I downloaded a brochure from the luxury RV manufacturer, NEWMAR, titled "50 Plates in 50 States." A listing of their favorite regional dishes. I was curious just what dishes they picked from Southern states. And of course, the first state listed was Alabama. The dish was Fried Green Tomatoes from a cafe in Irondale. The next Southern state was Arkansas with Fried Catfish from Fayetteville. Then Florida, with a dish of Conch Fritters from Fort Meyers Beach. From Georgia, Brunswick Stew from Savannah. Gumbo was the dish from Donaldsonville, Louisiana. What other dish would there be from Louisiana but Gumbo. From Gulfport Mississippi comes Mississippi Mud Pie. A Pulled Pork Sandwich made the list from Lexington, North Carolina. The people in South Carolina get to feast on Shrimp and Grits from a restaurant in Mount Pleasant. A Southern favorite from Murfreesboro, Tennessee is Banana Pudding. Then there is one of my favorite dishes, a Breakfast Taco. The list picked one from Port Isabel, Texas. Virginia has their Ham Biscuits in Wakefield.
Add some sweet tea and a "mess of greens" and you have a menu for a Southern restaurant or you have a menu of what to eat everyday for the rest of your life. Just get plenty of exercise after every meal.
If your garden is anything like mine, you have an abundance of tomatoes. And your neighbor has an abundance of tomatoes. And the curb markets have good prices and a large variety of tomatoes. What to do with all these tomatoes. First, eat them. Eat them fresh from the vine, sprinkle a little salt and grind some fresh pepper on the slices. I like mine with a dollop of Dukes mayonnaise on top. Also put thick juicy slices in every sandwich you eat and then eat another sandwich with more slices of tomatoes. After that, you may have to can or freeze the tomatoes to save for another day. And you can make Tomato Gravy!
Tomato gravy is another one of those recipes that you only like it the way your mother made it. Like tuna salad and potato salad, there can only be one set amount and types of ingredients. It seems though less and less mothers are making tomato gravy, what a shame. I found recipes using soy milk, margarine, olive oil and cream cheese. The whole idea behind tomato gravy was the use the ingredients on hand. This meant that tomato gravy has its roots with war time, depression and just good ole folks. When you had an abundance of lemons you make lemonade. This time of year you make tomato gravy. Not that you can't make it anytime by using what you have on hand, such as home canned tomatoes, salt pork, flour and water ( it will have a richer mouth feel with milk.
The simplest recipe calls for nothing but tomatoes and a roux. But we have a pantry that is larger and with more items than the basic pantry. Serve tomato gravy over biscuits and you can call it breakfast or lunch. Serve it over potato wedges and over a piece of meat or over steamed vegetables and call it dinner.
On doing research for tomato gravy, I found a difference of opinion on the type of pan to use. Most recipes I found say do not use a cast iron pan. Tomatoes are acidic and will strip the coating you spent years preserving, right off your pan. Do what we do. We have a cast iron pan that we use only to cook cornbread. We have a cast iron pan for frying chicken. Just make one of your pans for sauces and gravies. Besides, you are make the roux first and then add the tomatoes, so the acidity will be reduced. The other difference in recipes I found is the use of butter or bacon drippings. The flavor will be different, so choose bacon. If you want to strike up the flavors use peppered bacon or my favorite, jalapeno bacon. And use milk just because.
We have the pan, the tomatoes (fresh, this time of year) and we can make the roux, so here is the recipe:
2 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped and best peeled. The equivalent to a 14.5 ounce can of tomatoes
5 tablespoons bacon drippings
5 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups milk (can use water, but creamier with milk)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
Extras: Can be added, to taste. Crumbled crispy bacon, leftover from making drippings for roux, Vidalia onions chopped, 1/4 cup Tabasco sauce to taste Garlic powder 1/4 teaspoon
1. If using fresh tomatoes, place in bowl and add sugar, salt, pepper and extras. If adding onions, saute them until soft in hot drippings before making roux.
2. Mix well. Place drippings in hot pan and add flour to make roux. When thick, add other ingredients (I recommend the bacon) and cook until thicken to your liking.
3. Serve over hot biscuits.
A fruit that seems to overwhelm some yards is figs. They are a love them hate fruit. If you read all the literature claiming all the health benefits of figs,you would think that every recipe would have figs in it. But they don't keep well with a short shelf life unless canned, dried or put into a newton. And technically they are not a fruit at all. They are inverted flowers.
I am always trying new ways to use figs. My pantry is overwhelmingly filled with jars of different recipes of figs. Strawberry Fig preserves, chipotle Raspberry Fig, Orange Spiced fig, and just plain Fig.
CHIPOTLE FIG BBQ SAUCE
Recipe adapted from Franklin BBQ, Austin Texas
2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, chopped
8 figs, fresh chopped (and grilled if desired) I have small figs on my trees and my neighbor has big ones, so anywhere from 6-8 figs.
1/4 yellow sweet onion, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cups brown sugar
6 ozs. stout beer
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup peach preserves
1/2 tablespoon honey
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon coarse black
1. In a large skillet over medium heat, add the chopped chiles, chopped figs, onions, and butter. Cook for about 10 minutes.
2. Transfer those items to a blender along with sugar, beer, ketchup, vinegars, preserves, honey, and salt and pepper. Puree until smooth.
3. As the blender runs, add as much water as needed to get the consistency you like. Also, depending on the size of your blender, you might have to work in batches. It will keep fine in the fridge for two weeks or you could freeze it. This recipe is halved from the original recipe and altered somewhat.
Now I figured since this is also BBQ season, there should be some use for figs and a grill. I found a recipe for a Fig based BBQ sauce that keeps in the icebox for two weeks and you can freeze it! And of course, it has chipotle chiles in it. Can't go wrong.
An observation I made the other day while partaking in my favorite activity(roaming a grocery store), that the section for international foods has grown and grown. I don't have one complaint about it. There are items that I ate while living overseas, that I could not buy here. But now I can buy Mushy Peas, Digestive Biscuits and Corn Mushrooms. It also shows me that there is a demand for these items beyond the numbers of people who normally ate these items. I have several new brands to pick from for matza, when I want to make Bacon Wrapped Matza Balls. New recipes to explore such as Pulled Pork Shepards Pie. O how about SPAM and Lentil Curry?