A friend of mine returned my call one day while he was sitting in the Dallas airport, waiting for a flight out. He explained that he had just spent two days at the Texas State Fair, and it was, he said, quite a sight to behold.
“You wouldn’t believe it. You need to put it on your list of things to do,” he said. “You have never seen so much food in your life. And, get this: they fry everything.”
Hmm. Sounds like my kind of place.
“Like what?” I asked.
“They have deep fried battered bacon, fried butter, fried pizza, fried peanut butter. They even have fried Coke.”
“Fried Coke! How do you fry Coke?” I exclaimed.
“I don’t know. But they’re doing it somehow.”
Right then I decided that the Texas State Fair would be on my agenda come next year.
A couple of weeks later, when I saw a segment on CBS Sunday Morning about the fried foods of the fair, I was more resolute not to miss the fair next time around. The magazine segment told of deep fried pecan pie and cookie dough. It explained that it was there in Texas in 1949 that the deep fried corn dog was invented. Texans, it seems, understand the deliciousness of food drenched in oil and fried.
Then, suddenly, with complete understanding, I missed Mama. Nothing speaks of my Mama’s loving more than the smell of hot oil crackling and popping in the kitchen, creating a sticky coating that still clings stubbornly to her kitchen cabinets. Crisco oil lost one of its most devoted friends when Mama slid her frying pan off the stove for the last time and left this Earth a short time later. She fried everything except for Coke, and that’s only because she never thought of it.
Fried green beans, fried chicken, fried cornbread, fried okra, fried green tomatoes, fried squash and fried sausage. She even figured out a way to fry grits, using butter rather than oil. (For the record, it is delicious and an innovative way to use leftover grits.) Now, while she paid a good bit of never mind to watching her cholesterol, she could be careful such as when she fried biscuits.
“Now, when I make biscuit dough to fry, do I work Crisco into the flour and make it just like making regular biscuit dough?” I asked once.
“No.” Her voice was firm, adamant. “You don’t put Crisco in the dough.” Now, this was probably the one and only time that Mama was convinced that Crisco should not be used in any available food.
“You’re frying it in oil so you don’t need shortening in the dough, too. That’s too much.”
Let the record show that Mama had her restraints.
She cooked with so much oil on such a regular basis that when Dixie Dew stayed with her for a couple of days or longer, she came home smelling like Crisco oil.
“Straight to a bath for you,” I’d proclaim. “You don’t smell pretty.” Trust me, a deep fried-smelling dachshund is not appetizing.
Mama grew up in the mountains where the lard of home-slaughtered hogs was plentiful and was the one thing they could count on to add flavor to their food. A dollop of lard in an old cast iron skillet could turn the blandest food into delectable. They used lard to season polk salad leaves, turnip or collard greens in a boiling water when a ham hock wasn’t available.
I join most folks in diligently watching my intake of fat, especially saturated fat. But it’s the oddest thing. This woman, who lived on a deep fried diet, died of an aneurysm, not a heart attack, just a few months short of her 89th birthday.
Ronda Rich is a best-selling author.