Noshing on Nostalgia

Thursday, May 7, 2009 72 comments

A plain and simple dish, made from memory

I'm just a sentimental fool.

No matter how small, worn or downright useless an object may be, if it holds an iota of cherished memory, I will not easily part with it. In particular, I cling to remembrances preserved in words: letters, greeting cards, even tattered postcards written to persons who were gone generations before I was born. I find such written records as valuable as any heirloom because the memories evoked by words are more easily and broadly shared by those who were not present during the actual experience but for whom the sentiments are universal. 

Sentimental words, preserved

I was reminded of this as I read Laura Miller's piece "A Recipe for Escapism" in last Saturday's Wall Street Journal Weekend (5/2/09), about the popularity of cookbooks for recreational reading (as opposed to their ostensible purpose as recipe collections). She wrote, "A cookbook can have an ambience, a philosophy, even a plot . . . Many people confess to reading cookbooks 'like novels,' that is, cover-to-cover, usually in bed and often with no real intention of preparing the dishes the author describes."

According to Miller, the appeal of modern cookbooks often has little to do with food itself and instead reflects a reader's desire for a culinary fantasy, to imagine oneself as a global gastronome, an aficionado of luxury edibles, or a master of kitchen technique. Even the folks-like-us themes she facetiously identified, such as Southern Fried Schtick à la Paula Deen and the autoblographies by the likes of food blogger turned print star Molly Wizenberg (a.k.a. Orangette), are about living a life a tad less ordinary through food writing. But the category that really drew my attention was what Miller referred to as Toxic Nostalgia, explaining it thus:
"America is a nation of people who can't wait to leave home so that they can start mooning over their hopelessly idealized memories of it . . . so recipes you would expect to provoke shudders become magically beloved when handed down by Aunt May or - better yet - Grandma herself. Why else would anyone want to whip up Mile High Bologna Pie . . .?"
Miller's dismay over sentiment trumping sense (of taste) apparently missed her own point: that these books have little to do with food itself and a lot to do with the intangible benefit the reader takes away. In the case of nostalgia, that take-away is often a feeling of comfort.

In a previous post, I wrote that nostalgia is one of four motifs of comfort food to which people turn in times of stress. The food itself can be almost anything - the most important quality is the sense of sharing and being nurtured that is evoked when they are consumed. In a 2008 study, "Nostalgia: Past, Present and Future" (Current Directions in Psychological Science 17.5: 304-7), lead researcher Constantine Sedikides explained the psychological benefits of nostalgia across cultural and generational groups:
"It is part of the fabric of everyday life and serves at least four key psychological functions: it generates positive affect, elevates self-esteem, fosters social connectedness, and alleviates existential threat." 
(Sedikides et al., 307)
Sounds good, doesn't it? But Miller may have a point in her tepid opinion of nostalgia in food; after all, too much sugar can spoil even dessert. The rose-tinted glasses that we don when looking at the past soften the rough edges of memory by obscuring the unpleasant or inconvenient spots, leaving an utopian image of yore. In her essay "A Plea for Culinary  Modernism" (Gastronomica I Feb. 2001: 36-44), historian Rachel Laudan observed that calls for the return of modern food production and consumption to practices of the 'good old days' fail to account for historical facts - that food and foodways of the past were often unequally distributed, unhealthily produced and stored, and untenable for the realities of today. 
"Were we able to turn back the clock . . . many of us would be toiling all day in the fields or the kitchen; many of us would be starving. Nostalgia is not what we need."
(Laudan, 43)
Pitchforks and petticoats: not as bucolic as it seems

As the basis for large-scale social change in modern foodways, nostalgia is like a lace dress on the 800-lb gorilla - pretty but not enough to cover all that hairiness. But as the basis for purchasing a cookbook, it's as good a reason as any. From Miller's brief paragraph on nostalgic food writing, it's easy to infer what she believes is the reason for why writers wax poetic over dubious recipes (they're sentimental saps) but the question of why people love to read them is left open for opinion.

My answer? Quite simply, we're sentimental saps, too. We can relate to the writer's experiences of family birthdays, romantic dinners and holiday meals even if all the details - the food, the event, the people - are completely different from our own. What remains the same is (all together now!) the shared feelings of comfort, love and nurturing. Pick any food blog and read a post in which the featured recipe is accompanied by a personal story; chances are that many readers have commented with some variation on the words, "Thanks for sharing a wonderful memory . . ."
"[N]ostalgia strengthens social bonds. Nostalgia is a social emotion; it has been said that, during nostalgic reverie, 'the mind is peopled'*. Symbolic ties with close others are confirmed, and close others come to be momentarily part of one's present."
(*Wildschut et al., quoted in Sedikides et al., 306)
The power of food to bring people together is most often viewed in the context of direct commensality in which all participants occupy the same place, space and time; nostalgic food writing demonstrates that physical proximity is not required to achieve social interaction. As we read an author's account of a special time filled with good food and loved ones, our minds are 'peopled' just as vividly but chosen from our own memory stores. In effect, their nostalgic reminiscences morph into our treasured memories. 

But is shared nostalgia enough, as Miller wonders, to inspire someone to actually make a Mile High Bologna Pie or any other dubious recipe? Who would make an otherwise unexceptional dish simply because they could relate to the sentiment attached to it? Well, there's me . . .

A Mush-y Memory

Mr. Noodle's favorite, drizzled with honey

The first time I visited my husband's paternal Grandmother P, I spotted on her kitchen wall a small wooden plaque etched with childish lettering, which I was told was a special gift handmade by a six-year-old Mr. Noodle. Now, some grandsons might offer their beloved grannies macaroni necklaces while others proudly present works of finger-paint art or a grubby fistful of dandelion bouquet. This young lad snuck into his father's workshop and used a wood burning kit to etch an earnest and heartfelt message for his grandmother: 'Please Make Me Some More Cornmeal Mush.'

Normally, the only way I'd consider the word 'mush' appealing as a food is if it ends with 'room'. But I had to discover for myself what made it so special that a rambunctious little boy would painstakingly spell out his culinary plea for more of it. The verdict? 

No dish could be more simple but when flavored with the memories of a boy and his grandmother, no dish ever tasted sweeter.

'Please Make Me Some More' Cornmeal Mush
This dish is so easy that I now feel silly for having asked my mother-in-law for the recipe! I really had no idea what cornmeal mush was until it was described to me as being similar to polenta. So, I prepared it first the way Grandmother P did, drizzled with honey, just as Mr. Noodle prefers. Then, I made a savory dish as one might use polenta, topped with Ginger Glazed Mahi-Mahi from


1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup cold water + 3 cups water to boil
1 tsp salt

To make:

1. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Meanwhile, mix cornmeal, cold water and salt;
2. Slowly pour cornmeal mixture into boiling water, stirring constantly. If lumps begin to form, use a whisk to stir and break them up;
3. Continue to stir and cook until thickened then lower heat, cover and continue cooking for about 5 minutes more;
4. Butter a bread loaf pan and pour in cornmeal mixture.

(This is where Grandmother P's version slightly deviates from other mush recipes)
5. Preheat oven to 325°.  Bake mush for about 10-12 minutes;

6. Remove from oven and allow to cool, then cover loosely with foil and refrigerate overnight;
7. When ready to serve, flip pan over a plate or cutting board to remove cornmeal 'loaf'. Slice like bread to desired thickness;
8. Melt butter or other cooking fat in a skillet on medium heat. Fry slices until lightly golden brown on each side;
9. Serve sweet with maple syrup, honey, jams or preserves, or savory with sautéed vegetables, grilled meat, fish or poultry.

Ginger Glazed Mahi-Mahi over Fried Cornmeal Mush


  • Michele said...

    Noodle -- great post! I think nostalgia can be attached to just about anything but especially a favorite hobby. As we are culinary & food-minded individuals, we lean towards the nostalgia of cookbooks, recipes, foods. Others may do so with smells, art, music, etc.
    I have a cookbook from Clearfield, South Dakota that has my mom's family's recipes in it. It also has pictures and I was delighted to find some of my great aunts pictured as children. I've only cooked out of it a few times, but I love reading it!
    I also have to say I love your mush/polenta post. It's something I've never tried to make, so thanks for the inspiration!

  • Chef E said...

    Man you struck a chord in me, and that is it...we find ourselves remembering things through color, texture, words, and those old community cookbooks have made their way back into my life. Wow that is such a cute story about Mr. Tangle, and thanks for sharing! That Mahi-Mahi looks amazing girl, as your writing my dear!

    The only think I gave my grandmother were hand written notes and cards each week through the mail and a picture for her powder room that said "Let The Good Times Roll" humor at even a very young age :)

  • Maria Verivaki said...

    oh wow, a great story to accompany a meal that looks so simple, yet must hold so much taste to remain in one's memory.
    cornmeal isn't so commonly used in crete, but it is so tasty - i love the way you can top these little cakes with various things

  • Lori said...

    That's a great article and I love the points you brought up. I need to go back and read it more thoroughly. I am such a recreational cookbook reader. :)

    I would love this creation. I am a huge fan of eating warm, cooked polenta like oatmeal for breakfast. It is great topped with a little butter and maple syrup.

  • Anonymous said...

    Great post and a wonderful story! I would love to make this cornmeal for my daughter - I now she would love it! Thanks!

  • Dewi said...

    Cornmeal mush indeed sound very sentimental, and actually quite romatic too. My brother in law call my sister moosh.. moosh forgot what it means.
    Look very tasty indeed!

  • The Diva on a Diet said...

    Of all your great, informative posts, Noodle, this may well be my favorite. I'm a sap too and I really connect to what you've said here. Quite simply, I think this post is brilliant! Love the cornmeal mush story at the end and both creations look amazing. Thank you for sharing, indeed! :)

  • Anonymous said...

    Ah, wonderful sentimental memories - I well remember Mr. Noodle's obsession, and I do not use that word lightly, for cornmeal mush - and really who could blame him. It was up there with the secret recipe drink.

    One of my favorite cookbooks is from St. Patrick's church in Iowa near the other Grandmother's place. I cannot say I use alot of the recipes, but have spent my childhood visiting, I know just about all of the contributers and opening the pages allows wonderful memories to come rushing back.

  • Heather S-G said...

    I am wiping a few tears from my eyes after reading your beautiful post! Nostalgia is an amazing can bring joy or it can bring pain- either way, that pull is something you cannot ignore! I am a lover of cornmeal mush, too (also w/ honey). A girlfriend of mine from college used to order it EVERY time we went out for "breakfast" and I've loved it ever since :)

  • Jenn said...

    I'm a total sentimentalist. No further explanation needed. Lol. In a way it preserve the memories we think is important and worth saving. I've never tried cornmeal mush before. That that looks really good.

  • Daily Spud said...

    I'm a recreational cookbook reader and sentimental sap myself. I would be right there with you making cornmeal mush (or an equivalent for me might be semolina pudding) for just such sentimental, nostalgic and comforting reasons. It's the kind of food that fills you up in those important, other ways.

  • Lory said...

    Golly, I just made a (scheduled-for-tomorrow) post for something nostalgic as well...bringing me back to childhood days...your post also struck a chord in me...maybe most of my motivation in cooking/baking up a lot of Pinoy goodies stem from trying to re-live those childhood days...kinda making an artificial Pinoy environment in this American home.

  • ATS said...

    I loved the anecdote especially about my brother-in-law's gift to his grandma. Very charming and sweet :)

  • Hornsfan said...

    this is a great post. the running 'bad' nostalgia recipe of mile high bologna pie makes me laugh but also brings with it memories of things in my own life...not that anyone in my family has ever been forced to eat (or tortured enough to make) something as disturbing sounding as mile high bologna pie, but more because i think of my great-grandmother, who would relentlessly substitute things into her recipes (i.e. sour cream for whipped cream) and was queen of the kitchey dish (copper pennies), mile high sounds like something she would've made had she known it existed (thank god she didn't!). food and memory so are inextricably linked that even hearing things like that bring back memories of her, your post rings true!

  • Gera@SweetsFoodsBlog said...

    Food, nostalgia, childhood, memories are all intimately related. We're the union of "past" time-experiences but living cute story!

    The cornmeal mush must taste divine! Yummmmm :)


  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Happy Weekend, everyone! The in-laws are in town for the night so I decided to make cornmeal mush for breakfast tomorrow. 8-)

    doggybloggy - Thank you! When I first heard about it, I honestly couldn't picture what it was or how it would taste. Now, I really like it!

    Netts Nook - The moment I heard it, I could picture him concentrating hard to write out the sentence! 8-)

    Michele - I hope you'll make it some time and enjoy it as much as I did with my first taste! The study on nostalgia really emphasized that these memories, although they do tend to be idealized, allow us to look more positively on our own lives. And besides, it's fun to read about the past!

    Chef E - Thank you! I just received a copy of a cookbook put together by my foster aunt of her grandmother's recipes. I never met the older woman and yet I feel so sentimental about her recipes! Connecting through nostalgia and food!

    Mediterranean kiwi - It's the perfect combination of the indelible (memory) and the edible! As for the cornmeal cakes, they lend themselves to the flavors of any topping. Interestingly, I have not seen any recipes in which you add extra ingredients directly to the mix - the cakes are always made plain and then garnished later.

    Pearl - Looking at the pix again, it does look lemony, doesn't it? I bet it would taste good with a honey and lemon sauce - I'll have to try it!

    Lori - Thank you! I love oatmeal but cornmeal mush taste so good, too! So far, I've only made it as shown but I'm going to try it out in its creamy form.

    Sweta - Oatmeal or rice porridge are usually my favorites but I'm beginning to really like this. It's a different texture (but I won't totally give up my rice!)

    5 Star - You're welcome! There's something about this dish that appeals to children, judging from my husband's youthful reaction. I love how versatile it is - maybe I'll try strawberry jam or rhubarb compote (!) on it next.

    Chow and Chatter - It was my pleasure! I enjoy reminiscing, then cooking, then eating! 8-)

    Elra - Thank you! That's so sweet about your BIL's nickname for your sister. Terms of endearment . . . !

    Diva - Thank you so much! I know I can get a little sappy and sentimental with some of my posts but it's heartfelt. I'm so happy you enjoyed this!

    Bob - They're the best; strange, sometimes, but that's all good!

    Duo Dishes - Thanks! Savory is all well and good but I like the sweet stuff - jams, preserves, honeys, syrups, straight sugar . . . 8-)

    Oysterculture - I had to ask about the secret recipe drink! Maybe that will be another post - although we may have to turn it into a proper adult beverage now. 8-)

    I have a copy of that cookbook and although I don't know any of the names (except for your family's), I love that each recipe does have a name attached. It really lets you know that this is food that 'regular' people - not celebrity chefs - enjoyed and considered special enough to contribute to a community cookbook!

    Girlichef - Thank you! I'm so please you enjoyed this post. We don't need a study to tell us that nostalgia generally makes us feel better (or make us miss something terribly) but it plays such an important role. I'd like to think that years from now, someone will think back nostalgically about me! 8-)

    Gaby - Thank you! But given the awesome dishes you've been preparing for your classes, you've got a few more options than just cornmeal mush!

    Jenn - It's so easy to make that I'm embarrassed that I needed to read the instructions! 8-) Memories not only comfort us but I think they also teach us lessons, such as how little kindnesses - like making a simple dish for a child - can have such a lasting impact!

    Daily Spud - You are so right! Even though this isn't even my memory, each time I hear or think 'cornmeal mush', a picture of Mr. Noodle and his grandmother come to mind. 8-)

    if you have a recipe for semolina pudding, I'd love to give it a try! (I tried making some kind of Greek semolina pudding - maybe it was galaktoboureko - and it was disastrous. I haven't used semolina since then).

    Greg - I totally had no idea you were posting on polenta! That's what I get for not keeping up with my blog readings. But thank you for your kind comment! 8-)

    Joelen - Thank you! I really enjoyed writing about it and eating it, too (but it won't totally take the place of rice porridges and puddings!)

    Manang - I'm a bit behind on my readings but I look forward to your nostalgia posts. And the idea of recreating a Pinoy environment here in America is the exact, central theme and desire behind my food studies and writing!! Nostalgia in this case not only connects us to people and places of our past, but also with our very identities!

    Sophie - Thank you so much! If you do ever get to try them, I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I did!

    Scotty Snacks - Ooooh, beignets! I'll trade you some fried cornmeal mush for some . . . !

    Foodie with Little Thyme - Thank you and I am so behind with my visits to your site! I'll be there soon!

    Ats - He's so sweet, even as a youngster! I'll make you guys some cornmeal mush the next time we're in the area. It's vegetarian . . . !

    Pigpigscorner - Thank you! Who knew that something so simple would have so much sentimentality attached to it? 8-)

    Hornsfan - It makes me feel so happy to know that this post brought back such memories! Your great-grandmother sounds like she was quite the kitchen original! Funny thing is that because she was so dear, you might find yourself actually craving those foods, no matter how kitschy, just to remember her again. Thank YOU for sharing!

    Gera - Thank you! As you say, they can't be separated. We have our memories of food and loved ones in the past; we can also hope that we are creating the same kind of memories for the younger ones in our lives so that they have something to look back on with fond memory!

  • Reeni said...

    The plaque is so funny and so sweet. It reminded me of my Grandma's pizzelles and how much I loved them, not only as a child but as a grown-up. I am the same way about memories and objects.

    Sometimes the simplest food can be the best. Polenta with honey is a divine little treat. Mr. Noodle is so easy to make happy, as am I. The mahi-mahi looks delicious, too, and the presentation rocks.

  • Sapuche said...

    Great post! Most of my cookbooks are Asian, and out of that group most are Vietnamese. For some time now I’ve been trying to recapture the time I spent in Asia through cooking, and I’m fully conscious of this – food, I realize, is what connects me most concretely, most sensually, to my experiences there. This re-connectedness is, to an extent, possible by going to restaurants and ordering certain dishes, but cooking them at home makes it much more of a personal journey back to those places and those times I wish to recreate. I don’t read through cookbooks as if they’re novels, however, though I do flip through them like I might flip through a collection of photo essays. I like to look at gorgeously presented food and imagine what it tastes like, what the experience of eating it might be in its culture of origin. And I think this is part of the appeal of reading food blogs – the chance to imagine things in enlarged contexts is virtually limitless. Thank you for such a thoughtful, wonderfully written piece!

  • Carolyn Jung said...

    I love polenta, be it spoonably soft or in more solid cakes crisped in a pan. Polenta is the perfect accompaniment to so many dishes, especially anything at all resembling a hearty ragu.

  • lisaiscooking said...

    I think shared nostalgia is a great thing, but I also think a recipe has to appeal to someone's taste before she/he will want to make it. To share a little nostalgia: When I once made polenta for my Mom, she informed that her Mother used to make that all the time, but she called it cornmeal mush!

  • Joie de vivre said...

    Are you a doctorate student? You should be! This was extremely thought provoking. I love reading cookbooks too but I especially like reading old, well loved cookbooks. I can imagine through the food stained pages the wonderful events that the food was made for.

  • gastroanthropologist said...

    I love reading cookbooks and often not for the recipes. We do seem to paint the past in a different light that it was. With food, the amount of adulteration that happened in the late 1800s, its a wonder our elders survived at all! Cookbooks published in recent times I buy to sort of whisk me away into a different place - like a therapy session. Cookbooks from the past I use to image life as it once was, good or bad. My grandmother gave me all of her cookbooks when she passed - the ones published in the 1940s are great...some even start with make sure you freshen up and have a cocktail in hand for your husband the moment he walks in the door.

  • Deeba PAB said...

    It's like postacrds from the past...touching & beautiful! My hub is a bigger nostalgic sap then me...& together we keep visitng the goodole stuff. Food is a great unifier. Love the way you wrote the post! xoxo

  • Jude said...

    Great post and observations about nostalgia. For me it's the simplest things that really bring me back, much like this "mush." Bagoong on mangoes, fishballs, isaw.

  • Jenn@slim-shoppin said...

    I can read through cook books too, just to see how things are made, even though I may not make it, or I don't even like the ingredients in it!

    Your dish from memory looks great!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    My semester is almost over! I honestly tried to study for my final on Tuesday but the sun was shining. I promise to get to it tomorrow . . .

    Reeni - Thank you! I honestly don't know how much I would've enjoyed cornmeal mush if someone just put a plate in front of me. But watching Mr. Noodle enjoying it and knowing the reason why lets me share in his memories!

    Sapuche - Thanks! Food for me represents identity even more than just memories. I found myself clinging to certain food to remind myself of my heritage since there are not other people or objects to do so. Food is the next best thing to traveling great distances or going back in time because we can access it so much more easily and it engages our senses - scents, texture, sight, flavors - just as when we were experiencing events firsthand.

    But I love 'reading' historical cookbooks because I'm able to imagine myself in scenarios which no longer exist (an Elizabethan feast, a Colonial dinner); I ask myself as I read, "Can I eat/cook/live like they did then?" They're like adventure novels! 8-)

    figtree - Thank you! I'm still learning to master my little point-and-shoot. Not yet ready for the complex DSL cameras!

    Carolyn - I'm quickly learning its versatility! I will have to try a ragu next time.

    Lisa - Definitely there has to be an element of appeal although curiosity might, on occasion, trump it. 8-)

    That's so funny about your mother and her mom - I knew what polenta was but would never have made the connection to mush if I wasn't told about it! Referring back to the above, perhaps the name of a dish might provide that appeal to a person's taste that you mentioned.

    Joie - Unfortunately, I'm still only a lowly undergraduate! My academic career is full of starts and stops but I can't complain - it allowed me to really discover my niche. 8-) I can relate to your love of old, well-used cookbooks. Though it's not a book, I love going through an old recipe box belonging to Mr. Noodle's maternal grandmother. Most of the cards are handwritten; I feel like I can get a sense for what she liked and what her family enjoyed!

    Gastroanthropologist - I'm the same way with historical cookbooks, just as I am with historical fiction - I imagine myself 'back then'! Your grandmother's cookbooks sound like fun - it's amazing how gender roles were so enshrined in the ones from the 40s. Mr. Noodle knows that I'm more likely to start dinner if HE pours me a glass of wine first! 8-)

    Deeba - Thank you! It's amazing how much food does for us beyond nourishing our bodies.

    AC D.C. - Thanks! Somewhere, some time, there's a story or memory that will always strike a chord in each of us! 8-)

    Helen - Thank you so much! After having made it, I've found so many different recipes and preparations. As Carolyn commented above, it goes so well with so many things. It's like the little black dress of the food world! 8-D

    Jude - Thank you! I know many of us love to try new and complex flavors but sometimes going back to the basics is like re-balancing our tastebuds and expectations.

    I know that salted caramels or a pinch in chocolate deepens the sweetness but bagoong on mangoes? I've never had it before but I'd love to try it! I have a jar of balaw-balaw; would that work,too?

  • Teanna said...

    I think the memories that go along with recipes make the recipes that much more special! I am always more attracted to a recipe if there is a story behind it... you understand why people love the dish, what it means to them. Cooking is so much more than the ingredients themselves. It is the love behind it, the story, the reason you are attached it it. Food brings people together from all walks of life - from recipe books to auto"blog"ographies! Thanks for the amazing post.

  • zerrin said...

    Great post! I enjoyed reading each line of it. And I must say that I'm so sentimental about anything. That's why I mostly prefer share my experiences or childhood stories in my food blog. similarly, I love reading things related to personal stories. Not related to food, but I've been reading a novel these days telling about games from past that every person from my age would play in his/her childhood. I enjoy it a lot and along with those games, I remember a lot including foods waiting for me when I returned home from street playing with friends. Each time I remember a food, a scent, a taste, a feeling, a view, I feel more attached to my past. And thank you very much for such a 'to the point' post.

    BTW I've never tried anything with cornmeal. This looks scrumptious and sounds easy, I should try.

  • Rico said...

    You have killed me with this one and sent me to heaven, I really liked both of them and as you said the presentation is divine. A food for Gods. well done thanks for sharing :) xx Rico-Recipes

  • MacDuff said...

    I LOVE these. I make them all the time as an alternative to bread. Very nice. And with grits (aka polenta), you kind of have to have nostalgia attached to it. Otherwise people will accuse you of loving the Waffle House too much.

  • Ciao Chow Linda said...

    Thanks for stopping by my blog since I have now discovered yours too and this post is lovely. Good luck trying to find violet water. I've never seen it for sale commercially.

  • Jacoba said...

    I'm afraid I'm a cookbook hoarder - I have recipe books that date back generations! I have all those belonging to my grandmother and her's before her (specially preserved because they were in tatters), first editions of books like Escoiffier's Ma Cuisine and hundreds of others! I read them and use them and test them and have done so for over 30 years! Nostalgic? Probably, but to me essentials - I'd go without new shoes in favour of a new book (any kind that interests me heheh).

    About that nostalgia argument - I don't necessarily agree with everything - there are also economic factors to consider here here and the trend towards the home is not only nostalgic, but has become more complicated than that in recent years.

  • Forager said...

    That looks delicious! Corn meal isn't a popular menu item over here so I'll have to go and source the ingredients and make it for myself. Thx for the recipe :)

  • Jescel said...

    i am a bit like you -- i don't part easily from things that hold certain memories for me. I've been called a pack rat because of this.... your hubby is so sweet to have done that for his granny. maybe that was a foretelling of things to come (that he'd end up with a foodie? :o) that corn mush looks good. sometimes, the simplest things are the most delicious.

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    My last exam was yesterday so I spent today doing NOTHING! Ahhhhhh . . . !

    Jenn - Your comment apparently came through just as I was finishing up the last batch of responses so very sorry for this late reply. Thank you so much for visiting my site! I love reading through cookbooks and food mags, knowing very well I'm not going to make most of it. But I feel that at least I'm familiarizing myself with all the wonderful edibles out there. Who knows? Maybe someday, I'll be inspired to try . . .

    Selba - Thank you! The story of the cornmeal mush and my husband's gift to his grandmother captured me immediately so I had to try it!

    Sam - Thank you! I consider myself fortunate that Mr. Noodle love this dish - otherwise, I'm not sure if I would have thought to make it. We've been having it for breakfast in place of pancakes, which is a big deal because I am Pancake Woman!

    Eric - I know you will come up with something incredibly original!

    Teanna - I completely agree! By all means, there are other reasons - economic, aesthetic, nutritional, etc. - that we choose certain foods and recipes but the chance to share a memory or experience with someone is a big draw.

    Pierce - Thank you! I can't wait to try out the herbs. Because my favorite starches are potato and rice, I never really had cornmeal (as polenta or mush) but now that I've given it a taste, I'm hooked!

    Zerrin - Thank you so much! I hope you do try this - I'm going to try it with grape molasses next! As for the memories and sentiments, I think it really helps us put the present time in perspective. When things are not going as well as one would hope, it really helps to recall these memories to remind us to be optimistic about the future. Just because we are older doesn't mean we can't be as happy as when we were children . . . !

    You understand this so well which is why I so enjoy your blog - you are able to connect food to personal insight and not just ingredients.

    Beancounter - You're welcome! When we visited the Philippines last December, my souvenirs were as many Filipino food magazines and cookbooks as I could carry! Since I'm learning how to cook Pinoy food by myself, I figured I should go straight to the source . . . !

    Jamie - Thank you! Although the fish made for a very delicious dinner, I have a sweet tooth so I'm partial to the honeyed version. 8-)

    Ricardo - Thanks! Even though you'd head to heaven, I don't want to be responsible for your early demise. We'd rather have you here to continue making your wonderful dishes!

    MacDuff - Waffle House! Talk about memories - I haven't been to one for about 4 years, since we moved from North Carolina. 8-)

    I'm normally a pancake person (waffles are okay but can't compete with flapjacks!) but these little cornmeal cakes have been giving them a run for their money on recent Sunday mornings!

    Ciao Chow Linda - Thanks for stopping in! I didn't realize that violet water is so scarce. Still, I'm an optimist at heart and will hope that I'll run across it. Otherwise, I'll have to admire your violet jelly!

    Food Addicts - Then we're even because after reading your spring roll post, I have developed the most massive craving for bun cha gio!

    Jacoba - How I'd love to see your collection! I love reading old recipes from distant eras - I just finished perusing a book of Apicius' (or at least, what has been attributed to him) and have picked up a cookbook on Colonial American cookery. It's a wonderful way to see for oneself the constant evolution of dishes as ingredients, techniques and techonologies change.

    You have a very good point that nostalgia is not the only reason that people gravitate toward home-cooking and books & recipes that emphasize this. But nostalgia is a coping strategy - we look to the past, hoping to find clues and tips on how to survive current troubles, asking how others managed with even less than we have. The problem lies in applying those lessons without taking into consideration how much the world has changed within even a single generation!

    Forager - Thank you and you're welcome! 8-)

    I hope you do find cornmeal - I think that the texture of these cakes is reminiscent of steamed rice cakes, which is why I probably like them so much!

    Jescel - It's hard to part with certain things because my family is so far away (CA and Philippines) and my husband and I have moved around so much, always leaving behind friends. Maybe it's my way of staying connected to them! As for ending up with a foodie, I think he's happy with that although he may sometimes wish he wasn't married to a BLOGGING foodie - his dinner always has to wait while I take pictures!

    I learned to love simple dishes from Filipino foods - I love nothing better than sweet sticky rice like your puto maya!

  • Deb in Hawaii said...

    Beautiful post and so true. Food really is a connection to those we love and a memory maker/keeper. Your "mush" looks like true comfort food prepared both ways.

    BTW--Come read today's post on my blog. I announced my drawing winner and I think you will want to see who it is! ;-)

  • Juliana said...

    Nice story...I have the same experience when we went back to Brazil last year and I wanted to eat things that reminded me of my childhood. Anyway, really like your post and the cornmeal mush looks good. Thank you so much for sharing it.

  • 3T Heppenstall said...

    I think that is very interesting how you save all the rememberences even if they are not yours. That's pretty cool.

    I just strolled past your site from another one. Hope you don't mind. :-) I'd like to add you to my blog list so I can follow you, if you don't mind. :-)

    Your cornmeal mush looks SO good!

    If you get a chance, check out my blog at
    It doesn't have as good of pictures as yours but hopefully you might be interested. :-)

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Deb - Thank you so much! My husband hadn't had cornmeal mush since he was a child and it was so sweet to see him enjoying it so much again. 8-)
    And I'm thrilled to pieces about winning your giveaway! I can't wait for the book.

    Juliana - Thank you! We all have those special childhood treats that we don't eat as much - probably because it was made special when someone dear made it for us. I hope I was able to do that for my husband.

    SIS - Thanks! It really is very easy and so versatile. Now, I'm probably going to add it to my staple of rice and noodles to accompany meats and veggies. And my husband is now asking that I make some for our weekend breakfasts!

    Maya - Cooking Filipino food has been key to helping me reconnect to my childhood and heritage since my family is so far away! Maybe that's why my husband's story hit me so close.

    3T Heppentall - Thanks for visiting and adding me to your blogroll. I did indeed stop by for a visit on your site and enjoyed reading about your family and endeavors. Keep up with your progress!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Cris - Yes! The outside is nice and crispy, especially after I coated it with more cornmeal before frying it. My husband has been asking for more and it's so easy to make, I don't mind.

  • Phyllis said...

    Wonderful story of young Mr. Noodle and his grandmother. I love crispy cornmeal mush but haven't had it since my local Bob Evan's closed 2 years ago, but thanks to you I can now make it at home (with maple syrup). And that mahi-mahi is glazed and presented so beautifully!

    b/t/w I'm so guilty of being one of those people who read cookbooks in bed for fun. I have an entire shelf of cookbooks that I've never actually cooked from.

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Phyllis - Thank you! I had heard the story so often from my in-laws and I finally - finally! - made cornmeal mush. Now I'm hooked! Even though the hubs prefers it with honey, I like it paired with savory (but you don't have to twist my arm to get me to eat something sweet!)

    I'm actually pretty good with cookbooks - it's food and cooking magazines that are my downfall! I have gazillions and I make maybe one or two recipes from them. 8-)


Clean Template ©Copyright 2011 Tangled Noodle | TNB