The comforts of winter in the kitchen

If I’m feeling low, I find I am comforted by cooking certain foods from my childhood that seem to have disappeared from our menu.

EVERYONE LOVES apple crumble. (photo credit: FREE IMAGES LIVE)
EVERYONE LOVES apple crumble.
(photo credit: FREE IMAGES LIVE)
As we get older, nostalgia takes over in many areas of our lives and we often yearn for things from the past. We are all, to some extent, encumbered by memory.

We can’t totally recreate what was and is no longer, because these memories usually encompass a person we once loved and who is, perhaps, gone from our lives.

Sometimes though, it is possible to recapture some elements of that nostalgia. If I’m feeling low, I find I am comforted by cooking certain foods from my childhood that seem to have disappeared from our menu. As I savor them, I can see my mother in our old-fashioned Australian kitchen and I feel her love in the taste and flavor of the past.

Here are some of her recipes.

Shepherd’s pie
I remember this from cold winter days, coming home from school to find this marvelous dish waiting for me. For some reason, when I read the biblical story of Esau selling his birthright for a mess of pottage, I always imagine it must have tasted like shepherd’s pie.

500 gr. lean ground beef
2 chopped onions
1½ Tbsp. flour
1 can (400 gr.) crushed tomatoes
4 large potatoes, mashed, with pinch salt
2 carrots, 1 turnip, 1 sweet potato and 3 stalks celery, diced

Brown the meat and onions, stirring. Sprinkle flour over them. Add the tomatoes and all the vegetables, with just enough water to cover. Simmer until all the vegetables are soft (approx. 45 minutes). Place in a deep pie dish, cover with mashed potatoes dotted with margarine. Bake in an oven in moderate heat until the top is golden brown. Serve with ketchup.

Rice pudding

Do you remember the A.A. Milne poem that goes on about “What is the matter with Mary Jane?... And it’s lovely rice pudding for dinner again”? I always thought her a spoiled brat because rice pudding was one of my childhood favorites and I still enjoy this simple, creamy dessert.

1 cup soft cooked rice (moist, not dry)
400 ml. milk
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
½ tsp. vanilla
nutmeg for sprinkling
Beat well the milk, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Add the rice. Place in a greased pie dish with nutmeg sprinkled over the top. Stand in a dish of cold water (to prevent curdling) and bake in an oven in moderate heat until set (about 45 minutes). Delicious as is, but superb with cream or ice cream.

Apple crumble

Everyone loves this, and it’s quick and easy.

4 large Granny Smith or green cooking apples
2 Tbsp. golden syrup or honey
Juice ½ lemon
1 cup self-rising flour
1 pinch salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
60 gr. margarine
½ cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp. desiccated coconut

Simmer sliced apples in a little water until soft. Mix with golden syrup, lemon rind and lemon juice. Place in pie dish. Mix flour, salt, cinnamon and sugar. Rub in margarine until it is the texture of breadcrumbs. Sprinkle over the apples, and then sprinkle with coconut. Bake 30 minutes at 175º. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

These were my mother’s standby if unexpected visitors arrived and we were out of cake. In England, Devonshire tea is scones, strawberry jam and cream. We preferred them piping hot, just with butter and a good, strong cup of tea.

1 Tbsp. butter
2 cups self-rising flour
Pinch salt
Equal parts milk and water

Rub the butter into the flour and salt. Add liquid slowly – enough to form a soft dough. Work quickly without kneading. Place on a lightly floured board and pat to a thickness of 2.5 cm. Cut into shapes with a floured scone cutter (or use a wine glass). Bake on a greased tray in a hot oven for 12 minutes.
You can add chopped dates or raisins to the dough for sweeter scones, or grated cheese and rosemary for savory ones.

Bernard Shaw wrote that “there is no love sincerer than the love of food.” I find that its aroma, taste and texture can take me back to the comfort of my mother’s kitchen and bring back sweet memories that make me smile. 

The writer is the author of 14 books. Her latest novel is Searching for Sarah.
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