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Cradle to the Gravy by Adam Byrd

In the South, the term gravy usually elicits a psycho-somatic response, similar to that of Pavlov’s dog. Gravy. Salivate. Down here, it’s also a food group – the one above all others. If we were to look at the food pyramid as defined by the FDA, the Southern version would have the pyramid smothered in gravy, knocking off that little exercise guy.


Ask my father about gravy, and his eyes will roll back in his head, the term sending him back to the past in the gravy wayback machine. I know where he’s headed because I go to that same place: grandma’s kitchen.


Grandmother is probably the only person that can make the best gravy. Mom and Dad can sure try, and while it might be edible, there is no way it could top Grandma’s. I think this is a universal thing. There is just something about the way she makes it, something that she does to it that no one else can do. Perhaps it’s the nature of being a grandmother that instantly transforms an average gravy to a lip-smacking, Pavlovian response reactor.


I will admit to you right now that my gravy-making abilities are subpar. This is partly due to my gender and partly due to my inexperience and ingnorance on the subject. Basic gravy-making can be taught in a classroom, but ultimately it can only be learned in the kitchen of someone experienced in the process. Even from there, gravy is not something that can be explained in print. It must be done.


My mother (now a grandmother), makes gravy from scratch by eyeballing it. There’s no recipe. There are only a few ingredients. If you ever see a grandmother making gravy from scratch, you’ll never a see a cookbook around. She’s probably just adding flour, salt, and milk a little at a time while whisking.


Last weekend, my mother was in town, and she made us chicken fried steak with pan drippings gravy. How can you go wrong with gravy that tastes like the steak on which it will be topped? Tell me, because I don’t think there is any better. I’ve watched her make gravy before, just as I watched my grandmother. It looks so simple, but I have never been able to duplicate their results.


After she fries the steak, she pours off some of the oil, leaving about a couple of tablespoons in the skillet. She then adds some flour a little at a time, while whisking the mixture rapidly. This is called a roux. At some point, she becomes satisfied with its consistency and slowly pours in some milk. Again, she whisks constantly. During this process, the gravy begins to pick up all of those tasty brown and black fried bits from the steak, which flavors the gravy. She adds a little bit of salt and pepper, then stirs until done.


Until done. That’s a wide open window of failure, a window that can only be used by a pro.


The gravy was done, and it was scrumptious. I’m salivating right now at the memory of that gravy that looked the color of chocolate milk. It was not the prettiest thing in the world, and definitely not worthy of the finest French bistro. But I’d take gravy any day over Escargot.

Besides, the finest French bistro doesn’t have grandma.

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This article was published on Tuesday 25 July, 2006.
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