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Sep 6, 2012 12:22 PM

Foods from your childhood that seem laughable now

The other day, I got to reminiscing about foods from my childhood.  The kind of thing that's more fun to reminisce with others about.  But then I live in Europe, where no one would have the foggiest what I was talking about if I said to them: "Wonder bread" (Lucky for them, right?!)

So I guess I just was just wondering if anyone else has memories of the foods I recall eating a lot of back in the day.  And I was also curious about what foods you guys remember from your childhoods.

The first thing that came into my head(and made me laugh and got this whole thing started) was our idea of "Italian" home meals back then.  Which usually consisted of Creamette pasta, served with corn-syrupy Ragu or Prego brand sauce, and topped with a mound of that comfortingly stinky canned parmesan cheese! My parents were relatively cultured people who had traveled abroad, liked middle-eastern food, etc. so it surprises me some of the things we regularly ate in our household, but then I think it also had a lot to do with what was available then.  Nowadays, in the same grocery stores by them that used to stock only the above mentioned, you can now buy pastas and sauces imported from Italy, and fresh Sargento parmesan.  Which any Italian would still snigger at, but it sure beats the stuff in the green comet-cleanser can....
We also ate Kraft mac and cheese a fair bit, often with canned baked beans or franks and beans.  Also frozen "fish sticks" ...not sure if those had real pieces of fish in them or were just some extruded fish-product made from stuff swept up off the factory floor?  And "tater tots"...I remember loving those, but they certainly seem like another food quite possibly invented to make use of the waste of other food products.
Spaghetti-o's, anyone?  Just the thought of them kinda makes me shudder!
My mom often bought canned mandarin oranges.  I'm not entirely against those, but they were always kind of weird, particularly if you think about real mandarin oranges...

Once in a while, my Mom bought us chocolate Ovaltine.  I think she thought it was healthy for some reason, but don't remember the details on why.  I always thought Ovaltine was somehow vaguely icky.  Maybe it was just the unappetizing name "Ovaltine", or the unsettling thought of it being healthy...(healthy? eew, gross.). But in any case, it was still sweet and chocolate flavored, so I wasn't complaining too loudly.
For a while when I was in elementary school she bought chocolate Malt-O-Meal for us.  It was a quick breakfast she could whip up before sending us off on the school bus.  But somehow she never figured out how to make it smooth/lump-free.  And ironically that became my favorite thing about chocolate Malt-O-Meal; finding and biting into those sweet, gummy lumps.
Still on the topic of things that are sweet and chocolate flavored, have any of you gone back as adults and re-tasted those foil-wrapped hollow brown chocolate easter bunnies and santas?  Of course now you can buy Lindt versions and what not, but if you try the classic unbranded ones, some of those are just awful.  Gritty, don't melt in your mouth; they just bead up and turn into waxy globs on your tongue that you swallow not because they seem food-like in any way, but more just to get them out of your mouth.  It seems amazing to me now with what joy we recieved and ate those as kids, just because they were sweet and festively wrapped. And kids today seem equally undisturbed by their nastiness.

My best friend's mom used to make this thing she called dirt cake.  I think it was basically just ground oreo cookies mixed with gummy worms, but I'm not sure.  I guess that is kind of cute and fun for kids, if you think about it.

Speaking of gummy candies, does anyone happen to remember "pet rats" ?  Oh, man, what a terrible idea! I can laugh till I have tears in my eyes, just thinking about those things. They were these milk-white gummy rats, literally the same size as, or even larger than, a real rat, basically much more than any child would be able to eat at once.  Which means you nibbled it for a while, had enough, dragged it around by it's tail and ended up forgetting it somewhere, where the gummy, partially gnawed and saliva dampened thing would collect all the dust, bits of gravel and pet hair.  Some adult would wash it off and give it back to you.  But only after exasperatedly trying to establish a strict system in which you were to always return it to a designated "pet rat" plate on the kitchen counter when you were done nibbling on it, or something.  And maybe the system would even work for a while.  But you were a kid.  Eventually, you would wander off with it, get distracted and and again leave it somewhere.  And then, months later, while vacuuming, your mother would unearth it from the deeps beneath the couch cushions, half chewed and coated in lint and hair, and throw it away. Yuck!

My Grandma, who was actually a very good cook in many respects, always had Wonder bread and American cheese on hand.  And Velveeta.  And Jell-o, which she made with the likes of the aforementioned canned mandarins in a jell-o mold.  What can I say?  She was of the "better cooking by science" generation.
She also frequently bought those Pillsbury biscuits-in-a-can.
I actually remember thinking, at the time, that those were pretty excellent.
But the idea of ready-to-bake biscuits exploding from a can with a loud pop does strike me as a little sci-fi.
But enough of my recollections.  How about you guys???

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  1. Ecto-cooler, and it was awesome. I'm absolutely positive I wouldn't drink it now, but back in the day, that was the drink.

    1 Reply
    1. re: zitronenmadchen

      I haven't thought of that in years! I didn't get juice boxes much, but that stuff was good.

    2. Velveeta. Velveeta was considered pretty top-of-the-line in Germany in the 1950s (at least among non-upper class people), and Germany certainly has its own cheese traditions. The same goes for the Puerto Rico of the 1950s--Velveeta: wow! Modern! American! I'm pretty sure that jello (or I should say gelatine desserts) are totally relateable for people from various parts of Europe and Latin America, certainly gelatine foods (both savory and/or sweet) are eaten there.

      Talking about ridiculous: Nutella. Yum for kids, but to me it seems like kids' food. And, though Nutella and Wonderbread are two totally different things, a Nutella eater criticizing Wonderbread is living in a glass house I think.

      1. Wax lips...WTH? The mere idea is disgusting to me right now and the sticky sweetness of pixie sticks. Have Mercy! And that slicky taste of Hostess products truly sickens me right now. It's incredible how our tastes change!

        3 Replies
        1. re: SweetPhyl

          Ha, hadn't thought of wax lips for years. Also those weird little wax bottles filled with neon-colored who knows what.

          1. re: Samalicious

            Oh those wax bottles. Of course you chewed the wax right?

            1. re: Goatjunky

              Yes, Lik'm Aids they were called. My list of others: Fizzies. Hostess pies. Chef Boyardee Ravioli. Dinty Moore beef stew. Morton pot pies. Frosted Flakes. Turkish Taffy. McDonalds. Velveeta grilled cheese sandwiches. Cap'n Crunch. Slurpee's.

        2. The first thing I thought of was Nuna and Toodles (tuna noodle caserole) made with canned tuna, canned cream of mushroom soup, and velveeta. In my memory, it still tastes good, but I don't know how I'd feel if I tasted it now. Another thing I used to love, that I invented myself, was to make cinamon toast with white bread, and then when the cinamon part was just crispy, cover the whole thing with marshmellows and put back under the broiler until the marshmellows were toasted. I also loved marshmellow cream, right out of the jar.

          1. Swanson's TV dinners - We all thought they were the niftiest idea way back when, and my mother was so pleased to have a night off from cooking.

            Canned vegetables boiled to death. Mushy texture and zero flavor, except for the metallic taste of the can. Despite my protestations, I usually managed to clear them off my plate after being told there would be no dessert for me if I didn't.

            Fish sticks. We had them about once a week. I gladly gobbled them up after drowning them in half a bottle of ketchup!

            Chef Boy-ar-dee ravioli. I looked forward to having this for dinner. Funny that after all these years it's being advertised on TV again.

            Maypo. I thought it was disgusting when I was a kid. I'm sure I would find it just as revolting now.

            Lots of cakes and brownies made from a box. My mother preferred Duncan Hines brand. When you think about it, it's not much more difficult to make these desserts from scratch and get a much better result, but the boxes were really popular back in the day.

            Kool-Aid. I loved the stuff--every flavor. Now I can't get past how artificial it tastes.

            And, of course, Velveeta and the grated cheese in the green can and Wonder bread. Real Parmigiano-Reggiano wasn't sold in supermarkets when I was young and the bread offerings were pitiful compared to what we can buy today. I often asked for a slice of toasted Wonder bread with butter when I came home from school. I remember being in France 40 years ago and listening to people make fun of American bread like Wonder bread while making a sour face.

            15 Replies
            1. re: cheesemaestro

              Maypo. I thought it was disgusting when I was a kid. I'm sure I would find it just as revolting now.
              HAD to laugh at this remark. I've been hunting down Maypo lately and my one source left for this delicious hot cereal is only Shop Rite. They carry Maypo on regular basis. I enjoy it often with warm milk, honey or maple syrup and cut fresh fruit.

              As a child, I had a sweet tooth and loved fruit jellies, raw Jello powder straight out of the box, Ovaltine cupcakes, Fluffernutter, PB&J in the same jar, toasted marshmallows, s'mores, bread with chocolate sprinkles, Strawberry Quik and Chunky.

              1. re: HillJ

                The Vermont Country Store sold Maypo at one point. Their catalog (print or online) is a wonderful place to visit to find foods and other products that you remember from way back but didn't think still existed. I just bought ten rolls of Necco wafers from VCS for a friend who adores them, but couldn't find them anywhere. VCS extracts a high price for nostalgia, though. The products may be just as we remember them, but the cost sure isn't.

                1. re: cheesemaestro

                  Thanks for the info. If the day should come that local no longer works out...I'll be online ordering Maypo. Even my college age child asked me to ship Maypo to France while he studied abroad last year.

                  My one brother loved Necco wafers as a kid. I recall Halloween Necco's was considered quite the score. I was busy nibbling black licorice.

                  1. re: HillJ

                    I wanted Maypo as a kid, and my mother never got it! I didn't even know it was oatmeal, till I bought some last year. I thought it was like Cream of Wheat, only maple flavored. As I've moved on to steel cut oats these days, I've been throwing the Maypo (and the chocolate Malt-o-meal) into granola bars. It's just too sweet for my taste now.

                    1. re: HillJ

                      Necco wafers are available at Cracker Barrel stores, too, along with 2 of my favorites: Zero bar and Skybar.

                      1. re: pine time

                        I have a roll of Necco wafers in my car right now. I dole them out to my grandchildren. CVS has them here in NY.

                        1. re: pine time

                          Zero bars were kept in the fridge at the snack bar at our neighborhood pool. That's the only place I ever had them as a kid, and now I can't eat one without feeling cold, wet and sunburned.

                          1. re: jmcarthur8

                            Same thing--Zero bar from the pool snack bar, and refrigerated, too! Still like them.

                      2. re: cheesemaestro

                        VCS is outrageously expensive. Catalog's fun to peruse, though.

                        1. re: cheesemaestro

                          Couldn't agree more on VCS prices. A couple of year back they carried Bon Ami for $3.99 per can. The same size at my local supermarket was $0.89.I guess others discovered this disparity, too, because the no longer carry it.

                          The only time I order from them is if I can't find it somewhere else and I can't live without it.

                          1. re: cheesemaestro

                            If any of you live within striking distance of Cincinnati, you can find lots of nostalgia items at Jungle Jims in Fairfield, OH. However, I have yet to be thrilled with anything I bought, especially in the candy dept. It all tastes so artificial. And be careful of what you buy from Vermont Country Store, they sell Pear's soap, 3 bars for $14.95 + shipping. Dollar Tree sells it also, for, you guessed it, $1.00 a bar.

                          2. re: HillJ

                            Hannaford supermarkets carry Maypo. I didn't eat it as a kid, but I bought it on a whim last winter and actually liked it, once I got past the ground-up oatmeal texture. It only has a little maple flavor and isn't very sweet. I put mixed dried fruit and some chopped nuts on it (like you get with Starbucks oatmeal if you've ever had that). I'll probaby buy another box this winter.

                            1. re: HillJ

                              Haven't seen a Chunky in years. I loved those!

                            2. re: cheesemaestro

                              If my parents went out, we got a swansens frozen dinner. And we got to pick. Funny how it was so cool. I recently bought some ceramic plate replicas of the trays becase of the nostalgia

                              1. re: Goatjunky

                                Yes! Even when some of the peas and carrots got into the mashed potatoes or apple cobbler.