Food52 Life

Too Many Cooks: What Weird Food Was Your Mom Eating?

May  1, 2015

You'll be hearing from the staff at FOOD52 every week in Too Many Cooks, our group column in which we pool our answers to questions about food, cooking, life, and more.

Today: Maybe your mom baked cookies, grilled steak, and poached fish. Or maybe she didn't. Either way, we are betting that there was one weird food she passed down, whether you wanted to acknowledge it or not.

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All of us have weird eating habits: Some, we picked up in college; some are thanks to our significant others; and some came from books, movies, and the all-powerful internet. But the truth is that a lot of the best, and weirdest, food habits in our lives come straight from our childhood kitchens. And since Mother’s Day is upon us, it's only natural to remember the strange foods that Mom cooked (or didn’t) during our formative years. 

Chances are high that you will be able to relate to at least one of our staff's moms' strange food habits. Like the fact that chips and dip counted as a well-balanced meal. Or hiding vegetables and leaving candy out as a pretty sneaky (and effective) bit of reverse psychology.

Either way, we understand that sometimes, no matter how weird, your mom’s cooking is something you will always remember fondly. Which is precisely why we asked the staff at Food52: 

What weird things did your mom cook for you? Did you ever discover these strange meals were less than "normal," or are you still eating pickle-and-American cheese sandwiches every Thursday night? 

How about you? Do you abide by your mom’s kitchen rules? Do you love the same strange combinations? Or have you firmly rejected your mom’s bowls of smashed pickle salad? Tell us in the comments below!

Rachel: My mom is neither a cook nor a baker, but she is a firefighter and a nurse, so I don't hold it against her. 

She made brownies from box mixes all the time for our after-school snack. They were great—as I maintain all brownies from box mixes are—but she made them in a 9- by 13-inch pan and they were apparently extremely flat brownies. I never thought twice about it until I brought them into middle school once (for whatever stupid thing that kids need to bring desserts into middle school for) and my friend made fun of me. We stopped being friends from that point, duh.

Jackie: My mom wasn't a firefighter or a nurse, but she worked in real estate and my dad traveled a lot for business. One treat we'd have when my dad was away was breakfast for dinner—salami and eggs, more specifically. Nope, it's not from a Dr. Seuss book; it's real, and it's good. Another favorite she'd make me for lunch, which I don't think my peers in the elementary school cafeteria totally understood, was cream cheese and jelly sandwiches on challah. That's right. Dessert for lunch. Thanks, Mom!  

Jane W: Ditto! Why do moms only do breakfast for dinner when dads aren't home? It's like they think it's a cop-out or something.... I love my mom, I love my dad, and I love breakfast 24/7.

Kristen: My favorite mom treat was on Valentine's Days, when for some reason my dad would often be away at conferences so it was just the three of us. She made my brother and me egg in a hole—but the hole was cut out with a heart cookie cutter, and then the heart itself became cinnamon toast. 

Leslie: My mom brainwashed me as a kid. She put all of the candy out in the open and told me I could eat it whenever I wanted, but she'd hide the vegetables and tell me I could only eat them as a special treat at dinner. It worked. When I was six, I asked if I could have a bowl of brussels sprouts for my birthday instead of a cake.

Jaime B: My mom always considered a bagel toasted with tomato and feta to be a great snack/dinner.

Leandra: My mom makes the best tuna salad ever. Always using the same players—Bumble Bee Tuna, Hellmann's mayo, and occasionally currants (don't knock it until you've tried it!) or celery. 

What makes this weird? She always made it in the same light blue tupperware that we named Tina (as in Tina Tuna, as in Tina Turner). Also I ABSOLUTELY cannot eat tuna salad unless my mom has made it, to this day. If my sister and I were ever subjected to tuna salad not made by my mom—the horror!—we hated it because of the specific flavor that we named "Other People's Tuna." I think the only time I have ever eaten or ever will eat tuna salad is by my mom's hand. I request it every time I visit. 

Lauren K: Chopped black olive and mayonnaise sandwiches, anyone? My mom made these for me because my grandmother had made them for her (and because I loved them so much it bordered on obsession). I thought they were a relatively normal thing from the 1950s, but the internet has told me otherwise. Regardless, I assure you they are very delicious. Now that I'm thinking about them, I'll probably have to make one. 

Hillary: My mom always made very sensible meals, but she promised to make any cake we wanted for birthdays. Of course, I chose the most elaborate Teddy Graham pool cake, which I'd spotted on the cover of Family Circle (don't ask why I was reading a mom mag). It tasted very strange, but I was happy.

Hannah P: When I was growing up, my mom and I lived off of her signature onion dip (Lipton's, Mountain High yogurt, plus ten-ish lemons) and Baked Lays. I would have been content to eat this dinner nightly, but then my step-dad showed up and started cooking "real" food. I would have been fine had I never learned that our weeknight dinners of chips and dip were out of the ordinary, but sometimes you are forced to face the facts. Needless to say, dips remain a meal-planning staple in my life. 

Stephanie: It's not that weird, but it certainly felt weird as a child. My mother never ever cooked Kraft Dinner (macaroni and cheese from the box). This was because when she was a kid, her brothers told her macaroni was made from worms and she never recovered.

Bridget: I was always horrified to serve my friends (but secretly loved) my mom's "weird" take on grilled cheese. I later came to realize it was a version of Welsh rarebit that she learned to make WHILE SHE WAS A SERVANT IN SCOTLAND. #BAMF

Toast bread, slather with grated cheddar cheese that's been sitting in milk for 15 minutes and tons of black pepper, broil open-faced. So amazing.

Jenny: My mom's main cooking objective was to make vegetables unavoidable. Her "secret" recipes included lettuce blended into mashed potatoes and zucchini grated beneath the cheese on pizza. She would even make my friends eat carrots before they could have birthday cake at my parties. 

Victoria: When I was little, my mom told me Saltine crackers were called cookies. I loved "cookies" and legitimately thought they were Saltine crackers for longer than I am willing to admit on the internet. One day I had a real cookie at a friend's house and knew instantly I had been hoodwinked! Luckily, my mom made delicious chocolate chip cookies to make up for the deception.

Amanda H: My mom was so Brooklyn way back in the 70s! She was always pickling, and making bread, and foraging for wild asparagus and such. (Which reminds me that my childhood best friend once cried when my mother served asparagus for dinner.) But one of my favorite things she made was with pie dough scraps: She'd gather the scraps into a ball, roll them out into a circle, sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar, and bake it. It was like a big, flaky cinnamon cookie. And it was such a smart thing to do because she'd often bake a pie the day before she planned to serve it, which meant her four kids would be dying, waiting for pie time—and this gave us a little taste of pie in the interim.

Merrill: My mom is actually a great cook, but she did make us a few things that others have informed me since were not really "normal." I think the best example is bologna and cottage cheese "roll-ups," which are exactly what they sound like. We loved them.

Amanda S: My mom was known to serve Hawaiian bread—she's take a quarter of the loaf, slice it into 2-inch pieces, and fry them in butter on both sides—as an incredibly nutritious start to the day. She also made "Husband's Delight" for dinner more often than I will admit: egg noodles, ricotta cheese, sour cream, and meat sauce in a layered casserole situation. For balance, I guess, I was dealt cucumber sandwiches in my lunchbox (white bread, mayo on both sides, cucumber slices, lotsa salt), which is still one of my favorite meals to date. 

Sam: I always woke with a jolt on Saturday mornings because I knew my mom would be downstairs, making chocolate chip pancakes (from Bisquick). But what really strikes me now is that she gave up maple syrup for my whole childhood. I really hated maple syrup when I was a kid (I would only eat the fake sugary kind) and she never tried to sneak in the real stuff; she just bided her time until I came to my senses. Bless moms.

What mom-food has left a lasting impression? Any weird foods your still coming to terms with? Share with us in the comments below! 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Emily
  • KateRobertson
  • Heather
  • Briell Thomsen
    Briell Thomsen
  • kayla
Past Julia Child Fellow at Food52 || Believer in Brunch


Emily January 5, 2016
Hot milk toast -- just toast, broken up in a bowl, sprinkled with sugar with hot milk poured over it. Cream of mushroom soup on toast. Pickled beet eggs -- hard cooked eggs, pealed left in a jar of pickled beets for several days -- at least a week is best. Roly pie doly -- take the leftover scraps from making pie dough, roll them out flat, spread with butter, add sugar and cinnamon and
rollup like a log and bake. Then slice into rounds like little cinnamon wheels. Also good with powdered sugar frosting. Gravy bread -- a piece of bread on a plate with gravy pored over it. Bread and milk (cold) with sugar on it. Must be served in a blue bowl and eaten on the back porch steps in the summer. I wonder if all this bread is why I am gluten intolerent now?
KateRobertson May 5, 2015
Saltine crackers stacked extremely high, sandwiched with either margarine or PB. She wrapped the long tower in saran and sent me to school. My brother was once sent with a plastic grocery bag filled with popcorn. Just that.
Heather May 4, 2015
Briell T. May 3, 2015
Spaghetti pancakes were always my favorite. You cook your spaghetti noodles then let them cool mix them with egg, cheese, salt and pepper and fry it in a pan. I love it so much my dad use to make it for us when I was little. I started making them in college and it freaked people out! Until they ate it they loved it.
kayla May 3, 2015
Graham Cracker Cereal. I still love it to this day. Just broken bits of graham crackers covered with ice cold milk. If you love soggy cereal, you must try it!
kayla May 3, 2015
Alicia A. May 3, 2015
As a special treat/snack, my mom occasionally made toast topped with a thin layer of butter and brown sugar. The brown sugar would melt into the butter. It tasted like heaven.
Mari O. May 3, 2015
Two slices of white bread, Best Foods mayo on one, orange marmalade on the other and swiss cheese in between the two slices. Or cottage cheese and jam sandwiches. Or toasted grape or blackberry jam w/ fried Spam sandwiches.
ducksandbooks May 3, 2015
Jackie, apricot lekvar (pureed preserves) with cream cheese on challah (or even better, hot dog rolls made from challah dough so that there's more crust!) were my favorite sandwich growing up. Yum!
Jackie S. May 8, 2015
I love apricots too! Sounds delish.
Christi W. May 3, 2015
My childhood best friend's mother would feed us Cheerios in coffee milk, grilled cheese sandwiches dipped in steen's cane syrup, white bunny bread topped with a mixture of sugar, cocoa powder & butter. Each was delicious.
mary May 3, 2015
My mom had the collection of Time Life cookbooks from around the world. She tried a lot of unusual dishes at the family dinner table. The weirdest dish had to be "Curried Eggs and Onions"! Totally disgusting visually, gross textures in the mouth and sickening flavor. Unfortunately, this dish occurred after Easter when there was an abundance of hard-boiled eggs. The concoction was sliced onions, sliced hard boiled eggs combined with that disgusting yellow curry sauce made from McCormicks 'curry powder'. I think it was the only curry powder available in the 70's. This dish was served over white rice. One time I invited my best friend over for dinner because I knew we were having it. She was grossed out and I laughed about it for days. She secretly got the last laugh because another time she joined us for dinner, she broke our family turkey platter.
Samojettie May 3, 2015
Jeannette Kennelly sandwiches, peanut butter,tomatoes, onions and mayo on white bread. At the end of the week when money was low it was white bread,butter, and sugar-uncle Wiggly sandwiches!!! They were the best.
Kimberly T. May 3, 2015
my mom would make for me and her chicken gizzards and hearts for a special lunch when my brother and dad were gone. She would boil them in beef broth and spices. It sounds gross but it was really good and good for you. Then she would make grilled cheeses to have with it
jessica May 2, 2015
Pickle and mayo sandwiches from Mom could cure anything. If something really bad had happened she added chocolate milk and turned on Willy Wonka.
terese S. May 2, 2015
Vivian R. May 2, 2015
My favorite sandwich was made by my grandmother, it was a peanut butter, mayonnaise and onion sandwich - yum!
Imagine my surprise a few years ago when my 2 grown sons and I went to a sidewalk cafe and on their menu was a grilled chicken sandwich topped with peanut butter, mayonnaise and onions!! Of course I ordered it - now I occasionally have those as well :)
Lisa D. May 2, 2015
Radish sandwiches.
Actually that a Belgian and Dutch thing too: a thick slices of wholewheat bread (REAL bread not packaged), fromage blanc (thick greek-style yogurt), thin slices of radish, salt and chives. really good actually.
Christi W. May 2, 2015
My mom made awesome potato soup, but the weirdest thing I enjoyed was Fritos in Campbell's mushroom soup.
Sally P. May 2, 2015
I still think a peanut butter (and butter) and dill pickle sandwich is the most comforting of lunches.
Kelly D. May 3, 2015
My mom made those too!
Pasta with Belgian golden sugar and a teaspoon of butter. Many Belgian kids used to eat that for breakfast before the 60s I think. I've never tried and it doesn't t sound that tempting...