Since we're West Coast transplants, we typically try to find others like ourselves who aren't surrounded by family here and invite them over for Thanksgiving. This time we hosted Peter and Julie, an Australian couple, people we met at church who had experienced Thanksgiving fare the previous Sunday. So we decided to treat them to a Southern American feast, since Southern cuisine is one of the few distinctive cuisines in this country and one our Aussie friends had never sampled.
We fired up the smoker out back and laid in the dry-rubbed pork spare ribs for a long, slow cooking and smoking over charcoal and hickory chips. Pork fat carried over into preparation of collard greens (garnished with slices of hard-boiled egg), black-eyed peas and cornbread, all of which are much tastier when made with bacon drippings.
We also had ambrosia, with its delicate shreds of coconut and fresh orange slices. This dish, which should never contain miniature marshmallows and which should always be served in a lovely cut-glass bowl, was traditionally a special wintertime treat, rare and exotic in rural Tennessee. And sun tea, with a mildness that only a slow steep on a sunny day can provide. For dessert we had pecan pie and homemade vanilla ice cream.
(The only thing that would have made this meal better would be if I could have scored a jar of my Cousin Lelabelle's wonderful rosy relish. I finally got her to shake loose the recipe after I'd lived in Los Angeles long enough for her to realize I'd never make it back in Tennessee and steal her tasty thunder. Problem is, I have a devil of a time growing tomatoes in this deserty backyard of mine, so it's really difficult to get the green tomatoes required of this lovely relish.)
Buying the ingredients in Los Angeles bumps the price up, but essentially, this is basic Southern fare, what country dwellers had on hand. Pork ribs were some of the leftover bits from the better cuts the wealthier people got. Black-eyed peas and collard greens you grew in your own garden. Cornbread was, well, cornbread, cooked with hot bacon drippings in your granny's well-seasoned cast iron skillet. Even the pie would be made with pecans from your own trees. (These days I get mine at the Toluca Lake Trader Joe's, a long way from the pecan thicket that separates our farm from the main road.)
There was much to be thankful for on Thanksgiving this year: A cozy house with a roof that doesn't leak, thanks to the work of Andy and our friend, Jeff (someone else to be thankful for), who repaired it just before torrential rains began. The rains themselves, which rehydrated our desperately dry yard. Lovely new friends from Down Under.
And feasting on this simple fare made me thankful that good food doesn't have to be either expensive or fussy.
Ambrosia may be "food of the gods," but to my thinking, they'd be clamoring for those smoked pork ribs, too. And they'd have to fight me for them!