Evolution of comfort food.

A few days ago it was gray, rainy, chilly and no matter what there thermostat said, I could not feel warm.   Peering into the refrigerator, I could not find anything that I wanted to eat and I did not want to cook.  Comfort food was in order, something basic: grilled cheese and tomato soup.

That got me thinking about why grilled cheese and tomato soup was so appealing.  I realized that it was likely because that was comfort food when I was a child–home from school with a cold, or sometimes, just a treat.

I did fix myself a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, and it was wonderful–just what I needed.  Munching away, I started considering, even though this was grilled cheese and tomato soup (our of a can), how different it was from what I had as a child.

Growing up on a farm in the country we were pretty self-sufficient: raised and butchered our own meat, curing our own ham and bacon, canning vegetables, raising chickens for our own eggs, and milking cows so that we had our own butter, milk and cream.  I grew up with home-made bread, cakes, pies as a routine thing.   From that vantage point, “store-boughten” was a treat.

One of those treats was a grilled cheese sandwich made with American cheese and something like Wonder bread–so it all squished down flat under the bacon press.  Heaven was to have that accompanied by a can of Campbell’s cream of tomato soup–yes, the condensed stuff.

Given the home-cured country ham, bacon, and good meats (beef, pork, and maybe even lamb, with some rabbit and maybe venison) a treat was a bologna sandwich!  Extra special if fried.  Probably almost anything that came out of a tin can that required a can opener, and did not come out of a Ball/Mason jar would have been considered a real treat.

The things that came out of the Ball/Mason jars were luscious halves of peaches, whole tomatoes,  pears, apple butter…and I did not appreciate them then–they were just food, nothing special.  Well, how things do change.

Now, even though I admit to really liking mortadella, and having just had a grilled cheese sandwich with cream of tomato soup for comfort food–my idea of quality of comfort food has changed a lot.

My grilled cheese sandwich was made with excellent imported, firm, nutty Swiss cheese, with bread sliced from a whole loaf of Italian bread.   That bread was lightly brushed with extra-virgin olive oil, almost like was done in my childhood, put onto a cast iron griddle and carefully browned on both sides.  Lovely, crunchy on the outside, melted cheese oozing with every bit, and delicious.

My tomato soup, admittedly, did come from a can but what a difference from condensed soup.  It was Progresso chunky tomato with basil, not cream of tomato, but really pretty good for soup out of a can.  I did, however, want cream of tomato soup.  I put half the soup into the refrigerator to be used another time, and after heating the other half in the microwave, I added two teaspoons of heavy cream, and some fresh (frozen) basil to it.

I was quite happy with my comfort food–but I did have to reflect on how my taste has evolved.  The original American-cheese, Wonder-bread sandwich never even occurred to me; no did Campbell’s condensed cream of tomato soup–yet my choice was cream of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, but such a difference now.

This made me think of other differences then and now.  When I first left the farm and went to the city, I was amazed at “city” or deli ham…thought I liked  that better than “country ham”.  Living alone and cooking for one, I even used mac ‘n’ cheese from a box–very different from what I had grown up with.  I was so thankful to be away from the farm, to not have to milk cows, churn butter, and make cheese.  Now, I seem to  have come back to where I started–I want to grow things, buy from the farmers’ market, and will search out those things that I took so much for granted as a child.