Books
11:27 am
Mon March 31, 2008

Man Food: Recipes from the Iron Trade

The book closes with a recipe for "Cornbread Southern Style." Besides the obvious ingredients, this recipe calls for one tablespoon of sugar. Since "Pig Iron Rough Notes" was edited by an Alabamian and published in Alabama and the recipe came from J. M. Brown of Edgewater, Alabama, I take it to be the last, final, definitive word on cornbread. One tablespoon sugar.

The University of Alabama Press is in the process of publishing a number of food-related books, cookbooks and near cookbooks. Recently the press released Bright Star, the history of the 100-year-old restaurant in Bessemer, with recipes. This volume, Man Food, comes from a more unusual source, the small in-house magazine published by the Sloss-Sheffield Company of Birmingham in the heyday of the city's iron and steel industries.

The Sloss-Sheffield Company produced high-quality pig iron. This was sold to various manufacturers around the country and made into hundreds of products. The in-house magazine, Pig Iron Rough Notes, dealt mostly with technical matters, such as innovations in the foundry trade, but also discussed cast iron products used for cooking, such as heavy bean pots, skillets, even "barbecue irons" to be set on charcoal grills.

Beginning in about 1939 the editor, Russell Hunt, began soliciting recipes to add to his magazine. What did users actually cook in the pots and skillets? And, since most people in the pig iron business were men, Hunt stressed outdoor cookery. Real men loved the great outdoors and enjoyed cooking "at informal stag or mixed parties, preferably out-of-doors, and at camps." He reassured American men (the French presumably would not have needed such reassurances) that "cookery is become an art, a noble science; cooks are gentlemen." Furthermore, "An Alabama barbecue is a thing of beauty, a joy forever?but the piece de resistance is the Brunswick stew." In this little paperback, there are several recipes for Brunswick stew, and, as you might expect, recipes for fried catfish, barbecued chicken, fried chicken, baked beans, hobo stew, beef stew, jambalaya, catfish chowder, mullet stew, and beef kabobs.

Most of these recipes and their ingredients are pretty tame. There are a couple of recipes using wild game, however. The recipe for muskrat stew begins, "Skin, decapitate, and remove entrails, being careful not to puncture musk gland." Yes, indeed. Be careful. Realizing that not everybody has easy access to muskrats, Hunt adds that veal or lean pork may be substituted with "excellent results."

You may not have muskrats in your yard, but you will have squirrels. In fact, now more than ever. For Tennessee squirrel stew, first kill 12 squirrels. Hunt writes, "This is a modest bag for a morning hunt in many southern localities."

I was surprised to see that many of these recipes called for olive oil, whether alone or with other fats. I would have said olive oil was not yet known in these parts, but obviously, that's wrong.

There are several recipes for coffee?hunter's coffee, camp coffee, which all call for ingredients Starbuck's knows not of, ingredients such as three eggs with shells, a teaspoon of mustard and one of salt.

Briefly, salad is mentioned, but with a warning: "Not so long ago, all salads were considered effeminate. . . . But times do change. Nowadays, men are not sissies simply because they like?even demand?a green salad at luncheon." Whew!

There are recipes for fried green tomatoes and sweet potato griddlecakes, pancakes, hushpuppies, and even one for spoon bread, which is pretty rare.

The book closes with a recipe for "Cornbread Southern Style." Besides the obvious ingredients, this recipe calls for one tablespoon of sugar. Since "Pig Iron Rough Notes" was edited by an Alabamian and published in Alabama and the recipe came from J. M. Brown of Edgewater, Alabama, I take it to be the last, final, definitive word on cornbread. One tablespoon sugar.

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