Memories of the Legendary Mrs. Gladys M. Webster, My Beloved Grandma, and Her Wonderful Soul Food Recipes
My beloved grandmother, Mrs. Gladys M. Webster was born on July 24, 1928 to Mr. and Mrs. Melvina and Bill Smith, Sr. She was baptized at an early age at the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church under the Reverend I.J. Johnson in Holy Bluff, Mississippi. She moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1955 and joined True Faith Missionary Baptist Church under the leadership of C.L. Brookens, and later in 1959 she joined the church of my uncle, Reverend Bill Smith, Jr. at the Greater St. Paul M.B. Church. She married my grandfather, Mr. Tom F. Webster, on November 29, 1966.
It was a privilege to grow up in my grandmother’s household. She was a beautiful and wonderful grandmother to us all. She loved and befriended everyone she ran across. She would feed anyone that was hungry, even strangers. There are not many people in this world today who would treat a stranger with food and kindness and love as my Grandma Gladys did. Anything we asked for—my brothers, sisters, cousins and I—my grandma would try her best to give us.
When we were all growing up, my Grandma Gladys would fix us lots of soul food, especially for birthdays—foods like greens and corn bread, potato salad, chitlins and homemade ice cream. We didn’t have hot dogs and potato chips like most kids would have. No, we had full course dinners of delicious soul food. Grandma Gladys would bake us some homemade cakes to go with the homemade ice cream, and we all would just be stuffed from all of that good soul food my grandma cooked for us.
All our childhood friends would come over our house to play or to one of our birthday parties, because they knew that they were going to be eating some real good food, and have a really good time. All my aunties and uncles on both sides of my family loved it when one of our birthdays was coming up. They would tell all their friends about how Grandma Gladys would set up our birthday parties with lots of soul food like it was a party for a grown-up. And their friends wouldn’t believe it until they came to one of our birthday parties to see for themselves. The result was that we ended up with more grown-ups than kids at our birthday parties, all because of Grandma Gladys’s soul food cooking.
My Grandma Gladys taught me how to cook at an early age, when I was about eight or nine years old. One day I was helping her pick some mustard and turnip greens and after helping her pick the greens, she gave me two dollars and gave each of my cousins one dollar. So we all went to the grocery store on 74th and Halstead. My cousins went and bought some candy and a lot of other junk food, but I bought some mustard and turnip greens with my two dollars. When we all came back from the store, everyone was laughing at me because I went and bought some greens with my money. They could not believe with their eyes what I came back home with, which was twelve pounds of greens with my two bucks.
So I asked everybody, “What are y’all laughing at?”
“We are laughing at you, Kendrick,” they said, “because you went and bought greens and stuff with your money, and the rest of the kids went and bought candy and stuff with their money.”
My aunties and uncles and the rest of my family asked me if was I going to cook the greens myself. “Yes,” I said, “my grandma is going to show me how to cook them and they’re going to be real good and y’all can’t have none.”
So I asked my Grandma Gladys if could I have a hamhock and she said, “Here, baby, I’m going to show you how, but you are going to put all the seasoning and the rest of the stuff in the pot by yourself. Just be careful, okay?”
After I finished cooking the greens and hamhocks, everyone was shocked at how good the greens tasted. “Go and ask your aunties and uncles who is laughing now,” said my grandma. “You did real good baby, and now you can learn more on how to cook good and delicious food, period.”
Since that cooking lesson on how to cook good greens, I’ve been cooking a lot of good soul food dishes for the past twenty years, dishes that my beloved Grandma Gladys showed me how to cook. I’m so happy that I stayed in the kitchen with my Grandma Gladys because I probably wouldn’t know what I know today, except for the dishes I learned from my mom.
The last thing my beloved Grandma taught me how to cook was a very good dessert from Mississippi called butter roll. It’s made of flourdough biscuit, butter, sugar, milk and nutmeg. It is so good that I came up with a lot of different flavors for my butter rolls.
I just thank God that I was able to comprehend my grandma’s teaching instructions on her soul food recipes. She taught me how to do a lot of good things so that when I was a grown man on my own, I’d be able to take care of myself.
In 1992, my grandma became ill, and sometimes she couldn’t cook for herself so I was there to do the cooking for her whenever she wanted me to. In fact, as she got sicker, I was the only one she wanted to cook for her and care for her.
Although illness fell upon her, she continued to bring joy, love, laughter, peace and happiness into our lives and hearts and the lives of those who loved her. In her walk with Jesus Christ on this earth, Grandma Gladys met and befriended many, many people who will always love and remember her loving and caring ways of life and her delicious soul food cooking.
Just one warning: these recipes are designed to feed a houseful of people! You’ll need large pots and a large roasting pan. If you want smaller quantities, you’ll have to break them down. But once your friends and neighbors find out how good your soul food cooking is, you’ll find you have a houseful of people to feed!
GREENS AND HAM HOCKS
6 pounds mustard and turnip greens
4 smoked ham hocks
1 large red or yellow onion, diced
1 each red, yellow, and green bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons bacon grease
2 tablespoons white sugar
3 tablespoons seasoning salt or table salt
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
In a large pot, cook the hamhocks in water until they are just tender, about halfway cooked. While the hamhocks are cooking, pick the stems off the greens. Wash the greens in warm salt water to get all the dirt and grit from the earth off them, and continue to change the water and wash the greens until the water is clear.
When the hamhocks are the way you want them, add the greens. You can chop the greens if you want to, but that’s a big job. If you can’t get all the greens in the pot, put the lid over the pot and let the greens simmer down some so you can get the rest of them in the pot.
Then you add your bacon grease, sugar, diced onions and bell peppers, and your seasoning salt and garlic to your greens and hamhocks. Stir and toss the greens until all the seasoning and the rest of your ingredients are mixed well together, and then you taste the green juice to see if you need any more seasoning to your greens. If so, put whatever seasoning you think you are lacking in your greens and let them simmer and cook over a medium fire for about two hours or more until they are tender to perfection. Then you take the biggest bowl you have and put some of those good tender green leaves in the bowl, and get to work on them bad boys.
BAKED COON AND SWEET POTATOES
1 large racoon, skinned and gutted
vinegar for washing
salt for washing
2 tablespoons seasoning salt
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 onions, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 large sweet potatoes
3 tablespoons white sugar
Cut the feet off the coon, and then fill your sink or pail up with warm water. Add 1/2 cup vinegar and 2 tablespoons salt to the water. Then you take your coon and wash him up real good with the vinegar water until the coon is clean. Repeat, changing the vinegar and salt, and wash the coon until all the scum is off the coon and the water is clear.
Dry off the coon and set him in a large roasting pan (same kind of pan you roast a turkey in). Then you add your seasoning salt and rub it over your coon, then cut up your onions, garlic, celery and your bell peppers and put them over your coon. Cover with a lid and roast in a 350 degree oven until the coon is done and tender. After the coon is done, add your sweet potatoes to the coon. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into quarters and put them all around your coon, then sprinkle the sugar over the coon and sweet potatoes. Cover and put the coon back into the 350 degree oven and let it bake until the sweet potatoes are done, and the juices on the coon are thick and tasty. Let it sit for about five minutes after taking it out of the oven, then you can serve that rascal with your greens or whatever kind of side dish you like.
CHITLINS AND HOG MAWS
50 pounds chitlins
2 cups vinegar
30 pounds hog maws
1 large red onion, chopped
1 large white onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 large red pepper, chopped
1 large yellow pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 cup vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoon seasoning salt
1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
This recipe is for a crowd! First you need to get the chitlins real clean. Fill your sink up with warm water, then add 1 cup vinegar to the water so that the smell of the chitlins will die down some. Put your chit’lins in the vinegar water and pick all the mess and fat off the chitlins until they are all clean and white. After you have cleaned the chit’lins the first time, repeat the same process again to make sure they are really clean and white with no mess and fat on them.
Then you take your hog maws and clean all the fat off them, and repeat cleaning the hog maws just how you cleaned your chitlins, with warm water and 1 cup vinegar. After you have gotten the chitlins and hog maws clean, take your hog maws and cut them up into small bite-sized pieces. Put the chitlins and hog maw pieces in a big pot and fill the pot up with water until the water is covering the chitlins and hog maws.
Then you add your chopped vegetables, along with seasoning salt and stir everything up together until all is mixed real well. Then you put the lid on your pot and cook the chitlins and hog maws up over medium heat for about 3-4 hours until everything is nice and tender and tasty. After they are done and tasty to your perfection, you can serve those bad boys hot out of the pot with lots of hot sauce or mustard.
HOGS HEAD SOUSE MEAT
10 pounds beef neck bones
10 pounds pig feet 10 pounds pig ears
10 pounds pig snouts
10 pounds pigs tails
2 tablespoons table salt
4 large onions, diced
4 large green peppers, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 jalapeno peppers, finely diced (optional)
1 gallon apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
1/4 cup ground sage
1 tablespoon seasoning salt or table salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
First you take all your meat and wash it with warm water and 2 tablespoons table salt inside your sink or pail. And then you cook all your meat with some water in two big pots—because all your meat won’t fit in one pot so you’ll need two. You have to cook all your meat until it’s all tender and falling apart off the bones. After the meat is ready and done let it sit for about an hour. Then drain off the water and pour all the meat into your molding pans to cool the meat off. After all the meat is cooled off, take your hands to smash up the meat and pick all the bones out of the meat so that you won’t be biting down on bones while you’re eating your souse.
Make sure all the bones are out of your meat, and make sure all your meat is ground up real mushy and fine. And don’t forget to cut up all the gristle from the pig ears real fine. After everything is smashed up real good, then you add your diced vegetables to your meat. Add the jalapenos if you want some kick to your souse meat. Then you add your seasoning salt and black pepper. After that you add your vinegar to your meat until you are satisfied with the taste.
Mix everything together real well, and taste once again to see if everything is perfected for your taste, then you smooth all your meat out in your pan or molding dish and cover it up with plastic wrap. Then you place your souse meat into the refrigerator, and let it sit until the meat is gelled and ready to cut and eat. You can serve it with crackers or even make a sandwich with mayo.
CROWDER PEAS AND PIG TAILS
6 large smoked pig tails
4 16-ounce bags frozen or 4 pounds fresh crowder peas
1 bunch green onions, diced
1 each green, red and yellow bell pepper, diced
1 stick celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons lard
1 1/2 tablespoons seasoning salt
4 tablespoons white sugar
[Crowder peas are a kind of black-eyed pea, so called because they are crowded together in their pods, causing them to have squarish ends. Ed.]
First you take your smoked pig tails and wash them up real, real good, and put them in a big pot. Fill the pot up with water until the water is covering the pig tails. Let the pig tails cook up over medium heat until they are tender and done. Then add your crowder peas, chopped vegetables, seasoning salt, sugar, and lard. Stir and mix everything up real good and taste the juice to see if it is tasting like it should. If you are lacking any kind of seasoning, add whatever seasoning you are lacking. Then put the lid back on your pot and continue to cook your crowder peas and pig tails for 1-2 hours until they are tender and done.
Then you taste the juice off your crowder peas and pig tails to see if the juice is thick enough and ready to eat. Serve hot out of the pot with a side of cornbread. Now, that’s a meal!
SKILLET CANDIED SWEET POTATOES
2 large sweet potatoes
2 sticks butter
1/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup water
First you peel the skin off the sweet potato, wash the potatoes off with warm water to get any kind of excess dirt off the potato. Then you slice the sweet potatoes up into one-inch slices or however thick you may want them. Then you get a nice size skillet and put medium heat up under it until the skillet is nice and hot and then add your sweet potatoes inside the hot skillet and let them fry for about three minutes in a little the butter until they are golden brown on both sides.
Then you add your water to the potatoes, and let them simmer for about two minutes. Then you add your butter, sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon to the sweet potatoes and let them simmer over a low fire until the potatoes soak up the sugar and the juice and form into a thick syrup. After that, let the sweet potatoes sit about 5-10 minutes before serving,
OVEN-BAKED CORN BREAD
5 cups yellow cornmeal
3 cups white flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
5 large eggs
1 quart buttermilk
2 sticks butter
1/2 cup lard
First, turn your oven on to 350 degrees. Put your dry ingredients all together in a large bowl and mix them well. While you are mixing your dry ingredients together, put your butter and lard in a 9-by-13 inch pan and put it in the hot oven so that the butter can melt in with the lard. Beat the eggs with the buttermilk and add this to the dry ingredients.Beat the ingredients up real good with your large mixing spoon or electric mixer to make sure all the lumps are out of your corn bread batter.
Then you take your pan with the melted lard and butter and pour it into your cornbread batter, and beat and mix the lard and butter in your batter real good. Pour your cornbread batter back into the pan the lard and butter was melted in, smooth the batter out in your pan and put it back into the oven. Bake your cornbread until it is done and golden brown.
After the bread is done, let it sit for about five minutes and then you can start cutting and eating the bad boy.
HOT WATER SKILLET CORNBREAD
3 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup lard
1 1/2 cups hot water
1 1/2 tablespoons melted lard
2 large eggs, beaten
First you mix all your dry ingredients together real well, and add your water and mix until all the lumps are out of your batter. Then you add your eggs and lard in with the batter, and you continue to mix and beat your batter until everything is mixed up real good with no lumps.
Then you take your skillet and put it over medium heat, grease it well with butter or lard, and you cook the cornbread batter in the skillet like you do your pancakes for breakfast.
FOUR CORNERS NATIVE AMERICAN MINISTRY
The Four Corners Native American Ministry, established as a Methodist ministry in 1991, runs a daycare center on the Navajo Nation Reservation in New Mexico. Not subject to USDA regulations and guidelines, but rather seeking input from the Weston A. Price Foundation, the Ministry hopes to provide nutrient-dense food, nutrition education and a community garden for children at the daycare center and their families. If you would like to provide financial support for this endeavor or for further information, contact Heather Bishop firstname.lastname@example.org. Checks can be made out to Four Corners Native American Ministry, Memo Line: Faithful Feasting and sent to Four Corners Native American Ministry, PO Box 400, Shiprock, New Mexico 87420.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2010.