It is here. Flannel-shirt wearing, football-watching, pumpkin-spice-in-everything season has arrived. I will admit that I have a love-hate relationship with autumn. I absolutely love wearing the flannel shirts, and I have more than I probably should. Cardigan sweaters, too. Since I have reached a certain age, layers that can be removed when the heat comes on are even more beneficial.
I’m indifferent about football, though, and have been since Don Shula retired from coaching the Miami Dolphins. I attend the occasional high school football game, but will admit it’s usually to see the band’s half-time show or attend a class reunion.
As for the pumpkin spice? That’s where the hate is. I don’t like pumpkin-flavored anything, and I’m not even fond of the smell. Don’t get me wrong. I love to decorate with pumpkins. I have glass pumpkins and ceramic pumpkins. I have stuffed pumpkins and wax pumpkin candles. And when I have the time, I can take pumpkin carving to a new art form. I just can’t eat it.
I can eat other foods of the season, though, to which my waistline can attest. When the temperatures fall in the evenings, my thoughts turn to what we consider ‘comfort foods’ — those suppers that make us feel warm inside and stave off the cold outside.
We have a couple of go-to recipes for the winter that I make sure to have plenty of the ingredients for on hand to make at any time. One is a tomato-based vegetable soup that is extremely easy to make and adjust to include what’s on hand. The other is a pasta, chicken, broccoli, butter, garlic, parmesan cheese, and Italian seasoning dish that can be thrown together in the time it takes to cook the pasta, and we love it.
I can also make good soup beans and some of the best cornbread I’ve ever eaten (buttermilk, no sugar, and the secret ingredient is melted butter). For a treat, I’ll make peanut butter popcorn. I thank Mary Lou Neas for that one. She was the Home Ec teacher at GMS, and she taught us to make peanut butter popcorn balls that are the perfect mix of sweet and salty. I just don’t bother to form it into balls before eating anymore.
What I can’t make, however, is Mama’s potato soup. I really wish I’d paid closer attention when she prepared it. For the record, I can’t make Aunt Grace’s fried chicken, sausage gravy, or potato salad, either, and it’s not for the lack of trying. I have found substitutes, but they just aren’t the same, and I miss them.
What is it that we miss when we think of foods from our childhood, though? Is it the food, or do we miss a simpler time? For me it’s a combination, and our minds sometimes remember things as being better than they actually were, tying emotions to sensory memory.
The foods we had growing up were nothing unusual. My family had a small farm out near North Greene High School, and we ate what we could raise, grow, or buy on limited funds when the tobacco sold. Mama and Aunt Grace knew how to cook vegetables and bake biscuits and cornbread. They knew how to prepare beef, chicken, and pork.
Even after moving ‘to town’ food choices were limited by what the local grocery stores chose to carry. There was a small number of stores and the stores were smaller and had less options. Of course, family finances also played a role in what we ate, along with personal preferences. Aunt Grace didn’t like fish, so our exposure to it was limited to church fundraisers. ‘Seafood’ was a 21-shrimp basket at Jack’s Restaurant or canned salmon. Mom didn’t like spaghetti, so to us, it was Ragu spaghetti sauce from a jar poured over noodles that were never cooked properly. Velveeta was cheese and ‘light bread’ was good stuff.
As a kid, I didn’t like cheese and refused to try cheesecake because I thought it had cheese in it. Thank goodness, I’ve grown up and learned better. Our small town had limited stores and product selection had to be based on what they knew would sell. Thank goodness, it has grown and we have better.
I still think of many of the foods we ate as comfort foods today, though. I suspect the feeling comes more from not having to worry about things. It was the comfort of not having to think about what we would eat on a daily basis. I didn’t have to plan, shop, or pay for our meals. I just had to not put more on my plate than I could eat, not have the TV on while at the supper table and remember to wipe down the counters after washing the dishes. Simpler times, indeed.