south

A transplanted Alabama hometown Friend and fellow Sheffield High (Sheffield, AL) graduate, Jerry Williams, posted a photo of fried okra on Facebook today.  And, besides being one of my favorite Southern Delicacies – the post stirred good memories.   Growing up in Alabama, the only way to eat okra is pan fried and crisp – boiled is a sacrilege!

After Dory and I were married in 1977, we often drove to my hometown, Sheffield, Alabama, for Christmas and New Years.  After checking in at mom’s home and saying, “Hi y’all!” or “Hi all y’all!” – whichever was appropriate – my first destination was the delicatessen located in the Cox Creek Shopping Center in Florence.  I have not been home since mom was promoted to heaven in 1994, so I am not sure the delicatessen is still there.  But, they always had two of my favorite delicacies:   Fried Okra and Chitlin Cornbread.  Those were worth the drive from Southern California.

About 1980 mom and my step-dad drove to visit us in California.  And, of course, while mom was there, she cooked me fried okra several times.  A week or so after their visit, I came home one afternoon to find my beautiful bride, Dory, beaming from ear to ear!   She had a surprise for me – she had cooked me fried okra.

And, while I loved her for preparing this special dinner for me, she should have paid a wee bit more attention when mom was cooking.  Instead of pan frying the okra, Dory had deep fried it.  But, I still gave her an “A” for effort – and to be honest, it still was tasty.

In the late 1990s, I accepted a Regional Sales Manager position with a company based outside Atlanta.  While spending two weeks there getting oriented, I found a wonderful Supper Club (restaurant for the uninitiated) which functioned like a delicatessen inside.   I had found my place for dinner during my two week stay – for they had fried okra on the serving line.  Wow!  I was in food heaven!

The first couple of evenings I had my fill of fried okra.  On the third evening – NO fried okra!  I went to the hostess and doing my best impression of being serious, told her,“I came all the way from Southern California just for your fried okra – and you do not have any tonight!”   Of course I was joking – and made sure the young lady knew that.

The next evening, there I am again for dinner.  When I entered there was a man dressed in a suit standing beside the hostess.  She told him, “This is the gentleman I told you about.”   And, believer it or not – I did not know what she meant.

I got my food and began to eat dinner.  About fifteen minutes later the man in a suit, who turned out to be the restaurant manager, came to my table apologizing for taking so long – and holding a big plate of freshly cook fried okra.  Wow!  Now that is Southern Hospitality taken to the max!

And, I learned something that evening.   There is a world of difference between freshly cooked fried okra and that which has been sitting in a serving tray for a while.  Both are great – but the freshly fried okra is like winning a gold medal ~ the “sit for awhile” okra was more like third place bronze medal.   I was definitely in food heaven that evening.

The downside?  Well, besides their great food, they also had delicious desserts – especially brownies smothered with hot chocolate.  I came home a few pound heavier.

While I love living in Southern California there are things I will always miss about the South.  First, of course, is my family.  Next, I would have to list Fried Okra (does not exist in California) ~ Chitlin Cornbread (definitely does not exist in California) ~ and real Cornbread (cornbread with sugar added is cake, not cornbread).

So, to my hometown Friend, Jerry,  who has been transplanted to Texas – thanks for the memories.  Now, please send Fried Okra!

God bless, have a wonderful, blessed day,

Bill Gray

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