Thursday, June 30, 2011
Last night I was driving around north Atlanta trying to decide where I wanted to 'sup' and while I was tempted by a Buckheady organic, creative and artsy chef-owned establishment, it was the woo of the familiar which won out.
Anyone who spent his childhood in Decatur will remember the Old Hickory House over on Ponce, near Suburban Plaza. My old Pediatrician was in the eggnog-colored brick building right behind it, and while I have pleasant memories of old Dr. Brannon, it was he who told mama not to let me swim in Medlock pool with black children because "there were scabs on their bottoms where their tails fell off'.
And yes, I am serious. It was the only ugly prejudiced thing I ever heard growing up in the south and it apparently didn't keep me from choosing a dear black child named Portland Price as my best friend in kindergarten.
God rest Dr. Brannon's soul and no doubt if and when he faced the Almighty, Jesus had a big ol' afro.
Anyway, back to more pleasant things such as smoky, delicious BBQ at Hickory House.
When I was pregnant with my son, I craved a baked sweet potato and a soft, steamed bun filled with sauce-covered outside cuts that could only come from Hickory House. Oh, how I loved those sandwiches! If only they would have added the word 'barbeque' on the sign the debate over 'barbecue' vs. 'barbeque' would have been put to rest, because Hickory House had and has the final word when it comes to BBQ!
Last night, I ordered a hickory chick, which is a large portion of chopped smoky chicken mixed with sauce and served alongside beans and stew. I was so happy and enjoying my supper immensely, when I looked up and noticed the elderly gentleman across the way. With shaking hands, he was crumbling corn bread into a tall glass of thick buttermilk. He then took a spoon and stirred it all together and took his sweet time eating spoonful after spoonful of his lumpy, tangy creamy supper.
I was thinking how folks today might scrunch their noses and say 'ew, yuck' at the thought of buttermilk and cornbread. Where's the creativity? The nutrition? The color, the variety?
We've become so complex with our food. We pride ourselves on eating fair-trade, organic, locally-farmed, sustainable, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, GMO-free food crafted by chefs who strive to outdo one another in their unqiue creations. I used to laugh at the hoopla a local chef created by serving buttermilk fried chicken cooked in a black iron skillet on Tuesday nights in his Decatur eatery.
It seems to me we're trying to go back to our roots, to the kinds of food our forefathers ate before the advent of processed foods. My parents grew up during The Great Depression in the thirties. Daddy said they often only had buttermilk, cornbread, dried beans and cole slaw for supper. Dried beans were a staple on early southern tables, as were collard greens.
I could tell this fella across the way was enjoying his supper, one spoonful at a time. I wondered if he was remembering sharing a table with his many siblings and most likely a grandparent or two, as all households had a grandmama or granddaddy living down the hall. All the kids were most likely barefoot or wearing passed down shoes with cardboard giving life to the well-worn soles. They were happy to eat whatever was on their plate, and blessed God for what food they had. Simple food in a simple life.
More and more people are buying locally grown garden produce and learning to eat simple foods. I hope folks also learn to grow their own produce and can the harvest in quart-sized mason jars.
I'll offer up a suggestion for one way to embrace the past...homemade buttermilk.
You'll need a quart (or larger) mason jar, some fresh cultured buttermilk and fresh milk, whole or 2%....enough to do a one part buttermilk to 4 parts milk. 1 to 3 parts if your buttermilk isn't as fresh. Mix 6 or 8 ounces of the buttermilk to 3 cups of milk. Screw on the lid and sit it out in a slightly warm place for one day. The lactic acid in the cultures will cause the milk proteins to clabber and you'll find it has turned thick and tangy in about 24 hours. Now put it in the frig. Voila! (see Anna, I do pay attention sometimes) you now have homemade buttermilk.
It has a very long shelf life in the refrigerator, several weeks actually. When you see it getting low, repeat the process and you'll find you never need to buy buttermilk again. My mama used to keep a big silver pitcher of buttermilk in the refrigerator and she'd drink a small glass every day. Cornbread, buttermilk pie, pancakes, biscuits..the possibilities are endless! Enjoy!