Eating is important to my body, but it’s also important to my soul, my family, and to my culture. In recent years, I have generally been told that the way I grew up eating was bad and unhealthy. But I think my Mulla, who died at 97, would disagree with that thought. I, in my life, have had good health numbers – cholesterol, blood pressure, heart rate, etc. But I believe that’s because I came from a family that always gave thanks for the food before we ate it, and we also believed in physical movement. Mulla walked to the post office every morning. My husband’s family had similar fare and faith. Both of our families ate high off the hog, which didn’t take much money. There was always food and love and smiles around the table.
My husband is the oldest of eight children – six boys and two girls. He grew up on pinto beans and biscuits, spaghetti and sweet potato pie as a side dish. He can sop anything up with a piece of bread and every plate is left sparkling clean. Bless my husband’s heart though, he married a woman who doesn’t like pintos. I don’t like to smell them cooking, I don’t like their mushiness. But somebody cooks pintos every day. My husband has never gone lacking. His childhood food was such that could stretch far, and it created attitudes of thankfulness and contentment in him.
My childhood food was a little different than my husband’s. Our food was influenced by the fact that my father spent his formative years in Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston was rice country. Slaves from Africa brought various types of rice to Charleston’s shores. My dad didn’t think that a meal was a meal without rice. And my mom topped rice with red-eye gravy (from ham drippings), yellow gravy (from canned chicken soup), dark brown gravy (from roast beef drippings), or brown gravy (from sausage, fried chicken, or bacon drippings). The brown gravy was made with drippings, salt and pepper, milk or water, and thickened with a flour/water mixture. We would have meat with rice and gravy and green beans or green peas or corn. This was Sunday dinner.
During the week, we would have cheaper things like meatloaf or liver and onions. The liver was dredged in flour and fried, then soaked in brown gravy and always served with rice and peas. This was one of my favorites as a child. I always loved the smell of onions cooking. I still think to convince guests that you can cook, just cook some onions before they arrive for dinner. Whether you use the onions are not, your guests will think that there is a chef in the kitchen. One other childhood favorite was salmon croquettes. Take two pink cans of salmon, fourteen Captain’s Wafers, two eggs, and pepper to taste. Then make into patties and fry and brown in an oil and bacon dripping mixture. Last, plate and smash together with grits and biscuits. Some of the best eating ever! Is it healthy? I don’t know – but it’s good.
I am talking about my cultural food heritage. We all eat a lot like our mamas, and they ate like their mamas, etc. Things like yams, okra, watermelon, rice, and hot sauce came from Africa’s coast to ours and they were all on my mama’s table [Watch High on the Hog on Netflix]. All of our cultures have influenced us. Mama’s cooking defines who we are. Let’s all give thanks and eat.
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