I’ve been eating in a lot of restaurants the last two weeks. And even though I enjoy hanging with my nursery peeps, nothing beats good home cooking. Home cooked meals were the norm in our family. We sat at the table every morning. Every evening. Together. And the food that poured out of my Mama’s kitchen was the stuff that would “make hair grow on your chest.”
That was Dad’s way of telling me to man-up and eat my squash and turnips.
What I remember most are the aromas. Long before I crawled out of bed in the morning, I could smell bacon frying in the cast iron skillet. Biscuits baking in the oven. Always and only on Sunday mornings, country salt-cured ham and pancakes.
My sister swears that I only ever ate cereal for breakfast. I confess. I did eat my share of Captain Crunch. I got up early on Saturdays to watch Tarzan. Johnnie Weissmuller wrestling crocodiles. The Lone Ranger and Tonto fighting the bad guys. Lassie saving Timmy from every abandoned well and mine shaft in the county. Cereal was easy for a 10 year old to fix for himself.
There were a few aromas that made me cringe, though. When I got off the school bus over at Uncle Roberts house, and walked across the road, by the time I started up our driveway I could tell if Mama was cooking chitlins. The odor was distinct. I dreaded suppertime on that day. My parents were poor depression kids who grew up on things like chitlins and neck bone and various other leftover parts of cows and pigs. They claimed to like it, but I could never get past the smell.
I was always in awe of my Mama’s use of flour. Martha White self-rising flour. Flour sprinkled all over the counter. Hands and elbows and apron powered in white. Dumplings rolled out on the counter and cut in thin strips. Carefully dropped one by one into a pot of boiling water with chicken or rabbit. Buttermilk and flour for battering up chicken legs and thighs and breast. Pie crust. Cobbler. And of course, the biscuits.
Man could possibly live by biscuits alone.
Biscuits were a part of two meals a day for the most part at our house. Fresh biscuits in the morning. More biscuits for supper. Some folks think that biscuits are made for butter and jelly. The rest of us know that biscuits are made for gravy. And, oh my goodness, the gravy. Made from the drippings of whatever meat was being served. Delicious dark gravy from roast. A brown gravy from pork chops. A white gravy from chicken or sausage.
It’s a wonder we Chappells don’t all have major cardiac issues. I would keep eating biscuits and gravy as long as I could hold it. Mama would have to take the gravy bowl off the table to keep my sister from just eating it all with a spoon. Sorry, Marian. To this day, I’m pretty sure she would still eat gravy with a spoon if no one was watching.
Mama kept a wooden bowl of flour in the cabinet over the counter. The sifter always sat in the bowl. From time to time the sifter would be cleaned up at the sink, but I don’t ever recall the bowl being out of flour, much less being washed up. It was a bowl smoothed and worn by the work of her hands. She would take it down, sift some into an enamel pot, and add a spoon of Crisco lard which she worked into the flour first. Then she added the buttermilk and blended.
The entire ball of dough would then be placed back into the flour bowl. She rolled it over a few times and then pinched off a portion of dough. She could roll out in her hands perfectly matched biscuits every time. A little Crisco smeared on a biscuit pan. She placed each biscuit on the pan and smooshed it down with three fingers to just the right thickness. I grew up wondering why all biscuits didn’t have three finger marks in the top.
I watched her biscuit magic most every evening. She always saved the last small pinch of dough for me.
“This one’s too small for another biscuit. You want it?”, she’d say. I can still taste the dough.
I was learning but didn’t know it, until one year she went into the hospital to have a kidney removed. Dad was working on trying to cook up something for supper. Which was kind of like asking a guy who paints houses to work up a Rembrandt.
“You want me to make biscuits,” I asked him.
He looked shocked and excited all at the same time.
“You can make biscuits?”
“Sure. I watched Mama do it.”
I think he was impressed. They didn’t look like Mama’s. Uneven. Some with heavy finger impressions on top. But we ate them, and all was right with the world.
There’s one thing about women who cook like this. They all apologize for what they set on the table. It’s the perfect home cooked meal. Tender pork roast. Mashed potatoes. Creamed Corn. (made with a little flour) Green beans. Biscuits and gravy. Maybe a pie.
“I just don’t know if this is going to be fit to eat”, she says.
My sweet wife is the best cook I know. I’m pretty sure I’m still growing hair on my chest because of her cooking. We had a terrific home cooked meal on Monday night. And, yes, there was biscuits and gravy. I had two. I’m digging deep and unconsciously moaning sounds of wonder and euphoria, and she says:
“I just don’t know about this. I just can’t seem to get it right. I’ll get you something else if you can’t eat it.”
It’s a southern cook thing that charms me every time.
Home cooking is the best cooking, hands down. Some like it Italian. Some like it Mexican. I like it Southern. Always cooked with love. Always better than frozen. Always fit to eat. And I happen to like mine with biscuits and gravy.
(Feel free to leave your comments below)