Saturday, August 2, 2008

Fieldhands' Dinner

Unlike most Southerners, I was raised to call the noontime meal "lunch." I endured occasional ridicule for this habit by other children who believed the noontime meal was properly called "dinner" and the evening meal "supper." In my house, we called the evening meal "dinner" or sometimes "supper." Potato, potAHto, I say, let's just eat. Today, we made a proper Southern dinner, or noontime meal, fit for farmhands and heavy laborers.

This morning my girls and I made a blueberry pie, using the plump, sweet CSA berries from Haven Farms and the small, tart berries from the local u-pick. A lot of heavy mommy labor went into acquiring those berries (not days; cranky kids) and they deserved first-class treatment. I used the pastry recipe from Damon Lee Fowler's New Southern Baking, adding a tablespoon of sugar, and it turned out fine, flaky, golden and tender. I ad-libbed the filling - four cups of blueberries with the zest of one lemon, the juice of half the lemon, a tablespoon of cornstarch and 1/2 cup of sugar. The cornstarch didn't do its job holding the pie together; the result was a tasty lemony blueberry soup in a pie crust. After removing the initial slice, the filling merged in the middle, creating a blueberry lake worthy of Willy Wonka. The latest Cook's Illustrated suggests using a grated Granny Smith apple to bind a blueberry pie, and I will definitely try that next time.

Fieldhands' Dinner
Pan-Fried Ham Steak
Pole Beans Simmered in Pork Stock with Potatoes and Onions
Sliced Heirloom Tomatoes
Corn on the Cob
Sliced Fresh South Carolina Peaches
Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits
Homemade Blueberry Pie
This must be a good year for green beans; each week I find at least a pound, sometimes two in the CSA bag. They are labeled Romano beans, and are broad and flat, about 6 inches long, usually green, but this week, a pale yellow. I'm sure there are many recipes for fresh green beans, but, honestly, I'm happy with Southern-style beans cooked in pork stock. I've come to this method from several sources, mainly Fanny Flagg's cookbook, and the always-popular Gift of Southern Cooking.
Before I prepped the beans, I put a 2 quart pot of water on to boil, and dropped in a handful of country ham scraps. These ham scraps can be found near the bacon in the supermarket, in cryovac packages, not necessarily in the refrigerated case. Whatever amount is left over, I seal in a bag and toss in the freezer. You could also use a smoked ham hock or turkey wings or legs, but the best flavor will come from the country ham.
While the pork stock is simmering, you may feel the need to skim any foam that rises to the top. Sometimes cooking Southern vegetables is a lot like making stock -- "skim, skim, skim" is the mantra. This is the time to prep the beans -- just get into a comfy chair with two bowls and the bag of beans. A helpful child snugged up close is optional, but nice. For the beans, snap each green end off, and break the pods into 2-inch sections. Use one bowl for discards, the other for keepers. Rinse the bean sections well and place in the bubbling pork stock. Add two or more small red potatoes, peeled and quartered, if necessary, and one large onion, peeled then sliced in wedges. Let simmer uncovered on cooktop for about two hours, until beans are tender. Be cautious about salt -- you will definitely need it, but the pot liquor concentrates as it cooks down.
I'm so proud that I finally know how to properly cook Southern green beans. I could grab the can of Allen's Seasoned Southern Style when I'm in the store, and in the coldest days of winter, I certainly will, but when I have fresh organic pole beans on hand, it's easy and tasty to make my own.

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