This week’s Spin Cycle topic is Arts and Crafts. Since I got married at age 17, and lived “out in the country” for 24 years, raising three boys, trying to keep a house clean, pay bills, nag my extremely lazy southern husband into occasionally “cutting the grass” or changing the oil in the car and all the while, working different part time jobs or sewing to earn some money – I didn’t have much time to devote to arts and crafts.
What I did learn how to do was grow a garden, can beans, tomatoes, potatoes and make pickles.
I also learned how to cook – Southern-style, of course.
My holiday menu never changes much from year to year. It’s a conglomeration of recipes that I’ve thrown together from all the southern cooks in my family. I don’t know if it could be classified as bona fide southern, but it’s a good representation of what folks in southeastern North Carolina like to have on their plates at Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Here’s my usual menu:
From Grandmama Gladys: Roast Turkey (in a Brown N Bag)
From my mom: Oyster Dressing
From Grandma Henry: Rice with Giblet Gravy
From Grandmama Gladys: Collard Greens (fresh, boiled with ham hocks, drained and chopped fine and warmed over in a cast iron pan with a bit of fat back grease)
From Uncle Daryl: Fresh or frozen Butterbeans, seasoned with pork neck bones
From Southern Living: Orange Ginger Cranberry Sauce
From Grandma Dot: Seven Layer Salad
From Grandmama Gladys: Marinated Carrots
From Cindy Henry: Almost Yeast Rolls
From Grandma Henry: Sweet Potatoe Pie
From my mom: Ice Box Lemon Pie
The one thing you have to keep in mind about southern food – we like to use a lot of various ingredients. The more the merrier! For instance, my husband (a true Yankee, bless his heart) was going to make green beans with barbecue chicken and instant mashed potatoes when we first got married. He opened the can, poured it into the pot and turned on the burner.
I asked him, “What are you going to season them with?”
To which he said, “Huh? Season? What’s that?”
See, no self respecting southern cook worth her weight in ham hocks ever served green beans straight out of the can, y’all. They have to be seasoned, which means adding ingredients. Preferably a nice piece of ham, salt, pepper and a little sugar. Bacon grease or fat back will do in a pinch. Or, a tablespoon of olive oil and a beef boullion cube (if you’re serving some Yankees) but never plain, y’all!
A few years ago, I worked with a nice lady from Upstate New York. Watertown, to be exact. Don’t ask me what she was doing in North Carolina. I think maybe it was to try and convince the natives that a tobaggan was something you ride on, rather than something you knit for your grandmother for Christmas.
One Thanksgiving I was talking to my sister-in-law on the phone at work about our upcoming, shared, family Thanksgiving dinner. We were talking about what we needed to get from the store.
After I hung up, my Yankee co-worker (who had been shamelessly eaves-dropping) said she had a few questions, if I didn’t mind.
“Not at all,” I said. “Shoot.”
“Well,” she began, nervously. “I think I’ve about got this figured out.”
She began to list items she had heard me discussing.
“The neck bones are going in the butterbeans.”
“I know the fat back is for the collards. I think the sweet potaoes are for the pie, the oysters are going in the stuffing, the orange is going in with the cranberries, the condensed milk is for the lemon pie and the can of peas is for the salad.”
“Very good!” I said, impressed that she had been paying such close attention. “So what’s your question?”
She looked perplexed. “I just don’t understand what you’re going to do with the tomato soup and the boiled eggs!”
“The soup is going into the marinated carrots,” I explained, patiently. “And the boiled eggs are for the giblet gravy.”
Really, you’d think these Yankees would figure this stuff out!
What about y’all? What shows up on your holiday table? Do you have regional favorites, or recipes that you cherish? If you’d like to have any of these recipes, just let me know.