I was recently shocked (shocked!) to come across an essay entitled “Into the Mouth of Babes,” by a gentleman named William Grimes, who writes for the “New York Times.” This essay was included in Best Food Writing 2001, which I otherwise adored. While I seriously doubt that Mr. Grimes is in any way affected by my small, Midwestern opinion, I have to say that his opinion of comfort food is absolutely dead wrong. He writes (amusingly, if not correctly) that “if it [comfort food] were human, it would have a terrible time getting a date, for it is bland, boring and overweight.” He goes in for heavy-hitting adjectives from “insipid” to “regressive” to attack targets as meek and humble as macaroni and cheese, rice pudding, meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I finished reading the essay wondering whether Mr. Grimes had been injured by a bowl of pudding in his childhood.
Also, I confess, I finished reading feeling a little stupid, shallow, small-town and immature because, when the chips are down, or when its cold out, or when I want to feed my family and friends something that makes them feel safe and loved. I happen to love macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, rice pudding and mashed potatoes. I do not feel that these foods, made lovingly and carefully are any less valid eating than, say, a cassoulet or a Malaysian curry. They are just different. Mr. Grimes distinguishes “slob food” (“comfort food” under an insulting alias) from “good, simple food that is carefully prepared;” and uses as illustrations of this preferable food group both French and Italian home cooking. This creates an interesting proposition: your Italian mother’s Sunday pasta with homemade “gravy” is “good,” my Jewish mother’s homemade meatloaf and mashed potatoes are “slob food.”
In support of comfort food lovers everywhere, I am declaring this Comfort Food Week for this blog. Never mind that its already Tuesday; its my week and I can start it any day I want.
Arolyn (the one regular reader not related to me by blood or marriage) has requested a recipe for pea soup that will use up the excess bratwurst purchased by her husband. I think pea soup counts as comfort food – it can be eaten sans teeth, which is one of Mr. Grimes’ criteria – so here are both my crockpot and non-crockpot recipes for pea soup:
(I have no idea where this recipe came from; I just know how to make pea soup)
- 1# dried, split green peas
- Ham bone, pork bone or leftover diced, cooked ham, kielbasa, or brats (all optional)
- 1 baking potato, peeled and diced (optional)
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 large carrots, in rounds or diced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 6 cups water (or chicken, beef or vegetable stock for a richer flavor)
Cover peas with water and add onions, carrots, potato (if using), and meat bone (if using). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer slowly for about 1 hour, or until peas begin to fall apart. If you have used a bone, remove it at this point; if you are using leftover ham or sausage, this is the time to add it. Continue to cook over low heat until meat is warmed through, add salt and pepper to taste and more broth if you’d like a thinner soup. This soup is really even better if you make it a day ahead, refrigerate it overnight and re-heat it the next day. You’ll need to add some liquid, but it will be delicious.
Kelly’s Split Pea Soup (For the Slow Cooker)
(Adapted from Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook)
- 2 cups dry split peas (the contents of a 1# bag)
- 2 quarts water
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
- 4 slices Canadian Bacon, chopped (or leftover ham, sausage or kielbasa – it will get soft in the slow cooking process, but it will also add wonderful flavor to the soup)
- 2 Tbsp. chicken bouillon granules or 2 chicken boullion cubes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Cover and cook on low 8-9 hours.