Sometimes I think about the way my parents cooked and the things I ate as a child. Though my parents taught me to cook and have been the inspiration for my love affair with food, I cook quite differently than they did. I still have and frequently use some of their recipes but I have "modernized" most of my cooking techniques. My parents used bacon grease to flavor vegetables, grease pans, fry eggs, etc. I hardly ever cook bacon much less have enough grease to do anything with, though I do love it. I sometimes wish I could have a pot of my father's green beans but I never mastered his technique because there was no set recipe. He just did it. He also just threw cornbread together, never needing a recipe. I made pan after awful pan of cornbread but could never seem to get it right, like his, until my sister Pat finally taught me his recipe, written down after her careful observations.
I think my father had more of a passion for cooking while my mother mostly cooked out of necessity. He loved to try new dishes and show off his cooking skills. I think his love of food stemmed from his childhood when food was often scarce. He also loved to eat and he could put away a mountain of food. When my husband first met my parents, he was amazed at the size of my father's "cereal" bowl, which in reality was a small mixing bowl.
Growing up, we never ate fast food and indeed, seldom ate out because there were so few restaurants in the small town I grew up in. I can remember being taken to a small restaurant out in the country occasionally. It was such a treat as they served great fried chicken and plain home cooked vegetables. The best part for me though, was watching the peacocks in the yard outside. I have no idea why the owner had a pair of peacocks with his chickens but they were as exotic as it got in rural Arkansas in the 60's.
My parents each had their specialties that they made. Dad always made cakes while Moma made pies and cobblers. She also made the best fried chicken. I loved her fried chicken and each year on my birthday, my sister Pat fries some chicken for me, just like Moma did, with rice and white chicken gravy. Since my husband and children make my mother's apple Betty pie as well, my birthday is certainly a day to look forward to all year long.
Much as I loved my parents food, I can see that I cook much healthier foods with less saturated fat and less fried foods. We have the opportunity to educate ourselves about better health because we know so much more now than we knew back then. However, one thing I still do that they did: I cook, we eat at home and eat whole foods, not processed crap.
Just for fun, here is one of my father's recipes which he served at deer camp to the guys. Apparently, he was always the cook because his food was the best. You be the judge.
Pig Tails and Beans
2 cups white or pinto beans, washed
1 pig tail, chopped into small pieces or substitute rinds
water to cover by 1 inch or more
1 or more hot red peppers
Cook all ingredients 3 to 4 hours until beans are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Liquid will be mostly gelatin and have little fat. For variety, add 2 Tbsp. brown sugar. Serve with fried potatoes, hot cornbread and hot pepper relish.