Now who doesn’t want some fried chicken, mashed potatoes and field peas after looking at this! Every other Friday from September to June, the P.E.O. Sisterhood meets to conduct its business, which is helping fund scholarships for deserving women. We meet in members’ homes, nosh on tea bread and mixed nuts, do our business, have a lot of laughs and then go to lunch. There are P.E.O. chapters all over the country, but there aren’t many chapters within driving distance of Barbara’s Home Cooking, the first stop on the lunch train to flavor town this year.
Pretty much every Southern town has an equivalent of what we in Middle Tennessee call “meat ‘n threes” – invariably humble establishments that serve a selection of meats and vegetables. It’s a standard joke that macaroni and cheese is considered a vegetable around here.
The thing about Barbara’s is that it’s really got a Barbara. She doesn’t come around to the tables to chat. She doesn’t check you out. She’s actually in the kitchen cooking. And while everything at Barbara’s is really tasty, the biggest draw are her yeast rolls. Served with real butter, just to gild the lily. When you sit down at the table, the first thing to arrive is a big basket of those yeast rolls. They are the size of a softball. And if you eat just one you’re not sane.
So our P.E.O. sisters all gathered around the table for lunch after our meeting. The truly inspired sisters got fried okra and baked apples and crab cakes and pimento cheese sandwiches. A couple of us attempted virtue by ordering spinach salads with poppyseed dressing and a scoop of chicken salad. We reasoned that by ingesting raw greens we could mitigate the effects of two or three yeast rolls slathered in butter.
And I want to tell you one more thing. At Barbara’s you pay on the honor system! You just go up to the cash register after you’re done and tell the nice young lady at the register what you had to eat. That is Southern hospitality at its finest.
One of the lost arts of the South is yeast rolls. Everyone’s granny made the best ones without consulting a single line of a recipe. Nowadays, Sister Schubert’s has cornered the market on mass-produced yeast rolls and they are utterly delicious. You won’t find an Episcopalian reception without Sister Schubert’s rolls encasing shaved ham.
But as long as Barbara is in the kitchen, you can always sample the real deal. I almost stuffed a couple of rolls in my purse before I left but I thought that would be crass. And no Southern woman wants to be considered crass.