Authors Note: Jennifer Paterson passed away on August 10, 1999. The show “Two Fat Ladies” is one of the most entertaining cooking shows. The recipes, the locations, and especially the relationship between Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson.
Update: March 17th, 2014 Clarissa Dickson Wright has passed away.
Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Wright are the inspiration behind Olives Place
I have dug this out of my archives and I hope you enjoy it.
To be read with a southern accent to achieve full flavor.
Southern Cuisine, now there is a phrase that I would never have thought of tagging onto food. Foods that I thought was called “just shut up and eat it”, “be thankful you have it” was always another favorite of mine, and for Sunday supper it was, “don’t go braggin’”.
It is hard for this southerner to grasp that red beans and rice are now be considered a cuisine, or hoppin’ john, and cornbread cooked in a number eight skillet. Food that raised me up good, proper and safe is now being served in the likes of London, England, way across the way.
How did this all come about you ask? How did those foods among others become a cuisine? Well, if truth be told it was a big city, school trained cooks, chefs I do believe. I mean cooking schools, bless their hearts. It is sad to know that their mammas couldn’t love them enough to teach them “Chefs” the workings of a good winter soup.
How did I come to write this you might be asking yourself? Well sit back, sip some cooked coffee and I will tell you of a night that horrified me to my core.
It all started one Sunday night, nothing special about that Sunday. Dinner was done, wine poured and I was ready to settle in for a good murder. Poirot, with his little gray cells, Inspector Lewis and his Oxford-educated sidekick, even Midsomer Murders, better yet Foyle’s War what would be perfect to calm the nerves.
But that was not to be. Oh no, nothing but the wine was going to calm my nerves. You see, MasterPiece Theatre was being replaced that night. PBS was having a fund drive with the same dribble they have every six months. Performances were given by the same 50’s artist, doing the one hit they are known by. Specials that were filmed ten years ago with the announcer saying “support shows like this”. Which we only get when they want a handout, mind you!
Running through the channels to see what would be worth viewing. I came across an international cooking channel. Interesting I thought Two Fat Ladies. “Hum” murmuring out loud, “It is British made, and having had no problem with British shows before.” I found myself speaking out loud.
Starting to watch I slowly became entertained by the show until one of the two fat ladies stated that she was going to cook a “traditional southern dish”. Perking up I decided to wait to refill my glass of wine so as not to miss anything. What were they going to make I wondered?
Continuing to speak, Jennifer stated “a wonderful southern dish, Hoppin John”
Watching intently to see how the Brits were going to handle a dish, which was in its infancy the main dish not a side dish. Yes, I know today it is used as a side dish.
First, she fried the bacon, bacon mind you. Now, I know some of you might think bacon would have been used way back then. Now mind you, some of the working people might have a bit of salty bacon in the larder, pantry for you Americans. But I noticed she did not have the one ingredient that gives this dish its wonderful flavor. A smoked ham hock, yes you read that right, a smoked ham hock.
She did get one thing right, mind you. She did soak the black-eyed peas overnight. It’s really easy, don’t ya know. Just put the peas in a deep bowl and cover with water, you be still with them either in the icebox or on a cool shelf.
The next day, or in this case after the commercial break, she took out the peas and commenced mixin’. First in the pot were the peas, water to cover, and chopped onion, which she had smothered in the bacon grease. So far she was tendin’ the peas right nice.
After cooking the rice separately, which pays no mind to me, however, you wish to do it. Either with the peas when they are done, or as a standalone, don’t hurt my mind none.
She had made a few errors along the way, but not bad for someone not southern born and reared. But as soon as I turned my back, she struck. It was a knife in my heart, she hit me hard.
Mixing the ingredients together she had grabbed a bunch of Cilantro, chopped it up real fine like and mixed it in the Hoppin John.
Catching my breath and still able to hear her say, as she presented the final dish, “This ladies and gentlemen is HOPPIN JOHN, a traditional southern dish.
Standing in my family room I found myself screaming, screaming mind you “NO”.
Followed with, “TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DISH MY ASS BITCH”. “Cilantro does not and never will be a fixin’ in traditional southern dishes.”
But did she listen? Hell no! She just kept ramblin’. I needed more than another glass of wine. Some sippin’ whiskey would calm the nerves but I had let my cupboard go bare of the “good stuff”, so another glass of wine it was to be.
I knew right fast what my lot in life was to be. Teaching people the world over about southern foods. Not a cuisine, but genuine southern foods. The history, the tales, and of course the right and proper way of fixin’ them, maybe even a picture or two.
What better time to start than now. Using a pad and pencil I started to write. Below are the beginnings of my journal, a diary of sorts. Recipes and their history mixed with the ways of the southern cook and her kitchen.
First is the black-eyed peas, about 2 cups no exact science needed here. If you have a few more just throw them in with the others. Sort through the peas for tiny pebbles or a bit of dirt, rinse the peas carefully, and cover with water and allow to soak a right nice time, overnight will do it.
The next day, once the peas have soaked up a bit of the water receiving a good night’s sleep, place the peas in a large pot, a smoked ham hock, onion and bring to a boil. On the first boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 ½ maybe 2 hours. Remove the ham hock and cut so as not to fill the mouth too full. Stir in 2 cups rice, return the ham and cook another 20 to 25 minutes. Now that it is done, season with a bit more salt and pepper if needed.
Now mind you there are some modern-day southern ways of making this wonderful dish. Cookin’ the rice separately is one, flavor with red pepper flakes will add a bit of warmth for that cold night. Why if company is comin’ you might chop up some green onions, spring onions I think some call them and sprinkle on top. Just to make it look like you had worked hard in the kitchen. And for the love of everything that is right “LEAVE THE DAMN CILANTRO OUT OF IT.”
Now for the next bit of irritation with the Brits, and their cooking shows please stop insulting the baked beans. Baked beans came to y’all as a gift from America. Enjoy the full body of these wonderfully slow-baked legumes, and for the love of Pete, stop putting them on toast. They are a side dish, not the main dish.
Oh, I do have my work cut out for me. I sorely do.