Hillbilly Farmgirl Supper

Yesterday, we did pretty well with eating locally. For brunch, we had some quesadillas made from Holmes County, Ohio cheddar and smoked cheddar, with Organic Valley sour cream and the Calico Salsa I made last week. The tortillas were godawful–I would have done better making my own. Whatever healthy brand they were, I am not buying again–they had the texture of cardboard. Ugh.

But, the rest of it was good. I just thought it was an affront to the good Amish cheese to pair it with tortillas which tasted like they were made from cedar shavings. I found the cheeses, along with Walnut Creek butter, also from Holmes County, at Curds and Whey at the North Market in Columbus.

We had errands to run in Columbus, so I figured I would see what local dairy products I could find while I was out.

I was thrilled to discover that Wild Oats in Columbus (we had to stop so Zak could get his cologne–WO is the only place he knows of where he can buy it without ordering it off the Internet) is now carrying Hartzler’s Family Dairy milk. It comes in great glass containers–which you can return for a deposit, though, I think I will keep mine as it reminds me of the glass milk bottle my Gram kept in her fridge full of ice water in the summer.

Unfortunately, I picked up skim milk instead of two percent–because the glass bottles all look the same. From the appearance on the website, they usually have cardboard hangtags over the bottleneck to label thier products clearly so that ditzy folks like myself don’t go and buy the wrong milk, but these tags were not in evidence at Wild Oats. So, when Morganna and I tasted the milk and said, “Ick. Tastes like skim,” there was a reason.

It was skim.

Duh.

So, maybe I will make ice cream out of it!

Supper, however, was an unqualified success. We had ribeyes from Bluescreek Farms that Zak cooked out on the grill, grilled corn on the cob from Cowdery Farms, Green Zebra sliced tomatoes from Athens Hills CSA, and my very own country style green beans, which featured ingredients from all over the Athens Farmer’s Market. Dessert was blackberry-raspberry pie; the fruit came from the farmer’s market, the lard from Bluescreek, the butter from Holmes County, and the flour from King Arthur flour, which means it is from somewhere. I mean, I have no clue where it was grown, but it is great flour nonetheless. (I still haven’t heard back from the farmer in Licking County on the issue of whether or not he can ship me some of his homegrown hard and soft wheat flour.)

Now, let me talk a bit about supper.

It took me way back to my childhood–because it was very much a typical summer menu in my growing up days, whether I was in town with my parents or Gram and Pappa, or in the country with Grandma, Grandpa and Uncle John. In the summer, there were certain things that were nearly always on the table, and I want to talk a little bit about them.

First of all, there were always sliced tomatoes. At Grandma’s house, they were apt to be on the table three meals a day, and we always ate them up, and never got tired of them. At Gram’s house, they were always there for supper, but at lunch, tomatoes appeared on BLT’s or on cheese ‘n’ mater sammitches. (That’s how Pappa said it, so that is how I am writing it.) Those were made with thin sliced Pepperidge Farms white sammitch bread, homemade pimento cheese spread from Pearl Damus’ Market down on Washington Street, and thick slices of ripe beefsteak tomato sprinkled with black pepper.

Man, alive, those were good. Pearl could throw down and whip up a batch of pimento cheese that would make your head spin and your eyes pop out it was so good.

At my parent’s house, we had sliced tomatoes every dinner once tomatoes were in season, along with the usual meat, two vegetables and a starch. On a good night, we had sliced cucumbers or quick pickles, too. (Quick pickles, for those who are not hillbillies, are sliced fresh cukes, diluted white vinegar or cider vinegar, sliced onions, salt and pepper, and sometimes sugar. I didn’t like them with sugar, but I did like that my Mom always put ice cubes in them to make them crispy-cold and almost frozen. Boy were they refreshing.)

So, I ate a lot of tomatoes growing up.

(And I was really depressed to discover I was allergic to them–not that it stopped me from eating them. Apparently, the allergy wasn’t so bad as all of that, because I yet live and I still eat large amounts of tomatoes.)

Corn on the cob appeared at least three times a week in the season, except at Grandma’s house. Then, it appeared nearly every night, and when it didn’t, that was because it showed up at lunchtime. It was my job to go pick the corn and shuck it. Grandma would wait until the water was about to break into a dancing boil, and would send me out “quick like a bunny” to pick a big old basket of corn and shuck it as fast as my hands could tear. I hated the silk, and Grandpa was particular about it, so I had to be careful and pluck each bit up with shaking fingers, as I bounced in anticipation of the three to five ears I was fixin’ to eat when we sat down.

Green beans were another favorite, and they were only fixed one way–long cooked.

Hillbillies don’t know from crunchy green beans. I liked to eat them raw, myself, but I was looked upon as some sort of mutant life form from another planet because of that. I think my cousins thought I was half lagomorph or something because I ate every vegetable God made raw, including green beans. (I am also supposed to be allergic to green beans. You notice I am still eating them and am still alive. I think maybe my allergist was full of…well, beans.)

I always said, “But they taste so -green- raw.”

And they would blink at me and say, “That’s because they are green, ya dumb ole girl.”

Well, be that as it may, everyone else, including me, ate them cooked in only one way–to death.
Now, let me qualify this. Green beans do taste lovely and fresh and green when they are raw. And when they are lightly cooked, such as sauteed or stir fried or steamed, and seasoned properly, they are perky and crisp and delicious.

But let me tell you–if you cook ‘em up right when you are cooking them to death, they melt in your mouth and make you want to sing. They turn a deep olive green and start to break down into the cooking water, but that is okay, because that juice turns into something magical–it becomes pot likker, which is ambrosia to a hillbilly.

But there is a secret to long-cooking your green beans. You can’t just stick them in a pot with water and salt and pepper and boil them until they expire into a huddled mass and expect them to taste like something. All that does is waste beans, water and time.

No, no, no. You must not do that.

You have to do what generations of Applachian cooks have done for centuries.

You have to put pork fat of some sort into the pot.

Smoked, preferably.

I bet you could see that coming. Smoked pig bits make everything better.

And, you can throw in some tiny new potatoes, too–because they will soak up that pot likker and turn all melty delicious.

And onion–onions are classic in the dish.

And, if you are me–you have to throw in some garlic and a chile pepper, just because to not do it is a wasted opportunity for goodness.

But, you know, you don’t have to cook them all day. Naw, not at all. My grandma did cook them all day when she wanted them for supper, meaning the evening meal, but if she cooked them for dinner, meaning the noon meal, she never cooked them all day, yet they still came out all melty-smoky-wonderful with gold-green pot likker that I would drink in a cup.

She was a clever woman, and employed technology–she used a pressure cooker.

Which is what I did last night when I made my very own rendition of the dish, which I call

Hillbilly Nouveau Haricots Verts

Ingredients:

2 thick slices bacon cut into 1″ square pieces
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno chile, sliced (you can leave it out, but I’d rather you didn’t)
1 pound strung, snapped, washed and drained fresh green beans (half-runners are the best)
6-10 tiny new potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

Method:

In the bottom of your pressure cooker, spread out your bacon, and cook on medium heat until crispy-chewy. Remove bacon and drain on paper towels and reserve. If there isn’t enough fat, add some bacon drippings (y’all do save those don’t you?) or some olive oil.

Add onions, and cook until they are golden and smelling really good. Add garlic and chile, and keep stirring until the onions are a nice brown color and everything smells delicious.

Throw in the beans and the potatoes, then the chicken broth, salt and pepper. (Be careful with the salt–how much you add depends on how salty your bacon is.)

Bring to a boil. Put the lid on your cooker, lock it down, bring to full pressure, turn down the heat to low and cook on full pressure for 12 minutes. Remove from heat, release pressure, open cooker and take a look. If the beans are dark olive green and starting to fall apart, and the potatoes are starting to break down and it all smells really good, it is done.

If the beans look too green and healthy, put the lid back on, bring the pressure up and cook for another couple of minutes.

Check for salt and pepper and serve with the bacon sprinkled on top.

Note:

If you don’t have a pressure cooker, be prepared to cook the beans all day. Put them on the back of the stove, bring them to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer until they are dead and gone. Then, they are good. You will need more broth to do this–like maybe a quart or so, to make up for all that will simmer away. The pressure cooker is blessed in that it uses much less liquid.

Now, you will note that in all this recitation and talk about my childhood meals, I haven’t mentioned the meat. Well, there is a reason.

I don’t much remember it. There was no typical meat of my childhood suppers. It was the vegetables that every table had in common.

But right here–I do want to say–David and Cheryl at Bluescreek grow some mighty fine ribeyes, and Zak cooks ‘em up right fine and dandy.

10 Comments

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  1. Yum yum. That dinner looks good!

    Well that’s interesting! I always associate that style of green bean cooking with the French. We first had green beans (minus the chili) cooked forever and a day like that in France and only ever saw them that way whenever they were served. I have to confess that I was very nervous the first time I tried them, but as you say, they were fantastically delicious.

    I love the caramelization on your corn. It looks just like our corn from last night. Instead of butter, salt and pepper, we rubbed the corn with a half a lime that was dipped in garam masala (I know I know; the limes and garam masala spices aren’t local but the rest of our dinner was and the corn certainly was! I think it had been picked that day.)

    -Elizabeth

    Comment by ejm — August 8, 2005 #

  2. That’s really interesting. In the US, green beans cooked that way are a southern or Appalachian dish. In the south, I can believe that it came from the French–lots of southern food has French roots. But hillbillies–most of them were Scotch-Irish and sometimes German.

    Though, I always thought cooking everything with smoked pig bits came from the African slaves–who knows?

    It would be interesting to try and untangle the knotted skeins of Appalachian foodways.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — August 8, 2005 #

  3. I’m glad you were able to find some of the Hartzler’s milk. When you pick up a bottle of 2% or whole, I’ll be interested to hear what you think. I just finished a bottle of 2% and it tasted curdled from the minute that I opened it. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m so used to homogenized milk or if there really is a problem with the freshness. It’s disappointing because I really, really want to like it. I’m also using their butter. So far so good with the butter!

    I’m like you with the green beans – if I grow my own, they rarely even make it into the house as I usually eat them while standing out in the yard.

    The fact that you have any calico salsa left is amazing! I used your recipe to make a batch on Friday night and I’ve almost finished off the whole bowl. I had some help over the weekend from family – but it’s mostly been me! It’s quite tasty.

    Do you think you’ll post a gazpacho recipe? I’m thinking of making it (for the first time) sometime this month.

    Comment by Mary — August 8, 2005 #

  4. For what it’s worth, the last time I was at the North Market Farmers Market there was a guy selling fresh ground whole wheat flour and cornmeal. The Farmers Market is only on Saturday, though.

    Comment by Brian — August 8, 2005 #

  5. i have always wanted to eat corn that fresh. I have never had the chance to do so yet

    Comment by Sam Breach (Sixy Beast) — August 8, 2005 #

  6. Hey, Mary! Glad I am not the only person who eats raw green beans!

    The corn had been picked the day before, but it was amazing nonetheless–I love the caramelization that grilling it gives.

    I had made two quarts of the salsa, which is why we still have a tiny bit left. Morganna has been working diligently at frittering it away, however, such that I think I will be making a new batch any day now.

    Gazpatcho! What a great idea! I will probably be the only one eating it, but I haven’t made it in years and adore it. Mmmm–I will consider!

    Brian–I suspect that the farmer you are talking about is the farmer I have tried contacting about mail order. By the time we got to Columbus on Saturday the farmer’s market was done, and only Gypsy Bees was still there. I was sad, but that is the way it goes. Maybe someday, I will get ahold of some of his grain products.

    Sam–you really must have garden or farm fresh corn, picked within minutes of the pot and barely boiled. It is lovely–just lovely. If you are every in the area of Ohio in the summer, I would be happy to have you over for some really, really fresh corn, some green beans and sliced tomatoes.

    And while we are at it–some fried green tomatoes, too. Just to really keep my southern Appalachian roots showing.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — August 9, 2005 #

  7. Quick pickles! I thought they were Cantonese ;D I make them just with white vinegar and sugar/sugar substitute (as my Daddy did) and I also toss in some thin ribbons of poached chicken breast, sometimes blanched almond slivers too…

    On corn, living next door to South Jersey as I do when I’m at home, we like to partially shuck it, pull off the silk, wrap the ears back up in their own leaves, then toss them on the grill. Sometimes we season the corn before we wrap it back up, sometimes not.

    Comment by etherbish — August 13, 2005 #

  8. I swear that every country in the world has a version of quick pickles! That Thais have a version with slivers of ginger, lime leaf and chile in cucumbers, fish sauce and sugar. Eastern Europeans add dill leaves and sometimes sour cream.

    Though, I am thinking that hillbillies and the Cantonese are related somehow. Greens, pigs, chicken feet (I found a chicken foot and rice dish in the cookbook White Trash Cooking that made me go–wha?–right after I ate my first dim sum chicken feet), pork fat, cooking with Coca Cola as an ingredient (a Chinese friend on the bboards at eatingchinese.org told me about a popular poaching recipe in Hong Kong that uses Coke as an ingredient–like soy sauce chicken but sweet–Hillbillies cook with in any old way)and the love of organ meats.

    I think it is because of the intense poverty that folks in both regions have endured over the centuries that has led to similarities in cooking traditions. They are still far apart, (hillbillies don’t stir fry anything) but closer than I ever would have realized.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — August 13, 2005 #

  9. Am getting more interested in hillbilly cooking by the minute – maybe the Irish background in similar to the Irish influence on north-west English cooking too? Everything here has bacon as a flavouring… Do you have bacon ribs? That’s pork spare ribs cured like bacon? Devilish salty, but wonderful served with the traditional side order of cabbage – a meal my Gran used to make for supper after a night at the local pub, as you could leave it cooking on a low light… :)

    And the pickles – my Dad’s favourite is fresh onions thinly-sliced and soaked in vinegar and a little sugar, and the same with thinly-sliced beetroot and red cabbage….

    Comment by Steph — April 22, 2006 #

  10. The use of bacon as flavoring in hillbilly food most certainly comes from Irish cooking habits and Scottish frugality.

    Pork spare ribs smoked like bacon? We didn’t do those in West Virginia, but I have seen where it is done farther south. We tended to use the belly, the jowls, and the back to make bacon.

    The pickles–we used to do quick pickled sweet onions in the late summer–Vidalias from Georgia are great that way. (Interestingly, folks in India do much the same thing with onions, only they add spices, especially dried ground chiles, to it.)

    But, Steph, you are right–we southern hillbillies’ cooking comes from several sources: Ireland and Scotland–our first European immigrants were poor folks from those two places. Then, you have the Native American cookery–leather britches–dried mature pole green beans–and corn, sweet and green, or mature and roasted, or parched, or ground into meal–we learned a lot from the Native Americans when it comes to cooking–especially the Cherokees. (We also learned to eat ramps from the Native Americans, too, and squash.) I suspect that our prediliction for greens comes through the Native American foodways as well as through the next group of immigrants.

    Then, a third thread comes from Africans–most Appalachians were too poor to own slaves, but there was still contact between the African-Americans and white Applachians (including intermarriage, particularly if there was already intermarriage with the Native Americans) –from the Africans came the use of okra, for example, which I still love fried the hillbilly way (dusted in cornmeal and fried in bacon grease, what else?) or stewed the Indian way with spices, tomatoes, onions and garlic.

    Then, there was the later immigration, usually in the 19th century, of the Germans–that is where the strong influence of dairy products and the sausage-making traditions come from, as well as the prediliction for double-starch meals–like my beloved chicken and homemade noodles over mashed potatoes.

    Applachian foodways are interesting and varied, and they are fun to try and parse out and figure what came from where and what went where, how and why. One of my first posts in this blog, in fact, titled, “Hillbillies, Pigs and Greens,” traces how the eating of greens cooked with pork spread north with the African-Americans, but is only really eaten by whites that way, in the Applachian mountains as far north as Ohio, and perhaps all the way up to New York. But in the lowlands–and in the cities–greens cooked long and slow with bacon or another pork product–is considered to be an African-American soulfood dish, and is seldom eaten by whites.

    Comment by Barbara — April 23, 2006 #

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