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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