There is no arguing with taste, and especially not when it comes to comfort food. Combinations that would have any restaurateur chased out of town can acquire cult status in the sanctity of a family home. On Wednesday night, David Beckham posted on Instagram to show off the meal he was serving: gammon with egg, pineapple and potato wedges, so far so normal, to which he added coleslaw, beans and peas, too. Too much by half. It comes soon after Princess Eugenie revealed on a podcast that she favours a rather un-royal combination of jacket potato and “bits from the fridge”. In the sanctuary of your own home, the rules go out of the window, perhaps especially if you are a princess.
They are hardly the most peculiar celebrity comfort foods. Phillip Schofield dips his crumpets in chowder. Kiss singer Gene Simmons puts ice cubes in his cereal, a move that has been endorsed by the bestselling food writer Molly Baz. The singer Lizzo has admitted to a fondness for watermelon with mustard. All gross, but none the equal of Cilla Black’s childhood treat: half an orange with an Oxo cube rubbed on it. A lorra lorra disgusting.
But there is no seasoning like nostalgia. Or so I tell myself as I heat up a furtive Fray Bentos pie when my family are out. Growing up, we thought those little blue tins were the height of luxury, the way the pastry puffed up in flaky layers out of the meaty filling. Only as an adult did I realise they were in effect fancy dog food. My colleague Bethan Holt, a fashion editor, harks back to a childhood combination of Campbell’s mushroom soup stirred into a… tuna pasta bake.
Other dishes are associated with a specific time and place. I lived in Antigua for a while before university. Most visitors to the Caribbean tend to think of jerk chicken, emerging from half an oil drum in clouds of aromatic smoke. Or boat-fresh fish, charred on a grill and served with a rum punch. Not me. The dish I will always associate with the West Indies is a fried egg sandwich in cheap white bread, thick on both sides with mayonnaise, which I ate every morning before going out to work on a boat. When I make one today, what I am tasting is not the egg-on-egg combination, like an eggy version of hummus and falafel, but being 18. Bittersweet.
Below, other Telegraph writers share their favourites.
Recipe columnist Diana Henry
Every Saturday night my teenage boyfriend and I had fish fingers and baked beans at his house. I initially thought it was an odd combination but I came to love it. I still make it, always when I am on my own (because I can’t think of anyone else who would like it) so it’s a solo meal that takes me back in time but which is also comforting. This is why I always have fish fingers in the freezer and small tins of beans (to serve one) in the cupboard. I have to have a glass of milk with it too – it doesn’t work without a glass of milk.
Restaurant critic William Sitwell
My late father, Francis, a great luncher and restaurant-goer, never cooked, except for two dishes, both using eggs, and comforting both in the eating and in the memory. At breakfast on Christmas Day he did his baked eggs (in 1960s gold ramekins) with small slices of bacon, a dash of milk, salt and pepper. Just the idea of it takes me straight back to the atmosphere in the house as a child on Christmas morning. The other thing he did was egg mousse pâté, as a starter for dinner parties. A rich mousse of sliced boiled egg, with melted butter and sour cream; a simple and comforting starter which he turned out so often that a friend, to tease him, gloriously, had it published as Francis Sitwell’s Egg Mousse Pâté in the Evening Standard.
Wine columnist Susy Atkins
My childhood memories of liver casserole range from the abysmal (school dinners circa 1975, in which the liver loomed like a grey whale in a weak, greasy sea and had a vile granular texture) to the sublime – my mum’s utterly irresistible liver and bacon version, the liver (calves’, I think) a revelation of soft, tender sweetness, with rich onion gravy and bacon rolls adding salty bite. I’ve never managed to achieve mum’s standard, somehow, but I can certainly do better than the school version.
Food writer Silvana Franco
Many of the meals I used to beg my mum not to embarrass me by making when we had friends coming round for tea have, of course, become my absolute favourite comfort foods as an adult. On the no-no list was fish of any kind, especially squid or anchovies, pasta cooked with anything other than tomato sauce and, worst of all, a soggy soup (pane cotto) made of stale bread, cabbage and bacon that now is the only thing I truly crave when in need of cheering up. Though God forbid I should ever try to serve it to any of my own children’s friends.
Wine columnist Victoria Moore
I remember the trifle my Grandma Moore always made at Christmas and which my mum now makes in her stead. It consists of trifle sponges soaked in sherry and jam, then layers of pink packet blancmange, Bird’s Custard and finally double cream. I absolutely love it after a turkey sandwich on Boxing Day. Every year my mum says, “Do we want the trifle again?” Every year we agree that we do. Every year it gets harder to find the blancmange yet still she makes it and we eat it up indecently quickly. But few others seem to understand the allure. I included the recipe in one of my books and a reviewer was aghast.
Chef and columnist Mark Hix
I could always smell what was for dinner when I walked towards my gran’s house. Her Monday to Friday dinner menu was the same most weeks, and usually involved a lesser-used cut of meat cooked in her well-worn blue and white casserole dish. Stuffed lambs’ hearts were my favourite, and it didn’t put me off offal like it did most other people.
Food writer Xanthe Clay
My favourite meal as a little girl growing up in North London was Irmhild’s Dish. Named after the lovely German au pair who first made it for us, it was adopted into the home repertoire, eaten at our yellow formica kitchen table. It’s sort of baked macaroni cheese, but dotted with sliced hotdogs and enriched with egg, making it set rather than creamy. I’m told it is a classic in Bavaria, where they know a thing or two about comfort food. So what if it seemed weird to my friends. Their loss. All the more savoury, porky, snuggle-down supper for me.