Comfort Food

Linda Merlino, Contributing Writer

Comfort Food

Linda Merlino, Surf City


There are certain foods that elicit memories. For me pastina, chicken cutlets, fresh pasta,

warm, chocolate chip cookies, Christmas bread and fluffernutters come to mind. The latter

were often found inside my school lunch box, in college as an inexpensive breakfast or lunch

and lately as a throwback-must-have-any-time quick comfort food.


Since moving to North Carolina from Connecticut three years ago I have learned where I

can and cannot find my favorite items. Tomato sauce requires Tuttorosso to create the gravy

of my childhood. My grandmother, mother, and aunt were my teachers, each brought their

own specialties to the kitchen. My grandmother cooked fresh from the garden. She schooled

me on how to find the crispest zucchini, dark green cucumbers, bright red peppers,

artichokes, and melons. Picking her succulent produce was the introduction to an art form.

I grew up outside of Boston and as a little girl shopped in the North End with my

grandmother. Her classroom was composed of a handful of shops where we selected the right

cuts of meat, fragrant cheeses, seasoned sausages, and prosciutto sliced paper thin to

perfection. She could cook for a crowd, for my grandfather, and for the two of us. Simple

meals were grilled cheese sandwiches on crusty Italian bread, wedding soup or hot dogs

sliced like pennies with sweetened B&M baked beans from a can.


In the beginning navigating the grocery stores in Wilmington left me disappointed. I

substituted southern brands like BUSH beans for our hot dog recipe and with patience and

under-my-breath grumbling I discovered Amazon had some products I could order. Bizarre.

Thank you, Mr. Bezos. I wasn’t proud of shopping online, just determined. One item in

particular arrived in my mailbox. Marshmallow Fluff. This product marked me as a

Northerner. I did not care. A peanut butter and marshmallow sandwich on white bread is very

specific. Marshmallow Creme doesn’t work. Sorry.


Last week I was in Publix and asked an employee if the store carried Marshmallow Fluff.

He looked at me with a knowing in his eyes and glanced over his shoulder. There was a shelf

of ice cream toppings. He muttered…not here, it used to be here, and his voice trailed off. He

tapped his temple and closed his eyes.


“Try aisle four, all the way at the end, on the right, on the bottom shelf.”

Thanks. I pushed my cart with the excitement of a child. My heart pounded. There it was.

I clapped my hands and squealed. Heads turned. A huge plastic container with the same red

lid of my childhood sat glowing up at me. I made my way back to the man who had given me

such detailed directions. I held the container high for him to see.

“I got it,” I said. “Tell me I’m crazy and I’ll agree.” He smiled.


“Not crazy,” he said. “You must me from the North. Only northerners buy Marshmallow

Fluff. I’m from Pennsylvania and I buy it too.”


We exchanged reminisces of eating fluffernutters as kids. And unapologetically admitted

to craving them as adults. He confessed to bringing them for lunch and me…well I went

home and had two for dinner.