Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile of so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River. It was a redneck sort of place, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.
Yes, I know that this is sort of an odd title, but it occurs to me that I wrote about what she grew and how we preserved it, but not about how we ate it.
Perhaps this shall clear it up a bit. We ate lots of fresh things from the garden, and for the most part, except for the turnips and the green beans, they were pretty good. Notice that I never grow any of those in my garden, because just to grow things for historical reasons does not feed me.
Now we shall examine, in no particular order, how we ate what Ma grew. I shall even include the green beans and turnips!
The early crops, like radishes and lettuce, were mostly eaten in salads. However, now and then, when there was a LOT of leaf lettuce, Ma would gather and wash it, and in the meantime heat an iron skillet HOT! Then she would put in a big spoonful of bacon grease in it, and some salt. Then she would fill that skillet with leaf lettuce and stir fry it until it was wilted. Then, working quickly, she would heap the wilted lettuce on plates and add hot pepper sauce. With a piece of cornbread, this was a wonderful meal! The radishes never got that treatment.
As for the turnips, Ma and some of the rest of my family liked them boiled. I can not think of much worse, but they seemed to like them. The smell to me was is still is revolting, and the texture of them is even worse than that of mashed potatoes. Now, when Ma would cook turnip greens, I liked them OK, and still eat them from time to time. Not my favorite, but OK.
The green onions were always great with other foods, like pinto beans with cornbread. They were also good with chili. They were also good in salads.
The tomatoes were good with lots of things, and also by themselves. The fresh ones got peeled (Ma did not realize that lots of nutrients were in the peels) and sliced to go on the plate, with just some salt and bread for them as a side for almost all meals when they were in season. Oh, with a little hamburger and macaroni, they would be a meal as well.
The canned ones mostly went into stew, chili, and other compound things. But sometimes Ma and my parents would use them for a bizarre dish that I never liked, and still do not. They would take what they called "light bread" and toast it, then put shreds of it into a simmering vessel of canned tomatoes. I guess that it was Depression food. I never liked it. We never ate fried green tomatoes, since we had okra, explained in a little while.
They fixed (that is an old southern term) the green beans only one way, except for sometimes using some in stew. After opening a quart, or even for the fresh ones, they would go into a large vessel and some water added so they would not stick. Then either some chopped salt pork or bacon was added (unless ham scraps were handy), and the whole thing cooked until the meat was done. They the beans were served as the entree with cornbread or "light bread", or biscuits as the side. I still do not like green beans.
One the other hand, I LOVE fried okra. Take some little finger sized pods, slice them thinly, immerse them in seasoned corn meal, and fry them in a mixture of vegetable oil and some bacon grease for seasoning, and there is a meal! Aunt Edna liked boiled okra, and she was the only one who did. It looks like a bowlful of green slugs to me. Ma would put a pod or two in a pot of pinto or great northern beans to thicken the juice a little, just like gumbo.
The purple hull peas are quite different. They are still one of my favorites, and they are easy to cook. The fresh ones are the best. Just put how ever many you want into scant boiling water, seasoned with some salt and pepper, and a little bacon grease. Ten minutes is enough for most, but I like mine "cooked to death", so 30 minutes at the low simmer makes them good for me. For the ones that Ma canned, these were usually heated with some bacon grease (or ham scraps when available) and served as a side.
The fresh strawberries were most often just gobbled until we got full. The ones that I described last week being frozen were most often thawed and spooned over fresh pastry crust (they were already sweet enough since sugar was added when freezing them) and fresh cream from our cow added into the bowl. Now, THAT is a strawberry shortcake, much better than those little yellow spongy cakes that you find in the store with the fresh berries.
The frozen peaches were eaten the same way often, but lots of times Ma would make a peach cobbler, which is just a deep dish two crust peach pie. Ma always used Crisco for her pie crusts, and it does make a nice crust, but of course at the time was loaded with trans fatty acids, but it is much easier to work with than lard. I still use real lard for pastry. For peach cobbler, Ma would add some spices to the filling (I do not recall her spice blend), a little more sugar, and a dash of salt. She would also add some quick cooking tapioca to thicken the filling. Served with fresh cream, or even better, fresh homemade ice cream, peach cobbler is food for the gods.
The dried apples were usually either eaten as is (still one of my favorites) or more often stewed until tender with some cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar and used as filling for fried pies. Those little gems were made out of Ma's homemade pastry crust, rolled into about six inch circles. She would then put the apple filling on one side of the pastry, leaving about an inch margin from the edge of the circle. Then she would fold the other half of the circle over itself and use a fork to crimp the crust to seal it. Then they went into a skillet with about 3/4 inch of Crisco in it and fried until golden on one side, turned, and finished until golden on the other. Then she would drain them on paper towels, and finish by sprinkling sugar on the "top" side while they were still warm. Mmmmmm! They are good with either hot coffee or ice cold milk.
Sometimes Ma would buy dried apricots and use them the same way, and they make a wonderful fried pie, too. But the apple ones are nearer to my heart because of helping Ma dry the apples in the first place.
As for the frozen corn on the cob, most of it was eaten after being boiled in water to which a little sugar had been added, to reduce leaching of the sugar from the corn. After adding some butter and salt, it was wonderful. Every now and then Ma would thaw a few ears and cut the kernels from them with a sharp knife, then go back and scrape the ears to get the "milk" from them. She would mix those with some flour, corn meal, and baking powder with milk to make a rather thin batter, like that for pancakes but maybe a bit thicker. She would griddle these on a hot griddle with just a light coating of Crisco and serve them either as bread with a meal, or as a side. Sometimes we would even eat them like pancakes, with butter and syrup.
Well, that pretty much does it for how we ate the preserved produce from Ma's garden. Of course, we had other things from the store, and my father would always fatten up a beef so we had plenty of that, and the produce from the garden were the sides. I think that I mentioned that Ma always kept chickens, so we had plenty of very fresh eggs, and as the hens got too old to lay profitably, they went into the stewpot, either for chicken and dumplings or chicken pot pie. It was all good eating!
Please let us know some of your early recollections. They do not have to be about gardening or even food, just things that you remember from early childhood.
Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith
Crossposted at The Stars Hollow Gazette,