When it gets cold like this, I always think of how hard it must have been for all of our ancestors who lived in inhospitable areas, how they struggled to keep warm and find food. I dare say they were strong and hearty souls who handled discomfort far better than we do.
They taught themselves to make foods with endurance, things like buffalo jerky, dried corn made into pemmican with dried fruits, nuts and oils, flat breads, thick soups and stews. Comfort foods are just that, food we can have over and over without getting too tired of it. They go beyond taste; they are memories, structure and symbols of how we live our lives.
Everyone you ask will have a different answer as to what their idea of a comfort food is for them - "My mom's fry bread," "Aunt Nina's taco salad," "Uncle Willy's chili," and so on.
In our family, we have several favorite comfort foods. I think number one would be my grandmother's mashed potatoes and her root medley, another version of those potatoes. Then there is mom's cranberry chutney which became a staple year round as well as a great gift to those who had had a taste of it. In fact, I just made a whole batch, doubling the recipe, for gifts this holiday season. It is one of my favorite food gifts.
Have ready before starting:
2 buttered cookie sheets
2 clean teaspoons
1 cup chopped walnuts
Start with a heavy saucepan and put 1 lb. of light brown sugar in it and a shake of salt and a chunk of butter the size of an egg. Cook until it makes a soft ball. Take off the stove immediately. Stir in 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Now stir in the walnuts and a couple of tablespoons of Marshmallow Fluff, stir constantly until ready to spoon out. Use the teaspoons to make individual pieces on the cookie sheets. Let harden and store in cool, dry place.
My mother told me that she and her mother made this with real maple sugar when she was a girl.
A Different-Quick Cornbread
1/2 cup corn oil
1 cup of sour cream (low-fat is OK)
1 8.5 ounce can of creamed corn
1 cup of any cornbread mix
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat the eggs in a medium bowl, then beat in the oil and sour cream. Add the corn and cornbread mix and stir well. Out the batter into a greased square pan or greased cast iron skillet.
Bake for 35-45 minutes. Check for doneness at 35 minutes.
Grandma's Root Medley
5 pounds of potatoes (all-purpose, red, new, russets or gold), cut up
3 pounds sweet potatoes, cut up
1 small yellow turnip, cubed
1 celery root, cut up
1 small parsnip, sliced small
Peel all vegetables and cook in water until soft and mashable. Whip them together to blend the flavors. You may want to add some butter and milk to aid in the mashing, but it tastes just as good without it.
6 -8 potatoes, peeled or unpeeled
1-1/2 cups of milk
2 tablespoons flour
1 small onion, minced
1/4 pound cheese (optional)
2 tablespoons butter
Slice the potatoes thin, layer them in a buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with minced onion and grated cheese. Dissolve flour in the milk and pour over the potato layers, dot with butter if desired. Bake at 350 for 1-1/2 hours until potatoes are tender.
I know it's cheating, but if you haven't got time, you just haven't got time. In a hurry, I use the Idaho potatoes in a packet to top a quick one dish dinner. You can use a pie crust base or not. Put your cooked or leftover meat (ground beef, chicken, ham ...) in the bottom of the pan with some kind of moisture. It
could be gravy, a can of soup, a little broth, maybe a small can of mushrooms... Cover this with the cooked mashed potatoes or add some frozen vegetables on top of the meat first, then the potatoes. A large deep dish pie plate works well. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. If you have enough, you can make two. One for now and one for the freezer.
Pasta of any sort is not my favorite thing, but many people love it and, it is quite economical. Most of you have had this dish, but I was very tempted to change the name from American Chop Suey to American Indian Chopped Sioux-ee.
American Chop Suey
Cook a box of elbow macaroni according to package directions. Drain and set aside. In a separate large skillet cook:
1 lb. of ground buffalo or chuck
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped small
Saut? until done and add the macaroni, plus one can of tomato sauce. Let this all cook very slowly and stir frequently until all surfaces seem to be covered with some tomato sauce. Add a little more, or tomato paste, if you would like. Serve now, or refrigerate overnight. It tastes better the next day.