Appetite for Comfort

Comfort Food, That Is

There are some things in life that we always go back to when nothing else seems to do. It’s called comfort food.

Comfort food is the stuff that you want to eat when you’re depressed, when you’ve lost a limb, or when you’re girlfriend informs you that all along she has been an alien from Jupiter, and now she wants your brain to take back to her daddy.

Comfort food brings back fond memories of childhood and the “good-old-days” (unless you were a starving refugee), when Mom could make you feel better with nothing more than a spoonful of lard and some corn meal.

Comfort Central

Here in the southern United States we have a custom: when somebody dies, we eat.

Whenever a loved one passes away, bites the dust, or essentially assumes room temperature for an indefinite period of time, we trot them off to a funeral home, and then bring in every kind of unhealthy food imaginable. We all know that when one is suffering a terrible loss, comfort food will help dull the pain. And if nothing else, it will help you get to where your loved one is a little quicker than a salad will.

A typical southern funeral home has a dining area. This is where the family and friends can go when they are tired of standing around in the viewing room. They instinctively know that in that room is food which will make them feel better.

Serious Comfort

Well, not long ago my only blood-related uncle went home to be with the Lord. His body was taken to a funeral home in a place called Whitwell (pronounced “Wutwool“), Tennessee. And it was there that the funeral home staff did something that it does for all their families – serve homemade pinto beans.

Now, don’t be fooled, folks. These are not your ordinary beans. These are about the best pinto beans you will ever put in your ever-loving mouth! Served with some homemade cornbread, these beans made me tear up (no joke) as I remembered my granny, my dad, and a much, MUCH simpler life down on the river.

What makes these pintos so special is that they were soaked for 24 hours in water, then slow-cooked the next day in a crock pot with several slices of thick bacon. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but there are secrets to keep.

A Holy Command

Why do we prepare such food for funerals? Seriously? For one thing, sometimes it is hard to find the right words to say when someone is hurting. That’s when people do what they can, and many times the only thing they can do is prepare good food. Hurting people need to be cared for, and this is one way to show it.

Comforting one another is also something we are commanded to do. 1Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to “comfort yourselves together, and edify one another.” And speaking of the hope of resurrection we have in Christ, the Apostle Paul said in the same letter, “comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:8).

But what happens when words are hard to find? Make a pot of seriously savory pinto beans and cornbread. Tears of heartache may turn into tears of culinary joy.

58 Comments

Filed under Food, Relationships and Family

58 responses to “Appetite for Comfort

  1. My wife and I have an idea for a restaurant, and on the food side we are saying it is “old-fashioned, comfort-food-style lunch (and maybe breakfast).” We would offer things like PB&J, animal crackers, and apple juice; spaghetti, garlic bread, and ginger ale; macaroni & cheese with root beer (with cream soda, the only three soda pops on the menu); BLT, carrot sticks, and chocolate milk (or regular or strawberry); and finish it off with chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, pie, or fruit!

    This is just a small sampling, but we think it could do well!

  2. Thanks for the pingback on such a soulful post. Food has a powerful and unique way of bringing people together, transporting you to different times and places, providing comfort in difficult times. Cheers.

  3. I totally hate it when that alien/brain thing happens. And thanks for the insight into Southern rituals.

  4. I believe that the best comfort food we gonna take in time of depression and heartaches is God’s word.. That’s the great time to digest his Holy Bible and took wisdom from it by the guide of the Holy Spirit.. 🙂

  5. I love this post. And I’m from Tennessee, but I’ve never been to Whitwell.

  6. I have a big problem thou, I have had too much comfort food! Now I try to go for a walk instead of using comfort food. What do you think of that idea? http://www.segmation.wordpress.com

  7. Oh the damn comfort food. It gets us all. Mine is typically cookies. I love your descriptions too, this is a great post!

  8. Here, in Argentina, we don’t eat at funerals, but I always see you do in movies… I think it is a sweet goodbye to a loved one. Kisses!

  9. this is nice! i also think bringing food when a loved one has passed is somewhat of a technical comfort…generally the family doesn’t have a lot of time to cook or doesn’t feel well enough to do so. it’s even part of some religions, right?

    my comfort food is chicken noodle soup with an egg in it..or pasta. but i think pasta is a more general love than a comfort.

  10. Although southern cuisine is slowly gaining in popularity up here in parts of Canada the number of establishments are few and far between. I guess I’m due for a trip to Louisiana!
    Thanks for the post! I really liked it. As for my comfort food it would have to be a bowl of rice, a slice of grilled salmon, and miso soup…..for breakfast (something I picked up during my extremely long stay in Japan).

  11. accessiblecash

    great post! and I agree comfort food does make you feel better, something about the warm yummy goodness that makes you forget for just a second and focus on the taste explosions in your mouth.

  12. Carlie Chew Photography and Design

    Yummm, I wish they served beans at my grandfathers funeral. They served salad, not comforting at all. I am a sucker for comfort foods, I try to cook healthy, but I always end up making something comforting. Great article and congrats!

  13. Great post. Having food in front of you gives you something to do at times like those.
    I like to make macaroni-and-cheese for funeral gatherings. But my favorite comfort food involves chicken in a cream sauce made with wine and mushrooms on top of rice.

  14. low cholesterol food is long term comfort food

  15. Sounds like the southern version of pasta fagioli with freshly baked pane di casa bread. Have to go ……….. gotta cook.

  16. What a nice post. And here in Nebraska, we’re the same way. Whether it’s a funeral or if someone is very ill or in the hospital. When my son was three and his appendix ruptured, I didn’t cook for over a month we had so many casseroles, soups, stews, cakes, pies, etc. to choose from brought from family, friends and friends of friends. Almost made me wish he had more than one appendix. 😉

  17. You know comfort food quite.well. Those beans and that cornbread look good. You’re serving the food with great humor. Enjoyed the read and will check out your other posts.

  18. I don’t mean to shamelessly self-promote…but I just thought of this blog when I posted another one. My kids and I made pumpkin pie from real pumpkins! It was DEFINITELY comfort food!! Check it out! http://bit.ly/SyrRzM

  19. ena

    Oh yeah, the best part of the funerals where I live…. the church lady sandwich spread.. Bring on the egg salad.

  20. nazarioartpainting

    Mmmh! Yummy. I am hungry now.

  21. PrettyGee

    My comfort food is ice cream and cake. Lol

  22. Great post! Comfort food is not only for funerals – but for births, too. I have such fond memories around the birth of my son nearly 2 years ago. Homemade chicken pot pie with buttery flakey crust, beautiful and colorful salads, cakes and cookies (to celebrate ofcourse!). The idea of “comfort” food has gotten a bad rap recently, but you are so right – sometimes it is about the memory and special people in our lives that makes the foods so comforting!

  23. I don’t want to seem like a nit picker, but Southerners are not the only ones who need to pig-out after death. My background is Eastern European Jewish, and we all ate like hogs when someone died. And as for fat, all our comfort food is larded with fat. We Jews might not eat the fat of the swine, but watch us get down and dirty with some shmalz, or chicken fat. Take a piece off rye bread and just dredge it in the stuff. It always works

    • That’s ok. Go ahead and nit-pick. But I have to say it’s pretty humorous to see a Jew commenting on a Christian site and using the words “pig out.” That’s definitely a first go me 😉

      Thanks for stopping by, though. And I’ve had some pretty good eastern European food, so I know what you’re talking about.

  24. Very nice post! And the pinto beans and cornbread look so delicious! Like Julie said above, in Nebraska we bring comfort food for funerals, illnesses, and even happy occasions such as the birth of a baby! Casseroles are very common around here because they freeze easily, and are so quick to pop in the oven. And I’m with you on the egg salad thing, YUM… but who made it?? I had some very bad tuna salad once at a funeral, and will never try one again (that I didn’t make), gross!

  25. When somebody dies, we eat too. It’s part of our culture. Food soothes the soul and brings back the happy memories of cooking and eating together. 🙂

  26. but i think pizza is a more general love than a comfort

  27. What I love about this story, is that it is what comfort food should be about – in the traditional sense. Nowadays we are a nation of fast food, chocoholical craving souls who, when down or depressed, have learnt to ‘hide’ behind an hour of crap tv and gorging on nutrionally-deprived, sugar laden, unnatural foods. These kind of foods can become addictive and so we suppress our grief or low mood by ignoring it and injecting ourselves with sugar hits. This modern comfort food eating doesn’t soothe the soul, it doesn’t nourish mind or body and just deepens the problem, if anything. Beautiful, hearty, lovingly cooked warm food like your dish is exactly what the doctor (used to) prescribe! Really wonderful, thank you.

  28. MikeW

    Looks good. Cornbread the Catalyst! One way to enjoy one’s comfort food providing there’s no medically urgent reason not to partake, is to engage in work, sport and art on a routine basis. Enjoy your meals in gratitude. Get out and establish a physical conditioning life too! Balance is good. Extremes, well, you know the score.

  29. I have always associated KFC with the loss of a loved one. Inevitably, a mourner would show up with a bucket of the stuff for the family.

  30. just reading your first paragraph made my mouth salivate. but then again, I am hungry… haha

  31. I miss my grandmother’s food now. That was comfort. Your story nails our deep desire to feel better with food. Congratulations on a well-done post.

  32. heather joy

    My comfort food list is quite extensive… too extensive, I think. But at least it gives me a lot of options when I’m in need of some comfort. LOL.

  33. Oh man, dash a bit of hot sauce on those beans and call it a day.

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