O.K., ya’ll. You know what this is. Perfection on a plate: fried chicken, a corn muffin, collard greens, black-eyed peas with chow-chow and pickled okra. It does not matter a shred that it is served on a Styrofoam plate. In fact, that makes it better.
A few days ago, some of us journeyed to Humboldt, Tennessee, to help a friend out who had suffered a slight (well, catastrophic) fire at his BBQ restaurant. We all worked hard to make it right, but at 11:30 a.m. every day, luncheon was served. I was thinking a chicken salad sandwich, a bag of chips and a cookie. Oh, no. Not at all.
The lunches were catered by The Old Country Store in nearby Jackson and here’s the thing. Not only did they treat us like we were some kind of royalty, but the actual owners of the company came out to serve us lunch. Clark Shaw and his wife, Juanita, were just as nice as they could be. And lunch. Oh dear. It was so good. Both days. The first day was fried catfish, white beans, spaghetti (yes, white beans and spaghetti go together in the South – try it, you doubters), fresh vegetables from the farmers market and, for dessert, homemade pecan tarts.
It was good. Real good. But I have to say the second day was a “slap your momma” moment. The fried chicken. Oh, my. I kept thinking, “Fried chicken. Yes. I’ve worked up a bit of a sweat on the job site. I think I’ll have another piece.” Collards with a little hot sauce. Black-eyed peas with chow-chow. Hot cornbread muffins. And the kicker here? Fried pies. Would you like peach or apple? And, guess what? The crust was made with lard. LARD! I want to move in with the Shaws.
The Shaws, by the way, did not have to go to these lengths to feed us. They did not have to drive to Humboldt personally to make sure we enjoyed the meal. But they did. Because that’s what neighbors do in the South, even if they don’t know each other. I don’t know that they could have appreciated that after four hours of sweat and muscle and wheezing in the extreme dust of the demolition site, a plate of fried chicken and some collards, served with a smile, might possibly have been the best meal most of us have eaten in our lifetimes.