From “the Rooter to the Tooter”

Sorry.  The year is only three hours or so old and I am entering it like a derailing steam locomotive.  I have completely run off the rails.  It’s three-thirty in the morning, do you know where your mind is?  I don’t.  I apologize for my rambling.

I got food on my mind while researching how a Southern community might have survived in the days following the Civil War and Reconstruction.  I was led down a pig trail by an article on “Southern Poverty Food, How the Other 90% Ate.”1   The article brought back childhood memories of my most favorite subject, food and the diversity of the people who created it.

I never thought about growing up poor but understand being in the “Other 90%”.  We certainly weren’t rich and compared to the rest of the families living along the Charlotte-Lancaster Highway, we all appeared to be in the same boat…a boat full of the rural working class.

While never having everything I wished for, I certainly had everything I needed.  I was surrounded by family and there were always vittles on the table.  The food certainly wasn’t filet mignon and caviar, but I never thought of it as “Poverty Food”.

“You chaps go on out an get me a mess of greens,” echoes brightly in my head.  I ate a bunch of greens, and then some, through those first two decades of life; mustard, turnip, collards.  Like green beans in the summer, there was usually a mess of greens warming on my grandmother’s stove in the winter.  She never threw any away, she just added to the pot liquor that might have been fermenting for weeks it seems.  Sometimes I thought, “If I have to eat one more bite of turnip greens….”  But I ate it anyway or went hungry.

Cooked in the renderings of fried, salt pork, what we called fatback, greens were seasoned with a bit of this and a bit of that.  Maybe some vinegar, hot sauce or left-over bacon or ham.  It was always accompanied with cornbread and a glass of tart buttermilk. One had to have something to sop up the pot liquor.

If we were eating “high on the hog,” the garden’s bounty was accompanied by a cut of meat, usually pork.  The greens might be served with the fried fatback itself, salty and crunchy between two pieces of cornbread or maybe short ribs slow cooked in the Dutch oven.

Pigs were important to Southern Poverty Food it seems…thankfully.  High on the hog….  Pigs were always one of the mainstays of Southern cuisine.  Easy to raise, with eight to twelve in a litter.  Left alone they would “root hog or die” and even a blind one “will find an acorn if they root hog hard enough.”

Recognizable cuts were usually breaded and fried or roasted over open fires or above hardwood coals.  Sometimes, on special or large celebrations, whole hogs were buried in a deep hole filled with hardwood, then covered with wet burlap bags and left to slow cook all day.  Thinking of it has triggered a Pavlovian reaction.

Unrecognizable portions were turned into sausage,  livermush, hash or head cheese…which is not cheese at all.  There was also fresh bacon to serve with brains and eggs the first morning after a hog was slaughtered.

Slow cookin’ over glowing embers was something we picked up from indigenous folk before we uprooted them and marched them west to the “Indian Lands”.  Something else we picked up was using the hog “from rooter to the tooter” but not from the Native Americans.  From pig’s snouts to chitlins’, loin to pig’s feet, little was wasted.  We picked that up that habit from folks bought, paid for and shipped from another continent.  People who weren’t allowed to eat “high off the hog” during earlier times.

Pigs were not indigenous to North America, either.  Interestingly, I was “today old” when I discovered the infamous explorer, Hernando de Soto, brought the first pigs to North America.  Thirteen originally, they must be prodigious breeders if the wild hogs in our area are an indication.  I was a history major and teacher, shouldn’t I have known that?  I guess I wasn’t paying attention that day or maybe I did know it and forgot it.

The Spanish invaders saw Taino Indians of the West Indies cooking meat and fish over a pit of coals on a framework of green wooden sticks. The Spanish spelling of the Indian name for that framework was “barbacoa”.  A tradition and a name were born.

I wonder why my own Southern “rearing” had so much in common with the people of color or Native Americans that lived in nearby enclaves.  Enclaves created by the enforced segregation of the period.  I remember the wariness and fear that undercut the period and the relationships, the period of hard fought for Civil Rights.

Our food was the same…just not seasoned as well.

There were a few people of color who lived in old sharecropper shanties in the area of my childhood and many Native Americans who had adopted the same names as my Scot-Irish forefathers, intermarrying and moving to a place named “Indian Land”, just south of “Indian Trail”, west of “the Waxhaws” and east of the Catawba River.  What is in a name?

Regardless of race, creed or color, we all seemed to share the same love affair for slow-cooked pork, and the creative use of “certain” pig parts.  Served with a wedge of cornbread, red-hulled peas with onion and the “greens de jour.”  When I say we, I am speaking of the family I grew up with, in the area I grew up in although it seems Neo-Southern cuisine has caught on again, both above and west of the Mason-Dixon.  A “new” cuisine that features greens and pork extensively.

I have drawn a line.  I draw it just before the tooter in “from rooter to the tooter.”  I probably shouldn’t limit myself but I have not participated in a chitlin strut or dined on the porcine version of Mountain Oysters, sometimes called”pig fries”.  I probably won’t…although I can’t guarantee what might have been in the barbeque hash served over white rice…don’t know what’s in it, don’t care what’s in it…um, um, good…as are pig knuckles, brains and eggs, and livermush.   Okay, maybe I should rethink the chitlins and pig fries.  Nothing ventured…a New Year’s resolution?

By the time you read this, it will be New Year’s Day.  The tradition of serving collard greens and black-eyed peas will be observed in my little piece of heaven…a tradition I have not varied from ever during my lifetime.  A superstitious fear.  Peas for luck and collards for money.  Not that I have great amounts of luck or money, I’ m just afraid I will lose what little I have.

The meal will be seasoned with pig renderings, a dash of vinegar and hot sauce.  Pork chops and cornbread will accompany but they won’t be the main course.  Greens and black-eyed peas are the stars on this day.

May your 2019 be everything you want…or at least everything you need.

From The Cook’s Cook: Southern Poverty Food: How the Other 90% Ate,  May 2018,  https://thecookscook.com/features/southern-poverty-food-how-the-other-90-ate/

The Image was lifted from Wikipedia with malice and forethought.

 

For further readings about any subjects under the sun, go to https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

In Praise of Corn

 

Most of the people here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge have a love affair with the first tomato sandwich of the season.  That would be the ones they make with homegrown or at least local tomatoes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love them too.  A Cherokee Purple running with Duke’s Mayonnaise on white bread, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper…no it doesn’t get better than that…unless you are a corn lover.  Now, in all honesty, I am waiting patiently for my Cherokee Purples to start showing color but last summer I ate or drank corn every day it was available.

There is something about the first roastin’ ear of the season…or first half dozen…at least for me.  Dripping in butter, or not.  Seasoned with salt and pepper, or not.  I don’t care, the first corn of the season is truly a reason to celebrate.  I’m celebratin’ today!

I grew up on a farm that grew copious amounts of corn.  Corn for boiling, creaming, soup mix, or chowder.  It was one of the main ingredients in my grandmother’s chicken pot pies or the occasional “cooter stew.”  Her creamed corn is still the best I’ve ever eaten and I miss it.

Dried, it was ground into cornmeal and grits to enjoy when fresh corn wasn’t available.  Cornbread, cheese and butter grits, corn pone, corn dodgers, and hush puppies.  Yellow, white or bicolor, it didn’t matter.

Corn fed our livestock, even the cobs were ground into a powder mixed with water to serve to our pigs.  The feed bags they were stored in would later become dresses sown from patterns by and for my grandmother, the scraps turned into patchwork quilts.  “Nothing wasted!”

Some might have been allowed to ferment with yeast and barley grain.  Later it would be distilled, stored in light blue gallon Ball mason jars with a few peaches or cherries thrown in for good measure.  Some…if the wrong person asks I’m denying it.

I admit I’ve even eaten it raw, once.  Later, after I recovered, I read an account of the Battle of Camden where it seems the defeat of the Patriot forces might have been aided by the raw corn they consumed along the way.  I guess it is hard to fight with your pants hanging around your ankles.

Well, today is the day.  I got the call from my local “corn monger” and went by and picked up a dozen ears of bicolor.  I used to grow my own until the raccoons discovered it.  Little bastards keep coming back.  They like it about as much as I do.

Um, um, um.  I’m torturing myself and waiting just a bit longer…okay, that’s long enough, my stomach is growling.  Bring enough water to cover the corn to a rolling boil, put in your husked corn, cover and wait until the water has returned to a boil and turn it off.  It is done…don’t you dare overcook it.  Today I will roll it in butter and lightly salt it.

In my best Bugs Bunny voice, “Bon Appétit, you maroons.”

bugs

Image by https://www.eatbydate.com/how-long-to-boil-corn/

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B018IT38GM?redirectedFromKindleDbs=true