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Foodways Traditions – Who’s cooking for you?

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Terri Hunter

Have you ever heard the hoot owl’s call, “Who, who, who’s cooking for you?” One who used to cook for me many years ago was my Daddy’s mama, Maude Baldwin Bateman. I called her Mammaw.

Mammaw and Grandaddy lived on a small farm as you top the first and only hill on the Lake Emory Road. Even though life was filled with hard work for them, when I visited they made it seem like paradise to me.

GEORGE AND Maude Bateman

They always raised a garden. Plowing, planting, weeding, hoeing, harvesting, preserving, and cooking went on all summer without a break. On top of that, there were animals to be tended and a home to maintain.

Somehow, they got it all done and fed their family the most delicious, plain-old country cooking you can imagine. Summertime meals were fresh from the garden, seasoned to perfection, and absolutely delicious: green beans, corn, potatoes, okra, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions, along with biscuits and cornbread.

If the day was Sunday, possibly chicken, ham, or maybe a roast was also on the menu. Dessert, if there was one, could be a blackberry or strawberry cobbler or everyone’s favorite: banana pudding.

I am much older now, and it has been a while since I was fortunate enough to sit at Mammaw’s table, but this is how I remember her cooking.

Mammaw’s green beans came straight from her garden to be strung, broken, and washed. They were covered with water in a huge pot because a “mess” of green beans had to be large enough for leftovers. Right on top of the beans she placed a great big piece of fat back or streaked meat. The beans were boiled with the lid on until they were done, and then the lid was removed and they were cooked until they were dry.

There’s a trick to beans. Do not stir them! Mammaw kept tilting the pot, searching for water, and when all the water was gone, they were ready to eat. She was careful not to let them scorch. Scorched beans are good for nothing except dumping. Mammaw’s beans were so seasoned from the pork that a serving of her green beans would leave your lips greasy.

Corn also came fresh-picked from Mammaw’s garden. It was shucked, silked, and washed. She was an expert at cutting the kernels and scraping the cob. She held the cob in her left hand and turned it as she sliced the kernels and scraped each slice, going up and going down, then turning the cob, all in one fluid motion. She never lost her grip or needed to reposition.

When all of the ears were stripped and scraped, Mammaw rinsed her knife over the pot, and that’s all the liquid she added. She placed the pot on the stove eye, added a chunk of butter, and let it cook. If the corn needed thickening, she did it with a handful of flour added to the pot. Magically, it thickened without a single lump.

Mammaw dug new potatoes, filled a bucket with the little guys, and washed most of the dirt off at the outside spigot. Inside, they got another washing. She used a knife to scrape off the skin, which took forever. The potatoes were stewed, fried, or roasted.

More about Mammaw’s life and cooking in the next edition of Macon Sense.