Going Back to My Mama's Ways

Patti McKenna

My mom grew up in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains with six brothers and sisters. Her father died before she was a teenager, leaving her mother with no income to feed a large family. Meat was a rare and precious commodity in their home - they mostly ate meals made from their garden harvest. When they had meat, they made it last for as many meals as possible.

When I grew up, my mom knew how to cook these types of meals. At least once a week, she would cook one of her Southern make-ends meet dinners; and we loved them for the taste. Now that I have my own family I realize the true value of those meals - for their nutritional value as well as their pocketbook friendliness.

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There are a couple of dishes my family requests frequently. When you take into account that they are or can be entirely made of vegetables, you begin to realize the health benefits from these meals.

My favorite dinner was green beans. Yes, a big pot of fresh green beans, slowly simmered and cooked down for hours. To truly appreciate this meal, you've got to taste it. Fresh, cooked down green beans are extraordinary - there is absolutely no comparison to canned green beans. For additional flavor, just add a couple pieces of bacon, a ham bone left over from another meal, or chopped onion. On the side, we have hot cornbread (which is so much healthier and flavorful than white bread). This is a true southern depression era meal. Sometimes, we'll turn the cornbread into Mexican cornbread by adding cream corn and chopped peppers into the batter. The prep time for the meal is minimal, the fat content is low, and the nutritional value is high.
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Another family favorite that makes a ham go further is a pot of pinto or northern beans cooked with a ham bone. I always use a bag of dried beans - they are much cheaper, their nutritional content is higher because they haven't been processed, and they don't taste canned. Also, the economic waste from the bag is insignificant compared to the jars of cooked beans you can buy. I add onions, diced carrots, and celery for a great bean soup. Once again, this meal goes well with fresh baked cornbread.

These are meals which can be easily thrown in the crock pot or slow cooker in the morning, and all you have to do at night is mix and bake the cornbread. When I think about how cheaply my mom's family ate due to necessity and the amount of prepared foods people now buy at the grocery store, I realize the high costs of convenience. Yet, most people don't realize that these inexpensive dishes take no more prep time than a box of Hamburger Helper. Better yet, they are loaded with natural nutrients and fiber, and eliminate red meat, fat, and the sodium and salt which gives packaged food its flavor.

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April 28, 20062 found this helpful

I grew up in Piedmont area of N C during the same era as the writer.

I still use these ideas to this day, not only for thrift, but for the taste of comfort food. One addition to the green beans is this:

On the first serving we eat the green beans and leave some beans with the leftover liquour, then the next day we put in chunks of potatoes and more onions and crushed red peppers. This gives us another meal for lunch. The grandkids love this served with a bit of ketchup.

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April 28, 20062 found this helpful

You go girl! That was the good ole days when family's ate together. The food back then tasted a lot better and was better for you. We eat like that all the time, that is also how I brought my daughter up.

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April 28, 20061 found this helpful

My mother and grandmother cooked this way. My MaMaw made the best fresh green beans. She did in a pressure cooker with bacon....oh yum! My mother fixed a lot of just good comfort food, altho quite a bit was fried but it was all so good. We had salmon patties, fried chicken, fried pork chops, Northern Beans and ham. I love to fix dried beans. As long as you plan for it, they do not take a lot of time....yes, you need to soak but that's not difficult. I usually just cover with water, bring to boil and heat for 2 mins or so, cut off heat and let sit on the stove covered till I'm ready to start cooking later in the day. An inexpensive pound bag of bean yields a lot of food and legumes are a very good source of fiber and protein!

I am a real veggie lover. I could easily make a meal out of fresh green beans, cooked up with bacon, corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes and hot corn bread....now that's some good eatin'!

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April 28, 20060 found this helpful

Love the receipts, Patty! You said that was only two - care to share more???

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April 28, 20060 found this helpful

Thank you Patti, for that heart warming story & practical advice on some recipes. I agree with you wholly.

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April 28, 20062 found this helpful

Thanks for the heartwarming story. I agree with you wholly. Although we did have meat growing up, we also had fresh grown vegetables straight from the garden & I cherish the meals that I grew up on. I still cook fresh green beans with new potatoes w/bacon & onion among many other gems from the garden. With today's "fast food" generation I think the foods we grew up with are a thing of the past. There are still a few of us out there though that love cooking "home grown" meals.

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April 29, 20061 found this helpful

This post has made me nostalgic for my grandma's cooking (lord knows I would give my right arm for one of the dinners I took for granted as a kid). She was born in 1906, on a farm in Nelson County Virginia. She was one of 8 children where she and her twin brother were the oldest. They ate what they raised and grew, seldom went to the store and NEVER ate out.

I remember asking her one day about how she and her family faired through the great depression. She said she hardly noticed. You gotta love people like that, god knows how I miss her now. She was a very wise person. Not just possesing book-smarts, but also real-world experience. She never minded one bit taking the time to listen to the banter of a mischevious 5 year old grandson or to cover for him when he was just a bit naughty. She was in every sense of the word, a saint. This August 23, she would be 100 years old and I plan to visit her site, light a candle and sit a spell with a truely wonderful person.

Thank you for your post, and for reminding me of the single most influential person in my life.

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April 30, 20061 found this helpful

I really enjoyed visiting "the good old days" with you!! As Catherine requested, "Care to share more"??? Thank you!!!

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May 1, 20061 found this helpful

We ate the same way and I miss it. My hubby doesn't like beans and my son wont eat them either, I buy them and fix them for me,but rarely. I also ate alot of oatmeal, ralston or cream of wheat. Neither my son or hubby will eat cereal cuz they don't like milk. Same for cheese sandwiches.Or tomato sandwiches.

Another thing I can't figure out how to fix it the way she did, was my grandma's creamed tomatos over biscuits. The next day if there were any leftovers I would crumble up the biscuits in the reheated creamed tomatos and eat a bowl and they were soooo good.

I ate alot of wild game growing up too, don't miss the deer at all..actually can't stand it now ...but I really miss the rabbit and squirrel. My hubby won't hunt or allow guns in the house, so I don't get these things anymore either. : (

We also had alot of meal fillers on the table...such as biscuits or cornbread with surgham molasses or honey, pickles, beets, hot peppers in tomato sauce

and relishes too. a bit of this and a bit of that. we rarely left the table hungry...and if we did it was usually cuz we were in trouble and got sent away...lol.

I also remember that we only had cake or maybe a pie on Sunday. What ever happened to big family Sunday dinners anyway?

And my favorite dessert was apple dumplings.Grandma knew it too and so

thats what she would make me every year on my b'day...wish I had her recipe..she never did give it to anyone and I know absolutely no-one who knows how she did it.

But they were fixed in a huge pot on top of the stove, the apples were inside a big dumpling( not apples and dumplings dropped into a broth) and it was all cooked in this scrumptious sauce, I don't know how but they kept their shape and one was a bowl full.

gosh I miss those days. and the cooking.

Brenda-ohio

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May 2, 20061 found this helpful

Diane, thanks for reminding me about pot liquer. When we had fresh shelled peas, the pot liquer that spilled over onto the rice made 'pan' gravy optional.

My Mom grew up in N. Central Fla. during the Depression partly after her father had passed away. My grandmother cooked many meals of rice and beans with cornbread or biscuits and greens. I remember stories of her filling up the whole back seat of the car w/about a month's worth of groceries for $5.00.

During WWII, when meat was rationed, canned ones were added to the menu. Spam made many a meal.

Over these three generations, black-eyed peas were preferred but we also had Northern, green, kidney, lima and others. Thanks for reminding me about fresh green beans cooked down.

Yep, many of Mom's recipes called for fried this or that but we never gained weight :o)

After Mom got sick, it was a pleasure to duplicate her childhood meatless dinners for her; now when I think 'comfort food' these also come to mind.

For creamed tomatoes... try making a medium-thick white (cream) sauce (recipe found on a box of cornstarch), or 'milk gravy' to which is added canned or fresh tomatoes. A family friend made hers that way. Play around w/the ingredients until you find the taste you remember.

If you like all-tomato sandwiches, you might like sliced pineapple w/mayonnaise on white bread; w/o refrigeration, they keep well for trips to the lake for swimming or fishing.

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May 3, 20061 found this helpful

I make the green beans too, only I also put in small potatoes, onions and corn. Then cook it untill there it is done to my liking. Eat it tonight and it is great tomorrow!~! and of course you have to have corn bread or corn muffins with it too.

When I make beans, I add a bay leaf, and some garlic. It just makes the beans so good! Of course, corn bread here too. But then I eat it the way my mom taught me, with catsup and chopped up raw onions. So good.

Have you ever tried fried hominy? This was one of my grandma's recipes. Open and drain 2 cans of white hominy, in a skillet, fry a few pieces of bacon, after the bacon is cooked, drain most of the grease and throw in a medium onion to cook until translucent, then add the hominy, cook and somewhat brown, with lots of pepper on it. don't forget to put the bacon back into the pan! Very good, fill them up, meal

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May 7, 20061 found this helpful

I remember eating a lot of greenbeans. I also remember planting , picking bushels of them and snapping greenbeans all day for canning. We also ate alot of tomatoe gravey. We lived on what we grew in the garden.

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May 11, 20061 found this helpful

To everyone who left feedback to my little article, I thank you. I had no idea that my memories of what you so rightly called "comfort food" would bring back such fond memories for so many people. Indeed, what we remember may not be the food, but the simpler times and enjoyment of the people we loved. I, too, called my grandmother "maMaw" - thinking of that name again was a sweet touch to my morning. I will be sending in more recipes, as soon as I can sit down and compile them. Please share with me yours, also. The ideas you gave me already were just great! Better yet, share the memory with the recipe. It seems that is where we can truly get the "flavor". Food does trigger emotion, and it's so nice to share it with each other.

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October 26, 20061 found this helpful

RE: Going Back to My Mama's Ways

Judy (Guest Post) | 05/07/2006

I remember eating a lot of greenbeans. I also remember planting , picking bushels of them and snapping greenbeans all day for canning. We also ate alot of tomatoe gravey. We lived on what we grew in the garden.

Judy ~ what is tomatoe gravy? Is it like a tom sauce or actual gravy? To interesting to learn this.

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October 26, 20061 found this helpful

Home grown meals are right tina. We dont get many people that do those anymore. Or maybe I just dont hear about them. I have never heard of beans like this and sounds wonderful. I need to know how to make it with canned beans though, as I dont have any fresh. I grew up with meat and veges, but my mom doesnt share well and so many recipes are gone or forgotten. I went home a couple of years ago for a branding and man the feed that those women put out, with nothing, was dumbfounding to me. There was fried chicken like I had never tasted. If chicken wasnt your thing then you could have finger steaks. Melted in your mouth. mashed , fried, boiled potatoes. Wonderfuul green beans. Some kind of pea dish and carrots. Of course it was all topped off with the old stand by ~ green salad with many toppings. I know that the bacon bits were fresh off the pig. WOW is all I could say and Thanks a milion times as that was a treat many peiple would not get. There of course all the families eat like that. I ate like I havent since I was a kid. Was way fun. Made me homesick.

Pattie I wait for more of your recipes and ideas. thanks

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June 29, 20071 found this helpful

My husband is a meat eater. He has to have meat at dinner. I make a big pot of fresh green means, red potatoes and onions and chop up one link smoked sausage into thin slices and put it in with the vegetables. It will feed us several meals and there is just enough meat to satisfy my husband.

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July 25, 20070 found this helpful

Don't know if you're still keeping up with this post, but the way we make tomato gravy is: cook some bacon to render fat. The amount is up to you. If we are going to eat the bacon with the gravy, I cook the whole package. If I am just going to crumble it back into the gravy, 3 or 4 slices will suffice. Take equal parts bacon grease & flour (2 to 4 T each, according to how much gravy you need), and brown til it has a nice color, med to med low heat. Add about 1/2 a can of diced tomatoes with juice to browned flour mixture & enough water to thin it down a bit. It will thicken up again with simmering if you add too much. Season with s&p to taste. I crumble my bacon back in and let it simmer, but you can eat it with. Serve over split homemade biscuits. One of my absolute fave comfort foods!!! Yummy!!

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March 8, 20081 found this helpful

I guess I'm one of the few who never left the old ways. When I grew up and got married, I moved all the way across the street from my parents and my Nanny, who left us almost 3 years ago. I still miss her so...

Anyway, I still live on the family farm, in what used to be a rental house.

If we want eggs, we go get them out from underneath a chicken. If we want pork or beef, we take an animal to the slaughterhouse, and then to a local meat-cutter. (Thank goodness Daddy decided he was too old to slaughter hogs and make sausage - I truly have no good memories of that...) If we want vegetables, we go to the freezers or to the 'canned goods' aisles in the basements. In season, we go outside and pick them fresh.

We're pretty self-sufficient.

Nanny bought this farm in the early 1940's, and immediately started planting fruit and nut trees, plus grapes, muscadines, and scuffadines.

I am the designated wine-maker now, because Mama won't make anything alcoholic. I even started growing my own coffee a few years back. I have 12 coffee trees (Kona and Arabica) and I harvest about 20 pounds per tree per year.

I still cook like Nanny taught me how to when I was a child. My husband loves it, although he eats far too much meat. I'm becoming more and more of a vegetarian as I grow older.

I never left the farm, Nanny's ways or Mamma's. I'm glad I stayed here. My daughter is almost nine now and she's growing up in a way of life that most people have long forgotten or never knew. She'd rather feed the livestock and gather the eggs than watch TV or play videogames. I'm grateful that she will grow up being one with the land, learning how to live off of it, and knowing that she has all that she needs to sustain her here.

I may not have gone far, but then again, there wasn't any reason for me to leave. This is paradise!

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October 13, 20141 found this helpful

I just finished reading all these posts and found myself so endeared by them. I am 69 years old and have no one that can relate to these wonderful memories that you have posted. Thank you so much for the simpler times that you all shared. Would really like to read much more of these.

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June 7, 20151 found this helpful

I just want to say that I have enjoyed each and every article. Thanks!

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June 7, 20151 found this helpful

I grew up the same way and also passed these meals on to my girls and we all still enjoy an all vegetable or beans and cornbread meal. Thanks for the wonderful reminders.

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January 3, 20161 found this helpful

I loved this heart warming story. It took me back in my memory of the simpler times when family was centered on warm cooking recipes. All the replies were such a pleasure to read. Please continue to post these kinds of stories.

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January 3, 20161 found this helpful

Brought back such good memories reading these posts! Good to know there are others that grew up eating this way too! Now I'm hungry!!

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January 3, 20160 found this helpful

WONDERFUL MEMORIES..THANK YOU FOR SHARING..LOOKING FORWARD TO MORE STORIES OF THE GOOD OLE DAYS.

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January 3, 20160 found this helpful

I just tried my first post, even though I have been on this website for a few years. I must have hit the wrong key, and it disappeared. 2nd try. :-) I read every post and thoroughly enjoyed them all. Right now I have a bowl of dried navy (pkg. in stores call them small white)beans soaking in a bowl of water, with the ham hock thawing out in the fridge. Tomorrow, I will add onion, carrots & celery with seasonings and ham hock to the soaked beans using fresh water. I will make homemade cornbread to go with it. This is a delicious, filling, and very inexpensive meal, that my family ate once or twice a week, and at 60 years old is still one of my favorites. My parents both grew up in the south U.S., and this was how I was taught to cook by my grandma, (we called her Ma-Maw)and my Mom. Some of the dinners that I still love from childhood, and still cook, are chicken & dumplings, milk gravy and biscuits(homemade, of course),fried chicken & turnip greens(my Dad's favorite leafy green vegetable), and ham, scalloped potatoes, with red eye gravy---made with coffee. My Dad buttered saltine crackers and broiled them for a very short time as a snack, sometimes sprinkling a sugar/cinnamon mixture on top. Another snack was crumbling up leftover cornbread, adding honey and milk. Yummy! I would love to read more posts, and recipes from like minded people. So much fun, and thank you.

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January 6, 20160 found this helpful

I grew up in the coal fields of Logan County, WV. I grew up eating exactly this way. There were 10 kids that my mother had to feed, so you can bet she knew the cheapest way to do that. She even made her own syrup. Our breakfasts usually consisted of scrambled powdered eggs, powdered milk (we got the government commodities then), gravy, biscuits and Mother's homemade syrup. Oh, my goodness! Supper was usually pinto beans, fried potatoes, cornbread and any garden vegetable that was ready for the table at the time. So many memories of those days. I still cooked a lot like that for my kids when they were all home and they still talk about some of the breakfasts they remember getting when they were growing up. lol

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February 25, 20160 found this helpful

Your Mama reminds me of my aunts. I'm sure she was a wonderful person.

The best pinto beans I ever cooked were flavored with a ham bone from Thanksgiving.

I'm not too far away. I'm in the Piedmont region.

What time is dinner?

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April 8, 20160 found this helpful

This post could have been mine word for word. When I was a kid I'd say "when I grow up I'll never eat another pinto bean". Boy was I wrong; nothing better than a good bowl of beans and cornbread. My Mother (bless her heart) would be so proud of me.

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