I walked outside to get the papers Tuesday and there was an unmistakable nip in the air. I know we’ll have some more warm days, but fall is coming, y’all. Fall is coming.
When I was a kid, growing up in Porterdale, I always looked forward to that first little cool snap — the first day that a jacket felt good walking across the Yellow River Bridge on my way to school. Sometimes the first cold wave would come through during the day and I would get caught in my short sleeves and have a deliciously chilly trek home at the end of the school day.
No matter what the calendar revealed the date to be, there were certain foods that just tasted better with a chill in the air and a stiff breeze rustling through the oak leaves outside the house. My favorite was hash — with cornbread, of course.
When we had roast beef for Sunday dinner Mama would save the leftovers and make hash out of them, usually on a Tuesday. That hash never tasted so good as it did when autumn was making its initial appearance in the North Georgia Piedmont— especially with a liberal dousing of my daddy’s Tabasco sauce.
Well I told you that to tell you this. While I was basking in the cool crisp morning air this past Tuesday I realized it was my day to cook supper. (These days I cook supper only on days that end in “y.”) I didn’t have any leftover roast or carrots or potatoes, so I decided to poll my Facebook friends to see what they liked to eat on the first cool evening of the season. I received a surprisingly strong and varied response. A few are worth sharing.
Venison chili was mentioned more than once. Regular chili was also a popular choice. Allow me to make a couple of comments here. First of all, I don’t like venison and don’t keep it on hand, so that was not an option. I know. I know. Everybody tells me that if I don’t like venison it is either because, A: I am a squeamish eater or B: I just haven’t had venison cooked right.
Let me assure you that I am not a squeamish eater. I was raised eating squirrels and rabbits and souse meat and anything and everything else you can think of. I still, upon occasion, eat these things, along with moose and bear and elk and wild boar and frog legs and gator tail all the other delicacies of the wild that people serve at the many wild game dinners at which I am invited to speak. And I have had venison cooked every way imaginable by some of the best cooks in the American South — and that means the world. I just don’t like the way it tastes.
We had regular chili for supper Sunday night, so I moved along to other suggestions.
One person suggested lobster chowder. Are you surprised that I am Facebook friends with Yankees? I was fresh out of lobster, so I moved on.
The rest of the suggestions were pretty evenly divided among chili, vegetable soup and pot roast — with a few oyster stews thrown in for good measure.
Now oyster stew was a good suggestion. That is always a favorite at my house, although my kids, when they were younger, would drink the stew but would never eat the oysters. No problem here. More oysters for me. We always have oyster stew at our house on the day we decorate our Christmas tree. Of course that’s not the only time, so oyster stew was definitely in the running. It is October, after all, and October most definitely ends in r.
There was much to be said for vegetable soup, too — although we didn’t put up any fresh vegetables or tomatoes this year, so that option would require canned and frozen items. And if I went the soup route I could have crackling cornbread instead of those little oyster crackers we always have with our stew. I was definitely leaning toward vegetable soup.
But then a genius posted something on my page. Pinto beans and macaroni and cheese.
Yes! Pinto beans — one of the most underused dishes in my culinary repertoire! They can cook all day without getting overdone and create a delightful fallish aroma in the kitchen. When served with pepper sauce and slices of sweet Vidalia onions, along with a few spoonsful of chow chow, they are a meal unto themselves. Naturally I would make cornbread with which to soak up the pot liquor left behind. And since the lady suggested macaroni and cheese, well — who am I to argue?
The pintos had reached perfection by the time my lovely wife, Lisa, walked into the door at 7:30, after her long shift at the hospital, and I had just slid the cornbread from the black cast iron skillet. Meat? Who needed meat with pintos, cornbread and mac-n-cheese. It was better than snuff and not half as dusty.
While I was at it I made a big pot of vegetable soup, too. You never know when a cold rain might set in.