My mother was a 100%+ mother. More good memories than I can relate here. Perhaps one of the greatest compliments I can pay her–even today–after she has been gone for over twenty years, is that I still find myself reaching for a phone to share important, interesting or just fun events with her.
I want to share a memory or two in hopes they will bring back memories of your family’s good times. Let’s start with Sunday dinners. Remember, in the South dinner was the noon meal and supper was the evening meal. Sunday dinner was always the best, enjoyed after church, often with company.
When we moved into our new home, in 1947, it was the first time in their married life that my parents had had a dining room. All I had ever known was eating at the kitchen table.
The new dining room was nothing grand, but it had a round drop-leaf maple table with a lazy Susan and could seat eight, elbow-to-elbow. There was a matching hutch displaying a few of Mom’s treasures. We only ate in the dining room for Sunday dinner or the rare times we had company for supper.
Sunday dinners were my favorites with one downside, we had to keep our Sunday best “going-to-church” clothes on. The meals I remember the most were centered around a roast beef, baked chicken, fresh pork ham, or, now and then, a pot roast. No matter the Sunday meat, there was always rice and gravy. We seldom ate potatoes, except the “new potatoes” right out of the ground from Ned’s garden. Rice as our favorite starch must have come from generations of our family living in the low country of South Carolina. Besides it was made for a rich brown or milk gravy.
My mother made the best rice–something I have never mastered. She had her favorite pot, used for nothing but cooking rice. At just the right time in the cooking process, she would transfer the perfectly-cooked snow-white rice to a colander that she placed over a simmering pot of water to keep it warm, waiting on the gravy slowly thickening on a back burner. Every grain was separate–none of that all-stuck-together stuff.
The other Sunday staple was biscuits. Before canned or frozen biscuits, every family had their favorite made-from-scratch receipt. They were all similar, made with flour, milk or cream, lard or butter. Most cooks had their own favorite combinations and, just as important, how they were mixed–patted into shape or rolled out and cut–most likely with an old jelly jar waiting in its special place on a cupboard shelf. The thickness, oven temperature and time of cooking also entered into their success and assured bragging rights.
Most people seem to like biscuits that are described as “big and fluffy”–at least that’s what the fast-food people have determined. My mother’s were just the opposite. She rolled her hand-mixed dough out no thicker than a half-inch. It was better not to try pulling her biscuits apart. They were crisper and you cut them open to spread the butter or cover with gravy. Any leftovers were great the next morning split open and toasted– with butter and jelly. This was a treat, because we seldom had leftovers.
They were different, but just the way we liked them. My children laugh at me when I get a fast-food sausage biscuit. The first thing I do is to scoop out that hunk of soft middle and toss it to the birds. The crispy top and bottom are the best and take me back to my childhood.
The “day of rest” started early for my mother and did not slow down until afternoon– preparing a big breakfast to hold us until after church; instructing and supervising three males dressing for Sunday school and Church, while at the same time getting herself ready as well as starting the dinner to be continued after church.
Green beans, black eyed peas, crowder peas, speckled butter beans or a pot of collards were seasoned and left to cook slowly. As we rushed out the door, a roast beef or a pork roast or even a fat hen could be placed in the oven to slow cook while we were at church. My mom was good at that–if the preacher did not go on too long. Fried chicken, properly prepared, took too long and was served only at family holiday gatherings or made for picnics.
When we got home, I swear I could smell the meal at the end of the driveway. Biscuits and rice were being prepared as soon as her apron was back on. Any of these entrees (a word not in my vocabulary at age seven) were the base for fine gravies my mom had mastered. I could then, and still can, hurt myself eating too much rice and gravy.
The roast beef she cooked was not a fine prime rib roast. It was a lesser cut of beef. After slow cooking until rare and thinly sliced, it was often still tough, but flavorful. It also made the best lunch sandwiches during the week with white loaf bread, Duke’s mayonnaise, lettuce and lots of black pepper–maybe sliced tomatoes in the summertime.
The whole chicken kept on shaved ice in the butcher’s case at Clement’s Grocery was what they called a “laying hen”. A fat old gal whose egg-laying production has decreased to a point where she fell to the ax. No cut-up chicken parts in those days–the buyer did that at home. When the chicken came out of the oven, I tried to be close so I could get the yet-to- be fully-formed eggs that were developing when the ax fell. A good butcher would leave them along with the liver, gizzard and heart to cook in the cavity. They were delicious–like little hard-cooked yellow yolks. Maybe only two or three, but a real treat.
At the table, where this all came together, there was not only good food, but good conversation. Now, living alone, I miss both.
KEEP THOSE MASKS ON!