When I was a college student, my parents always came over to the football games at the University of Georgia with picnic baskets laden and the trunk of the old Dodge ready to feed as many of my friends as showed up.
My mother would get up early, early to fry her great fried chicken, devil large platters of eggs and make homemade pimento cheese sandwiches cut into little slivers. She would pack the bounty along with potato salad, a golden pound cake and her famous brownies sprinkled with powdered sugar into her picnic baskets.
Those wonderful Saturdays would fill us up with memories of fellowship and food that last a lifetime. Parents who spend time with their children, even when they are college age, give a precious gift, and mothers who pour their creativity and love into their cooking, fill the soul as well as the stomach.
When my own son was away at Georgia Southern University, a hurricane blew all the students home early one week. Hours and hours on the road as they tried to evacuate everything south of Macon, and the traffic flowing north swelled to gargantuan proportions built up anxiety in mothers and appetites in students.
My son was traveling with a carload of buddies, and I was waiting at home cooking up a storm. I got out my recipe books and started making soup. Loaded potato soup, corn chowder and, of course, chili, my fall favorite.
I love chili as soon as the slightest hint of fall is in the air. A summer of vegetables and salads seems just a distant memory as my taste buds begin to crave the spicy heat of peppers grown in the sun and ground to a fine powder.
I just don't think you can use too much chili powder in the thick pot of browned meat, onions and tomatoes. I pour it into my hands, throwing it into the boiling mixture, savoring the anticipation of fire on my tongue.
And, of course, no bowl of chili or soup concocted in a Southern kitchen in the early fall is complete without a pone of crusty cornbread baked in a black iron skillet.
When my son and his friends finally arrived, we ladled out fortifying soups whose composition had taken my mind off my worries of a safe journey home. The meal eased away our worries and filled us with relief and happiness, and, of course, good food.
Last week, I got out a cooking utensil I had not used in a long time - my double boiler. I made boiled custard to turn into a banana pudding. I whipped the egg whites to stiff peaks and piled the meringue high on the pudding, then browned it in the oven. I used my mother's famous banana pudding recipe, which strangely can be found on the side of any box of vanilla wafers.
There is such comfort in comfort foods. Maybe the calories are high, but sometimes it is just worth it anyway. Especially on a cool day in the fall of the year.
Rebecca Johnston is former editor of The Cherokee Tribune.