With my earlier columns, the ideas popped into my head and translated themselves on the screen without much difficulty. In the instance of this article, my thoughts were less clearly connected, so I took this as a hint that I needed to sit with my thoughts until the moment came when it all made sense. The moment came at 11:04pm on a Thursday as I was thinking about the significance of the day. On that day twenty-four years ago, my Uncle Wayne passed away.
I hope that everyone’s family has someone like my uncle. Generous, loyal, a wicked sense of humor, mischievous but always someone you could count on. I think I knew from an early age that his gifts were shared not just with my family, but with our larger community. He was a lineman for South Central Bell and as the saying goes, he never met a stranger. Between his work, his love of hunting and his dedication to calling little league baseball, it seemed like everyone knew my uncle.
For me, I knew him as my Daddy’s greatest confident, someone who adored my Momma and treated me like I was his own. Whenever I think of him now, I picture him sitting at Granny’s kitchen table eating and picking on her until she was ready to boil. At that moment when it seemed like he pushed her one step too far, he would smile (he had one of those glorious smiles) and Granny would roll her eyes, and laugh in realization that he was yanking her chain.
In addition to it being the anniversary of his passing, thinking of my Uncle and his generosity reminded me of something I needed to remember. I needed a reminder why this is where I am supposed to be.
In the summer of 2020, I was on the hunt for canning jar lids, just like probably everyone else in Franklin County. There were none to be had. In my case, I had squirreled away plenty of jars, but I always relied on my ability to find lids at the store. In a last ditch effort to find lids, I went to Food City in Wilton. They keep their canning supplies above the fresh fruit case, so sometimes folks don’t even notice them or maybe they get pushed to the back & out of sight. In 2020, that was not the case. I went to the register to ask if they knew of anywhere else I could find lids. The customer in the check-out buying groceries asked what size of canning lids I needed. Then she proceeded to tell me that she had stocked up with plans for a garden, but later realized she wasn’t going to get around to growing that garden or using the canning supplies.
She offered me everything she had. She wouldn’t take money and wouldn’t let me replace them when stores were back in stock. This kind stranger had me follow her home and I waited on her porch while she located everything and gave them to me asking nothing in return. THIS is an example of why I choose every day to make my home here. This behavior might be less common in other places and it may harken back to behaviors of an earlier time, but when I told this story to local friends, most were not surprised and had similar experiences.
With that spirit of sharing in mind, I’m wondering if I can ask y’all a favor? I recently started working with a few friends from the Farmer’s Market, the Daily Bulldog and UMF’s New Commons Project to plan a community cookbook. The idea behind it is “the things we carry with us”. This idea resulted from conversations planning the last addition to the New Commons Project, Fannie Merritt Farmer’s The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book for April & May of this year…
In all the time I spent in the kitchen growing up, there are these experiences, stories and recipes I choose to take hold of and carry forward with me and there are others that I let lay. From writing these articles I realized there are so many memories that link me to these traditions and recipes and I need to share them so they are preserved. When we share a recipe, we are not just sharing a list of ingredients and instructions. Our recipes come with stories, whether the receiver knows it or not. In essence, that is what recipes are: A story of how something is created, and I would love to help create a collection of recipes for us all to share.
If this is something you would like to participate in, all you need to do is email me your recipe and preferred contact information at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop a copy off at the information booth for the Saturday Farmington Farmers Market. We hope to have the project to press in early April in time to include it with the New Commons focus on Fannie Merritt Farmer’s The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book .
Given that my Uncle Wayne inspired me with this project, I’ll leave you with the recipes for his favorite meal, soup beans and cornbread. I make this and carry it in my lunch often in the winter and I never fail to not think of him, my Granny, Daddy, Momma and others when I assemble the ingredients as if through muscle memory or hold the warm bowl of beans in my hands. It is simple country food, but it carries the kitchen magic of my childhood. I like my beans with a spoonful of chow chow, a little chopped raw onion and the cornbread crumbled on top.
1 pound dried pinto beans
8 cups water
4 strips bacon, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 chopped jalapeno (optional)
1 smoked ham hock or ham neck bone
32 ounces chicken stock
Salt & pepper to taste
Place dried pinto beans in a colander and rinse under cold water. Pick through and discard any bad beans or stones. Pour the beans into a large bowl and fill with enough cold water to cover the beans by 2 inches. Let the beans soak for several hours or overnight. By the next day, the beans will have doubled in size by absorbing most of the water. Drain the beans and rinse.
In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, add chopped bacon and let partially cook for a few minutes on each side. Remove the bacon strips and set aside on a plate. Next add chopped onion to the skillet and saute for a few minutes in the bacon grease until softened, add in the garlic and jalapeno and saute for an additional 30 seconds until aromatic. Pour in about a cup of chicken stock and use a spatula to scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pot.
To the slow cooker, add in the pinto beans, ham hock, onion mixture, and bacon. Pour in the remaining chicken stock and add enough water to make sure the beans are covered by 2 inches of liquid. Stir everything together. Cook on high heat for 4-5 hours or low heat for 8-10 hours until the beans are tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
1 cup cabbage finely chopped
1 green tomato chopped
1 red bell pepper chopped with core and seeds removed
1 medium onion finely chopped
1 small cucumber finely chopped
1 hot pepper minced (optional)
3 ⅓ cups white vinegar divided
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon ground mustard
½ tsp mustard seed
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/3 cup water
Place chopped vegetables in a saucepan. Pour in enough vinegar to cover vegetables and heat over medium-high. Bring the vegetable mixture to a boil until the vegetables become tender. Remove from heat and drain the vegetables and discard the remaining vinegar.
To the saucepan of cooked vegetables, stir in the sugar, ground mustard, mustard seed, turmeric, celery seed, ⅓ cup vinegar and water. Turn the heat back on to medium-high and bring to a boil. Let the mixture boil for 5 minutes.
This relish can be stored in the refrigerator and makes a great topping for hotdogs, hamburgers or with BBQ and there are many variations on the recipe if you look online.
2 cups cornmeal (in Tennessee we use white cornmeal, but yellow cornmeal works too)
½ cup all purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups buttermilk
4 tbsp bacon grease or shortening
Preheat oven to 425F. Put sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder in a bowl and add buttermilk. Stir well. Add flour and cornmeal alternately. Melt bacon grease or shortening in a 9×9 pan or 10-inch round cast iron skillet in the oven. Pour mixture into the hot pan and bake until brown, about 15 minutes.