June Black has a slew of cookbooks and recipes she’s amassed through her 82 years on earth, but she hardly ever uses any of them. Call her old-fashioned, but June sees no sense in wasting time and money trying out some new recipe that might not even be fit to eat when she’s got all those time-tested classics.
“I mainly stick to the old recipes – the stuff my mother and grandmother made, the stuff we ate back when we all had to work so hard on the farm,” June says.
And, she could add, the “stuff” you eat a lot of when you’re scraping to get by, when “waste not, want not” is an axiom and not just a cliche.
“When you live through times like the Depression and rationing, you learn to appreciate every little thing you have,” June says from her home a few miles northeast of Albertville. “You learn how important it is to not be throwing out a bite.”
Hence, her penchant for “stuff” like Biscuit Pudding, a down-home dessert her Indian grandmother taught her to make with leftover breakfast biscuits (ideally, those big cat-head biscuits made with buttermilk and pure lard, of course); and Pinto Bean Pie, one of June’s mighty tasty ways to use every last bean in the pot.
June has put many a big meal on the table in her life. Though she and Bill, her husband of 55 years, had no children, Bill did have nine siblings, most all of whom lived and farmed on neighboring land. And, June was often the one in charge of feeding the whole crew.
Bill died nine years ago, and, since it’s now mostly just her and her faithful beagle, Mitzi, June has cut way back on cooking. (She hasn’t quit, mind you; just yesterday morning, she had a pot of collards cooking for my lunch and a crockpot of neckbones cooking for Mitzi.) June plants a good-sized garden every spring that keeps her busy canning and freezing all summer and fed all year. For June, a plateful of pintos and homegrown vegetables, garnished with a big chunk of cornbread, is dining at its best.
“I know I’m made fun of for my old-time cooking, but I’ll tell you one thing,” June says. “There’s a lot of folks come out here to eat, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one of them turn of my cooking down.”
Here’s to down-home cooking.