I can make a cake from scratch. I can also whip up a béchamel for creamy mac'n'cheese and make a killer mayonnaise in the dark with my eyes closed. And yet, if you took a peek in my cupboards, you would find a jar of Hellman's mayo and a few blue boxes of Kraft Mac'n'Cheese. There's no doubt in my mind that my homemade versions taste better, but sometimes what I want isn't something that tastes better, I want something that tastes familiar.
My brother, a grown man with grown children, still asks my mother for his favorite childhood cake for his birthday every year: Marble sheet cake with chocolate fudge frosting. The catch? It can't be from scratch. It must be from the box, just as it was when he was a little boy.
My mother cooked like most women in the 60s and 70s, enjoying the variety and freedom of convenience foods. In the 80s, though, she began to assist her friend who had opened a fancy cooking school and her repertoire changed. She decided to give my brother his marble cake, only this time she would make it from scratch. While my brother was appreciative, he made it clear that he preferred the box cake.
This is not an unusual story and the idea that the tastes of our childhood can have a pull stronger than the full moon is not a new one. (Thank you, Mr. Proust.) The most well-loved example in the United States is perhaps Kraft's blue box mac'n'cheese. Making mac'n'cheese from scratch is not difficult and many people would agree that it can taste pretty terrific, clearly better than the Kraft version. But every now and then, it's the Kraft version that we crave and so we reach back into the cupboard and pull out the familiar box.
This makes me wonder what nostalgia food tastes we are creating today. What will people 20 or 30 years from now crave as their childhood tastes? Super sweet yogurt cups? Cupcakes? Anything with bacon?
What familiar childhood foods do you still indulge in, despite the fact that you've grown up and perhaps have a more sophisticated food sense?