I’ll admit it; I’m lucky. Not only did I get to write all about comfort foods in my novel LITTLE GALE GUMBO, but because there are recipes included in the reader’s guide, I also had to make each item (sometimes repeatedly) to make sure I got the measurements just right. (Wait–is that a violin I hear?)
Comfort foods are curious things. But no matter where we come from, I think the language of comfort foods is a universal one. Camille understands that as soon as she arrives on Little Gale Island, even before she opens her Creole café. Sure, the islanders have never heard of gumbo or etouffee, but that doesn’t matter. A warm bowl of stew is a warm bowl of stew, and a sugared treat is a sugared treat. The dishes may vary in ingredients, but I believe the sensations of “comfort” are the same: warm, salty and sweet. Mainers have chowder, New Orleanians have gumbo. Mainers have Whoopie Pies, New Orleanians have pralines.
And so, believing in this simple premise that food can unite even the most oppositional of neighbors, Camille builds a menu for her new restaurant, knowing that her traditional comfort foods will earn her customers. And of course, they do.
Now back to those recipes… (Be warned: This is the gratuitous visuals portion of the post. Viewer discretion is advised.)
For the warm, I included the recipe for Camille’s mother’s gumbo. Chunks of crabmeat, a rich shrimp stock.
For the salty, there’s the traditional wash day (Monday) dish of red beans and rice. Easy to make (another tenant of any good comfort food) and always satisfying. (Not to mention filling. Whoa.)
For the sweet, there’s bread pudding. Chunks of spongy bread soaked overnight in a brandy-infused custard.
Aaaaaand let’s not forget the pralines…
Am I right, or am I right?
So if you’re wondering which came first–my love of New Orleans “comfort foods” or the novel, I can assure you the food came first. My first day in New Orleans I bought and ate in one sitting a praline the size of manhole cover (okay, so maybe it was slightly smaller, but only slightly) and from that day on, I knew there was no going back. To be able to include my passion for these dishes that do indeed give me great comfort–whatever the season and whatever my mood–in a novel still makes me smile.
And really, really hungry.
How about you all? Have you ever found comfort in a novel’s food?