I HATE That! Your Worst Family Meal Growing Up

Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega searches old newspapers to find recipes for meals she and her friends remember from childhood – but didn’t like very much. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”

Not all family history memories are good ones. Take for instance that one food or meal you absolutely hated growing up. My most hated dinners were tuna casserole, liver and onions, and anything with peas in it. Even my kids have meals (that I cook) that they hate, though lucky for me it’s a short list. My oldest hates pot roast and my youngest can’t stand anything with celery.

Photo: tuna casserole is a casserole mainly composed of egg noodles and canned tuna fish, with canned peas and corn sometimes added
Photo: tuna casserole is a casserole mainly composed of egg noodles and canned tuna fish, with canned peas and corn sometimes added. The casserole is often topped with potato chips, corn flakes or canned fried onions. Credit: B.D.’s world; Wikimedia Commons.

Our least favorite foods become the foods we avoid because of their smell, texture, perceived “grossness,” or even due to the frequency it appeared on our dining room table. I asked my Facebook friends about their most hated dish growing up – and there was a lot of agreement about certain foods. (1)

The most hated food was liver, as well as cow’s head, cow’s tongue, and tripe (cow’s stomach). Probably not surprisingly, many people mentioned a vegetable they hated (think peas, lima beans, okra), or how it was prepared – such as turnip soup, creamed corn, stuffed bell peppers, and stewed eggplant. Seafood was another least-liked food, and friends mentioned despising fresh fish, fish casseroles, and fish sticks.

Tuna Casserole

Some of my friends agreed with me that tuna casserole (in my family it was tuna noodle casserole) is the worst. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like tuna. But it’s the combination of hot canned tuna, noodles, cream of mushroom soup, and vegetables (canned mixed vegetables to be precise) that equals my worst food nightmare. My mom would add bread crumbs and a layer of cheese on the top in an effort to make me like it, but no amount of melted cheese is going to help that dish (sorry mom). I recently found a cookbook that my mom may have owned with the offending dish. (2)

Photo: tuna casserole recipe
Photo: tuna casserole recipe. Credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega, from a cookbook in her collection.

As you can imagine, variations on the tuna casserole theme can also be found in newspaper food columns. Quite frankly, some of these versions seem worse than plain old tuna casserole, such as the recipe below for deviled tuna casserole. I love a “deviled” dish but I’ll pass on this combination of tuna, onion, garlic, milk, lemon juice, parsley, Worcestershire sauce, bread cubes and potato chips.

A recipe for tuna casserole, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 4 April 1968
Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 4 April 1968, page 12

A whole article about the most horrible tuna casserole recipes found in newspapers could be written, but I’ll leave you with one last recipe that brags it can be served hot or cold. The article states:

“This New Tuna Casserole uncovers different flavor combinations and textures than we’ve seen before. Rice provides the bulk and canned tomato sauce the liquid and flavor along with ripe olives and two kinds of cheese and silvered almonds.”

I think they should keep those flavor combinations to themselves.

A recipe for tuna casserole, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 21 May 1964
Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 21 May 1964, page 6

Liver

Sure, there are people who like liver and onions – but the majority of my Facebook friends admitted they absolutely hate it. The smell was cited as just one reason. I’m in total agreement. I’ve never understood why anyone would want to eat a liver.

This 1922 newspaper cooking column, “Sister Mary’s Kitchen,” adds everyone’s favorite protein, bacon, to a liver recipe – but quite frankly it would take a lot of bacon before you could convince me to eat it. “Sister Mary” even explains the differences in various livers:

“…calves’ liver is always highest in price and most desirable. Beef liver comes next in price, is not so tender and delicately flavored. Pig’s liver is the cheapest and least desirable, but if carefully cooked makes a perfectly acceptable dish.”

Nope, still not perfectly acceptable in my eyes.

I understand why people have historically eaten liver. First, it’s inexpensive. And people were encouraged to eat it for the iron, but I still say a big “no, thank you” to it. But if you love it, here are four recipes to consider.

A liver recipe, Patriot newspaper article 24 January 1922
Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 24 January 1922, page 7
Liver recipes, Patriot newspaper article 24 January 1922
Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 24 January 1922, page 7

There’s no doubt that some of our least favorite meals or food combination may have a historical background. During World War II there was an emphasis on eating organ meat to save more popular meats for our soldiers. It was important to convince the folks on the home front that they should eat things like liver, and recipes were published to give home cooks ideas for their preparation, such as this “Prudence Penny Wartime Marketing” column that extolls the virtues of pork liver.

An article about pork liver, Detroit Times newspaper article 22 January 1943
Detroit Times (Detroit, Michigan), 22 January 1943, page 18
A pork liver recipe, Detroit Times newspaper article 22 January 1943
Detroit Times (Detroit, Michigan), 22 January 1943, page 18

One last thing. One of my friends pointed out to me that you don’t see liver as much in the grocery store. I realized she was right; at least in my grocery store it’s not displayed prominently. Food choices and tastes change over time and foods that are not as popular become harder to find.

Lima Beans

Some of my friends mentioned how much they detest lima beans. I totally understand why. There’s something about that “meaty texture” that is not my favorite. I remember as a young girl finding out my paternal grandfather liked them, and I was totally perplexed how he could like something that awful.

This 1907 newspaper column of “Some Good Recipes” features lima beans in a dish with a perplexing name, Cleopatra Salad. It includes left-over cooked vegetables, but especially lima beans, corn, peas, and bits of beet. This salad requires you to cut the vegetables in neat shapes so they don’t look “messy,” and then present them on lettuce leaves topped with ribbons of red or green peppers and French dressing.

Lima Bean recipes, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 19 June 1907
Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 19 June 1907, page 4

What Foods Do You HATE?

It’s OK if you love liver or your favorite casserole is tuna casserole. I’m sure you have something you can’t stand to eat and haven’t had since you became an adult. Or maybe there’s something you at least don’t prefer. What is it? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Note: An online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors – the old newspaper articles also help you understand American history and the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers – as well as recipes for the foods they ate.

_________________

(1) Thanks to all my Facebook friends who answered my question about the foods they hated in childhood.
(2) “Tuna and Noodle Casserole.” Deseret Recipes. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1981.

36 thoughts on “I HATE That! Your Worst Family Meal Growing Up

  1. Big lima beans when cooked right are a real treat. For instance, you don’t change the water in them when cooking and you don’t cook them until they are mushy — and you can add a little bacon or ham. You serve them hot not cold. However, I do soak them overnight and the amount you cook depends on the number of people you are expecting to feed. Lima beans are like any other food; they have to be cooked right. When I was about 8 years old my Mother got sick and so she decided that she would teach me how to cook for up to 20 people, most of whom were field hands, and my Mom was a great teacher. However, I would refuse to cook eggplants, onions, any kind of peppers, or cabbage. (I loved coleslaw.) But I refused to eat cooked cabbage. One day my Mom was pretty sick, and she told me to cook whatever I wanted to cook. I prepared what was almost the standard meal, then I found some dried apples. I took them and put some sugar in them and cooked them until almost all the water had boiled out of them, then I made icing for a great big cake that I had baked. I put the apples on the cake just like I would do for any other icing. When I put the cake on the table, Mom cut it up and there was not a crumb left. I would add one other thing that I refused to eat: butter mild or clabbered milk.

    1. Fred, I’ll take your word for it about the lima beans ;). But that cake sounds wonderful! Thank you for sharing the story of your mom and your food history!

  2. Yep. Liver I hated. Could not stand the smell. My mom was bound and determined that I would eat liver. Ha! Mom and I had a battle. I won.

  3. I loved everything my mother cooked when I was growing up in the 1950s. I even liked liver and bacon, although it no longer appeals to me. Tuna casserole is still a favorite of mine! Don’t fix it often and since it is not something my husband grew up eating, I must fix him something else. I wasn’t crazy about mashed potatoes or peas. My mother loved both, so fixed them often. I now fix both. Husband likes both. I actually like them now. I think people end up liking what they are used to eating. When you think about it, how much variety do most people have? One childhood favorite was giblets and rice. Didn’t fix this when I had children since I knew no one would eat it. It no longer appeals to me, but my brother makes it often. Oh, I do like lima beans, but don’t fix them since no one will eat them. Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m going to have some soon. When I grew up, I became interested in what was fashionable. But now I’m drawn to 1950s food. Meatloaf, pot roast, macaroni & cheese. I wish I knew how my mother fixed Swiss Steak. Has anyone had Shrimp Wiggle? It was popular before my time, but I discovered it in an old cookbook. I like it! I have a huge collection of old cookbooks.

  4. Once when my mother had the flu, my father boiled a chicken for us to eat. In plain water. With nothing added. I was horrified, but came to realize that because he grew up on a farm, in a big family, with very little money, having an entire chicken to eat, in any form, was a treat. My mother didn’t like to cook, and had a limited repertoire, but she at least was not the minimalist that my father showed himself to be with that chicken!

    1. Pam, thanks so much for sharing that food memory. Food stories often have some insight into family history as you pointed out with your dad’s boiled chicken.

  5. Well, huh. I LOVE tuna casserole, liver, and lima beans. My mother had a way of making tuna casserole so that it was not goopy and had a crunchy topping, saltines I think. And she made liver without onions, so that made a difference. But no matter what she did with beets, I never did like them. Still hate ’em.

    1. Helen, well that’s the great thing about food. Everyone has their favorites and their not so favorites. I love beets, especially pickled beets. Thanks for commenting!

  6. I absolutely abhor cream cheese! I think it’s the worst substance on the face of this planet! You can’t disguise it, and regardless of how little you use in a recipe, it can be detected. Nasty substance!

    1. Jennifer, cream cheese?! But it’s great on bagels! It is sorta weird, so I guess I can understand your aversion to it. Thanks for the comments!

  7. There are a lot of foods that are on my avoid-at-all-costs list, including lima beans, brussel sprouts, liver, and others. My memory of family dinners that brought me into stand-offs with mom were a pork dish that I disliked so much that I can’t remember its name. What I remember is that it involved a rather large but short, hollow bone surrounded by what I perceived to be an inordinate amount of fat! My strongest memory is the great pea show-down. It involved the usual “you’ll sit here at the table until you eat those peas.” A few hours later when mom and dad were going to bed, mom came into the kitchen, threw out the peas and sent me to bed. It was one of the few times that I was the victor. There was never again a pea on my plate and any time that pork thing was served I got a tuna sandwich.

    1. Lynn, I too had many great “pea show-downs” growing up. There’s something about the taste and texture that is too much for me. Thanks for commenting!

  8. Gina,
    I totally agree about liver. My Mother’s sister always ordered liver and onions when I took her to lunch – Yuck!
    And I have always hated raw green peppers and lima beans.
    Collecting recipes is what got me into “family research.” As I collected recipes — back in the early 1980s — I got an earful about family stories that person knew, as well as documents, photos, etc., that they had, so I started collecting that material. Well, I have been researching the family since then and the recipe book remains “on the shelf.”

    1. Linda, I love family recipes and it’s great that they are what introduced you to family history. How wonderful! They tell us so much about our family. Thanks for your comments!

    1. Barbara , that is weird. I like all of those ingredients but not sure about how I feel about them mixed together. Thanks for sharing that!

      1. I love eggs a la golden rod (that’s what we called it). We have it for Easter morning every year. It started with my Grandma. They only had it for Easter and birthdays during the Great Depression. We broke the toast up into bite-size pieces, made a white gravy, and put chopped whites from the hard boiled eggs in the gravy, and crumbled the yolk over it. So good!

  9. Wow, I’ve only had tuna helper (love it) but will definitely try deviled tuna casserole, which is remarkably similar to my salmon patty recipe I made up.

    As for food I hated growing up: salmon patties (which I have to make for my husband, but I made up a recipe I like), liver (still hate) Brussels sprouts (still really dislike), hamburger (not a fan), fried chicken (not a fan), canned peas (yuk), cube steak (ugh).

    1. Sara, your comment reminded me of those frozen cubed steaks with the pat of butter on them. Did you ever have that? I think that’s the only steak I had until I was an adult.

      Thanks for commenting and for your food memories!

  10. My mom fixed salmon cakes with a side of canned peas. The salmon cakes were made with canned salmon – without removing the bones. I don’t remember what was in them, besides an egg to hold them together. I hated the texture and flavor of canned peas. I like split pea soup, though.

    1. Shannon, I HATE peas but will eat split pea soup, especially if ham or beacon is involved. I think it’s the texture of whole peas that I find really objectionable. Thanks for sharing your food memories.

  11. My least-favorite meal growing up in the ’50s and ’60s was creamed tuna on toast with peas, which my mother always served with a side of stewed rhubarb. She often made this dinner on Fridays when Catholic families like mine abstained from meat. The cream with the tuna fish flavor would merge on the plate with the runny red rhubarb into a pink puddle… one of the most inedible tastes ever, never mind the way it looked!

    1. Suzanne, oh boy. That sounds “interesting.” I’m so glad my mom never served creamed tuna. 🙂

      Thanks for sharing those family food memories!

  12. “Smoked butt,” or I think they call it “Daisy Ham” now… my husband and I agreed 43 years ago when we married never to eat that or give to our kids.

  13. Liver & Onions: Mother cooked it, Dad and I liked it. Had it all of my 74 years. When in the Army, when the Mess Hall served Liver and Onions, none of the trainees would eat it! I’d say give it to me and I would have a big plate full of Liver and Onions to eat. I love tuna also. Mom would fry up some tuna cakes. She would mix canned tuna with an egg and serve it either at lunch or supper. Man! Was it good!

    1. Loren, you most likely made many people happy by eating their liver and onions :). I know some people like it but I can’t get past the smell.

      Thanks for sharing your food memories!

  14. Growing up, my mother insisted we have liver on a regular basis (it’s loaded with iron and “it was good for us”). I hated it. Mom said I couldn’t leave the table until I ate all of it. The rest of the family left the kitchen after dinner and there I sat, staring at that awful-looking piece of liver. Mom never gave in. I just had to stay there and eat it. I soon found a way to get it down my throat. I love milk. So I poured myself a very large glass of milk, cut the liver into very, very tiny pieces. With the glass of milk in one hand, I stabbed that piece of liver with the fork in my other hand, popped it into my mouth and took a huge gulp of milk to wash it down. No more fights with my Mom. I swore I would never make my “future” children eat liver. I did marry a man who loved liver. So I cooked him liver and the kids and I would have burgers or hot dogs that night.

  15. My Mom made something she called “mock chicken.” It was veal & pork cubes on wooden skewers, breaded then fried, like you do fried chicken now.
    I loved it but really have no idea exactly how to make it. I’ve tried researching with no luck. Anybody have any knowledge of this?
    Love tuna noodle casserole. Hate lima beans.

  16. I have hated spam and liver since a very early age. I outwitted them by refusing to eat — sat at the dinner table for what felt like hours. Then I was sent to bed without dinner. I would steal bread or fruit and hide it in my room. I would eat it when I thought they were sleeping. Never got caught! Told my mom I would never eat it when I got married. That was 1966 and I never went back on my word!

    F

  17. My father was a hunter and loved to fish. He and my mother loved fried squirrel and gravy with mashed potatoes. I could not even come to the table. He also came home with raccoon and deer. I ate grilled cheese sandwiches on those days. Then in oyster season, my mother made oyster stew which made me gag. One visit to my grandparents in WV and I was subjected to turtle soup. We often had beef from my uncle’s farm which he and my dad butchered. I pretty much grew up a vegetarian. After I married, my husband introduced me to all the southern foods his mother cooked and I loved sausage, biscuits, and gravy. Needless to say, I am no longer the skinny kid I was growing up.

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