'Rocket City Rednecks': Giving Thanks With Turkey, Cornbread and Beer
This week, I have a syndicated feature out -- click here for that -- with excerpts of the interviews I did with National Geographic Channel's Wednesday-night science/reality series "Rocket City Rednecks" at their gala premiere at the U S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. (click here for the photo gallery).
The story also features a recipe by Mary Ann "Mama" Taylor, mother of "Redneck" ringleader Dr. Travis Taylor and wife of team member Charles "Daddy" Taylor (and grandmother of another team member, Travis' nephew Michael Taylor).
That was just a bit of a larger document she sent, chock full of home cookin'. So just in case you haven't firmed up the Thanksgiving menu yet, here's a chance throw in a little Alabama flair (and a story to boot) ...
Thanksgiving with the Rocket City Rednecks
By Mary Ann "Mama" Taylor
The Taylors have always made a big hoopla out of any get-togethers, especially Thanksgiving. All the Taylors old enough to cook or purchase something come with a covered dish in hand. When Charles' daddy Sam was alive, the guys would have a pick-n-grinning session while the women cooked. Now that tradition has changed somewhat -- the men have learned to cook! Well, they cook, but specialize in only a few dishes.
Sam loved my cornbread and old-fashioned cornbread dressing, or stuffing as some call it. I've told people over the years how to make the cornbread, but they say it doesn't taste like mine. You know, I don't know about omens and the like....
I made my first pan of cornbread when I was five. When I was 10, the 4-H Club held a cornbread muffin contest at my school. Back then, you didn't run to the grocery store every day. You went once or twice a month and then only if you needed something. Daddy brought home a half-gallon of good thick buttermilk on Monday. He knew I wanted to enter the contest on Friday. That gave me plenty of practicing time. I baked cornbread muffins every night. Come Friday morning, I had just enough buttermilk to bake one pan of muffins. Well. My older sister Martha decided she would enter the contest, too.
She never cooked. And I told her so. Mama saw right quick that I was not backing down, so she intervened. First, she said there was time for both of us to stir up and bake a pan of muffins before the bus ran. I explained that we had ingredients for ONE pan of muffins. Mama said since we all used the same recipe, my recipe, and Martha being the oldest, that she should cook the muffins.
"Nothing doing," I said and stomped my foot. That didn't go over well, but in the end I agreed to let Martha choose the first muffin if I got to bake the bread. After all, we did use the same recipe.
Wouldn't you know it? She picked the one I wanted. On the way to catch the bus, I decided I was going to trade muffins. But Martha knew she had me over a barrel. After a lot of fast talking, we traded, but at a high cost to me. I promised to wash dishes on her night to wash for a whole month. I walked into the 4-H meeting with a smile on my face, and set my muffin before the judging ladies.
God rest her soul, Martha won first and I won second. And I have the ribbon to prove it.
Nowadays, Travis, the ringleader on the Rednecks, along with his uncles picks out a tune, and Charles, known as 'Daddy' on the Rednecks, huffs and puffs on the harmonica. When it comes time to eat, we gather round and hold hands while Aunt Linda gives thanks.
Mary Ann's Winning Cornbread Muffins
¾ cup self-rising flour
¾ cup cornmeal
1 cup buttermilk
A pinch of love and a pinch of salt to throw over your shoulder
Dump all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix. Buttermilk is like buying cars: you have to use it to find out if you like it. Some buttermilk is watery and some is thick. I like to use thick buttermilk. If the batter appears crumbly, add more buttermilk; the batter should be thick like cake batter.
Pour batter into a greased iron skillet. Preheat oven to 500 degrees; bake 15 to 20 minutes or until bread is brown.
Most Thanksgivings, I bake a turkey purchased from the grocery store, but on a few occasions Charles has killed us a wild turkey. I found out the hard way that turkeys grown in the wild contain very little fat. My first wild turkey was too dry to eat. But beer saved the day, or maybe I should say made the next wild turkey pleasing to the palate.
One wild turkey breast
2 cups flour
Salt and pepper
1 cup canola oil for frying
Cut turkey breast in half, cutting across the grain. Cut each half into strips.
In a large bowl, add turkey strips and cover with beer. Seal with plastic wrap and marinate 1 hour or overnight.
In another bowl, add flour, salt and pepper; mix together. Remove turkey from marinating beer and roll in flour mixture.
Heat oil in skillet to medium heat. Brown turkey strips on each side, cover skillet and lower heat. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, turning meat once.
Bake muffin recipe in large skillet, cool and crumble into a large mixing bowl. Add the following to a mixing bowl:
1 onion and 2 sticks of celery, sautéed
1 large apple, chopped
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
1 quart chicken broth
Mix all of the above and stuff inside a cleaned turkey. Bake turkey at 350 degrees for 20 minutes per pound. This dressing will be very juicy.