Big Momma is a Southern Icon. She’s the matriarch. Big Momma is a force of nature without blinking a charming eyelash- she’s cool, calm and always and forever collected. She’s the hand that rocked the cradle while the menfolks ventured forth to trailblaze, fight, lead or evangelize. Big Momma may be beautiful but she is no simpering Southern Belle. She sails through troubled waters with the dignity of the QE2. When everyone else is jumping ship, Big Momma is bailing water. Big is a misnomer, my unofficial polling suggests Big Momma isn’t necessarily a ‘big’ woman at all- she may be small of stature but all Big Mommas are statuesque in character, generally having considerable but quiet influence. She is connected to her family, her children, her husband and often beyond the core family. She firmly believes that people need to be seen about, taken care of- tended to- therefore her arms embrace the many instead of the few. Big Momma is defined by her character and her expectations. She expects her brood to do better than their ancestors, she expects good grades, good behavior and expects her own to have some gumption. Big Momma doesn’t put up with cheap or low morals which has always led to a bad reputation. She stresses that- a bad reputation doesn’t stop at the offender, it reflects poorly on the entire family. Her standards for herself are high; starched and clean- smelling of an intoxicating blend of talcum and lemon verbena, not a hair out of place- Big Momma has at least one high quality dress, one good winter coat and sensible walking shoes. She sees no use in a man looking seedy- it’s a bad reflection on his wife. Her husband may own the sawmill, but Big Momma runs the family business. That sawmill owner may have originated the phrase ‘Go ask your momma’… Never skittish, healthy as a horse, never thought about flying the coop-Big Momma is the hen who rules the roost. She runs the laundry, the garden, the store room, the land and the hen house. Big Momma is always in charge of the sick room- she relies on her own blend of home remedies, blames the full moon or the barometric pressure.
Big Momma teaches personal and moral hygiene with religious fervor. ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness’ is her motto. Rural, Suburban, Inner City- across racial or religious lines, Big Momma insists on clean living and godliness, whether you’re from her brood, extended family or guests in her home. When she says-‘Don’t track dirt in the house!’ Big Momma means more than just muddy shoes. No trashy clothes, no idle gossip, no filthy talk.
If you need to talk to Big Momma about a problem- do it while she’s outside working in the garden- yanking weeds. Sort out whatever mess you’ve gotten yourself into this time while you work.. She’ll listen to your side of the story, but insists on knowing the other side too. ‘Alright, You’ve told it, you’re sorry about it- next time you’ll know better.’ Neat as a pin, polished with beeswax, disinfected, scented with castille soap, her house is her sanctuary, track dirt of any kind in there- well, it’s just not fittin’ . Big Momma knows what kind of stock you came from without even knowing who your people are, she has eyes in the back of her head, sources all over town- she’s been accused of having radar and being psychic. Big Momma insists on her children being brought up in the faith. And while she might be home cooking Sunday dinner- she expects everybody else to be in church spic and span- hair slicked back with fresh combmarks, hands washed and folded, quiet and respectful.
If you ask a suburban Big Momma what she would be if she wasn’t Episcopalian- she’ll say ‘Why darlin’ Ah’d be ashamed!’ If you ask a rural Big Momma what she’d be if she weren’t a Primitive Baptist- she’ll likely say –‘Ah’d be going to hell in a handbasket!’
Big Mommas don’t believe in whitewashing anything including eulogies, she knows by experience it’s always better to know the unvarnished truth about things. She drives like a Sherman tanker or sits in the back seat with the kids- arms outstretched like a human seatbelt. Big Momma is philosophical about life and death- considers it to be the way of the earth. She might be deeply grieved but goes on about the business of living, she has had to- her entire life. Big Momma isn’t uppity- she expects her family to help the less fortunate, otherwise you’ll hear the dreaded- ‘I guess you’ve gotten too uppity to eat grits.‘ Big Momma either has a good cook in her family or is a good cook- her food is basic, wonderful, no nonsense, seasoned perfectly, soul satisfying and cooked in large batches- to freeze, share or send. If the suburban Big Momma shares a recipe- she’s likely to add: ‘Marmaduke Casserole is a favorite at St. John’s Episcopal for Wednesday’s Women’s Luncheon- it may be doubled, tripled or quadrupled. It freezes well and has not been known to cause digestive upset.’ OR if she is a rural Big Momma- her recipe will be no nonsense entitled:
RR and G (Roast, Rice and Gravy)
- Whole beef roast cut 2″ thick
- 12 toes of garlic
- 2 large onions, sliced
- Peanut Oil
- Salt & Pepper
- Large Iron Skillet with Lid
Stab roast in 6 places on each side. Turn knife blade in hole, pour in salt and pepper in hole, push in toe of garlic. Sprinkle roast with salted flour. Brown in hot oil in skillet, turn and cover. Brown darker than desired as gravy lightens when liquid is added. When roast is dark enough, add onions above and below roast. Cook ’til onions are clear. (Never add onions first or you’ll never get that roast browned) Add water up the sides of the roast. Cook, simmer ’til fork tender about 2 and 1/2 hours. Let roast rest, pour gravy in a boat, serve with rice. Freezes well.
*I recently did a test drive on this Roast- look at the color of that gravy! And ‘stabbing the roast’ was actually therapeutic! This recipe is from a well worn family cookbook- compiled by my grandmother’s double first cousins. Lest you think Big Mommas throughout the South were humorless- they were not! Excerpts from the introduction say,
‘Mom was as excellent a saucier as any found in France; as any found just about anywhere, for that matter. She could be fixin’ the simplest supper any night of the week and it would be delectable to any palate that was lucky enough to pull up a chair….one of her favorite (cookbooks) was Escoffier’s Original Notes. She, Lou, Hazel, all of them understood cuisine…I don’t recall anything ever being spit out in a napkin…they learned about food since the day it was planted in the ground until harvest. We’ve learned to marry flavors…identify herbs and know their uses. Mom taught Suwannee, Penny and me by making us assist her…You see, in the South, dining is an event, an outing, a social gathering…from chopping the onions to ironing the tablecloth…I had to comb the neighborhood for the perfect magnolia leaves and blossom…not too waxy looking…for the centerpiece. Men were part of the process…but in limited usage. Daddy was allowed in the kitchen only to slice the roast or get the ice cream freezer ready…Very few of Mom’s recipes were written down; we just learned what went together from what she taught us…She was the best storyteller in the bunch, and would only tell you enough to be dangerous….I can still see her now, standing in the blue kitchen, wallpapered to match her periwinkle blue eyes….patiently stirring the fried corn saying, after sampling what was in the skillet, “Now, that’s fittin’ “…this cookbook and the stories intertwined is dedicated to my mother, Frances Virginia Garrison Randolph..’
Ah yes, we all love Big Mommas no matter what their given names are-they made growin’ up in the South possible.
Love y’all, Camellia
* all photographs are from AOL images and may be subject to copyright – except that iron skillet full of gravy! yum…that one was taken by me.