Comfort Food and other stuff
We all have some kind of deep and warm memories of food from our childhood, cause that's where the comfort food of my present day has it's roots. Unless you had a miserable childhood, but I can't speak to that. While my childhood was peculiar in some ways, the memory of that food from that long ago time still casts its spell over me.
My Dad didn't cook, he worked and Mom stayed home, plus she was an adventuress in the kitchen. Dad opened cans and heated things and could do breakfast egg stuff, but there was one other thing he made. He called it Caspar Milk Toast. He heated milk, put in salt and pepper, cut buttered toast into little squares and floated them in the milk. I would watch them slowly swell and spin among the pepper specks. One time - for some reason Mom was not in the picture - Dad picked me up at the dentist. Dr. Bosco was not a nice dentist and didn't hide his disgust when you flinched. I had just had a lousy time in the chair, feeling brutalized by Bosco The Torturer. I got in the car and there was, in the space between us, a small brown paper bag, the kind we used for our school lunches. The bag rustled and out popped Maggie, our brand new 8 week old beagle. When we got home Dad tucked me in to the couch in front of the fire while he made me lunch. After I finished my milk toast, I climbed back on the couch with Maggie, Dad tucked us both in and Bosco was long forgotten.
Mom always made corned beef cabbage on St. Patrick's Day, with a serious dollop of horseradish on the meat. The horseradish stung almost like the wooden spoon she wacked us with when we passed through the kitchen before dinner. On New Year's Day she made something she called Black-Eyed Suzy Peas, which is a silly mix of the flower and the food, but that kind of thing never bothered my mother. She couldn't sing a note on key but that never stopped her from singing loud and often. She knew the words to a large number of old songs, and everything from Gilbert and Sullivan. She and Dad would howl from the front seat during our long road trips, the fact that neither one could sing for beans meant nothing. They grew up in a time when singing was a family thing, done almost every evening to get through the dishes, the sweeping, the scrubbing floors. They were more like sailors who sang to make the work go by, musicality had nothing to do with it.
I grew to love their fearless sound. Mom sang in the kitchen and once sent me up the hill to Mr. Proffit's house with a small pot of black-eyed peas. She cooked them long and hard in the pressure cooker to make them soft- John Proffit had no teeth. He would sit, gumming his beans and remind me that he was the first black man in our county to own land. In 1964, John was in his late 80's anyway. He came from a very large family, some of his older siblings were born slaves. Once Dad stopped by to ask John to board a horse and then overheard John quote a much higher price to another man. Dad asked him and John said, "Mr. Parker, I charges according to how I feels." John had a cousin who was a wart looker or a wart watcher, something like that. I went to him once and my warts, one on my hand, elbow and shin, all vanished within a few weeks.
Mom's stuffing at Christmas and Thanksgiving were sausage or oyster things that were quite something with the gravy. The mashed potatoes were my job to kill once they emerged from the pressure cooker. I loved that potato masher and I was clearly very skilled with it, a fact Mom would tell me even as she asked me to be a tad less violent and to try to keep the food on the counter. Grilled cheese and tomato soup was a midday pleasure in cold weather, as was Mac and Cheese and meat loaf. These last two were particular favorites, along with lasagne and scolloped potatoes, because Mom always made enough for us five brothers to really lean into and experience that glorious and relatively rare sensation of being full. Otherwise, being full only occurred at Christmas, Thanksgiving, our birthday, or when we ate at someone else's house. I will always remember my first meal away from home at John Martin's house when his Mom asked me if I wanted "seconds". I didn't know what they were, had never heard of that kind of food but would definately eat it, whatever a "second" was. I had thirds as well and thought it was every bit as good as seconds.
Let's see, I'm checking my list over here, what other food has great memories? Some of the odd ones, the kind my wife says are gross are sauerkraut, liver and onions and tripe, which is cow's stomach. But now we are on to the last of the list- baked potatoes, stuffed peppers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and the king of them all, coming in from a day of skating, making snow forts, sledding- try to imagine a drum roll here, the one food that tops them all....fresh baked chocolate chip cookies and milk. When you opened the door, cheeks bright red, snow all over you and the smell of the cookies from the oven hit you, baby, you were really home!
Just a brief note of warning to any adventurous eaters out there. Just because peanut butter goes well with marshmallow fluff, bacon, banana, chocolate and probably some other stuff I don't know about, I do know for an absolute certainty that it does not go with onion. I want it on record that I ate the entire sandwich even though each successive bite was infinitely worse than the one before because I knew just how awful it was going to be. I am Wes Parker, trying to spare you a bad experience with something that tastes like an ammonia sandwich and I am, as always, at your service.
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