True Southern Cooking is Still Alive

Author: Pam Tyson-Yasinski 

My roots have been deeply set in the South, especially when it comes to the food. Living here all my life, I’ve grown up on my mom and grandparent’s meals straight from Grandad’s farm. There’s no doubt they were some of the best at southern cooking. I took it for granted in my younger days, thinking that was just the way food was.

But when I found myself on my own trying to master those soft, made from scratch biscuits with butter melting  into that edible cotton cloud…I had a news flash. All food wasn’t like the delicacies that filled my childhood dinner plate. I have yet to find a southern cooking restaurant that equals it either. However, there is a place in McDonough, Georgia that does come pretty close. It’s Gritz Family Restaurant and their food is close enough to mom’s to keep me coming back.

The creamed corn and fried okra are my favorites for taking me back to summertime supper time. Adding the sausage gravy to an open biscuit and ripe tomato slices seal the deal. The fried chicken is delicious, but I can’t say it quite matches the childhood memories. Though mom said mine was better than hers…I guess that will have to be summed up as “things taste better when someone else makes it.” Even a simple sandwich always tasted better when she put it together.
Real (I said REAL) southern dishes usually don’t have an actual recipe. They really do consist of a dab of this and a pinch of that. It’s something you have to get the feel for. I only wish I had mastered those biscuits while the biscuit masters were still with us. With many tries and many fails…mine are just ok. I know the method but don’t quite have that special touch. But I will keep trying! Being that many dishes from days past are perfected by trial and error…instead of recipes, I’ll pass along some tips and phrases from some of the best southern cooks.
While on the biscuit subject…mom said to always use White Lily flour. Sift “about two cups full” in a bowl. Take a hefty, three finger sized scoop of crisco, dig a little well and slowly add milk as you “work it in”. She never used a biscuit cutter because the sides would be hard.  When it was of a consistency to handle, she simply pinched off a piece of dough the size of a silver dollar and rolled it gently to form the biscuit. Always placing them in her baking pan where they were touching each other to keep the sides soft. She would then “pat them down” to flatten them a bit. Baking at 375° until light brown. She never put butter on them…but instead cut them open and buttered them while still very warm. I still dream about these biscuits and hope one day that dream will come true.
 When making creamed corn, she cut between the kernels as most do. But she also insisted on splitting each kernel as well, then she would cut the kernels off of the cob into a large bowl. Once the kernels are off, scrape the cob with the knife to get every bit to make the creamed corn creamy. Adding chopped banana peppers on top of each serving of corn is amazing as well! There are the tips…now to build a recipe:
NANA’S FRESH CREAMED CORN
10 ears of corn
1/2 cup of flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cups water
several pieces of fatback
salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 2 T butter
~Fry the fatback in a large pot.
~Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl of corn.
~ Mix well and pour mixture into the pot with the fat grease.
~Cook on low/medium heat until it thickens. Stir often, scraping the bottom of the pot so it won’t scorch.
Since we’re talking about throwing in a bit of this and that, I’ll toss in my chicken recipe below.
PAM’S FRIED CHICKEN TENDERS
6 boneless chicken breasts
Milk
2 large eggs
White Lily SR flour
Salt
Pepper
1 bottle canola oil
~Cut the chicken breasts into strips. Any size you prefer is fine.
~Place in a large air tight container.
~Lightly beat the eggs and add them to a cup of milk.
~Pour the egg and milk mixture over the  chicken, adding enough milk to cover it.
~Sprinkle with salt and pepper
~Stir chicken strips to be sure it’s mixed well with the mixture.
~Marinate several hours or overnight
~Using  a deep fryer, heat the entire bottle of oil. Test a pinch of flour to see if it sizzles.
~Fill a large mixing bowl half full with the flour.
~Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to the flour.
~Coat each chicken strip well with flour. ~Gently place 4-5 strips in the fryer basket. Be sure they aren’t touching so they won’t stick together.
~Immerse in hot oil.
~Gently shake the basket as the chicken fries.
~ Fry until a light brown.
~Remove basket and shake to drain.
~Remove chicken and place on a plate covered with a thick layer of paper towels to absorb excess oil.
~Repeat until all chicken is fried.
Whether it’s home cooking or finding a restaurant that still holds onto the treasure of made from scratch…there’s nothing like the comfort and sense of home that true southern cooking gives. My hope is that it is never forgotten or lost.

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