My dad isn’t with us anymore, and of course I miss him often, especially on annual milestones such as Father’s Day. However, it doesn’t take a big event to make me think of Dad – the smallest things can bring back vivid memories of our time together. For me, I encounter some of those small things every time I walk down the aisles of a grocery store.

Dad loved grocery stores; he would stroll the aisles, looking over the offerings in search of old favorites and new delicacies. For Dad, grocery shopping was a recreational activity. There was no such thing as a “quick trip to the store” if Dad was along! At the checkout counter, Mom often found that the amount of real food that she could use to cook a meal was dwarfed by the collection of “Dad Food”.

As I was growing up, I took “Dad Food” for granted. Didn’t everyone’s dad have a giant collection of snacks stashed under his bed and another collection next to his easy chair? My dad had plenty of goodies both salty and sweet within easy reach whether he was watching TV or reading in bed. My brother and I were forbidden to indulge in Dad’s not-so-secret stash, so naturally, we sneaked bites every chance we could. I distinctly remember sitting on the floor behind my parents’ bed, eating cashews by the handful and then leaving just a few lone nuts rattling around in salt at the bottom of the can. Apparently I thought that as long as I didn’t eat every last one, he wouldn’t notice. Faulty logic on my part.

Salty snacks were a key component of “Dad Food”. When we lived in the suburbs of New Orleans, there was a company, “Charles Chips”, that offered door-to-door potato chip delivery service. Every few weeks, the potato chip truck would stop at our door and bring us giant tins of fresh chips, taking away the empty tins to be refilled for next time. But despite his ready supply of Charles Chips, Dad was always game to open a new bag of snacks, from Funyuns to Barbeque Pork Rinds. (He never had to worry about the rest of the family eating up his Pork Rinds when he wasn’t looking.) Dad also loved nuts of all kinds: cocktail peanuts, Spanish red-skinned peanuts, honey-roasted peanuts, cashews, pistachios, mixed nuts, you name it. His most beloved salty snacks, though, were pretzels: hard, soft, big, small, straight, or traditionally-shaped. Dad never met one he didn’t like. Whenever I see the pretzel displays in the grocery store, it takes me right back to our old living room, with Dad relaxing in his chair with his giant pretzel rods and a glass of root beer.

Of course, salty snacks taste best when alternated with sweet treats, which were also well represented in the “Dad Food” stash. Dad especially favored maple sugar leaves, pastel-colored licorice Allsorts, chewy Rolo chocolate-covered caramels, and horehound hard candy drops. I never understood the attraction of licorice or horehound, but I definitely inherited the craving for maple sugar candy!

Eventually, Dad’s snack collection grew to fill an entire shelf of a deep custom-made closet in the walkway between the master bedroom and his office/computer room, keeping his snacks easily accessible 24/7. It makes me smile just to think of how happy he was with this arrangement!

In between meals and snacks, Dad staved off hunger with peanut butter, which he ate by the spoonful straight out of the jar, unless he could persuade Mom to make him a peanut butter and bacon sandwich or a peanut butter-marshmallow-sweet pickle sandwich. There was usually a jar of peanut butter in the “Dad Food” stash by the bed and his chair, just in case.

I don’t know if Dad inherited his snacking habits from HIS dad, but I do know that his preferences for certain other foods came from growing up with his German grandmother in the Amish and Moravian area of eastern Pennsylvania. Dad loved all of the traditional meats: liverwurst, scrapple, hard “summer sausage”, tinned miniature “Vienna sausages”, dried beef gravy, and boiled pork and beef liver. Grammy also baked “pasties” from meat, potatoes, and gravy wrapped in pie dough and shaped like a strudel. (I could pass on the boiled beef liver, but I would have loved to taste Grammy’s pasties.) Dad never lost his love for traditional side dishes such as pickled eggs and beets, white radish salad, and wilted lettuce with bacon.

When it came to vegetables, Dad’s absolute favorite was sweet corn on the cob. He would eat six ears at a time and call it dinner. He also enjoyed cucumber and onion salad, homegrown sliced tomatoes (with sugar on top) and sliced cantaloupe and watermelon (with salt on those). There was one vegetable that Dad absolutely detested though – zucchini. He would not (knowingly) eat any food that had zucchini in it. However, Mom used to sneak it into chocolate zucchini cake and other baked goods and not tell him until he had eaten the last piece, “By the way, there was zucchini in that.”

Although Dad happily ate cake, he really preferred homemade pie of any kind. Fortunately for him, Mom is an outstanding baker. She even learned to make favorite recipes from his childhood such as Anise Cookies.

Mom is a master of down-home southern Ohio country cooking. Dad was a lucky man. He broadened his list of favorites to include fried chicken livers and onions, potato cakes, and other Appalachian-inspired dishes. In later years, he would request her homemade French onion soup over and over.

For special occasions (or any occasion, really), Dad’s favorite meal was frozen lobster tails accompanied by Mom’s homemade French fries and wilted lettuce. Dad loved lobster, even though it made him sick if he ate it freshly caught. But he could eat frozen lobster, and he did at every chance he got.

No discussion of “Dad Food” would be complete without a mention of Dad’s all-time favorite beverage, iced tea. Sweet tea. VERY sweet tea. He drank it by the gallon, day and night. Our fridge always had a big pitcher of iced tea, and Dad would take a giant glass of it to wherever he was working or relaxing in the house. Iced tea and “Dad Food”, the perfect combination.

So, I raise my glass of iced tea in honor of my dad on this Father’s Day weekend, and I write down these special memories of him with tears in my eyes.

Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads, granddads, great-granddads, and great-great-granddads around the world.




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14 Responses to Blog: Dad Food

  1. Cheryl says:

    Great description of your Dad’s favorite foods. I grew up in NE PA and am familiar with many of them. We also had Charles Chips deliver to us in the tin cans. We had more pretzels delivered than chips because pretzels were my Dad’s favorites too!

  2. Terry Vachowski says:

    I love this, Penny! Many of these foods are favorites of one or another in my family. I’m thinking I caught of lot of my own addictions from MY German father! And I ALWAYS have a secret stash my husband can’t find when HIS runs out!

  3. Kristin Sladek says:

    That was a fantastic blog post with such a detailed walk down memory lane. My dad oddly doesn’t have his “dad food” that I can think of, but I have mine! And the whole family knows, no one, NO ONE but mom drinks the last coke zero or eats the last apple or the last bowl of Panda Puffs. I love horehound and licorice too but haven’t had licorice in ages (I read it naturally has gluten and that’s a big problem for me). My MIL is from SE PA too and still makes and eats so much of that food… Scrapple… Hmmm, always a suspect yet the cats like it! Lol. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful perspective on remembering a family member.

    • Penny says:

      Kristin, I enjoyed hearing about the rules for coke zero, apples, and Panda Puffs at your house! I have never had Panda Puffs – looks like I had better check them out! And I know what you mean about the scrapple. I think finding out what was in it may have contributed to me becoming vegetarian for a few years! But I have to hand it to those farmers, they were very frugal and wasted nothing. That’s interesting about the licorice-gluten connection; I was not aware of that. Fortunately gluten is one thing that we CAN still eat at my house (even though my beloved cashew nuts are now outlawed).

  4. Janice says:

    I’m loving reading the descriptions of all the foods that your Dad loved Penny. Some I just can’t fathom – and some I’m right there with him. But “peanut butter-marshmallow-sweet pickle sandwich” just made me wonder!!! However, my kids look at me strangely whenever I have a “peanut butter, honey, craisin & cheese sandwich” – so I’m not judging!!!! Love your page that you did showcasing some of the foods – perfect choice of Blueprint!

    • Penny says:

      Thanks, Janice! I always wondered about the peanut butter-marshmallow-sweet pickle combo too! Which reminds me – Dad also loved peanut butter and bacon sandwiches (just like Elvis).

  5. Reading about your Dad Foods reminded me of my Granddad. He always had a jar of nuts on the end table by his chair in the den and in the kitchen drawer, you could always find Butterfinger and Baby Ruth candy bars. To this day, every time I eat a Baby Ruth — and they are my favorite — I think of my Granddad. Thanks for the memories today, on Father’s Day, of my Granddad.

    • Penny says:

      Debbie, I can just picture your Granddad in his favorite chair munching on nuts! And he had great taste in candy bars, too. Butterfingers are my favorite! Happy memories!

  6. JR says:

    Penny, As Southeastern Pennsylvania gal I read with great pleasure about your father. I am missing mine also on this Father’s Day. Some of my dad’s favorites were hard pretzels, Lebanon bologna, and cup cheese. I miss him for his gentle ways and loving me always. Rest in Peace to all the fathers that have gone before us – we will love you always!

  7. Gamble says:

    Love this! Do all dads have a stash? Mine still does, with lots of the same as your dad, but add peanut brittle, Jordan almonds, Devil’s Food cookies.

    • Penny says:

      My dad would not have said no to any of those additions to the stash! He definitely loved peanut butter and Jordan almonds. I am not familiar with Devil’s Food cookies; I will have to look those up!

      • Penny says:

        Oh my goodness, I just searched for Devil’s Food Cookies, how did I ever miss out on them? Must have been so fixated on the cashews. I printed a milk-free version to try out (food allergies at our house now).

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