Left Isis
Right Isis

March 3rd, 2006

I receive a lot of comments from readers who like the recipes that I put at the end of The Old Buzzard Had It Coming. When I decided to put the recipes in, I did so not necessarily to preserve some of the old ways of cooking, though that was certainly on my mind. I was really more interested in writing about the old ways of eating.

There is a scene early in Buzzard in which the family gathers in the afternoon for a meal of beans and cornbread, and as soon as I started writing that, I realized that I’d better make clear to the reader that there’s more to eating beans and cornbread than meets the eye. Some diners crumble their cornbread into the beans, some open a square of cornbread on the bottom of the bowl and spoon beans over it. Some folks slather their bread with butter to eat alongside the beans. Oh, there are more ways to eat that particular combination of foods than I have time to go into here. And it’s not just beans and cornbread. Meals are a very personal thing, and we all have our pecadillos.

When we were children, my sister and I made a ritual of saving the very best thing on our plates for the last bite. I can’t speak for my sister, but I have a tendancy to do this still. Unfortunately, our grandmother (upon whom the character of Alice is based) took great delight in reaching over before the meal was over and eating our carefully saved last bite right out from under us, much to our whining disgruntlement.

I received an e-mail from a reader who told me that his mother put sugar in everything, and so did my grandmother (the other one, upon whom the character of Phoebe is based. See her picture on the “Truth or Fiction” page). When she made fruit pies, she added so much sugar that the fruit dissolved, so her apple pies were actually applesauce pies. She did this because my grandfather liked things sweet. When he drank iced tea, you could see two finger-widths of undissolved sugar at the bottom of the glass.

He also liked fat. With my own eyes I’ve seen him put butter on his chocolate cake. The sad thing was that my grandfather was nearly 6 feet tall and never weighed over 150 pounds in his life. You could be like that, too, Dear Reader, if you plowed behind a mule for a living. Grandpa came by his love of fat honestly, though. His father buttered radishes and onions before he ate them. My own father had a thing for fat, too – loved an inch of fat on his pork chops. My mother and her mother, on the other hand, wanted their meat lean, dry and burnt. I understand my mother-in-law liked her meat well done, too. My mother speculated that anyone who’s ever had to kill and clean a chicken or a hog wants to make sure it resembles flesh, blood and bone as little as possible. Of course, if you killed and preserved your own meat, eating it well done is a very good idea, bacteria-and-parasite-killingwise.

I love hearing your family food lore, Dear Readers. It’s not just food, it’s tradition. There will be more recipes at the end of Hornswoggled. I have enough food lore in my family to have recipes at the end of any and every book I write.

(By the way, in Alafair’s time, “dinner” was the main meal of the day, usually eaten in the early afternoon, and “supper” was just a light repast at the end of the day.)

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