My Grandparents, who along with my mother and my Aunt Kathleen and Papa Jack taught me how to make real, authentic, southern style home cookin'.
My Granddaddy had a one acre vegetable garden on his property in Villa Rica, GA this side of Carrollton. In the summertime it was a place of purest discovery. Mounds of cucumbers; rose red tomatoes pulling themselves from the stem cap and eager to break free of the vine, and tender greens that would go into countless salads. Glowing yellow summer squashes and bushes thick with fresh okra pods. Emerald bell peppers and almost crimson cayenne chilis. Row upon row of silver queen corn stalks filled with fat cobs - each laden with the sweetest kernels you've ever tasted. He taught me how to fry okra country-style by cutting the pods into 1" sections and dipping them briefly in buttermilk, then tossing them in a mixture of salt and pepper-seasoned cornmeal in a brown paper sack with the top folded over. Heat up the biggest cast iron skillet or Dutch oven you had available, heat some vegetable oil (and a little left over bacon fat if there is any left from breakfast) and saute the lightly breaded okra until it's nice and golden.
My Grandmother, who taught me the best way to fry chicken and roast potatoes, and how to appreciate the bounty of vegetables in summer as frozen casseroles put up for winter.
Aunt Kathleen, who taught me what a rare and amazing thing a green tomato can become when properly breaded, fried, and eaten while hot
- long before Fannie Flagg ever wrote the novel that John Avnet would direct that would become the film that would end up being my favorite of all time.
Papa Jack, who made the best bread and butter pickles I've ever tasted and loved me like no man ever would or could. Who never called me by my name once in my life, instead always choosing to refer to me as 'Baby', and who made the most amazing Brunswick stew, Bocaditos, butter beans, and cornbread that has ever been made by anyone, anywhere, ever. Who also gave me both my first cup of coffee and my first cigarette, oh - and my first beer. Only he never knew about the cigarette or the beer, just so you know.
And of course, my Mama - who taught me to make home made, from-scratch biscuits and red gravy; chicken and dumplings
and a perfectly roasted chicken; all manner of fruit cobblers
and hot fudge cake; just to name a few. Who would ask me on trips to the grocery store if I could remember what all was in the recipe we saw on TV a few days before so I could help her compare the ingredients we needed against the things we had at home in the pantry. "Do you think you could help me make that when we get home, angel baby?"
Always overjoyed with the proposition of time shared in the kitchen being creative with her, she'd scoop me up and hug me tightly to her chest as I replied "Yes, Mama!"
Whenever she would congratulate me on a success she would clap loudly and applaud me and I would thank her with my much coveted and oft-sought out "Kiss Of Fire", which was performed by holding her cheeks in my plump little hands and planting a kiss on her lips that I would hold until one of us began laughing and the spell was broken. My kisses were always longer and more heartfelt than those of my siblings I reasoned because mine took longer - and because I held her face in my hands, I suppose. Plus, I was the only one who would sing songs by Olivia Newton-John and The Carpenters with her...
Don't you remember you told me you loved be baybyyyyyy, said you'd be comin' back this way again baybyyyyyy...