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My grandmother was born in 1942 in Sulligent, Alabama. She was a tiny, little thing, and one of the pickiest eaters of her 11 brothers and sisters. Like most southern grandparents, she learned to cook at a very early age. Because she didn’t like much of the food at the dinner table, my great-grandmother told her that if she didn’t like what was served, she needed to learn how to cook.
After a few lessons on how to read the recipes from her older sister, Mary, my grandmother was set ablaze in the kitchen and completely took off at the age of 10. Many times, much to her siblings dismay, since she was such a great cook she avoided hot days working in the field in order to have dinner ready for the family. She became the home chef and made soulful meals with the crops they farmed on the land.
Soul food can be traced back before slavery to African and European cuisines adapted to the U.S. southern region. Slaves were usually given the unwanted or limited rations from their planters or masters. From these slim pickings, African-American slaves created some of our world’s greatest culinary cuisine to nourish our souls.
Granny, as she is affectionately called, is one of the best chefs I know. She rarely uses a recipe and just seasons and tastes as she goes. It was one of my life goals to be able to replicate my favorite recipes of hers, but she almost never had one to follow. She would say, “You just cook as you go. Taste it, and see if it tastes good. If it doesn’t, add a little more of this or that until you get it right.” Her culinary expertise is amazing!
As I began to write this article, at the age of 77, she walked me through some of my favorite meals to share with you over our weekly phone call.
Smothered Turkey Wings
One of my favorite meals is my grandmother’s smothered turkey wings. In a creamy pool of gravy sits the juiciest turkey wings seasoned with onions, celery, green peppers, salt, and pepper. It’s a pretty easy recipe, cooked low and slow, but packs enormous flavor. Of course, Granny didn’t have an exact recipe to share, so Soul Food and Southern Cooking had one that seemed to capture what my grandmother described and what I remember as I watched intently in the kitchen.
Now every meal has to have some sort of carb to accompany it. My favorite is my Granny’s heavenly cornbread. Now, surprisingly enough, this one does have a recipe that she loosely follows. She’s made the cornbread so many times that she doesn’t need it to follow, but it is a guide. Many times, cornbread can be very dry. This recipe combines creamed corn and sour cream to make it one of the most moist breads you’ll have.
- 1 cup of self-rising cornmeal
- 1 8-ounce container of sour cream
- 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- 1 14.75-ounce can of creamed corn
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and transfer into a greased 10-inch cast iron skillet.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
I am forever grateful for our time together in the kitchen. Now that I no longer live close by, it’s such a special time that we share. Learning these recipes are so important to me because I want to be sure that they are passed down for generations to come. Currently, I cook simple recipes with my three-year-old daughter, and I’m looking forward to sharing these memories with her. Passing down cultural cuisine is so important to sharing our story. I never want to forget: the struggle, the victory, the creative prowess of my people.
Now, here comes dessert! On holidays, Granny would stand intently over the stove making this beautiful vanilla custard for her homemade banana pudding. It’s one of my absolute favorites! I would sit in awe as she took her time stirring the custard for what seemed like hours, until it was just right.
Cooking takes time. It takes patience, and, unfortunately, I lack it. I like quick and easy recipes so this one, I have not mastered. However, it’s a family favorite, and Granny does it best! I’m promising myself to get it right because it is one that I have to share with my daughter.
Once again, Granny didn’t have a recipe for me to follow, but I was able to find one on Delishably.com that resembles the steps she takes to make this sweet treat. Much like this author our family does not like meringue; however, many southerners must have it as a part of their pudding. The author gives us a recipe for it, but it’s totally okay to omit and just top it off with a plethora of cookies!