A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to Sips and Vittles of the Modern South: G is for Gravy #AtoZChallenge

gisforgravy.jpg

My Granny made some great gravy.

And when I say gravy, I’m not in particular talking about turkey gravy, or roast beef gravy, although she made both of those very well, as she did everything she cooked.  But her white gravy was beyond perfection.

White gravy is a staple of Southern cuisine.  It’s also called  “milk” or “sawmill” gravy.

White gravy is what you spoon over biscuits, ladle over country-fried steak and mashed potatoes or dollop on fried chicken.  It’s based on pan or bacon drippings, along with a little white flour, cold milk, some butter, salt and a strong dash of black pepper.

Perfection.  Please pass the biscuits.

Some people doll it up with crumbled sausage or bacon or even roasted garlic, but to me that’s just gilding the {White} Lily, since anything more is simply…

gravy.

I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage. – Erma Bombeck

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to Sips and Vittles of the Modern South: F is for Fried Food #AtoZChallenge

f is for fried

Fried Food

[hahrt uhtak onnuh pleyt]

Fried food is pretty much a staple of Southern Cuisine.

Fried chicken, of course – that’s iconic. Fried green tomatoes (with crab meat and remoulade or just plain, dusted with cornmeal).  Fried okra (my favorite.) Fried pies (or hand pies – we’ll talk about those a different day.)  Fried shrimp and fried crab claws, fresh off the boat and crispy hot.  Fried squash (which really isn’t fried – just cooked in a skillet) and country-fried steak.  Hush puppies and griddle cakes.  Fried pickles with Ranch Dressing (noms.) Bacon (seriously, you can’t microwave it. You have to fry it to get the drippins for gravy.)

OMG, now I’m starving.

Fried foods are wonderful.  Yeah, whatevs, not good for you, but wonderful.  I’m a big proponent of enjoying them – albeit in limited quantities.

Some things, however, just shouldn’t be fried – although you’d be hard pressed to tell that to a Southern man (my Daddy in particular.)  It honestly just adds insult to injury:  Fried snicker bars?  Fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches?  Fried koolaid?

That’s the culinary equivalent of Bubba’s last words.  “Hey y’all, watch ‘is!”

“You can say a lot of bad things about Alabama, but you can’t say that Alabamans as a people are duly afraid of deep fryers.” 
― John Green, Looking for Alaska 

A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to Sips and Vittles of the Modern South: B is for BBQ #AtoZChallenge

healthy living-1

B

B is for BBQ

[bahr-bi-kyoo]

BBQ. Three tiny little letters that represent enormously fierce fightin’ words south of the M/D line.

BBQ, barbecue (barbeque if you’re prissy, a chef or a Yankee) or ‘cue (if you’re likely to be wearing a trucker hat at this moment), is more than grilled meat.  It’s a war between states, religions and generations over what it is exactly, who makes it best and how to get baked bean stains out of a white shirt.

It’s regional divides harking back to the Civil War over sauce (Memphis, North Carolina, North Alabama White. Tomato-based.  Mustard-based.  Vinegar-based. My apologies to you lovely people in the Heartlands, but Kansas City does not have a dog in this hunt), cooking times, ways to cook (dare I even utter, “Big Green Egg, sotto voce?”), coals (hickory, applewood, oak, mesquite) plus the whole whiny dichotomy of noun verses verb.

flames

BBQ can be a simple pork sandwich slopped with Daddy’s sauce.  And again, I say simple: entire families have split asunder over over this gastronomical delicacy.  What kinda meat? Is it pork?  If so, chops, loin, babybacks, butt or the whole hawg? “Inside” meat, moist and juicy or “outside” meat, slightly charred?  Is it beef brisket (Texas style, the way my Mom makes it) or even chicken, smothered in “red” or “white”?

What’s it on?  A hamburger bun, thick-sliced and lightly toasted homemade bread, a Kaiser roll, a split chunk of cornbread or just a piece of Wonderbread straight off the loaf, served on the side to soak up the juice?

sandwich with sauce

Sauce.  Yeah, I mentioned it before in passing but let’s not even touch on what style of sauce.  That’s just a bit too personal, like your walk with the Lord or whether or not you got drawers on under them jeans. I mean how is your meat sauced?  Is it slathered on top?  Marinaded or dry rubbed?  All smoked and chopped and stirred up first in a pot with some extra spicy before loadin’ on the bread?

Pickles?  Go ahead, put ’em on, but be prepared for folks to start mutterin’ about the “slippery slope.”

Coleslaw?  That’s different.  Sure, you can serve it on the side, with the baked beans, corn on the cob and Brunswick stew, but you can also pile it high on top of the sandwich, right under the bun.  It’s so good that way!  And if you do a slaw stack (and your granny’s not flipping in her grave), is it Mayo-based (Duke’s of course, there is no other) or a vinegar-based cabbage salad?

My heavens, as a good Southerner, are you even allowed to eat those divinely yummy (but slightly heretical) pork BBQ Sundays? That’s “nouvelle” cuisine at its most controversial.

sundae

But BBQ doesn’t stop there, oh no, no, no.  We’re just scratchin’ that pig on its ears.

BBQ also means to grill: pork, beef, chicken, shrimp, sticks of veggies, Spanish mackerel…umm tuna steak? Never tofu.  Really.  Otherwise, if you can skewer it up or keep it from slippin’ through the grates, you can set a fire about it.

And a BBQ, “the BBQ” is also the instrument of the flames. The pit. The grill.  The Webber.

“Burton McNeely Hallsworth the third, you and your daddy fire up that there barbecue – we’ve got folks comin’ over and we need to smoke up a mess o’ ribs.”

The mechanism that delivers the meaty manna can range from a $9.99 K-mart Hibachi to a re-purposed oil drum.  Some are built-in brick fire pits that take up half the back yard.  Some of them are so huge you can tow ’em behind the truck on a trailer.

grill

Honestly, in the Deep South, gas grills are considered by many to be a little “sissy,” but that doesn’t stop good ol’ boys (and gals) from investing tens of thousands of dollars in some chrome monstrosity with multiple levels, warming drawers and a steam tray.  Personally, I always feel those fellas are overcompensatin’ a mite but I’ll leave it at that.  In my family, they use a charcoal grill complete with an aluminum chimney to nurse the coals to the proper color and ash before spreading them with a practiced flourish to the exact micro-density required to perfectly cook the protein du jour.

But before I forget, there’s another BBQ entirely.

shrimp

Creole BBQ.  It’s got nothing to do with grills or tomato-based sauces.  Creole BBQ is a heady blend of salt, black pepper and spices (rosemary, thyme, paprika) pan sauteed with fresh shrimp still with the heads, tails and shells, at least a pound of sweet butter, diced green chilies, minced garlic, a squeeze of lemon and a hearty dash of Tabasco, served in a bowl with a hunk of French bread for soppin.’

Despite the galaxy’s vast reaches of technology and ideology imbuing this culinary zeitgiest, in my mind  (arguably) the best inventions to come along in the entire history of barbecue?

wetwipetums

I try to avoid barbecue potato chips. They’re my weakness.

 – Gwyneth Paltrow

A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Food and Family

Since we are rolling into Thanksgiving with all the wonderful and sometimes bittersweet memories that holidays pack with them in their luggage, for this week’s Moonshine Challenge at yeah write thought I would re-post something I wrote for last April’ s A-Z Challenge, A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South.    This post was letter “F.” 

I do hope you enjoy, and that it brings back good remembrances for you, too, of meaningful meals with your family and friends and all of the love that was the primary ingredient.

I still crave my grandmother’s cooking, although she’s been gone now for more than 15 years.

My Granny

My Granny

She wasn’t a “chef,” or a fancy cook, but she prepared delicious, abundant meals and she poured her love for her family into every casserole and every slice of cornbread. I think because she and my granddaddy had lived through the Depression, when times were so hard and food was scarce, it was important for her afterwards to make a feast of every family meal.

Sunday dinner at my Granny’s was a momentous occasion. (And Sunday dinner means lunch, by the way. In the old South, “supper” is the evening meal.)

She started cooking for Sunday on Saturday morning.

She always had two or three meats (ham, a beef roast, fried chicken, fried catfish or country-fried steak with white gravy) along with one or two types of potatoes (mashed with gravy/sweet potato casserole/potato salad), a vegetable medley casserole, macaroni and cheese, black-eyed peas, fried summer squash, fried sweet corn, green beans, slow cooked turnip greens with fatback, fresh sliced tomatoes in the Summer and fried green tomatoes in the Spring, and my all-time favorite, cornmeal–battered okra (the super crispy, slightly burned pieces are the best).

Hushpuppies, fresh-baked cornbread, yeast rolls and biscuits to sop up the gravy, or to slather with butter and her homemade plum jelly. Coconut cake, banana pudding, pecan pie, strawberry shortcake and peach cobbler would satisfy your sweet tooth (should you have any energy left to open your mouth.)

I have dined at some of the finest restaurants in this country. I’d trade every one of those meals for one more chance to sit at her table.

Of course, she never sat at her own table. She bustled throughout the entire meal, filling up glasses with iced tea and water, fetching a fresh batch of biscuits from the oven, replenishing the chow-chow. After everyone else had stuffed themselves senseless, and the table was cleared, she might stop a moment for a small plate for herself.

She was always urging you to eat more. “But your plate is empty!” she’d wail.

Biscuits, butter and jelly

Biscuits, butter and jelly

Bulging eyes, tightening belts, groaning tummies and protests of being “full as a tick” had no impact: She’d just sniff and mourn that “you must not have liked it.”

Jewish grandmas got nothing on Southern grannies for food and guilt.

There are days when I yearn for for the food of my childhood.

Her food.

I’ll pick up squash and fresh tomatoes from the farmer’s market. I even bake biscuits. I have the technology, recipes and equations that should make them taste the same, but they never do.

Southern food is au courant. Farm-to-table is all the rage. You can spend a fortune on something called “soul food” in trendy restaurants in New York, Chicago and L.A.

The true soul of Southern food isn’t just grits and greens, though; it’s the passion that goes into making them.

It’s the time and care in the cooking, the bond of the family at table; the joy of generations sharing stories and sustenance, passing down the memories along with the recipes.

It’s my Granny, piling up my plate not just with food, but with her love.

“We believed in our grandmother’s cooking more fervently than we believed in God.” ― Jonathan Safran Foer

F