Growing up in the south, I have learned that eating or breaking bread together is important. The food that you eat gives you more than sustenance, from homecomings and camp fundraisers at local churches on Sundays to that casserole you bring to the neighbors who just moved in next door. The food that sits on your table paints a picture of your family and your roots.
When I was young, I lived next to one set of my grandparents, and just down the road from my other grandma. I spent a lot of time at the kitchen table with them. I would listen to my grandparents tell stories of their childhoods while eating food combinations that I thought were normal. As I grew up, I realized that foods that I would eat with them were not common to others. The beloved food oddities that I have worked hard to pass down to our kids are special because I first learned of them with my grandparents. I have been thinking hard lately about the lost art of the foods of past generations.
Some of the foods that our grandparents taught us about were out of necessity. However, over the years, those foods became meals that were good to their palates. The food they ate told a story, one that shouldn’t be lost because they are an oral history of sorts.
The foods and meals that I want to share today have very simple ingredients. You can find most of these items on a farm or at the local market. I suppose these foods were staples—many of the meals you can make with leftovers. Growing up in the depression, my grandparents expressed many times how they would waste nothing.
As odd as many of these food combinations may seem, I ask that you not knock ’em until you try ’em. The foods of our grandparents that were staples so many years ago might just rock your world today. As I share these foods of my grandparents with you, I hope you start a conversation with your family about “forgotten” foods of your childhood or maybe tell them the story of why you eat what you do today. Food can create a pathway of history that you can share with new generations. I hope you enjoy!
There may be nothing better in this world than a tomato sandwich sopping with juice! When tomatoes are ripe and as big as a piece of loaf bread, we call them “kitchen sink worthy.” This means that you better eat it over the kitchen sink so that you don’t make a big mess.
Other ingredients shouldn’t complicate the simplicity of this sandwich. There is a time and a place for bacon or lettuce, but a tomato sandwich is an art form of its own. Lay our two pieces of loaf bread and spread Blueplate Mayonaise on them. Cut a slice or two of a ripe tomato from your garden or somewhere local, and place them on the sandwich. Enjoy this amazing goodness.
*It is important to note that southern folk have this war over mayonnaise. Some are Blue Platers like myself, who will swear by that brand alone. Others are Duke’s fans. Although I am a Blue Plater through and through, I want you to spread what makes you happy! If you don’t like mayo, sprinkle some pepper over your tomato or use mustard instead.
Cornbread and Milk or Cornbread and Buttermilk
Cornbread and milk is a classic evening snack, especially during the dog days of summer. My granny and papa would use buttermilk because that is all they had growing up. However, throughout the years, people have unfamiliarized themselves with the taste of buttermilk as a drink. I prefer sweet milk, which is the typical milk that you buy at the grocery store. It is called “sweet” by many because it is sweeter than the bitter punch of buttermilk.
Any cornbread will do. I prefer cornbread with a buttermilk taste. Pour yourself a glass of cold milk and then crumble a room temperature slice of cornbread into your glass. The cornbread is best if it is a day old because it crumbles better. I hope that you enjoy this masterpiece as much as I do!
Soda Crackers (Saltines) and Milk
If you don’t have cornbread around, try using saltine crackers, often referred to by many as soda crackers. Pour that cold glass of milk and crumble crackers in your glass. I prefer those with salted tops, but unsalted will do as well.
Peaches and Milk
Peaches and milk is my inspiration for writing this article. My papa used to make this during the summertime, and I loved it so much. I taught Lucy about peaches and milk, and she loves it. For this “recipe,” you must have fresh, juicy peaches. If you have peaches that you are scared will go bad, try them in milk. It will preserve them a few days longer, and they will knock your socks off.
Peel a few juicy peaches and take out the core. They do not have to be cut neatly. For a truly ripe peach, you can peel it, squeeze it in your hand, and it will fall apart in the bowl, juice and all. Sprinkle sugar over your bowl of peaches and juice. Cover the peaches in the bowl with milk and set it in the refrigerator overnight.
Enjoy this deliciousness the next day. You will find that the peaches have an amazing taste. Since the peaches have steeped in the milk all night long, the milk has the sweetest peach taste that you can ever imagine.
Coffee and Biscuits
My cousin Valerie’s papa, Clyde, was a Prisoner of War in World War II. Although Clyde never spoke much about his POW experience, I know that he had some difficulties with food after being forced to eat roots from the ground while in captivity. If I were to visit Clyde and his wife Virginia in the morning, he would always be eating biscuits with black coffee poured right over them. I don’t mean “coffee with your biscuits.” I mean “coffee on your biscuits.” Clyde would use his biscuits to sop up that coffee with perfection. If you want to try this out, percolated coffee is best, but any kind will work, as long as the coffee is piping hot.
Note- My grandmother used to eat this in her childhood as a dessert. Her daddy would open the biscuits, place a pat of butter and some sugar on them, and then pour the hot coffee over. For my favorite drop biscuit recipe, click HERE!
Biscuits and Syrup or Honey
If you are not a coffee person, perhaps biscuits and syrup or honey is more of your taste. I prefer a nice maple syrup when eating biscuits and syrup, but any type is fine. Biscuits and honey is also fantastic! When eating biscuits with syrup, you will have a lighter taste than when you use honey. Watch out, pancakes and waffles, because this combination is phenomenal!
Ice Cream and Milk
So my papa ruined me with ice cream and milk. Please don’t confuse this with a milkshake; you do not mix these two ingredients. If I am eating ice cream at home, it must be topped with milk.
What makes ice cream and milk different than a milkshake is the ice crystals that appear after milk has set for a few minutes. You eat all of the ice crystals off of the ice cream, and then you spoon more milk over what is left to get more crystals. When you finish eating, you have a bowl of deliciously flavored milk left to swig down. You will have to try this out the next time that you are eating ice cream at home.
Peanuts in Coke
Peanuts in coke is an iconic, “old-fashioned,” mixture. This combination became especially famous at the movie theatres. The secret is that sweet Coca-Cola taste combined with the saltiness of the peanuts. Although the glass bottle was famous in yesteryear, you can still use a plastic bottle for your peanuts today.
Butter and Crackers
Butter and crackers can be the most elegant dish, but somehow it has been forgotten. I will admit that my foodie self does use Kerry Gold butter when eating saltines and butter because of the rich taste of the butter. You don’t need fancy crackers; regular saltines will do. Take a saltine and run it over a stick of Kerry Gold and tell me it won’t make you slap your pappy! When I would visit my gran-gran (great-grandmother) with my granny, she would take two saltines and smear butter in between them like a sandwich. We would sit at my gran-gran’s kitchen table and enjoy. Whichever way you prefer to eat butter and crackers, I have a feeling that you will be very pleased!
Just a note– I realized many years ago that people salt their foods a lot more than I do. I did not grow up salting foods at the dinner table. Many people love salt, and so, use salted butter. However, I prefer unsalted butter on my crackers.
Muscadine Jelly Sandwich
Sean’s daddy told me about loving muscadine jelly sandwiches when he was young. Muscadine jelly is lovely, and the sandwich almost tastes like a dessert. The sandwich is simple, and no peanut butter is needed to make it delicious!
Banana and Mayonnaise Sandwich
I love a banana and mayonnaise sandwich. I honestly think that the best thing that ever happened to a banana might have been Blueplate Mayo and bread. Again, BluePlate is my strong recommendation but do what makes you happy. For this little delicacy, take two pieces of loaf bread and spread mayonnaise on both pieces. Peel a banana and slice it thickly on one piece, topping your sandwich with the other slice of bread.
Banana and Peanut Butter Sandwich
I thought that everyone ate peanut butter and banana sandwiches. However, I learned that I was wrong. Where I come from, the only oddity of this combination is how people slice their bananas, if they do at all! I promise, how you slice your bananas changes what the sandwich tastes like. It is the ratio of banana to peanut butter to bread, and you have to decide what suits your fancy!
I prefer to slice my bananas into small circles. Other people slice bananas length-wise, and then those who love the taste of a thick banana will roll their banana onto a piece of bread covered with peanut butter! For this “recipe,” take two pieces of loaf bread and, on one slice, smear a thick coating of peanut butter on the bread. Peel your banana, and slice it over your peanut butter. If you want to get a little adventurous, throw some Lays Classic Potato Chips on your sandwich too!
Pepper and/or Salt on Watermelon
All you salt lovers out there, this is for you. Watermelon is a sweet fruit. By sprinkling salt on watermelon, you get that mix of salty and sweet. Many people have experienced or have at least heard of watermelon and salt. However, not so many have heard about the peppered melon. Cracking pepper on the watermelon has a boldness when you eat it, and it is delicious. Even well peppered, it will not overpower the watermelon, and the sweetness shines through.
Cousin Jimmy taught me how to pick the perfect watermelon. To pick the best one in the patch, look for a good “sit spot.” A sit spot is the place on the watermelon has been sitting on the ground. The longer a melon sits, the sweeter it tastes. If you find a good sit spot on a watermelon, you are in business for some fabulous eating! Check out Cousin Jimmy’s watermelons in our article about Dayton, Tennessee by clicking HERE.
Pepper on Cantaloupes
Just as you add boldness to watermelon by adding pepper, you can do the same thing by adding pepper to cantaloupes. The pepper is not overpowering, but it does give the canteloupe a punch of flavor. So, next time that you cut open a cantaloupe give it a try! You may just find a new way to dress up your melon!
Pintos and Green Beans Mix
Maybe you have some pintos leftover from Monday’s supper and some green beans from Tuesday? Sean’s dad talks about that when he was young, they didn’t waste anything. What you ate at the first of the week became combinations of what you ate for the second half of the week. One of his favorites is a mix of pintos and green beans. If you want to flavor up this mixture, try cutting some raw onion and adding it to your beans as well. If you want to learn how to make canned beans taste homemade, click HERE.
My mama loves onions. When asking her about this vegetable, she said that she has been eating onion sandwiches her whole life. Sean’s daddy loves onion sandwiches too, about as much as my mama does! If you are making an onion sandwich, make sure that your onion is raw and sweet. Cut through the onion for a perfect circle. You can spread mustard on your sandwich for a little zest.
Fried Green Tomatoes
Fried green tomatoes are a southern novelty. Unfortunately, most people and restaurants don’t cook them well. If I see fried green tomatoes on the menu, I usually pass, expecting that someone overcomplicated this southern fried goodness. Cousin Jimmy taught me that perfect fried green tomatoes should actually be “half-ripe” to pack the biggest punch of flavor. The man has not steered me wrong yet, and the half-ripe tomato elevates the fried tomato to a whole new level.
Cut the slices thin, and you can actually use the same recipe that I share below of my grandma’s fried squash. Let me know what you think of the half-ripe version versus a true, hard, green tomato! If there is a fried food that I love beyond all others, it is my grandma’s fried squash. We don’t fry a lot of foods, so when I do, I think of her. I want to share this delicious recipe with you by clicking HERE. If you don’t think that “fried” and “squash” belong in the same sentence, just give this recipe a chance. I promise that you will not be disappointed! Substitute the tomatoes or zucchini using the same method.
Cornbread and Beans– Pinto, Great Northern, Butter, Navy, and Crowder Peas
My granny LOVES pintos and cornbread. We would eat with her each night during the pandemic, and she would always cook cornbread and pintos. This meal brings warmth to your soul and it is very filling. It is easy to have cornbread and pintos as your entire meal. Cornbread and beans is the quintessential food of my grandparents. If you don’t like pintos, we also love and recommend great northern, butter, and navy beans, as well as crowder peas. For our favorite cornbread recipe, click HERE!
Fried Bologna Sandwich
I remember visiting with my grandma when I was little, and she always made fried bologna sandwiches. My mom loves them too, and she has passed this love down to Jackson and Lucy. There is nothing, well, besides a tomato sandwich, that screams “summer in the south” like a fried bologna sandwich. If you want to gourmet-up this sandwich, you can ask for cuts of bologna from the deli counter at your local grocer rather than use it from a pack. When you make this sandwich, you may be tempted to toast your bread. However, I do not recommend this. The hot bologna steams the bread and gives the “fried bologna” flavor that so many people love. However, a thin spread of mustard is acceptable.
A Forgotten Art in the World of Food
The meals of our grandparents are a forgotten art in a world of foods. For all of the “foodies” out there and those who love new meals, maybe asking our grandparents and parents about the foods of their childhood will teach us new meals, new information about our families, and give us new cultural experiences. I hope you will take the time to try some of the foods from my grandparents and maybe create new traditions within your family! These foods will not only provide great dinnertime conversations, but they will also open your palate to a new way of eating.
We would love nothing more than to learn about the foods of your grandparents and the stories behind them! Please drop us a line in the comments below and teach us about your food traditions!