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My mother always told me she thought the reason she hated Jell-O was because she only got it when she was sick. And a recent Reddit thread on the Old Recipes forum gets at the heart of this: In the thread, commenters are sharing the kinds of bland foods, odd combinations, and home remedies their parents offered to cure what ailed them.
The original poster kicks it off with a description of cottage cheese and strawberry jam on white toast. They explained it stands out in retrospect because their family never ate it at any other time. Looking through the thread, a few themes come up over and over, creating a pattern of the cultural concept of food for sick people. Saltines show up regularly, with margarine, in scrambled eggs, and served alongside Jell-O. Jell-O, too, like my mother remembers, seems to be a theme, although everyone has a different flavor. Sodas also seem to be a common concept, although for some people it was flat Coca-Cola, while for others it was ginger ale, grape soda, or 7-Up.
Chicken soup is the obvious answer, but in reading the thread, you can see the specificity of the type varies: Some lucky folks got homemade, but others knew that getting sick meant it was time for Mrs. Grass noodle soup mix, Lipton chicken noodle soup, or the cracking of a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle or chicken and stars soup.
But as always with this type of thread, the best entries are the ones far from the patterns, that take you completely by surprise, like the person whose mother would go outside to gather herbs and tree bark to make some sort of drink. Another commenter mentioned coffee-soaked toast with white sugar. And then someone else mentioned that their parents resorted to brandy or whiskey.
The thread wavers between nostalgia and dredging up horrific memories, which makes it fairly entertaining. I also appreciated that some people shared details about why — like my own mother — they still can’t eat specific foods.