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Food is an important part of Southern culture. Most folks think of categories of Southern food including Soul Food and Cajun. I remember visiting my Grandmother Burson (Nanny) at Wakefield. In addition to the food, Nanny served the food with such elegance that the manner of serving is every bit as big a part of the meal as the actual food. While one might think this indicated great wealth, the true story is that this Grandmother worked very hard through her life. She had her own garden close by the house. When we would pop in on a Sunday morning, having driven from Dothan to Wilcox County...a three hour drive...she would have already been out in her garden picking fresh vegetables.
Nanny had saved the money she earned picking up pecans on the property and bought her own little herd of cattle. She never knew a lazy day. My Grandfather was a rural physician, although he received excellent training in New York at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. He constantly invested in land and valued the quality of the fine antiques he acquired. But, during the Depression, his payment was in produce and hard times were not a stranger to these two. (More on their life in Wakefield) Recipes from Wakefield can be found under Wakefield Recipes.
The foods I remember eating, the chicken soup that came before every meal, served in the gold rimmed china that was her treasure, the baked chicken (she'd probably wrung that chicken's neck before we arrived), fresh beans, peas, cabbage, turnips, collards were swimming in fat from the fat back which always seasoned the vegetables and always served with cornbread. We always ate in the elegant dining room with the damask draperies and the long mahogany dining table. Our sweet tea was served in etched glass goblets and we ate with silver utensils.
My other Grandmother Gillis (Muddin) lost her husband (Patrick) when she was only 30 to a tragic accident where the chains broke and fell on the truck he was riding in. She was left with five children, of which my mother was the oldest at 13. The baby was just six months old. With the insurance money, she moved her children to a home midway between the Presbyterian Church and the school house. He remained the love of her life and when she passed away, those with her saw her eyes lift and a radiant smile lit her face as she reached out to someone beyond their seeing and whispered, "Pat." Her home, while not fine, was always filled with love, children and grandchildren. The food was just like that at Nanny's house (traditional Southern fare), but was served on a mismatched assortment of dishes. Her recipes are included in Downhome Recipes.
Mattie Martin came to work for us when I was five years old. She was my dearest friend and taught me so many things. While my sister (the cardiologist) was always the best cook in the family, Mammy did her best to teach us both. I learned best how to eat and appreciate the foods other prepare. Mammy insisted that we learn proper food service. She had worked for Dr. Moody before coming to work for us. (The Moodys actually gave her the home in which she lived.) She thought my country bred mother needed to have her edges polished a bit and Mammy knew how because she had been trained well by Mrs. Moody. Mammy made sure we knew that the fork goes on the left and the knife next to the plate on the right followed by the spoon. The napkin goes with the fork on the left. The meat is served on a platter and set directly in front of "the doctor," my father.
Every meal was served with freshly made dessert (egg custard, strawberry shortcake, banana pudding, apple pie with cheese cut into the crust, chocolate pie with meringue topping, lemon icebox pie, etc.). Her recipes are included in Downhome recipes.