Or, How Southern and Wisconsin cookbooks get straight to the point and other cookbooks miss it
One of the best hostess gifts anyone has ever given me was two jars of bacon grease from The Good Bacon. Our friends Bonnie and Gary were going out of town and already had bacon grease saved up, so gave us two jars of bacon drippings they couldn’t use. Bacon drippings from the butcher in the small town where they live. Good Bacon.
And one of the best cookbooks I have gotten is this one – The Southern Sympathy Cookbook – from my friends Kim and Luke. It’s one of the best because what’s not to love about a cookbook that unabashedly uses lots of butter? And of course just all the down-home recipes of the kind of things your grandma made or would have made if she had been from Mississippi instead of northern Wisconsin. My grandma J would have totally rocked cornbread and black-eyed peas and biscuits.
My grandma S was not so much of a cook, but we had fun reading the National Enquirer together.
Anyhow. I love the cookbook. The recipes are great and it’s fun to read and it reminds me of Memphis and all the southern things that I had to learn, like what time you show up for a party as opposed to what time you show up for a bridal shower and what you wear (that part not so much because I really don’t like dressing up, partly because I don’t know how but mostly because I am so, so lazy and also a little bit because I never feel like I look good, especially compared to southern women who have it in their DNA, unlike, based on my own experience and my observations, northern women who do not).
But the thing I like the most about this cookbook is that it acknowledges what should be a truth universally acknowledged, which is that EVERYONE SHOULD ALREADY HAVE BACON GREASE.
What is it with these fancy cookbooks – and I read cookbooks the way a 15 year old boy reads Playboy or the way 15 year old boys used to read Playboy – and the bizarre ingredient list that includes “Two slices of bacon” and then has the instructions to fry the two slices of bacon, set aside the bacon for another use, and then save a tablespoon of the bacon grease?
Who are these people?
This is a cultural value that unites North and South and, I need to add, black and white.
I saw Michael Twitty speak here a few weeks ago. He talks about food and African culture and African American culture and racism and food and justice and he is compelling and he is right.
He asked the audience what foods they think of when they think of their grandmothers.
My first thought was, “Bacon grease!” but I was not going to say anything out loud because – well, because I felt as a white person attending a lecture about African Americans and slavery and the legacy of slavery that I needed to listen and not talk.
But – I thought, “Bacon grease!”
Audience members began to shout: “Collards!” “Cornbread!” “Okra!”
And then someone said what I was thinking: “Bacon grease!”
My people and his people: We have something in common.
Our grandmothers kept a coffee can of bacon grease on the stove.
Our grandmothers did not waste food. They did not throw fat away. Why throw away something and then turn around and buy it? That’s wasteful.
Bacon drippings are perfectly good for frying other foods. I would say bacon grease is even better than any oil you could buy – at least bacon grease has flavor.
When I met Marido, he was flabbergasted at the idea that I kept bacon grease. As my mother did before me and as her mother did before her, as my father did and as his mother did before him, I save bacon grease.
His mom grew up poor up north. Her parents grew up poor down south. I know there was bacon grease saved in that family. Marido thinks maybe his mom abandoned the practice because it didn’t seem fancy enough. (Marido’s father was a big ole snob, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he insisted.
I grew up thinking everyone saved bacon grease because why wouldn’t you?
And then I met Marido and I met other people and I started reading cookbooks for fun and discovered those odd instructions to fry a few slices of bacon just so you have the grease.
All this emphasis on nose to tail cooking (hint: it’s what my grandparents did because We Do Not Waste) and people who think they’re so hip because they are eating pigs’ knuckles or whatever but – they have to be told how to create bacon grease?
If you don’t have bacon grease in your fridge, then – well, I don’t think you really care about food.