I received an email from a high school friend a few days ago. Al Cockrum wrote to me, mentioning things from way back when he was on the football team and I was team manager. I had asthma and they hadn’t invented inhalers yet, so I couldn’t run. That meant I couldn’t try out for the team. That was probably good, though, because I wasn’t strong or fast enough to play. Anyway, Al mentioned coming over to our house for dinner before getting on the bus to go to games. He said that was the first time he ever had tuna noodle casserole, which got me to thinking.

TNC was a staple in our household from the time when I was small. My mom made it and I really liked it. It was almost tradition; we would have it often. Years later I learned my father hated it. He never let on, and always ate it, but apparently it was one of his most undesirable meals. There was a reason, though. It seems when he and my mother were married, she knew how to cook one thing (you guessed it, tuna noodle casserole). Though probably exaggerated a bit, I was told they had this yummy concoction almost every day for a long time. I’ll admit, even today I like the dish, but my wife has never prepared it as far as I remember. Her Philippine delicacies are music to my tongue now, and I enjoy almost everything she makes.

I’ll have to talk with Al about TNC. I don’t think he said in his email that he liked it, but just that it was the first time he had it.

What types of food did you grow up eating? We have all sorts of things I remember from back in the 50s. One staple for lunch was the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We got our peanut butter from a glass jar that, when washed out, continued life as a drinking glass. They were clear, with painted designs on the outside. We still have many of them in the house and I drink from one every day.

Another great food, this time for dinner, was hamburgers. Everybody has them, it seems, but we went one step farther. My mom dropped slices of bread in the grease after the burgers were done, and we ate that bread after it soaked up the good flavor. Today people would cringe at this, but it really tasted good, and helped the dollars we didn’t have to stretch a bit.

My mom eventually learned all kinds of cooking, and her specialty was desserts. For the rest of her life you could always find cookies, cake, or a pie at her house. My sister and I (there were only two of us at that time) always wanted to clean out the frosting bowl, and since we fought over who ate more than the other, our mom devised a plan. One of us would take our spoon and draw a line from side to side of the bowl, and the other got to choose which side they wanted. We both learned to draw almost perfectly straight frosting lines.

Mom and my grandmother were great canners, too. They had a two-level canner and a pressure cooker, and we had all kinds of tomatoes, chili sauce, corn, succotash (why they would ruin good corn with lima beans we could never figure out), beets, carrots, peaches, pears, jam, various types of pickles, and many other things that lasted all winter. Many people today don’t know how to preserve food. It was necessary back then, and we still do tomatoes, chili sauce, and jam today.

If you have recipes for preserving fruits and vegetables, make sure to pass them on, and make sure to show the younger people how to do the preservation. It makes for mighty good eating. You can ‘spice’ up your family history by writing recipes in it, too. Thanks, Al, for reminding me of TNC.

— Jim Moses welcomes comments and questions at jmosesgen@gmail.com.