Remember Your Great Southern Chefs
By CHRIS TRAMEL
As a child, there was always something special about the holidays. Growing up in Chattanooga, the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays always meant a visit to family and friends in DeKalb County, and a stay at my grandparent's house in Alexandria.
As with most families, the holidays meant great feasts with every imaginable southern culinary delight. My mother and aunts would help prepare massive meals that could seemingly feed small countries, but always standing at the head of the kitchen was my grandmother, Gaynelle Willoughby.
To my young eyes, my grandmother was the queen of southern cooking. I had heard men tell me that they would always take jobs with my grandfather, hauling hay and other farm work, simply because my grandmother would have a wonderful meal prepared for them at the end of the work day. Surely the great chefs of Europe would stand in awe at the edible masterpieces she would prepare. Turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, and homemade cream corn were just a few of wonderful dishes awaiting hungry family members during holiday meals.
Usually the men of the family would all be drawn to the television, lounging and watching the game, as the women worked diligently on the evening's dinner. A complex aroma of various items being cooked in the kitchen would always fill the air, only serving to increase the anticipation for the forthcoming meal. One would often sneak a taste before dinner from entrées hidden beneath aluminum foil.
For dessert, boiled custard, Mississippi mud cake, and lime Jell-O salad were always favorites. But for me, there was my grandmother's chocolate pie. Later in life I would learn that the correct name for the dessert was chocolate meringue pie, but to a boy of seven or eight, I was not concerned with such trivialities. I simply referred to it as the chocolate pie with the fuzz on top. At every visit to my grandparent's house she would have a chocolate pie prepared just for me.
But, holiday meals were not without the occasional cooking faux pas. Once, my Aunt Drucie, in a quest to prepare a recipe for bourbon balls, mistakenly took a measurement for a jigger as a cup. The alcoholic ingredient was meant to only accent the taste of the somewhat exotic dessert, but ended in a surprise for unsuspecting nibblers. In other families, such an incident might have caused a scandal. I can only say thank goodness we were Baptist.
Holiday meals have always meant more than just sitting down to eat. It is a time to visit with family, recall good times and make new memories. This holiday, as you draw up to the table and look at all the wonderful dishes setting before you, take the time to thank your own great southern chef. They have worked hard to make a memory that you will cherish the rest of your life.