A California girl nicknamed Katy who’s father tramped about the west advising miners on safety grew up eating food that you would recognize as Mexican. Her husband brought Humboldt County, Scotts/Irish ideas about food to the house. The food she grew up with was weird to him. Roll the story forward to the 1960’s and she travels to Mississippi to help locals start an art coop. They teach her southern cooking. Mexico, SoCal, Humboldt County and Mississippi all speaking to her as she examined a house’s larder. Et voilà, fusion cuisine. Then she’d start.
Want to know “real” California cuisine? The real California cuisine starts in Depression era kitchens with mothers who had to make-do with what they could get from rationing coupons, their Victory gardens and barter. Gardens were a necessity. Defying local law and keeping a couple hens for eggs and occasionally meat was an equal necessity. Building barter friendships with neighbors and others around the area was a third leg of the triangle that supported these families. This is not a new way to stretch a low income. Farming and barter has been a vital survival (?thrival?) method for millennia. It became known when Alice Waters and others started putting recipes on their menus from their mothers and grandmothers who had fed a family in part by avoiding the a local grocery store.
Catherine Webb (Katy), is my father’s mother and my grandmother. She baked and was a stickler for recipes when there was a need. She also knew the familiar angst of 5pm approaching and hungry kids and a far too sparse larder. Like many mothers before her and since, she became adept at getting incredibly good food out of a kitchen that might seem barren to you and I. This method of cooking relies on solid technique developed over years of family meals and the artful use of leftovers.
I lived with her off & on for 7 years. One of her gifts to me was this method of using leftovers to put out a meal from a pantry that looks rather bare. The other was bread baking. Today I needed lunch and each ingredient below was not enough. Together, I have leftovers. I share the recipe below for those who panic when they are out of white truffles.
Mise en Place
- 1/2 lb. cooked black eyed peas.
- 1 white onion, diced
- 1 dill pickle, diced (1/4″ dice)
- 1 Beef hot dog, sliced into 1/4″ slices on the bias
- 4 oz. blood sausage if available or chorizo
- 1 c. lightly salted chicken broth
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Pinch of paprika
- Braise the onion with the chicken stock until golden brown.
- Add a pinch of paprika and optionally, a dash of hot sauce.
- With your fingers, begin breaking up the blood sausage into small pieces and add to the braising onions. Continue cooking the onions and sausage until almost done.
- Add the hot dogs and cook them until slightly browned.
- Add the diced pickles and cook until al dente
- Transfer the mixture in the saute pan to a medium pot and add the cooked beans.
- Simmer the beans & mixture until warm.
- Serve and eat.
It used to bother me that every time I asked her what the recipe was she’d say, “this & that.” I’d persist, wanting her to write it down. She never did. This is a way, a method of feeding a family. It relies on smart use of leftovers and staples kept in the pantry. It’s old. Your kin, the women in your family, have taught this to their daughters since forever. I am posting this recipe not so you can go nuts at Whole Foods and try to replicate what I cooked for lunch. Though, you could. No, it is here along with other posts about our Chicken Little friends to reassure you that with a little creativity you can make do and the blues are easier to enjoy.