I was talking about southern cooking with a friend of mine recently. She was asking if my mother taught me to cook. I explained that no, in fact she never let me in the kitchen. When I got married boiling water was a challenge.
She went on to talk about how she was now cooking new cuisines such as Asian Fusion, Tapas, Thai, and Ethiopian. Even though she did not articulate in so many words, she was saying, "Southern is so yesterday".
"But I know you like true southern food. In fact every thing I have eaten you fixed was quite tasty. There is an art to true southern cooking. So many people these days think they are southern cooks but they don't know what they are talking about."
Wow, I thought, here was a compliment. After all I had watched my Grandmama and Granny cook as a child.
She continued, "Nothing irritates me more than cooks who profess to be true 'Southern Cooks' but when you get down to brass tacks, they are cooking out of Junior League cookbooks, using instant rice, and still feeding their children that disgusting stuff from that Kraft blue box they call macaroni and cheese."
I agreed and we went on to discuss our childhood memories of being in the kitchen with our grandmothers, watching them carefully make biscuits, fry chicken, and bake cakes. She did have me when it came to watching her mother. My childhood memories of Mama's cooking were more of burnt roasts discovered the next morning. (Although my Mama could fry the best chicken I ever had despite her state of sobriety (or not) at the time.)
That evening while I was fixing supper I started thinking about my cooking. I will not deny that I feel as if I am a fairly good cook. One exception, in full disclosure, I cannot fry chicken. Everyone has a character failure - this is mine. There are worse. I can make macaroni and cheese that is rich with sharp white cheddar and cream with a touch of truffle oil, blacken salmon filets like a seasoned chef (no pun intended), bake a Lemon Doberge cake with homemade lemon curd between each of the 4 layers, to name some of my favorite recipes.
I love good cornbread with bits of jalapenos and cheese. Collards are always a good green vegetable to add to any meal. I only use real creamy butter, never never never anything else. Anything, short of dessert, can be enhanced with the addition of bacon. I never learned how to cook a potato until I was married (and started reading about cooking) because I grew up with rice at every meal.
I make a mean roux that can be used as a base for gravy, gumbo, etouffee, or bechamel sauce. My pimento cheese is rich with real roasted peppers (that I roast myself) and sharp cheddar.
My cooking is truly southern. I liberally utilize the two of the three food groups: butter and bacon.
OK, my conscious is heavy here. I spent years trying master collards only to finally learn the secret from a newly published cookbook - oh the humility of it. I tired of my biscuits being the butt of family jokes, so I resorted to the bagged frozen ones from Pillsbury. Grandmama, forgive me, I have failed you. My cornbread starts with a 45 cent box of Jiffy mix - shoot me now. But I have no apologies for the truffle oil in the macaroni, it is just damn good.
Now that I have confessed my sins in the kitchen, I can cook, bake, baste, braise, simmer, broil, and saute with pride. Everyone has skeletons in their pantry. I am just happy to put on an apron and dance with mine.