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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Comfort Food

I had lunch with a friend earlier this week at a comfort food kind of place. 

I grew up in northern Illinois; she grew up in small-town Indiana. So we both have similar backgrounds. As I was enjoying my 1/2 'grown up grilled cheese sandwich' and a cup of tomato basil soup, I mentioned that for me, grilled cheese is the ultimate comfort food.  I found this definition of comfort food on the Internet: "food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically any with a high sugar or other carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking."

Soon we were discussing the foods of our childhoods, some remembered fondly, some not so fondly. I hate tomatoes, possibly because my mother, who was an outstanding cook, used to make -- and make me eat -- breaded stewed tomatoes. Tomatoes with soggy bread. What's not to like? But I do like tomato soup, pasta sauces made from tomatoes, and ketchup. But leave the tomatoes out of my salad and off my sandwiches. 

Another childhood food I hated was liver and onions. My dog used to sit under the table near me, as he knew I would sneak him much of the liver. My parents both grew up in rural southern Illinois, and that was reflected in their food. My dad always liked picked pigs feet, and both parents enjoyed ham hocks and beans. Growing up just after the Great Depression, both parents were raised in an era when nothing went unused, or uneaten.  Even bacon grease was destined to be poured over a salad to make wilted lettuce.

My mother and both grandmothers were amazing cooks. When they were young, microwaves and prepackaged food didn't exist. So girls learned to cook. I don't remember too much about my maternal grandmother's cooking, as she died when I was a teenager. But I do remember that everything was made from scratch. My paternal grandmother and my mother also did most of their cooking from scratch.

Sunday's big meal was served at noon, after church, and consisted of such things as fried chicken, homemade mashed potatoes and corn. Or we might have pot roast with noodles and a vegetable. My mother would make homemade dinner rolls and the most amazing cinnamon rolls from time to time, and although she always said she couldn't make a decent pie crust, nobody else felt the same. She would can fresh peaches bought by the bushel basket, and green beans from our backyard garden. The foods we ate were clean and free of pesticides and other toxins, and prepared without preservatives.

I remember how my dad would sometimes take us to a local bakery on Saturday to get a loaf of fresh-baked bread, and how we would hurry home to eat it with butter while still warm. And of course, there was always a plate of sliced white bread on the table with every meal.

 My dad was a meat-and-potatoes and fried food kind of guy. For him, a meal without meat wasn't really a meal. He loved fried pork chops, and despite his diet of fried foods, he lived to be 87. 

My favorite birthday meal was lamb chops fixed in the broiler. Another favorite was hamburger meat spread on a piece of white bread and broiled. Yum!

Of course, I no longer eat pork or lamb, I rarely eat beef, and I try to avoid fried foods except on occasion. I also try to limit my consumption of carbohydrates, but I still enjoy the rare treat of a grilled cheese sandwich or some fresh bread from a grocery store bakery.

Our knowledge of nutrition certainly has come a long way over the past 50-60 years, but I wonder, do we really enjoy our food the way we used to? I miss the smell of food cooking in the oven or on the stove top. Microwaves are convenient, but they don't produce the same aromas with which I grew up. There is nothing quite like walking into a house filled with the smell of food cooking in the oven, or even in a slow cooker. And so many of our foods today are filled with artificial flavors, colors and preservatives.

I guess many of us do miss the foods, the comfort foods, of our youth. Restaurants like Cracker Barrel and Village Inn specialize in serving comfort foods, and many of the guests are from my generation. It is obvious that we won't soon get over our love of comfort foods, high carbs and fats and all. But I wonder, do people in other countries miss the foods of their youth? Do they patronize restaurants they serve comfort foods? Many of this blog's readers are from other countries, so I would love to hear from my international readers.