Comfort Food

November 12th, 2008    •  by Bethia    •   8 Comments »

There is a Slow Food pot luck dinner this weekend themed ‘comfort food’ and I have been trying to work out what to cook. It has prompted me to think a lot about what defines comfort food, and what my comfort foods are. It is also timely because I am also starting to think about my trip home for Christmas and the foods on my wish list, while I am there. 

The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines comfort food as “food prepared in a traditional style having a usually nostalgic or sentimental appeal”. According to Wikipedia Comfort food is typically inexpensive, uncomplicated, and easy to prepare. Many people turn to comfort food for familiarity, emotional security, or as a special reward. The reasons a dish becomes a comfort food are diverse but often include pleasant associations of childhood. 

Here is my burgeoning list of comfort foods: 

Toast – probably the most commonly eaten food when I was at boarding school, partly due to availability (we were given free loaves of bread by the dining hall), but as something you can eat when you are sick, for breakfast, for a late night snack and with tea I think it definitely classes as a comfort food. Crumpets too, fit into the same category. 
All sorts of soups and beef stew and steak and kidney pie. Piping hot, wintry, filling, stick to the ribs sort of food.
Toasted cheddar cheese sandwiches made in a Breville sandwich toaster (another boarding school throw-back)
Soft boiled eggs with marmite soldiers. A childhood breakfast that I still enjoy. 
Porridge, my Mum’s baked rice pudding, custard and other hot milky foods. 
Dishes with mashed potatoes such as shepherds pie or fish pie. Childhood favorites that I often crave.
My dad’s homemade bread and marmalade. My quintessential ‘home’ food. 
Heinz baked beans – the english version, especially Helen style with cheddar cheese and toast, or with a baked potato. 
Macaroni with Campbells mushrooms soup as the sauce with frozen peas and either ham or tuna. One of my Mum’s staple dishes when I was a child; simple and soothing and reminds me of when school used to only be half a day and I could come home and watch the Flumps, Bod, Mr Benn and Bagpuss.
Risotto has been a go-to for me during a few emotional crises. Partly because it is an excuse to open a bottle of wine but also because the lengthy stirring is therapeutic and it is cheesy, creamy and divine.  

It doesn’t really fit the pattern, but I would also add Thai green curry. It grew to be habitual when I lived across the street from Talad Thai in Putney.  

It seems that comfort foods for me are usually hot, often breakfast foods, mostly savory and often associated with childhood. According to Wikipedia, I seem to fall in to a lot of the British comfort food stereotypes. Do we need comfort foods more in the winter? It does seems that way. I love ice cream, but does it fit the bill as a comfort food? Can ice cold things be comforting? I guess, they are if you have a fever. Chocolate seems to be an omission from the list, given its emotional connections – and hot chocolate would therefore be a double whammy.

I am sure that everyone’s list is different, based on where you grew up, and what foods you commonly ate; but I imagine that there are some commonalities. I am intrigued to see what everyone brings to the pot luck and as for my contribution, watch this space. 

What are some of your comfort foods?

8 Comments to “Comfort Food”

  1. Justin Roberts
    November 12, 2008

    Roast chicken.

  2. Oooo I agree with crumpets!! (with lemon curd is my favorite, or good butter) I’m eating some right NOW for breakfast yay!

    I also love risotto and stuffing with gravy on top.

    for some reason saltines are very comforting, just plain, or with peanut butter probably because I ate them when I was sick as a kid 🙂

  3. I love homemade mac n’ cheese as a comfort foods standby.

    Here is a list of recipes for dozens of different other comfort foods, if you are interested: http://marxfood.com/comfort-food-recipes-contest/

  4. hungrywoolf
    November 12, 2008

    Saltines is interesting, but I guess it it similar to toast. I was thinking about it this morning and most of the comfort foods I listed are things that you can eat with a fork or spoon – and don’t need to be cut up.

  5. You forgot that canned tuna usually goes with the Campbell’s mushroom soup/ pasta dish.
    Did you decide what to take?

  6. I was reminded today that a book came out this Autumn called Clarissa’s Comfort Food. You may remember that Clarissa Dickson Wright was one of the BBC’s Two Fat Ladies. I think she has a fish pie and Steak and Kidney Pie and Queen of Puddings, etc. I heard her promoting the book a few weeks ago.
    RRP £19.99 Book People price=£6.99
    192 pages, hardback.

  7. I am definitely a toast person, and a things-on-toast person. My classic comfort foods are miracle whip on toast (one of those odd childhood things), chipped beef on toast (and I confess that the Stouffer’s frozen version is decent, though my mom always made it from scratch with dried beef and a roux.) Current comfort foods include beans on toast (if only the English Heinz beans would go on sale!) and Welsh rarebit.

    I am bringing a Provencale dish (lentils in wine) to the potluck, though I confess I am letting Whole Foods make the crostini it is served on. Sometimes I find it very comforting to let someone else do the hard work (especially since my toaster and oven are both unfamiliar with the concept of ‘cooking things evenly.’ 🙂

  8. Strange, but sushi is. When we were young and not feeling well, we’d get sushi for takeaway and it always made us feel better. Fresh crepes with butter and sugar or pancakes with real maple syrup. And grilled cheese sandwiches – with super runny cheese like meunster.

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