Mark Ballard

In the kitchen with Granny

Mark Ballard’s grandmother’s pots and pans were mismatched and worn, but provided many delicious meals — and memories.
Mark Ballard’s grandmother’s pots and pans were mismatched and worn, but provided many delicious meals — and memories. Special to The Telegraph

My grandmother’s kitchen was filled with all kinds of pots and pans. None of them came as a set or even matched. They were marred with scratches and dings from many years of constant use. They wore their war wounds like badges of honor for all the delicious things they had yielded.

As a child, I could always tell what was for lunch or supper by which pot or pan Granny was using. Her cooking routine was somewhat predictable because she prepared three meals a day for most of her life.

I especially enjoyed Granny’s summertime meals when she cooked fresh produce from either her garden or a friend’s garden.

She also had a garden of sorts near her back porch. I will never forget the variety of terra cotta pots she filled to the brim with hot pepper plants. Nestled amongst their rich green leaves were tiny peppers in various shades of red, yellow and bright green.

To make them fiery hot, Granny claimed you had to be mad when you planted them. Hers were always spicy so she must have been secretly mad a lot.

She gathered some of the peppers to make vinegar-based pepper sauce to spritz over fresh vegetables. Those of us with iron clad stomachs and a need to add a little danger to our fresh peas, bypassed the pepper sauce and went straight for the little rooster peppers, as Granny called them. If you didn’t get the hiccups from the heat, you definitely broke out in a hot sweat, had a few tears and cleaned your sinuses all at the same time.

Granny owned several cast iron frying pans. They were black, heavy and substantial and could be used on the stove or in the oven. Many times, when passing by the kitchen, I remember seeing pieces of chicken bubbling in a sea of molten-hot grease until they were golden brown.

Bacon also sizzled and fried against the bottom of the frying pans many times in preparation of breakfast. They were never totally washed clean because Granny had “seasoned” them with lard and didn’t want it to wash off. It didn’t really matter. They were always in use and usually filled with grease.

Not one drop of anything was wasted at Granny’s. Every time bacon was fried, the fat left behind was captured and poured into a small, lidded tin pot that sat right beside the stove. Granny would spoon out a blob of that solidified bacon grease to use to add flavor to fresh corn, collard greens or, one of my favorites, cornbread.

Granny made delicate-edged lacy cornbread on top of the stove or baked a “corn pone” in the oven. Whatever the method, Granny always made sure the bacon drippings in the frying pan were bubbling hot before she poured in the batter. “That keeps it from sticking,” she always said.

Having lived through the Great Depression, Granny could take one ear of fresh corn and magically make it into a pot full of delicious creamed corn. Glistening with bacon drippings, thickened with cornstarch and peppered to perfection, the finished product was always delicious — even though you only occasionally spotted an actual kernel of corn here and there.

Both cornbread and biscuits were served at most meals. They were always the very last thing to go into the oven after the table was completely set and the meal presented in a variety of bowls and platters. To butter the fresh-from-the-oven breads, Granny offered a choice of both “cow” butter and oleo. I always opted for real butter. I can still see it melting on contact with the bread and oozing into every crevice.

Heaven help you if you dared take a single bite until your heard an “amen” at the end of a somewhat muttered blessing. From an early age we completely understood that rule! As soon as the blessing was offered, but before our eyes were even opened, Granny would chime in, “Grab and growl.” Like the starting gun for a race, the food fest began.

The table was a blur with hands and arms frantically passing the platters and bowls around. In fast motion, our plates were filled to the edges and sometimes “helpings” hung on for dear life.

We took only what we knew we could eat. If we finished something, we could always have second helpings. Not a morsel was wasted at Granny’s house. After all, there were children starving somewhere in a foreign country.

We always ended on a sweet note, so I will as well. “You better save some room for dessert,” Granny would say. She didn’t have to worry. No matter how full we were, we still shoveled in something sweet.

Oh, how these memories make my stomach growl and my mouth water. I wish I could have one more Southern meal at my grandparents’ house!

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email markballard@cox.net; follow him at instagram.com/markcreates; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.

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