And another thing in that Gold/Sietsema piece in the current “Lucky Peach” magazine. Gold says, “The comfort-food thing started in the eighties, when people were hungry for the food their moms used to make. Except mom wasn’t a good cook.” And Sietsema adds. “Like the longing of a GI from World War II for shit on a shingle. My mother used to make that for my father … It made him so happy because that’s what they ate in the service.”
Food for thought there. My mom, as I’ve said before, wasn’t a good cook, and she really didn’t aspire to be. All she really wanted to do was cook food the way my dad liked it. And so she became the plain, bland, unadventurous cook he wanted her to be. There was no evidence that this “made him so happy” but it did stop him complaining, which was probably all my mother was hoping for. My dad, incidentally, had been in the navy, and his line was that the food was always pretty good, but there was never enough of it.
I used to say that all food was comfort food. If it didn’t bring comfort, then why would you eat it? But we now know that much food brings guilt, worry, angst, self-loathing and so on, and I experienced at least some of these when I decided, on a dubious whim, to make one of the things my mom often used to serve us: fried, battered, corned beef. Mom’s unhealthy choice!!
My mother swore by the Fray Bentos brand, but I couldn’t get any of that at short notice, settling instead for “Hereford Canned Beef Corned” – a significant form of words I’m sure, and in fact it did look slightly less appetizing than the Fray Bentos I remembered. But it had a ring pull opener that broke when you yanked it, and that was VERY familiar, although now that I recall it, Fray Bentos had a key that always broke.
My mother made batter, usually in the form of Yorkshire pudding, at least twice a week, and although she never used a recipe, and certainly never taught me how to do it, I learned by watching, and I reckon I’m a pretty reliable batter-maker. I felt a bit of extra seasoning was required – far more than my mom would ever have used - so I rather randomly added cumin and paprika and went heavy on the black pepper. I sliced the corned beef, dipped it, fried it, and it looked like this:
Of course I could feel my arteries clogging with every mouthful, which in itself wasn’t a source of absolute reassurance, but the fact is, even with the extra seasoning, and the use of an unfamiliar American brand, it tasted almost exactly like my mother’s version, and that was, on balance, a considerable source of comfort.