Have You Ever Tried To Recreate A Favorite Food From Your Youth?

white beansLast Saturday I decided, on the rarest of whims, to cook up a big pot of “white beans.” That’s what my grandmother called them, and when I was a kid I loved those things. Several years ago I tried to re-create them, and it took weeks of experimentation before I got close. And once I finally nailed it… I quit. I guess it’s all about the hunt?

So, last week I was starting from scratch again. And it was an utter disaster. The whole thing turned to paste. My mother told me I cooked them too “hard.”

She also asked if I bought navy beans, or great northerns. And when I told her I’d opted for the northerns, she practically gasped. Apparently I was in violation of some code?  I’m unclear. But she told me to NEVER buy northerns, and ALWAYS go with navy. In four months I will have forgotten that again, and the cycle of bean-themed heartache will repeat itself once more.

The house smelled great, though. It smelled like 1976 at my grandmother’s place, and my mouth was watering in anticipation.  And what did I get? I big ol’ pot of refried beans, whiteish in color. It was disgusting. I practically needed a trowel to transfer them to a plate. I guess they tasted OK, but the consistency was ridiculous. Toney and the younger boy picked at them, so as not to hurt my feelings. But I could tell their hearts weren’t in it. I mean, it was a colorless glob. We could’ve repaired plaster with that shit.

But I’m thinking about giving it another shot tomorrow. Learn from my mistakes, and see what happens… I’ll keep you updated.

Have you ever attempted to re-create some beloved dish from your youth, without a recipe or anything? How did it go? And how many attempts did it take, before you got close? Please tell me about it in the comments.

And do you see how screwed up my life is? This would be a perfect Monday update, and Monday’s would’ve been better here. Everything’s a shambles, my friends.

But we’ll give it another try next week.

Have a great weekend!


  1. Jazzbone Swirly says

    A beloved dish from my youth? My mother was not a good cook, so there is no such thing in my memory banks. If I wanted to re-live a taste from my youth, I could always buy a box of hamburger helper, I suppose.

    • Same here. I grew up hating certain foods because they were made badly. I love all sorts of things now. Dishes I remember were chuck roast, boiled spinach, boiled broccoli, etc. No salt was ever used and everything was sosogg or tough and gross.

  2. I tried one time to make my mother’s “Chicken and Rice”. it was a disgusting mess.

  3. I have most of the recipes from my mother, grandmother and great-grandmothers. A lot of them have not stood the test of time very well; most of the stuff my mom used to make turned out to be pretty horrible once I was exposed to fresher ingredients. The one exception is my family’s minestrone recipe, which I still make fairly often (albeit a vegetarian version now).

    Recently I got to thinking about the sauerkraut salad my great-aunt used to make. I looked up a bunch of recipes online and changed my mind about trying to make it when I saw how much sugar it calls for.

  4. Ron from PA says

    Rocky Point’s (a defunct Amusment park in Rhode Island) Clam Cakes and Chowda!! Got it perfected nowadays, but it was a long haul.

  5. Lew in Bama says

    My mother was a phenomenal cook, and after she passed, I won the recipe box lottery.
    I’ve sucessfully replicated her lasagna and vegetable soup recipes.
    I want to do the salmon croquettes, but have yet to get that brave.
    Everybody in the fmaily has attmepted my grandmothers potato salad with marginal success, and I think my version is the closest. The key is having her homemade pickles for it. I’ve got to get that recipe from her.
    My husband wants me to attempt country fried steak, and I’m willing, but I know it’ll never even come close to his granny’s. He’s ok with that…for now.

  6. We don’t want no damn yankee beans ’round here.

  7. Steve in WV says

    My mother can take thawed (previously frozen) flounder, bread that shit, and fry it in an electric skillet like nobody’s business. When I tried it, I ended up with breadless, mushy, half-cold fish.

    So the next time, I made some adjustments based on advice from my mom, and it looked more like blacked flounder, than fried flounder.

    I won’t attempt that again. Some things are best left to mom.

  8. I tried to replicate my Mom’s bean soup yesterday. Fail.

  9. Navy beans? BAH. Great Northerns are the only ones to use. Soak them overnight and toss in a handful of bacon or streak-o-lean, some celery and onions and cook for 3-4 hours, or until tender. Add sliced onions and a lot of cornbread, and you have a meal fit for kings.

    • I do the same thing, only we use pinto beans. But no celery–blech! And the cornbread must NOT be sweet. Sweet cornbread is blasphemy and work of the devil.

  10. JK, do you soak the beans overnight?
    My first attempt at my Grandmother’s milk gravy, made with sausage leavin’s, was such a nasty disaster, the dog wouldn’t even taste it. Twenty-five years later, I tried again and channeled my Grandmother and it turned out pretty damn good.

  11. My grandmother used to make the greatest seafood gumbo on the planet. My aunts always asked her for the recipe, but she never shared it.
    I was the first grand child and the favorite. She put the recipe in a card and gave it to me at my wedding. I still have the original one she gave me.

  12. I haven’t really ever tried to recreate a specific dish, but I just love to rat on my mom and tell this story.

    Though my mom always made everything from scratch, it wasn’t always delicious. She definitely had her high points -spaghetti sauces, chili, all sorts of roasted meat dishes…but then she tried to make something she’d only heard about. She tried to make a spaghetti casserole. I’m not sure why, because it doesn’t even sound right. The main problem, though, was that she simply put some spaghetti into a casserole dish, lobbed on some cheese and sauce…and baked it. There was no recipe. It turned into a dry, chewy pasta mess that we still make fun of her for.
    Come to think of it, I think that was the last time she tried anything outside of her repertoire. Aaaand now I realize that my brother and I are jerks.

  13. When I was a kid there was an Italian deli in our neighborhood. I remember complaining about the gym sick smell of different cheeses and meats. But my dads eyes would roll back when he walked through the door every Saturday. One day he picked up a cook book and reached far back to his Sicilian heritage. He made this Sicilianlasagna complete with eggplant and other stuff. He went to a hardware store where he got custom made dowels so he could fry up canoli shells. I could never replicate that feast but I’ve tried. Here’s to salvatores deli and the memory ofmy ffather.

    • Sorry if I sound emotional but I am. I just came across some of my dads artwork that I’m making copies of to give my niece in her wedding day. Damn straight grandpa will be st the wedding in memory!

  14. Wow, what a topic!

    I’ve done a lot of recipe development, and become downright obsessive about it: document every ingredient and procedure, and afterwards do a flinty-eyed critique of your own work. Evaluate flavor, texture and appearance without mercy. Too much this, not enough that, use a different ingredient next time. I’ll make the same recipe 10 or 20 times until I get it right. Yes, I make spreadsheets for this stuff. Tomorrow I’m making chili, version 8.2, with some new ingredients.

    Regarding beans, I’ve had the best luck with not just soaking, but brining. Put the beans in a solution of 2 Tbsp salt to 3 quarts water and refrigerate 8 to 24 hours, then proceed with whatever you were going to make. You get beans that are snappy on the outside, creamy on the inside, nicely seasoned and not exploded.

    Finally: my mom used to make a thing she called “black pie.” It seems to be something along the lines of chocolate chess pie (except it doesn’t taste of chocolate) or black bottom or shoo-fly. To this day she refuses to divulge the recipe, and she is barely on the candy-coated side of 80. I think she got it from her mother, who was from east Texas via Chicago. Any ideas?

    • bikerchick says

      Chill…..my dad was a chef/baker by trade. Man…he could cook!! He also did spectacular wedding cakes and ice carvings, by the way.. He died suddenly waaaay back in 1983. I was heartbroken. Anyway, for the last 20 or so years of his life he was the food service director of several colleges. And used to cook and bake for the collage kids functions. After he died, my mom and I went to the attic to clean out some of his things. We found one of his old recipe boxes he had had forever. In it was a recipe for his famous Shoo-fly Pie. The only problem was most of his recipes werefor hundred of people. So ingredients were one #10 can of this, a pound of that, etc.

      So mom preceded to try to use the recipes as a base to start with and pare them down for normal servings. Somewhere around here I have my dad’s recipe for Shoo-fly. Although I never had it, all my siblings and my mom, when she was alive, said it was the best.

  15. I don’t understand the hoarding of recipes.

  16. My brother was “back home” for the first time since my mom passed away a couple of weeks ago and we were going through things together. We got to the recipe drawer and we both knew we wanted my dad’s meatloaf they would fix together. Dad didn’t cook often and when he did it was just as likely to be an over seasoned inedible disaster, but when he got it right it was unbeatable.

    The problem was we found at least 4 or 5 different versions of the meatloaf recipe, a couple we knew were in his handwriting and one of those because he signed his name. So, I guess we’ll be doing some experimenting of our own to find the one we each like.

    We were looking for mom’s recipe for stuffed green peppers and couldn’t find it, I guess that was one she kept in her head. I know the stuffing had ground beef, rice, I think some kind of tomato based sauce, and a slice of American cheese on top of each pepper. It was kitschy but it was mom 🙂

    • If your mom was like my mom, it would have been a quarter-slice per pepper. Because four kids, right?

      The Quest for Meatloaf sounds like fun, and we’re just getting into the season for such things. I do love Food Season.

  17. Jeff,

    Speaking of recipes, some time ago you posted a recipe on the old site for a bean dish. I made it once and it was pretty good but I’ve misplaced the recipe. Any chance you could share it again?


  18. Wisey in Ttown says

    It’s a cold morning here in Tulsa and I am about to warm up yesterday’s chili for a little chili and egg breakfast with a spicy Bloody Mary to boot. I make a award winning chili that is 3-0 in chili cook-offs around here. Thats saying a lot because this is chili country. I crafted the recipe over about ten years and as opposed to trying to recreate my Mom’s recipe, I tried to do the opposite. She made what she called “skinny chili”. It had cabbage in it. I still shudder when I say it or think about it. We couldn’t leave the table until we cleaned our plate. My grandmother used to make Vinegar Cobbler. It is a depression era recipe that is very simple and used no fruit. The vinegar gives it a tart flavor and it’s absolutely delicious. My brothers have done a pretty good job of recreating it and we have it every get together.

  19. My maternal grandmother was Cajun (from Louisiana) and boy could she cook. But she never used a recipe in her life. I finally have managed (through trial and error) to make her “potato stew”, which is basically a delicious potato soup. She always used fresh herbs, none of that dried stuff for her. I remember her sometimes having jars of fresh herbs in her refrigerator. The most prominent memory from my childhood is the smell of her home; it always smelled like delicious food simmering on the stove. I won’t even attempt to describe her awesome her gumbo was!

    Several times I’ve asked my son what was his favorite food I cooked when he was growing up and he has yet to come up with an answer. Maybe I wasn’t Betty Crocker after all. 🙂

  20. Try as I might, there’s no recreating my Mom’s pasta sauce. It’s probably because I cook ‘from scratch’ and she starts with jars of Ragu. Mine’s pretty good, but whatever crack they put in that jarred sauce makes it even better, IMO.

    Also tried to make kartofflekoesse a while ago, and again, while they were good, they didn’t taste like my German Grandma’s and were dense as a pencil eraser. You’d think a German/Irish girl like me could magick fluffy potato dumplings with nary a thought, but no.

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