Category Archives: family recipes

The Melon-Eye

When I was a kid, my parents would often take my older sisters, brother, and I back to their small hometown in California’s Central Valley. Think cotton fields, dust, unbelievable heat, drive-in movie theaters, strawberry soda, and the smell of alfalfa everywhere. One of my uncles, whom I’ll call Floyd Owens, was a real character. Think bolo tie, cowboy boots and hat, thin lips, Texas accent, and a major leg-puller of small, gullible children. He used to call me “Melon-eye”, which now sounds to me like an exotic Hawaiian cocktail, but at the time was one of those mildly annoying things about Uncle Floyd (when you’re twelve, “Melon-eye” just doesn’t sound cool somehow).

As I mentioned in my last post, my market had a sale on galia melons. I got to thinking about aguas frescas and how much I love them. Then the Craving started, and I knew it would have to be satisfied. Hence, I bring you, The Melon-Eye. Improvise as you wish. Methinks it cries out for vodka, but you probably have better ideas (which you naturally should let me know about).

The Melon-Eye

serves 2

  1. Select a galia melon. I typically push in the bottom gently with my thumb and smell it. If it smells like melon and my thumb can push in just a bit, it’s ripe.
  2. Cut up the melon, discarding the seeds and peel.
  3. Place the melon pieces into a blender or food processor, pulsing until blended.
  4. Strain through a colander or sieve.
  5. Add agave syrup to taste. I use 1-2 T per glass.
  6. Add ice and serve.

Like I said, this just screams cocktail! and next time I make it, I’ll probably add some vodka and maybe a sugar or salted rim. I mean, it is summer after all, and one must make the most of it.

The Melon Eye

The Melon-Eye


Filed under Cocktails, Cooking, family recipes, food, Food allergies, Glorious Food, gluten-free, Gluten-free vegan, Recipes

Okie Beans

I’ve been meaning to write this post since Christmas, when I finally got my dad to show me start to finish how to make beans. My parents are from a small town near Bakersfield, California, a place I tell my friends is just like Arkansas or Texas, although it is rapidly changing, like many other places. When I was growing up in the 70s, this town was a weird paradise for me, filled with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and twenty-three million cousins (approximate figure). We would drive out there a lot from our sprawling Bay Area suburb. Then my parents would drive my older brother, sisters, and I around their hometown in our big, old 1967 diesel Mercedes to all their old haunts: the car hop, the high school, so-and-so’s brother’s place, various churches, cemeteries, the lake in the dusty, gold hills, and the restaurant downtown where you sat in the cellar and ordered turkey nuts, a local specialty. This place and my memories of my relatives and good times there continues to be a place of dreams for me, a place where I am young and well loved, and my granny is still alive.

And so it is with beans.

I grew up on beans. It is the meal I can say without hesitation is the meal we ate the most. My dad often made them in a pressure cooker whose hiss and sputter marked time while my brother and I vegged out on Hogan’s Heroes and Gilligan’s Island reruns in front of the television after school (my dad worked an early shift, so he was the main cook in our house). An hour or two later and we’d be sitting down to beans, cornbread, and milk. Mmm-hmmm!

Here is my dad’s recipe without the pressure cooker. I followed him around the kitchen taking pictures while he made this. Weirdly, we only had pink beans, so you will notice that the beans in the photos aren’t pinto, but you yourself should use pinto beans if you want the full experience. This certainly isn’t the last word in how to make Okie beans, but this is exactly how my dad makes them, and believe me, he’s the real deal.

Okie Beans

2 c pinto beans

1 red onion

1 T oil

1 hamhock

8 c water

Salt and pepper to taste

Serves a large family

  1. Sort through the dried beans and remove pebbles. Rinse the beans in water in a colander. Put the beans in a bowl and cover with water, one inch above the beans. Soak overnight.
  2. The next day, rinse the beans and set aside.

    Soaked beans

    Soaked beans

  3. Coarsely chop a red onion.

    Coarsely chopped red onion

    Coarsely chopped red onion

  4. Heat up the oil and then saute the onion until it’s soft.
  5. In the meantime, get your frozen hamhock out of the freezer and make cuts in the side of it all over.

    Cutting into the frozen hamhock

    Cutting into the frozen hamhock

  6. Place the hamhock into the microwave and defrost it. It’ll look something like this when it comes out.

    Defrosted hamhock with cuts

    Defrosted hamhock with cuts

  7. Pour 8 cups of water into the onion pot and place the hamhock and beans in there as well. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours. Adjust for salt and pepper.

    Beans cooking

    Beans cooking

That’s it. You serve this with cornbread. There’s a good recipe on the side of the Alber’s cornmeal box. To be traditional, one would butter one’s warm cornbread and then put the cornbread into one’s milk, but most normal people scream with terror when I tell them about this Okie custom. I do guarantee, however, that if you try it for yourself, you will be thanking me forever. If you can’t stomach that, cornbread is also good dumped into one’s beans.


Filed under Cooking, family recipes, food, Food allergies, Recipes

Reader Recipes, Family Recipes

My last post got me to thinking about sharing recipes. I love when people send me recipes. I even got one in the mail the other day from RCMB, which was very cool.

Making someone else’s recipe is like discussing a favorite novel. You’re like, “Remember at the end of Jane Eyre when…” And then, if you’re me, you realize that you can’t remember the end of Jane Eyre and your best friend has to fill in the details for you. Well, maybe it’s not quite like that. But sorta. It’s like a conversation. About food. Which is your favorite topic.

This reminds me that a few years ago my parents sent me the recipes of both of my grandmothers and many from my own mother. The recipes are mixed up here and there–some in a folder, some in a recipe box, etc.–due to someone’s bad catalogueing that I now find really annoying. I guess we never had a need to know whose was whose. Now I wish I knew if German Cake was Ruth’s and Mexican Corn Bread was Mildred’s. All of the handwriting is so curlicue from the 1950s that it’s hard to tell them apart.

My paternal grandmother, Ruth, whom I never met because she died when my father was very young, was apparently a great cook in the Southern tradition (she was from Alabama). She was known for desserts. I believe her recipes feature more fanciful, Southern-sounding names like “Flapper Pudding” and “Silver Cloud Cake”. Reading them makes me moist in the eyes because it’s like she’s talking to me, conveying some secret Jennings family lore through the food that she made for my dad, his siblings, and my granddad. My dad says that’s where I got my interest in food.

My maternal grandmother, Mildred, was more your pragmatic, gotta-put-something-on-the-table-that’s-edible kind of cook, though she had a reputation for a mean chicken and dumplings and I loved her French toast. She had a large chicken coop and made some of her income from that and selling pigs.

Because I don’t know whose recipe is whose, I have to guess based on other things I know about them. For example, Mildred’s family going way back was from Germany and they migrated through Virginia and Kentucky (I only just learned this in the past ten years when some of her sisters went on a genealogy bender), finally settling in the southern tip of Illinois, where Mildred grew up on a farm circa 1910-1930. So I believe that hers are the recipes more focused on cabbage and potatoes like “Kraut Salad” and “Scalloped Potatoes and Ham”.

Ruth’s family, as previously mentioned, was from Alabama. They migrated at some point to Texas, where she met my granddad, and she and he were very typical Dust Bowl Okies who migrated to California in the 30s. I believe her recipes are mostly desserts and some of my dad’s favorites, like tapioca pudding and a family jewel, Truman Cookies (I will definitely write the story of Truman Cookies some other time). The focus here is on cornbread, beans, and anything you can make with cornmeal and/or beans.

There are also some uniquely California creations, like “Walnut Raisin Pie” and “Walnut Roast”. Both women had landed squarely in California’s walnut country and I imagine they each set to work adapting recipes to match local availability.

Reading their recipes is intimate and educational. I know that my dad grew up on tapioca pudding, fudge, and Truman Cookies, in an era when people went through the trouble of making these things. I remember my mother once telling me that fudge was something they’d make on a Sunday for a family picnic, or some other special occasion, and each person would take a turn stirring the fudge because they didn’t have KitchenAids back then. These are the same desserts we ate growing up (with the exception of tapioca pudding), but still, it’s something special to have the actual recipe on a 3×5 card in a rusty old recipe box.

Here’s a recipe from one of my grandmothers. I have a feeling this came from a newspaper or someone else’s cookbook because the language is very precise and cookbook-ish and without spelling errors. But it’s written in clearly female handwriting on a brown, stained 3×5 card.

Pickled Peaches

3 c sugar

1 c white vinegar

1 c water

4 sticks cinnamon

2 T whole cloves

Select firm, well ripened peaches. Blanch and remove skins. Combine the sugar, vinegar, water, and spices and boil 10 mins. Add peaches and cook until tender. Pack in sterilized jars. Fill jars with boiling syrup (strained). Seal, label, and store in cool, dark place.


Filed under Cooking, family recipes, food, Food allergies, Glorious Food, Gluten-free vegan, Recipes

Okie Food, Home

Note: There is an interesting follow-up to this post on my About page in the Comments. I can’t figure out how to move those Comments to this post. If you want to comment about Okie food, please do it here. Thanks! -mj

Might as well get this part over with: I’m a California Okie. Some of you may not know what that means. I’m not even sure myself sometimes. But I do know that people from the San Joaquin Valley who are originally from Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and even Illinois, ala the Dust Bowl, have a distinct culture. That means we talk funny, eat funny, have funny religions, and used to dress funny. Most of my family still speaks with a strong accent. Growing up I’d tell my friends that venturing into the Valley was like going to the south. It’s still true.

My family is from Texas, which means they are actually “Texies” in the Dust Bowl parlance. However, most people who were migrants simply got called “Okie” no matter where they were from; we have always called ourselves Okies though no one is from Oklahoma. You can trust me on all this information because I wrote my dissertation about it.

Okie foods are things like biscuits and gravy, pinto beans and ham hocks, skillet cornbread, tortilla pie (that’s probably a distinctly Texas dish, and besides I think my dad just made it up), red hots, peanut patties, lemon pie, walnut pie (I think of this as a California Okie adaptation), chow chow, all manner of pickles, black-eyed peas (which of course we had on New Year’s Day), fried okra, squash pancakes, fried pork chops, fried chicken, fudge, and lard. Some of these are just plain southern dishes, but some of them are distinctly Okie. Of the aforementioned, my single favorite dish is beans and ham hocks with cornbread and milk.

What is cornbread and milk? Cornbread and milk is sent from the Lord, and it is when you plop your warm cornbread into a big glass of cold milk, accompanied by your bowl of beans. I have so many fond memories of this as a meal. One old friend still talks about her first introduction to this meal at my house, and her total surprise. Try it some time. You won’t be disappointed. It goes hand in hand with two other Jennings favorites, popcorn and milk, and rice and milk (with sugar, naturally). Yum! Yum!

In fact, I should start posting some of my grandmothers’ recipes. Though maybe I should save those for the Okie cookbook that I should someday write.

All this to say that when I was home visiting the folks, we had a lot of great food made by the head cook, my dad. Here is my dad’s favorite breakfast, biscuits and gravy with Jimmy Dean sausage. (I should note that my dad feels my mom is the superior gravy-maker.)

If you want to make these biscuits, I believe it’s just straight from the Bisquick box recipe. If you want to make them fancy and impress all your friends, toss in some cheddar and scallions.



Filed under Cooking, family recipes