Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Southern Foods From My Alabama Past

Some culinary aspects of my upbringing, that whether I like them all or not, are part of my personal history:

* The fish fry - For us, this included my grandmother's tasty version of the egg custard pie, hush puppies, fried catfish, coleslaw, fresh watermelon and homemade ice cream cranked by hand in one of those old wooden ice cream makers using rock salt.

* Red-eye gravy with ham and biscuits
According to legend and not necessarily facts, Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), 7th President of the United States, who was an American General at the time, called his cook over to tell him what to prepare. The cook had been drinking "moonshine" corn whiskey the night before and his eyes were as red as fire. General Jackson told the cook to bring him some country ham with gravy as red as his eyes. Some men nearby heard the general and from then on, ham gravy became "Red Eye Gravy."

* Grits (especially with cheese! Now you're talkin'.) I still won't turn down a good bowl of grits. Every now and then, even outside of the South, I'll chance across them on a diner or truckstop menu and have my fill.

* Eggs and brains (I kid you not!) I never really liked these. The texture kind of grossed me out. The only kind my grandmother ever fixed was pork brains. I'm not even sure if you can still find these in the supermarket; but I won't be searching for them.

* Eggs and many other foods cooked in bacon grease. I tried fixing this for Tim, who is from Nebraska, a few weeks ago, touting how tasty this made the eggs. It didn't go over well. This may not be the healthiest food, but I have fond memories of awakening to the smell of Folgers coffee percolating alongside the smell of fresh biscuits and the sound of bacon sizzling in a cast-iron skillet.

* Fried okra, fried yellow squash, fried chicken, fried liver, fried porkchops - fried, fried, fried, you name it, it could be fried.

Funny little story: I'm not a person who cooks much. I didn't inherit my grandmother's knack for stirring up some southern cooking, you see. So, once, when I was living in Germany, of all places, I got a hankering for some okra and decided to fry some up. I'd hardly ever fried anything other than bacon at this point, so I assumed I had to wait for the oil to boil, just as I did with water in a recipe. I stood there and stood there, and nothing... I was so tired of waiting. I happened to mention this to my fiance then, and I'm glad he came to the rescue. A few seconds more, and I would have probably caught my face and hair on fire, as I peered in to see if there were any bubbles forming to indicate the pan was aboil. Whoops.

* Cooking with fatback and lard - my grandmother used to add bits of fatback in her green beans.

* Hominy

* Lima beans are known as "butter beans" in parts of the South.

* Collard greens, of course.

For more on the foods of the American South, see this Cuisine of the South entry on Wikipedia.

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