Photo by Ann Cipperly
Farmhouse Blackberry Cobbler makes a scrumptious dessert baked in an iron skillet or baking pan. It is good served as is or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Look over the recipes for classic southern dishes to enhance mealtime this coming week.
Mornings start early on a farm with the rooster crowing at the crack of dawn. Eggs are collected from the chicken house and vegetables are gathered from the garden with the earth still clinging to them. Both of my parents grew up on farms, as well as their parents and other family going back for generations. My mother began learning to cook at a young age in their southern farmhouse kitchen. Someone suggested recently that since we are home more now that it would be a good time to learn how to cook the old fashioned southern dishes. One problem in doing this is finding recipes, as so many were not written down and taught to the next generation. My mother and Little Granny prepared the best southern dishes. Whether it was chicken, fresh vegetables, buttermilk biscuits or scrumptious desserts, everything was superb. My cousins and I regret we did not ask Little Granny how she made towering thin layered cakes with cooked chocolate or huckleberry sauce drizzling down the sides of those masterpieces.
Dinner at Little Granny’s was served in the backyard under the shade of old chinaberry trees. Fresh creamed corn with sliced garden vegetables was always a favorite vegetable for the kids. While Little Granny enjoyed cooking for family and got started early in the morning, she was always ready to clean up.
We knew if we left the table for more sweet tea, we had to take our plate or when we got back, Little Granny would have gotten it and had it washed.
At our home, my mother made the same wonderful dishes she had learned over years helping Little Granny cook for workers on the farm. I developed a love of southern cuisine and still cook some of my mother’s dishes to bring back those sweet memories of her in the kitchen.
When Don and I got married, he had never heard of collards or black-eyed peas. He mostly grew up in the northeast and had lived in Portugal when he was young. He had eaten asparagus, green peas, broccoli, corn and cauliflower.
While I learned how to cook those vegetables I missed the ones my mother cooked. Don’s mother, Mom C, who was from New York and a world traveler, didn’t care for southern food, so I didn’t serve those when his family visited.
When traveling, Don and I will try a restaurant famous for its southern dishes. I am interested in how the dishes are prepared and always in search of classic southern recipes.
We have dined at many places famous for their southern food, but none of them have been as good as what my mother and Little Granny prepared. Some of these dining experiences have been an adventure and kept it interesting at least.
Once when Mom C was visiting one of Don’s brothers, we decided we would pick her up to visit us. The brother’s wife suggested we meet at the Blue Willow Inn in Social Circle, Georgia for lunch. Don and I had dined there before and knew the restaurant served southern dishes. I mentioned that I did not think Mom C would like it. The sister-in-law thought it would be fun since it was a lovely old mansion and had girls in front wearing long hoop skirts.
We were seated for a short time when we discovered it was not going to be fun. Mom C was not happy that she could not order her favorite cocktail and was offered sweet tea. We had forgotten to check to see if they served cocktails. Mom C always ordered a Manhattan when dining out for lunch or dinner. When she learned it was all southern food, she decided she would just have chocolate pie for lunch. Although some of her choices did not sound healthy later in life, Mom C lived to be 97 years old! We were blessed to have many good times and traveling adventures with her.
On our way to Highlands, North Carolina one time, we stopped by the Dillard House in Dillard, Georgia.
Some of their dishes were better than others. We thought the dishes at Hominy Grill in Charleston, South Carolina were fairly good, but the restaurant closed after nearly 24 years in business.
Last fall we tried southern food at Miller’s Bread Basket in Blackville, South Carolina. The restaurant serves home-style Amish-Mennonite dishes, including crispy fried chicken, assorted vegetables and pies that are popular. Not as good as Mom’s but enjoyable.
After having lunch, we stopped at God’s Acre Healing Springs in Blackville. Native
Americans believed in the natural healing powers of the spring and brought wounded Revolutionary War soldiers to the springs. There is a faucet where locals go to fill jugs to take home. We poured water out of our plastic bottles to refill for a sip of water from the springs.
The small town of Denmark is not far from Blackville. We stopped at the Jim Harrison Gallery in Denmark. Paintings and limited edition reproductions are on display by the late nationally-known artist. We were given a copy of his cookbook, which I found interesting since it had so many old fashioned southern dishes. I knew I would want to run a few of these in the column, so I received permission.
The artist had a love for all things southern, including food. The cookbook features many of his mother’s recipes.
We drove to Blackville and Denmark from Aiken, South Carolina. If you visit that area, the award-winning Willcox Hotel is an elegant place to stay. It has a rich history from when Aiken was a winter colony for the elite during the gilded age.
We have dined at many other restaurants specializing in southern cuisine across the South and will continue to do so, collecting recipes along the way. I don’t expect any will be quite as good as Little Granny’s and Mother’s cooking.
Since Don has been eating southern food over the years, he enjoys most of the dishes except for the vegetables. I have just about made a southerner out of this Yankee. With all that has happened in New York over the past few years, Don says he wants to disown his home state and claim Alabama as home sweet home.
Following is a sampling of Mother’s recipes as well as ones collected across the South.
Ann can be reached at email@example.com.