According to Webster’s Dictionary, the first recorded use of the term “comfort food” was in 1977. Comfort food is defined as “food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically any with a high sugar or other carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking.”
In other words it’s something that is not particularly good for you but makes you feel good, and it is something that you have been eating since you were a kid. The lists of comfort foods differ, of course, from country to country. I don’t know what bakso or binignit are, though they are high on the lists of comfort foods in Indonesia and the Philippines, nor have I tasted pelmeni, which is number four on a list of comfort foods in Russia.
However, I do agree with many of the most popular choices for comfort food in the United States. The top three–apple pie, baked beans and banana pudding–are high on my list too. Still, I wonder how on earth gelatin dessert ended up on the list at all–and above meat loaf and green bean casserole?
Which brings me to “discomfort foods.”
First a definition: Discomfort foods are foods which make you uncomfortable eating them. They are not foods that you just don’t like or foods that you think you wouldn’t like. For instance, you may not think fried locusts would be very tasty, but the Bible tells us that John the Baptist lived on honey and locusts, and millions of people snack on locusts and other insects every day. You might not want to eat something that resembles a snake, but after you taste smoked eel, you may, like me, discover that it is delicious.
We all have foods that we do not like. When my mother-in-law Esther was introduced to a new food, she would say, “It’s not my favorite” if she did not like it. Like most children brought up a hundred years ago, she was taught to try every food offered and to be polite if she didn’t enjoy something. You didn’t spit it out or make a face. You took a small serving, ate it and politely refused seconds unless you found it to your liking.
Discomfort foods are ones you have tried, sometimes repeatedly, and find that they conflict with your sense of decency or just make you feel uncomfortable when you eat them. They are often foods that other people find delicious or even consider delicacies.
Take the artichoke for an example. I love pickled artichoke hearts and artichoke dips paired with chunks of good French bread, but eating an artichoke makes me feel like a chipmunk. Maybe it’s my name which suggests a rodent although I think the problem goes back to the time I ordered an artichoke at a fancy restaurant with a large mirror on the wall facing me.
Dipping those scales in butter and scraping the flesh off them with my incisors made me look ridiculous. Many people look distinguished or even poised while eating artichokes, but not me. They are number one on my list of discomfort foods.
Number two is certainly peel and eat shrimp. Don’t get me wrong. I really like shrimp. Shrimp etoufée is one of my favorite dishes, and I love peeled shrimp with a spicy cocktail sauce, shrimp scampi and big broiled shrimp and prawns with plenty of butter. But having to remove the shell from those crustaceans and strip away the vein sends me up the wall. It’s like plucking a chicken on my plate.
Number three….I really don’t have a number three. I like most foods, and the few that are “not my favorites” don’t make me feel uncomfortable. Except for Jell-O salads, I even eat small portions to be polite.
Thank goodness my list of discomfort foods is short. Otherwise I might never have developed the comfortable rotundity that I feel is insurance in case our local food supply is interrupted for a few weeks.
Here is a recipe that is “not one of my favorites.” In fact, when Jerri made it many years ago for the first and only time, her mother also said, “It’s all right, but it’s not my favorite.”
However, it was one of the favorite dishes of Richard Tucker, one of the greatest American opera singers of the twentieth century. He died of a heart attack in Kalamazoo, Michigan while on tour and is the only person whose funeral has been held on the stage at the Metropolitan Opera. The city of New York renamed the park next to Lincoln Center Richard Tucker Square.
The recipe below comes from The Celebrity Cookbook which we received as a gift from our friend Elaine Parker when we began our married life in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Here is Richard Tucker’s introduction to the recipe:
“This is my wife’s recipe for one of my favorite dishes, which we generally have along with the main course, but which can also be served as a dessert. Made according to the following amounts of ingredients, it should be adequate to serve six or eight.”
1 8 oz. package egg noodles
4 large eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 c. seedless white raisins
2 cooking apples
1/2 cup maraschino cherries with their syrup
Butter to grease the baking dish
Peel, core and slice the apples. Cut each cherry into three or four pieces and butter a two-quart casserole. Preheat the oven to 350º.
Cook the noodles according to the package directions. Drain and rinse them in cold water and put them in a large mixing bowl.
Beat the eggs until they are lemon yellow. Add the salt and sugar and mix thoroughly. Stir the eggs into the noodles, then add the apples, raisins and cherries. Mix well and put the mixture into the casserole. Bake for one hour on a center shelf.
Allow the pudding to cool for a few minutes before cutting into squares and serving.
NOTES: This pudding is not one of my personal favorites, but I may have been having a bad day when we had it. You might agree with Richard Tucker, and make it a regular dessert or side dish on your family table.
And if Jerri decides to make it again, I will certainly take a small serving. Who knows, it might become one of my comfort foods!
Give it a try.