Historically Speaking: Happy memories of comfort foods
By Lily Kongslien
Special to the Star Journal
So much has been said of various comfort foods these days, but we must admit that forms of many different kinds of “comforting” foods have been around for years. We give these foods the names of snacks, appetizers and maybe even soul food.
When we were youngsters, eating between meals was frowned upon since substantial and hearty meals were prepared and served three times a day at regular hours. Today, with the hectic pace of family life and the simplicity of getting meals ready in just minutes, there is much more “munching” between meals, and many of our families do not sit down together for a meal-only on very special occasions.
I recall the pleasant smell of freshly baked bread and the way that aroma lingered in the kitchen for hours after the bread was baked. Our special treat on coming home from school was to find a slice of fresh bread, spread with butter (and maybe freshly made jam or marmalade), waiting for us on the old wooden bread-board on the kitchen table. My mother had many duties to do daily around the farm, and she could not always be waiting in the kitchen to greet us. But always there would be a treat-a slice of bread, a cookie or homemade donut waiting for us. Donut making day was a treat, as my special “comfort” food then would be the “holes” that seemed even better than the donut itself.
I have mentioned before about the home-baked beans-always on Saturday-complete with gingerbread. The beans were soaked the night before, and on Saturday prepared with small pieces of salt pork and baked in the oven of the old wood range. She used home-canned tomatoes in the process. Perhaps that’s why my baked beans never seemed to have that special flavor.
Another dish that we had often, especially during the cold winter days, was a casserole of potatoes, carrots and hamburger. Sometimes she would coarsely grind the vegetables, and at other times the potatoes and carrots were sliced, and together with the ground beef and canned tomatoes made a delicious one-dish meal. There was something about this particular casserole when the veggies were very coarsely ground (using an old hand grinder). I could almost feel all the vitamins make me feel healthier by the forkful. Nowadays, I still make this casserole (in my crock pot) but I do not grind the potatoes and carrots. Even if I would do this, I am sure it would not match my mother’s meal.
A mincemeat pie can satisfy a hungry appetite especially if it is actually made of real meat (usually venison) plus the other ingredients and spices. This was a special treat usually reserved for the holidays. In the fall, mother canned many jars of mincemeat, and throughout the winter they became the filling for many a mincemeat pie.
We always had a lot of cottage cheese at meal time, since we had our own cows and plenty of milk and cream. A special “comfort” food for my brother and me was a “ball” or “small patty” of dried cottage cheese. My mother would season the cottage cheese, form it and place it on a pan in the warming closet at the top of the wood range to dry. These were great to take with us while we are doing chores; they were chewy and tasty, and we grew very attached to these treats.
There was a very simple fruit cake that my mother used to make at holiday time-we called it YumYum cake. It had no fruit except for the raisins and was made in an angel food pan. We all loved it, and after my brother was in the service, and my husband and I lived across the country, my mother would send us YumYum cake. It was like a taste of home. This is one thing I can successfully make and it tastes just like mother’s.
My mother liked to make fudge, and her fudge always turned out perfect. She sent many a box to my brother and my husband during World War II. I’m sure the fudge didn’t last long as they shared it with their buddies. She made a butterscotch candy that was so very smooth and flavorful. As it set, she cut it into squares, and this filled the candy dish for a while. Butterscotch now comes in balls or fancy rounds, but it can never match the pleasures of one of mother’s butterscotch squares.
Fruit of all kinds have always been a favorite of many folks. We had a bushel of apples each fall, and that special apple in my lunch on school days was the perfect ending for a sandwich lunch. How good they tasted. I still believe that “an apple a day, keeps the doctor away.” Maybe not always literally, but it is good munching.
Who does not love a hot bowl of homemade soup? There are so many kinds of soup-canned, dried, concentrated-and every type from tomato to chicken gumbo. Along with the soup, you get vegetables of every sort, color, size, description and flavor. And there is something so very soothing to the soul, to bring back memories of time long ago when grandmother or mother believed that soup could cure anything and everything.
Let’s think of the present day. There are so many different kinds of snack foods, appetizers and speciality foods. There are many different kinds of potato chips, crackers, many flavors of popcorn, dips of all kinds, cheeses of all varieties, pizzas, pretzels, bread sticks, salsa dips and many, many more.
Then there are those who have a sweet tooth and need candies and desserts of all kinds including cakes, pies, sweet rolls, yogurt, ice cream and sherbets. There is no end to the selection in the stores today, and many of the foods are already prepared and ready to pop into the microwave or oven. No matter if your favorite “comfort” food or snack is homemade or ready for immediate eating, the nutrition is important since it is sometimes perhaps a substitute for or an addition to a meal.
We are fortunate to have such a wide variety of all foods in our stores and eating places. Tehre is something that will please everybody. Take comfort in good and sensible eating.