When I was young, sugar was the medicine that helped soothe the soul, sugar along with savory flavors that tickled the senses and brought about a huge smile on the faces of young and old alike. Savory flavors, sugary goodness plus Rhythm and Blues -- and to be perfectly honest, put all together, it remains a soul soother. But unlike today, sugar was a weekend or holiday treat that took the form of homemade cake: double chocolate, yellow coconut, or maybe a light-as-air pound cake with a big scoop of fresh sugared strawberries on the side. Sometimes, it was a pie not long from the oven: savory sweet potato; lemon meringue; or even warm, spicy apples surrounded and protected by a perfected flaky crust. A double crust fruit cobbler was wonderful too, especially peach, but I couldn't get with cobblers made with berries -- a personal thing I suppose. But I have fond memories too of a dented metal pan brimming over with banana pudding, a large glass bowl of creamy rice pudding with more raisins than one would considered reasonable, and a modest size tub of a favorite summertime treat: vanilla ice cream cranked by hand – mercy! A small but important note here: Unlike a little sweet treat or two in a chipped dish from time to time, R&B was everyday, if not all day.
My daddy loved my mother’s cooking! I honestly think that if my mother had not been gifted in the kitchen, she would have died a spinster – or maybe married some sour face man with no need or appreciation for the smells and flavors that wafted from a kitchen on Sunday afternoons after church – sometimes on Saturdays too depending on family plans. Baked ham covered in cloves with huge round, sweet pineapple slices; pork chops smothered in gravy; lamb roast lined from top to bottom with slivers of fresh garlic and homemade mint jelly atop the stove waiting to finish; fried chicken, crispy from an egg batter dip, rolled in flour, and then seasoned just right; rabbit stew simmering in sweet-red wine sauce with spices that defied the imagination; catfish, whitefish, perch, or trout fried up in an old black, well worn, cast iron pan – daddy fished throughout the summer on the Michigan lakes and rivers; he caught our fish and brought them home, enough oft times to share with the neighbors. He lugged a pail sometimes two of ice filled with fish into the back door late night around bedtime, him smelling a little of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer and pleased to be home to take hold of his wife, who didn’t have time; she busying herself for our Sunday feast and shooing him away - most times. Then there were the jellies, jams, peaches, pickles, corn, to name a few, that were canned -- fruit and vegetables prepared by the bushel full from late summer to early autumn. Collard greens and mustard greens seasoned to perfection served with Louisiana Hot Sauce, never Tabasco, go figure; fried and cream corn fresh from the cob before finding a way to the pan; green beans with baby white potatoes along with bits of sugared ham; warm, light biscuits; corn bread piping hot; and not to forget the sauces and gravies for barbecues and roasts and nearly anything hot from the oven. Yup! My daddy loved my mother’s cooking – those few Saturday nights and those regular, can-depend-on Sunday afternoons right after church!!!
The problem for me, the only child in a household with a way-older brother off and living his life with a beautiful, young wife, is that I was often times in the way. I was a reader and a dreamer; the kitchen was the place that I spent evenings washing up and sweeping the floor; Saturday mornings on my hands and knees with a rag, a hot bucket of water, and Mr. Clean. My mother, bless her heart, was a nervous woman much of the time, and it was easier to delegate cleaning to me and do the cooking herself. Besides, there would be plenty of time to pass along the recipes and family secrets and sleight of hand famous for making her dishes a delight. But that time never came, my daughter did reap the benefit of some lessons and a bit of craft, but by then, daddy had passed, mother retired, and I was grown -- time was too precious. Thank goodness for an early marriage to a man whose mother never cooked, if she didn’t have to – that man was so grateful for everything I attempted in those early months that eventually I learned from the school of trial and error. I should go looking for that man, long moved on and out, just to thank him for his patience and optimism. I learned to cook thanks in part to his encouragement and appreciation – ahh, too bad that’s all I can recommend there. But then, that, as they say, is another story.
Today, I have tucked away a few of my mother’s precious recipes and special touches. It is with loving pleasure I share: Sweet Potato Pie. Since my daddy had a serious sweet-tooth, my mother kicked up the sweetness of that pie quite a bit. Most people keep the sugar reduced, especially in this new day and age, so I leave it to you. Here is a recipe, lighten up on the sugar if you wish and cheat on the crust if you must, but remember, my mother made all her pie crusts from scratch and that is what I’m including. Her pie crusts were her pride and joy. To my mother, a perfect flaky pie crust separated the woman from the girl.
Enjoy! Now don’t forget to switch on a little Rhythm and Blues to go along with this simple but sweet delight, both in the preparation and in the eatin’. Feel free to move about and swing a bit to the beat should the spirit move you; it is without question, the right accompaniment.