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

lisforlard

When I was a girl growing up, everybody used lard for cooking.  Crisco, which is a  vegetable oil shortening, was around, but nothing beat good old rendered pig fat for flaky piecrusts and crispy fried chicken.

Lard’s been around as a culinary stable since the Middle Ages, but its use began to decline after got a particularly bad rap in the 90s when McDonald’s abandoned frying their shoestrings in beef tallow for what was, at that point, considered the healthy alternative, vegetable oil.

In fact, vegetable oils are now considered the villain since they can contain trans-fatty acids, which increase total cholesterol, raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol.  Vegetable oils may also have adverse effects on cell membranes and the immune system, and may promote inflammation, cancer and accelerated aging.

So the lard is getting its second wind – it’s now the go-to grease for farm-to-table culinary kings looking for a some fat to fry.  Lard’s a saturated fat, which is more heart healthy, it’s neutral flavored, sustainable, inexpensive, chock-full of vitamin D, has a high smoking point so it’s good for frying, it’s traditional and –

it makes for some awesome biscuits.

And that is a gig fit for a pig.

 I’m convinced that the redemption of lard is finally at hand because we live in a world where trendiness is next to godliness. And lard hits all the right notes, especially if you euphemize it as rendered pork fat—bacon butter. – 

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

handpie

OMG, I have to stop writing about food for this challenge.  I’m perpetually hungry and can think of nothing but making and eating all the food that I’m writing about.

Today, we look at the humble handpie, or fried pie, another traditional Southern consumable.

In theory, the handpie can be savory (and is in many cuisines, such as the divine empanadas of Hispanic culinary culture) but in the Southern United States, it’s traditionally sweet.

A single portion: rolled out biscuit dough, an aromatic filling of spices and fresh fruits (plums, peaches, apples), a quick crimp ’round the corners and a fast fry in hot oil – drain and dust with powdered sugar or a cinnamon sugar blend – maybe a drizzle of icing glaze.

A hot, palate-intensive flash of concentrated fruit flavor surrounded by sweet, melt-y, crunchy, flakey, amazing – give me one, NOW.

::sigh::

handpie

I, for one, am ready for a handout.

“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.”
David Mamet, Boston Marriage

 

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: D is for Dumplings #AtoZChallenge

dumplings

D is for Dumplings

[chikuh n en duhmp-linz’]

Do you have one of those foods that evokes memories as it melts in your mouth?

I don’t know, some edible that for some crazy reason manages to conspire with your taste buds to open windows into your past, to where you’d swear that for that moment, just one brief second in time, you were somewhere else entirely?

For me, it’s chicken and dumplings.

Dumplings made by my beloved Granny, who’s been gone now for almost 20 years.

dumplins2

I can just look at that photo of chicken and dumplings posted above and be transported through all those years to my Granny’s kitchen table.

The room in my mind is all cozy and warm on a rainy day, the curtains and tablecloth bright splashes of orange and yellow against the grey skies framed in her bay window.

A simple white plate in front of me – steam and the heady aroma of stewed chicken and herbs rising through the air.

The first bite: white meat bird cooked so tender it shreds against your fork as you lift it to your mouth.  Mealy dumplings bland and chewy amidst the peppery sting of the gravy, hot against my teeth and tongue, every component working together to create a flavor overall greater than its individual parts.

Bliss.

In the moving picture that plays in my head, I pause for a second to feel my happiness. My contentment.  I smile, there in my past and here in my present, basking in my Granny’s love for me, the surest thing I know – both then and now.

She bustles up, breaking the reverie as she fills everyone’s glass of sweet iced tea.

“Kimberly Lynne!  You’re not eating!”

There’s a worried look on her beautiful face.

“You must not like it.  I’m gonna make you something else.  Just give me a moment.”

“No, no, Granny!  Stop! It’s perfect!”  I say.

And for this moment, everything is.

 

How to announce the return of comfort and well-being except by cooking something fragrant. That is what her mother always did. After every calamity of any significance she would fill the atmosphere of the house with the smell of cinnamon rolls or brownies, or with chicken and dumplings, and it would mean, This house has a soul that loves us all, no matter what. – Marilyn Robinson

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