Every once in awhile I get the urge to do things “country,” which may explain why I’ve been listening to country music the last few years even though I hated it when I was growing up. Remember the old trucker’s song with spoken lyrics that told about his rush to get to his dying mama’s bedside so he can tell he loves her one more time? Other unforgettables were “Diesel On My Tail,” “Truck Driving Man With Nine Wives,” and “If the Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me.” And who could ever forget Hank Williams plaintive plea, “If You Loved Me Half As Much As I Love You,” or Marty Robbin’s tale of the “Devil Woman,” both classics!
During long, solitary driving trips to Florida and Ohio when we lived in Tennessee, and even as far back as when I had to drive alone from Columbus to Cleveland (Ohio) while Daughter #1 was an undergraduate at Case-Western Reserve University, I loved the old country songs that told a story. They reminded me of my father, whom I remember singing them when he was a much younger man. Also, you’re so intent on listening to the story you stay awake while you’re driving to listen–infinitely better than falling asleep at the wheel listening to “Moonlight Sonata” or “Bolero.”
This penchant for “going country” extends to food as well. When vegetables are in season and therefore tasting better AND cheaper, I get an urge to buy up big quantities of them and do a little “putting up” against leaner times when they’re less available. So awhile back, instead of paying 69 cents an ear for corn, I bought 8 ears fresh from the farm for $2. At another store with even better looking ears, I resisted the urge to double up but plunked down 96 cents for 6 more. Then I looked around for fresh okra. I’m seldom able to find fresh okra and am sometimes forced to settle for limp pods without much snap left in the tips and they’ll cost $3 a pound. Since it takes 2 or 3 pounds to satisfy me, it’s hard to bust a $10 bill for a dinner side vegetable. So I settled for a bag of frozen to go with my fresh corn for dinner.
At home, I proceeded to prepare the corn. I was soon engulfed in a pioneer-like euphoria knowing how good it was going to taste. Hubby got home just in time to be drafted into “silking,” or to be more precise, “desilking.” “I have four steps to tend to,” I said, handing him the pretty little brush from Williams-Sonoma. “First I have to shuck it, then it has to be “silked,” then I’ll cut off just the tips of the kernels, scrape all the milk from the cobs into the pot. It’ll be delicious!”
Nearly an hour later, as I was eyeing the last ears left to be cut and scraped in the relatively “silk-free” pile Hubby was making, I wondered how Mama and Grandma ever managed to spend a whole day doing nothing but “putting up” corn, not to mention the tomatoes and peas to be done the same day. In spite of the bundt cakepan trick I’d learned watching a cooking expert on a cooking show, there were kernels flying all over the sink, and I was already lamenting the loss of even a single one that wouldn’t make it into my mouth.
Seeing that dinner was going to be delayed otherwise, Hubby volunteered to help out by slicing and cooking the frozen okra. He and I differ on several of the finer points of cooking okra, from slime–I think a little is just fine–to technique. I think it should be “fried” all the way over a low heat, uncovered, until just before all the slickness is cooked out and it’s still a little moist. He thinks it should be “steam-fried,” i.e., cooked with the lid on until it’s perfectly dry, although he prefers to call it “crisp.”
Around the time I was finishing up cutting and scraping the next-to-last ear, I announced that I believed I’d buy just four ears at a time rom now on. This was turning out to be a little too much like work! I’d forgotten how time consuming and boring “putting up” could be. I guess you could say I’d gone “city soft.” These days I espouse the “simple” life.
Every summer since Connecticut, until the last year or two in Ohio, we’d canned a few vegetables, including enough tomato sauce to last all year. It was one of Hubby’s specialties, testing and cooking endless pots of sauce that we either froze or canned in glass jars. I don’t even remember why we stopped. Sometime between Ohio and Las Vegas, I now realize, the countrywoman patience and forebearance has forsaken me. Now we often turn to movie stars for our canned sauces, and we often eat corn-on-the-cob from plastic wrapped packages that have been pre-shucked and pre-silked instead of my all-time favorite–country style creamed.
Finally, with the corn prepared to my standards, I proudly presided over the cooking. For all our hard work (mostly mine), we were rewarded with creamed corn for dinner to go along with Hubby’s okra, plus two pint-sized containers for the freezer. And even though the corn had been picked for at least a day, and more likely a day and a half by the time it made to our table, it was delicious! (Everyone who’s ever lived on a farm knows that you don’t even pick the corn from the stalk until you’ve already got the water boiling; then you shuck it, silk it, and drop it into the boiling water, or you beg your mama to “make it creamed, pretty please. I’ll help silk.”) As I look back over the years the girls were still living at home and I was cooking much more than I do now, I wonder that I rarely made creamed corn. I had more energy then. The only time any of us got to eat it was when we visited Florida each year.
Then I recall the bag of corn delivered to us by a colleague of Hubby’s (when he worked in Battelle in Ohio) who did a little farming on the side. I worked for hours “putting up” that corn. And I wouldn’t be surprised if there were still little kernels of corn stuck to the windowsill above the kitchen sink when we sold that house to move to Tennessee.
Now I waver–between “country woman” and “city woman”, not fitting well either place anymore–and then I remember the music. That’s when I’ll go get out some country music to set the mood, maybe the sound track of “Oh Brother Where Art Thou,” and plan out a country supper. Here’s the menu: chicken purlo (Oops! Hubby’s vegetarian, so guess it’ll be tofu for him.), creamed corn, fried okra, and baked sweet potato. That’s about as country as I get from now on.
I did grow up out in Southern California farming country. Today there are houses, then there were oranges, lemons, celery, tomatoes, and a few other things like green beans. Mother tried corn, tomatoes, beans, and peas too out in the “back forty.” Over the pergola we had concord grapes, and marching in rows down that back five achers, we had apples, peaches, apricots, and artichokes too.
We had chickens….that my Architectural Engineer mother let the maid behead. We had fresh eggs. Not a horse or cow to be seen in our back yard tho the neighbors all had them. She always “put up” when I was a kid with her specialties being spiced peaches and grape jams and jellies in her huge pressure cooker. She admitted she was a far better ingineer than cook.
Thanks for poking my memories. Often I think that they are totally gone, then something happens to wake my brain from its slumber.