What Southern Folks Eat: Lessons learned from Southern women
Women have been some of my greatest teachers throughout the years.
Not specifically schoolteachers, as I had some great male school teachers, like Herman Jones and Charles Osborne from whom I learned a great deal.
The old-fashioned skills that I gravitate toward and enjoy most, such as baking, canning, and gardening, though, I learned from women who were happy to pass their skills on to me when I was part of “the younger generation.”
Most of these lessons came from Southern women, since I’ve lived in the South my whole life. I do give credit where credit is due to Martha Stewart, who was born in New Jersey, for teaching me when I was young how to properly iron a man’s dress shirt and how to cut flower stems on a diagonal so they don’t sit flat on the bottom of a vase, making it difficult to absorb water. Handy things to know, for sure.
But it was my favorite Southern woman, my mom, who taught me how to do laundry, including hanging it on the line on a summer day if the dryer is broken, that being the only way either of us would want to do that chore in the hot Florida sun.
She taught me when I was quite young how to make spaghetti, fry chicken, make gravy, and wash dishes by hand, since we didn’t have a dishwasher. She tried to teach me how to sew, but I didn’t have the patience for it; sadly. You can’t win them all, I guess, if your student is hard-headed like me.
My grandmother was part of my education, too. She taught me how to look for shells on St. Joe Beach, and she knew the names, whether scientific or regional, for many of the shells we found, which were more plentiful in the 1970s there than they are now, for some reason. She and mom taught me how to plant flowers, as well as where to plant them. I learned that ferns and hostas do well in shady spots, while zinnias and roses do well in the sun, for example. She and mom let me help when they canned pears and figs we picked from Granddaddy’s trees, as well.
Ladies at my home church on the beach taught me, too. India Miller helped me memorize The Great Commission during Wednesday night Girls in Action class, and how to harmonize when we sang with her in high school. She led our youth choir for years, and had more patience with us than I can imagine, a lesson I am still trying to learn.
Women I encountered in my 20s taught me even more things; Mrs. Miriam Classen taught me to make homemade rolls and cinnamon rolls, lessons my family thoroughly appreciates to this day. Mrs. Arnett taught me that grapes definitely have no business being baked into a pie, a lesson she didn’t know she taught me, but one that I learned from her, nonetheless. Mrs. Pearlie taught me how to make the best dressing for Thanksgiving, and it is still her dressing recipe that I use and that my family has looked forward to each year for the past 25 years.
My sister-in-law Jill taught me how to can tomatoes when my husband planted 40 plants one year. I absolutely loved it. It was hard work, but there was a wonderful payoff at the end when the pantry was stocked with dozens of jars of beautiful tomatoes, salsa and spaghetti sauce for winter. From there I went on to expand my canning skills to making apple, peach and pumpkin butters, jalapeño jelly, and other delicious concoctions that our family enjoys.
My mother-in-law Susan taught me how to decorate on a budget, and I really have had fun with that skill. I know how to create a grouping of family photos on a wall like you wouldn’t believe, and she taught me to trust my instincts when picking paint colors for the house.
Speaking of painting, I learned how to do that from a Fort Worth woman named Heloise Bowles. Some of you may be familiar with her column in the newspaper in the 1960s called Hints From Heloise. She published a book called Heloise’s Housekeeping Hints that my mother owned. Y’all, that book was an eye-opener for me. She shared all kinds of handy tips for cleaning (she recommended using your broom and Comet cleanser to scrub down the bathtub, killing two birds with one stone. You’d end up with a clean tub and a clean broom) and she taught me that painting is the best, least expensive way to change the look of your home. Before I read that, I would never have dared to try painting my kitchen, but she said, “It’s not hard, it’s inexpensive, and you can do it!” I believed her. I bought paint, blue painters’ tape and some brushes, and set about painting our kitchen and living room walls. She was right! I can do it! I’ve done it numerous times since, even painting our cabinetry and wood paneling. I love the change it has made in our homes.
I am sure when Heloise wrote those short lines encouraging women to go for it with paint, and when my mother-in-law was teaching me how to hang pictures nicely, when my sister-in-law came over to teach me to can tomatoes, and so forth, they weren’t thinking they were doing or saying anything earth-shattering. They were just sharing the knowledge they had that they had learned from someone older than themselves along the way, too.
I think that’s a large part of why we are here; we are commanded to love one another, and helping each other in our daily lives in simple ways is included in that love. It doesn’t have to be anything difficult or expensive to be shared and valued.
I appreciate the women mentioned here, and dozens more like them that I have been blessed with in my lifetime. I hope that each of you reading this will realize that you have something to offer the world, too, even if it’s something as simple as teaching a young person how to properly tie a tie (a dying art!) or how to plant a garden, how to change a tire or bake a birthday cake… or literally thousands of other things that you can do… you are contributing to our world and showing love to your fellow man.
What a joy it is to light the fire of learning inside another person! I am grateful to each of you reading this right now, many of whom I personally know and likely learned something from over the years. You made a difference in me, and I hope you keep passing that on. I am trying to do the same, thanks to all of you.
Right now is the perfect time to put those canning skills I learned to use, so I’ll be making this apple butter again soon, and thought I would share the delicious recipe I use. This is a great gift to share during the holidays; I like to wrap the jar in a gingham ribbon and hang a gift tag from it. It’s really pretty and fun. Enjoy!
By Ball Canning freshpreserving.com
- 4 pounds apples (about 12 to 16 medium)
- 2 cups water
- 4 cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon cloves
- Core and peel apples. Cut apples into quarters.
- Combine apples and water in a large saucepan. Cook apples at a simmer until soft. Puree mixture using an electric food strainer or food mill. Measure 2 quarts of apple pulp; return apple pulp to saucepan. Add sugar and spices, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cook at a gentle boil over medium heat until apple mixture is thick enough to mound on a spoon, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. If mixture becomes too thick, add a small amount of water or apple juice for desired consistency. Remove from heat.
- Ladle hot apple butter into a hot jar leaving a ¼ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rim. Center lid on jar and apply band, adjust to fingertip tight. Place jar in boiling water canner. Repeat until all jars are filled.
- Process jars 15 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Turn off heat, remove lid, let jars stand 5 minutes. Remove jars and cool 12-24 hours. Check lids for seal; they should not flex when center is pressed.
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is “Mama Steph.” She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home. She is married and has three sons who are substantially taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes atWhatSouthernFolksEat.com, and she’d love to hear about your own favorite recipes via email atSteph@whatsouthernfolkseat.com.