On our Journey to Ithaca

When you start on your journey to Ithaca,
then pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.  

From “Ithaca” by the Greek poet, C.P.Cavafy;  first published in 1911 (and read at Jackie Kennedy’s funeral in 1994)

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Looking from LSU toward downtown Baton Rouge

In Andy’s Corner today we have the grand finale to our cat blogging.  It’s hysterical.

As for me – I’m thinking about “Ithaca,” a poem which I love, and our journey.

It was July 1975.  We were a Coloradoan and a Californian – and we were on our way with our 18-month-old and our 4-year-old to live and work in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  A new adventure had begun.  And what an adventure it was – lasting 26 years.

Because we lived near LSU and Andy was employed there, our new friends tended to be university folks who had mostly moved from other states to join the LSU faculty.  Even at the Baton Rouge Unitarian Church, which quickly became a source for many friends, there was a preponderance of out-of-staters, many employed by Exxon or other chemical companies which were located in or near the city.

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But then we met Katie.  Yes, Perry, who was Katie’s husband and was also a professor in the sociology department at LSU, was from Maine with a Harvard degree, but Katie was from north Louisiana.  Or, as she pronounces it, “Luze-i-ana.”  Katie is now 88 and recently returned to Baton Rouge after visiting us in Glen Ellen;  our friendship of over 40 years has been filled with adventures and new knowledge, including the summer we all “raised” monarch butterflies, the spring we met up in Stockholm, Sweden, and the week we joined her at Owls Head, Maine  –  plus, we’ve gotten a glimpse of what it was like to have grown up in Crowville, Louisiana.

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Crowville is in Franklin Parish, north and a little west of Baton Rouge; its location on the Macon Ridge is considered a “terrace” between the alluvial plains of the Mississippi River on the East and the Ouachita River on the West.

Katie, born in 1930, and her brother Joe, born in 1935, were reared on their parents’ small farm in Franklin Parish, Louisiana.  Joe calls it “diversified self-sufficiency farming,” which was typical of that area.  That description is important because that type of farming is partly what made their lives there so unique.  We might call it “living off the grid” and “homesteading” today.

The farms were generally small, 25-80 acres, and farmed by family members – with only occasional help from others.   Plantations – which so many of us associate with Louisiana – were elsewhere.   Yet on these small acreages families managed to grow and produce almost all of their food.  They had summer and winter vegetable gardens,  a pea patch, a potato patch and bee hives, and fruit trees.  And, of course, the wild blackberries that love Louisiana!

I always think of corn as a midwest crop, but corn was also an important crop on these small farms in Franklin Parish because it helped feed the animals – as well as the people. Mature ears of corn were ground into cornmeal at a local gristmill and then the cornmeal was used in cornbread – which was a staple on the dinner table almost every night.  Young corn was cut off the cob and turned into a creamed corn dish, rather than eaten as corn on the cob.

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When the weather is hot, make cornbread in a skillet on top of the stove.

Katie’s folks also raised a couple of cows for milk and butter, chickens for eggs – and later to fry.  And a hog per year.

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I know I know – that’s not a cow – it’s probably a steer or a bull, but it’s the best I can do

As with most born and bred North Louisianans, Katie’s vocabulary is infused with colorful local expressions, a good number of them involving farm animals.   Admittedly, it helps to hear Katie herself tell the story but if you were feeling down, you might be “as low as mule’s puke.”  If a bit dense, you “wouldn’t know sheep manure from wild onions.”  Or one that I had to sneak past the propriety critics, he was such a loser that he must have been “raised on the hind teat.”

Thinking about mule’s puke, mules were needed to pull the ploughs in that era, since tractors weren’t widely used until the 1950s.  Katie’s uncle was “walking in tall cotton” (or doing well – which is better than being “poor as Job’s turkey”), since he had 30 or 40 mules.  The only problem with that is that they need to drink lots of water (preferably from a river) during planting and harvesting, and herding them to the river – freed from their ploughs or harness or constraint, says Katie – who occasionally helped with that – is a little like herding cats.  Thirty really big cats.

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This isn’t on Katie’s property – but it gives you an idea of mules and ploughing.  And did you know that a mule is the sterile offspring of a male donkey and a female horse (mare)?

The term “Southern Belle” has distorted the view many folks have of women born and raised in the South.  I’d put a real Southern Belle up against the Annie Oakleys of my West most any day.   Katie (who, I should add, is one tough cookie) is rightfully proud of the long line of strong Louisiana women from whom she’s descended.  Katie’s maternal grandmother, affectionately called  “Mammaw,” was not only the mother of 10 children and an outstanding cook but was so tough that “she could hunt a bear with a buggy whip” – or so all the family says.  And there were bears there.  Yet this tough woman bathed and dressed up each afternoon, and parasol in hand, skin untouched by the sun, walked into town to do a little shopping.

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Mammaw – who could “hunt a bear with a buggy whip”

Katie’s mother, whom the grandchildren called “Gaga,” another strong woman and great cook, worked 6 days a week for 30 years as the postmistress in Crowville, while her husband managed the farm and took care of the livestock (and washed the dinner dishes).

Katie’s family has shared some of the North Louisiana family recipes they fondly remember – and still enjoy – so when we had our San Francisco family up here a few weeks ago we served them Gaga’s angel biscuits;  they all went “gaga” over them!

Even if you’re a proclaimed eggplant hater, you must try Gaga’s Eggplant Fritters;  they’re unique and wonderful – and quite easy to make.  And don’t wait for Thanksgiving to enjoy the Sweet Potato Pone.  With these old-fashioned southern dishes on your plate, you’re bound to feel, for a brief moment, like you’re living in Franklin Parish back “when Hector was a pup.”

Next Tuesday we’ll have a lagniappe blog (how apropos) about hog-butchering in Crowville.  And a recipe to go with it.  I promise the recipe is not for pig’s feet or brain or chitlins or hogshead cheese or even pickled pig’s lips – though adventurous cooks might demand those.  In the meantime, we’ll be “busy as a bob-tailed cow in fly time” getting the blog ready.

Footnote:  Special thanks to Katie and Joe for providing the inspiration and information for this blog.  Joe’s input comes from a paper he wrote when he was a professor at the University of Southern Mississippi; it’s entitled “Making Do on the Macon Ridge: the Eating Patterns of Southern Farm Families During World War II.”  We’ve posted it under Food for Thought.  It’s all fascinating.  And thanks, Becky and Brook, for all your help with recipes and photos and remembrances from your days visiting your North Louisiana grandparents.  May all of your journeys be long and “full of adventure, full of knowledge.”

Click “continue reading” for these old Southern, delicious recipes.

 

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Gaga’s Eggplant Fritters

The original recipe for Gaga’s fritters calls for baking soda – but I found that as the fritters cooled they morphed into a mottled green-ish color, which is wonderful for clothes and dinner plates – but maybe not so attractive for food.   So I tried baking powder instead of baking soda because I thought it might be a chemical interaction causing it…even though I was an English major.  That corrected the color issue.

Gaga's Eggplant Fritters

We all agree that you can be an eggplant hater and still love this recipe.  Adapted from Gaga’s recipe

  • 2 large or 3 medium eggplants (purple) – you need about 2 c when mashed
  • 1 scant c flour
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder (or baking soda,  but it may turn the fritters a teal green when cooled)
  • 1 egg (slightly beaten)
  • vegetable oil – enough to have about 1/2″ on the bottom of the pan.
  • powdered sugar to sprinkle on top

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Peel the eggplant, removing any big clumps of seeds, and cut into about 4″ pieces.  Add the eggplant to the boiling water (it should cover the eggplant) and cover and cook until very soft – less than 10 minutes.  Drain and cool.

Mix the eggplant pulp in a food processor and then measure it (you want about 2 cups) Return the 2 c pulp to the processor and add the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and egg.   Blend well – but don’t overblend.  The resulting mixture should be like a thick pancake batter.  If it’s too thick, add a bit of water.  If it’s too thin, add a bit of flour.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the eggplant mixture by heaping tablespoons to the pan, as you would a pancake batter (I measured and each fritter had a scant 2T of batter).  Using a spatula, press down on each fritter a bit to make them spread out.  When each fritter is nicely browned (a couple of minutes), turn and brown on the other side.  Remove and place on paper towels and allow to cool slightly.  They may be served warm or at room temperature.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving.

A variation is adding 1/2 tsp of vanilla and a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg. Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

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Gaga’s Angel Biscuits – ready to pop in the oven

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Gaga’s Angel Biscuits – ready to serve

Gaga's Angel Biscuits

  • Servings: makes about 36
  • Print

I adapted this from Gaga’s original recipe, making a few updates and cutting the amount in half. If you want to freeze some for another day, it’s easy to double it.  Katie suggests making the biscuits and freezing them before baking.  Then remove them from the freezer for an hour or so before popping in the hot oven.

  • 2 1/2 c flour
  • 2 T sugar
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 c shortening (I used butter)
  • 1/2 pkg of dry yeast (I used 1 rounded teaspoon)
  • 1-2 T warm water – just enough to dissolve the yeast
  • 1 c buttermilk
  • about 1/4-1/2 c butter, melted – used to dip the biscuits in just before baking

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly butter a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and soda with a whisk.  Use two knives or a pastry blender to cut in the shortening (or you can blend i, pulsing, in a food processor).  The mixture should be coarse and crumbly.

In a small cup dissolve the yeast in  the warm water.  Add the dissolved yeast to the buttermilk and mix it in, then add that to the flour mixture and mix well, forming the dough.

Spread flour on a piece of waxed paper and put the dough on the floured paper. Roll out the dough with a floured rolling pin until it is about 1/4″ thick.  Cut out the biscuits with a cutter (I used a 2 1/2″ one) or a water glass.

Dip the biscuits into the melted butter, coating each side well,  then fold the biscuits  in half.  Place them, touching, on the baking sheet.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until very lightly browned.

These were a huge hit when I served them to my family.  They’re unusually delicate and light. Of course, I used some homemade blackberry jam to go along with them.  Plus, I kept the baked biscuits under a heat lamp for several hours and they were still delicious when I served them. Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

sweet potato pone for blm

I did a little research into the origin of this recipe.  Apparently a book entitled Recipes and Reminiscences of New Orleans, Volume II: Our Cultural Heritage (aka The Ursuline Cookbook) has several recipes for Sweet Potato Pone.  Also, Leah Chase from the well-known Dooky Chase restaurant in New Orleans recalls having pone for Christmas dessert when she was growing up in Madisonville, Louisiana.

Sweet Potato Pone

The cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves combine to make this unfamiliar dessert seem a little like a variation on pumpkin pie – but with sweet potatoes rather than pumpkin – and no crust-making involved.  I recommend trying it cold – just out of the refrigerator, as well as warm.  Yum.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Butter an 8″x 8″ baking dish or a 1.5 quart round baking dish.

  • 4 T butter, softened
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 c molasses
  • 1/2 c evaporated milk (or half and half)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg (if you grate your own, use a bit less)
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 c peeled and grated sweet potatoes (I used 3 rather small ones)

Cream butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer.  Add the eggs, molasses, milk, vanilla, spices and salt and mix well.  Fold in the shredded sweet potatoes.

Bake in the prepared baking dish for about 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

This could be used as a side dish – without the whipped cream, but I think it works better as dessert, since it’s very sweet.  Pecans can be added to the pone, as can a little grated orange and lemon rind.  Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Comments

  1. Bob Carleton says:

    Mammaw looks exactly like my g’mas… on either side of the family: Raising kids on a farm near Crookston in NW Minnesota, or raised in a Norwegian immigrant family in Wisconsin, and then raising her own 7. Amazing people in those generations. Strong, faithful, loyal, and loving. One thing they didn’t understand – being northern Europeans – was how to use spices; that’s a legacy of their ancestral homelands, where pepper, chili, olives, and a whole passel of other flavor-boosters never grew.

    Like

    • theRaggedys says:

      Thanks Bob. Your comments are always interesting and insightful. However, didn’t the Norwegians have flavor-boosting lye that they used for their Lutefisk? I’m sure that is one of your favorite dishes.

      Like

  2. Lynne Myers says:

    Thank goodness you have reclaimed these recipes from the 1930’sI As the very lucky guest taster, I can heartily sing their praises. Many thanks to you for a soulful evening of comfort food and heartfelt conversation! There’s nothing better on earth than that!

    Like

    • theRaggedys says:

      We can’t imagine a more gracious (and adventurous) guest taster. It is always our pleasure to use you as a culinary guinea pig. We are looking forward to many more such adventures (fair warning).

      Like

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