As a newlywed, I felt it my duty as the wife to cook meals. My husband had never cooked anything in his life, so we really had no choice.
Living in the city most of my life, and having a mother who could cook any top chef under the table, we had eaten a lot of ethnic foods. But my husband had eaten nothing but country cooking, except when he came over to my house when we were dating.
So this was my first experience working all day, and then coming home and finding myself having to prepare dinner for the two of us. I must say, we ate a lot of Hamburger Helper.
But several months into our marriage, someone in our country church gave us “a mess of snap beans” (which means a grocery sack full green beans).
I distinctly remember having watched my grandmother pop and snap the beans into segments, so I sort of knew what to do with them. I snapped my way through the entire bag, then dumped them in a pot, added salt and water, cooked them for 5 minutes, and served them up.
After one crunchy bite, my husband looked at me and said, “You need to call my mother.”
My precious mother-in-law told me to go to the butcher and tell him I needed some butt meat.
“Butt meat! I can’t say ‘butt’ to a man I don’t know!” I said, horrified.
“Okay then, ask for jowls,” she said.
“Jowls? You mean like hog jowls? You are pulling my leg! They eat that stuff on Beverly Hillbillies!” I said.
By then she was definitely exasperated. “Just tell him you are cooking beans. He will get you what you need!”
I went to Mr. McElveen, the butcher, and whispered in his ear that I needed meat for my beans. He yelled out across the Sumter Piggly Wiggly, “Hey, Pete, bring me some butt meat!”
I almost died of embarrassment.
My next humiliation came a few weeks later when I was at the same store looking for a ham. As I looked down into the cooler, I found two eyes staring back at me. Blinking, I realized that I was looking at the head of a pig. I screamed bloody murder. My husband ushered me out of there real quick.
Years went by, and I gradually learned to cook all sorts of things and even canned jellies, pickles and beans. But that brings me to my last and final culinary embarrassment. The sweet potatoes.
Living in a tobacco field in North Carolina, I had no neighbors nearby, just a church and graveyard. This was also pre-computer days, so I could only go on what information I already knew. So one day, when a church member came by and brought me a bushel of sweet potatoes, I thought I knew what to do. Peel them.
I spent the entire day, peeling sweet potatoes with my potato peeler. All day.
But at the end of the day, I had plenty of the tasty sweet potatoes in the freezer and ready for meals. I was proud of myself.
The next day was Sunday, and I went to church, completely ignoring the fact that my hands were orange all the way up to my elbows. They had been dyed by the sweet potato peeling fiasco.
Unfortunately, people noticed.
“What in the world did you do to your hands?” I heard that question about a dozen times.
I proudly told everyone that I had peeled an entire bushel of sweet potatoes and put them in the freezer.
The church ladies burst out laughing and then sort of took pity on me when they saw my confused expression.
“Honey, all you had to do is boil them or bake them and the skins come right off,” said the oldest church matriarch.
Okay. I learned something new and something I never forgot…always ask to just be sure.
That turned out to be a good habit, especially when the Filipino lady at church gave me some dry noodles.
“How do I fix these?” I asked.
“Just heat oil in a wok with a little water, throw the noodles in and stand back,” she said.
I thought she was kidding, but she wasn’t. The tiny pile of crispy rice noodles went POOF, and suddenly my pot was filled with a basketball sized pile of noodles. It’s lucky I was prepared, or I could have had a heart attack and died on the spot.
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