We're happy to welcome Chris Barber, LA-based artist and food lover, as one of our new guest bloggers.
New Year’s Day means one thing at my place – good luck black-eyed peas. (I skipped ‘em last year and paid the consequences.) It’s the one day of the year besides Thanksgiving that I fully indulge my cravings for a traditional family meal.
In this case I had to forget the country ham since I didn’t give myself 36 hours to soak sufficient salt out of the meat. I just grabbed a ½ ham glazed with brown sugar and focused on the side dishes. Three hours in the oven warmed the precooked ham fully while leaving it moist. If you add some fried okra, stuffing, 7-day pickles, rhubarb pie and iced tea in tall cold metal glasses to the dishes described here you might have Granny Barber’s typical Sunday lunch. But humble as this one is, every dish is a plate-licker.
The black-eyed peas were soaked overnight – I avoid quick soaking for this. I fried four thick strips of bacon in the bottom of a cast iron Dutch oven and added ¾ of a chopped onion to the grease. Then I added the peas, slow cooking and adding salt and pepper to taste. The bacon breaks up with stirring, and should be gladly taken with the peas as it comes. You can add chopped celery too, or anything else you like for an accent. A little paprika was enough for me, along with my favorite bottled hot sauce on the table. Good black-eyed peas have layers of smoky taste that take their sweet time opening up in your mouth.
For the greens I crammed all of the mustards and collards I could fit into a 5 quart pan after browning a couple tablespoons of butter. Once they wilted I added all of the softer Texas mustard greens that would fit. With the Texas greens wilted I threw in a 12 ounce brick of salt pork and a generous splash of rice wine vinegar, and let it simmer covered until tender. Trouble not about the darkening color - you're in the south now. Try to steam this and you’ll get what you deserve. I wanted these to have a bright taste, but warming the pan with a coating of bacon grease instead of butter is a nice earthy alternative, or simply starting with the salt pork until it greases the pan.
Candied “yams” don’t actually involve yams at all but sweet potatoes – the kind with the coppery skin and deep orange meat. I boiled 4 large sweets until soft, sliced them into ½- inch thick pieces and lined the bottom of a buttered casserole dish with them. Scallops are traditional, but I cut them lengthwise to make them slightly more firm due to the direction of the grain. I sprinkled them with salt and paprika, then dolloped them with a syrup of dark brown sugar, ground ginger, lemon juice and a dash of lemon zest. A smidge of butter on each slice and they were ready for a 20 minute bake. They should come out with form and color intact and looking almost unseasoned. My personal favorite is the cracklin’ cornbread. For this I went whole hog and made cracklin’ – which is what it’s all about.
4-6 oz. fresh, uncured fatty pork scraps
¾ cup white cornmeal ¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cane sugar (optional)
2 large eggs
1 ½ cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 475. Freeze the pork scraps for 30 or 40 minutes and then dice into ¼” pieces. It should be mostly fat, with a pitiful showing of meat. Mix the powder ingredients well in a large bowl. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl until frothy and whisk in the buttermilk. Blend the liquid into the dry mix and set aside. Drop the diced pork scraps into a greased 10” cast iron skillet and render the fat completely on the stove over medium heat until the pearls are golden-brown and crispy. Fold the cracklin’ and all but about 1 tbsp of the rendering into the cornbread mix. Increase the heat under the grease remaining in the skillet until it smokes, then quickly pour the mix into it. Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes.
I like it soft, moist and cakey in the center and crispy on top; but an almost pudding center is perfectly acceptable for a more pone-like quality. Either way, it’s juicy enough to forget all about the iced tea. Pop that thing right out of your skillet with a flick of the wrist and see if it doesn’t disappear on its way to the plate.