It was like Mom had put her arms around us all and gave us a big, mama-bear hug. And I am telling you, there is no better kiss than the one seasoned with cinnamon and sugar. We need to record our family’s food treasures, so that we can spread comfort during tough times. You and I need it, our families need it, and our nation needs it.
Just a few days ago, I watched a large, overweight American man eat his way through a very large plate of BBQ’ed meats, some fried green tomatoes, collard greens and mac and cheese on a television show.
“Comfort food”, he proclaimed before shoving more food into his mouth.
“Your mother should have hugged you more,” I thought before I skipped to the next channel.
Despite having been left with a slight feeling of nausea because of the man’s grotesque eating style and the sheer size of his portions, I remained locked in thought about the notion of ‘comfort food’.
On Wikipedia, comfort food is defined as follows:
“Comfort food is food which provides a nostalgic or sentimental value to the consumer, and is often characterised by its high caloric nature, high carbohydrate level, and simple preparation. The nostalgia may be specific to either the individual or a specific culture.”
If we unpack this definition several key characteristics of comfort food are identified:
1) The dominant emotion attached to comfort food is sentimentality; which in terms is defined as “exaggerated and self-indulgent tenderness, sadness or nostalgia”.
2) Comfort food is food that delivers a caloric punch. Have you ever heard of someone who craves her grandmother’s green salad? Or skinny soup? Nah, neither have I. Comfort food feeds you; it is not diet food. Diets are conditions of deprivation and thus quite the opposite of ‘comfort’.
3) Comfort food requires very simple preparation. No fancy techniques, no excessive preparation or cooking time and not a lot of ingredients. “Keep it simple”, it is that simple.
4) Finally, the nostalgia brought on by comfort foods can be individual or collective; i.e. it could be felt by you and me or by much larger groups such as families, tribes or nations.
My family does not have names for our special dishes. Not names that will be recognised outside the inner circle, anyway.
Mom’s version of spaghetti bolognaise is called ‘blokkies vleis en pypies’ because she does not use the standard minced beef; rather she uses leg of lamb that is cubed into bite-sized pieces, which she slow-cooks in home-made tomato sauce. Clearly this is one of the first dishes any kid in our family would be fed during their post-Purity- now-onto-solid-food days. Hence the baby-colloquial term ‘pypies’ for spaghetti.
Another of our family’s comfort dishes is ‘op-ruk-rugstring’ which I am afraid has no meaningful parallel in English. It cannot be translated, and should be left as is. In essence, this is a stew made of the back or spine of a sheep or lamb, some onions and some potatoes and it is seasoned only with salt and pepper. The spine is broken between the vertebrae to render large chunks of meat, which are then cooked in water with the onions and potatoes. This stew is rather pale in colour, which is why it is also referred to as ‘vaal vleis’ or pale meat. Simple as simple can be.
This past Sunday, as we gathered under the family tree in Mom’s backyard to enjoy some of our beloved Atlantic Ocean’s fruits (one last time before they are all exported to Asia, I reckon), Mom served a large dish filled with her pumpkin fritters. As always, these disappeared in no time and for few minutes you could hear the dogs breathe as no one said a word. Everyone was chewing pumpkin fritters.
It was like Mom had put her arms around us all and gave us a big, mama-bear hug. And I am telling you, there is no better kiss than the one seasoned with cinnamon and sugar.
We need to record our family’s food treasures, so that we can spread comfort during tough times. You and I need it, our families need it, and our nation needs it.
Let us cook and be kind to one another. To set the ball rolling, I have included Mom’s pumpkin fritters recipe here.
Give it a go with plenty of cinnamon sugar, and let me know what you think.
2 cups Cooked pumpkin, Finely mashed
1 cup Cake Flour
1 teaspoon Baking powder
1/2 cup Cinnamon sugar
1. Mix the pumpkin, flour, baking powder and salt.
2. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and add to the pumpkin mixture. Mix well until it forms a wet dough.
3. Heat enough oil (about 2cm deep) in a frying pan to fry the fitters. Spoon large dessert spoonfuls of batter into the hot oil and fry on till the batter is golden on one side. Flip the fritter and fry to the same golden colour on the other side. Once golden, remove the fritters from the hot oil and drain on kitchen paper. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and serve whilst hot.