When most people talk about "comfort food" they will mention meals like meat loaf and mashed potatoes, spaghetti and meatballs, Salisbury steak, Fried Chicken and macaroni and cheese. These were the standard fare of the family of the fifties. Dishes that were inexpensive, hearty and filled you up with calories and love.
Most families did gather together at the end of the day, sit down at the dining table and share food and exchange tidbits of their day with each other. My family was no different because, though my mother worked outside the home, she still cooked dinner every night.
We routinely had meatloaf but my mother served it with baked potatoes, not mashed. We had "Swiss" steak as opposed to Salisbury steak, and our spaghetti came with ground hamburger and no meatballs. We often had chili which my mother bought from the store in a brick form (no, I'm not kidding) and we got fried chicken every Sunday. We also were treated to tuna casseroles, Mom's Bohunk Goulash (kind of a hamburger-mac that utilized leftovers) and, on a few horrid occasions, liver and onions. My parents loved liver and onions and we kids were, therefore, forced to suffer through what I still consider the worst meal that can ever be served! I also dislike sauerkraut and Mom, being Czech, loved to serve that up at least once a week. I'm not even going to discuss her fondness for hominy.
My mother had a few recipes that were concoctions of her own as well as the standard comfort food fare. One of these was a meal that I still make for myself to this day when I'm really feeling a need for some true comfort food. I do not know where she came up with the idea - I seriously doubt this was ever a published recipe - it's way too strange for anyone to lay claim to!
This is my weird comfort food: You need two cans of Franco-American canned spaghetti (Now produced under the Campbell's label) - no meatballs, no fancy shapes, nothing but the mooshy, over-cooked spaghetti, a pound of hamburger, left-over mashed potatoes (you can use instant or make fresh, but this was a recipe probably devised to use Mom's leftover mashed potatoes!)
You brown the hamburger so that it's a little crispy (because my Mother cooked all meats well done), drain the excess grease then add the canned spaghetti until warmed up. In the meantime you either reheat your leftover mashed potatoes or make your instant potatoes. You dish up a healthy serving of mashed potatoes and spoon the spaghetti/hamburger mixture over them. Mom served this up with a dish of sweet pickles, white bread and oleo-margerine (the kind you added yellow food coloring to!) I still have the pickles but I use a nice sourdough and real butter! That's it. No salads, we were not big salad eaters in my family.
My mother was not a fancy cook, nor was she a particularly good one. She could bake like an angel though - no one made bread or Kolaches like my mother! But a gourmet chef she was not. I am a bit of a foodie and so I attempted to "gourmet" this recipe up. This was a complete disaster, it ruined the dish for comfort food and, frankly, there is no way to "gourmet" up canned spaghetti! The moral of this paragraph? Do not mess with your comfort food recipe!
I call this dish "Mashed Spaghetti" for want of a better title. The funny thing about this dish is that I never would eat those canned spaghettis, even as a kid. I couldn't stand the taste or the texture of the spaghetti. Why I'll eat it this way is a mystery to me after over 50 years, but eat it I do and it always reminds me of my Mom, my family and dinnertime in the fifties in a little house in Wichita, Kansas.