Dear Moms (Dads can read along),
We have chosen to devote our newsletter this month to mothers around the world. It features an article published with permission from Taste of the South magazine, and was written by Betty Terry. It caught the attention of our daughter, Danae Dobson, who is proud of our southern heritage and its culinary traditions. I was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, and grew up enjoying wonderful cooking by the women in our family. My mother was one of the best, and she learned her craft from several generations of gifted southern cooks. She could scurry into a kitchen at the last minute and come out with the most scrumptious meals. Mom is in heaven now, but she passed along her expertise to my Shirley and Danae, who are handing those traditions on to the new generation of Dobsons. My mom also taught me to fry chicken. You should hope that some fine day I'll serve this dish to you, along with mashed potatoes, gravy, green peas, hush puppies and a marvelous salad. If you're really lucky, Danae will bake an apple pie for you, the kind you can't buy in the finest restaurants in the country. You won't lose weight on this diet, but it won't matter. Some things are just that good.
I think you'll appreciate the following piece, which is followed by Danae's comments about the ladies in our family. I loved them all.
The Story of Mama's Biscuit Cutter by Betty Terry
A generation of southern cooks is slowly fading into memory. They are the mothers and grandmothers who helped define traditional southern food for the Baby Boomers and every generation down to X, Y, and Z. From the bayous of Louisiana to the Appalachian Mountains, they shared one quality—if they didn't have what they needed to get dinner on the table, they knew how to improvise. Women like these—I count my mother, Nelle, and her sisters among them—grew up during the Great Depression. As my Aunt Myrtle once told me, "We didn't have much during the Depression, but we didn't know anyone who had more than we did." They knew how to wring a yardbird's neck for supper and whip up a quick peach cobbler while the chicken was frying. The ultimate symbol of mama's improvisation was her biscuit cutter. For much of my childhood, she used a tomato paste can to cut her biscuits every morning. She never used a recipe, and she didn't even bother with a rolling pin. She patted out the dough, folded it over, then patted out the dough and folded it over again. Then she cut the biscuits with her tomato paste can and slid them into a greased cake pan. Fifteen minutes later you'd have the lightest, flakiest biscuits you had ever tasted.
When not in use, mama's tomato paste can sat on the kitchen windowsill, ready for use for the next morning's biscuits. I saw it every night as my sister, Suzie, and I washed the supper dishes. I didn't appreciate it for what it was then, an example of my mother's ingenuity in the kitchen. Now that she's gone, I sure do. If your mother or grandmother is still with us, ask her about the old days, the days before designer kitchens with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. Ask her about the days when southern women cooked what they had with what they had. That's what made southern cooking so great.
© Hoffman Media. Used by permission. www.tasteofthesouthmagazine.com
Isn't the above article a fine tribute to the women from past generations who blessed our hearts and tummies with delicious food? I'm Danae Dobson, and what Ms. Terry shared about her family reminded me of my grandparents (mother's side) who grew up on farms, too. They ate well, despite what was going on economically. My Grandma Alma was the eldest girl in a family of 9 children. She told me that when she was 6 years of age, her mother would routinely tell her to, "Go get us a chicken." Off little Alma would go to the coop and either wring the bird's neck or chop off its head. She said sometimes the chickens would run around the yard with no heads, which is a chilling visual.
A former elderly pastor told me that his family also grew up on a farm, and they ate biscuits and molasses every morning during the Depression. He was thankful to have it! Those living on farms had the best situation during those hard times.
My two grandmothers and great aunts could cook and bake well. They didn't need recipes for their pie dough, hush puppies, biscuits, etc. They went by how the consistency "felt," and could easily whip up a culinary masterpiece for 12 on Sunday afternoons, and on all the familial holidays. I loved these women dearly, including my grandmother (dad's side) whose name also happened to be Myrtle. I watched these ladies carefully during my childhood years, and gradually began learning their secrets. But as Betty Terry described it, sadly a generation of southern cooks is rapidly fading into history. My mom and I wrote a book in an attempt to preserve some of those traditions and recipes. It is called Welcome to Our Table, and it includes my grandmother Myrtle's recipe and technique for frying chicken that my dad described. Here is a photo of him in an apron, frying up a storm!
And yes, his chicken is as good as he claims.
I grew up eating a variety of mouthwatering meals, such as southern pinto beans and ham over rice with hot hush puppies served with butter and honey. That meal in particular also originated with my grandmother Myrtle, and we continue to enjoy it every New Year's Day. It's become our tradition, and my mom has mastered how to boil down those pinto beans to a perfect consistency. We enjoy them along with a big green salad and warm apple pie à la mode, which is my contribution.
Fond memories go together with food. That makes the meals we share even more special.
Happy Mother's Day!
Well, this is me again, James Dobson, adding a final thought. There is nothing to compare with what a good mother contributes to a family. Each of them loves her children, grandchildren, and the men in their lives. God made every one of them special. My wife, Shirley, is such a woman. She invariably spoke highly of me to our children when they were young. Even when we were first married, she built me up every way she could. She told me she believed in me and was so proud to be on my team. She gave me the confidence to take on the challenges of a tough graduate university program and helped me succeed as a professor in a medical school. She loved me and prayed for me and sacrificed when we had very little of this world's luxuries. She made a good man of me and gave me a great desire to care for her and love her and protect her and embrace her.
And now, 57 years later, our bond still holds and we are thoroughly enjoying this stage of our lives. What a gift she is to me!
I wish every man had a wife like Shirley Dobson. She is my Proverbs 31 woman. Shirley's only shortcoming when compared with Solomon's mother is that she doesn't like to "rise when it is yet night" (Proverbs 31:15). Neither do I.
I honor her on this Mother's Day. She is the champion of our family.
Happy Mother's Day to every woman who has read this letter.
Sincerely in Christ,
P.S. I have some good news to share. One of Family Talk's most loyal friends is aware that our ministry has struggled financially since the beginning of 2018. This man called a few days ago to tell us that he is making a $200,000 matching grant to help carry us into the summer. Any gift we receive between now and May 31, up to the grant amount of $200,000, will be doubled. This is a love gift and an answer to prayer for our ministry. If you are able to make a contribution of any amount toward the matching grant, it will keep us on target to continue the development of the James Dobson Family Institute. Thank you for caring about Family Talk. God's blessings to you all.
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