My Lifelong Love Affair with Philadelphia Cream Cheese

For the better part of my childhood, I refused to eat anything but cream cheese.  It started when my father took me to Rhodes Drug Store.  He ordered me a cream cheese sandwich on soft flannel white bread.  You know, that wonderful bread with no nutritional value?  I love that bread.  Rhodes served their cream cheese sandwiches with a slice of dill pickle on top.  My favorite bit was where the pickle had dribbled some juice.  Yet, never in a million years would I consider actually eating the pickle itself.

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I have no memory of my parents ever trying to coax, force, bribe or beat me into food submission.  They simply gave in.  The kid wants cream cheese?  Let her eat cream cheese.

Once, when the A & P store was out of cream cheese, Mother brought home an imposter.  Neufchatel?  No thanks, no way, not for me.

Somewhere in a box of old family photos is a black and white shot taken at our Thanksgiving table.   The turkey is as juicy and luscious looking as the one depicted in  Norman Rockwell’s Freedom From Want.  Our little family of four is seated around the table. Mother, Daddy, and Marilyn have empty plates before them in anticipation of hot turkey and gravy.  In front of me is a dish holding an entire block of unwrapped cream cheese.  I remember I attacked it with a fork.

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I was the kid no parent wanted their child to bring home for dinner.  What to feed the little red-headed monster?

Lisa McClendon’s mother insisted she could “cure” me.  Lisa’s parents had a tiny cabin on the Chesapeake Bay.  Mrs. McClendon assured my mom if she took me to the cabin, she would have me eating “real” food within days.  Off we went.  I loved playing near the steep cliffs.  I enjoyed sleeping in the musty cabin beds.  It was fun going out in the rowboat. I did not, however, like the food.  No memory of what was served, but I do know on about day four Mrs. McClendon went and bought a package of Philadelphia cream cheese.

My childhood was a happy cream cheese on carbs filled existence.  Saltines.  Triscuits. English Muffins. Cream cheese on yellow braided challah bread is scrumptious.  Weekly mother would arrive home from the Acme, dump the brown paper bags on the counter and I would immediately ferret through the sacks looking for something new on which to smear cream cheese. Oh! How fabulous when she bought a freshly baked loaf of caraway seeded rye bread. Every single iteration of cream cheese on carbs was excellent.

Once, while in college,  I went to Wilmington to meet Daddy for lunch.  He took me to a local eatery that made any kind of sandwich into a “hero”.  I ordered a hero cream cheese on pumpernickel.   Two-inch thick slabs of rich white fat slathered black bread.  Heaven on a plate.

I was steadfast to my cream cheese addiction throughout my early school years.  In Elementary and Junior High packing a lunch was acceptable.  By High School that wasn’t cool.  What to do?  I replaced cream cheese with butter.  Every single day I shuffled through the lunch line and ordered two things: two slices of white flannel bread smeared with butter and one Fudgesicle.  The lunch line ladies were used to me.  My buttered bread was always prepared on a green plastic plate, covered with plastic wrap.  Occasionally I surprised them by ordering two extra slices.  That sent them to the kitchen to “cook.”

I have a beloved Aunt who maintains when we visited her in Atlanta one long ago Easter, she placed a ham dinner in front of me. She claims I ate every bit.  Peas? Mashed potatoes?  I suspect she misremembers. Stubborn about eating new foods runs in the family.  We had her grandson, Jonathan, visit for a week. That child became lock-jawed when I attempted to introduce a grape.  I could relate.  Nothing, no one, could have managed to sneak anything other than cream cheese through my lips.

My day of reckoning arrived May 4, 1974.  I got married.  My new groom didn’t relish the idea of eating nothing but cream cheese for the rest of his life.  The first time I cooked for him he suggested,  “Make it easy.  Just make hot dogs and beans.”

I had seen how hot dogs were cooked.  I boiled two. Beans?  Beans were green right?  So cooked a package of frozen green beans.  As a “side” I offered a slice of canned pineapple with a dollop of Miracle Whip in the middle.  I’d noticed Mother occasionally did that.  Who knew he meant hot dogs, in a roll with baked beans as a side?  I spent the first several months of marriage calling Mom daily, asking what to cook and how to cook it.  Eventually, I learned to like “real” food.

But Philadelphia cream cheese is still my go-to comfort and celebration food.  When I went to Chicago following my grandson Tate’s birth, I celebrated and ate cream cheese on bread like it was my job.

“I have a new grandson!  That calls for cream cheese on gluten-free toast!” ( Yes, celiac sprue/the Universe has snatched gluten from my life.  But no one can steal my cream cheese.)  I now buy reduced fat soft Philadelphia cream cheese and eat it on celery or simply lick it off the spoon.