This is the final article in April of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on April 25, 1909, and is a continuation of the previous article on Southern recipes. I particularly like the mention of how peacocks were raised more to be eaten than for decoration!
Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.
Some Old Southern Dishes (continued)
I SPOKE last week of the prominence given to pork—fresh and corned and smoked—by the Southern cooks of ye olden time. Next to this staple stood poultry of all kinds. The reason for the extensive use of these two kinds of flesh-food is obvious, when we recall that there were no country markets in the South in the middle of the last century. Nor could what we style vaguely “butcher’s meat” be brought outside of the cities. Consequently, it was esteemed a luxury.
I well recollect that on the occasion of my first dinner part in my married home, which was in a country village, I sent 80 miles to Richmond to get a nice roast of beef to set forth the feast well and honorably. Poultry was a surfeit. Turkeys were raised upon every plantation, as were ducks, geese, chicken and pigeons, not to mention the guinea fowls, now sold at delicacies by fashionable market men and at exorbitant prices. Peacocks were likewise reared for eating, more than for ornament. A young peacock was tender and luscious, and often served at table in summer when turkey and geese were out of fashion.
“Ram, Lamb, Sheep and Mutton.”
Chickens never “Went out” from Christmas to Christmas. They were fabulously cheap. The negroes raised them in and about their own quarters, and were allowed to peddle them and eggs in the neighborhood on Saturday nights. They brought them into the village at all seasons, and in all weathers, on that, their holiday night.
I bought as many as I wanted for 25 cents a piece; eggs for 10 cents a dozen, and full-grown turkeys at 75 cents for gobblers, 50 cents for hens.
Amid all this abundance we longed for the flesh-pots of the shambles—veal, lamb and beef. The contemptuous summary of boarding-school fare familiar to every boy and girl, “ram, lamb, sheep and mutton,” would have been meaningless to us. When a sheep, a lamb, a calf or beef was slaughtered upon a plantation, portions were freely distributed as neighborly gifts within an area of ten miles, as we, the donor’s descendants, would send choice fruit and flowers. Otherwise it would have been impossible to get rid of it before it spoiled in a climate where the contents of the icehouse seldom lasted later than the middle of July, and it was not unusual for the winter to be so “open” that the icehouses were filled with snow, or perhaps went empty for the year.
The Oily Possum.
I digress slightly at this point to enter a housewifely protest, upon the authority of one who was born and brought up in the old South, against the prevalent belief, now raging into an absurd fad, that “possum” was ever a favorite dish with the whites of a former generation. In my own experience it appeared but once upon any table at which the “white folks” sat down to eat. That was when I, a petted child of ten, strolled into the kitchen in quest of chance tidbits, espied a possum cooked for the servants’ dinner and begged what I called “a ham” of the unctuous animal for myself. This I bore in triumph to the dining room upon a china dish from my doll’s tea set, and placed by my plate. The shout of derision from brothers and sisters and the fine disdain of my mother’s face fixed the scene in my memory. To this day I feel the mental and physical nausea that filled my small being as my father said quietly: “If you are going to eat that, my child, you must take it out upon the back porch.”
Where the dogs were fed! I eyed the greasy, rank, steaming and streaming morsel with loathing appreciation of the fact that it was part of an unclean beast. Nothing I ever heard or saw in Southern homes tended to alter the impression. The creature was no more the white man’s food than a muskrat would have been. The negroes caught and caged them for their private delectation, fattening them upon offal, such as the entrails of poultry, which the possum devoured by night. The flesh was pulpy, oily and redolent of the odor peculiar to the nocturnal prowler when alive. That I should live to see the day when it would bear a distinguished part in civic banquets held in honor of the chief magistrate-elect would have been an impossible imagination.
It is a curious characteristic of the lower classes in every country that they especially gloat upon fats and sweets. With the “colored people” of those bygone days (we were never allowed to call them “negroes”), the taste went with a barbaric love of bright colors and highly emotional religion. I do not pretend to explain the peculiarity. I state it as a fact and an idiosyncrasy in dismissing the unsavory “possum.”
Fried chicken stook high and constantly upon the Southern housemother’s bill-of-fare.
Cut a pound of fat salt pork into small piece and fry until the grease is extracted, but not until to browns. Strain out the pork and set the frying pan with the fat in it on the fire. Have ready a young “broiler” which has been soaked for half an hour in salted water, then dried between two towels, seasoned with pepper and dredged with flour. Fry these pieces of chicken in the hot fat until brown on both sides. Turn twice. Take up the chicken, rain free of fat and set aside to keep hot in a covered dish over hot water. Pour into the gravy left in the frying pan a cup of rich milk (half cream, if you can get it ) into which you have stirred a pinch of baking soda; as it heats, stir in a tablespoonful of butter roiled in one of flour; cook to thickening, stirring all the time, add a tablespoonful of minced parsley, cook for one minute longer and pour over the dished chicken.
This is the genuine ancient and honorable recipe for “Virginia Fried Chicken with Cream Gravy,” popular upon hotel and restaurant menus as “Maryland Fried Chicken,” a palpable misnomer. The dish is delicious under either name.
The cream gravy is sometimes omitted and the chicken, prepared as above directed, is served up dry, with bunches of parsley dropped upon it and garnished with slices of fried bacon.
Chicken Batter Pudding.
Cut up a fat fowl as for fricassee, severing every joint; season well with salt and pepper and a tablespoonful of butter for each chicken, adding a teaspoonful of onion juice when the fowl is half done. Stew very slowly in just enough water to keep them from scorching before the juices of the fowl begin to make their own gravy. When tender, strain off the gravy and keep it hot.
Lay the pieces of chicken in a deep bakedish, arranging neatly in layers; thicken the gravy with browned flour and minced parsley and pour over the chicken.
Have the batter ready, but do not make it too long before the chicken is in the dish. Sift a pint of flour with a teaspoonful of cream of tartar, half as much soda and a saltspoonful of salt. Beat two eggs very light, yolks and whites together, stir into a large coffee cupful of milk, add two tablespoonfuls of melted butter; make a hole in the middle of the sifted flour and mix quickly to a rather stiff batter.
Pour this upon the hot chicken and gravy, and make in a steady, yet brisk, oven. The batter fills the interstices of the meat and absorbs the gravy in cooking.
If you have plenty of gravy, add to what is left the minced liver of the fowl, a dash of onion juice and chopped parsley, and send around with the pudding in a boat.
The left-over of fricasseed chicken may be utilized in this way, and most satisfactorily to the eaters thereof. I often do this, filling up the dish, with stewed fresh mushrooms, which I have never before known to be so plentiful and cheap as they are just now.
Split a pair of broilers—or tender fullgrown fowls—down the back, as for broiling. Lay them flat in the dripping pan, skin side up, and cover the pan with another of the same size, if you have not a covered roaster. (I hope you have!) Set in a hot oven, and at the end of five minutes baste with melted butter. Turn the chicken in half an hour, having basted them twice meanwhile with the butter. In ten minutes more they should be ready for the dredging. Sift heated flour over them on both sides, and wash once more with butter. Brown the flour. Test the joints with a fork, and if they are tender and no red juice flows out, take them up. Keep hot in a heated dish set over boiling water; thicken the gravy in the pan with browned flour, adding boiling water if there is not enough liquid; boil up once and pour into a gravy boat.
If the chickens be very large, gash each joint before putting down to cook. The “smothering” consists in keeping the fowls closely covered while in the oven, and imparts a pleasant flavor to the meat, besides retaining all the juices far better than in broiling.
Broil the chickens in the usual way, and when they are dished pour over them this sauce:
Met two tablespoonfuls of butter in a saucepan, add the same quantity of vinegar, a teaspoonful of made mustard, a teaspoonful of sugar, a saltspoonful of salt and half as much pepper. Heat to a boil, mixing with a very little hot water should the ingredients not blend well, and pour over the chickens. Cover and leave over boiling water for five minutes before serving.
A most appetizing dish, and particularly welcome in the spring.
Barbecued “Old Hare.”
We call them “Rabbits” in the Northern and Middle States, in Virginia they were “old hares,” from their birth to their appearance upon the breakfast table as “barbecued.” They were usually steamed tender, then broiled and treated just as I have described the process of barbequing chicken. Barbequed ham was also in frequent request as a breakfast dish.
We called it a “pudding.” In reality it was a pie, being invariably baked in an open crust of fine pastry. It was often baked in small pastry shells. Then it was “transparent puddings.” It—or they—were ever delicious and were reckoned by unhappy dyspeptics as indigestible. Popular they were, and they will always be.
Cream half a pound of butter light, beat into the creamy mixture the yolks of six eggs, the juice of a lemon (strained), the grated rind of a lemon, a grated nutmeg and half a glass of good French brandy. Beat for three minutes—hard! and whip in the whites of six eggs.
Sometimes we reserved the whites of three eggs in the general mixing, and when the pies (or puddings) were “Set” in the baking, spread the meringue of the whipped whites, beaten up with three tablespoonfuls of powdered sugar and a little lemon juice, over the hot pies while in the oven. Then they were shut up again in the oven to brown the meringue slightly.
The pastry shells in which the transparent mixture was baked were the best the old-fashioned housemother could make. The puddings were eaten cold, by which time the puff-paste was almost translucent.
Yet the martyrs to a love of “good eating” were fewer then than now! Dyspeptics were few and far between, and the form of the unpleasant visitation diagnosed by twentieth century doctors as “nervous dyspepsia” was utterly unknown.
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