Monday, July 6, 2009

Soupbeans and Cornbread

Having spent the better part of the past thirty years in New England
may have faded my southern drawl a bit, but not my appetite for Southern cooking.
I grew up in a family of ten children, and my Mama had to be thrifty when it came to feeding all of us. We didn't always have meat on the table, but we always had plenty of beans and black eyed peas.

We ate a lot of pinto beans at our house.
Big cast-iron pots of beans that were soaked and simmered for hours with huge chunks of salt-pork that everybody called "fatback".

She'd ladle these up with huge wedges of golden, buttery cornbread, and garnish them with plenty of chopped sweet onions and bowls of her pickled beets that she and my aunt put up and canned themselves. There were usually some collard greens simmered in a delicious vinegary/salt-pork potlikker as well, or string beans with new potatoes that she raised in her own vegetable garden.

We'd wash this down with tall jelly glasses filled with sweet iced tea that was brewed so dark you couldn't hardly see through it. Mama wouldn't drink tea with us though. She loved chicory-laced coffee,(a brand called
Luzianne) and that is what she drank all day long.
We just called this simple meal "Soupbeans"

Sometimes, usually on a Sunday, there would be a plate of crispy fried chicken and a dessert of old-fashioned banana pudding, thick with high golden peaks of real meringue, or best of all, my Mama's own decadent chocolate fudge cake, rich with frosting that she perfected herself, and I've never come even close to duplicating.

Lord knows, I've tried.
Finding the pinto beans and black eyed peas was easy.
It took me almost five years to get the meat department at my grocery store to carry ham hocks-seriously, I had to tell them what they were.
I gave up trying to get good salt-pork.

I gave up on collard greens too-they are just impossible to find up here-I've learned to make do with whatever dark, leafy greens I can find in the produce aisle.
Stop and Shop does carry Vidalia onions when they can get them, and occasionally I'll find some juicy, Ugly tomatoes-I scoop those when they are available.

I love to drink fresh churned, ice-cold buttermilk.
When I was growing up, there was a lady down the road from us who used to make it and she'd sell it for seventy-five cents a gallon, (but Mama always gave her a dollar because the lady had half a dozen kids herself to feed.)She had a little hand-painted sign on her door, advertising it for sale.

I refuse to drink store-bought buttermilk-it does not even come close in taste or appearance.
I'll use it in recipes but that is about all it is good for.
There are some things you do have to go home for.

I've tried over the years to instill in my children a taste for Southern cuisine that is after all, a part of their heritage, but I'm afraid it hasn't worked out too well.
Whenever I got the urge to cook 'Ala Dixie', they would usually run to their father when he came home, announcing "Daddy, she's cooked that Georgia food again, we're hungry-can we get pizza?"
Sigh...damn little Yankee heathens.


Caitlin said...

I can definitely relate to not being able to find things that you consider staples (because they are where you live) & the rest of the world doesn't.

For me there are two issues - first, that I grew up in the South, but live outside of it; second, that I spent 10 years in New Mexico, but live outside of there, too.

I've managed to find collard greens & salt pork everywhere I've lived so far, but okra is a no go. I grit my teeth every time I make gumbo & have to buy the freakin' frozen okra. Can't find grits where I live in the grocery store, although I have found it at some diners.

Then there is the green chile problem which you acquire after living in New Mexico. It is a truly necessary part of life & if I don't want to eat canned (which isn't as good) then I have to buy it online frozen & shipped at an exorbitant price. Sigh.

My son, however, eats all of this stuff & loves it. My husband, who grew up in Hawaii & Seattle, also loves all of it. We call hush puppies "fried balls of cornmeal goodness." Gotta love that.

Dixie said...

Ah yes Okra-I haven't seen any in years.
Now I did find a little restaurant up here that makes excellent hushpuppies with little pieces of crab in them- of course they call them "crab cakes"(but I know a hushpuppie when I see one)these I've grown fond of especially since they go so well with the "Chowda" as the locals call it.:-)

The Peach Tart said...

Oh Dixie I do feel so bad for you. You had my mouth watering describing the peas and beans and cornbread. Sometimes I like to fix a little fancier food but when I need some comfort, I always turn to my southern favorites.

Dixie said...

Exactly Peach,when someone mentions "comfort food" it's what I think of.:-)

Nicola O. said...

I can't say that I'm a big fan of traditional Southern cooking, but I want to compliment you on this post-- it's so evocative I can practically taste the food.