My Mama’s recipe box

November 3, 2016

A box full of memories -- and love.

A box full of memories — and love.

I’ve been traveling through time this morning.

A few weeks ago, an old family friend asked if I had my Mama’s recipe for candied sweet potatoes. I told her I would bet it was in Mama’s recipe box, which I had…somewhere.

Except I couldn’t find it.

I thought it was residing in my cookbook bookcases somewhere, but I went through those and couldn’t locate it. I looked around in the kitchen, didn’t see it there. But a week or so ago, I came back from being out of town and Child A had it sitting prominently atop the bar. She’d been cleaning, and she found it wedged behind some other books.

So today, as my plans had been curtailed by babysitting duties for an ailing AGC2 (stomach bug, and fortunately, it appears to have been only a light case), I decided to go through it.

It was like being a kid in Benton County, Tennessee again.

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A housefull of home folks, Sunday dinner.

A housefull of home folks, Sunday dinner.

Had a wonderful, wonderful trip back home over the weekend, and a couple of fine meals, as well.

The above would be a view which covers maybe half the people who were eating dinner following the Homecoming service at Liberty United Methodist Church in Camden, TN, on Sunday.  The fellowship hall, maybe a 40 x 80 room, did not have an empty seat; some folks scattered out to the Sunday School classrooms.

Back in the center back of this photo, you can see two of my kids’ heads. But you can see us all better in this one, taken after dinner.

From left, Child C, AGC2, Self, AGC3, AGC1, Child B, Child A. A fine-looking crew, if I do say so myownself.

From left, Child C, AGC2, Self, AGC3, AGC1, Child B, Child A. A fine-looking crew, if I do say so myownself.

Amazing Grandchild 3, who was somewhat underwhelmed with the whole thing, was snoozin’. AGC 1 was her general whirlwind self, and managed at one time to color on a pew and the sanctuary door with a marker before we snagged her. AGC 2 ate. A lot. And smiled. A lot.

And I had a marvelous time, and got to see a lot of old friends and kinfolk.

The food was as plentiful as I remember. There’s a counter separating the kitchen from the seating area, about four feet wide, and every square inch of it was packed with food. Fried chicken. Baked ham. Meat loaf. Barbecue. Casseroles of every description. Green beans. Creamed corn. Sweet potatoes. Potato salad. Cole slaw. Salads, both fruit and green. Cornbread. Rolls. Biscuits. I touch only a tiny portion of the abundance that was there.

Desserts and drinks took up four 10-foot folding tables of their own, elsewhere around the room.

It certainly did not matter to be the last in line. They were NOT going to run out of food. Except for deviled eggs. I hated that. Guess I’ll have to make me some this afternoon, being I have a gracious plenty of eggs. Oh, and they ran out of the cherry cream cheese pie, which was always one of my favorites (cream cheese, condensed milk, cherry pie filling, among other things), so I contented myself with two kinds of fruit salad.

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Blogger’s note: this is the last of the “lost days” posts. It dates from sometime in early October, after I had bought sorghum at the Farmers Market. Hopefully, camera, laptop and WordPress will all align and I can detail my upcoming visit to the Big Easy for some spectacular food.

There are these things that take you back to childhood.

I grew up in Benton County, Tennessee. Which is not close to much of nothing, but is mostly north of I-40 right before you cross the Tennessee River headed east. Which is to say it’s one of those undecided countines, torn betwixt the hills and the delta,, and not real sure what it wants to be when it grows up.

When I was a kid, it grew cotton. I used to get out of school every year in late September, early October for cotton-picking. And one year I actually picked cotton. Picked all day, bored to tears, fingers burning, picked 35 pounds, made $1.65, determined that manual labor was not my forte, and gave that stuff up. Determined right then I’d make my living with my brain, not my brawn.

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A Grinch-y kind of night

December 22, 2009

Confession time. I don’t particularly like Christmas. It’s too frantic, we get all too caught up in everything we need to do and ought to do and what people will think less of us if we DON’T do, and it’s just not fun. It hasn’t been fun for a long time, but some years it’s less unpleasant than others.

This is, unfortunately, a more-unpleasant year.

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I’ve been doing my usual Sunday morning perusal of eGullet and Foodbuzz. Over on eGullet, there’s a thread asking for tips on pork barbecue, and another asking for doughnut (or donut, if you prefer) recipe.

It happens that my Daddy cooked the best pork barbecue in the world. And my Mama made the best potato doughnuts in the world. Here are my replies to both those threads, simply because I don’t want to waste favorite recipes, nor do I want to have to spend another 45 minutes hunting for the doughnut recipe like I just did.


I will have to construct this from memory, as my father used to cook pork shoulders, ribs and chickens with this method of barbecue (altering the times as needed for doneness). It involved an on-the-ground barbecue pit, but could, I suspect, be done with a smoker; I have his sheet-metal pit he fabricated (he was a welder) with 2-foot by 3-foot expanded metal racks for grilling and turning. The rack rests about 20 inches above the coals. The second rack is used to put on top of the meat, extended handles on each side grasped (arms crossed first) by one person on each side, so the meat can be flipped.

It has a thermometer in the lid so one could keep track of the inside temperature, and the temperature was regulated by removing the “door” on one end and shoveling in coals from a hickory wood fire kept burning nearby for that purpose.

The racks would accommodate four shoulders, and that is usually what we would cook as we only did this for a BIG crowd or for church events, etc. I’ve done it on a smaller scale with one shoulder, and it should work just fine with butts by adjusting the time. You can also adjust the time and do chicken halves or quarters, or ribs.

Put two or three shovelsful of coals into the pit, and monitor until the temperature is steady at 180 degrees. You may have to add more coals, or remove some coals, to get the temperature steady. When it is, put the plain, unrubbed, unbrined shoulders on the rack, fat side down; cover, keep the temp at 180 for two hours. Flip the rack, and baste the shoulders (a cotton dish mop is the best implement for this) with a sauce made of corn oil, cider vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, cayenne, and paprika (and, I suppose, anything else you’ve a mind to put in it; I think one could do a great Cuban style barbecue by adding lime and upping the garlic) in proportions to your liking.

From this point, the shoulders should be flipped and basted hourly. Temperature should stay at 180 for the first six hours; 200 for the next four; 220 for the next four; and 250 for the final two to three, to put a nice deep crust on it. It’s done when the bone wiggles freely.

Remove, pull, and serve with a tomato-pepper based sauce. (When we’d do four shoulders, we’d use an ice chest to pull it in; kept it warm until it was served.) Wear heavy rubber gloves; should be pulled by hand while hot; with four shoulders, it’d take all day to pull it with forks.

Our classic sides were potato salad, roast corn on the cob, baked beans, yellow coleslaw made with oil, vinegar, onion, bell pepper, carrots, celery seed, dry mustard and turmeric at least two days in advance. Gallons of iced tea and fresh lemonade (the family was generally teetotalling; I’ve supplemented that with an ice chest full of cold beer), and a couple of freezers of homemade ice cream. In the back yard, under the maple trees.

For pork shoulders, due to the time involved, we’d generally start them about 8 p.m. to serve them at noon the next day. The helpful way to do this is with shifts of folks, else the two who cook are not worth much the next day. Daddy always took the first and last shift, to monitor progress. The “graveyard” shift always involved numerous thermoses of coffee to help stay awake.

It freezes well, particularly if you have a vacuum sealer.

Few memories of my growing up are as fond as that one.


A couple of posters have mentioned yeast and/or potato doughnuts. Here’s my mother’s recipe. I have never made these on my own, but I fondly remember waking up on Saturday mornings to the smell of doughnuts frying. It was like the cartoons — I’d all but float back to the kitchen, rubbing sleep out of my eyes, pour a glass of milk and promptly burn my mouth on hot doughnuts

Potato Doughnuts

2 cups milk,
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup mashed potatos
2 pkgs yeast
1/4 cup water
3 eggs
1 tsp lemon flavoring
1 tsp cinnamon
8 cups flour (I presume self-rising, as I don’t remember Mama cooking much with all-purpose)

Fry in three pounds shortening.

Glaze with 1 1/2 boxes powdered sugar

This is the recipe exactly as written in her handwriting on a dog-eared, grease-spotted index card. Obviously she left out some steps. It seems that I recall her making up the batter and letting it rise; and I’m guessing that she used 1/4 cup warm water to soak the yeast and activate it. I don’t recall the lemon flavoring, nor the cinnamon, for that matter, but they wouldn’t taste much in that volume of batter anyway.

She would roll out the batter in batches and cut the doughnuts out with a doughnut cutter, and would fry the holes separately because I begged for them.

I think the glaze was powdered sugar and milk, although it could have been powdered sugar and water. And it seems that this recipe made five or six dozen.

I remember vividly that they were the best doughnuts I ever ate, bar none.

Tell y’mama ‘n ’em you love ’em. I wish I could tell mine again, and my Daddy, too.