I committed a grave food sin when I prepared my weekly Wednesday night bowl of popcorn: I popped it in bacon grease. I try to cook and eat healthy foods, but after I wrote about some of Libby’s and my adventures last week, I started becoming nostalgic for some of the food we used to eat. Wednesday’s popcorn was an homage to Grandma, who on Friday nights popped us a huge bowl, cooking it in bacon grease and liberally shaking on the salt. The minute I brought the first kernel to my mouth, I could smell my Friday nights in Thayer.
Grandma used Crisco, though, not bacon grease, to fry chicken, and though I have tried, I cannot replicate the crunchiness or the taste of that chicken – so I don’t even try anymore. Grandma also had the brilliant idea to sprinkle sugar on our pimiento cheese sandwiches. She made the pimiento cheese by putting a block of cheddar through a meat grinder – no shredded cheese for her! That little added taste of sugar was heaven.
But as everyone now knows, eating cheese adds saturated fat to one’s diet. That means I don’t eat pimiento cheese anymore. In fact, when Emily first moved to Savannah, she called one day and said excitedly, “Mom! Have you ever had pimiento cheese?” I acknowledged that I had eaten it often when I was a kid. “Why haven’t you ever made it for me?,” she whined. I explained that it was full of fat. “That’s a small price to pay,” she said. And so now, when we go to Little Rock, we visit the Capitol Bar and Grill, where pimiento cheese on homemade soda crackers is on the menu.
During my earliest years, my great-grandmother made pie crust with butter and turned out pies that melted in my mouth. In fact, when she died at age 102, we found in her freezer a treasure trove of pies, stack after stack of frozen peach, apple, and cherry pies, made in individual little foil pie pans – an unexpected gift.
Until today, I don’t think anyone knew that Max and I smuggled all the peach pies home, and we kept them a long time, eating one occasionally, until I saw that only one was left. I didn’t really want to eat it, but we did, enjoying each bite, until it was gone, and so was Mama, who had been on this earth for 102 years.
Bubba was not much of a cook; however, she knew how to make cakes. Every year for my birthday, she made a German chocolate cake loaded with that delicious gooey coconut pecan frosting. I always cut the cake into generous pieces but saved myself a big corner piece, eating as much frosting as possible.
My senior year in high school, she made the frosting with black walnuts instead of sweet, tender pecans. I didn’t know about the switch, and so my mouth was set for the taste I loved. I took the first bite, and then almost spit it out! I don’t like black walnuts in the first place, but thinking that I was going to taste pecans and then getting a mouthful of bitter was startling.
“Bubba! What’s wrong with the cake?,” I asked. She explained that she had been out of pecans and so she had used black walnuts. “Don’t you like it?” I tried to be polite, but I couldn’t eat that cake – my last one. I wish she would have given me the recipe, but I’m afraid the German chocolate cake is lost forever.
Bubba also made biscuits for us some Saturday mornings. They were hard as rocks, but the insides were tender and steaming; we slathered them with butter and Mama’s homemade apple butter, and inhaled them.
Though my food choices have necessarily evolved over the years, I still crave the taste of the things that made my childhood special. Unfortunately, I can’t have them because those who created them are no longer here. Maybe what I really want is to share some time with my family over a piece of cake, or a pie, or a biscuit, or a platter of fried chicken. I think I will.
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.