I’m having a flood of food memories and thought I should write them down for my kidlets and others who remember these crazy things.
Red Velvet Cake
I remember the first piece of Red Velvet Cake I ever had. First grade. The perfect square of deep red with white frosting. When I picked up a piece with my metal fork and slid it into my mouth, I’m sure I made a childish moan of delight.
I never saw Red Velvet Cake outside of the south until about 30 years ago. Reading, it seems that the movie Steel Magnolias (a movie I have memorized) brought the dessert out of the southern states about 1989 when the Groom’s Cake, in the shape of an armadillo, was blood red from the cake inside.
I haven’t seen the Jell-O cake in decades, but remember how to make it as if it was yesterday.
• Make a yellow cake in a 9×13 pan
• Let it cool
• Use the back end of a wooden spoon to make a few holes around the cake
• Make 2-3 different kinds (and colors!) of Jell-O
• While the Jell-O is still liquid, randomly pour it into the holes
• Put the now kinda colored cake in the refrigerator for a few hours
• Once the cake is cold, frost it with Cool Whip. (It has to be Cool Whip! Not real whipped cream, but Cool Whip.
I prefer the multi-colored cakes, but I see online it is common to make this for red, white & blue holidays.
Besides how to make this cake, I can taste it as if it was sitting in front of me.
I used to go to Tifton, Georgia with a childhood friend, visiting her grandmother. Tifton is still really small, but back in 1974 or so, it was tiny.
Grandma lived on a farm… cows, chickens, horses, pigs, corn fields… the whole farm thing. Visiting grandma in Tifton remains the only time I’ve ever been to, visited or stayed on a farm.
It was hot as Hades at that house. Not even fans, much less air conditioning. The windows were always open, cicadas and neighing from the horses the only sounds during the windless nights.
Sitting in the kitchen was big fun. Grandma cooked everything from scratch (as most everyone did back then), 3 meals a day, 365 days a year.
Huge, amazing breakfasts of fresh bacon, eggs from the chickens and lots of thickly buttered white bread toast.
When the bacon was done, grandma poured the hot grease on top of the older grease sitting in a Ball Jar next to the stove. Grease upon grease upon grease, sitting for goodness knows how long.
If something was going to stick to the cast iron pan, a heaping spoonful of grease was added to the pan.
Because eggs were a sticky sort of food, bacon grease was the base as they were cooked… bits of bacon fat throughout.
How this bacon fat generation didn’t all die off from heart disease is beyond me.
Certainly all the hard work helped.
Still on the farm with my friend and her grandparents, we girls were sent out to the corn field to pick corn off the stalks. A novice, I had to be shown what was a good piece of corn to pick off, having chosen semi-rotten corn at first.
Once I figured it out, we went about our business and filled the giant basket we were given.
When our baskets were full, we carried them right into grandma’s kitchen where she almost immediately set to work. We were in charge of getting the “angel hair” (silk) off the cob, then passed the clean corn to grandma so she could get the kernels off.
This part was the most time-consuming part. It would take hours of manual muscle to scrape, scrape, scrape the cob in order to get what she needed to make the creamed corn.
But, when all the corn was off the cob, the deliciousness really started.
Boiled Peanuts are a part of the Deep South. You are nearly required to say the words with a Southern accent: “Bolt Peanuts.”
Roadside stands are everywhere.
For those who’ve never had the opportunity to taste boiled peanuts, you can also get them in the store… canned!
Here’s what they look like when being made at one of the outdoor locations.
People eat them in different ways. Some will remove the peanut out of the shell with their fingers, others take the peanut out once it is in their mouth… but many, many eat them without removing the squishy shell.
My thoughts on boiled peanuts: THEY ARE REVOLTING. Slimy shells are incredibly gross. Foodie, beware.
Pickled Pigs Feet
Yet another Southern delicacy is Pickled Pigs Feet. Not kidding.
Now, while I’ve never put these in my mouth, they are incredibly popular in all stores, large and small.
Anecdote: My niece was about 3-years old and there was a lower bin filled with pigs’ feet. She asked what they were and mom told her, “Pig’s feet!” My niece looked at the bin, back to mom, then back to the bin and asked, “Then how do the piggies walk?” Smart child.
My childhood friend Angel taught me how to eat grits.
Grits are made from corn (no clue how) and used to have to be cooked, but now come in the instant variety. To me, there’s no difference in the taste, so bring on the instant grits!
Angel first made me grits with sugar in them. Blech.
Then she introduced me to grits with butter. So much butter, the grits in the bowl were floating and a bright yellow color.
Restaurants in the south often make grits with cheese. Meh. Bring on the butter.
Swimming in butter is how I eat them to this day.
Simple sandwiches are usually made because by noon it is bloody hot outside. In the olden days, we had no air conditioner. On my friend’s grandparent’s farm, there was never any air conditioner.
It was not uncommon to eat this simple sandwich: Tomato & Mayonnaise on Wonder Bread.
Note the old plate the sandwich is on in the above picture… gilt around the edge. No one does that anymore because it would spark a fire in the microwave.
And then, the bane of my southern party existence: Pimento Cheese on Wonder Bread.
Pimentos. DisGUSTing. And then some sort of cheese (not real… can’t be real) all mashed together with mayonnaise. Blech!
When I was pre-teen, we’d cram luggage, then ourselves, into the Chevy station wagon (seat belts? HA!) and trek to Shreveport, Louisiana to spend part of the summer with the Cuban side of the family: grandmother, aunt, uncles and cousins.
During one particular visit, the 2 oldest cousins dragged 8-year old me into their clubhouse, wall-papered with Playboy pictures (the first I’d ever seen) and took it upon themselves to tell me how babies were made.
I was so confused.
And once I really learned, I saw they got several facts incorrect. I hope they’ve figured that all out by now.
My parents and aunt and uncle went fishing a couple of times during the summer. I salivated just seeing the fishing poles being put into the cars.
They always came home with gobs of fresh catfish & perch. Still today, catfish is pretty much the only fish I enjoy (memories are strong motivators!).
I remember the scaling of the perch as a messy, gross activity that I stayed far away from lest I be covered in the silvery scales. Whomever was scaling at the moment, when they were tired, were hosed off in the yard to get those tiny flecks of fish-covering off their face and arms, then someone took up the spoon and continued the tedious work.
Happily, catfish have no scales.
Finally, the enormous Bar-B-Que was fired up and I hung around it, feeling the intense heat, watching the cooking catfish, just stopping myself from begging for the first fish off the grill.
Being first in line, I often received those burning hot slabs of flesh.
I learned how to eat fish around the bones fast, not remembering ever eating a hard fish bone. (The soft ones are often just swallowed.)
Besides the BBQ, the catfish was often fried. Which I loved even more. You can never go wrong with breading and being fried in a cast iron pan.
I can taste it even now.
The always-offered hush puppies were also made. I gobbled those suckers up, too. Dipped in ketchup.
A wonderful book I came across many years ago was White Trash Cooking. Between the covers, recipes and photos brought back visceral memories, making me close my eyes for a moment, and feeling/smelling/tasting exactly what I saw in a mere picture.
What a fun revisit to my food memories. Thanks for coming along!