Any one else just feel right at home when they hear that song?

I went to college in rural Missouri.  Anyone who tells you Missouri is not South has never been to places like Marshall, Sedalia, Green Ridge, Cape Girardeau and/or Sikeston (to name a small few).  I’ll admit that it depends on where you are in the state how Mid-Western or Southern it feels, but my small patch was definitively Southern.  And there was nothing more Southern than the food.

Most of my memories at school surrounded performances and department drama, as comes with a small school.  There were the flowering trees in Spring and those weird winter storms in the winter that somehow felt like home, despite the annoyances of pollen and snow.  It wasn’t until I got home that I realized how attached I had become to the food.

One of the great things about Southern food is how homey it is.  Something about chicken and dumplings always feels right.  Even my mother, who I would never accuse of being a Southern girl, adores pecan pie.  And no one does pecan pie like they do in the South.  Southern food is the food I instinctively crave when I’m feeling a bit lonely or ill.

Like a couple months ago, I was feeling low. So, I headed to a steak house–not because I was craving steak, but because I was craving Southern-style green beans.  When I went home with my roommates on the weekends, we would make dinner.  More often than not, she would pull out a mason jar of green beans that someone in her family had put up and make us Southern-style green beans.  Eating those is like curling up in front of a James Bond marathon with Auddie’s dad or a girls’ night with Auddie and Tink or a card night with twenty people from Auddie’s family making the stranger welcome.

Or last November, when I drove out to Missouri and quite literally cried when I bit into my first hush puppy in over a year.  There’s one (inconvenient) place to get hush puppies where I live, so that’s something I always make a point to consume while I’m visiting family and friends in the area.  Hush puppies are a reminder I’m going to a place where I am loved.  Eating hush puppies means that even the worst of roommates can get along and that the best of roommates will still fight over who gets the last one.  Hush puppies mean late night speed-walking two blocks so you can get that well-deserved snack after a horrific amount of studying.  Hush puppies mean home.

Or the never-ending quest to find a Mediterranean restaurant that is comparable to the jewel that was a teeny brick building in Sedalia.  Not exactly Southern food, but the best Greek food will always be Southern in my head.  It will be special and celebratory, because that’s where my best friend and I went to eat when she came to visit and where I had my graduation lunch with my parents.  Greek food means to me what it does because I discovered it during my time in the South.

It’s been a few years since I left Missouri, good years, even.  I still ache for the friends from school, the flowering trees, and snow in December instead of May.  And I can go visit the people, plants, and places that I miss, but not without great cost and that heartbreaking moment I remember I have to say goodbye.  Again.

Not so with Southern food.  Whether it’s Greek food that almost measures up, or going out of my way to get hush puppies, or heading to the steak house for Southern-style green beans, or a plateful of chicken and dumplings, these are things I can access with relative ease.  Yes, the food will be gone sooner rather than later, but there’s always another plate or bowl waiting to fill the hole in my heart that was left by those people, places, and plants . . . at least for the time being.  This is what comfort food is – the food that eases the aches and pangs of life while reminding us that the things and people we love are never too far away.  Maybe even only as far away as a bite.

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So what are your comfort foods?  And when did you find them?  And how do they comfort you?

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