In our Family Recipes & Stories: Volume 1, Karen Clark Rasberry shares The Ten Commandments of Southern Cooking. Karen Rasberry is Erin's mom and an IPPY-award winning author and realtor in Laurel, Mississippi. When she isn't playing competitive league tennis, you'll find her playing on the banks of the family's lake with her grandson, Walker, or sharing her favorite southern stories here. Her most notable novels are A Southernmost Journey and Travelers In Search of Vacancy.
There is a lovely but well-seasoned dining room set that now occupies the dining room of my husband's first cousin. To a stranger, the furniture might not appear particularly valuable or ornate. Never mind that one table leg is wobbly from sixty years of Grandpa kicking it with his work boots or that there's a bare spot right in the middle where thousands of hot skillets filled with cornbread and biscuits were served.
To those fortunate to have put their feet under it, feasted, and celebrated being a family, it is priceless. If it could talk, it would tell of many happy times shared over countless meals. It would tell of days filled with more work than leisure, more laughter than tears, more faith than doubt, and more love than anything else.
Over seventy years of marriage proved that Luther and Della Walters were a perfectly mismatched couple. He chose to listen. She preferred to talk. A World War I veteran, Grandpa was a man who spoke in brief but profound sentences that sometimes only close family understood. Oftentimes, he would sit solemnly, gazing into the past, perhaps to some distant battlefield, with his striking blue eyes. At other times, he was the picture of old-age contentment with a tobacco spittle stained shirt, smiling as if he had just discovered a pot of gold on the back forty. On the other hand, Grandma was quite articulate and sociable. Much like a telegraph machine, with her dentures clicking-clacking at lightning speed she could spread neighborhood news (gossip) faster than kudzu spreads in July.
Without a doubt, one of the greatest pleasures in Grandma's life, besides fishing, was cooking for the ones she loved. She did both with admirable skill. She particularly delighted in putting on one of her "weddin' dinners." Let it be understood that a "weddin' dinner" didn't necessarily mean that somebody was getting hitched. It was the fanciest way she knew to say that there was fixin' to be some serious business conducted in her kitchen.
A "weddin' dinner" at Grandma's house was an all-out attempt on her part to make sure that every person at the culmination of the meal had to unbutton their pants to breathe and then go for a nice, long nap on the front porch.
When she cooked, she strictly abided by the Ten Commandments of Southern Cooking. These weren't actually written down anywhere, but if they were, I imagine they would be found in the Bible of Southern Cooking in the first chapter of the Book of Martha White:
I. Thou shalt eternally give thanks for the bountiful blessings.
II. Thou shalt have no processed foods before thee.
III. Thou shalt make every single dish with thine own hands.
IV. Thou shalt prepare enough food for an army.
V. Thou shalt not put more food on thy plate than thou can eat.
VI. Thou shalt remember the shut-ins and take them a plate.
VII. Thou shalt not go light on butter or grease.
VIII. Thou shalt not sit until everyone has fixed a plate.
IX. Thou shalt not covet thy brother's pecan pie.
X. Thou shalt not feel guilty for committing gluttonous sin.
Although their season on Earth is long past, Grandma and Grandpa Walters are still very much with the descendants who remain. Grandma left some commandments that are mighty hard to keep sacred. But, if I can just come close to perfecting her cornbread dressing, my family might push away from the table, undo their pants buttons, and impersonate the words that Grandpa always used after eating something particularly wonderful:
"That was alright. H'it is, and h'it do."