Monday, December 27, 2010

An Old-Timey Southern Breakfast

For those who haven’t eaten enough of the good stuff over the Christmas holiday, here is a reminder of how real people start the day.

Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
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A Little Southern Breakfast:

“Let us not overlook the old-timey Southern breakfast. It is an institution – perhaps the best loved meal of the region – at any rate, for people who have gone to bed early and hungry, slept the sleep of the just and risen “early on a frosty morning.”

For this breakfast there are no fripperies and no preliminaries – no juice or melon or cereal. You plunge directly “in medias res” which being translated means old country ham, chicken, bacon and sausages, salt herring roes, rolls, toast, biscuits, waffles, coffee and – never to be forgotten – buckwheat cakes. These buckwheat cakes are not the “plate o’ w’eats” of the North shored up with puny sausage links. They are not the product of the ready-made “mix” which comes from a paste-board box with indecent haste and moves without meditation or art from carton to griddle.

This rare species requires long training – such as [our colored cook] Violet has had – with nothing to disturb the equanimity of the artist, and careful preparation then night before when the ingredients (“magruduses” to Violet), including ‘east cake, potato water, white flour and dark, water-ground buckwheat flour, are beaten up and left behind the stove in a gray earthen crock.

Next morning, milk, black molasses, baking powder, soda and a “fraction” of salt are added. Indeed all the “magruduses” are measured in “fraction.” Nobody knows what a “fraction” is. This art is not for the books.

But when the cakes come off the griddle they are too good to have their taste adulterated by any sort of syrup. Serve a stack topped by a stick of butter and accompanied by a few slices of strong, old country ham, or equally strong salt herring roe mashed up in butter, and you have a dish which will make lunch, or even dinner, a work of supererogation. There is something gargantuan about Southern cooking. Tom Wolfe got it right in Look Homeward, Angel when he wrote of his own family:

“They fed stupendously. Eugene began to observe the food and the seasons. In the autumn they barreled huge, frosty apples in the cellar. Gant bought whole hogs from the butcher, returning home early to salt them, wearing a long work-apron and rolling his sleeves half up his lean, hairy arms. Smoked bacons hung in the pantry, the great bins were full of flour, the dark recessed shelves groaned with preserved cherries, peaches, plums, quinces, apples, pears…

“In the morning they rose in a house pungent with breakfast cookery and they sat at a smoking table loaded with brains and eggs, ham, hot biscuits, fried apples seething in their gummed syrups, honey, golden butter, fried steaks, scalding coffee. Or there were stacked butter-cakes, rum-colored molasses, fragrant brown sausages, a bowl of wet cherries, plums, fat, juicy bacon, jam.

At the midday meal they ate heavily: a huge, hot roast of beef, fat, buttered lima beans, tender corn smoking on the cob, thick red slabs of sliced tomatoes, rough savory spinach, hot yellow corn bread, flaky biscuits, deep-dished peach and apple cobbler spiced with cinnamon, tender cabbage, deep glass dishes piled with preserved fruits – cherries, pears, peaches.

At night they might eat fried steak, hot squares of grits fried in egg and butter, pork chops, fish, young fried chicken.”

(A Little Breakfast, Southern Accent, From Uncle Remus to Oak Ridge, William T. Polk, William Morrow and Company, 1953, pp. 132-133)
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An Old-Timey Southern Breakfast

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