Gravy is the basis of all good cooking, in the South and lots of other places too. It is of course called MANY different things, white sauce, pan sauce, stock, bechamel, Mornay, hollandaise and more that I am sure will occur to me tomorrow morning about 4 a.m.
But its GRAVY y’all.
Its FAT, pan drippings, butter or lard, (YES I SAID THE L WORD) that surround and encapsulate each grain of flour (a roux), so it can blend wonderfully with broth or milk or water or creme. And then it becomes this magical concoction that is so good you will want to lick the hot skillet you made it in, snarling at anyone who comes close.
(I had a woman show me once how to make gravy with corn starch and water, not my thing! I could taste the cornstarch in the “gravy”! ICK! I’m almost sure she wasn’t from the south.)
But back to gravy, in my lifetime (I’ll refrain from boring you with the details of how long THAT has been) I have made a meal from gravy and biscuits or gravy and toast. Tried not to do that too often as it’s not entirely healthy, but this is not about health, it’s about soul satisfying comfort and damn good food.
Gravy is SO hard to give up for some people that they will lie to themselves about what gravy actually is. I had a boyfriend in college who was a vegetarian, an ovo-lacto vegetarian. NO MEAT. He ate eggs and drank milk but otherwise ate veggies and beans and bread. He also meditated twice a day. Lets call him Jeff. So I became an ovo-lacto vegetarian, and yes I meditated twice a day but its was the 70’s so what did you expect. Any way we pretty much fell hard for each other, and one of the 1st places Jeff ever took me to eat was a little restaurant that started up in Lebanon Tennessee called The Cracker Barrel. Good country cooking, including biscuits and SAW MILL GRAVY (they had that painted on the windows). His family was originally from New York so he had not grown up with gravy experience! But he LOVED LOVED that SAW MILL GRAVY. I had grown up eating saw mill gravy ever morning for breakfast with my biscuits and eggs as that was a speciality of my Granny’s. She’d fry up fat back ( just what it sounds like, the fat layer of salt cured pork from the pigs back with a little stripe of lean in it, sliced thick, by the way, PORK BELLY is very popular these days, THAT is a rich cousin of bacon) in the iron skillet until had rendered all its fatty salty goodness and turned crisp and golden, then she fished that out and sprinkled flour in the pan, not too much (it makes the gravy lumpy) and not too little (it won’t gravy up, just looks thin and weak) and browned that off over low heat until it was about the color of a piece of white bread that had been toasted. Then came the step that either makes you a gravy maker or a failure, you hold the spatula in your stirring hand (whichever arm is stronger) and the milk in your other hand and you pour the milk in SLOWLY whilst stirring like the devil with your stirring hand, too slow and it lumps, too fast and it sticks and burns on the bottom. My suggestion for beginners is to take the pan off the heat while adding the milk and them put it back on the heat to cook it down and thicken it up, ALL WHILE stirring constantly!! Granny was an expert! Her Saw Mill gravy was the best I ever had. If you ever get the chance to eat or make saw mill gravy from fat back you should do it. Just make sure you make about a half-gallon, you’ll need it.
Jeff loved this Cracker Barrel gravy, in the beginning I just didn’t have the heart to tell him that it was made with pork fat, he put it on his eggs and on his biscuits and on his hashbrown casserole, he always ordered extra, but no bacon or sausage or country ham… nope he was a vegetarian. This went on for over 2 years. I ate the saw mill gravy too, I didn’t care, I’d been eating it my whole life but I never said a word, obviously he didn’t really want to know. After we broke up, he and I remained friends, and one night we ended up at Cracker Barrel talking about a girl he had mistakenly asked out (pretty funny actually, she had started stalking him). He ordered his usual breakfast for dinner, 2 fried eggs, hashbrown casserole, biscuits and EXTRA SAW MILL gravy. I ordered breakfast too, but added bacon to my order. He of course started to lecture me about eating pork. I tried real hard not to say anything, we had already agreed that his asking this girl out was a STUPID thing to do. I didn’t want to pile on the stupid. But he continued to talk about eating pork and how I shouldn’t do it.
The waitress brought our food, he gravied up his whole plate and started chowing down, after he had eaten about half, he stopped for a second to share with me how good the food was and didn’t I see how I didn’t need the meat to have good food?
I put my fork down and proceeded to ask him in my most polite Southern genteel voice,
“Jeff honey, do you know how they make that there SAW MILL GRAVY? Like what exactly its made out of?”
I can’t help myself sometimes, honesty just overtakes me and walks right out of my mouth.