Tradition in the Kitchen: A Southern Living Story

Meet the grandmother who inspired the career of Southern Living’s Test Kitchen Director Robby Melvin.


Granny what's my favorite thing that you make? Gosh son, I don't know. [LAUGH] I know. That's like the hardest question. I'm Jackie Freeman, I'm 87 and a half years old and I'm from Birmingham, Alabama And I've lived right here in this house for the past 57 years. I'm gonna chop the onions, I've got the corn meal in the mixing cup. Just plain, self rising white lily corn meal mix. I started cooking when I was just a little girl. I was the oldest child. Before, and of course I had my mother. My cooking is from her, you know. Instructions from her on how to do it and my grandmother. It's amazing how you do that without cutting your, into your thumb so quickly and so efficient. I know. See that. I don't cut my thumb. I just cut the onion. You've done that once or twice already. I've done it a few times. My name is Robby Melvin, I'm the Test Kitchen Director at Southern Living and Jackie Freeman is my grandmother. She is the reason I cook. I began my food interest unbeknownst to me here in her kitchen back when I was just a kid Oh yeah. When Robbie was about two years old. He loved cooking and he loved coming in the kitchen and he loved to make finger biscuits. I'd get him out of the bed, he had his pajamas on. I'd push those sleeves up above his elbows and wash his hands from his elbows and wash his hands from his elbows down and clean his finger nails. And then we made finger biscuits. And he was in there just a-squishing that dough and all and get it all over his fingers, you know, and I'd have to get it off. Then he'd, he'd hit, we knead the dough and then we'd pat it out on the cutting board and cut the biscuits and put them in the pan That was a big deal. We had flour all over the kitchen, all over him, and all over me but we had a good time. You see, you have to wiggle it a little bit when you, when you're stirring it cuz, if you don't, it won't be good. Okay. So you have to wiggle. To wiggle it? All right. [LAUGH] That's new My grandmother's cooking definitely reflects her personality. She's got a very vibrant personality, very unique personality. Her cooking is just so honest. There's no ringing in the wheel. It just comes from a foundation of just good solid, fresh cooking which is what Southern cooking is all about. See how, that's the way I>>Oh ya>>That's the way I like them all good, just like that, huh. Well hot water corn bread back in the olden days you know, people didn't have a lot and if they didn't have any milk or anything well that's when they Developed this hot water cornbread, and all you have to have is just fries and white cornmeal. And you put the onion in it to make it have the flavor. I've seen those gloves for years. Yeah, I burn up a pair and buy me some new ones. And I have them burned up and I can plant. [MUSIC] Every time I come over here for lunch, or dinner, just a weeknight supper, I mean, I learn something new. Something that kind of takes me back to the classic southern traditions, and to, to my past and I think the past of all southern cooks. There's so much out there, and, and being around her and staying in close contact with her in the kitchen. It keeps me reminded of that, and that's important. Our family dinners are always here, they always have been. Of course, it's always a special time and there's always a lot of talking, and oohing and ahhing, how good this is, and how good that is. I think I could just make a meal off the turnips. And a hot water cornbread. I would say, you know, lessons I've learned from cooking over here, and being over here, is just, it's be who you are, and let your food be, be that, be an extension of that. Just cook honestly, and cook simply. And there's no other place that I've ever been, worked, cooked in. That has had the same affect on me as cooking right here in this kitchen. [MUSIC]
Experience our exclusive vacation collection.