Mary made Rice Pudding and bread pudding all the time. It was creamy and sweet and seemed to take forever to make. It probably didn’t but something that good was hard to wait for. Sometimes she would serve it warm, but usually, it was cold and I liked it, either way I could get it.
When I was on my own I thought of her often while I began to really cook. Those days, if I didn’t make it, I didn’t eat. There was no money for eating out. Occasionally I would make something that I would serve over rice, like chicken, and I would end up with a little rice left over. One day I decided to toss in a little sugar, some milk, an egg, and cinnamon and cook it low and slow until it thickened. I may have burned a pan or two, but I would just be careful to not scrape the bottom and dig up that burnt taste. Yes, the rest of it tasted a bit charred too, but I was not too picky. I would eventually start to plan ahead and intentionally made extra rice just so I could make my quick stovetop version. I never did make it in the oven like Mary did. I was still too impatient to wait that long.
This morning I made us some oatmeal for breakfast. Mick likes it with a little butter and sugar and a side of toast. I wasn’t paying much attention when I measured out the oats and I ended up doubling the amount of oats I needed. I could have easily put some back, but I had already tossed in the salt, so I just rolled with it.
I served up a bowl for each of us and had quite a bit left in the pot. I just put the lid on it and sat down for breakfast. I was thinking as I ate about what I could do with the cooked oatmeal. I could just put it in the fridge and reheat some for breakfast the next couple of mornings. But, Mary was on my mind and her rice pudding and the pudding I used to make with the leftover rice.
After cleaning up I went back to the kitchen. I measured out how much I had left and it came to exactly 1 1/2 cups. So I started pulling out the sugar, an egg, the cinnamon, and cardamom. I went to grab the milk and thought about the buttermilk I had to use up, so I went for that instead.
I mixed it all up, prepared an 8×8 baking dish and preheated the oven. I poured it into the dish, popped it in the oven, and kept an eye on it. After about 45 minutes it had browned on top and the edges looked a bit crunchy. I took it out and let it cool, grabbed a spoon and took a taste. I swear, if I were blindfolded, I would not have known it was not Mary’s rice pudding!
It took me right back to her kitchen. There I was, sitting at her table, next to the window with some pretty white or bright colored set of curtains that she would change out for the seasons. She kept a table cloth on the table at all times too, which was something that we considered fancy at our house. A little dish of her rice pudding and a cup of hot tea with lots of sugar and a little canned milk and I was the happiest kid there ever was.
I dished up a little cup of my Oatmeal Pudding after it chilled and fixed me a cup of hot coffee. I’ve been thinking about it all day since. I could save some for breakfast for the next couple of mornings, but we all know I will get me some tonight for dessert. I can’t wait.
1 1/2 cups cooked oats
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamon
Preheat oven to 350* and spray an 8×8 baking dish or pan with cooking spray. Combine all ingredients together and pour into pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the top has browned and edges begin to crisp. Serve warm or chilled, plain or with whipped cream.
I talked about how a snow day was a day for me to make some money as a kid and maybe get a hot toddy from Charlie, but it was also a day that mom would send one of us out to get some snow.
She would give us the biggest pot we had and a huge cooking spoon. Most of the time we could just open the front door and scoop all we needed, that is unless Bootsy or Dusty, the two collies we had growing up, had not walked all over it. If they had, she usually instructed us to get it off the car, but “Don’t go all the way down! That car is dirty!!” There was also the thought that we could not use the first snow of winter, that it was full of all the dirt in the air. Or, you didn’t want to use the first couple of inches that fell.
So, we would come back with a pot full and piled high with snow. She would get out the big blue mixing bowl, vanilla, sugar, and a can of evaporated milk, or as we called it “canned milk”. She would count the scoops of snow into the bowl, but I’m not sure why. She would end up adding more if it turned soupy. Then she covered it in sugar, poured in a little bit of vanilla, and then cut a hole in the top of the canned milk and poured most of it in and got to stirring. I don’t think we got to help much with that because it would move around and fall out as she tried to keep folding it over. In just a minute or two she began to scoop it out into our collection of plastic butter bowls. You know, the kind you kept as cereal bowls that came in a variety of colors and the outside either had ridges around it or a pattern?
We would dig right in and immediately get the worst case of brain freeze. Then as we swallowed the last spoonful, we would turn our bowls up and get all the snowcream that melted in the bottom. There is nothing like the taste of it. I have seen several recipes where some tell you to add pasteurized eggs and some suggest pouring chocolate syrup on it. No, just no. It is perfect just the way it is. I don’t even like the idea of using sweetened condensed milk instead of our regular old canned milk. I love the crunch of the sugar. Every now and then you would get a lump of sugar and it was awesome.
It snowed this morning and I really had to struggle to get enough snow to make a batch because we only got a couple of inches. I did have to go to the back of the truck to find it deep enough to scoop. Since it’s just Mick and me, we have some in the freezer to have tonight too.
This weekend it has been rainy and cold. I don’t think we’ve been outside the house for more than an hour total. It’s been a great weekend to just stay in and cook. Mick talked to his mom this morning and the first thing she said was she got up and said to his dad, “I’m gonna cook today”. Beans and cornbread was on her mind. And she told us that she made Granny’s Cornbread. I need to make that with her. It’s definitely going in the cookbook.
So, what do you call comfort food? For me, it would be something I ate when someone was taking care of me. Those foods come from my mom, her mom, and Mary.
Grandmaw Barton was a self-reliant person who raised five kids, and they became self-reliant too. It was rare for someone to take care of them. But, what it meant to be on the other side of that is that you were well taken care of. I remember the foods that she made which made me feel comfortable, at home and loved. She never wrote down a recipe or even owned a cookbook. Mom tried a few times to get a recipe or two from her, but she would rattle off that you put this and that in it. She just knew how to make it. I know that’s the stuff that grandmaw legends are made of, but it’s the truth. There was nothing I wouldn’t eat at her house, ever.
In the summer I stayed with her for a couple of weeks. She only lived about 30 miles from us, but it seemed like a world away when I was a kid. One of the other things I liked about staying with her and my other grandparents in the summer was that I was an only child! In a house with 3 older brothers and friends always at the house, being alone was not lonely, it was peaceful.
She had a portion of a garden that she and her neighbor put out and then she grew a few things of her own just outside her kitchen window, in a little bed she made. She could watch it while she sat and read the paper or her Bible and enjoyed her cup of coffee in the morning. When she was just cooking for herself, she could see what was ready to pick and made a pot of something she would eat on all day.
There was a pot of new potatoes, green beans, and corn that she would fix that I loved. Sometimes she would put a little ground beef in it, but I liked it best when she left the meat out and put just a little sugar in the water. I have tried to make it myself, but I’ve never gotten it quite right so I may be wrong about how she made it. But, I did watch her make it a few times. She would also slice yellow squash longways in half, lay it out on a sheet pan and put a little butter and salt on it. She would bake it until it started to brown on top. Her cooking was so simple it seemed, but it had the best flavor. To this day I prefer vegetables with very little seasoning. You can really taste what it’s supposed to taste like. To me, earthy flavors in vegetables are comforting and I feel connected to grandmaw. It makes sense too because she was so connected to the earth. She could grow anything, and it seemed to grow overnight. And, my mom made the best meatloaf. I don’t know if grandmaw showed her how to make it because I don’t ever remember meatloaf at grandmaw’s house. I helped mom with that many times, so it is one of those things that I make without thinking about it, which is how grandmaw cooked. She also made really good fried potatoes, but I have to say that Mick’s are better. I’ve said before that he makes the best I’ve ever had.
In a couple of months, grandmaw would have been 102. I think about her often when I’m cooking. I like a fancy meal every now and then, but something simple is comforting to me.
Mary was also an incredible cook. She could bake be best homemade rolls. I watched her make them many, many times and finally, I said “I need you to teach me how to do that!” She said that she learned from her grandfather. He began to bake bread when he was in the Army. He baked bread for soldiers during the Civil War! Well, now I had to learn how. What a legacy to pass along. And, it wasn’t about which side he was on, but that he fed his men and then passed on what he knew. I haven’t made her rolls in a very long time. I think it’s time I do. I know exactly what I would eat them with too. She made the most tender and flavorful Country Fried Steak and Gravy you would ever have. I would also make a pan of her fried squash. I guess you can tell squash is one of my favorites. I don’t know how she was so patient with frying it. She would bread each piece and lay it out in the pan and turn each one when it was time. When that pan was done, she would start all over again until she had a plate full of these golden medallions for the table.
Her Country Fried Steak was perfectly brown, with crispy edges of breading that held so much flavor. See, you can even make flour unbelievably irresistible if you do it the right way. The pan would have little bits of what we called “brownies” where breading would fall off and fry up like crunchy little nuggets. She would scoop those out along with the steaks when she was done. They were the best appetizers if we could grab some off the plate before she put it on the table. Her gravy was just thick enough to sit on top of the steaks and hold on when you lifted a bite to your mouth. Oh my gosh, I can taste it right now if I close my eyes. Creamy and crunchy mouthfuls of heaven. She never saw cooking as something she had to do. She loved it. She would put on her apron when she entered the kitchen in the morning and didn’t take it off until the dishes were washed up after supper.
So, what did I make to feel comforted? Everything. Yesterday I made mom’s meatloaf and today I made Mary’s country fried steak with Mick’s fried potatoes. I usually get him to make them for me, telling him I can’t make them as good as he does. Today I may have ruined my chances of him ever making them again. Apparently, I did pretty good, but probably not as good, but acceptable. This morning for breakfast I fried up some bacon and sausage patties, eggs, and biscuits. Don’t tell anyone, but I used frozen biscuits. After the bacon came out of the skillet, I tossed in some cornmeal and made what I am calling Gristmill Gravy. Some call it sawmill gravy or cornmeal gravy. I saved what I had left and warmed it for the country fried steak tonight. Before dinner, I got in the kitchen and developed a new recipe for Apple Bread.
I am full. I am happy. I am comforted.
After frying bacon, or using reserved bacon grease, get the grease hot over med-high heat. Add cornmeal and stir until browned, but do not burn. Add buttermilk and stir. Add water and stir well until thickened. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve over biscuits, bread or meat – anything you like gravy on.
Growing up I don’t think we ever had a bag of cornmeal in the house. I knew what it was and that you used it to make cornbread, but I am not sure where I learned that from. It may have been from watching PBS cooking shows as a kid. Yes, I was that kid. I still am. I love cooking shows and some cooking competitions, but not all. I love the Great British Baking Show. I think it shows real creativity, passion, and they pull from their experience or just go on their intuition when they don’t really know what something is. I don’t know if I could ever be a contestant on something like that.
I do love cornbread. I prefer it over any other bread or cake…. if it is good. By good I mean that it can’t be dry, crumbly, or tough. It needs to have good flavor, just holds together, have a crunchy top and sides, but be tender inside, and it needs to soak up butter. I have tried many recipes just to end up with bad or just ok cornbread. It takes a very good cornmeal too.
Growing up, mom would have boxes of Jiffy in the cabinet. Mostly they were cornbread mixes, but sometimes we would have a cake mix or something. Usually for cakes mom would use a Betty Crocker cake mix or occasionally she would get out her cookbook and make a Chiffon or Marble cake.
If you have never used a Jiffy Cornbread Mix, you should. Just to say you have. It makes a sweet tender cornbread. It’s a little cake’y, but I kinda like it. I’ve not used one in years. Maybe I’ll try one again this winter. Making cornbread from scratch is pretty easy though. If you search for a recipe, you will find a good variety of them. It’s kind of like looking for a biscuit recipe. Everybody’s grandmother made the best and all the recipes were different. I might post my recipe, but not yet. I want to work on a couple to add to my cookbook and right now I just have my Brown Butter Cornbread recipe.
Mary also used Jiffy Cornbread Mix and she made cornbread a couple of times a week. She and Charlie always had a bread on the table with supper. Sometimes it was just slices of white bread, but there was always bread. Mary would eat hers with her meal, but she always saved just a little bit for dessert. She had the tiniest little jelly glass that would sit by her plate with some milk or buttermilk in it. She would pour it before she sat down for supper, but never drank from it. At the end of her meal, she would make her dessert by crumbling cornbread into the glass and let it sit for a minute while she cleared the table. If they had white bread, she would break up a slice and add just a little sugar to it. She didn’t need to add sugar to the cornbread dessert because the Jiffy mix was pretty sweet already.
Now, I know there is a debate about sweet or not sweet cornbread and whether it should be white or yellow. Some say that sweet and yellow is “Northern” cornbread and not sweet and white is “Southern”. I just think that corn should be yellow, so that would mean that cornbread should be yellow, and I just like it a little bit sweet. I can eat a salty cornbread and that is good too. It is a personal preference for everybody.
I didn’t know at the time that crumbling up your cornbread into milk or buttermilk was a Southern thing. I just knew that Mary did it and if she did it, then it was good enough for me. I really like a little sugary white bread in milk too. It’s been years since I had even thought about that. I think that may be my breakfast in the morning. There are a couple of heels in the bag just begging to be milked.
I made cornbread for New Year’s Day, something else Mary always did. She also made cabbage with pork or sauerkraut with ribs for New Year’s Day. When she and Charlie were first married, they moved from VA up to OH for Charlie to work. They rented a couple of rooms from a very nice lady who kind of took them under her motherly wing. They basically had a bedroom and a kitchen and that was it. Mary said that for years they had a table but no chairs and they sat on wooden apple crates to eat. They also didn’t have much money, but they got by and appreciated what they did have. Their first New Year’s Day there, the woman they rented from brought up a pot of cabbage cooked with pork and a pan of cornbread. She told Mary that they needed to eat it up for dinner that night because it would bring them wealth and luck for the coming year. She said that they got through the next year and figured it worked, so they did that every year from there on out. They were married for nearly 60 years and she still did it after Charlie passed. She made sure I got a plate too. And you know what, I have always gotten by financially and I feel pretty lucky most of the time. So, I guess the proof is in the cornbread.
It’s been a few years since I’ve made candy for Christmas. Mick’s mom gave me her recipe for fudge and I did make that last year. So, that was definitely on the list of candy to make. I made a batch of Moonmallows the other day that just did not come out right. They fell flat, but still had a great taste, just not a good texture. I decided that I would find a use for them. I turned flat into crispy with the addition of a little butter, a little heat, and some Rice Crispy cereal. Now I have Over the Moon Crispy Treats!
Then as I was cleaning up in the kitchen and reorganizing my cookbooks, I came across an old recipe for Peanut Butter Balls, using Rice Crispy cereal as well. Now seemed as good a time as any for making them again. But like most recipes, I will make them exactly as it is written the first time and then the next time I start playing with it and turn it into something of my own.
I modified the recipe some more from what I had done years ago and made them into bars. Here you go!
by The Appalachian Tale
Level of difficulty: easy Total time to make: 10 min prep. 1 hr chill
Prepare an 8×8 pan by spraying it lightly with non-stick spray and then heavily dusting it with powdered sugar. In a 3 quart or larger saucepan, melt the peanut butter and butter until smooth. Remove from heat and add in the powdered sugar and stir. The batter will become thick quickly. Add in the cereal and mix completely. Turn mixture out into the prepared 8×8 pan and with a buttered spatula (or buttered hand) spread the candy to all edges and corners of the pan evenly.
In a 1 cup or larger microwaveable measuring cup, heat the chocolate chips and coconut oil on high for 45 seconds. Stir several times and return to the microwave for 30 seconds more. Remove and stir again. Stir it for a minute or so and if there are still any chunks of chocolate left, return to the microwave for 15 seconds more. Be careful not to overcook the chocolate. You will know if you do because it will set hard in an instant and you will need to start over again. Pour the chocolate over the candy and smooth out to the edges and corners. Let the candy chill in the refrigerator for 45 minutes to 1 hour to set. Remove and cut into cubes. Yields approximately 36 1 inch squares. Store in an airtight container.
I posted about Hot Cocoa Blocks the other day. I found the recipe in a post by King Arthur Flour. I made a batch and gave them as gifts with some of my homemade marshmallows (just the regular kind, not the moonmallows. I saved a couple of those for me, which I am having as I write this post!)
They are easy to make and enjoy. If you have ever made a pan of fudge, then you can make these. When I use one, I just put a cup of milk in the microwave for 2 minutes, which gets it nice and steamy and then I stir the block in. I found the sticks I needed at the dollar store and they were actually double the width of a regular popsicle stick, which makes it nice for stirring. Here is the recipe from King Arthur!