What I wouldn't give to sit at her table and eat one more of her meals.

              The only thing I remember my father cooking was a pot of great northernn beans with ham hocks; he was the one to make the beans in my house and he did it well. Even now, whenever I make those beans, it reminds me of him. Thanks for the memories!

              1. I too was quite fond of Tuna casserole topped with crushed potato chips. Haven't had it in years though. Peg Bracken's "I Hate to Cook Book" from the sixties produced several recipes that I still make today. My all time favorite of hers is Pedro's Specials. Basically it's a quick chili served with Fritos, diced onions, and shredded cheese on a bed of chopped lettuce. (The original Taco salad.) MMM!!! But, the grandaddy of them all is the Pillsbury Bake-Off winner from 1962....Candy Bar Cookies. The top prize money was only $25,000 back then. Have the original copy that was printed Feb. 1962 in Parade, very torn and tattered now. These cookies are fantastic and have been made every year for Christmas in my family since '62. Nostalgic is the first thing that comes to my mind when making these cookies. That and me helping my Mom make them!