Casseroles. Fried Chicken. Mac n’ Cheese. Spaghetti. Matzo Ball Soup. Odds are, everyone has their favorite “comfort food”. I grew up in a home where fresh butter was always sitting out on the counter, where gravy was a beverage and Duke’s mayonnaise was one of the four food groups. Where mom always asked my sisters and I “you want to lick the bowl or the spoon”? Between me and my 2 sisters, the 3 of us could “clean” a bowl of cake batter in seconds!
I can still hear the sound of our White Mountain ice cream machine, as we took turns turning the handle, while dad kept it loaded up with rock salt. “Is it ready? Is it ready? My arm is getting sore”. To this day, I’ve not tasted fresh peach ice cream as good as we had it on the front porch of British Woods, in the late summer.
The greatest memory of comfort food, is when we’d drive to Salisbury, NC to visit my dad’s sister, Aunt Addie. She was the definition of comfort, love and food rolled into one tiny kitchen and tight hugs. Even though Addie had prepared enough food to feed all of Salisbury (and maybe half of Charlotte), everyone brought a dish to “accompany” her glazed ham, green beans, cucumber slices in vinegar with black pepper, and homemade yeast rolls. There was mom’s potato salad and brown rice (famously known as “Dottie’s Brown Rice”), Millie’s Squash Casserole (smothered in butter soaked Ritz cracker crumbs), quart size mason jars, full of Uncle Tweet’s slaw (cabbage, fresh tomatoes and green bell pepper, swimming in a sweet apple cider vinegar dressing), and (drum roll …..) congealed salads. Strawberry congealed salad with a pretzel crust and a layer of sweetened sour cream, lime Jell-O salad with cottage cheese and pineapple and the favorite, orange Jell-O with marshmallows, sharp cheddar cheese, mandarin oranges, pecans and coconut. THEN, came dessert. Most of the adults requested a “sliver” of everything. Pound cake, chocolate pie, chess pie, lemon meringue pie and dad’s favorite, Addie’s Caramel Cake. Looking back, I’m amazed we didn’t veer off the road from a food coma, as we headed back home.
There is comfort food, and then there is the comfort of food. It’s the one thing we go to when a new neighbor moves in or when a friend is in need. Perhaps the act of bringing food makes us feel we can help others in situations we can’t necessarily solve or cure ourselves.
Here’s to cherishing the memories of comfort food and finding comfort, and love, in the food we share.
Dottie’s Brown Rice
(Perfect year round; travels well)
1 cup Uncle Ben’s (or Comet) rice, uncooked
2 cans of beef consommé (or beef stock)
½ stick of butter
1 large onion, quartered, then sliced thin
Preheat oven to 350. In cast iron skilled (preferably), melt butter and sauté sliced onions until lightly browned. Add uncooked rice to onions and butter. Stir. Transfer rice to baking dish. Add beef consommé or stock. Stir. Bake (uncovered) approximately 30-40 minutes or until rice has absorbed all the liquid. Remove from oven and cover until ready to serve.
Addie’s Caramel Cream Cake
Note: Do not make this if the weather is humid!
All ingredients should be at room temperature. Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour 3 (9 inch) cake pans.
2 sticks of butter
¼ teaspoon baking soda
3 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs
8 ounce container of sour cream
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon of good vanilla extract*
Using an electric mixer, whip butter for 5-10 seconds. Add sugar gradually until mixture is light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition.
Sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Add about a quarter of flour mixture, beating until thoroughly mixed. Add a third of sour cream and combine thoroughly. Repeat alternating flour mixture and sour cream. Begin and end with flour. Stir in vanilla.
Pour into cake pans and tap each pan on counter top several times to remove air bubbles.
Place pans in preheated oven for 25-35 minutes, or until cake test is done. Remove cake from oven onto cooling racks. Let cake cool completely. Carefully, remove cake from pans. Frost with caramel frosting.
*Splurge and buy a high quality vanilla, found at any local spice shop or gourmet kitchen store.
½ pound butter
½ tsp. good vanilla extract
2 cups light brown sugar
4 cups 10X confectioners’ sugar
½ cup evaporated milk
Measure confectioner’s sugar and place in large mixing bowl. Melt butter in pot. Add brown sugar and milk. Cook for 2 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add vanilla and stir. Pour over powdered sugar. Beat with electric mixer until cool. Let cool slightly. Frost between each layer and outside of cake.
Lynn Wells is owner of Thyme Well Spent – Personal Chef Services, in Greensboro, NC. Contact Lynn at [email protected].