Monday, June 01, 2009

Good Southern Cooking or How I'm becoming Paula Deen

I'm home from my business trip/mini vacation to Southern Virgina and Northeastern Tennessee and as usual, I had some fantastic food while visiting. I also discovered two of the best kept secrets of Tennessee, strawberries and tomatoes.

It is the peak of the strawberry season and this morning, before departing Bristol. TN to head back home to Connecticut and LB, I stopped off the local farm stand down from the family homestead for some strawberries and tomatoes. The strawberries didn't even make it to the Pennsylvania border. Scratch that, didn't make it to Lexington, VA.

Somewhere outside of Blacksburg, I started just eating one because they were smelling so sweet, it was just too tempting. The next thing I knew, I was rummaging around the bottom of the brown bag like I was looking for that last french fry. I also had red fingers and strawberry juice stained lips; real attractive to the drive through guy at the Roanoke Starbucks, I'm sure.

Did you know that some of the best tomatoes come from Tennessee? I didn't until this trip down South. After munching on slices of the early tomatoes out on Wren's mother's back porch while we had our afternoon adult libation, I was a convert. It was late summer in my mouth. Sweet and crisp, I could have eaten one just like an apple. I liked them so much, that I had to also pick up a tomato plant yesterday to bring home and plant out back. I can't wait until August.

My trip down south also included a trip out to Hampton, TN on the North Carolina border to Shirley's Home Cooking, a family style restaurant where we feasted on just about the best fried chicken I've ever had. Seriously.

Shirley's Home Cooking sign

I could have eaten two whole chickens if I also hadn't "had" to have some country ham and roast beef along with some mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, green beans, soup beans, macaroni & cheese, fried apples, cole slaw, cooked cabbage, and cornbread salad (yuck).

The meal also included soft slightly sweet yeast rolls, Southern corn bread (white cornmeal and slightly salty versus yellow corn meal slightly sweet Northern corn bread), and buttermilk biscuits. The mac and cheese was runny and I'm not a big fan of cornbread salad but the soup beans (i.e. cranberry beans) were out of the world and the cooked cabbage was very good too. The fact that both of them were seasoned with bits of country ham probably had no bearing on my liking those two dishes best of all the sides.

Finally, it has only taken ten years, but I am convinced that iced tea should be served sweet with three slices of lemon and a sprig of mint and I have in my suitcase about forty hand written family recipes from Wren's mom, his aunts, and grandmothers including the family recipe for angel biscuits.

Tonight, I caught myself saying "Y'all" while standing in the deli line at ShopRite. Can deep frying a block of butter be that far off?!