This is Why Food and Family Mean Everything

My father loved food, probably more than anyone I know. When he was telling you about a meal or a dish he enjoyed, whether it was a fancy steak dinner, or a chocolate mousse cake, his voice would rise and fall with emphasis. His hands would slap the table lightly, and he would lean towards you and use words like “marvelous” and “outstanding.” He needed you to know Just How Good This Meal Was.

Food and family: Why tuna and crackers means so much to this mom, daughter, and cookbook author Katie Workman.

But he wasn’t much of a cook. Left to his own devices, he would open a can of cocktail peanuts or in a pinch he would make scrambled eggs. I also have vivid memories of him working his way happily and slowly (kind of annoyingly slowly) through a pint of Rum Raisin ice cream.

But if I want to time-travel back to being a little girl and snacking with my dad, all it takes is tuna on a cracker. Sunday afternoons he would turn on the TV, and while the announcers were getting everyone revved up for the imminent football game, he would pad his way into the kitchen. He’d take out a can of solid white tuna, and open it with the same can opener we used to open the zillions of cans of cat food. The cats would get their hopes up and come flying into the kitchen, perpetually disappointed that this can wasn’t destined for them.

Tuna drained, then into a bowl, then stirred with a few spoonfuls of mayonnaise. There may have been salt and pepper, but maybe – eh, why bother. Nothing else.

The box of crackers would come out and a very generous handful or two would go onto a plate. He would pad back to the cracked and peeling red leather chair in the studio, and arrange himself and his snack in front of the TV. Often there was a beer.

And slowly, over the course of the game, forkfuls of tuna would be scooped onto the rough, woven cracker, and loudly they would disappear. I never did fall in love with watching the games, though he never stopped trying to explain what a fourth down was, or a wide receiver. But I was happy to hang out for the snacks and the company.

These days my tuna fish has some sexy little extras, like minced onion, celery, chopped gherkins, and a touch of Dijon. But if I want to travel back in time and have a Proustian recollection of hanging with my Dad, the tuna is minimalist, and if I’m extra lucky, and the Giants are winning, I might get a little sip of the beer.

Katie’s Tuna Fish

Food and family: Why tuna and crackers means so much to this mom.

Makes enough for 4 very hefty sandwiches, or 6 more modest sandwiches (cut the recipe in half if you like!)

When I’m in a rush or feeling nostalgic, I make tuna my dad’s way: tuna, mayo, salt, pepper. When I’ve got more time and am looking to show off a bit, this is how I make it.  The relish adds a sweet brininess that puts this tuna in a class by itself, and the Dijon gives it a tiny kick.  The celery adds a welcome refreshing crunch.  The onion is optional just because you might not feel like mincing a tablespoon of onion, and who could blame you.

This is great in the form of a sandwich, a wrap, scooped onto a crunchy green salad, or served (Dad-style) with crackers.


2 6 ½-ounce cans solid white tuna fish, drained

2 6 ½-ounce cans light tuna fish, drained

1 heaping tablespoon sweet relish

1 heaping tablespoon minced onion (optional)

1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/3 cup mayonnaise, or more to taste

2 tablespoons chopped celery (optional)

Pinch kosher or coarse salt, or to taste

Freshly ground pepper to taste

8 to 12 slices whole wheat bread

Lettuce leaves and sliced tomato (optional)

  1. Mix the tuna, relish, onion, mayo, mustard, and celery (if using) in a medium-sized bowl.  Add the salt and pepper and blend well.
  2. Divide the tuna over 4 to 6 slices of bread, depending on how filled you want your sandwiches to be.  Top with lettuce and/or tomato, if desired, and then top each with another slice of bread.

About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, an activist in hunger issues, and the author of the beloved Mom 100 Cookbook.

Published in 2012, The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket was Katie’s first book. It was nominated for an IACP award and selected by Cooking Light as one of the best 100 books of the past 25 years. This summer (August 2015), she follows up with Dinner Solved!: 100 Ingenious Recipes That Make the Whole Family Happy, Including You!

Read more posts by Katie

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