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Cooking Roots of the South

My Cooking Roots Are Deep in the South


Cooking  Your Catch

Cooking Your Catch

2011, Ed Klonoski, licensed to About.com
Talk about cooking roots and most southerners think turnips, potatoes and carrots. But it makes me think of other roots, going back to learning to cook from my mother and the cooking traditions passed on from parents to children generation after generation.

My mother was a fantastic cook and baked cakes for sale for many years. Since we had chickens and cows milk and eggs were easy to get. She taught me a lot about baking and always rewarded me with beaters and bowls to lick. There was no worry about eating raw eggs in those days.

I learned the basics from seasoning all vegetables with fatback and cooking them forever to pouring the salt in all kinds of sauces. Mamma could take a package of cheap hotdogs, add chopped onion, bell pepper and BBQ sauce and make a dinner as good as anything I ever ate. Another of my favorites was egg casserole, made by layering stale crumbled up biscuits and bread with sliced boiled eggs and covering it all with milk and baking it. The real butter dotted on each layer helped! We never wasted anything. Leftovers were eaten as is or mixed with other ingredients to make a completely new meal.

I leaned to fry fish from my dad. He loved to fry up a big mess of crappie, bass and bream for family and friends. He and a family friend made fish cookers with wheel hubs, pipe and re bar. I used mine for many years and it seemed to do a better job than any of the commercial cookers I have tried. Dad knew exactly when to take the fish out so they were golden brown but still moist and delicious.

One thing I never got right were the hushpuppies. Mamma mixed them up and dad dropped them one at a time into the hot grease, using two spoons and dipping one in water between each hushpuppy. I can cook them but have never been able to get the ingredients exactly right.

I asked my mom to write down the recipes for me and she tried, but many have instructions like "add some pepper till it tastes right." I can usually make a good stab at things she wrote for me but, unfortunately, soon after she started recording them for me on index cards she developed Alzheimer’s and many of my favorites were never recorded.

I also learned from aunts and uncles. My uncle Adron could kill game like the best of the pioneers and his wife Nancy could cook anything. I often thought if he brought in an old boot she would make a great meal out of it. I especially loved their catfish stew. They both worked grinding the catfish and adding the ingredients until just right, then Uncle Adron would cook it in a big pot outside over an open fire.

I am afraid a lot of the southern cooking traditions are being lost. It seems we don’t have time to cook a meal and kids would rather be playing video games than learning cooking roots. And fast food has replaced so much of our cooking that little will ever be the same. Some of it is good but nothing will ever taste as good as something you picked or killed, cleaned and cooked yourself.

Don’t let your cooking roots die. Learn them now before it is too late.

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