When I came up with the idea for a series of books set around the Comfort Food Cafe, I had a very clear image of what it would be like – weird!

Debbie Johnson

Debbie Johnson

The whole concept of comfort food is one that differs from person to person. In the stories, comforting dishes range from bacon butties to jam roly poly to almond biscotti to chicken and mushroom Pot Noodle – because just like in real life, everyone’s comfort food taste buds are tickled by a combination of flavour and association.

Flavour, we all understand – but association is a stranger one. Maybe it’s a school dinner, or your mum’s Sunday roast. Maybe it’s boiled sweets your granddad gave you, or food you tried on a lovely holiday. I even have one friend who is addicted to the comforting taste of Farley’s Rusks in milk, because it reminds her of when her babies were little!

For me, it’s the usual odd mix, and narrowing it down to a list was tricky. It also made me realise that I have no class at all, but I can’t help that! Here they are, in no particular order – and can I apologise in advance for the shocking lack of healthy foods? What can I say – I just don’t find salad comforting!

Wrights Pies – many people grew up with a local bakery or pie shop. For me, that’s Wrights in Stoke on Trent. Nothing will ever quite match their pastry for me – when I was a kid, we used to eat the pies in a bowl drenched in Oxo! (see earlier comment about lack of class...)

Oatcakes – again a local specialty, bought freshly made and draped with melted cheese and bacon. Yum.

Corned beef hash – I’d never had this until I moved to Liverpool 26 years ago, and my then-boyfriend used to make it. A delicious pile of comforting stodge, especially good with those Marrowfat peas with the juice that turns everything green!

Lemon meringue pie – just the best pudding, especially when swimming in fresh cream.

Chocolate hob nobs – I think this reminds me of being at college, away from home for the first time, meeting so many new people and forging friendships over mugs of tea and dunking.

Belly pork – this is considered posh now, but in the 70s and 80s it was a cheap cut of meat that made it affordable. My mum cooked this over half a day, and we had it with creamy mash.

Apple and rhubarb crumble with custard – one of the few puddings I can whip up myself; wonderful with cinnamon and some crushed pistachios on the top.

Freshly baked home-made bread – there were a series of strikes when I was little that led to bread shortages in the shops. Result? The best smell and taste ever!

Chili con carne – a massive bowl of super-hot chilli, with some tortillas and refried beans, hits the comfort spot every time.

Branded treats – again, this is a childhood thing, but I’ll choose Cadburys and Walkers over anything more ‘gastro’ any day; it simply tastes of simpler times! My best friend’s mum always had Penguins in the house as well – so they have to be included!

Sunshine at the Comfort Food Café is out in paperback 8th March 2018, £799