We always knew it was Sunday in our house when I was a kid when Mama mixed up a batch of yeasty rolls and put a roast on to cook before church. She always added some coffee to the water for the roast, which was always tender and juicy.
Once I grew up and moved away, she would often make a roast on those weekends I visited, and sent me home with the leftovers. When I got to the point with my IBS that I couldn’t digest beef (or any red meat) very well, she switched to pork roast, and then to chicken.
But I always remember those chuck roasts. During the week, we might eat chicken or tuna patties with fried okra, squash, home fries, poke salat and beans or purple hulls (cow peas)—all of which could be whipped up fairly quickly (we had home-canned beans and peas when we needed something quick)—but on Sunday, we dined.
And oh, was it good.
I loved just about anything my mom or her mom made. Though I don’t eat much fried food anymore, I do yearn for fried okra and home fries like they used to make. And on Christmas Day, instead of the traditional foods (which we had the night before at our other grandma’s house), we always had chili, beans and what my oldest brother called “Nanny’s Good Soup”—usually whatever was in the refrigerator at the time, which usually included some ham or roast, including some of that year’s crop of potatoes, carrots and onions.
Food has a way of taking us back to our roots, and just a scent can remind you of family dinners/suppers from decades ago. It seems Southern food in particular has that power for many readers. Click the links for recipes; not necessarily the exact recipe mentioned, but a reasonable facsimile.
Former and sorely missed colleague Debra Hale-Shelton reported: “Mama always made, and still does, the best salmon patties, made from canned pink salmon, of course. For unknown reasons, my dad started calling the fried gems ‘salmon croquettes’ a few years ago. I like to add raisins to them and, like Mama, serve them with a bowl of pinto or Great Northern beans and buttered hoe cake.”
Debra’s dad Al died earlier this month, and I now have the urge to cook some beans and cornbread with some salmon patties in his honor. He had to be pretty awesome to have raised such great daughters.
My mom did the same thing as Debra’s with salmon and tuna (though she would never think to put raisins in them). The crispiness of the outside was the best part. Friend Laurence Gray said his mom baked her salmon patties.
That’s dang near sacrilege in the South, healthier or not. C’mon … it has to be fried! It doesn’t even need to be a lot of oil!
Laurence also said, “When we visited with my maternal grandmother in Magnolia, she would get out her ice cream maker and we would make vanilla ice cream. … Myself and my sisters would take turns operating the crank.”
That’s just what we did. If we wanted the homemade stuff, we had to crank it because we didn’t have an electric ice cream maker then. It was usually vanilla because that’s what Daddy liked, but Mama and I managed to sneak in the occasional chocolate.
I think I prefer hand-cranked ice cream. And yet I just bought a small (pint and a half) electric ice cream maker that even freezes it without the need for ice …
Susan Richards, who blogs as Pied Type, told me, “I’m with you on the hand-cranked ice cream. Our was always fresh peach. Churned out under the mimosa tree. Mmm! And I haven’t had any fried catfish since I left Oklahoma. (Of course here [Colorado] I much prefer fried trout.) Biscuits! Light, fluffy, made from scratch. Hot and drenched in butter.”
For most of my childhood, we ate bass, along with the occasional crappie or perch and, rarely, catfish. It wasn’t till I went to college in Jonesboro that I had catfish on a regular basis. Though I love it, my heart still belongs to a good piece of bass, which I don’t get to eat nearly enough. My mom’s biscuits I don’t really miss, honestly. They were good, but too flat. Popeyes biscuits are flat too, but there’s something about them that I like (must be all that butter and salt).
Jerry Slaton shared a dinner most Arkies likely remember: “Crumble up two hot water corn bread patties for a base layer. On top of that apply a generous portion well-done pinto beans with extra juice to soak into the corn bread. On top of the pintos, a liberal dose of stewed potatoes, and all that topped off with Mama’s homemade chow chow. Now that is good eating right there.”
We’d also occasionally add in some ham with red-eye gravy and homemade ketchup for the corn bread. Now I wouldn’t dream of it.
Greg Stanford said, “[H]ot water cornbread is the first food that comes to mind. It was a staple at our table but has seemed to disappear from modern menus. I cannot remember the last time I have had it, heard about it or saw it on a plate anywhere! I also have fond memories of popcorn being popped in the long-handled basket over the open fireplace in the living room. There was an art to this method!”
Joe Styles recalled, “Family dinner in the summer; to go with your fried okra: purple hull peas cooked with a little bacon, sliced tomatoes, fried salt pork and cornbread. Yum Yum!”
We usually had a ham bone and a little extra ham to throw in with pintos or peas, and Mama and Nanny would fry some bacon to go along with it. Nanny preferred purple hulls to black-eyed peas.
Like me, Joe said he remembers shelling peas with his mom using a “big bowl and a paper grocery sack for the hulls.” With purple hulls, you’d have that color on your hands for at least a few days. It was sort of a badge of honor that proved you did your part to prepare food from the garden. Shucking corn or peeling potatoes didn’t have that same prestige.
Steve Sorsby said fried chicken and mashed potatoes remind him of home, “Though oddly, for a Southern boy, also duck and sauerkraut. What can I say, my Mama was a Nebraska Yankee, transplanted here before I was born!”
My mom also did the sauerkraut thing, but with sausage or hot dogs. I used to eat the meat and leave the sauerkraut behind.
And what dinner could be complete without dessert, especially in the South? If it’s not pie, cake or ice cream, it might be what Nell Matthews remembered: “Before global sourcing of produce, strawberries were only in the store for a few weeks in late spring/early summer. Mother grew up on a farm in Poteet, Texas, once named the Strawberry Capitol of the world. So when fresh, fully ripe strawberries hit the grocery in May or June (not the hard, pale, tasteless ones bred to ship long distances), I make biscuits, slice strawberries, and whip heavy cream to eat strawberry shortcake for supper.”
Biscuits are far superior to dessert shells for shortcake, especially if they happen to be chocolate. Most everything’s better with chocolate.
And now my stomach’s growling. Thanks, y’all.
Before I go, I’ll share with you one recipe from my family’s files: Ginger Puffs. They’re based on the traditional ginger snap recipe, but we use oil instead of butter or shortening for the fat, which makes them softer and chewier, like those Archway molasses cookies. You can use whatever type of molasses you’d like, depending on how strong you want that flavor to be. (I typically go with a lighter molasses, as blackstrap can be a bit overpowering. Grandma’s is a good brand that’s fairly easy to find.) They’re bite-sized and coated with sugar, and were a favorite of my dad’s.
When I shared the recipe in a food story I wrote back in 2000, my executive editor practically gushed because now he could make the cookie I always gave him for his birthday. Warning: They’re addictive, so you might want to save some for yourself before serving them.
2¼ cups all-purpose flour, divided use
1 cup packed brown sugar
¾ cup cooking oil
¼ cup molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon milk
¼ cup granulated sugar
In a mixing bowl, combine about half the flour with the brown sugar, oil, molasses, egg, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and milk. (If you use the same measuring cup for the oil and molasses, measure the oil first; the molasses will come out of the measuring cup much easier with that coating of oil.)
Beat with an electric mixer on medium to high speed until thoroughly combined. Beat in remaining flour by hand—dough will become too tough for a small hand-held mixer; add more milk if dough becomes too tough. Form dough into a ball and chill for an hour or overnight. (Don’t skip the chilling step unless you want a flatter, drier cookie.)
Shape chilled dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a 375-degree oven 7 to 9 minutes, or until cookies are set and tops are cracked. Cool cookies on a wire rack.
Makes about 4 dozen.