Kidney stew, bucket of blood and glad to have it
Sometimes a writer intends to write one thing and their mind drifts to another time
Times were hard; the Depression had taken its toll. My grandfather Nelson had died leaving no man around to help provide even food. Mom and I could earn 35 cents per hundred pounds in the cotton fields. Between us, in the sorry cotton field, we seldom earned over that for a full day of picking in the hot August sun. Mom would earn a few coins washing and ironing clothes at night.
Grandma Availa took care of preparing us something to eat. Once a week, she would send me to the slaughter house early in the morning, arriving before the folks who could afford meat got there. We seldom had regular meat on our table, we couldn’t afford it. We were broker than today’s Ten Commandments. Grandma would wrap a few coins in a handkerchief-like white rag so I wouldn’t lose any of them. She gave me a flower sack to put my purchases in. She would tell me to bring the milk bucket and if Mr. Meaux was there he would give us a bucket of blood. I walked the rail to the slaughter house, a mile or so down the railroad track. It would have been much further going by road.
We got lots of iron in our diet. The blood was used to make blood pies, gravy and blood boudain, which is still made in Louisiana but can’t be transported because of the blood content. That is the only kind of boudian we had, the meat and rice kind came later. We also ate liver and all-falls, and then topped it off with Steen syrup, 100 percent iron, for dessert.
Fifteen cents nearly filled my sack with tripe, (cow stomach) which we ate often. It didn’t smell very good until it was washed and scraped. The honey cones were hard to clean but once you put it through several cleaning processes, it came out snow white. Today it is bought already cleaned. Mexicans eat it in a soup like dish called menudo. We fried it in strips, boiled it in highly seasoned vinegar water or ate it with dumplings.
For a big Sunday meal or on special occasions we had cow’s tongue. It was expensive, 40 cents each. For that price we could buy a variety of other stuff. Today, since the rich folks have discovered it, a tongue sells for $18 to $24. Grandma would remove the tongue’s skin and stuff it with garlic and spices like a roast. She cooked it in a big, iron pot. It made beautiful brown gravy that was served on a bed of rice. A real treat.
We ate lots of other things like pig’s feet, etouffee, chitlings and crawfish meals made with crawfish caught in the rice fields, long before other people discovered they were eatable.
In the winter we would hunt rabbits with a stick. Surprisingly we got quite a few in the cold months. I would hunt blackbirds with what today is called a sling-shot. The gun was easy to make, a tree limb with a fork in it, two strips from a bicycle inner tube, a shoe tongue, twine and a sack of rocks to shoot. Grandma made blackbird jambalaya and if I got a few robins to go along, she made bird gumbo. It was some good. Gumbo could be made from almost anything; turtle stew was good eating also.
My favorite was kidney stew. I’d pick up a beef kidney at the slaughterhouse and grandma would cut it up in bite size chunks. Kidney made the best stew you could wrap your lips around. The rich, thick gravy, with spices, had a distinct taste that has lasted in my mind for all these many years.
A few years ago, I mentioned to Johnny Montagne that it had been over 50 years since I had eaten kidney stew but in my memory I remembered what it tasted like and before I died I’d like to have a mess of it like Grandma used to make. Johnny said he was an expert at cooking kidney stew and for my birthday he would make me some. He was true to his word.
Grandma would be proud to put her name on Johnny’s kidney stew. He learned to make it from his mother Caroline, a fascinating lady who was blind. Johnny became a great cook from helping her. From his Grandma Bailey, who was full-blooded Spanish, he learned to cook tripe and cow’s tongue that he claims is unbeatable.
No one could fry chicken like Grandma but that was only for special occasions. Because a chicken went further if it was cooked into a fricassee, a lot of gravy, on rice. We ate a lot of rice, sometimes three times a day, with milk for breakfast, gravy for lunch and with syrup for supper time. That’s before the night meal was called dinner.
Ironically, I started out to write a Father’s Day column, but got to thinking about how we survived those hard times while Dad was living the good life; eating Ribeye and Porterhouse steak. I also thought where ever Clay is; maybe this message will reach him. I want him to know I have no hatred for the childhood I was forced to live. We did with what we had and were glad to have it. I wouldn‘t wish it on anyone but I wouldn‘t take anything for the love we had and the little food we shared. Maybe all that iron is what has sustained me into thoese late senior years. It‘s a great life thanks to those wonderful women who raised me and to your Dad “Happy Father‘s Day.