COMFORT, HOW I GIVE AND HOW I RECEIVE (A POEM)
My grandmother gave us all comfort
In the form of homemade noodle soups
And goulashes and stews,
And on a cold winter night
If you were spending the night with grandma
She would make hot tea
With lemon and honey,
And bring out butter and saltine crackers.
It was a comfort food that has stayed with me
Throughout my life
And when I am feeling low or unwell
I know it’s time for hot tea
With lemon and honey
And some buttered saltine crackers.
Food, I realize,
Was a form of comfort from my grandmother
And I have followed in her footsteps,
Patterning my gift of comfort
From what is in the kitchen –
Soups and stews and chowders,
But especially hot tea
With honey and lemon
And those buttered saltine crackers.
How we give comfort
And how we receive it
Can take many different forms
But for me
It starts in the kitchen.
— Sandra Lee Smith
Comfort foods! Everyone has their own favorites and oftentimes for different reasons. Consequently, my comfort food of saltine crackers with hot tea and lemon and honey may not be the same as your comfort foods. And the idea of comfort foods must appeal to the masses because there are now numerous cookbooks on the subject. (I was inspired to write this because a cookbook titled “The Farmer’s Wife Comfort Food Cookbook” arrived in the mail from my brother, Bill, yesterday).
Chocolate pudding, tapioca or bread pudding are usually at the top of a comfort list. Bread pudding was one of the few desserts we grew up on, although we might have it just as easily for breakfast as we did for dessert. Dessert just wasn’t part of the menu in my mother’s kitchen, except for occasions like Christmas or Thanksgiving.
It’s easy to understand how bread pudding managed to make it to the table. We always had bread; my mother baked bread twice a week in large roasting pans. We seldom had “store bought bread” in the house until much later, after my mother began working. (My sister recalls that we had the only mother in the neighborhood who worked full time—mind you, this was a time, in the 1940s and 1950s, when most mothers stayed at home).
I don’t think my mother had a recipe for making bread pudding although it’s entirely possible that she may have followed the recipe for Bread Puff Pudding that I found in her Ida Bailey Allen Service Cookbook. The recipe is a simple combination of milk, bread crumbs, a bit of butter, a little sugar, vanilla, and a couple of eggs. These would have been ingredients on hand in my mother’s kitchen. Mom’s bread pudding usually contained raisins, too.
I began thinking about bread pudding after the time my daughter in law had surgery on her throat and requested that, and tapioca pudding while she recuperated, so I began searching through my files for recipes. One of the recipes sounded good that I decided to make it. Well, I want you to know, it was a great bread pudding—I did have to sample it, of course!
Bread pudding seems to be one of those dessert dishes that have almost disappeared from today’s menus. Why do you suppose this is? Have we all become so busy that the only kind of puddings we make anymore are of the instant packaged variety that require only the addition of milk—or, equally tasteless — a pre-made item that you pick up in the dairy section of the supermarket, which only requires peeling off a foil cover?
Here is the recipe I found in an old newspaper article.
¼ lb (1 stick) unsalted butter (should be softened, room temperature)
1 cup sugar
2 (12 oz) cans evaporated milk (undiluted)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
7 slices stale white sandwich bread, toasted
½ cup seedless raisins or dried cranberries
Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric mixer and beat on medium speed until mix is well creamed, about 5 minutes. Add milk, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, cream of tartar and ginger. Beat on low speed until well-blended, about 3 minutes.
Break toasted bread into small pieces and arrange in even layer in bottom of an ungreased 8×8” baking pan. Sprinkle on raisins. Pour milk mixture over the bread and let it stand for about 1 hour, occasionally patting down any bread that floats to the top.
Bake 450 degrees 20-25 minutes or until top is very well browned and mixture shakes like a bowl of jelly when pan is shaken. Remove from oven and let stand 15 minutes before serving. Makes 8-10 servings
Note: raisins, roasted pecans or other nuts or coconut can be added to recipe; I’ve discovered that dried blueberries are also a nice addition.
When it comes to making tapioca pudding, I simply follow the recipe on the box of Minute Tapioca. I have been making tapioca pudding since I was eight or nine years old. You want to know what else is easy to make and so delicious you will never buy a pre-made version or an instant version in a box again? Chocolate pudding! Well, I have spent the afternoon trying to find my favorite chocolate pudding recipe—this is the closest thing to it that I can find:
To make chocolate pudding you will need:
½ cup granulated sugar
3 TBSP unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
2 ¾ cup milk (I like using a combination of evaporated milk & water to equal 2 ¾ cups)
2 TBSP butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
Combine dry ingredients in a sauce pan; place over medium heat and stir in milk. Whisk to remove any lumps. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat; stir in butter and vanilla. Let cool a few minutes and then pour into dessert dishes; chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.
I think the original recipe was in an Argo cornstarch cookbooklet (I can’t swear to it – so many of my cookbooks are still packed in boxes and it’s on days like this, when I am trying to share something – that I miss being able to easily go to a bookshelf and find what I am looking for. My Bad!)
Rice pudding is another one of those old-tried-and-true comfort food recipes that traces its origins back to during the Great Depression when every little scrap of everything was eaten – or used in another recipe. Sometimes we had leftover rice (no wonder! My mother’s rice was like library paste. My brother Billy says he liked mom’s rice. Pul-EEESE! No one could have liked mom’s library paste rice. But then, I think Billy liked to eat library paste, too).
And, not to change the subject – but I have to tell this story: My mother saved every teaspoon or tablespoon of leftovers. She’d put the bits of leftovers in small dishes and into the refrigerator they all went. I devised a game that I played with my two younger brothers, whom I was in charge of on summer days while our parents were at work. We played “RESTAURANT”. I made up a menu based on whatever leftovers were in the refrigerator. My brothers sat at the table and ordered. I reheated what they ordered. Ok, it does sound simplistic. What can I tell you? It was the 40s and we didn’t have a TV yet.
Getting back to rice pudding—most of the recipes I’ve come across want you to start out with uncooked rice—well, how challenging is that? Rice pudding ought to be made from some leftover rice. Actually, you could do this easily without a recipe per se; just mix the rice, evaporated milk, some eggs, a few raisins, a bit of cinnamon and vanilla – together and let it cook a bit, then pour it into dessert dishes. But if you are a stickler for exact ingredients…I did some searching today and dug out my mother’s one and only cookbook, the Ida Bailey Allen Service Cookbook which was published for Woolworth’s back in the day and sold for about a dollar. This is the closest thing I could find that matches my mother’s rice pudding made with cooked rice. To make mom’s rice pudding you will need:
¾ cup honey*
2 ½ cups cooked rice
½ cup raisins
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 TBSP butter
½ tsp cinnamon
Heat the honey in a heavy frying pan until brown, being careful not to burn it. Combine with the cooked rice, raisins and lemon juice; and transfer to a shallow greased pudding dish. Dot the top with butter and bake in a moderate (350 degree) oven until golden. Serve warm, sprinkled with cinnamon. (*if I’m not mistaken, honey was one of those things not rationed during the war—so it was readily available).
I don’t remember ever having this as a dessert. Sometimes we ate it for breakfast. There were five of us and a war was raging in Europe. We’d eat anything. Unless, of course, it was something you absolutely despised such as my mother’s hasenpheffer stew, made with wild rabbit my father had shot and killed and brought home to be cooked. But that’s another story).
One of my favorite comfort foods to this day is actually based on one of mom’s Friday night suppers. We often had salmon patties, macaroni and cheese, and spinach with a sliced hard boiled egg on top. I’m still baffled that my mother could take a 15 ounce can of salmon and make enough patties to feed 7 people. Sometimes it wasn’t macaroni & cheese but rather, macaroni & tomato – both of which I still like, to this day. But I make salmon patties with TWO large cans of salmon and I make BIG patties so that we can have leftover salmon patties on rye bread with tartar sauce (hey! Don’t knock if you haven’t tried it!). This reminds me of a story.
Back in the 1980s, Bob & I took a trip up the coast in our little Chinook camper. We were heading for Point Arena one night when heavy fog rolled in. We made it to the campground long after dark and I proceeded to make salmon patties and mac & cheese on our little Coleman stove. Midway, we ran out of propane. The salmon patties – and the macaroni and cheese were – to say the least – al dente. But to this day Bob will always say “This is good, but you know what was really great? Thos salmon patties and the macaroni and cheese we had at Point Arena”. Ok, so you had to be there.
To make MY salmon patties you will need
2 large cans of pink salmon, drained and deboned
1 sleeve of saltine crackers, crushed fine
1 large onion chopped fine OR – use dried onion and rehydrate them with some of the liquid from the salmon
salt & white pepper
dried dill (ok, fresh if you have it but if you are out camping, chances are you will be lucky to have DRIED dill in the RV with you)
Mix it all together and shape into big hamburger size patties. Cook in a large skillet that has been sprayed with Pam. Turn over once while cooking. ** Ok, Bob this comfort food is for you. It won’t be quite as good as the ones in Point Arena but then…aren’t comfort foods as much about the time and place as it is about the food itself?