Friday, August 31, 2007

Pot-Luck? Try Sweet and Sour Beans

When it comes to pot-luck in Catfish Country (and let me just say that there is a lot of "pot-luck" here), the cooks have special recipes they like to prepare over and over, especially when the group’s food “critics” rave about their dishes!

Fran Pearce has just such a recipe.

Fran is a down-home, keep-it-simple kind of cook, and while her Sweet ‘N Sour Beans has a lot of ingredients, it’s one of those put-it-in-the-crockpot-and-forget-about-it dishes that busy folks love...which makes it perfect for Fran.

When she’s not keeping records for the family catfish business, this fifth-generation farm girl is likely working on community projects. Her community, which stretches from Browns 30 miles east to Selma, is her hobby. She’s active in the Black Belt Action Commission, Arts Revive and her church.

I happened to find her one day last week over at Selma’s Ceramics Arts Center, where she was helping plan the Arts Revive booths for Riverfront Market Day. “I’m not an artist, but I appreciate very much what arts bring— life and fun to the whole community!” she says.

As a member of the Black Belt task force, she’s had the opportunity to travel around the region. “It’s really fun seeing what art is doing to revive these counties. We are a gold mine!” she adds, mentioning cultural sites such as the Gees Bend Quilters, Marion’s antiques alley and Selma’s historic homes. She sometimes takes her grandchildren along, such as a recent trip to Gees Bend to watch the quilters, then to cross the Alabama River on the Gees Bend Ferry.

Meanwhile, she and husband David’s two sons are raising their children on the farm, too…making them the sixth and seventh generations to live there. It's a life that keeps them working outdoors and puts them a long way from school and church and big-city malls. But then, they awaken to morning mists that rise above the water and retire in the reflection of magnificent sunsets. Now that's a culture apart!

Photo: Jackson and Mary Ashlyn Pearce, front, with friend John Ross Bone ride the Gees Bend Ferry across the Alabama River.

Here's Fran's recipe:

Sweet & Sour Beans

Fran Pearce

8 bacon strips cooked & drained
2 medium onions diced
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground mustard
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ cup vinegar
1 can (28 oz) baked beans undrained
1 can (16 oz) kidney beans rinsed & drained
1 can (15 ½) pinto beans rinsed & drained
1 can (15 oz) lima beans rinsed & drained
1 can (15 ½ oz) black-eyed peas rinsed & drained

Pour all of the beans into a crockpot. Sauté onions until tender. Add brown sugar, salt, mustard, garlic powder, & vinegar to the sautéed onions. Bring to a boil. Pour over beans. Cook on high 3 to 4 hours. Makes 15 to 20 generous servings.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Fish Sticks (Baked) Are Back!

Remember fish sticks?

My mother bought them and served them for lunch...rather often. I always thought there was more crust than fish and wondered what kind of fish I was eating. (I was a very picky eater as a child, and some folks might still call me picky! But hey, I just like to know what I'm being served.)

Well, fish sticks are back...over at Organic Authority.Com, and they are healthy, homemade and hmmm, made from catfish! These Fish Sticks in a Flash can be made in about 10 minutes, and they are baked, not fried!

Another post at the same site offers a remoulade dipping sauce, just right for these fish sticks.

So, if you are after natural and organic or just plain good and something kids will like, check it out!

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Great American Cookout

What’s your best “excuse,” (well, “reason”) for having a cookout?

In Catfish Country, it can be anything from church suppers and family reunions to rehearsal parties, tailgate picnics or weekends at the river.

During my childhood, the “excuse” was relatives who came to visit.

Cookouts usually meant hamburgers, hotdogs, a slab of ribs or pile of catfish, and all it took for us to bring out the big, iron pot was a kinfolk or two and especially half a dozen.

With large families on both sides, our relatives were scattered from Maryland to Ohio to Arizona to Florida. Some came for 10 days in the summer, others for a few days here or there. An Ohio uncle joined us every year at Christmas, and that doesn’t begin to cover all the family in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee!

Our place was the perfect stop. We lived in a big, high-ceilinged house with several bedrooms and a wraparound front porch. Extra room might be had in one of our duplex cottages, part of Greensboro’s first motel. Plus, my dad loved to talk and my mother loved to cook, and there were lots of cousins for us to play with.

While family fish fries once meant bass or bream from a river or pond, the meaning of “fish fry” eventually changed to catfish that were raised in ponds near town.

The kinfolks were enthused, and at the end of their visit, often stopped by the processing plant to pack coolers with fillets for the trip home.

Well, let’s see. No kinfolks are visiting, but August is National Catfish Month, and Labor Day is right around the corner…reasons enough!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Triple-Digit Dinner

What do you cook for dinner on the
twelfth day of triple-digit temperatures?

Twelve straight days of 100-degree or higher temps happened here last week, and I was not in the mood to heat up a kitchen that was already struggling to maintain a “cool” 80 degrees! Yes, despite central air conditioning, we were “lucky” to have an 80-degree reading inside while the heat outside registered 104! And that doesn’t include the heat index which was likely somewhere above 110!

It was too hot to fry, too hot to grill out and much too hot to boil. I didn’t even want to bake. So, I decided to throw together a bit of this and a little of that with what I had on hand. We ended up with a light, tasty meal that my family really enjoyed.

Here’s our Triple-Digit Dinner: Broiled Marinated Catfish Fillets, Coleslaw with Dressing, Honeydew with Blueberries, Black-eyed Peas, and Wheat Rolls.

Prepare your favorite coleslaw recipe a few hours ahead of time, then pop into the frig to just chill out!

Slice the honeydew melon (pre-chilled) into cubes, then sprinkle liberally with blueberries. (I thawed some that we picked over at my father-in-law’s house.) Add a little sugar if you desire a sweeter taste. Mix and refrigerate.

I’m assuming you have leftover black-eyed peas, because like I said, I was NOT in the mood to boil anything! Just zap the leftover peas in the microwave.

For bread, get some bakery wheat rolls, and take them straight from the sack. No warming necessary.

And here’s the catfish…

Toasted Sesame Catfish Fillets

4 catfish fillets (3 ounce to 5 ounce), fresh or frozen

Toasted Sesame dressing

Lemon-herb seasoning

Salt and pepper

Thaw fillets if frozen. Rinse in cool water and pat dry with a paper towel or drain well.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then coat with a toasted sesame dressing. For the best flavor, let marinate a few hours in the refrigerator. Sprinkle fillets with lemon-herb seasoning.

Place fillets on a pan and broil several minutes until tender and flaky.

Note: These fillets taste great with the marinade alone. But since we like a lot of lemon on our fish, and I was out of lemons and bottled lemon juice, I tried the lemon-herb seasoning. That touch of lemon really added extra zest.

This week, we are back to triple-digit temperatures! Hmmmm…what’s for dinner tonight?
I’ll let you know!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Where Eagles Fly

I first knew Jean in high school as my best friend’s big sister. Just like her little sister, she could do anything.

She still can.

Years ago, I marveled at how she cut out some paisley-print fabric and stitched up a tent dress one Saturday, finished and hemmed just in time for her date that night.

The other day, I marveled at pictures she took on a recent photography safari to Africa and hundreds she has taken on the Newbern catfish farm that she and her husband, Byron, own.

A retired biology teacher, Jean has put the nature she loves into pictures that she prints and frames herself or makes into note cards, a business known as Nana’s Nature Photos. Some have been published in Country Magazine, and some are sold in gift shops and galleries throughout the Black Belt and as far south as Orange Beach. I would say her prints rival those of Abraham Lincoln over at the Brookville, Ohio, Daily Photo Blog.

Among my farm favorites is one she took of an eagle, wings widespread, tiptoeing to take flight right there by a fish pond! She has a treasure trove of macros — viceroy butterflies, frogs in a pond, hummingbirds in flight and flowers galore.

Using a tripod to stabilize her camera, “Nana” may spend the day on her front porch, accompanied by two Labrador retrievers and her telephoto lenses, shooting maybe 200 pictures “to get six really good ones.”

With her science background, she looks beyond the crispy clear photograph. “I love the mechanics of all these animals,” she told me, and she’s talking not just about the fauna out the front door but about the African species she “shot.” That would include everything from flamingoes to elephants and leopards to giraffes.

She’s living a biologist’s dream…on a farm…close to nature…sharing her knack for capturing creation with her grandchildren, her community and folks who appreciate pictures that just can’t be described with words.

Foodie Blogroll

I just joined a community of foodies, the Foodie Blogroll!
Check it out on my sidebar. There are links to blogs about all kinds of delicious cuisine, posted by people who either cook food, just talk about food, or in most cases, both cook food and talk about it. A lot of 'em also take fantastic photos of the food they cook.
I am inspired to try some dishes that I have never had before!

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Few Good Catfish Recipes

Hi y'all.
I just surfed over to the Yahoo Homepage and noticed its food feature. Pecan-crusted catfish from Martha Stewart is on the Yahoo Foods suggested menu for Thursday. You mix crushed pecans with cornmeal, then dredge your fillets in the mixture. Now I know another way to use those pecans I've got in the freezer!

Some others are Sauteed Catfish with Mustard Sauce and Catfish and Potatoes with Salsa Verde from Food & Wine.The latter recipe calls for anchovy paste. I've never tried that ingredient, but the new potatoes sound good! Another one is Jerk Catfish.

Hmmmm...I believe that might have a Caribbean flavor.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Somewhere Down Rosemary Road...

Chances are the second and third generations of Kyser Farms are tending catfish right now!

Following in his father’s footsteps, Bill Kyser heads the family-owned business, and it’s a round-the-clock lifestyle. A typical day might bring Bill home around 9:30 p.m. to eat supper after a grueling day digging trenches. Water must be diverted during this summer’s extreme drought. Youngest son Ashley will be up at 2:30 a.m. to check ponds, and oldest son Townsend will be out by 4:30 to help harvest fish.

Meanwhile, Bill’s wife, Beverly, will care for their 10-month-old granddaughter (the fourth generation) in the morning. The previous day, she bush-hogged bone-dry grass in preparation for the possible arrival of a congressman who wanted to tour the catfish industry.

She is the same woman who willingly left big, modernized Birmingham more than three decades ago to marry a fish farmer, only to discover they had no phone line for their first house!

“I thought, oh my goodness, where have I moved?” she laughs now. The area was just too rural for the phone company to extend a private line any time soon. But she adjusted, and Beverly says the farm isn’t just about their own livelihood or the satisfaction that came from raising their family here. “Bill is one of the most unselfish people I know and tries to do what is right for everyone.”

That's why the Kysers aren't just in the community but are part of the community, both farm-wise and town-wise. These quintessential Southerners use their gift of hospitality to open their home and hearts to neighbors, congressmen and roaming busybodies like me!

PHOTO: The Kysers together

Helen asked about the term "bush-hogged." The word is taken from Bush Hog, a company that invented a mower for pastures. So, if I go "bush-hog" the back 40, I'm gonna go mow with a big cutter behind a tractor!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Ode to Mac's Fish Camp

Woe is us

and all the other devoted patrons of Mac’s Fish Camp.

On a recent Saturday night, my family pampered our palates with this river restaurant’s southern-fried cuisine, not knowing it was our last Mac’s meal.

Then, here I was Monday morning…writing a post about local catfish restaurants when Mr. G (my husband) called from work with the news.

Our favorite all-you-can-eat catfish place was gone! It burned just hours after we left. So what kind of jinxes are we? Or for that matter—a couple of neighbors, friends from across the river and the probate judge— who were also there that evening?

Mac’s Fish Camp was a local landmark. It had owners who greeted you, patrons who welcomed you and a delightfully laid-back décor that could never be achieved by a professional designer.

Take a concrete-block building. Add some Plain-Jane lunchroom chairs, red-and-white checked tablecloths, and a bunch of hunting and fishing mounts. Place the menus, condiments and roll of paper towels in Bon Secour oyster buckets. Install big windows for a view of the river, and embellish with trees draped in Spanish moss. That was the blueprint for the most popular fish camp on our side of the Alabama River.

As my oldest son lamented, “It’s the only place I’ve ever been that had an alligator gar hanging on the wall!”

In recent news articles, photos show the devastation, but most of the mounts appear to be hanging on— deer, wild turkey, owl, largemouth bass —to name a few.

As for clientele, the place had universal appeal.

Everybody fit in. It was pretty much a come-as-you-are spot, even if you trolled in off the river. It was the place where we introduced our children to eating out. The reverberation of a conversational crowd kept the Sound of Un-Silent Kids to background level!

Several years ago, it was the choice for my father-in-law’s birthday party, and it’s been the choice for Sunday School get-togethers and political fundraisers. I’m told that country music singer Hank Williams Jr. even ate there.

To further expound upon the Mac’s memories of my son, he said the pond-raised catfish “never tasted fishy,” and “the hush puppies were the best I’ve ever eaten anywhere.” A bowl of coleslaw came first, and “all-you-can-eat” specials were delivered with the fish, hush puppies and French fries all in an oblong pan. You just passed it around and kept your plate full.

Yesterday, I tuned the radio to Selma’s Dixie 100 and heard a Mac’s ad. But, instead of hearing an upbeat fish duet inviting me to come on down, they thanked their supporters and said they would either have to take a long vacation or early retirement.

So, hear my plea.

We feel as if we’ve lost a good friend!

Mac’s Fish Camp, won’t you please come back?

PHOTO: Last Meal at Mac's Fish Camp