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Introduction

Frances and her family the McDowells moved from South Carolina to Washington, D.C. during the Great Migration, that period in U.S. history between 1910 and 1960 when over 5 million Negroes moved from post-slavery southern towns to northern cities—their southern cooking in tow.

Besides my mother, Frances reigned supreme as the best southern cook I ever knew. Lest I forget, Sylvia Woods of Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem, New York ranks high in that league.  She’s another South Carolina daughter.

Frances’ Sunday meals included delicious Crisco-laden southern fare, including her homemade biscuits and what I considered a strange part of the cow to eat—cow’s tongue. Sometimes I flinched my nose at it while it cooled in a big pot on the stove. Frances caught me one Sunday and brushed me away. “Go on away from here. That’s for Leroy,” she’d say. 

And he loved it. Smiled at me across the dining room table when he ate it.  So one Sunday I decided to give it a try, just a little taste of the thick eight-inch slab of pink meat. Leroy carved a piece for me and laid it on my plate. 

I stared at it, wondering if I should douse it with butter or gravy. I decided against both. I cut a small piece from the slice, chewed, swallowed and smiled back at Leroy. Cow’s tongue tasted just like ham.

Baked goods?  My mouth waters thinking about Frances’ German chocolate cake. Truly a great southern cook. But my beloved lady, unfortunately, lived with high blood pressure.

She never mentioned it, never complained. She swallowed her medication every day and cooked the foods she knew best, the way she knew best, as do all cooks of starch-rich, creamy foods. I never heard it from her if her pressure rose too high and made her feel bad. Leroy, always quiet and composed, passed the news along to us.

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