Sunday lunches at my grandparents’ house were a part of my summers as a child. Paw Paw plowed his garden with a mule and grew a smorgasbord of vegetables. While he worked outside, Maw Maw snapped beans and shelled peas in the kitchen while she listened on her AM radio to an out-of-breath, sweaty preacher tell us that we all need to repent.
This was long before the farm-to-table movement that’s currently sweeping the country. No one had even heard of the words “organic” or “foodies.” We ate “local” because everything from the squash to the cucumbers on our plates arrived straight from the garden.
My memory of these Sunday visits is still cloudy because I was so young, but the sense of smell that surrounds my house today as my wife fries okra in my late great Uncle Wilson and Aunt Myna Green’s black iron skillet brings me back.
July is my favorite food month of the year. For the next few weeks, a red tomato, corn on the cob, green beans, cucumbers and so many other vegetables will taste their best, but above all, I’ll take my fried okra. Thankfully, okra continues until the first frost, which seems years away in this 100-degree-plus heat, but it will be here before we know it.
“I eat fried okra like popcorn this time of year,” said Jeff Gordon, operator of Big Daddy’s Produce, as I purchased okra from him at Carrollton’s Cotton Mill Farmers Market.
I’ve never really liked slimy boiled okra, but I also don’t like fried okra from most restaurants. It seems most restaurants serve frozen okra with a breaded crust that doesn’t actually stick to the okra. Okra should be dipped in flour and/or cornmeal and coat the little green vegetable when finished cooking. It’s at its best when it’s prepared at home.
Since Maw Maw died in 1996 I haven’t eaten fried okra that tasted like hers. My mother, who used to make incredible fried okra, could never make hers taste like Maw Maw’s. She missed something. I think I’ve finally realized Maw Maw’s secret and I found it this week while reading the book “Cooking with Lard.”
Mike Steed, international pig fat epicure of Bowdon, penned this book the same year that Maw Maw died and it’s still banned by the “food police” in most health food stores. After reading through a few pages, I realized that the secret to some of Maw Maw’s cooking was lard.
“It is a fact that lard is the difference in the way things are and the way things used to be — at least as far as eating is concerned,” Steed writes. “They (the ‘food police’) have taken nearly all the pleasure out of our sense of taste. The lack of lard is the big difference.”
It’s true the cooking world is moving toward spray cans of olive oil and an overall healthier way of eating, but a little bit of pig fat every now and then may serve as what Maw Maw used to call “a good old-fashioned cleansing.”
Carroll County is lucky to have such local stores as Farmer’s Fresh on the Carrollton Square, Farmer’s Cupboard on Rome Street and the Saturday Cotton Mill Farmers Market that provide produce grown in the West Georgia area.
The late John Denver used to sing “homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes — what would life be without homegrown tomatoes? Only two things that money can’t buy — that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.”
I agree. I just want to make sure that I have some fried okra to go along with my juicy red tomato. Maw Maw always knew what was best for me.
Garrett is a Carrollton resident and businessman. You can read more of his columns at joegarrett1.wordpress.com or contact him at email@example.com