Friday, October 26, 2007

Southern Treats

Had time to do some shopping the other day. It was quite the relief to pay for groceries with cash rather than a credit card.

A few months ago, Jewel's, one of the big food chains here in Chicago, mysteriously stopped carrying Talk O' Texas pickled okra, and started carrying a gourmet brand of pickled okra. In a word, the new one sucked.

Then, just as mysteriously, they started carrying it again. I treated myself to a jar of these little delights.

The other thing I was looking for was hot peppers in vinegar. When I was a kid, my family would travel down to central Louisiana to visit the relatives of my father's stepfather. My dad's step-aunt, Florence, would cook us a great "dinner"-- what they called lunch-- every day. My brothers and I would go back in her enormous garden and pick green beans for our meal. I remember a lot of the dishes that she cooked-- "shelly beans"-- green beans, pinto beans and bacon cooked in vinegar. Pork chops. Fried chicken. Corn bread.

At the end of our trip, we'd drive back to Chicago with several Mason jars of hot peppers Aunt Florence had picked in her garden and pickled in pint Mason jars.

Back in Chicago, my mother would make a dish Aunt Florence had taught her to make. She'd cook up navy beans (also known as Great Northern Beans) with a ham bone and a little salt. She'd serve it over corn bread. You'd sprinkle vinegar from the Mason jar of peppers we'd brought back from Louisiana over it. After the meal, we'd refill the jar with vinegar for the next time. We'd have this dish a few times a year. The jars would last a couple of years, until the next time we went down to Louisiana.

Aunt Florence has been dead for years, but I still have this dish once in a while since I discovered years ago that I could find the pickled peppers in stores in Chicago. I've adapted it a little. In the interest of lower fat consumption, I use turkey ham. And since I have celiac, I have the concoction over brown rice, rather than corn bread (corn bread has wheat flour in it).

Sometimes, when I have this dish, I think of a poem I first read in sixth grade, John Tobias' Reflections On A Gift Of A Watermelon Pickle. It's a poem I've come to understand better as I've become older. The poem is a rumination on a summer long ago with an old friend. The narrator reflects on a summer filled when the purpose of knees were to be skinned, watermelons ruled and unicorns were possible.

I remember those trips to Louisiana-- the sights, smells and sounds of Louisiana and the gentle kindness of Aunt Florence, who I always loved seeing. I remember how those Mason jars of peppers used to seem to stretch those trips to Louisiana out for a couple of years. Whenever I sit down to my adapted Louisiana "dinner," it brings me back to those happy summers.

9 comments:

Dr.evil said...

Mmmmmmmm... Bacon

Bubs said...

Ah, hot peppers and pickled okra. I always put a pickled okra in my bloody mary's when I make them.

I need to head to Louisiana again soon. Thanks for activating my taste buds this afternoon.

GETkristiLOVE said...

Spooney loves pickled things. I usually get him a jar of something pickled for Christmas.

I went into Big City Burrito for lunch the other day - a new spot for me in Boulder, and I thought of you. There's all these different hot sauces that sit on all the tables lining the walls.

Johnny Yen said...

Dr. Evil-
I'll have to cook up some turkey bacon for you, Homer...

Bubs-
I look forward to having one of your bloody marys!

When I was in high school, in a shop class, a group of guys and I were talking about food, and favorite vegetables came up. I mentioned okra, and none of them (all yankees, of course) knew what I was talking about. They were certain I'd made this up, though okra's been available in Chicago grocery stores fovever.

Kristi-
Me too. I went through a phase where I bought cases of mason jars and pickled everything in sight-- okra, carrots, even tried broccoli (didn't turn out well).

You might remember the restaurant Heaven On Seven here in Chicago-- cajun and creole food. They have lots of hot sauces like that too.

Tenacious S said...

Can I tell you how much I love Talk O' Texas pickled okra-Hot? Love them. Our store never stopped. I wonder why? My mom grew up in the south, so there are a few things I have eaten my whole life, even as a Midwestern girl, that are definitely not regional cuisine, okra is one of them. Reminds of my mom in a good way.

cheer34 said...

I have never tasted okra....my mother told me never to eat okra...not sure why

vikkitikkitavi said...

Great memories, JY.

Mom's relatives in Nebraska used to send her boxes of pickled hot peppers. She taught us as kids to NEVER drink water to cool your mouth. You had to eat the cheddar cheese and white bread she had handy instead. Still my favorite way to eat hot peppers.

I also am a big fan of the your brand of pickled okra. Back when I still ate fish, I used to take an jarred anchovy fillet and wrap it around a piece of pickled okra, and then pop the whole thing in my mouth. The perfect treat for salty/sour lovers like me.

Danielle said...

I am not one for vinegar but I really enjoyed this post and the embedded poem.

Home is pickled okra.

Much Love and Happy Halloween!

Danielle

Johnny Yen said...

TenS-
Aren't they delightful?

Cheer34-
That's funny. My mother served it frequently, done up the way my father liked it-- covered in corn meal and fried in a big old iron frying pan.

Vikki-
Your mother was correct; capyinsin (sp?) is not water soluble. It is fat-soluble, and the fat in the cheese would salve your pain.

Danielle-
I love that poem, which carries more and more meaning as I get older.