Revisiting popular 1930s European meals

Published 7:29 pm Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Recently, I have been enjoying meals prepared by my wife, which reflect meals that were popular back in the 1940s.

It began with a dish unique to village and rural residents of 1930-40 European countries.

You make a big bowl of rice and smother it with chili gravy. Pour fresh cooked turnips and its juice into another bowl and sprinkle small pieces of fried cornbread into that bowl.  Add a half Bartlett pear on a side dish and finish it off with a great glass of ice cold sweet tea. The sweet pear diminishes the “hot chili taste” which is now mixed into the fluffy rice. Small sips of the cold ice tea invites more bites into this main course.

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Another old fashion meal includes a pot of big lima beans, chipped cabbage slaw, rounds of onions, a big “cathead” biscuit and small slabs of crispy fried fat back salty pork meat. Again add a glass of cold sweet tea. This is, indeed, a very filling meal.

Back in those days some folks had breakfast for supper. Stacks of fresh pancakes covered in either homemade or maple syrup, trimmed with small slices of pan fried or hash brown potatoes, a thick slice of country ham and steaming cups of stimulating coffee made for a tantalizing meal on a cold, cold night.

Fried Salmon patties covered with pan fried potatoes made for another satisfying main course. A side dish of buttered carrots and green peas topped off with slices of homemade bread covered with a dash of honey and peanut butter was another filling meal. A glass of cold milk added richness to the blend of honey and peanut butter.

Many Europeans migrated to Alabama in the 1920s and 1930s. Several of these families settled in North Baldwin County near Perdido.

Some of their children became close friends of nine in the 1940s. I was always amazed how they prepared their meals using food from their cellars. Practically all these settlers had cellars under their homes. Many common foods  found in the cellars were  cabbage, irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnip roots, rutabagas, beets, onions, apples, pears,  salted pork meat and sealed cans of rice, meal and flour. We learned quite a bit from them regarding cooking, raising and maintaining vegetables, fruits and canning and preserving these food items.

Speaking of cooking I have always admired the creative style of Tommy Gerlach. His professional training and experience served as the basis for his unique and tempting meals.

I remember several years ago having a meal in his restaurant  one evening when a couple from Louisiana came in looking for food that was not familiar to me. No sooner had the couple explained what they wanted Tommy said” I know what you want just give me fifteen minutes and I’ll have it prepared exactly like you want it”. Sure enough he came back with a platter filled with the food that couple wanted.

On another occasion ten years ago my family took me and my wife out for my first meal following my heart bypass surgery. One of my sons told Tommy about my having to be careful what I eat. Knowing exactly what I should eat he went into kitchen and prepared me a delicious baked fish. He also prepared me a green salad with a non fat dressing. That meal was out of this world.

There are very few pure chefs like Tommy. His reputation of delicate cooking precedes him.

In some current news Mike Johnson, whose family includes some of the Wooten’s here, has really made a name for himself in the field of country music.

Mike, who is a cousin to Joe Pennington’s wife, is currently the musical director and steel guitarist for the RFDTV show “Country’s Family

Reunion”. That show can be seen several times a week on the RFDTV Network.

Joe told me Mike began his musical career playing at the age of 15 with his dad’s band. “As his steel guitar talent grew he was invited to play with a number of well known country artist” Joe said.

I researched him on the internet and learned that his musical expertise led him to song writing where he has written countless songs for well known artist.

Joe told me he grew up in the Montgomery area but returned here to visit family on special occasions.

You can pull him up on You Tube and watch and see him play with his band. He is regarded as one of the most accomplished steel guitarist in his field today. His Hawaiian renditions are simply out of this world. He was named The Academy of Country Music Steel Guitar Player Of The Year in 2006.

Strange that I mention Mike Johnson because in 1955 there was a crop duster, Ray Johnson, who moved here for a couple of years and who also played steel guitar. Ray Zwiffle, the local State Farm agent sponsored a fifteen minute radio show on WATM featuring Johnson and his steel guitar.

Next week we take a look atmore  people, places and events from years gone by.

“….yes…it always whispers to me…those days of long ago…”

Lowell McGill can be reached at l