Saturday, July 5, 2008

So many great foodie books and so little time to read them all! Since we're mentioning food mysteries, don't forget Joanna Carl's wonderful chocolate mysteries.

When I decided to put the recipes into my books, I did so not necessarily to preserve some of the old ways of cooking, though that was certainly on my mind. I was really more interested in writing about the old ways of eating.

There is a scene early in my first book in which the family gathers in the afternoon for a meal of beans and cornbread, and as soon as I started writing that, I realized that I’d better make clear to the reader that there’s more to eating beans and cornbread than meets the eye. Some diners crumble their cornbread into the beans, some open a square of cornbread on the bottom of the bowl and spoon beans over it. Some folks slather their bread with butter to eat alongside the beans. Oh, there are more ways to eat that particular combination of foods than I have time to go into here. And it’s not just beans and cornbread. Meals are a very personal thing, and we all have our pecadillos.

When we were children, one of my sisters and I made a ritual of saving the very best thing on our plates for the last bite. I can’t speak for my sister, but I have a 0tendancy to do this still. Unfortunately, our grandmother took great delight in reaching over before the meal was over and eating our carefully saved last bite right out from under us, much to our whining disgruntlement.

I received an e-mail from a reader who told me that his mother put sugar in everything, and so did my other grandmother. When she made fruit pies, she added so much sugar that the fruit dissolved, so her apple pies were actually applesauce pies. She did this because my grandfather liked things sweet. When he drank iced tea, you could see two finger-widths of undissolved sugar at the bottom of the glass.

He also liked fat. With my own eyes I’ve seen him put butter on his chocolate cake. The sad thing was that my grandfather was nearly 6 feet tall and never weighed over 150 pounds in his life. You could be like that, too, Dear Reader, if you plowed behind a mule for a living. Grandpa came by his love of fat honestly, though. His father buttered radishes and onions before he ate them. My own father had a thing for fat, too - loved an inch of fat on his pork chops. My mother and her mother, on the other hand, wanted their meat lean, dry and burnt. I understand my mother-in-law liked her meat well done, too. My mother speculated that anyone who’s ever had to kill and clean a chicken or a hog wants to make sure it resembles flesh, blood and bone as little as possible. Of course, if you killed and preserved your own meat, eating it well done is a very good idea, bacteria-and-parasite-killingwise.

I love hearing about other people’s family food lore, Dear Readers. It’s not just food, it’s tradition. (By the way, in Alafair’s time, "dinner" was the main meal of the day, usually eaten in the early afternoon, and "supper" was just a light repast at the end of the day.)

Cornbread Recipe 1 (From The Old Buzzard Had it Coming)
Cornbread is a beautiful thing. Please note that cornbread is bread. It is not cake. Sweet cornbread is very tasty, but is is not true cornbread.

1 ½ cups yellow cornmeal 1 cup milk
½ cup flour 1 egg
3 tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. salt
Vigorously beat (by hand) all ingredients together in a bowl until smooth. Pour into a greased 8"x8"x2" baking pan. Bake in a hot oven (425 degrees) for 20-25 minutes, until top begins to crack and toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.


Marian Allen said...

Donis, I agree with you on all counts--there are SO many ways to eat beans and cornbread! My husband and I are a perfect match: He likes the soup best and I like mostly beans. I like the chunks of ham used to flavor it and he just likes the flavor.

I eat sweet cornbread like cake with butter for icing. My husband likes sweet cornbread with milk for dessert or breakfast. But for beans, only the savory kind will do! In fact, Charlie's favorite kind is corncakes, fried in a skillet like pancakes.

zhadi said...

Oh, Donis, how I love cornbread... I've never had it with beans, though. Our family always slathered it with honey butter.

At our house, your food swiping grandmother would have been in danger of having her hand stabbed with a fork.

Lisa Hall said...

My mom put a spin on tradition by adding a jar taco sauce to her soup beans while they were cooking. The taco sauce, plus a little ham, bacon or fatback makes them taste so good. Be sure to cook 'em nice and slow.

BTW-They freeze really well.