There has been a lot of conversation about soul food lately. A school system in Denver is in trouble for trying to honor Dr. Martin Luther King by serving fried chicken and collards. I guess if they had offered watermelon the whole staff would have been shot.
The Dew has featured a few tasty stories about grits and other southern delicacies, most of them waxing poetic about not forgotten old times when the living was easy and cooking took all day. Much of what is defined today as soul food was originally just food for those of us who grew up poor in the South. I would like to weigh in.
First my credentials; I was born in a house in River Bend, Alabama, the first of four children. My youngest brother, who came along seven years after I did, was the first of us to actually enter this world somewhere other than my parents’ bedroom. He was born in the hospital in Tuscaloosa.
My first four years and my tenth year were spent in River Bend, as country a place as anyone can imagine. The years in between were spent in the booming metropolis of Centreville, the county seat of the poorest county in Alabama, and maybe the only place where the Baptists and bootleggers continue to keep all liquor sales illegal.
The only black person I saw regularly was Myrtle Lee Fitts, the lady who cleaned our house, washed our clothes, and cooked the meals while both my parents worked. She also whipped our butts when necessary, but that is another story. Other than tasting a little better, her meals were identical to those my mother made. And my grandmother. We didn’t know we were making political statements.
I have eaten squirrel, rabbit, and quail, but not possum. We weren’t the Beverly Hillbillies. Vienna sausage and potted meat were staples when we traveled but no one tried to force sardines on us. Fried chicken and greens were regular visitors to our table, along with black-eyed peas and cornbread. Grits, homemade biscuits, and gravy were available at breakfast.
As the oldest of four kids with two working parents I learned to cook early on. I could make cat head biscuits from scratch before I reached puberty. Not a big deal, lots of people can do it. Unfortunately it is a royal pain in the backside for me.
A few years back someone introduced me to Pillsbury frozen biscuits. I was not too excited about trying them at first but discovered they are good enough to outweigh having to go to the trouble of mixing dough.
I am also fond of quick grits; not instant mind you, but the ones that take a couple of minutes to cook and don’t require having the Village Idiot standing around for twenty minutes stirring. Once again, not as good as the original, but good enough to make them worth the saved effort.
Changing policy about grits and biscuits worked for me. Ribs, banana pudding, and true love are still products of patience, and there are no short cuts.