Editor's note: Brenda Looper usually writes her columns on Mondays, and since this Monday was Labor Day, she decided to take a little break. The original version of this column was published Sept. 18, 2019.
When I was a kid, we always knew it was Sunday when Mama mixed up a batch of yeasty rolls and put a roast on to cook before church. She always added some coffee to the roast, which was tender and juicy.
Once I grew up and moved away, she would often make a roast on those weekends I visited, and sent me home with the leftovers. When I got to the point with my IBS that I couldn't digest beef (or any red meat) very well, she switched to other comfort foods.
But I always remember those chuck roasts. During the week, we might eat chicken or tuna patties with fried okra, squash, home fries, poke salat and beans or purple hulls (cow peas)--all of which could be whipped up fairly quickly (we had home-canned beans and peas when we needed something quick)--but on Sunday, we dined.
And oh, was it good.
I loved just about anything my mom or her mom made. Though I don't eat much fried food anymore, I do yearn for fried okra and home fries like they used to make. And oh, that skillet corn ... blanched, cut off the cob and frozen in bags, it was a mix of creamy juices and whole-kernel corn, usually cooked in a cast-iron skillet with butter, salt and pepper. Perfection.
Food has a way of taking us back to our roots, and just a scent can remind us of family dinners/suppers from decades ago. It seems Southern food in particular has that power for many readers.
Former colleague Debra Hale-Shelton reported: "Mama always made, and still does, the best salmon patties, made from canned pink salmon, of course. For unknown reasons, my dad started calling the fried gems 'salmon croquettes' a few years ago. I like to add raisins to them and, like Mama, serve them with a bowl of pinto or Great Northern beans and buttered hoe cake."
My mom did the same thing as Debra's with salmon and tuna (though she would never think to put raisins in them). The crispiness of the outside was the best part.
For most of my childhood, we ate bass, along with the occasional crappie or perch and, rarely, catfish. It wasn't till I went to college in Jonesboro that I had catfish on a regular basis. Though I love it, my heart still belongs to a good piece of bass, which I don't get nearly enough.
Jerry Slaton shared a dinner most Arkies likely remember: "Crumble up two hot water cornbread patties for a base layer. On top of that apply a generous portion of well-done pinto beans with extra juice to soak into the cornbread. On top of the pintos, a liberal dose of stewed potatoes, and all that topped off with Mama's homemade chow chow. Now that is good eating right there."
Greg Stanford said, "[H]ot water cornbread is the first food that comes to mind. It was a staple at our table but has seemed to disappear from modern menus. I cannot remember the last time I have had it, heard about it or saw it on a plate anywhere! I also have fond memories of popcorn being popped in the long-handled basket over the open fireplace in the living room. There was an art to this method!"
Joe Styles recalled, "Family dinner in the summer; to go with your fried okra: purple hull peas cooked with a little bacon, sliced tomatoes, fried salt pork and cornbread. Yum Yum!"
We usually had a ham bone and a little extra ham to throw in with pintos or peas, and Mama and Nanny would fry some bacon to go along with it. Nanny preferred purple hulls to black-eyed peas.
Like me, Joe said he remembers shelling peas with his mom using a "big bowl and a paper grocery sack for the hulls." With purple hulls, you'd have that color on your hands for at least a few days. It was sort of a badge of honor that proved you did your part to prepare food from the garden. Shucking corn or peeling potatoes didn't have that same prestige.
Steve Sorsby said fried chicken and mashed potatoes remind him of home, "Though oddly, for a Southern boy, also duck and sauerkraut. What can I say, my Mama was a Nebraska Yankee, transplanted here before I was born!"
And what dinner could be complete without dessert, especially in the South?
For friend Laurence Gray, the best dessert was cold: "When we visited with my maternal grandmother in Magnolia, she would get out her ice cream maker and we would make vanilla ice cream. ... Myself and my sisters would take turns operating the crank."
That's just what we did. If we wanted the homemade stuff, we had to crank it because we didn't have an electric ice cream maker then. It was usually vanilla because that's what Daddy liked, but Mama and I managed to sneak in the occasional chocolate.
Nell Matthews remembered: "Before global sourcing of produce, strawberries were only in the store for a few weeks in late spring/early summer. Mother grew up on a farm in Poteet, Texas, once named the Strawberry Capitol of the world. So when fresh, fully ripe strawberries hit the grocery in May or June (not the hard, pale, tasteless ones bred to ship long distances), I make biscuits, slice strawberries, and whip heavy cream to eat strawberry shortcake for supper."
Biscuits are far superior to dessert shells for shortcake, especially if they happen to be chocolate. Most everything's better with chocolate.
And now my stomach's growling. Thanks, y'all.
Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com.