Hello friends, You might recall in my post “I Am My Grandmothers Garden“, that I spoke about my grandmother, grandma Charlotte, beginning with my memories in the kitchen. I wrote about how she never used a measuring cup, spoon or cookbook. Having read the passage below, I realized that none of my grands or greats did! Cooking was a skill passed down, taught at the hands of ancestral mothers before us, a heritage and legacy.
The Best Cook In The World – Rick Bragg
“A person can’t cook from a book,” she told me. Her mother, Ava, baked tea cakes and put them in a clean white flour sack to keep them soft and warm, because even a Philistine knows they taste better, somehow, lifted from that warm cloth. My mother would feel foolish, she said, trying to explain why such things should be honored in a modern world. “A person,” she said, “can’t cook from numbers.” She believes a person learns to cook by stinging her hands red with okra, singeing her knuckles on a hot lid, and nicking her fingers on an ancient knife as she cuts up a chicken, because a whole chicken tastes better than one dissected in a plant and trucked in from Bogalusa. You learn by tasting and feeling and smelling and listening and remembering, and burning things now and then, and singing the right songs. Jimmie Rodgers, who sang of trains, chain gangs, and the shooting of untrue women, lived in our kitchen.
G. Grandpa white with his father, my GG grandfather Issac.
Funny how the styles can differ from between two houses in the same town depending on who you learned from and what you embraced within the culture and community. My mothers mother, grandma Charlotte learned from her father, my great grandpa White. He was a cook in the army as a youth and continued as the cook for the family.
Grandma Helon. My father standing between his parents. Center child.
My fathers mother, grandma Helon, embraced the deep south culinary culture of tex-mex cooking. Breakfast is a perfect example of the contrast. At grandma Charlotte’s, breakfast would consist of Cream Of Wheat or the solidified left overs, sliced, fried and served with butter and syrup. Or, creamy scrambled eggs, crispy bacon and buttered toast with apple butter or jam.
The secret to a creamy, delicate scrambled egg isn’t as much the cream (my preference) or milk, whipped into them as it is this…. just as the eggs are beginning to set (cook or firm up) in the skillet, add a tab of butter. As it melts, being stirred into the scramble, add another. This is called glossing the eggs, creating buttery, creamy deliciousness instead of those hard dry pebbles. And toast was bread dabbed with butter and placed under the broiler.
At grandma Helons, breakfast consisted of eggs scrambled with chorizo (mexican sausage), fried potatoes with onions and bell pepper, pinto beans, mashed and fried in a cast iron skillet, seasoned with garlic and chili powder and served with grandpa Carl’s homemade tortillas.
“It takes an old person to cook, or…” She struggled to find her meaning, but the closest she could come was a young person with old ways, with an old soul. The recipes inside her head come from across an ocean, from the French countryside , where my mother’s people once lived, and from the Irish, English , Scots, Germans, even the Nordic people. Others came from those already here, from the Creek , Choctaw, and Cherokee, as the blood of them all mingled over the passing years. There is a recipe for coconut cake that, we are pretty sure, tumbled straight from God . “Young people can cook some stuff, I suppose,” she said, grudgingly, “but, you know, they’d have to go to school.”
Best cook in the world – Rick Bragg
Grandpa Carl’s homemade tortillas were the stuff of dreams! You can’t find these in a bag at the grocery, in fact, it’s a marvel as to how they manage to remove all trace of flavor, aroma and it’s light buttery texture! Grandpa’s tortillas had a rich fragrance. It’s like nothing else and once experienced, you’ll immediately recognize it from then on.
I can walk into any mexican restaurant on earth and tell you if the tortillas are industrial or fresh made. It’s first in the smell and by it, you’ll know if it’ll melt like butter in your mouth or set like a lump of wet flour in it. My husband finds it amusing that when at restaurants that make tortillas fresh, that I hold them to my face, eyes closed, breathing in the aroma of my memories.
Grandpa Carl’s Flour Tortillas
3 c. Flour
2 tsp Baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/3 c. Lard or shortening
1 c. Very hot water (not boiling)
Stir the dry ingredients together. Cut in the lard. Grandpa did this by hand, pinching the fat and flour together. Add the hot water, working the dough into a ball. Now for the important part. Knead the dough for a full 10 mins. then wrap in plastic wrap and set aside to rest for a minimum of 15 mins. Divide dough and roll into balls. Cover with wet paper towel to keep them from drying out. Heat a cast iron skillet over med high heat. Roll or pat out a tortilla while keeping the others covered and cook about 15 seconds on each side.
There’s a strange magic that happens in the kitchen when the cook is truly present, engaging all their senses. Take in the variety of colors, textures, flavors and unique fragrance of each ingredient and how the merging of them creates an entirely new thing, and possibly, the best cooks in the word.