Love Affair

This love affair continues.

May 1979

The modern Southern restaurant cook is having an illicit love affair with the deep fat fryer. This is the conclusion I am forced to arrive at after spending a week sampling the food in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. This poignant liaison is not limited to dingy diners or third-rate joints. It flourishes just as exotically in classy cafeterias and delightfully elite dining rooms of haughty hotels.

While the affair amour may be illicit, it is not hidden away out of sight but blooms impartially in all its greasy glory on brown plastic counters or white linen clad tables.

As I, accompanied by my farmer, was eating my way down the streets and byways of Natchy, Mobile,Vicksburg and New Orleans the crusty golden brown offerings to the French fry goddess began to taste surprisingly good after I once became reconciled to the sudden demise of the baked potato below the Mason Dixon Line.

The peak of this gustatory experience was achieved one night at a charming restaurant in Natchy under the hill. After a torturous drive down the bluffs bordering one side of the river, the bus came to the very edge of the mighty Mississippi with its myriad lights and fascinating cargoes. Close by was this popular new eating place built to look as if it were 100 years old and featuring primitiveness, lanterns, checked tablecloths, tinned plates and battered cups.

After a suitably long interval designed to show tourists that no one ever, ever moves quickly in the southern part of the United States the waiters brought in platters filled with fried cat-fish fillets, French fried potatoes and piles of fried hush puppies. Cole slaw (it had somehow escaped the hot oil) and Jalapeno cornbread served in a cast iron skillet rounded out the meal.

Then as dinner was progressing the tour guide ordered, as a singular treat for all, the new specialty of the house. French fried batter dipped dill pickle slices! And for $5.00 a plate! Quite a mark up for a pickle. To report truthfully, the dill slices had no unique flavor, just crispy crust with a fried taste.

After digesting all this fried food even my gall bladder was convinced of the truth of the rumors about the love affair; but just as I accepted the inevitable, the southern chef in a fickle mood wearied of his first love and turned for a brief dalliance with his second mistress. Gravy. And this is not just a simple flour and milk gravy sitting quietly waiting to be discreetly dipped over mashed potatoes. Oh, no, this gravy is such a favorite of the head man in the kitchen it is poured unstintingly over all the food on the dinner plate of the helpless patron whether he wants the gluey gook or not.

When the cook wasn’t carrying on with the deep fat fryer or gravy he produced feathery biscuits, a continuous flow of grits, and delectable egg custards that were served in individual cups and made an agreeable dessert after a heavy dinner.

For a Touch of the South – In a cook book put out by the Junior League of La Fayette, Louisiana I found these recipes.
2 c. milk 1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon soda 1 tablespoon butter
2 sticks cinnamon 3 egg whites
2 tablespoons flour 1 c. finely ground soda crackers
4 tablespoons corn starch 1 c. sugar
6 egg yolks ½ teaspoon salt
Scald 3 cups milk, soda and cinnamon. Combine 1 cup cold milk with flour and cornstarch. Beat until smooth.To this mixture add 1 cup of the hot milk, 1 cup sugar and the 6 egg yolks. Beat well. Combine with rest of milk and cook in heavy sauce pan or double boiler until thick.Remove from stove. Add salt, vanilla and butter. Beat. Pour in greased 8 inch square pan about ¼ inch thick. Chill overnight.

Cut in squares. Beat egg whites. Dip custard squares in to whites, then into cracker crumbs.

Fry in hot fat, 1 inch deep, until brown. Drain on paper. Serve hot. 8 servings.

Nanny’s Custard
4 eggs 3 cups milk
½ cup sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla
Separate egg yolks and white. Beat yolks. Add sugar. Scald milk. Beat whites until stiff. Pour hot milk slowly in yolk sugar mixture. Fold in beaten egg whites.Pour in a casserole and place in pan of hot water and bake in a 375° oven for 30 minutes.

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