Southern is as Southern Does…
No Southern family worth its salt is going to sit to supper on New Year’s Day without black-eyed peas and cornbread on the table. For others, kissing the Blarney Stone or pressing four-leaf clovers in books may be a good luck custom. But in my family and others across the South’s Gulf Coast, our good luck and success all year is entwined with black-eyed peas and cornbread sticks or pan cornbread, or sometimes fried cornbread fritters. The hock off of the ham we had for Christmas dinner is boiled with the peas. Even babies get a few mashed up peas. We don’t take chances with our good luck.
Spiral hams are all the rage these days and that’s one of the meats we ate on Christmas. But before it went in the oven, I
used a kitchen hacksaw to cut a four inch hock to save for my black-eyed peas. After all of the turkey, ham, rib roast and stuffed goose on Christmas, by New Year’s we are ready for fish, crab and shrimp. Gumbo is a basic. I make my own roux by toasting flour to carbon in a fifty year old spider–that’s a cast iron pot. I don’t know how folks manage without cast iron kitchenware. Once as dark as I can get the flour, I add a half pound of butter. That’s the roux. I never use water in my gumbo, but perk coffee in my honest-to-god percolator–with the glass knob on top. Takes sixteen cups, if you’re doing it right. Not giving you the rest of my recipe. Told you too much already. Pull one off of Google or use a mix.
I know you’re thinking:Butter? All that fat?
Here is the way it is: When we get our shrimp fresh off the boat and crabs out of our traps in the bay the night before, we ain’t messing with oleo. Once the shrimp is peeled, tail left on, I soak a few pounds in a couple of cups of milk or buttermilk over night in the fridge. In the morning: drain the milk, add a couple of whipped eggs to the milk. I dip the shrimp in the egg mixture before putting the shrimp in a paper bag full of fish fry meal. Shake to coat. I use Louisiana Brand fish fry. I deep fry those shrimp in Crisco and drain on brown paper. Yep. We used to fry ’em up in pork lard, but that is hard to come by now. Cats get the leftover milk & egg mixture.
I don’t live in an area now where I can trade a ham for a venison haunch, but in the past, venison stew was a staple on the New Year’s menu, too. Venison has to be prepped and cleaned. Next, I always rubbed it down with mustard and left it overnight under a cloth to rid it of the gamey taste. That gets rinsed off before cutting it into cubes and seasoning same as you would any beef–pepper, celery flakes, garlic, sweet Vidalia onions and celery. Salt makes meat tough. I never season with salt until meat is ready to serve. Here’s a tip: If you have a tough or cheap cut of meat–score it and rub sugar on it. Let sit a few hours, covered. Sugar breaks down meat fiber. Rinse before grilling, frying or boiling.
No New Year’s Day meal is complete without boiled sweet potatoes and fresh corn. Here is how I manage fresh corn on the cob. As soon as farmers harvest their fields and put their crops in our local markets, I buy several dozen ears and pop them in the freezer, husk and tassel on. I boil them in the husk on New Year’s Day. Mercy. Tender and juicy–as if plucked off the stalk that morning. We haven’t actually had a hard frost in Texas yet, so
kitchen gardens are still flush with tomatoes and cucumbers…But! If you live where a frost has come on, and pulled your tomato plants and hung them upside down in the laundry room, with a sheet thrown over the bushes, tomatoes will still be ripening at New Year’s. Mine did. We wash all down with sweet tea over ice in big, old-fashioned glasses. To draw all the flavor out of the tea bags while steeping, add a pinch of baking soda.
For dessert on New Year’s we have warm pecan pralines with fresh perked coffee. Pralines are cooked while somebody is clearing the table. Texas has nice pecans, but when I can get them, I prefer Georgia pecans. They’re sweeter–never waxy. You can find recipes all over, but I use an old Georgia cook’s recipe. Here’s what you need: Cast iron skillet and a wooden spoon.
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- ½ cup white sugar
- ½ cup Carnation Evaporated milk (can)
- ½ stick of butter
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 tsp water or coffee
- 1 ½ cups pecans, whole
Put first six ingredients into a cast iron skillet. Cook over medium heat to soft ball stage stirring constantly. I keep a short glass of ice water handy to check the mixture. If the mix can be pressed to the side of the glass in the water and hold its shape, you are almost done. Add pecans and keep stirring until mixture thickens. Now, you’ve gotta be fast. Use a tablespoon to drop pralines onto a buttered surface or buttered waxed paper. This is one recipe that takes practice. You may mess up. If the pralines don’t set, put the syrup in a jar and use as topping for ice cream or cheese cake. If it sets up too hard, crumble it and use on top of cold cereal or add to cookie mix. When I mess up, and I’ve been cooking pralines for sixty years, I just make another batch. I don’t know what adjustments you have to make for an aluminum or non-stick pans. Just don’t let the mixture come to a rolling boil. You can leave it alone long enough to grab a fresh glass of ice water…but not long enough for a potty break or to answer the door. Just sayin’… Cooking pralines is very much similar to making fudge, but quicker.
That is our New Year’s dinner. I hope yours is as wonderful. We need those black-eyed peas for luck, but just to make certain, we also save our pennies in the kitchen all year. There’s good luck, bad luck and no luck. Why chance the latter two?
I’m Jackie Weger. I write romance novels. Nothing fancy, just stories about good girls hoping for a little bit of happiness with a good man. My books are kind of like my cooking–old-fashioned and basic, but filling. I hope. I would be delighted if you followed me on Amazon or put one of my books on your wish list. You can sign up for my newsletter on this page on top right. When I have books on sale or my colleagues do, I publish a short Mad Mimi newsletter and send it out five or six times a year. That’s all for now. Wishing you and yours a safe and glorious 2016.