Thursday, December 13, 2018

It's All Gravy

Donis here, facing a conundrum...what to write today. My blogmates have introduced so many interesting topics over the past weeks. I'm really enjoying reading about who to cast in the movies made of our books, and I'd love to tackle that subject. In fact, I will do that when next I post on December 27. You wouldn't believe some of the suggestions I've heard over the years as to who should play Alafair Tucker in the movies.

But today I must add one more entry about food in novels. Type M's own Charlotte Hinger mentioned on Facebook that I had included a recipe for red eye gravy in my latest novel, Forty Dead Men, and many FB denizens replied to her post with their fond memories that most Southern of dishes. So I thought that I'd relate that recipe here, just before Christmas, so you can try it with your leftover Christmas ham. I'm going to include another fabulous family gravy recipe that I grew up with–chocolate gravy! We used it on biscuits for breakfast, and I can't think of a better Christmas treat.

If you've never tried red eye gravy or chocolate gravy, you're in for an experience. Farm families used all kinds of interesting things for gravies and sauces, mostly because you used what you had on hand and never let anything go to waste, and in this case, necessity is the mother of some really delicious culinary inventions. Besides, they're easy! So give them a try. You won't be sorry.

Red Eye Gravy

After frying several slices of country ham in butter, deglaze the skillet (a cast iron skillet is best) with a cup of strong black coffee. Use a spatula to loosen the meat bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add a cup of water and simmer the gravy until it has reduced by half. After the gravy is poured into a dish or gravy boat, the coffee and meat bits will sink to the bottom and the drippings will rise to the top. Long ago, some clever wag decided that the dark coffee under the clear grease looks like a human eye looking up from the bowl. Yum! Give it a stir before spooning the gravy onto your rice or potatoes. Be sure to use quality pieces of ham to fry.

Now, I never ate red eye gravy made with anything but coffee, but there is an equally beloved recipe made just the same way but with Coca Cola instead of coffee. My books are set in the 1910s, so Coca Cola was available, but I can't imagine that Alafair would waste money by using a fancy bottle of soda to make gravy. You can add a tablespoon of flour to thicken the gravy, but that's not the old way. If you try it, Dear Reader, let me know what you think!

Chocolate Gravy

The recipe for chocolate gravy came into my mother's family through my Aunt Loreen. When I spent the night with my cousin, my aunt would make this with homemade buttermilk biscuits in the morning. I wonder sometimes if I was more interested in the chocolate gravy than I was in playing with my cousin. My family also uses variations of this recipe for pudding and pies. This gravy is quite simple to make, but potent. You must be an extreme chocolate lover to eat this. One of my brothers-in-law pronounced it too rich for normal human consumption, and this guy will eat boiled sheep's eyes. The rest of my family loves it.

Mix together thoroughly 1/4 cup of powdered cocoa (I use plain old Hersheys), 2 cups of sugar, 1/4 cup of white flour, and 1/4 tsp. of salt. Add 2 cups of milk to the dry ingredients and mix well. Cook in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens to desired consistency. I usually wait until it begins to boil with a dull plop. Remove from heat, mix in 1 tsp. of vanilla. Delicious on any kind of bread (think chocolate-filled croissants), or anything your heart desires.

Have a merry and delicious holiday season!

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