My family has a tradition of always coming together for Sunday lunch and this has been the norm for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up in Alabama, Sunday lunch was either at my Granny’s or at our house. After we moved to Mississippi, Mother continued the tradition and cooked lunch every Sunday. After she passed away, my sister-in-law, Cindy and I take turns. It isn’t always fancy or a big meal but it’s the being together that’s important.
Sometimes the simplest meals are the most scrumptious, the ones that evoke memories of the soul- warming fare enjoyed around Mother’s table. The recipes might have been fairly basic, but the flavors were positively heaven sent.
“My tastes are simple: I am easily satisfied with the best.” Winston Churchill
This past Sunday was my turn to cook and I turned to some old family favorites: roast beef, creamed potatoes with gravy, fresh green beans, stuffed eggs, fresh sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. For dessert, the fresh peach and blueberry pie I posted earlier. Of course, no southern lunch would be complete without cornbread and sweet tea, the staple of every good southern meal.
Southern sweet tea is pure pleasure in a glass – black tea, sugar and water. I like my tea sweet with lots of lemon. General rule of thumb is 1 tea bag and 1 tablespoon of sugar per cup of water. I use Lipton most of the time, but Luzianne is another great brand. You can be fancy if you want — and by all means, feel free — but good old-fashioned honest-to-God Southern sweet tea is made with one of those 99% of the time. Boil desired amount of water in an appropriately sized pot. Remove pot from heat and toss in your tea bag(s). Steep for 5 to 10 minutes for medium brew or 15 to 20 minutes for strong brew. Remove tea bag(s) and sweeten it while it’s hot, stirring until it all dissolves. Chill it until it’s cold. Serve over ice with a wedge of lemon on the side.
So let’s talk a little bit about green beans. I cook mine the old southern way with smoked pork necks, water and salt. Many Americans associate green beans with a holiday casserole or canned, mushy side dishes. But, if you’re lucky, you get to taste these crispy, juicy delights at their finest mid-summer peak.
The green beans referred to in Southern nomenclature are pole green beans, bunch beans and half runners. Pole green beans, or flat beans, are 6 to 8-inches long and 3/4-inch wide, often referred to as Kentucky Wonder, my all time favorite. they require diligent stringing and are tougher than other green beans. Traditionally cooked long and slow with the peas inside being larger and more prominent. Boy, could my Granny cook a mean pot of these! Bunch beans are the typical green beans found in the grocery store, commonly known as Blue Lake. Half runners are about 4-inches long and 1/3-inch wide with the peas inside barely visible. My family never cuts the ends of the green beans; we always snap both ends, referred to as “tipping and tailing”.
Now that you probably know more about green beans than you really wanted to know, let’s talk about cornbread. Good old southern cornbread, not that sweet cake-like thing the north calls cornbread and eats for breakfast.
When making cornbread, you must use a cast-iron skillet, muffin tin or stick pan. The cast-iron gives you the crisp crust that we southerners enjoy so much. Crisp on the outside and moist on the inside. To my family, you must use bacon drippings (grease – the rendered fat left over after cooking bacon. No true Southern kitchen is complete without it stowed away. we use it for all kinds of things but especially to season vegetables and making cornbread) to season your skillet and your bread. One easy recipe is as follows:
Ingredients 1/4 cup bacon drippings 2 cups self-rising cornmeal mix 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 2 large eggs, lightly beaten 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees 2. Pour bacon drippings in a 9-inch cast-iron skillet and heat for 5 minutes in the oven 3. Combine cornmeal mix and baking soda together and make a well in the center 4. Mix eggs and buttermilk together 5. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened 6. Pour hot drippings into batter, whisking to blend 7. Pour into preheated skillet and bake for 27 minutes or until golden brown 8. Turn onto a wire rack to cool slightly before putting on a serving plate
Just remember that food should always be welcoming. I tend to cook things that are mostly uncomplicated yet rooted in tradition and full of flavor. Cooking should be fun and enjoyable!