Gag Me with a Spoon: The Trials and Tribulations of Childhood Discomfort Food

All of this talk about comfort food got me to thinking about some of the discomfort foods I encountered during my childhood informative years. In many ways they are just as memorable as the nostalgic “comfort” foods.  So I’ve taken on the challenge to recognize some of those unheralded foods that, while growing up, not only failed to turn me on but managed to turn my stomach.

calvin green slime panel

Just one of the many discomfort foods encountered by Calvin of the  Calvin and Hobbes series.

Most memorable among the discomfort foods found on the dining table when I was a kid was cabbage.  Boiled cabbage to be exact.  My folks loved it for reasons that my preadolescent brain couldn’t fathom.  Just the smell of it cooking would make my stomach queazy and drive me outside for fresh air.  And to actually have to sit face to face with it on my dinner plate, all steamy and sickly green – and to hear my parents cajoling, “just try a little, you’ll like it; it’s full of vitamins” –  my throat would constrict while involuntary gag reflexes would rack my body.  


The dreaded boiled cabbage.

Cabbage was not the only hobgoblin of our dinner table.   Close runner-ups of despicable foods from my parents’ sadistic arsenal were lentil soup and split pea soup.  And, as almost any kid I ever knew would understand, alarm bells went off when there was even a hint that dinner might include fried liver.  Other discomforting dishes I recall from my youth are Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, avocados, and asparagus.    

More discomfort foods

But my two most traumatic childhood encounters with discomfort foods were unanticipated and came while having dinner at someone else’s house.   The first incident was when I was in the second grade and was invited to dinner by a school friend.   I recall a very beautifully set table and as the star attraction, my favorite – roast beef.

However, one of the side dishes was diced, creamed potatoes – or so I thought.  Potatoes were a daily requirement on my family’s dinner table, and I liked them no matter how prepared.  Unfortunately, these “potatoes” actually turned out to be creamed diced turnips, a vegetable that I had never before personally encountered.  So, as soon as I took a bite I was convinced that they were potatoes gone bad.  

Too embarrassed to say anything and too repulsed to swallow, I sat there for what seem an eternity trying not to look like I was going to die on the spot.  Finally, I faked a cough into my napkin and left the un-chewed remnants wadded up beside my plate.  My friend’s parents didn’t say a thing.  Either they didn’t notice or they were being nice.  I’m not sure how I ultimately figured out that it was turnips, but I have not been a big fan of that root veggie ever since.


You guessed it – creamed turnips.  Yum.

My second traumatizing culinary encounter was at the Zimmermans, who lived down the block from us.  My sister and I hung out with the younger of the 5 kids.   I must have been 7 or 8 at the time. I recall sitting at the dinner table and Mr. Zimmerman asked if I would mind if he opened some Limburger cheese to have with dinner.  I thought it a bit strange that an adult would ask me for permission to have some cheese with dinner, but I had never even heard of Limburger cheese so I said sure. 


Limburger cheese.  Be happy we don’t have Smell-O-Vision on our blog.

I wasn’t prepared for the, shall I say, “pungent” aroma when he opened the package.  My gag reflexes kicked in big time, although I tried to conceal my distress and stoically pushed on through the meal.  I have no memory of what else was on the table, but I do know that I was not anxious to be in the same room with Limburger cheese ever again.  And, as it turns out, I don’t think I ever have been.

Despite my aversion to certain foods as a youngster, quite a few of those dreaded dishes are now some of my favorites.  The noxious cabbage has become somewhat of a treat, especially with corned beef.  I now consider cabbage’s little brothers, Brussel sprouts, as a delicacy.  In fact we had a delightful plate of those along with an amazing cauliflower dish at a local Indian restaurant the other night.


Where would Tacolicious’ Tuna Tostadas, Contramar Style (my personal favorite) be without avocados?

And avocados?  What was I thinking?  What can be a better breakfast than avocado on toast?  And who in their right mind doesn’t love guacamole?  Our own BigLittleMeals recipes for guacamole dip and avocado and tomato gazpacho are testament to the delights of this green fruit (yes an avocado is a fruit.  More specifically, it is a single-seeded berry.  Look it up).


It took a skilled eye to spot the wild asparagus along our fence line.  I got pretty good at it after a season or two.  Euell Gibbons of Stalking the Wild Asparagus fame would have been proud.

And asparagus!  Was I nuts?  While in grad school in Colorado, Ann and I treasured the wild asparagus that grew along our fence line. We still pine for those succulent, tender shoots steamed and slathered with butter.  So much better than any found in our markets.

Of course, some negative vibes linger from my discomfort food days.  Turnips, Limburger cheese, and fried liver remain at arms’ length.  But after all of these years I should give them a go again, just to see.  Maybe my gag reflex has mellowed with age.



    Sorry about your excessive precip! It is possible to have too much of even the best things. The damage caused by heavy rain to the burn areas can be incredible. Best wishes.

    Food-wise; turnips were terrible, but I ordered a meal a few years ago that was served with julienned turnips and carrots and it was great! Rutabagas were equally disgusting. Mom disguised them by blending them with potatoes and serving them with some margarine (we couldn’t afford butter). Liver was disguised by grinding it and adding a little chopped onion and bacon and then serving it as my favorite food – a burger, with mustard. Ann and Andy are lucky they don’t have to compete with me for a share of the supply of Brussels sprouts, but I recently whipped up a skillet of chopped cabbage and hamburger with onion… served with a side of ketchup. My childhood faves for all time were spinach, beets, and carrots; still number them among the top ranks. Our spinach is usually served as the base of the dinner salad, but when we cook it, I add some vinegar to mine at the table.

    A final liver-note: some years ago, having din-din with my boss at a nice joint in Garden City, Long Island, the menus were presented, a brief glance at the inside revealed his favorite food: liver with raspberries. Grilled liver slathered with raspberries as I might cover a steak with ‘shrooms. I managed to control myself at the table.


    • theRaggedys says:

      The rain has abated, finally. We are fortunate to have no major flooding in our neighborhood.
      Thanks for sharing your early-day food thoughts. Funny you mentioned raspberries; we just bought some “Purple Haze” beer brewed by the Louisiana Abita Brewing Company for our upcoming Louisiana Mardi Gras dinner party. Turns out it is raspberry infused and is supposed to be purple – one of the Mardi Gras colors. When I was in college the rage was green “Bat Beer” for watching the then very popular Batman TV series. Laissez les Bons Temps Roulez!


  2. Helen Weaver says:

    Was that lentil soup with french bread I served you the last time you came to visit? No wonder you ate lots of french bread & left some soup in your bowl.


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