January 18, 2013

Gravy: A Confession

I was born at the tail end of a long, long line of Southern women who were strong and savvy way before savvy was even a word.  Very little swayed their resolve including feeding their family with a kitchen well stocked or with whatever was on hand at supper time.

As a child standing at their heels, my grandmothers amazed me with their cooking skills.  Either woman could easily look into a sparse pantry and whip out a meal of a meat and three with dessert for her family plus company!  Many traditional Southern menus always include the staple companion sauce to the meat and certain sides:  GRAVY.  My mother and both of my grandmothers could make gravy in their sleep.  It always had the same sumptuous smoothness and tasted like heaven drizzled all over everything on my plate.


I can NOT make gravy.

There; I said it.

Brand me with a scarlet letter “G”.

I voluntarily hang my head in shame.  I simply did not get the gravy gene.

Just say the word “gravy” and I begin to perspire.  I guess you could call it gravy anxiety.

It’s quite the awful predicament.  I am, in fact, gravy-handicapped.

I have often wondered if perhaps my gravy disability is due in large part to my being a Southpaw.  Based on my peek up into the canopy of the family tree, it appears that I am the only left-handed female for quite some time – if ever.  And, being an ambidextrous Southpaw also lends to a certain amount of confusion when approaching new or “awkward” tasks.  One thing you can take to the bank: making gravy is awkward for me. (Or am I just too right-brained?)  For those of you who hold the gravy gift, most will agree: a person can not have a sense of confusion, much less anxiety, when making gravy.

On those rare occasions when I have rolled up my sleeves, stood at the stove (talking out loud to myself) and cooked what appeared to be a gravy-like substance, my family would smile their most gracious smiles and politely say, “Please pass the gravy.”  Then they pass it down the table and reach for the butter.  My family eats their rice with butter.  

The disgrace was becoming unbearable.

After countless failed gravy making efforts, I came to this conclusion:  I’ll cheat.

Now despite the fact that I have never actually witnessed anyone buying them, why would the grocery stores stock gravy mixes if there wasn’t a need for them?  I wondered in my painful silence, “Is it possible that I am not alone in my shame? Are there other gravy-challenged Southern gals suffering like me?”

Humiliation in the Public Square

While we live out in the rural countryside, we do have a local IGA grocery store that is just down the road and is our ‘go to’ for any quick or last minute grocery needs.  While perusing the isles one day, the gravy mixes caught my eye.  I studied the variety for a few minutes and finally settled on one to try the next time I felt the need to attempt gravy [again].  However, as one might have predicted, when I arrived at the check-out, guess what one item would not ring up when scanned.

The gravy mix.

Of course it was.

It’s deeply embedded within the unwritten rules of life that a Southern gal must face her cooking demons in the public square.  Not only would the gravy mix not ring up, there was a record line of locals behind me waiting to check out.

Cashier:  “Um, there’s no price for this?  What is this anyway?”  (She may have been, at best, 17 and my mind was racing trying desperately to grab a magnificent “Bless your heart” scandalous remark – but nothing would come to me.)

Me:  “Um, uh, well, I don’t remember, but that’s okay, I really don’t need it.”

Cashier:  [LOUDLY] “OH! It’s a gravy mix; you buy gravy mix?  Who buys gravy mix? Who doesn’t know how to make gravy?”

(Blink, blink.)

The silence behind me was deafening.

The line was getting longer and I am convinced that all the best cooks in the tri-county area were there right behind me.  (All that came to mind was, “Dear Planet Earth, please open up and swallow me…”)

Cashier (now on the intercom):  “Ms. IGA, I need the price for this X,Y,Z gravy mix!”

Now everyone in the ever growing check-out line is lOOking at me – not so much because I was holding them up but more so because I was buying gravy mix and holding them up.  It was at this moment that I began to perspire heavily.

ME:  (With tightly gritted teeth) “I really don’t need the gravy mix.  Please. Just. Keep. It.”

And with that, I swiped my card to pay for my handful of items and out the door I fled.  

By the time I got to my car, right on my heels was the lady who had been waiting in line behind me.  She said, “Baby, here’s this gravy mix.  It was only thutty-five cents and I don’t won’t yo family to suffa ‘cause you can’t make no gravy.”

My mouth dropped (somebody just shoot me now).

So there it was – now all out in the open and ugly: my lack of gravy skills exposed to the entire [IGA and tri-county] world.  I hadn’t felt such shame since bringing home the wrong dead cat.

As I have reflected over the re-launch of South of the Gnat Line and all my organizing of the foods I actually can and do cook to share with readers, it occurred to me:  How on earth can I possibly share my family’s recipes and love of Southern foods without having first confessed my culinary short-comings?

So for those of you who are blessed with the gift of gravy proficiency, I ask this of you:  the next time you are standing at your stove whipping up gravy for your family’s meal, please think of me and send up a little prayer to the gravy gods so at the very least, my grandchildren might miraculously inherit the gravy gene that skipped me.

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