Some Old Southern Dishes

This is the third article in April of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on April 18, 1909, and is an article on Southern cooking, specifically cooking the hog.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

Some Old Southern Dishes

I HAVE heard that you are a Virginian by birth. So was my grandmother, who used to entertain us by the hour with tales of the ‘way people lived then,’ and especially what royal ‘tables they set.’ That was her phrased. ‘He sets a good table,’ was her idea of hospitality, and ‘She does not set a good table,’ her way of condemning a poor housekeeper. I learned from her to hold a high opinion of the old school of housewives. Their families must have fared sumptuously every day, if half of what she said was true. If we have poultry once a week I consider that John and the boys have no right to complain of their table fare. Grandmother talked of mountains of fried chicken every other day, and the turkey that graced the foot of the table as regularly as Sunday came around, as long as the bird of plenty was in season, as matters of course.

“Her tales made our mouths water. Now, won’t you give up one of the days devoted to your cozy chats in the Exchange page to descriptions of some of the dishes we have heard so much of that we are disposed to look down upon our daily menus as less than mediocre? Did the tables groan literally, as well as figuratively, under the loads of good things, or does distance magnify, while it lends enchantment to the dear old lady’s views.”

“Miriam S.D. (Utica, N.Y.)”

As to the groan of the stout mahogany under which our forefather stretched their legs with great content, we must bear in mind that the said tables were spread before the introduction of what one of the markers of the big fortunes that swell the tax bills of our land called in my hearing the other day, “a dinnay ah lah Roose.” We set fewer dishes upon the board with each course as we advance in the minor refinements of civilization. Our grandmothers held that a table was ill-furnished that did not have a roast or boiled joint, or round, or fowl at each end, and a double line of side dishes making close connections with these. Down the center of the cloth were ranged pickles, jellies and relishes, meeting about the tall silver caster in the middle of the table. There was no room for flowers and mere decorations.

Abundant Sweets.

I recall, as an illustration if this prodigality, and what we would ban as unseemly and deappetizing crowding of dishes, that I had the curiosity, as a girl of 14, who had been trained to keep silence while her elders talked, to count the dishes brought in for dessert after the load of meats and vegetables was removed to make way for the next course. There were 20 kinds of sweets, including two varieties of ice cream, three pies, two puddings and two kinds of jelly. Preserves, cakes, great and small, and fruits made up the count. This was at a quiet dinner party at which two families from adjoining plantations, and nobody else, were present.

In your grandmother’s list of Southern dishes I assume that ham and other parts of the inevitable pig had a conspicuous place. Large herds of these were raised on every plantation, numbering hundreds to each owner. Yet they were insufficient to supply the demand in town and country. Immense droves were brought into the States of Maryland and Virginia from Kentucky and Ohio and slaughtered yearly to fill smokehouses and meat cellars. Therefore, in my enumeration of what went to make up the “good living” eulogized by your venerable and truthful relative, bacon and its congeners must take the lead. No dinner was round and perfect whole that did not have a boiled or baked ham or shoulder at the top or bottom of the board.

Steamed Ham.

Soak in cold water for 12 hours after it has been well washed with warm water and a stuff brush. Then steam over boiling water for at least 25 minutes to the pound, keeping the water at a fierce boil all the time.

Skin when cold and dab with dots of black pepper.

Baked and Glazed Ham.

Scrub hard to get off all the rusty and smoke-dried crust. Then soak for 12 hours. Change the water for lukewarm and soak all day in this changing four times for warmer water. The last water should be hot enough to soften the skin, allowing you to pull it off carefully, not to tear it. Trim off the rusty, ragged portions on the underside of the skinned ham; lay it, thus prepared, in a dish and wash with a cloth dipped in a mixture of a half a cup of vinegar, a glass of sherry or Madeira, a teaspoonful of made mustard, a tablespoonful of brown sugar, stirred together. Repeat the washing hourly all day; cover the ham to keep in the flavor of the sauce and leave it thus all night. Next day wash hourly four times. Finally, lay the ham in a dripping pan, pour a cupful of hot water about it to prevent burning, and cover while it bakes slowly. Add to a fresh supply of the mixture I have indicated a cupful of boiling water, and get this where it will keep hot, basting freely with it (every 10 minutes) until the liquor flows from the ham into the dripping pan. Then haste with that.

Bake 25 minutes to the pound after the ham begins to exude juices. When a flesh fork pierces readily to the bone it is done. Remove to a large dish and cover with a paste half an inch thick made of cracker crumbs, milk and melted butter, with a beaten egg worked in at the last to bind the paste. Set in the oven to brown.

To make a sauce for this “royal” dish, strain and skim the gravy, add a glass of wine, a tablespoonful of catsup, the juice of a lemon and a dash of sugar. Boil up and send to the table in a boat.

The baked ham was eaten hot by our ancestors, carved in thin slices always. A “hunk” of bacon was a solecism. It was especially delicious when cold. Then the slices were of wafer-like thinness, curling like pink and white shavings over the carver.

Other by-products of the invaluable porker known to our forebears and lost to the denizens of northern climes, were chine and sparerib. They were as unlike the bony sections vended under those names in New Pork, Chicago and Philadelphia as a tender fillet of beef to a firstly shinbone.

A New York butcher to whom I made this plaint let me into part of the secret of the unlikeness:

“You see, ma’am, we in this part of the world aim to get all the meat off the sparerib and backbone, and don’t care what becomes of the rest. In Virginia they leave all the meat that can be left, without skimping some other piece—bacon sides, and the like.”

Another reason for the difference in the quality of the tidbits, and indeed, in the flavor of the “whole hog,” is that the Southern breed is fed upon corn in winter, and mast-fed all summer and autumn long. Moreover, to slaughter and put upon the market an animal that has passed the bloom of early maturity would be a barbarity to the eating public. A stringy, tough ham would be scorned by a beggar.

After this manner, then, did your granddame and mine prepare this choice viand for the delectation of those for whom they catered.

Roast Chine.

Score the skin on the ridge heavily. Put the chine down in the dripping pan with a half cup of hot water to keep it from sticking to the bottom. Cover with thick greased paper for the first half hour to retain the juices. Remove the paper at the end of that time and dredge the chine with flour. As soon as the grease shows through the flour, baste well with butter, and every ten minutes afterward plentifully with its own gravy. Season with salt and pepper and cook 20 minutes to the pound. Just before taking it up strew thickly with fine breadcrumbs, seasoned with powdered sage, pepper, salt and a small onion minced very fine. Cook five minutes after this crust goes on, basting it with butter. Dish the chine and keep hot while you skim the gravy of all the fat that will come off, putting it back over the fire, adding a half cupful of hot water, the juice of a lemon and enough browned flour to thicken the gravy. Boil up once, strain and pour over the mat. Serve tomato catsup with it.

This dish is nice when hot, and yet better when it is cold. My mother’s recipe from which the foregoing recipe is abridged, asserts that “the meat next the ribs is delicious when scraped off and made into sandwiches or laid upon buttered toast.”

To which I enjoin a fervid assent in memory of school day luncheons and picnics.

Roast Sparerib.

It is cooked just as chine is prepared for eating, only there is no dorsal strip of skin to be scored. It is as good hot as when cold, and there was seldom enough left for a left-over.

Time and space would fail me were I to attempt to speak of sausage, the savoriness of which one never knows in this degenerate day—real young pork sausage, with not an ambiguous ingredient in it; or of roast pig! Charles Lamb has been there before me. Or of pork steaks, chops and tenderloins; of pork potpie, as dear to every Englishman’s hear as the reminiscence is to the hoary-haired Virginian. They treat pork in Great Britain as our ancestors handled it, and value it accordingly.

Next week we shall talk of Southern poultry and sweets as our grandmothers cooked and our grandfathers ate them.

Marion Harland

OTHER ARTICLES ALSO PUBLISHED…
Family Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange

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