Anyone who doesn’t believe there is a God should consider the following: bacon, butter and batter. Such epicurean delights can come from heaven alone. They are the holy trinity of Southern “cookin” without which life, or at least food, becomes a dull thing. I’m confident that Thoreau wrote “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them,” shortly after a meal of baked chicken, steamed broccoli and unbuttered brown rice. Southern cooking fills both the belly and the soul like nothing else, especially when consumed with family and friends.
My earliest memories of family involve fried chicken cooked in skillet atop my Grandmother’s stove. She fried it in Crisco as God meant for chicken to be fried and the smell and sound of it cooking was almost as delicious as eating it. “Mama” Owens, as she was called by many of her Grandchildren, would prepare a meal for my family to take with us on long journeys back home to Maine, Pennsylvania and New York as we returned from Christmas or Summer Vacations in Alabama. She would also fry apple pies to place in a paper “poke” (that’s a brown paper bag for those of you raised in odd cultures) along with the chicken. And because a meal should be balanced, she’d either toss in some white bread or some rolls. My parents would always want to wait to eat when we were several hours down the road. It was torture, verging on abuse, but I have worked through it and forgiven them.
In my high school days a New Year’s Day tradition began to include inviting the Marshall High School basketball team, along with a select few others, to my house to watch College Bowl games and eat fried chicken prepared by my mother. One by one guys with names like “Mac,” “T,” “CJ,” and “Murph” along with others would show up to break bread and watch Alabama play in the Sugar Bowl. Our friendships grew as we guzzled Coke, ate, and laughed together. If the chicken had been baked or we’d had a nice vegetable tray with dip, I’m certain New Year’s day would have been quiet as polite regrets were the response to my invitations.
But let us not forget butter and bacon. For who would enjoy green beans without these? What would the biscuit be without butter or bacon? Or both? My wife has mastered the preparation of the pot roast. And though I am unclear of means of her alchemy when I see a pound of bacon, a pot roast and a red Dutch Oven on the counter I start looking for my “fat pants” and hide the scales. The meal will also usually include something like mashed potatoes and rolls since we need something to hold the butter. The experience is made complete in that it normally includes my adult children’s presence around a holiday table.
Sugar and cream are also essential ingredient for truly Southern cooking. Without sugar the ever-present chocolate, coconut or lemon pie that was always on “Mama” Owens’ kitchen table would never have been there. There would have been no coconut cake under the cake plate cover at Mizz Bishop’s either. None of my wife’s cakes, cookies or pies would be here to tempt me either. Their absence evokes thoughts of Cormac McCarthy’s post apocalyptic world in the The Road. Bleak. Desperate. Hopeless.
Sure I know we are to “eat to live, not live to eat.” In this day of measuring triglycerides, blood pressure and cholesterol, I know that butter, bacon, and breading, are bad for my health. But as I hear the wheat mill turning in my kitchen , I know that homemade waffles will soon be ready. And I will top them with butter, syrup, and maybe some confectioner’s sugar (just a little). Tomorrow I will do better. I will go to the gym and pay for my sins. But for now, I’m just going to be thankful for God’s gifts and the fact I’m a Southern boy.
Now, where are my fat pants?