Friday, April 9, 2010

Everything but the squeal

posted Wed, 20 Sep 2006

I just started reading a book by Celia Rivenbark called “We’re Just Like You, Only Prettier.” It’s about being a Southerner. Her other books are called, “Bless Your Heart, Tramp" and "Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank."

She has a chapter titled, “There’s a hair in my bacon grease: Why the Greatest Generation is rinsing out Ziploc bags and eating ptomaine turkey.”

Chicken and dumplings, corn pudding, turnip greens, okra and tomatoes, baked apple. The Cupboard is heaven. Yes, you need pepper sauce on those greens and it’s good on the okra, too.

My friend Merleen’s mama-in-law, like every Southern woman of a certain age, even saves her bacon grease in a fancy little jar she made in ceramics that says Drippings and has hand-painted trolls dancing around a mushroom tree.

As a newlywed, Merleen visited her mother-in-law and, being painfully eager to make a good impression, offered to clean up the kitchen. That’s when her mother-in-law caught her pouring the bacon grease into an old mayonnaise jar and tossing it into the trash.

What happened next was a blur but Merleen said her mama-in-law’s reaction was swift.

From the sound of it, she couldn’t have been more shocked or hurt if she’d personally witnessed Merleen doing the devil’s aerobics with the minister of music right there on her new Congoleleum.

She sprang like a cheetah across the kitchen, rescued the bacon grease, and, holding it tenderly as a newborn, slowly poured the still-warm contents back into the drippings jar.

I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth repeating. Doesn’t everyone save bacon grease? I’ve always saved mine. Fat adds flava and bacon grease adds even more flava. SH’s college roommate, Pete, said his mother, “a nice Jewish girl,” always had her bacon grease jar right next to the stove.

From the sound of this anecdote, though, the art of saving bacon grease is being lost in the South. Far be it from me to bash the South and Southern cooking – I’m a big fan of both. Indeed, SH and I have developed what we call The Cupboard multiplier. The Cupboard is a meat-and-three restaurant a few blocks from my house. For under $20, two people get more food than they can eat in one sitting. We always take leftovers home, usually enough for another, maybe two meals. It never takes more than five or ten minutes to get your food and it’s the good stuff: corn pudding, eggplant casserole, Italian spinach, turnip greens, beef tips with noodles, fried catfish – soul food, I suppose. Everything is made with lots of fat.

The multiplier is this: When we go to a fancy expensive restaurant, we divide the cost of the fancy food by the cost of a meal at The Cupboard. So if the fancy meal is $70, was it 3.2 times better than The Cupboard? If the answer is no, then we cross that restaurant off our list. We won’t be back.

Back to bacon grease. I’m afraid I might have to say something negative about Southerners, though – are they not saving bacon grease any more? It is possible to buy lard here. At least Southerners understand that lard is the only way you get a good pie crust. (I, much to my shame, have resorted to frozen pie crusts, but I never eat the crust anyhow – I just scrape the filling out.)

Maybe it’s a secret that only people who love food know. In the movie “Last Holiday,” Queen Latifah is a foodie who has a terminal illness. She decides to spend all her money and her last month at a swanky resort in Europe. She orders extravagant meals every night and eats every bite – she has spent her life dieting and to what end? She’s dying anyhow. (A good thing to think about….) One night, she is eating when the chef, Gerard Diepardieu, comes out to talk to her. She asks, “Is there lard in this?”

“Yes!” he whispers, putting his finger to his lips. “Don’t say anything! These people here,” gesturing to the others in the restaurant, “they will go crazy!”

Bacon grease is the perfect thing to add when you are cooking beans or rice or pancakes or meat or anything! It gives that little bit of extra flava that you just can’t get from anything else. Why anyone would waste it is beyond me. So sad what people don’t know. They spend money on fancy stoves and refrigerators and cookware when the secret to good food is right in front of them.

BTW – it’s just wasteful to throw away a Ziploc bag that’s been used only once. I’ve been rinsing and re-using mine for years. I get the freezer bags and use them over and over. What’s wrong with that?

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