Monday, January 9, 2012

Cradle of Comfort


Some time during the late 1940's, my mother (3 or 4 years old) would sit in her grandmother Molly's kitchen and eat baked barley with mushrooms. Throughout her life it was one of her ultimate comfort foods. Although I hardly know a thing about my great-grandmother, I understood something about her as the rich aroma of the barley and mushrooms filled my kitchen.  Molly had given to the people in her life through small gestures like a smile, or a dish of something warming.


I understood more about comfort today, eating the leftovers with a fried egg on top. Roman peered over my plate and asked for some. I told him what it was called, and his sweet little voice kept repeating "barley? barley?" so I spooned up as much as he demanded.

As I watched him eat, I found solace knowing that sustenance was being passed down to him through the hands of four different generations of women, all with the same goal.  To nurture the little bodies they created and make them grow up healthy.  And to make it taste good at the same time.
Ruth and my mother circa 1948

Then it all became clear.  This is who I am, thanks to the line of women who came before me.  I give and receive comfort through foods, and through the act of nurturing my family.  A warm plate of something delicious and healthy, given with a smile and a kiss on the forehead.  It's simple, really.  That's where I find the greatest sense of serenity.


Baked Barley with Mushrooms
4 - 6 servings

1 onion, diced
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 cup barley
salt and pepper to taste
5 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth, boiling

In a large, deep frying pan, sauté the onion, mushrooms, barley, salt and pepper in butter.  Stir frequently until the barley is lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

Place in a casserole and stir in boiling broth.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for approximately 1 hour at 350 degrees.

Note: After 1 hour of baking, there was still plenty of liquid, so I continued to bake, uncovered, for an additional 30 minutes until the broth had been absorbed and the texture was perfect. Check the texture of the barley after one hour.  If you need to, you can add additional boiling water if the barley is too hard.  It should be firm and slightly crunchy.


  1. I love most any dish with mushrooms. And, the addition of a fried egg on top is the perfect finishing touch!

  2. It looks like we both have grandmothers on our minds today. This looks delicious. True comfort.

  3. I have just discovered how fantastic barley is! For some strange reason, I had never tried it before and now it is my newest favorite thing! I have made Barley and Porcini Mushroom Soup and yesterday I made Vegetable Barley Soup. I will most definitely make your recipe here. I especially love that it was from your grandma.

  4. Your posts always leave me with a smile, reminding me of all the good in this world.

  5. this one left me with a smile and a tear -- brava!!

  6. It's so wonderful how recipes are passed down through the generations, that one meal, used to comfort a small child, is now comforting their great grand child :)

  7. True, we owe so much more than we realize to the now silent women of our family. What beautiful pictures, I could look at old pictures for hours. This is a perfect way to use up the porcini barley soup I just posted with the addition of some broth. And I love the idea of an egg on top.

  8. I love those comfort dishes handed down from one generation to the next... There is that one beef dish my grandma used to make that I find so comforting... I can't help smiling when I think about it!

    I make a similar dish but I cook it using the risotto technique. I have to try your baking technique, it just looks great!

  9. This is a wonderful story and recipe. I especially like the photographs which are inspiring me to get out some old boxes of photos and look through them. Isn't it great to have your food link to the past?

  10. Wow so yummy foods ............Being foody i am always in favor of some tasty dishes and is there any such dishes for baby feedings.If you know then please post here .Thanks in advance.

  11. Nicole: you are a very good and nurturing mother. And your mother was too, and your grandmother. Such an endearing post. I can see the strong line of love miles away.

  12. Both you and Tracy have posts with such engaging photos of your (great)grandmothers--it inspires me to look back through my own photo albums. I recall one that captured this instant when my mom, my baby daughter and I visited my grandmother---the only time the 4 generations were together.

    It astounds me how strong these connections can be, carried over time.

  13. Lovely post and a wonderful, comforting recipe!

  14. It's a strange thing with your posts...every time i come by to read...I always leave appreciating more the things that one should really appreciate in life...and for this I thank you..
    About the europe you have the metric system, so no cups, just a would be great if you could give out both measurements..but it's hard work i know..I still come by to read, metric or not! :)

  15. Hi Christina, Thanks so much for your comment!! Gives me encouragement to keep writing :)
    I will certainly start converting my recipes. I much prefer to bake using a scale. I have been admittedly a little lazy about converting and you're right, it's high time I start to do so.
    Thanks again!

  16. I am looking forward to trying this! It looks and sounds delicious and I am smitten with the idea of the fried egg on top--perfect!

  17. Thanks - this was really tasty and I'll plan to make it again for Thanksgiving!


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