By Becky Holland
In “Southern Food,” Craig Claiborne wrote, “Nothing rekindles my spirits, gives comfort to my heart and mind, more than a visit to Mississippi … and to be regaled as I often have been, with a platter of fried chicken, field peas, collard greens, fresh corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes with French dressing … and to top it all off with a wedge of freshly baked pecan pie.”
Ah, my mouth is watering as I type that.
The term “comfort food,” which was added to Webster’s Dictionary in 1972, refers to “food prepared in a traditional style having a usually nostalgic or sentimental appeal.”
Basically, when you are sad or depressed or angry or sick, what do you do? You go to the kitchen. You go to the store. You go to McDonald’s or Starbucks.
Oh, don’t deny it. I have seen you there.
My mom makes the most delicious chicken spaghetti. It has been a staple in my family since way before I was born and we were living in Texas. In fact, that is what it is called – “Texas Spaghetti.” Mom discovered the recipe when my dad was pastor of a church there, and the dish seemed to be a favorite at all church socials.
That dish alone was responsible for curing all sorts of ailments, especially heartache and homesickness.
What really does it for me though is peanut butter. Forget chocolate, give me peanut butter.
Charlie Brown had it wrong when he said, “Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love.”
Peanut butter takes the “taste out of” unrequited love, homesickness, loneliness, depression, sadness and whatever else may cause a frown on your face.
Especially if the peanut butter is joined by grape jelly and grilled in a sandwich.
I discovered this joyful sensation a few years ago when I ventured into the community center in Plains at the town’s annual Peanut Festival.
You get a piece of bread, whole wheat, low fat, put a little butter on each side, then spread the Jif low-fat peanut butter out and the low-sugar jelly, and throw it on the George Foreman grill.
It is a masterpiece that even Van Gogh would be in awe of.
I remember taking it from a little woman in an apron who was preparing it, then giving her a curious look. She told me, “Take it, and you’ll never look at peanut butter sandwiches the same way again.”
She was right.
The first bite took me back to the days of sitting at the kitchen table at my family’s home in Murphy, Texas, little legs swinging underneath me, listening to my mom and my older sister chatting about something, watching out the window for my best friend, Devona, to come get me so we could go play by the creek.
The next bite reminded me of days in Cochran, where I would go and visit my Grandma Madison, and she would whip together whatever we wanted to eat, and sit and listen to us as if she didn’t have a zillion other things to do, and she would give the best hugs. It also reminded of days when my mom would be out of town with the senior citizens she planned trips for, and Daddy, who’s celebrating his birthday today, would be the chef for the day.
Each bite was sweeter then the one before, and not just because of the physical taste, but the memories.
On Saturday, I went back to Plains for the Peanut Festival – the first time I have visited in more than a year. It was a fun time, and I was cautious as I walked back to the community center, wondering if the little lady with the apron would be back there, grilling up her peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
The line out the door was long and winding and moved slower than a herd of turtles trying to get through a puddle of peanut butter, but when we finally got there, my traveling companion and I, I was almost sure that she wasn’t there. She wasn’t at the spot she was last year.
Following the line, I picked up various free material, kind of disappointed.
And then I saw her.
The peanut butter sandwiches were sizzling on the grill.
My eyes widened.
As if they knew I was close by, the sizzle of the sandwiches seemed to get louder and call my name.
They didn’t have to.
I was coming.
The little lady smiled.
“Welcome, would you like to try a peanut butter and jelly grilled sandwich?”
Looking like the dog on the commercial for those bacon strip treats, I am sure, all I could do was nod and hold out my hand.
“You’ll never look at a peanut butter sandwich the same way again.”
I had to laugh, and said thank you.
James A. Garfield, our nation’s 20th president, said, “Man cannot live by bread alone; he must have peanut butter.”