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.