Monday, November 15, 2010

Comfort food from the farm

I don’t miss living in the country, but I do miss my grandmother’s home cooking. This was back in the day when cooking with bacon grease was considered almost a necessity (can’t make cornbread without it) and every supper ended with a homemade dessert. No one could leave the table until their plates were empty, and my grandparents had big plates. My grandfather always joked that he had an extra stomach just for my grandmother’s pie. It was true. One look at a homemade peach cobbler with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting down the sides and my stomach found a way to scoot the rest of the food aside to give room for more. I gained a lot of weight when I stayed with them.

After a dish-breaking incident when I was about 8, my grandmother kept a strict look-but-don’t touch rule for when I was in the kitchen. I could get on my tiptoes and peer over the counter to watch her roll dough into thin strips to make crust or use the rim of a glass to make perfectly round biscuits, but my hands had to stay in my pockets.  I remember the smells and how cozy the hot kitchen felt on a winter’s night and how everything she cooked made me feel like curling up next to the fire and sleeping. This doesn’t help much when I try to make the kind of comfort food that she made, the kind that made bad days go away.

I only have a few of her recipes. Most of the food that she cooked when I was a child was later on her forbidden list. She switched from making buttery crust smothered with fresh cream and topped with hand-picked strawberries to the kinds of foods that are good for you, but completely lacking in the kind of comforting feeling that only large amounts of fat and sugar can induce. She wrote down a few of her favorite recipes from the farm for my mom, but most of food-stained recipe cards she kept in a box disappeared. Luckily for me, I only remember the biscuits and gravy and blueberry cobblers and all the other artery-clogging delights that I watched her create.

Maybe some day, before I get old and have to give up butter, I’ll recreate some of those memories. For now, I can comfort myself with the recipes I do have, starting with her chili. Tonight I made her chili in one of her big copper-bottomed pots, used the same seasoned wooden spoon to stir it, and ladled it into the same stoneware bowls. It was almost as if I were sitting in her kitchen, my legs swinging back and forth under the table, eating her chili with a spoon that was too big for me, wondering how long we had to wait after dinner before we could have some cobbler topped with cream. 

Grandmom’s Chili (revised slightly)

Saute together:
1 lb. hamburger
1 clove garlic
1 onion
1 tsp apple cider vinegar

Add and simmer for ½ hour:
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp cumin*
3 tbsp chili powder*
½ tsp cinnamon

Add and simmer 1-2 hours:
1 large can V-8 (or a 42-oz. bottle)

30 minutes before finished, add:
medium sized can red beans

Add cooked spaghetti to bowl right before serving, unless you're Eric and won't eat carbs.

*I just used 1 tsp of each, since Eric and I have sensitive stomachs.

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