“Food is an expression of love and is best shared in the company of family and friends.” Pat Bennett
Much of what I’ve come to know about food started in the kitchen of my childhood home. It was a space that welcomed all and in which people tended to congregate. Mind you, it wasn’t a large kitchen, but it had a table that seated six with room for a few more. In a pinch, you could sit on a folding stool by the rotary wall phone with the tangled cord.
That kitchen included a Hotpoint brand icebox which was a bear to defrost. Mom would place pans of hot water in the freezer section and chip off the ice that periodically accumulated. We were so glad to replace it with a self defrosting fridge. My parents kept the old metal ice trays, though, from the icebox. Ridiculously hard to remove and required a quick hot water rinse to release the ice. They never did connect the ice maker to that fridge.
From this kitchen came the best fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, buttermilk biscuits, pound cakes, chocolate chip cookies, sweet potato pie, Parker House rolls, fried bluefish and porgies (fresh caught by my Dad), hand cranked ice cream, banana pudding, potato salad and collard greens. And holiday meals of roast turkey, Virginia ham, hoppin' John, pigs feet and coconut layer cake served on the fine china (aka the “good” dishes) in the dining room.
My friends, Wendy, Susan and I made buttermilk biscuits one weekend afternoon. It was a wonderful time comparing notes and baking techniques.
The key with biscuits is to not overhandle the dough and work quickly.
Coconut Layer Cake with Seven Minute Frosting is one of my all time favorite desserts. My Mom made it with a lemon filling and freshly grated coconut.
Rolling out Parker House rolls with Moms rolling pin
And, this was just from Moms side of our family. My Dads Jamaican roots showed up in steaming platters of rice and peas, codfish cakes, meat patties, curry goat, black cake, bird peppers and ice cold bottles of ginger beer.
My mother learned to cook many of these dishes from my fathers family and friends who showed up with a fresh coconut, bags of rice, spices, jars of pickled HOT peppers, goat meat or a bottle of rum. The kitchen was filled with a cacophony of aromas, chatter and clanging pots and pans with an occasional "get Prince out of the kitchen"! Prince was our boxer who loved any kind of food. He lived for the occasional scrap that my Dad would sneak to him under the table.
Here's my recipe for Hoppin' John which I don't make nearly as often as I should. We enjoyed rice and peas often in our office. This recipe is from the Spoonbread & Strawberry Wine cookbook by Norm Jean and Carole Darden. I've added cream of coconut for an authentic Jamaican taste.
- Simmer ham hocks in a large pot with enough water to cover for about 30 minutes.
- Add the bay leaf, chopped onions, the diced stalk of celery, cream of coconut, the crushed red pepper and some salt and pepper.
- Sort through your dried peas, rinse and add to the pot. Be sure peas are well covered with water.
- Put the lid on the pot, simmer slowly until peas are tender – about 90 minutes. Check to adjust the water level if needed from time to time. You want to evaporate as much of the water as possible during this process. I use a flame tamer under my pan to cook this low and slow.
- Cook the rice separately and steam dry.
- When peas are ready, tender and water has mostly evaporated, fluff up the rice and add to the peas. Adjust your seasoning and continue to cook over low heat until all the water is absorbed.
- Norma and Carole suggest that you can reverse this addition process of rice to peas by draining the peas (save the cooking liquid), fluffing them up and adding them to the rice and then adding back a small amount of the cooking liquid.
Memories of these foods, the people who made them and that kitchen come flooding back when I'm cooking for my own family. And recalling trips to Jamaica where we picked fresh mangoes, ate ackee, codfish and plantains or consumed the nectar from water coconuts by the side of the road are forever etched in my heart.
Pat Bennett is the founder and President of Pat's Granola, a Cleveland based food company. Pat's Granola is sold online at www.patsgranola.com and is also available at several Northeast Ohio businesses including:
Troubadour Coffee Roasters www.troubadourcoffeeroasters.com
Sports and Spine Physical Therapy www.sportspine.com
Local Flavors Shoppe www.localflavors.net
Rittman Orchards and Farm Market www.rittmanorchards.com
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport www.clevelandairport.com
Locle Box www.loclebox.com
Market Wagon Northeast Ohio www.marketwagon.com
Made Cleveland www.madecleveland.com
Mister Brisket www.misterbrisket.com
Nature's Oasis Lakewood www.naturesoasis.com
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