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.

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