On Being Southern and Other Identities

I have lived in Texas since I was ten. Thirty-two years. And 24 of those have been in Austin. It's the longest I've ever lived anywhere. I love Austin but my early years as an Army brat were formative, I think. In that, periodically, I have a strong desire to move. This happens most often when the temperature is in the high nineties (or higher) or during election years when I actually contemplate moving to another country. However, my good husband refuses to live any further north and I refuse to live any further south so we seem to be stuck at this latitude.

The really funny thing is that whenever I meet new people, they think I'm from the Midwest --the one area of the country in which I HAVEN'T lived. Maybe it's because I try to really enunciate since I have this voice like a Smurf on speed and I'm afraid if I don't enunciate, no one will understand me. (You think I'm joking but people routinely call my house and when I answer, ask me if my mommy is home. I know I shouldn't but I usually tell them to call her in Dallas and see. Click.)

I started thinking about this whole thing of regions and their identities because I don't really have a geographical identity, I don't think. I'm not Southern (my pie crusts suck) and I'm not Western (only went skeet shooting once and never hit anything. Plus I've never branded anything except a corporation). I'm not Eastern (although I'd like to live up that way about half the year --good knitting. But I don't walk near fast enough.) and I'm not Californian (no surfing, no manicures, no tan--ever. I do like California wine, though.)

I guess I don't know what I am.

I guess this doesn't surprise anyone.

But yesterday, I did something that many Southern women do every year. I have to admit that I have NEVER been so nervous. I don't mean to alarm you, but I, um, HOVERED. I called my father-in-law, who is an exceptional Southern cook.


More than once.

Ladies and gentleman (my husband, I'm not sure any other males read my blog), I present to you the pictorial of my adventures into Southern Womanhood.

I made Tomato Relish.

Here is the scene being set.

I used the recipe from the Bible of Southern Cooking (also a present from my FIL):

I won't detail the entire laborious process but I did want to note here that I had to PEEL the tomatoes before I cooked them. Nine pounds. If you blanch them in boiling water for a minute or so, you can take the peels off super-easily (another tip from my FIL.)

Anyway, here's what it looked like while it was cooking:

Here's the part where I got really nervous that maybe not enough liquid had evaporated and I took this picture to send to my FIL.

But he was playing golf and couldn't receive photos at that time. So I just bottled the stuff. And then I put it in the ten minute water bath--very important in the process.

And then, after I got those incredibly satisfying PINGS that happen when your jars vacuum seal properly, I put them in our narrow and hilarious pantry.

A good day's work--and it freaking takes about that long.

PS: My husband did a taste test and declared it perfect. I thought maybe I cooked it too long and that it needed more vinegar. We won't know until we eat it with black-eyed peas and cornbread.


Anonymous said…
I need to tell you that I just finished my first sock--inspired by the socks you posted pictures of in June. Yours are gorgeous! Anyway, I immediately cast on stitches for the second sock (per the yarn harlot's instructions in order to make it more likely that there will be a second sock) and am on my way to a PAIR of socks. Thanks for the inspiration-I've canned in the past-I think I'll stick with socks...
Anonymous said…
Yes, I went through all that with my first try at making strawberry jam. I grew up with a canning maven and yes that ping of the seal is a wonderful sound!!!!!

I worked with your sister in another life, she turned me on to your writing and I am glad to add you to my daily read, keep it up.
Tiffany said…

What is tomato relish? And what do you do with it?
DK said…
Oh, my god....I don't even know what tomato relish is, Barb! Dear heavens, I've been here in the south a month and already I'm a failure as a Southern woman...quick, someone say "Bless her heart," because that makes everything okay, right?

(sniff)...My queendom for a stuffed pizza right now...or a Maxwell Street Polish, or some other cultural food item I know the proper use of....
Barb Matijevich said…
You know, DK and Rockstories--y'all hail from the same part of the country, I think.

But want to know the truth? I had never had tomato relish until I met my husband, whose dad is from Alabama. Most Texans don't eat tomato relish, either. But southern people--truly southern people, like from Alabama? They know what to do with some tomato relish.

Anyway, the way we eat tomato relish is to crumble a slice of cornbread, ladle black-eyed peas over the top of it and put tomato relish on top. It's very delicious, in that Southern Comfort Food kind of way.
Barb Matijevich said…
I wish I could have written to you, you anonymous posters, to tell you how much I loved both of these comments. I loved that someone who used to work with my sister still reads MY work!

and it means a great deal to me to have turned someone else on to the pleasures of sock knitting. Especially right now, when I've had something of a sock catastrophe and have been sulking. THANK YOU!