The Big Food Manual and Survivalist Flourishing Guide
Introduction (as of early September 2009)
“If, in the dusk of the twilight,
Dim be the region afar,
Will not the deepening darkness
Brighten a glimmering star?
Then, when the night is upon us,
Why should the heart sink away?
When the dark midnight is over
Watch for the breaking of day.”
--“Whispering Hope,” by Septimus Winner (1868)
For more than two decades I’ve collected and cooked out of old cookbooks. Many have spiral or other types of non-glued binders indicative of local publications. Most are compilations of recipes by local cooks in southern, southwestern, and western parts of the United States of America. This is real people’s food—fresh, simply prepared, and delicious. It is the same food that Americans were eating a half-century and longer ago, updated with some spices and techniques that more recent immigrants brought over with them.
American family cooking is a food heritage that needs and deserves to be preserved. It is one of the few features remaining in current American life and culture that so needs and deserves. The Big Food Manual and Survivalist Guide is deliberatively and self-consciously ‘retro’. Yet I’ve served this food to groups, both large and small, of very sophisticated eaters. I’ve received few complaints, and a lot of “My grandmother used to make this!”-type comments. Related case in point: I was once in the produce section of a Cincinnati Kroger supermarket picking through a mess of collards to make the “Old Southern Sisters” recipe in the Veggies section. A young black couple came up to me; the guy asked me how I was going to cook those greens. I proceeded to tell them the recipe, to which he remarked that his grandmother had cooked collards for family gatherings when he was a child, and that he wished that he knew how to cook them like she did. (Having just recently moved to Cincinnati from eastern North Carolina before this event took place, I was taken aback. Black people asking a white guy how to cook collards? That was something that, shall we say . . . didn’t happen, where I had just moved from.)
These recipes emphasize fresh, non-processed ingredients. ‘Homemade’ is emphasized everywhere, especially in the Basics section. This is the kind of food that kept Americans alive and thriving well into their 80s, long before governmental and scientific nannies began intervening into our lives and choices “for our own good.” Butter is called for throughout, not (synthetic) margarine. The canned goods and prepared products called for are for items that various American food companies have been producing for fifty years or more. Creole seasoning and Tabasco are called for to season many recipes. Chili sauce replaces catsup—homemade if you want, and it beats the heck out of the bottled stuff in the condiments section of your grocery store. (Although there are some outstanding homemade catsup recipes in here, too.) Ro*tel tomatoes and green peppers replace canned tomatoes in a lot of recipes to give dishes a spicy kick-start. And yes, Accent—monosodium glutamate—is called for in some. Don’t fear it.
Three updates ago I changed the title of this collection. While I still refer to it colloquially as Big Food, its full name is now The Big Food Manual and Survivalist Flourishing Guide. The attitude that prompted this name change isn’t new. Over the three years that I’ve been compiling this Manual, Marica and I have moved increasingly “off the grid.” We’ve begun making all our own baked goods, from breads to pie crusts. We’ve begun pickling, canning, and making our own condiments from scratch, right out of Marica’s gardens (the “Northside Guerilla Farmer,” when we lived in Cincinnati). The key point is: just use as much homemade stuff as you’re comfortable cooking and preparing. The Big Food attitude is that recipes are just suggestions, anyway.
Cooking out of old cookbooks filled with recipes by everyday cooks often requires interpretation. Some excellent local cooks aren’t the most communicative of souls, at least in written language. In many cases, I’ve made recipes more explicit; but in others, I’ve kept them deliberately vague to give you a chance to add your own touches. You’ll also see that there is a lot of room in many recipes for individual choices. This is not a collection of recipes for beginning cooks! But with basic cooking skills, utensils found in every well-stocked kitchen, patience, a lot of spices added to your spice collection, and an experimental attitude, you’ll find something here for any occasion—from everyday meals to the most hoidy-toidy of gatherings.
I’ve cooked Big Food for meals ranging from two to one hundred eaters. These recipes are easily divided, or doubled, tripled, whatever. Just wait until some of your bicoastal restaurant-hopping friends sink their teeth into Big Food. If they’ve got even a fraction of normalcy left in their bodies, they’ll eat this food like you’ve never seen them eat.
This collection contains recipes for, among other things,
- appetizers, dips, salsas, salads, and salad dressings for any occasion—no need to buy preservative-laden bottles of salad dressings ever again;
- homemade Basics—mayonnaise, mustards, chili sauces, ketchups, relishes, stocks, and sauces
- a huge canning and freezing section for preserving everything from fruits, veggies, meats, pickles, jams, and jellies;
- using cooking bags for extra tenderness in meats and veggies;
- some of the best old-timey desserts you’ll find anywhere—at current count, more than 1700 recipes and variations;
- dressings and stuffings that can also serve as full meals;
- some of the best grilled and smoked meats and sauces, all tested personally;
- award-winning chilies and gumbos;
- alcoholic beverages, including the basic recipe for the homemade wines we produced for more than two years at The Bunker Winery, and will start again soon at Farther Along Winery in northeastern Mississippi;
- broiler and oven meals, prepared all at once and cooked together;
- Tex-Czech and Tex-Central European foods, handed down from Gran, Tait, and other “old timers” from the Dallas SPJST;
- Tex-Mex dishes, including a number of home-made tamales
- Creole and Cajun dishes, peppered throughout the Manual (those French-looking names are Creole/Cajun, not Parisian!)
- Some of the tastiest southern-style veggie dishes on the planet
- An entire section on using your slow cooker, and not just for soups and stews.
Enjoy them all!
Recent additions to Big Food have expanded greatly the Canning and Freezing section. As mentioned above in explaining Big Food’s name change, Marica’s and my political persuasions have grown increasingly “survivalist.” The expansion of this section reflects our own emphasis on self-preservation during the “deepening darkness” we see for America’s near future, as well as our attempt to preserve the few aspects of the culture we deem still worthy of preserving. But you don’t have to share our political views and outlook to take advantage of time-tested ways of preserving fresh-grown produce!
Since the last installment of this Introduction (back in early July 2009, after I crossed the 6500 recipe mark), I’ve continued in earnest adding recipes from the five-volume Favorite Recipes of America from 1968, which I found last summer at a flea market in Perry County, Appalachian Kentucky. I’ve been working through Volume V: Vegetables to take advantage of this summer’s bounty from Marica’s garden (our last at The Compound). Next up will be Volume IV: Casseroles, to take advantage of fall and winter cooking season. I estimate that the entire set will keep me busy for about another year. Then there’s the fifty or so remaining old cook books to work through, now on my shelves and in boxes . . .
Western Oktibbeha County, MS