In Honor of My Grandmother

My grandmother passed away last week at the age of 90. She was a great cook in the best Southern tradition, and a lot of my family’s remembrances of her revolved around food and meals. Many of my favorite comfort foods have her as a source: deviled eggs liberally sprinkled with paprika; creamy mashed potatoes; grits with a pat of butter melting into the center; potato salad spiked with yellow mustard; green bean casserole on Easter Sunday.

She had her wacky side as well, and was always cracking a joke. She was unknowingly (?) the source of my first drink — the Christmas eggnog was spiked with bourbon. She made rumballs so potent that eating one was like taking a shot wrapped in chocolate. And what could epitomize childhood summers more than fried bologna sandwiches on white bread with yellow mustard?

After the remembrances were over and all the family had returned to their regularly scheduled lives, I wanted to make a Sunday meal that paid homage to my grandmother’s cooking. Here is the menu:

The Oven-Fried Chicken was really closer to Shake ‘n’ Bake than real fried chicken — but it was delicious Shake ‘n’ Bake. The chicken was first soaked in a buttermilk brine, then coated with egg and a crust made from crushed Melba toast and a mixture of spices, including paprika, cayenne and herbs. The chicken was then baked until the crust turned a deep brown. Because the skin had to be removed, this recipe couldn’t really come close to authentic fried chicken, but the results were great and certainly healthier.

The Succotash was also an updated version: simply lima beans, corn, onion, bell pepper and garlic sauteed in butter and seasoned with herbs and cayenne. This was also delicious, and I’m not overly fond of lima beans. I think the difference between this Succotash and the lima beans I remember from my childhood was that in this recipe the frozen beans went straight into the saute pan; they weren’t boiled to death first. The generous amount of butter also helped.

This was a great meal and, I felt, a fitting tribute to my grandmother. My grandmother relished good food all her life. I credit her, along with my father, as the great influences who nurtured my love of food and cooking, especially home-style cooking. I believe I did her proud in that department. The first time she came to my house for dinner, I made lasagna for her, and she still talked about it years later. How fitting then that the last time she came to my house for dinner, I also made lasagna for her. I hope to continue to re-create the great food she made but in my own style, and I will remember her every time I eat a deviled egg.

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