The thing that made her meals so special was not gourmet dishes. In fact, what we had to eat was rather down to earth, more like a Blue Plate Special.
She made great fried chicken with no special seasoning. A quick sprinkling of salt and black pepper, a dip into buttermilk and then a coating of self-rising flour. Then each piece of chicken was carefully placed into hot lard in an iron skillet.
That’s right … lard.
I know we hear of the dangers of pork fat such as lard, but it didn’t seem to hurt my parents. My dad lived to be 85 and my mother lived to be one day short of 92.
No question about it: Lard definitely makes the best biscuits and also great pastry for fried pies and cobblers. I remember making lard biscuits in one of my classes, and one gentlemen said he would just like to eat the biscuits and everybody else could enjoy the other foods.
Another dish that I remember as being simple but special was my mother’s “fried” corn, which we now refer to as “creamed” corn. She also made good green beans, seasoning them with salt pork sometimes called “side meat” or “fat back.”
Of course, there were a few dishes that I really didn’t like. One was her fried okra. Hers sort of clumped together, and I like my okra to rattle. In order to make it that way, I make sure that each little piece is kept separate in the frying pan and cooked until crisp.
I wouldn’t advise eating like this all the time, but every once in a while, I get hungry for food like my mother made.
Mother seldom used recipes, but I have tried to search through my taste memories and have come close to getting the following recipes to taste like those old time favorites.
Old-Fashioned Southern Green Beans
1 ½ to 2 pounds green beans, snapped
1 quart water
¼ pound salt pork (side meat)
2 tablespoons oil
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Combine green beans, water and salt pork in a large iron pot (if you have one). Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook until beans are tender and most of the water has cooked out. This will probably take about an hour (I can just hear most food professionals gasping about this amount of cooking time but that’s the way we Southerners like our beans!). Add oil and mix. Taste and add black pepper and salt, if needed. Some salt pork is saltier than others. If the salt pork is not sliced, cut several slits in the chunk of salt pork, cutting almost all the way through.
5 or 6 slices salt pork
3 cups fresh corn, cut from cob (scrape cob)
1 to 2 cups water
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
Salt to taste, if needed
In a large iron skillet, fry the salt pork slices until crisp. Remove from skillet and measure drippings. You will need about ¼ cup of drippings in the skillet. Add corn, 1 cup water and sugar. Add remaining water as needed. Cook over medium heat until corn is tender and thickened. Taste and add salt, if needed. The amount of water needed will depend on how much starchy liquid you get from the corn. Also, some salt pork is quite salty, so tasting is essential to determine whether or not salt should be added before serving.