Stories Of The South: The Way Folks Were Meant to Eat
These days people worry so much about their hearts that they don't eat hearty.
These days people worry so much about their hearts they that don't eat hearty. The way folks were meant to eat is the way my family ate when I was growing up in Georgia. We ate till we got tired. Then we went "Whoo!" and leaned back and wholeheartedly expressed how much we regretted that we couldn't summon up the strength, right then, to eat more.
When I moved to the Northeast, I met someone who said she liked to stop eating while she was still just a little bit hungry. I was taken aback. Intellectually, I could see it was an admirable policy. Lord knows it kept her in better shape than mine did me. I just thought it was crazy. It was my feeling that we have only so much appetite allotted to us in our time on this earth, and it was a shame to waste any of it.
People I grew up with wanted to get on out beyond their appetite a ways, to make sure they used all of it. They wanted to get full. They intended to get full. If a meal left them feeling just a touch short of overstuffed, they were disappointed. I knew a man once who complained about those little Spanish peanuts because they never added up to enough to give him any reason to stop eating them till they were all gone, and then he was still up to eating some more. "I can't get ahead of them," he said.
But eating right is not just a question of quantity. Primarily it's quality. It's not letting any available good taste go unswallowed. I grew up eating with people who didn't just take a few of the most obvious bites out of a piece of chicken and decide abstractly, "Well, I have eaten this piece of chicken." They recognized that the institution of fried chicken demands a great deal chicken, and they felt bound to hold up their end. They ate down to the bones and pulled the bones apart, and ate in between the bones, and chewed on the bones themselves. And, the bones that weren't too splintery they gave to the dogs, who were glad to have them.
Eating also goes hand in hand, so to speak, with talking. Folks I grew up with talked while they ate, about what they were eating. When several sides and generations of a family of such folks sat down together around a table, with 10 or 12 generous platters of food in front of them, they sounded like this:
.. . and us to Thy service, amen."
"Pitch in." "I don't know where to start first."
"Big Momma has outdone herself."
"Well, I just hope y'all can enjoy it."
"I bleeve I could eat a horse."
"Would you look at them tomaters?"
"Hoooo, don't they look good?"
"Now, Tatum, slow down."
"You let that child enjoy himself."
"You'd think we didn't feed him."
"He didn't get 'ny snap beans! Lord, pass that child some snap beans!"
"Lilah, how 'bout you over there? You need something more. Butterbeans!"
"Ooo, land, naw, I'm workin' on this corn."
"Come on, just a dab."
Well, you talked me into it."
"Awful early, to be gettin' this gooda corn."
"Eunice, would you send that okry back around?"
"Look at me, just a puttin' it away"
"Little more tea to wash it down?"
"Mm-m, these greens!" "Anybody want anything?"
"I will have one more heppin' of that squash if nobody minds."
"It's so gooooood."
"Little cornbread to sop that juice?"
"One more moufful of ham, then I do have to stop, sure nuff."
"Look at all that chicken left! Have a little more there, Charles."
"Where would he put it?"
"And just a spoonful of that gravy, to put on my peas."
"Charles! We didn't raise you to mix your gravy with your peas!"
"Celia, now you let that child eat the way he likes it."
"Mm. Mmm. Mm."
"More rolls, anybody?"
"I think this is all I can hold."
"You better eat some more of this good chicken!"
"No'm, I got to save room for pie."
"Look at that pie."
"This pie is so goooood."
"How do you get your crust to do like this, Big Momma? My crust won't do like this."
"Aw, your crust does fine."
"Mm, m, m."
"Well, I have eat mysef sick."
"Mm-hm. Wadn't 'at gooood?"
"I don't think I could . . . touch. . another. . . bite."
"I'm 'bout to pop!"
"Mm. Yes, Lord."
"Them tomaters was specially good."
"Got plenny more now."
"Noooo, noooo. I'd die."