So yesterday was a rough day and I was disappointed in myself, as I didn’t manage to write the daily Blog that I had committed to doing. Instead, I posted a poem that has a lot of meaning to me and that had to be enough.
One of the things that struck me though yesterday was that, like many people, when not feeling so good I turned to food for comfort.
When I was a little girl one of my favourite ‘meals’ was either grated cheese or sausages with Branston Pickle. Branston pickle is an English branded sweet pickle of swede, carrots, onions, and cauliflower. So in a way, I was at least eating some vegetables!
I used to sit on a little footstool in front of the dryer vent in my grandparent’s kitchen. Their dryer didn’t have an attachment, at that time, that vented outside so the warm air would vent right out the front of the machine creating this little warm area which in an old country cottage, which was probably several hundred years old, was wonderful to a little girl who was often cold.
Quite why grated cheese or cold cooked sausages so appealed to me I’m not quite sure. However, yesterday found me eating the same meal. It was comforting and evoked memories of happy times.
I spent a lot of time in that kitchen as a small child. In England, our school holidays are more spread out so we’d have three terms separated by a two-week holiday at Christmas and Easter, and a six-week summer holiday. Each term would be divided in two so that every six weeks we would have a ‘half-term’ holiday of one week. I spent most of those half terms and summer holidays with my grandparents, at least until I was 8 when my mother remarried.
It was in that kitchen that I learned to bake. Everything was done by hand initially until the day my grandfather bought home a Kenwood mixer. I remember the first time that I was allowed to use the mixer on my own; I felt so grown up! I even remembered to cover the bowl so that the flour didn’t get spun all over the kitchen. Probably the first and last time I ever remembered to do that before turning the mixer on.
Even with the mixer, we still made pastry by hand. I baked pies and cakes. I learned how to judge quantities by eye, not by measuring. I learned how to make different kinds of icing and to ice cakes without dropping them! Though there were a few mistakes along the way. We didn’t make muffins or cup cakes we made fairy cakes! I learned how to cut a small scoop out of the top, fill it with icing, cut the piece in half and place it back on the icing to look like butterfly wings.
I learned how to make Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, and wedding cakes. In England, a Christmas cake and a wedding cake are always a rich fruitcake. As I disliked fruit (not knowing how allergic I was to much of it until much later in life) it was probably the only time that we didn’t have to make extra batter to make up for my ‘tastes’ as we cooked.
Christmas Pudding – The best part of this would be setting it alight on Christmas Day. Due to the amount of alcohol in it will burn with a blue flame just on the outside of the pudding. Spectacular!
Christmas Cake or Wedding Cake: Both are made from a rich fruit cake, covered by a layer of marzipan then icing. The top tier of a Wedding cake would traditionally be kept after the wedding, the icing removed and it would later be re-iced and used as the Christening Cake for the first baby.
When I was 11/12 years old I took Home Economics at school, which included some cooking classes. I was delighted when at Christmas we learned how to make a Christmas Yule Log. This was a chocolate Swiss roll cake, which we then decorated to look like a fallen tree trunk and dusted with icing sugar, to look like snow. Finally, I could not only enjoy baking for Christmas but I could eat it too!
For some reason, my grandfather wasn’t a fan of the English traditional turkey Christmas dinner so our Christmas dinner was often a curry.
Isn’t it funny how a few sausages and pickle brought back all those memories?
Which made me think of other comfort foods.
I have a sweet tooth. In England, given my allergies, to fruit I had a lot more choice in desserts than I do here in Canada; from steamed sponges to chocolate or caramel mousse type desserts, and non-fruit yoghurts. There is also much more variety in biscuits (cookies) in England so it was easy to appease my sweet tooth without resorting to sweets (Candy).
Here in Canada, it’s not as easy and I tend to go for candy far too often. My favourite remains British Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate, which is quite different to the Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate made in North America. I love it at Christmas time when the local Wal-Mart™ will often import the British type in 1Kg bars!! I stock up!
Trial and error led me to Hershey’s Hugs. I like the white chocolate better than Hershey’s milk chocolate. Then I came across Ghirardelli™ and their different flavour squares. We don’t often have much of a choice in the squares available here in Canada but as I live on the border with the US, it’s a short trip over to stock up.
More recently, I’ve been finding carbohydrates comforting (I must be sick!) and oddly enough actually like rice cakes! Though they do tend to be the ones with caramel and chocolate!
Over the years a full roast dinner has remained a favourite of mine. Roast potatoes, fresh vegetables (even the dreaded brussel sprouts of my youth that I actually like today), chicken or turkey, gravy, and stuffing.
Or roast beef, with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, vegetables, and gravy.
Baby new potatoes rather than roast potatoes would accompany baked ham most often.
Over the years I’ve added a couple of side dishes that I love: sweet potato casserole and a sweet corn casserole. Both of which are southern Tennessee recipes and loaded with butter, but a few times a year they are wonderful treats. I also learned to make pecan pie, which is not something that I’d come across in England.
In 2008 I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for around 50 people, turkey, ham, vegetarian options and pecan pies – the works! It was the first year after my daughter came to live with me and I was a member of a single parent group that had many members that struggled with the holiday. Some of them had their children some of the time, some of them it was the year their children were with their other parent; all were welcome. It was a wonderful day though it did have an odd note when the fireman came to my door! One of my guest’s cars had spontaneously combusted – seriously! It had caught fire and because it had been parked a few doors down we hadn’t noticed. Nobody was hurt thankfully and the firemen took a pecan pie back to the fire station with them I believe!
Living in Canada I’ve now learned about poutine (French fries and cheese curds topped with a light brown gravy) and perogies (filled dumplings). It’s funny how I had to come to Canada to learn about a dish from Eastern Europe.
I have to confess to the fact that I don’t like perogies at all and it’s not often that I’ll poutine and I’ll never understand the decision to offer poutine as a movie snack!
Talking of which – who decided that popcorn should be savory and not sweet? The first time that I went to the movies in Canada I nearly died from the shock of the butter! Popcorn in England is sweet not covered in melted butter! That’s one taste that I have never adjusted to.
Having travelled a lot there are a few foods that bring comfort by reminding me of places or countries too. I was delighted to find Tim Tams in my pharmacy the other day. Not the first place I’d think of looking for a biscuit (cookie) from Australia but there they were! My Australian family, always laugh at me loading up my suitcase with Tim Tams to come home. They’re fans of Lamingtons though which I never grew to like due to the coconut involved.
I love spicy food such as Thai and Indian – the hotter the better. If it doesn’t make my nose drip then it wasn’t hot enough! Chinese food is good too and when I loved in Vancouver lunch at the local Dim Sum restaurant or Sushi restaurant was pretty common.
Despite all this, and my love of all different kinds of food, when sick I went straight back to the comfort food of my childhood – cold sausages and Branston pickle!
I’ve tried the North American staple of Chicken Noodle soup and if you want to make me vomit, that’s the quickest way to do it – much to my ex-husband’s discomfort. He was trying to help!
No, for me, it’s cold sausages or grated cheese and Branston Pickle. I even pay import prices just to have some of the pickle always in my fridge! Other brands just aren’t the same.
Now if I could just find green coloured cream soda, delivered by the local milk man, to go with it – I’d be set!