Campbell’s tomato soup makes my favorite spaghetti sauce. Seriously. If I had to choose one childhood staple to eat every day for the rest of my life, it would be my grandmother’s sauce, rich with memories of her dinner table in Milwaukee.
My grandfather, who had a taste for pickled pigs’ feet and roast beef, requested my grandmother’s spaghetti at least weekly, as did we kids. Apparently, grandma didn’t like her spaghetti as much as we did, because she only agreed to make it for us once or twice a month.
Grandma could make a mean meatloaf, and scalloped potatoes from scratch when she had time, but the dishes I crave today began with supermarket brand names. She was as brand loyal as they come. If she felt like a product was key to a dish, she would underline it in the recipe. Her spaghetti called for Campbell’s and Heinz, her potato salad Hellman’s, her Doritos taco salad Kraft Catalina. Her Jello-O brand dessert fluff always came to the table topped with Cool Whip.
Grandma could make a mean meatloaf, and scalloped potatoes from scratch when she had time, but the dishes I crave today began with supermarket brand names.
Maybe that cooking plays into not-so-positive heartland stereotypes, but let’s remember that midcentury recipes based on processed foods helped working moms like my grandmother put in full days at the office and put hot meals on the table. Those brands bailed her out, and today they help me feel closer to home.
I live in New York City, where my neighbors make sauce from plump heirloom tomatoes and fine Italian olive oil. I’ve become a farmers’ market convert, but when it’s time to make spaghetti, I still shop the center aisles at my local supermarket, like Grandma Micki getting ready for a Wisconsin family dinner in 1988.
Grandma Micki’s Spaghetti Sauce
1 lb. ground beef (or ground turkey or veggie burger crumbles)
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 10.75-oz. cans Campbell’s tomato soup
½ cup Heinz ketchup
¼ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. dried sage
In a medium pot over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef and onion, breaking the beef up with a wooden spoon. Add soup, 1 can water, ketchup, and seasonings. Simmer for 30 minutes. Serve over cooked spaghetti.