Miss Martha Sarah Blair grew up to be my mother.
Among other things.
A proper Southern Belle, my mother and I clashed now and then while I was growing up in the progressive 70s. A classic generation gap was exacerbated by my tendency towards tomboyish, stubborn, and independent behavior. I eschewed lipstick, hated pantyhose and couldn't for the life of me manage to stand up straight. It didn't help that Miss Martha Sarah Blair was - and is - a stunning beauty. My chunky waist and waffle-stomper feet made me feel like a lumberjack next to her perfect hourglass figure and dainty hands and feet. For a sensitive teenage girl, its hard to take a mother who outshines you like a supernova. (Yes yes, I understand it all boils down to self-confidence, but that's a story for another day.) For all our head-butting, I did manage to turn out decently, and Miss Martha survived the experience intact as well.
In between mother-daughter skirmishes, I relished time spent with Miss Martha. She is almost entirely responsible for the person I am today. She taught me about gardening, plants, and how to keep an efficient and pleasant home. She almost taught me how to sew, which unfortunately I was terrible at, until I got older. Principally however, she taught me about food and the Universe. She didn't call it "the Universe", but it was the Universe nonetheless. She showed me how to look at things with a deeper vision. How to see an ordinary oak tree on countless different levels, or a shoreline in ways most wouldn't even consider. She exclaimed over the shape of clouds and the feel of the wind. She would cradle a blossom and point out its many colors, textures and scents- sharing with me what she saw. She took me to art museums and gave me the time and freedom to wander; always available to listen to my thoughts and observations. Over the years I learned to look at the world in Miss Martha's way. It became automatic; the world around me wasn't just a humdrum get-through-it exercise, it was a daily trip down the flower path of life- full of color, joy and vibrancy. Of course I don't see every day through Pollyanna's rosy glasses. But in general, I see the world around me with clarity and appreciation.
Unlike many mothers, Miss Martha didn't teach me to cook. She taught me about food. I watched what she did in the kitchen, the kind of meals she served, and how she shopped for groceries. If I was curious, I asked questions. Most of the time, I stalked her and tucked away the knowledge for future use. One of my favorite childhood meals was cornbread and lima beans, with LOTS of butter and salt. (During a time in American food history when margarine was being promoted as a healthier alternative to butter, my mother knew better. Now and then she would buy margarine, also known as oleo, but she didn't like the texture or the flavor, and soon abandoned the idea- thankfully.)
Another meal similar to cornbread that she would make on special occasions was spoon bread. I remember spoon bread being on the table for Christmas and Easter, along with delicious spiral-cut ham and a host of other goodies. Today's recipe is an authentic, Southern American spoon bread. A note on the bottom of the cards attributes the source as Mrs. Russell Martin- Altavista Journal. (That would be Altavista, Virginia, don't you know).
The Rediscovered Recipe Box #6- Spoon Bread
2 cups water
1 cup corn meal
1 cup milk
1 tabelsp. margarine (as copied. Please use butter)
1 tsp salt
Mix water and meal. Bring to boiling. Point then cook five mins. add milk, shortening salt and eggs well beaten. Mix thoroughly and bake in greased baking dish 40 minutes at 400. (Not sure what "point then cook" means. I would boil the water and meal, add the milk, then the beaten eggs, salt and butter, then bake as directed.)
Spoon bread is heaven. Really. Make it and see. The outer edges are firm with crispy bits, and the inside is soft and gooey. You literally spoon it onto your plate. You can also add bits of bacon or ham, cheese, or vegetables. Its wonderful on its own, but is a terrific vehicle for additional goodies to make it a whole meal. Hope you enjoy this bit of my childhood from the real, authentic American South.