Georgia Groceries—Worth the Drive
Sunday night I came home from a whirlwind road trip to Albany, Georgia to attend a family reunion. My children and I drove 2198 miles between Wednesday evening and Sunday evening. My mother’s side of the family originates in Southeastern Alabama and Southwestern Georgia, so the common meeting place is Albany, which is pronounced "Awlbinny" by the older locals, with the emphasis on the "bin."
People in the pecan business should readily recognize that name, as Albany is the other pecan capital of the world. I think it earns that distinction by sheer volume. Yes, we have lots of pecan orchards around here, but the area around Albany dwarfs anything I have seen in Texas as far as numbers of acres planted in pecans. I am basing this on personal observations as the difference is readily apparent just looking out the car window. I think my husband and I must be the nuttiest couple in the world, seeing as how we were each born in one of the pecan capitals!
I imported some special items from Albany—things you just can not find around here: mayhaw jelly and that perfect stone ground cornmeal. I brought back six jars of jelly and five big bags of cornmeal. Mayhaws are a little red apple-type fruit that grows on small trees in boggy areas of the deep South. They used to be strictly wild, but are being cultivated now in Louisiana and Deep East Texas. When my mom was a kid, they would go out and gather Mayhaws by thrashing the trees then gathering the fruits off the water. Mayhaws are used to make a lovely and delicious jelly. The cornmeal is totally different from anything I have found outside of South Georgia. It is almost corn flour instead of meal. Because of the texture of the meal, flour is not required to make bread, making it perfect for gluten-intolerant folks like my daughter. The cornbread made from this meal is light, fluffy, moist, and tender. Am I making you hungry?? I am making me hungry!!
There were other things I would love to have brought back but could not, so I just ate my fill while I could: assorted peas like butter peas and lady peas, turnip greens cooked with lots of pork, that wonderful shredded pork barbecue, Brunswick stew, cracklins alone and in cornbread, and that Albany favorite, Jimmy’s hot dogs. I wanted to bring back some pickled peaches but could not find the kind I wanted. I found spiced peaches and pickled peaches, but not the spiced pickled peaches my mom and Granny used to make.
I have collected family recipes and can cook many good Georgia dishes, like those rolled out dumplings, lemon cheese cake (which is not a cheesecake at all), butternut cake, and fried corn (which is not actually fried). The most limiting factor is the unavailability of ingredients, especially fresh produce. I tried making fried corn a couple of weeks ago with some fresh corn from the grocery store, but it did not taste right. The corn was much too sweet. I think the secret to good fried corn is using "roastin’ ears" pulled from a field of dent corn.
If I have inspired anyone to want to take a culinary tour of South Georgia, just let me know. We will charter a bus and take off, but we had better pack light to leave plenty of room to bring back groceries!