Over a year ago at least, my mother was visiting, and she was watching me cook up a storm for dinner. "I've never seen anyone go to so much trouble for supper," she said. It really wasn't that big of a deal, as I recall, but when you live alone and eat microwaved chicken pot pies, I suppose it's all a matter of perspective. Then, she suggested I put together a cookbook made up of our family's favorite recipes. My sisters and nieces and nephews cook as well, so why not put our heads together and share our treasures?
Good idea, don't you think? So, I contacted the family and asked them to send me their favorites. They did, and I got to work typesetting everything, but the project died in the early stages because there just didn't seem to be enough material to bother with. For example, we all cook with beef, but not one of us offered a beef recipe. So, there the cookbook sat...in loose pages...on my desk...half produced...gathering dust.
But then I found myself learning website design for a specific project, and one thing led to another so that I decided to turn our floundering cookbook project into a website instead of a few pages printed and bound at Staples. In this format, we could be flexible, adding and taking away and developing something we could use with ease. Plus, we couldn't lose a website on a shelf full of cookbooks or in a stack of magazines. We could include family stories that younger generations could read; and as our mother ages and becomes forgetful, preserving these stories is becoming a priority for us all.
So, in it's earliest stages, here is our new family website.
We'll be adding stories and recipes and photos as it evolves. Here is a sample of the stories we'll be telling:
Our parents were raised in an era when whole foods were the only option, and that fact was not considered a limitation. During the first half of the 1900s, and in rural Alabama, families ate what they grew and bartered for the rest.
Mama, in particular, lived on a farm as a child, and she has vivid memories of the other farmers in the area banding together in order to survive. In fact, they did more than survive—they thrived, even though we might have a different understanding of the term relative to today’s bloated standards.
Each farmer had something to trade, and being resourceful with his home-grown commodities was a regular part of daily life. As Mama describes life during the Great Depression: our grandparents had a small farm with chickens and a steady supply of eggs. Every week, a peddler with a carload of grocery items would drive throughout the countryside and honk to announce he was open for business. Memaw, our name for our grandmother, would hand him a dozen eggs or so in exchange for a pound of coffee or some salt and maybe some candy for the kids. The peddler would then make his way to the next farm for another exchange where he might be paid in potatoes or even a small pig.
Granddaddy grew sugar cane, as did most farmers, and he took his crop to a man with a traveling sorghum mill powered by a mule. When the cane was processed, they would agree on a percentage of the sorghum as payment for the service. A similar transaction was made between farmers with corn to grind and the owner of the local gristmill.
Once, Memaw needed an operation, but no one had money to spend, even on life-saving medical procedures, so the doctor agreed to be paid in cotton. Mama remembers that after the surgery, her father drove his wagon into town and dropped two bails right there on the lawn of the hospital. Paid in full.
But we’re talking about whole foods, aren’t we—corn, in particular—so back to the subject. Mama transferred her knowledge of cooking with fresh, whole food to her own home and for the sake of her own children. She knew where to buy the freshest sweet corn grown in Indiana, and every summer, she would time her visits to the farmer so that she’d pull into his driveway just in time to meet his truck fresh from the fields. She’d buy bushels of the biggest ears you’ve ever seen, so sweet they were practically dripping sugar, and she’d haul them back home to our kitchen.
We’d then spend the entire day freezing corn. Whichever daughter happened to be living there at the time would be enlisted—conscripted, even; and we’d squat on a stool, hunched over a growing pile of shucked husks for what seemed like hours, tearing away the wet corn wrappers and pulling out the stubborn strands of silk. Then Mama would take the naked ears and parboil them, cut the kernels from the cobs and freeze the rewards in plastic containers to last the winter.
Sometimes we’d set aside a few good husks and some of the golden silk and make little dolls for ourselves, but really, we were mostly happy when that hard day of work was done. It seemed as though the neighbor kids and their mothers didn’t bother with the whole process of canning fresh vegetables and were happy to eat corn from a can. They must not have known any better because, despite all that hard work, the fresh corn Mama fed us year round was delicious. Is it possible that hard work made it all the sweeter?
[ as taught by Clera ]
fresh ears of sweet corn (two per person)
Salt and pepper
The trick to making good fried corn, and what sets this dish apart from sautéed corn, is to “milk” the ears as you cut off the kernels. Stand an ear of corn on its end in a deep bowl and slice off the surface of the kernels working top to bottom. Repeat, working closer to the cob. When all the kernels have been removed, carefully scrape the dull edge of the knife along the sides of the cob, working bottom to top, to release the liquid, or “milk,” into the bowl.
In a large, heavy skillet, pour in all of the kernels and accumulated liquid and add a generous amount of butter. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat and reduce to simmer, stirring occasionally until corn is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Note: Revision from original post—because Heliohost proved to be too unreliable, I have an official domain and a new site.