Food According to Elise

Elise in Her Kitchen

My Momma, Elise, was a great cook!   She wasn't a gourmet cook by any rights, but she cooked every single day until her last few years.  She was good at it!  Her cooking was not particularly adventurous, nor did she use any exotic ingredients.  She grew up on a farm in rural Louisiana during the Great Depression and learned to use the food from the land.   As long as I can remember she tended some sort of garden.  It may have been 5 acres of vegetables, a blueberry patch or simply her roses.  She was a tiny thing and weighed 120 pounds dripping wet for her entire adulthood.  If that crept up at any point, she "dieted" until she was back at 120.   

She and my Daddy, Maxwell, were committed to feeding a family of six.  We four children never went hungry as they had in childhood.  My Daddy worked, but it was contract work and sometimes there was no work.  Feeding us was a priority, so they worked diligently to make sure there was not just enough, but plenty.  I can remember the huge chest type freezer that took up a lot of space in our already small home.  It was full of frozen vegetables, beef and pork.  They did not shop for these items at the grocery, but rather grew them or purchased them from someone who grew them locally. It was not uncommon for them to purchase a "half a cow" or a "pig" and "put up the meat" in that giant food locker.  

Daddy was a fisherman.   My uncle used to say that Maxwell has minnows in his blood!  

We took for granted the abundance of fish.  Sac-A-Lait, bass and bream were his favorites.  Nothing tastes better than fried fish that was swimming in the lake that morning.  I remember both of them scaling and cleaning the fish to get them ready to cook.  One great memory is taking a Coleman stove to City Park Hill on a summer evening and enjoying a fish fry with hot hushpuppies.  This activity was often a multiple family outing as my aunt and uncle and cousins joined. The kids busied themselves  by running up and down that hill while our parents fried the food. That was the only time I ever saw my Daddy help with the cooking.  After Daddy retired he took Momma fishing with him sometimes.  This pic was taken at Toledo Bend where they enjoyed fishing together.  Momma is probably not smiling  because she knows the work to come! 





When I was a kid, I hated the sight of a bushel or two of butterbeans or purple hull peas.  My Momma was an early riser and napped each afternoon during the hot summers.  My younger sister and I were often presented with a bushel basket of something and were instructed to: "shell these while I nap!"  My fingers were often raw at the task, but the vegetables tasted so good in the winter. 

A favorite item to "put up" was corn.  It was not uncommon for Momma to "tip and scrape" a bushel of fresh corn.  As an adult, I have performed that operation on corn and believe me....it's not any easy task.  It's one of the most labor intensive and tedious food preparation chores ever.  Not only is the fruit of the labor very small considering the amount of time involved, but the corn spatters everywhere.  All that being considered, the creamed corn was a delicacy and considered gold at our house.  


In addition to freezing food, my Momma made jellies and jams.  I remember a family outing or two where we picked up mayhaws from the river bank.  We had a huge fig tree in our backyard and she peeled the figs and made preserves.  To this day, I have never met anyone else who peeled figs.  I can remember waking up on a summer morning to see her sitting at the table with a bowl of figs in her lap.  When asked why she peeled them when most people didn't, she replied:  "Those people are lazy!"  She was never one to shy away from work.  My Daddy had bee hives in the back yard next to the fig trees.  He robbed the hives a couple of times a year and that honey went into jars, too!  Those bee hives almost killed my Daddy when the bees swarmed one day while he was harvesting the honey.  That was the end of that resource!  

When Christmas came around we gifted our teachers with preserves, jelly and/or honey.  As a child, I often yearned to give the teachers a "real gift" and not one from our pantry.  Years later, when I became a teacher, I understood why those gifts were so precious and began to realize that the teachers appreciated them probably more than a "real gift."  

When I was in junior high school, it seems we were strapped for cash at Thanksgiving and my Momma decided to make coconut cream and pecan pies and sell them for $6.00 each.  I asked my teachers if they wanted to buy pies and many of them did.  I helped Momma make about two dozen pies from "scratch" that week.  She taught me to make a pastry, crimp the edges and make them look pretty.  Then I helped her grate fresh coconut and stir the custard bases.  The pecan pies were my favorites.  On the delivery day, we drove to the homes of my teachers who had ordered the pies and delivered them just in time for their holiday celebrations.  I was so proud.  Momma said we would get Christmas gifts that year because of our efforts. 

Not only did Momma bake the best pies, but she also made great cakes and cookies.  When she was younger she never used mixes.   Mixes were for lazy people!  She had an almost Puritan work ethic.  My sister used to say that she didn't know you could purchase cookies already baked until she got married and went to the grocery store and saw them!   My Momma would never serve food that wasn't created by her own hands until many years later and her advanced age and poor health  made it impossible to do much in the kitchen.  

When we kids were grown and gone and raising families of our own, Momma and Daddy continued to stock that freezer and she continued to cook huge meals.  Nothing was thrown away.  Once, my daughter was helping to clean out the refrigerator and got the giggles at the many containers that had just a dollop of some leftover.  When asked why she was keeping a tablespoon of something, she would reply that it's a sin to waste food.   

Every day she baked biscuits or corn bread or both.  We never had white bread on the table unless we were eating sandwiches.   Rice and gravy was also a daily side dish.  Thinking back on it, she did a lot of braising to tenderize the round steaks that we loved so much.  Hence....gravy.

 I often wondered at her zeal when it was just the two of them.  Most people downsize when they retire, but she and Daddy bought five acres and moved to the "country" so they could grow a garden.    At the end of the winter and before a new crop came in, Momma and Daddy would clean out their freezer and if you were lucky you were able to take home some that was frozen the year before.  It wouldn't occur to them to give it to you when it was fresh.  That's just how they were.  Food was highly valued and provided security.  

Six years before she died, I asked Momma to tell me some of her recipes.  I typed them up, made a booklet and sent them to my family members that Christmas instead of a Christmas card.  The foods were simple, but it's fun to think of recipes you ate when you went to her house.  

She loved making salads with Jello.  She poured them in molds and considered it quite a coup when they were turned out on a plate.... very fancy!  Often the concoctions of Jello grated carrots, chopped celery and raisins didn't taste very good, but we ate them anyway.  She, after all, had gone to so much trouble making it special for us.  No one had the nerve to say we didn't like them.  As a result, she continued to prepare them over and over.  We often chuckle at that these days.  

Momma grew blueberries and loved making BLUEBERRY CRUNCH. You have to get up early to pick the blueberries or the birds will peck them and eat the ripest ones.  Once I showed up at 8:30 am after being invited to pick berries and was told that it was too late.  She had picked them at 5:00 am.  I wasn't as dedicated to the process as she apparently was.  

Go out at 5:00 in the morning and pick the blueberries (just kidding, but this is what my Momma said!)

Combine 3 cups blueberries, 2 T. cornstarch, lemon juice in a saucepan and cook until clear.

Pour into an 8” x 8” cake pan.  

Crunch Topping

1 cup flour

½ cup oatmeal

2 T. sugar

½ stick butter

Pinch of ground cinnamon

 

Stir topping ingredients in a medium sized bowl and “cut” with a pastry blender or two forks until well blended.  

 

Spoon topping onto blueberry mixture. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.

  

She also made a COCONUT CAKE WITH PINEAPPLE FILLING with a mix after acquiescing to the idea that the mixes weren't such a bad thing.  The recipe was already labor intensive with a home made filling and boiled icing.  Who bakes like that anymore?  If you were lucky, you got this cake for your birthday.  

Cake:

Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Cake Mix baked according to directions on the box, but use 2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks (save 2 egg whites for frosting)

 

Bake in 3 round layers or two small rectangles.

 

Filling:

8 oz. can crushed pineapple (not drained)

2 Tablespoons cornstarch

dash salt

1 teaspoon lemon juice

½ cup water

 

Combine all ingredients in saucepan and cook until clear.  Cool filling.  Assemble cake with filling.

 

Frosting and Topping:

Beat reserved egg whites

 

Meanwhile:  combine 1 cup sugar, 1/3 cup water, pinch of cream of tartar in saucepan.  Boil until the mixture spins a thread or forms a soft ball in water.

 

Slowly pour the hot mixture into the egg whites while continuing to beat at high speed.

 

Add a little vanilla.

 

Frost the cake and top with about 2 cups sweetened flaked coconut.

 

Refrigerate.  Can be frozen.  


Many consider CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS a humble recipe, but at our house it was considered a meal fit for royalty.    Momma made her dumplings from scratch until one day she discovered the convenience of frozen biscuits.  She never told people her secret and passed off those Mary B's as her own until I persuaded her to share her tips for the booklet.  


In a large Dutch oven, boil 2 or 3 chicken breasts with celery, onions, and carrots.  Use a combination of chicken broth and water to fill pot about 2/3 full.  When chicken is cooked, remove it and chop or tear into bite size pieces.  Mash up the vegetables in the broth and strain the liquid.  Return the liquid and the chicken to the pot.  (A couple of chicken bullion cubes can be added to water to enhance the flavor.)

 

Use one package of Mary B’s frozen biscuits for the dumplings.  Roll biscuits thin between sheets of waxed paper that has been floured lightly.  Cut into thin strips.

 

Return broth to a boil and drop biscuit strips one at a time into pot.  Don’t stir.  They can be poked down with a fork.  Reduce heat to medium and cover.  After about 20 minutes of cooking remove lid.  Dumplings should be tender.

 

Stir in about ½ stick butter and a 5 ounce can  evaporated milk.  You can also stir in a can of condensed cream of chicken soup.

 

Serve over rice.


Momma made the best CORNBREAD.  Sugar was not an ingredient as it was a savory bread, not a dessert as she would proclaim.  The hot iron skillet made the crust very crispy.  When it came out of the oven, she would flip it in the pan so the best side was up.  On Sunday nights, we would crumble up the cornbread left from lunch, and pour milk on it.  It was a great, quick and tasty supper.


1 cup cornmeal

1/2 cup flour

salt about a teaspoon

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 egg

3 Tablespoons oil

enough milk to make it spreadable

 

 

Pour a little oil in iron skillet.  Heat the skillet in the oven before pouring cornbread in it.

 

Bake at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes. 




Not a day goes by that I don't think about my Momma.  She influenced my entire being....values, skills, attitudes, knowledge....the entire package.  I wonder if she is wearing her chef hat in Heaven.  












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