We ate vegetables from our garden and had chicken only on Sundays. Daddy raised “pullets” just for eating, and we also had laying hens. It was exciting to find an egg with a double yolk.
In our house, the kitchen and dining area were one big room divided only by a warm morning stove. It seemed like Mama was perpetually in this area of the house, either at the stove or the sink. The stove was also used for heating water since we didn’t have a water heater. We didn’t have a china cabinet or Sunday china, but I do remember we did have a beautiful oak buffet. Our dishes were mismatched, and we drank out of jelly glasses. They were sturdy, but not so big that a child couldn’t hold one.
Being a picky eater most of my life, I missed out on a lot of good food just because I wouldn’t try it. There are a few things I did like, and they stand out in my mind.
One was fried okra, and Mama always added some chopped green tomato that gave it a little bit of sour. It was fried so crispy, yet tender in Snowdrift shortening. I don’t think canola oil had been discovered yet.
Corn on the cob was another. Daddy called them roasting ears, but it came out, “Ros nears.” He had a homegrown vocabulary.
I also loved when in the evenings she would return to the stove and say, “I think I’ll make you all a pan of fudge.”
We all got to help stir it after coming off the stove. You had to stir and stir to keep it creamy and not grainy, and if you helped stir, then you got to lick the spoon and scrape the pan. I never remember chewing fudge; it really did just melt in my mouth. There’s nothing like it.
Mama didn’t even like chocolate; she did it for the rest of us hungry buzzards. I hope we said “thank you” and told her how good it was.
Mama was also very clean with her cooking, almost OCD.
We regulars already knew this, but she would announce to company visiting, “Now this may not be too fancy, but it’s clean.”
Just to demonstrate how clean, she washed her pinto beans twice and then parboiled them before cooking.
Turnip greens? Oh my.
They had to pass a GI inspection before she was satisfied that all dirt and tiny insects had been washed off. She never allowed an end piece of okra to be cooked, and green beans were broken just so-so, with no blemish allowed.
She might have been preparing some kind of Holy Feast.
If we helped shuck corn, she could always find a silk left that we overlooked. She called them “hairs.”
She was a wonderful cook, and her biscuits should have been trademarked. They were the most tender and flaky you could possibly imagine.
Everything she cooked was made from scratch, including her pie crusts. They just don’t make people like her anymore. She cooked until she was well into her 80s, and if you went to her house, you ate. If you didn’t, it was an insult. You had to pass through the dining and kitchen room to access the rest of the house, and there the trap was set.
You saw. You smelled. You ate.
Kaye Ella Steadman lives in Chickamauga. She is a storyteller, published writer and author of the book “The Girl in the Mirror.” She can be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Facebook.