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After Work: Pot Luck

ÖI left the South long ago for the Big Pot Luck of Life. But I didnít leave my love of Southern cooking behindÖ

Dona Gibbs tells of delicious delights. Of baked ham, sweet potato casserole, barbecued baked beans, green beans with ham hocks Ė and Chocolate Pudding Cake. But thereís a risk of food poisoning along this tasty highway.

To read more of Donaís satisfying words please click on After Work in the menu on his page.

Wandering around the Internet, I rediscovered a recipe from my childhood: Chocolate Pudding Cake. This half cake, half pudding treat is one youíre not likely to find on any restaurantís menu. And as a guest youíre not likely to be served it in any nobodyís home.

To enjoy it, youíll just have to look up the recipe and rummage around in your own kitchen for cocoa powder, flour, sugar, leftover coffee, milk and a little salt. Itís made and baked in the same pan. Itís simple. And delicious.

In the comments following this recipe, one woman claimed that her mother had served it to her eager family in the Depression. I canít vouch for the history, but I know my mother whipped it up now and then through the fifties.

She, a creature driven by culinary fashion, moved on to more sophisticated dishes like wild rice ring filled with creamed chicken followed by Twenty Four Hour Salad. Twenty Four Salad is a goopy but tasty concoction, featuring canned Bing cherries, canned pineapple chunks, canned grapes, whipped cream flavored with lemon and miniature marshmallows. It was considered the very thing to serve to guests. Ah, the past.

I grew up in the South. North Carolina, to be exact. I thrived on Southern cooking. Potluck dinners were some of my favorite occasions. Fried chicken? Iíll have the drumstick, please. Gelatin salad with carrots and celery? Bring on the mayo.

My willingness to dive into the offering of other kitchens always got my mother into a nervous hover. Sheíd peer under the checkered tea towels, lift covers and try to recognize bowlsónot what was in them, the bowls themselves. She wanted to know who the owners were. She only trusted the cleanliness of a few kitchens besides her own.

Devilled eggs were off limits. From anyone.

Not because they were full of devilishly good stuff: egg yolk mashed with mayonnaise, mustard, a little pickle juice and topped with paprika but because she considered them oval Petri dishes, breeding salmonella and other microscopic beasts.

Turned out her admonitions were based on fact, not just snobbery.

I found this out as the lowest reporter on the lowest rung at my hometown daily paper. I was always assigned the summer food poisoning story.

To cover the story, I had to trot down to the health department and interview the head of the department about the gruesome dangers.

The kind and patient doctor would outline healthy practices of food preparation for the summer picnics, church outing and reunions. Basically, hot foods needed to be kept hot and cold foods, cold. Such things as potato salad, made the Southern way with hard boiled eggs and plenty of mayonnaise, if not thoroughly chilled, had the potential of laying up an entire congregation for daysóif not worse.

I would duly and dully write it up. No flourishes allowed. Nothing graphic either, darn it.

My mother would read the annual food poison piece with pride, thinking no doubt that she had helped form my editorial position.

I left the South long ago for the Big Pot Luck of Life.

But I didnít leave my love of Southern cooking behind.

So it was with an appetite whetted by nostalgia that I recently attended a potluck luncheon given by a womenís group in South Florida. The last time I had attended, there had been enormous platters of baked ham, sweet potato casserole, barbecued baked beans and green beans with ham hocks. And delight of delights, there were bowls and bowls of potato salad and plates and plates of deviled eggs.

My mother wasnít there to peer over my shoulder. The women all looked like they knew how to keep hot things hot and cold things cold.

So I guilty heaped my plate.

Joy, oh joy. And wonder of wonders I didnít get sick.

This year, things were different. Yes, there was ham. There were barbequed beans. There were plenty of carrots and green beans.

Alas, there were only two skimpy plates of deviled eggs and one small bowl of potato salad.

Seems like warnings have been heeded. Warnings against trans-fats. Spinach scares. Green onion horror stories. Chicken disasters. Beef problems.

No one wants to trust to luck, especially at a potluck.

Which is why if I want potato salad Iím going to have to make it myself.

My mother would be happy.

Right now though, I think Iíll see if I canít stir up a Chocolate Pudding Cake. Thereís not even a suspect egg required.


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