June 14, 2014

Mom Mom’s Sloppy Joes (W101)

Catching up with Writing 101 on a Saturday morning.

June 13, 2014 — Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.

This is a pretty easy one for me, as there’s one meal that has always kept its warm and fuzzy place in my heart: eating sloppy joes at my Mom Mom’s trailer.

When I was a kid, twice a year my family would make the drive from Detroit, MI to Buffalo, NY to visit family. Both of my parents came from Western New York so we had plenty of family out there to visit, and my dad, as an autoworker, had two big shutdown periods in his work year: summer (usually around July 4th) and Christmas/New Years. Almost without fail for over a decade, those breaks meant loading up the family vehicle and driving across Ontario, Canada for five or six hours until we reached our destination. My mother’s parents, whom we called Mom Mom and Pop Pop, lived nearer to Buffalo than my dad’s parents and so we usually went there first.

There’s a lot of fond memories surrounding those trips, but one of the consistent little things I remember is Mom Mom’s sloppy joes.  We’d always arrive at the end of a long drive, often later in the day (or sometimes even at night), weary and cranky and hungry. Thankfully, my grandparents were ready for us. Mom Mom (and later Pop Pop, when Mom Mom’s mobility began to deteriorate), not knowing quite when we’d get there, and knowing we’d be hungry, would put a skillet of sloppy joes on the stovetop to be there when we arrived, weary and cranky and hungry. [Sloppy joes can sit awhile on simmer.]

Mom Mom’s sloppy joes were served either on plain white hamburger buns with a side of nacho cheese Doritos, or scooped directly over a plate of Doritos like the awesomest, beefiest nachos around. Our plates were accompanied by a cola, usually Pepsi. No vegetables, because they’d just ruin the whole thing. And they were meaty, and salty, and savory, and cheesey, and wonderful.

Sloppy joes were the start of happy, lazy visits with family. They remind me of Western New York and all the things I did there, all the family I visited there, and all the growing up I did during those trips. To this day, sloppy joes are one of the foods I crave when I just want to feel happy, or warm, or loved. Always with the Doritos, though nowadays I’ve sworn off the Pepsi. Both my Mom Mom and my Pop Pop are gone; I haven’t been to their trailer in over twenty years; I haven’t even been to Buffalo in over a decade, But whenever I make that meal, I’m taken back there.

In fact, just writing this made me crave them, so I decided to whip a batch up. Don’t they look delicious?


Here’s the recipe, at least as it’s come down to me. I don’t know if this is exactly how Mom Mom made them, but the flavor’s right and I’m sure it’s close.


  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 tbsp. sweet relish
  • 1 tbsp. oil
  • Ketchup
  • Yellow mustard
  • Salt & pepper to taste


Brown the onions in a skillet with the oil, then add and brown the meat (I also add some salt and pepper here). Drain the grease. Add ketchup and mustard to the meat and onion mixture. Exact measurements of ketchup and mustard are hard to offer, as it’s a taste thing and I just squeeze/eyeball it; I will tell you that you need to use mainly ketchup as the sauce base, with mustard there to add some zing but not overpower [if you can distinctly taste the mustard, you’ve added too much]. Once you’ve got the sauce mixed in, put in the sweet relish and let the whole thing simmer 10 or 15 minutes. Serve on a bun with Doritos. Some Red Hot sauce goes well on them, too!

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