Momma was in the hospital having something or another removed. Before leaving, she handed me her Kitchen Boss apron and instructed, “Please don’t burn the house down.”
To a 9-year old budding gourmet, the doors of paradise had swung open because not only was I the “Kitchen Boss” for three whole days, nary one of my siblings could yell in my kitchen, “You’re not the boss of me!”
Dreams of cooking up exciting dishes quickly came to naught because breakfast was limited to cereal and juice; and, lunch wasn’t involved because we ate in the school cafeteria.
Additionally, church folks brought a slew of dishes for the evening meals so all I really got to do was clean, clean, and clean. I felt ever so slighted.
The morning after Momma arrived home, I was determined to wear the Kitchen Boss apron at least once; hence, I rose before dawn to cook her favorite breakfast.
In no time flat, I had the table set, coffee ready, orange juice mixed, cantaloupe cut and biscuits in the oven. With the ham steaks fried up and piled on a platter beside a stack of fried eggs, I began the red-eye gravy.
Since measurements were never important to Momma, I wasn’t going to rely on exact measurements either.
To the crusted pan, I added two or three globs of Crisco. After it melted, I scraped up the rendered ham drippings and then added a bunch of flour. After a nice mix, I added cold milk. Quite rapidly, culinary disaster hit.
The too-hot skillet quickly gave birth to dumpling-size lumps that expanded into a bumbling, choppy ocean of white glue. Just about the time slow tears cascaded down my cheeks, Momma enter her kitchen to save the day.
Since Red-Eye Gravy isn’t made with flour or shortening, Momma didn’t have to use any of my roux; but, she did.
By transferring a small portion of the white glue to another skillet, she created a smooth sauce to which she added chopped ham, coffee, and lots of salt and pepper.
That lesson was only one among many of Momma’s teachings on how to “make lemonade out of a lemon” without defeatist emotions.
Concerning the following Southern classic, please note that a good ham steak does not render much fat — it’s the meat drippings that are taste essentials while the coffee creates the desired color.
Fry up the ham steak and remove to warm platter.
Add 1 cup of brewed coffee to skillet. Bring to a boil and stir until slightly red. Reduce heat.
Add 1/2 cup milk or cream. Simmer until slightly thickened (about 10 minutes).
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Leba also writes the “Upon Reflection” column that runs bi-monthly in the Sunday edition of the Banner. Leba.firstname.lastname@example.org