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Hominy Day

One of the very best things about Thanksgiving is simply being with family. I am so thrilled that for Thanksgiving 2017 we will have our son Will, his wife Christi, and their three children, William, Thomas, and Mattie, our granddaughter Amanda Evans, her husband Jared, their five children Candi, Hailey, Caitlin, Charli, and Kaison, and our grandson Charles D Reeves all with us. There will be laughter, chatter, games and teasing–and lots of good smells and eating. One of the children will tell the Pilgrims’ story. Charles will pray. And then he’ll carve the turkey cooked on his new Primo grill (our first time doing a turkey on the grill, praying hard!)

So why did I title this blog “Hominy Day”?

We’re not having hominy for Thanksgiving. Maybe corn, not hominy. But thinking about “being with family” brought me to thinking of the togetherness my birth family experienced all the time, one day, for example, being “hominy day.”

If you arrive at your answer as to whether you like hominy by how that anemic hominy in a can tastes you need to taste my mother’s homemade hominy. Not that it’s still available. But wow! That was good stuff. The memory is delicious.

It wasn’t that easy to make. Simple, yes, but not easy.

First you had to have corn. Dry corn. Off the cob, of course. So you had to grow the corn, which required a lot of hot field work, but which also gave an opportunity for word games and philosophying and teasing to the rhythm of hoes clicking. Harvesting dried corn is a rattly, somewhat itchy proposition. Then there’s the shucking. And there had to be some for the cows. So sometimes Dad supplied corn for such a big family by buying some by the bushel from a neighboring farm. I loved it when Mr. Loggins came in the fall with a horse drawn wagon full of dried corn, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and purple crowned rutabagas (not my favorite, but they were pretty).

We didn’t have a corn sheller. Well, we did too. Seven, eight, however many of us were at home. Sometimes we shelled corn in the barn. That was like a party. We had competitions to see how many of the fuzzy red cobs we could pile up, or someone told a wild story, or we ended up in a cob fight. If you’ve never shelled dry corn with your own bare hands you don’t realize how you roll the heel of your right hand over the hard kernels forcing them off the cob to rattle down into a bucket. And, yes, your hands do get sore before they grow tough. Sometimes we all shelled corn at night in Daddy’s study while Mamma read to us from a really good book like Lorna Doone or Tale of Two Cities.

So one day it would be time to make hominy.

The dried corn kernels would be placed in a very large pot, covered in water with a lot of soda, maybe half a box, added. The soda makes the tiny piece of husk detach from each kernel leaving a cute little hollow groove. The soda also turns the kernels a pretty golden color.

The hominy had to cook all day until the kernels were no longer crisp or hard or tough. They would be soft like little tiny pillows but not smooshy like boiled potato.

Then came the last operation late in the afternoon, usually very cold in November. We had to wash the soda out of the hominy so it wouldn’t be bitter. We did not yet have running water in our kitchen. The hominy washing job had to be done at the spring where there was plenty of water to wash and rinse and rinse and wash the hominy back and forth between two buckets. It was cold but it was fun. You never heard any more hilarity and cackling. If there were a minor accident such as someone spilling some of the precious product and having to pick it up grain by grain, that was just cause for more laughter.

Mamma welcomed us back to the cozy kitchen and promptly began to prepare hominy for our supper. She put butter in an iron skillet and piled the skillet full of hominy. Once she’d cooked it for about an hour it was ready to serve. There was never any left over! But of course Mamma had more hominy not yet fried ready to last several days. As we enjoyed that golden hominy we chattered over various interesting happenings of the day, other than hominy making–a sighting of strange tracks on a sandy beach of Ramble Brook, a discussion on how far away the moon was and its relation to Venus, or the discovery of Boleta mushrooms on Firewood Heights.

As I write this the wind picks up speed and our wind chimes play a merry jingle. I’ve been baking pies, making freezer rolls, stocking up on butter, extra coffees, making cornbread for the dressing, purchasing “the bird,” etc. etc. No, we won’t have hominy for Thanksgiving. And, yes, I am thankful for running water in the kitchen! But mostly I’m thankful for my family and that we will be together–laughing, teasing, telling stories and loving each other.

Happy Thanksgiving, All!

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.” Psalm 100:4 (KJV)

 

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A Taste of July

Sometimes when things are hectic, and even grim, heavy with solemn news of tragedies around the world, it’s good to take a deep breath and think on lighter subjects, like the taste of good things. God didn’t have to give us our senses. Have you ever considered that? But He did. He gave us sight, hearing, feeling, and the wonderful joy of smelling and tasting. And I think He smiles when we delight in these gifts from Him.

So–speaking of taste–if someone asked you what you taste when you think of months like November or December you’d readily reply with words such as “turkey,” “fruitcake,” “pumpkin pie,” “orange zest,” “peppermint,” or even “snow cream.” The taste for February? Maybe red velvet cake, Earl Grey tea and Brunswick stew on a cold drizzly day. But July? What are the tastes you think of for July?

Tastes and smells are so interrelated that we can hardly separate them, I think. So the first taste of July that I think of is a grilled hamburger with the aroma of charcoal on a humid afternoon as part of the taste. Imagine a good, juicy hamburger thick with lettuce, tomato, cheese, onion, dripping with ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, or whatever your choices of those condiments are. The taste may even give you the sensation of ketchup dripping from your chin. And, of course, along with the taste is that wonderful feeling of relaxing with friends and family, being secure in one’s favorite part of the world.

Or consider watermelon. On this taste it’s hard to remove the visual from the taste. Watermelon slices are so festive and beautiful! But think of the taste, maybe at a picnic table in the middle of a hot afternoon. Do you want salt on it? Do you need a fork? Or do you just love watermelon all by itself with your face in it? Do you take the seeds out first, or dive in and taste that sweetness spitting the seeds out as you go? Ahhh, the taste of watermelon heart as soon as the melon’s been cracked open. That’s the best!

The taste of ice cream–now just try that one! Maybe butter pecan, rocky road, strawberry, peach, chocolate, or–even just plain vanilla. Get it in a cone and walk down the street licking as fast as you can to get every delicious slurp before it runs down your arm!

What about all those wonderful vegetables? There’s corn on the cob fresh from the pot with butter drizzling down the rows of kernels. Here’s another one you smell before you taste, first the fresh green shucks as you prepare it and then that unmatchable scent of corn boiling on the stove. That is pure July!

Have you had pan fried okra this year? Prepared from perfect tender pods of okra straight from the Open Air Market in Cairo, Georgia? Pan fried is our way to do okra, sliced thin, dusted with flour and fried in very shallow (healthy) oil. Cook it until it’s almost burned. It’s crisp and wonderful! Serve it with sliced tomatoes, your favorite meatloaf and some fresh field peas.

Don’t get me started on yellow, crookneck squash. There is really no better taste in this world than squash cooked fresh from the garden. My mother used to cook about a peck, I think, every day when so many of the ten of us were still at home. She stewed them and mashed them to a pulp and we ate every bit of it every day. No matter how I butter, salt, pepper, or not, no squash I cook is as good as Mamma’s was. But it is still pretty delicious!

The taste of July–salty sweat, a green sourwood leaf (not to digest, just to chew, as sour as the name says), fresh peach cobbler steaming hot, fried green tomatoes, eggplant casserole, small fried catfish, cantaloupe from Papa Graham’s garden, zipper peas and cornbread. And don’t forget the taste of warm figs picked and eaten at the laden tree with crows fussing because they think it’s their tree. And don’t forget the taste of the sea as you walk a beach, the taste of rain that suddenly cools a sizzling day, and the taste of a crushed mint leaf.

How many tastes would you like to add to my list? Feel free! And, better still, go ahead and really taste them! And remember God delights in our joy.

“O, taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.” Psalm 34:8

P.S. This is not an anti-diet blog, just a taste spree!

 

 

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Mamma’s Fried Okra

Mamma always had a crowd to feed. By the time the oldest ones of we ten flew the coop, they started returning home with friends and then with spouses and then with children. There were always so many of us that we left nothing in the pot at the end of a meal. Or, in the case of okra, no nibbles in the bowl.

Picking, or cutting, okra was a very itchy job. We were given gloves to wear and long sleeves. But I never could bear to wear gloves and I hung the extra shirt on a sourwood limb as soon as I was out of sight of the house. Grasping the okra pods, conscious to leave the tiny tender ones until the next day, we’d snip them right at the stalk. Morning glories glistening with morning dew brightened the scene, trying to overtake Mamma’s neat garden. There were cucumbers to pick, too, a favorite of mine since, to me, picking cucumbers was like looking for Easter eggs. And there was crook-neck squash hiding like sleeping babies under big umbrella leaves. There were onions, too, and, even, in a special corner of the garden, a small patch of rhubarb. But, back to the okra, however much we found and packed into our buckets, that’s how much Mamma would cook for supper.

She showed us how to slice the okra the thickness of three nickels, no more, and then she’d dredge the little circles in cornmeal or flour. She’d put a big spoonful of lard in her largest iron pan and set it on the woodburning stove. (Yes, in those days lard was part of our regular fare. Mamma bought it by the bucket, wistfully remembering when her family had hogkillings and made their own lard.) We were not to stir the okra until the bottom pieces would have browned to a crisp. “If you stir it too quickly, you’ll make the whole mess turn mushy,” she warned.

Mamma’s okra always turned out delicious, though sometimes crisper than others according to how much okra she cooked. Smaller batches were always the best. With larger batches she sometimes had to set the pan in the oven and bake the okra for a while. Either way, as I said, not one nibble would be left in the bowl. If one of us started to be greedy and take too much, knowing we might not have a second chance, Mamma would give us a look and we’d dutifully pass the bowl along.

Once, when my sister Jackie’s fiancé was visiting, Dad, who was inordinately proud of Mamma’s cooking, and who was also hoping to make Fred’s visit memorable, urged Fred to have some okra. Fred took a modest helping, though he later confided he detested okra. Wishing to enjoy the rest of his meal in peace, he ate the okra first. Dad noticed his plate. “Eula, the boy really likes your okra, give him some more.” Fred consumed at least three helpings of okra that day, but never wanted any again!

But he was about the only one who didn’t like Mamma’s crisply fried okra.

And today I make it, too. I still use an iron pan, but I use olive oil now. I still slice the okra thinly and dredge it in flour. And I still carefully wait for that bottom layer to crisp before I start lightly stirring. We have a standing tradition that no okra be saved until the next day. My grandson Charles D will grab the bowl if he has half a chance and dump the last circles on his plate! But he has learned to look around the table and politely ask if anyone wants more before he takes it.

When I go to the market to choose okra, I always select tender pods, not great big ones. As I do, I remember Mamma’s morning gloried garden and I can just smell the mixture of dew on disturbed leaves, the greening smell of squash vines, and hear the buzzing of a june bug. I can’t help thinking, too, of my father-in-law, JB, who farmed in south Georgia and peddled his beautiful vegetables in Coolidge and Thomasville. He had quite a clientele of bank clerks, dental hygienists, grocery managers and more. It was always a privilege to receive his generous gifts of vegetables–cantaloupes, squash, all kinds of peas, corn, and his wonderful okra!

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