I was reading a Southern cookbook the other day which devoted several pages to the proper way to make iced tea.
And it made me wonder. Doesn’t anybody cook any more? More people than I care to count buy their iced tea in gallons at the grocery store or individual bottles when they stop to get gas, instead of starting with a pan of cold water, loose black tea leaves and sugar syrup boiled and cooled beforehand.
They also don’t fry chicken at home. And making a coconut cake that takes seven days? (One day to make and six to wait.) You’ve got to be kidding, most people would say.
But making food that takes time is the way it’s done in Michael Lee West’s “Consuming Passions: A Food-Obsessed Life.” It’s a quirky memoir, as one critic put it, about her family of “ferocious eaters” and fanatic cooks.
I can just picture my mother’s South Georgia family in many of the roles, but without the fine china for everyday use.
I can also figure that my Aunt Myrtle and Aunt Robbie Nell would gladly pick up a gallon of tea at the store if they were in a hurry and it were available in their day. Both are long gone, but their food definitely remembered. I’ve written before about Aunt Myrtle’s six-layer chocolate cake. It was a white cake made from scratch, the layers carefully split and put together with fudge icing. I never have been able to duplicate it, even with her recipe. I think it’s the flour these days, but more likely, patience has a great deal to do with it.
The only one of Aunt Robbie Nell’s recipes I have in the recipe card file is for peanut brittle, and have made it a few times. Getting raw or green peanuts in the grocery stores around here is one drawback. Mostly, I remember her standing at the kitchen counter in Adel, Ga., making biscuits in that worn wooden dough bowl I’ve inherited. One end is worn jagged from at least two generations of Cobb family members using it.
Aunt Robbie Nell kept self-rising flour in that long tray, made a well in the center, mixed in buttermilk and lard, and formed her biscuits. I don’t have the hang of making good biscuits, either. I probably work the dough too much. I hear there are frozen biscuits that are just as good. Luckily, my husband isn’t addicted to fresh biscuits for breakfast. When we first moved to Salem, I remember talking with a couple of ladies who got up early to make biscuits from scratch for their husbands went to work around dawn. Bless them.
We’re just as bad these days at our house. Bill is working income taxes in Roanoke right now. I’m racing out of the house to write articles, proof pages, get to interviews. We’ve resorted to English muffin-egg-and-ham frozen breakfasts that you can microwave, carry and eat in one hand.
But oh, how I miss those big breakfasts the ladies of my childhood used to cook from scratch. And the time to eat them.