It is wonderful to have friends who share the harvest from their summer gardens. So far, I have received green beans, cabbage, okra, tomatoes, peppers, squash, peas and corn.
Growing up in a Southern home where such produce was readily available, my mother could make a great meal of just vegetables. Her meals would never be classified as gourmet, exotic or elegant, but they were good. Sometimes the simplest foods can be the most appealing to the palate.
I still prepare some of the vegetables the way my mother did. Southerners are often criticized about the way we cook green beans. But as you can see from the following recipe, I still like them cooked longer and seasoned with salt pork. From time to time, Mother would put some new potatoes from the garden on top of her green beans as they cooked.
Fried okra is one of my favorite Southern side dishes, but I don’t like my okra soft. I remember one Sunday as we were waiting for Sunday school class to begin, a friend, the late Tommy Bishop, and I were talking about fresh okra and how we liked it cooked. He gave the best description, calling it “okra that rattles.”
Each small piece of this special okra is well coated with a cornmeal mixture and fried until golden brown and very crispy. Cooked this way, the okra will stay crisp for several hours.
It is amazing how many Southern favorites are fried. My mother even called her cream-style corn “fried,” perhaps because she started with salt pork drippings and a little water, cooking the corn until thick and creamy. Call it whatever you like — cream style or fried. It’s all the same.
OLD-FASHIONED SOUTHERN GREEN BEANS
1 ½-2 pounds green beans, snapped
1 quart water
¼ pound salt pork
2 tablespoons oil
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Combine beans, water and salt pork in a large saucepan. If the salt pork is not sliced, cut several slits in the chunk, cutting almost all the way through to the tough skin. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium. Cook until beans are tender and most of the water has cooked out. This will probably take about an hour. Add oil and mix. Taste and add black pepper and salt, if needed — extra salt is not usually needed when using salt pork.
5 or 6 slices salt pork
3 cups fresh corn, cut from cob (scrape cob)
1 cup water
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
Salt to taste, if needed
In a large skillet, fry salt pork slices until crisp. Remove from skillet and measure drippings — you need about ¼ cup of drippings in skillet. Add corn, water and sugar, adding more water as needed. The amount of water needed will depend on how much starchy liquid you get from the cob. Cook over medium heat until corn is tender and thickened. Taste and add salt, if needed.
1 quart sliced okra (no more than ¼-inch thick)
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 cup corn meal mix
¼ cup self-rising flour
Heat oil about ½-inch deep in skillet — I like to use my electric skillet for this. Salt and black pepper the okra, to taste. Combine corn meal mix and flour. Mix well. Put okra pieces in cornmeal mixture and coat each piece well. As you add okra to the hot oil, shake off any excess coating — I use my hands and let the excess cornmeal mixture sift through my fingers. Carefully add to oil and fry until crispy and golden brown. Remove and allow to drain well on paper towels.
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