I was born in Augusta Georgia and I started cooking [real cooking, not just tuna salad and jello] when I was about 10, so I’ve been cooking now for over 40 years. I’ve lived in either Georgia or Tennessee my entire life, and I come from a long line of strong Southern women who were good cooks. So I know about southern cooking.
Mamaw Hasty, my mother’s mother, was a FANTASTIC cook. I always say when I get to heaven my first meal will be Mamaw’s fried chicken and homemade biscuits and gravy. My daddy loved her green beans above any other food in the world, and she always made them for him, because he had a fit over them. I’ve never tasted green beans that good since she died.
Over at the Bitter Southerner they got a professional food writer to come up with what they call The Seven Essential Southern Dishes. This is troubling for a couple of reasons. One, they left off fried chicken. I’m sure it was deliberate – what better marketing than to get folks riled up. Second, they left off barbeque. That’s just flat out wrong.
Then again, to be fair, barbeque deserves its own article, because it IS in a class by itself.
I told my mother [at 81 years old a true old southern lady] about my issues with the BS article and she talked me through how Mamaw made green beans, and other issues I had with the article.
My Mamaw cooked GREEN BEANS until they fell apart. She stringed them first – you always pinch off the ends and pull the strings off, and rinse them under cold water. Put them in a pot and cover with water and put in a hunk of fatback the size of your fist, plus a teaspoon of salt. (She always rinsed off her fatback under cold water, and didn’t use that curing salt that came on the meat.) Bring them to a boil, then cut them back to a low simmer, with the lid on, and cook 1-3 hours. She always kind of went by when the fatback got done. She never called it fatback – she called it streak of lean. If you can’t find fatback, just use a couple of pieces of raw bacon.
Of course, when you refrigerate the beans then later pull them out, you skim off the fat, at least we do. My grandfather or my dad always ate the fatback.
Mamaw attended Bessie Tift College and majored in Home Economics, and she never put sugar in any vegetable. [Mother and I boil corn on the cob in a big pot with some sugar in the water, though. Makes the corn sweeter.]
Crisco was considered superior to other fats and used for biscuits and cakes. Bacon grease was poured into jars or cans and saved to cook with. Mother remembers that from World War II the fat [lard] was rationed and hard to buy. She never remembered corn oil or canola oil – liquid fats like that were hard to find, and expensive. Mamaw always used hog fat or butter. If you lived in the city you had to use your ration tickets for butter. Mother was glad that during the war they lived on a farm, because they always ate well.
Anyway, I digressed. Back to the Bitter Southerner article..
In an attempt to correct some of the issues I see with their list of foods and recipes, I’ve included here two tried and true recipes and tips.
CORNBREAD [also good for hoecakes, and corn muffins]
* we use Lewis Grizzard's mama's recipe:
1 1/2 cups White Lily self-rising cornmeal [don’t use anything but White Lily; you don’t have to use baking powder, baking soda, or flour, if you use White Lily]
1 cup buttermilk [you can use sweet milk or even canned milk but it won’t be as good]
2 heaping spoonfulls of Duke's mayonnaise
Mix it all together. Pour it in a cast iron skillet* that has been greased with Crisco or bacon drippings. Mamaw would put the grease in the iron skillet and put it in the oven and let it get real hot, then pour in the batter and put it back in the oven. That makes a nice brown crust on the outside of the cornbread. Cook it about 375 for 20-30 minutes. You can tell if the edges turn brown – light brown.
Pound cake is quintessentially southern. I wrote an entire blog about it. Pound cake stars in my childhood memories – smelling a pound cake cooking is bliss.
1 stick butter [real butter, not margarine]
1 cup Crisco
3 cups sugar
Cream the butter/Crisco/sugar a long time. Really let the mixer cream it until it's like buttah, y'all.
Add in 5 large eggs, one at a time, just beating them in carefully, but not overbeating.
Set out 3 cups of cake flour in one bowl on the counter, and a 1 cup of sour cream. In the sour cream, mix in 1/4 tsp. baking soda. Alternate mixing in the sour cream and the flour, beating well after each addition but not overbeating, until everything is incorporated.
Add in 1 teaspoon vanilla, and one teaspoon almond flavoring.
Bake at 350 about 90 minutes. Check it after 80 minutes, if you don't know if your oven runs hot or cool. No oven is perfect.
SOME COMMON MISTAKES:
Use real butter and real sour cream. Don't try to go low fat. Use real vanilla extract and real almond extract. The fake, or "imitation" kinds are not as good. Be sure and grease and flour your pan well. I use a bundt pan that's nearly as old as me, and just give it a spray of Baker's Secret.
A good pound cake will actually be better the second day, as long as you keep it in a good cake carrier.
* A good cast iron skillet is a treasure. We have several that have been passed down in our family for decades. Apparently the South isn't the only region to recognize the value of cast iron. Check out this article from Bon Appetit magazine: How to Use a Cast Iron Skillet.
Above [in color] me and my brother with Mamaw and Papaw, about 1964; one of Mamaw's handwritten pages of recipes; Mamaw and my uncle Bobby around 1924.