This is my grandmother (and my brother, who, though not entirely irrelevant, you can ignore for the moment). She is one of my heroes. The oldest daughter of 5 sisters (they also have an older brother), she grew up on a large farm in rural Florida during the Depression and World War II. She’s raised sisters, children, grandchildren, and just welcomed her first great-grandchild (don’t worry, not mine!) into the world. She’s lived through a lot, put up with even more, and is still the sweetest human being I know.
She’s never known what having money felt like, though if you ask her she’ll tell you she’s never wanted for anything, either. Living on a farm meant you always had plenty to eat, acres and acres of playground, and if you needed a new dress, you just made one from an old flour sack. After my grandfather got out of the navy, he worked for the telephone company, and was president of the workers’ union. When they were on strike—sometimes for 6 months at a time—my grandmother managed to provide for her family of five with just her salary as a part-time school board administrator. She’s held my grandfather’s hand through months of a terminal illness, seen her children through marriages and divorces, and hasn’t missed a single grandchild’s birthday or graduation. She is amazing, plain and simple.
And good Lord, can the woman cook. I mean, damn. Paula Dean is my grandmother incarnate (sans the heart attack hamburger). In the fifth grade when we had to write an essay about our favorite restaurant, I wrote about my granny’s kitchen. I’d take her cooking over the fanciest restaurant in Baltimore any day of the week. She’s the one that taught me how to really cook. Good ingredients and fancy techniques are all well and good, but they won’t get you there. It’s all about soul, and taste, and intuition. If a recipe calls for a teaspoon of salt but it tastes like it needs two, then, gosh darnit, put two in. That steamed broccoli looks lovely, but it would taste even lovelier with a dollop of butter on them. And cheese grits aren’t cheese grits unless there’s “enough cheese to choke a goat” in them.
For Christmas this year, my grandma gave me a booklet full of handwritten recipe cards, full of the things that defined family dinners at her house: squash (cooked in bacon grease, of course!), potato salad, macaroni and cheese, and banana pudding. They’re less recipes than they are guidelines, with instructions like “add butter until it tastes right” or “cook until done”. They would be useless without years of experience in the kitchen to know what “tastes right” is, or what “done” looks like. Nonetheless, it is, without a doubt, the best Christmas present I’ve ever gotten.
One of the recipes is a family trademark, saved only for special occasions (usually when I come home to visit): fried ribs. Yes, it’s a heart attack waiting to happen, but I don’t care. If I died eating one, I’d die a happy woman. No one I’ve ever met outside my family knows what a fried rib is, so I thought I would enlighten ya’ll. Don’t eat them every day, but you should definitely give them a try. I’ll do my best to translate the original recipe into a photo essay that you can actually follow, but will also include Granny’s recipe at the end, because her advice is sound.
First, the meat. Pork ribs, please; this ain’t Texas. Get the butcher to slice them individually, if you can. You can do it yourself, but it’s a lot less work if you get them to do it. Sprinkle them with tenderizer and let sit for a few hours. Then wash them, pat dry, and chuck em’ in a bucket of cornmeal, salt and pepper. It should look something like this:
Throw the ribs a batch at a time into some hot peanut oil (well, don’t literally throw them, as you might regret it). I have no guidelines for temperature, but you want it to be pretty hot—I’m guessing around 350 degrees? At any rate, you want it to look like this when the ribs are in:
“Cook until done”, approximately 7-10 minutes, then pull them out of the oil and let drain. Start another batch, because you’ll need a whole bunch of these babies to satisfy everyone. Guaranteed: the first batch will be gone before they get to the table.
Granny’s Recipe directly transcribed:
Pork ribs—I usually get them cracked at the store (that’s cut almost through each rib)because I can’t cut them anymore. Also I like baby back—more expensive but more tender. If I use just Pork Ribs I put tenderizer on them for awhile. Wash and let drain, then salt. Mix self-rising meal and pepper (you decide amount) in gallon bag or bowl. Shake ribs in bag or dredge in bowl. Put enough oil in deep skillet to cover ribs, heat, put ribs in and fry. Fry until they are nice and brown—make sure they are done. Guess someone will have to do a taste-test! Wait, wait, one’s all you need to test!