Chips with French onion dip. Homemade Alfredo sauce. Mashed potatoes. Chocolate cake with tons of buttercream icing.
Am I making you hungry yet?
Today is National Comfort Food Day and on this day, I cannot help but think of a few of my favorite comfort foods.
Everyone has one or several comfort foods. These are foods that are sentimental or nostalgic to the eater; comfort food is often associated with a memory or a person. The International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science uses this definition and adds that “comfort foods tend to be associated with our childhood or with home cooking, and they’re frequently prepared in a ‘simple or traditional style.’”
I could list plenty of comfort foods (see above). But whenever I hear that term, there is one food that comes instantly to mind: hamburger and noodles.
What are hamburger and noodles?
It sounds simple because it is. My grandma’s recipe called for noodles, ground beef, tomato soup, brown sugar, and ketchup. That’s it. No one really knows if it was an actual recipe or something she made up as a single mother of four girls on a budget. It was not winning any James Beard Awards and it wasn’t much to look at, but it was everything that comfort food needs to be: satisfying, soothing, and made with love.
It became a comfort food that was synonymous with my childhood and my memories of her.
Grandma would make it in this huge pot. I can picture that pot in my mind, with its dented edges and ill-fitting lid; it was old, worn down, and the perfect size for feeding an army.
She would distribute it among Tupperware containers or Pyrex bowls for all our family. I can remember those containers and bowls in our refrigerator as a child, the leftovers never lasting long. It was one of those dishes that was even better the next day, heated up for a quick meal after music lessons or between sports practices. Somehow, she always made enough for everyone.
Grandmas do not get younger, and her own batches of hamburger and noodles became less frequent over the years. My mom and aunts all took up the tradition of making this dish. The funny thing is that everyone’s dish tasted a little different from the other! As my siblings and cousins grew into adults, we started making hamburger and noodles too. Everyone’s dish tastes unique but the same. I use ground turkey and extra brown sugar in my version; one of my sisters has a version with more sauce to it.
My Aunt Mary’s is the closest to my Grandma’s recipe. We like to think it is because she has the special pot to make it. Perhaps the magic was in that dented old thing!
But no matter what it tastes like or who makes it, the memory of my Grandma and my childhood are in every bite.
I think of her and all the women in my family as I make it for my own children. I smile at the delicious aroma and am grateful for a simple meal to make on busy nights. I crave it during times of stress and when missing home. It’s simple, soothing, and gives me a warm feeling in my belly and my heart. It is more than just noodles and nostalgia; it is the very definition of comfort food.