The most elusive comfort foodLast Updated:
Today’s Prompt: We’re not all 5-star chefs, but we all need to eat! Tell your readers how to make your favorite dish. Does the recipe hold a good memory for you? Is it the act of cooking itself that brings you joy, or the people that come together to eat it?
At first glance, this looks like a simple Texas Sheet Cake, but it isn’t.
In my family, it’s called “Aunt Peanuts’ Buttermilk Brownies.”
Backstory: My mother is Aunt “Peanuts”. She earned the name before I was born. Her best friend was my father’s older sister and they share the same first name. So when my parents were married, there were now two women named Shirley Elder. If you were paying attention on Day 6, you have learned a lot about my very large family. As the second youngest, my father already had dozens of nieces and nephews the day he was born. So when he and my mom got married, she became an aunt. The family already had an “Aunt Shirley” so they got creative. I don’t remember how they settled on “Peanuts”, but I grew up hearing my mom referred to as “Peanuts” by the whole family.
Like everyone else in this gigantic extended family that now spans almost 100 years and close to a thousand members, Aunt Peanuts was instantly loved. It wasn’t long before everyone discovered she had a hidden talent. She could bake amazingly rich, calorie-dense deserts that could satisfy the strongest sweet tooth. Everyone stopped by our house for Halloween because family members were treated to THE MOST AMAZING melt-in-your-mouth frosted sugar cookies.
Seriously, the woman is an ARTIST.
Although we look alike, my mom and I don’t have a lot in common. I’m a bookworm who can tune out the world for days. She notices and stresses about everything. Strangely enough, I did inherit my intelligence from her and my work ethic from my Daddy. I like to think it’s a pretty good combination. 🙂 My mom excels at spoiling babies and showing her love to everyone with sugary works of art. I’m a horrible cook. I could survive on a raw foods diet that required very little preparation, unlike my carnivorous husband and son. Despite my creativity in other areas, I have no originality in the kitchen.
However, there are a select few of Mom’s specialties I have been determined to master.
- Sugar cookies from heaven (actually, the recipe was handed down from my great-grandmother)
- Chicken (or leftover Thanksgiving turkey) casserole
- Chocolate-covered Peanut Butter Balls
- Peanut (or cashew) Clusters
- Crunchy Fudge Sandwiches
- Buttermilk Brownies
I managed to master all but the final piece of Heaven without much difficulty. But that darned brownie recipe has eluded me for decades. I would copy the recipe from Mom and follow it to the last detail, even using the exact same brand of each ingredient and one of those “air bake” sheet pans. My family would sample it and declare “something missing.” Again and again I would double-check the recipe only to be rebuffed by a family who would cart off plates full of Mom’s brownies at every visit.
You must understand…there is no brownie or sheet cake in the the world that is as moist and chocolaty as the one my Mom can bake. The cake itself is so moist and dense that is could stand alone as a sinful delight. But then there’s that smooth, rich frosting..sigh. My Dad and husband make it even worse when they top it with vanilla ice cream.
I’m not the only one to struggle to master the Buttermilk Brownie. Cousins, aunts, and in-laws have all tried and failed. The biggest insult was when my son (then 15) managed to duplicate her results spot on. Now he won’t even let me try anymore. He keeps his own private, hand-written copy of the recipe hidden in his room. He swears the secret ingredient is “love and stress.”
Mom is 67 and preparing for retirement. I don’t have forever to master this. Whenever she’s asked if there’s a secret, she just smirks and says, “I lick my fingers.”
Yeah mom, I tried that.
p.s. The photo is actually of one of my look-alike but failed-the-family-taste-test attempts to replicate the original.