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Two words–Tofu Manicotti–were enough to strike fear into the hearts and stomachs of us Moon kids.

Long before the first Whole Foods Market made its way to Ohio, my mom bought into the 80s tofu craze and made it her mission to sneak soy into ordinarily tasty dishes. And so Tofu Manicotti was born. Other health-nutty adventures of hers were more successful. For years, she was a member of the Racoon County Co-op, which saw penny-pinching homemakers like her traveling to Cleveland’s food terminal before dawn to purchase natural foods in bulk. We got our honey from a beekeeper down the road. And Mom’s backyard vegetable garden kept us in zucchini, pepper, and tomato frittatas all summer long.

Before my mom passed away, she made each of us kids a cookbook, in which she hand wrote family recipes we wouldn’t want to forget. (Tofu Manicotti does not appear.) There’s frugal, egg-based dishes, like stratas; Midwestern standards like Ham Loaf and Dried Beef Casserole; an Italian aunt’s sauce and meatballs recipe. And so, these recipes–and memories–I can recreate.

Other dishes I have to return home for: good potato pancakes, homemade pierogi, a real-deal Lake Erie Perch fish fry.

I figured I’m not the only one who hankers for the foods of a Rust Belt upbringing. Turns out, I’m not. Thanks so much to the helpful folks in my *Fiction Writing FB group, who chimed in with their favorite hometown foods–or, in one case, the detestable food of her hometown she just can’t forget. Yep, I’m talking about you, Spam!

Did I forget your favorite hometown food? Reply here, or meet me on my Rust Belt Girl page on FB, where I muse about all things Rust Belt. Next week, I’ll feature a review of the memoir, Cinderland. Read it?

Here’s my uber-scientific survey response, below. Big winners: fish frys and pierogi; runner-up, coneys:

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*Thanks again to Daniel from Youngstown, Ohio; Chris; Amy from Northwest, Ohio; Adrian; Jules from Michigan; Dean; Brian; Dawn; Pumkin; Marguerite; and Carol, who has been through Erie, Pennsylvania, enough to adopt the local hotdog as her own.

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14 thoughts on “The Taste of Home

  1. Do I remember right that you’re in CO? I have an aunt and lots of cousins who live near Boulder, and my first breakfast burrito was when I was visiting them as a kid. It was a revelation. For years, we had our aunt send us cans of the green chili sauce with pork in it, so we could recreate the dish. I can’t think of the brand. Thank you for this memory. Yeah, some Thai would be good right about now, too!

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  2. I just had to google Manicotti (I had no idea what the original version was, let alone the tofu version!) I think I need to visit the rust belt! I don’t know most of these foods!

    Do you think you’d be able to recreate your mums dish even without a recipe?

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    1. Thanks for reading! Honestly, some of these U.S. Rust Belt delicacies I’ve never had before, and I grew up near Cleveland–but you get a lot of Italian, Greek, Polish, Hungarian and other “ethnic” foods because of the historic immigrant population. I have a wonderful Manicotti recipe I made occasionally (that uses crepes instead of pasta tubes). But I think I probably could figure out my mom’s tofu version, if I wanted to–basically take her broccoli and cheese “roll-ups” (another healthy dish) and sub tofu for the cottage cheese and spinach for the broccoli. Ha! I am smiling right now picturing my mom’s surprise at me blogging about one of her tofu creations!

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  3. I live near Dayton, which is close to Cincinnati. Fish fries are big around here; especially on Fridays during Lent, when all of the Catholics think they must eat fish. Most of the other items on your chart, like hoagies, coney dogs, and cheese steaks, are usually found at county fairs/the state fair, or King’s Island. I used to eat Spam sometimes when I was poor. And I love sweet corn. Potato cakes are awesome, but I learned how to make them from a southerner. Nice post 🙂

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    1. Ha! I’m a 4–all the way. Even better in a burrito! Cleveland is a long way from Cinci, however we did have a Skyline near where I grew up. Yum–now I’m hungry for chili! Have a great weekend!

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