Monday, January 15, 2007

Nana Brings Soul Food

My grandmother, Jessie Beatrice Bowie (1909-1973), was born in San Antonio, Texas, but was raised primarily in the rural areas of Aransas and Nueces Counties along the Gulf Coast. She spent most of her life as a domestic servant for rich people in large cities. But by the late 1950's, when I got to know her, "Nana" seemed to be fairly well-off. She travelled on the first scheduled jet flight between New York's Idlewild Airport (now JFK International Airport) and Frankfurt, Germany, and returned aboard the SS United States. She bought a house in the hills outside Pasadena, California.

I'll never forget one particular time that Nana came to visit us when we lived in Albuquerque. (We lived in what I call the "ultimate gated community"--a semi-secret atomic weapons research base nestled against the Sandia Mountains southeast of the city. The residential areas of the installation had the loops and cul-de-sacs typical of suburbia).

I believe it was 1962. The reason this particular visit stood out was because it was the first time Nana prepared a typical Southern meal for us, including "chitterlings." This was to be an experience for me and my siblings, accustomed as we were to our mother's Midwestern "comfort" recipes and our new-found taste for Mexican cuisine.

My mother seemed less than thrilled about turning her kitchen over to such an exotic adventure. Soon, it became clear to me why. The smell of "chitlins" cooking (having been thoroughly cleaned) is unforgettable . . . 'nuff said! We (my sister and brothers and I) hoped not to have explain it to our neighbors, who mostly weren't from the South.

The meal was quite good, actually; the main dish being an acquired taste made easier with a little hot sauce.

Nana learned Southern cooking from her mother, Hattie Bryant (1888-1944) and her grandmother, Maria Martin (1861-1931). On the Gulf Coast, all of the women had lived and worked in proximity to German immigrants. The German farmers were enthusiastic hog raisers and had their own recipes for most of the parts of the animal.

We only had meals like that when Nana visited. Now that she's gone, "soul food" from the kitchen is nearly a lost art--certainly nobody in the family dares fix "chitlins."

Here's a popular contemporary recipe:

Adapted in part from Yahoo Answers

Chitlins and Maw


2 lb pork maw
2 tb salt
2 ts crushed red pepper flakes
4 stalks celery -- finely chopped
4 sm onions -- finely chopped
4 sm green bell peppers -- cored, seeded and finely chopped
5 lb precooked chitlins


1. Wash the pork maw thoroughly in several changes of cold water. Drain thoroughly and place in a large pot with enough cold water to cover by 2 inches. Add the salt, red pepper, and half of the celery, onions, and green peppers. Heat to boiling, reduce to simmering, and cook, covered, until tender. This could take anywhere from 1 1/2 to 3 hours, depending on the maw.
2. Meanwhile, wash the chitlins carefully in several changes of cold water. Drain thoroughly. Refrigerate until needed.
3. Drain the cooked maw and reserve the cooking liquid. Place the chitlins in a large pot and add enough of the maw cooking liquid to cover by 2 inches. Add the remaining celery, onions, and green peppers. Heat to boiling, reduce to simmering, and cook, covered, until tender, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, when the pork maw is cool enough to handle, cut it into 1-inch pieces.
5. When the chitlins are tender, stir in the maw pieces and simmer together a few minutes. Check the seasoning and serve hot.

And now, a food safety tip from the Cobb County, Georgia, Extension Service of the University of Georgia and Fort Valley State University:

Work with chitlins in one small area of the kitchen. Use only chitterlings that are pre-cooked or pre-boil chitterlings for 5 minutes before cleaning. This boiling process will kill the bacteria so it will not spread throughout the kitchen. While chitterlings are boiling, the Department of Human Resources recommends cleaning the kitchen thoroughly with scouring powder.

This cleaning process would need to include sinks, pans, counters and any utensils that have come in contact with the chitlins or juice. After cleaning and rinsing thoroughly to remove all traces of scouring powder, a chlorine bleach solution of 1 tablespoon per gallon of warm water could be used as an extra measure of protection. Apply this solution to surfaces and allow it to air-dry. Once the chitterlings have been "pre-boiled" they should be cleaned as usual. Cook the chitlins thoroughly before they are eaten.

Don’t forget to thoroughly clean hands.

1 comment:

Miriam said...

I enjoyed reading this, Craig, and also browsing the SS United States site.