Yesterday, I made a big pot of stew. I will admit that I made enough to feed an army, but I don’t think you can make comfort food in some quantities. Part of the fun of this food and why it is loved by so many is that, by definition, you should be able to return for as many helpings as you like.
I began by cutting up the vegetables that would go into the stew. There were carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, and green bell peppers. While I was cutting them, I couldn’t help but think of the many times I’ve been at my counter preparing a meal that I hoped would sooth my or someone else’s soul.
Of course, two of the best chefs in the world taught me about the importance of comfort food. They were my parents, Johnny and Dora Goodloe. My dad was a professional chef, so every meal that he was able to cook at home was thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed. Because he worked so much, having him home for a meal was very rare, so the cooking of the meals, especially the evening meal, was my mom’s duty. While we never had very much, my mom was always able to go in the kitchen and work her magic. After stepping into the kitchen, following her long day, she would call my siblings and I in within thirty minutes to an hour to come and eat. And the dishes she made were always varied and very delicious. Many of the foods we ate when I was a little girl are still a part of my comfort food repertoire when I am feeling a little sad or nostalgic. We ate a lot of chicken and dumplings, cornbread, goulash, and beans and rice, and I still eat and love these foods today.
When my mom was at the start of her decline, she would often request that I make her or buy her the foods that she was so fond of in her youth. Most of those things were easily created or obtained, but there was one request that she had that I had never heard of before. One day, out of the blue, she talked about how much she loved tomato pie and how she would eat it every day if she could. Tomato pie? I was bewildered. I’d never heard of it before. And I couldn’t recall my mom ever talking about it or making it before. But because it sounded so interesting and because she was my amazing mom, I decided to see if I could find it. First, I asked my siblings if they’d every heard of it, but they hadn’t. Then I asked some of my mom’s friends, and they’d never heard of it either. Finally, I asked Google. And I was surprised and delighted to find a recipe. After going over it with my mom and determining that this was what she wanted, she and I went into her kitchen and went to work, baking this pie from her youth.
I watched my mom as she moved about the kitchen. She wasn’t as agile as she used to be, but she was still graceful. She and I enjoyed ourselves that day. It was the first time in a long time that she had cooked in her kitchen. When the pie was ready, I carefully removed it from the oven and placed it on the counter. The smile that spread across my mom’s face was priceless. Although at that time, she was in her early eighties, I could see the ten-year-old Dora in her. In that moment, I understood how powerful this memory would be for me and her. Over food, my mom and I were able to time travel. Over food, my mom and I were able to connect in a real and meaningful way. Over food, my mom and I were able to make our love for each other tangible. And even though she is now gone, it is memories like these that I take comfort in.
Note: This blog appeared as an article in the 3/16/17 edition of the Kinney County Post.