Being a Southern woman, making food is a part of your soul. It’s in our blood, it’s part of our spirit. It’s just what we do – we cook when we’re happy, when we’re expecting guests, when we’re down, or during a pandemic.
I often love to tell people the stories of my grandmother, Nellie Mae Baker Forth, and how she enjoyed me (her only granddaughter) cooking with her. I was the first girl born to my family in five or so generations. My grandmother had four sons, and it was extremely important for her to pass down the cooking skills she learned from her mother while growing up in Cincinnati, and then developed more after moving to Tennessee and raising those four boys on her own.
My favorite story about her was the day she cornered me in the kitchen one Thanksgiving morning. She explained to me just how important it was that I know how to cook. She said one day she’d be gone, and I’d be in charge of my father and his three brothers, as well as my own brother and two male cousins.
On the other side of my family, I had my Mutsi, Elsie Harlan Brothers. She was a kind and God-fearing woman who was a good cook as well. She didn’t put as much emphasis on my needing to know how to feed an army, but I still loved my time on the farm with her cooking. Every year for the family reunion, I’d always wake up early and we’d make a ton of breakfast. Soon, there would be around 35-40 family members coming over for a day of fun festivities starting with breakfast.
She taught in a kind manner that helped me learn how to test things. She would say, “What are we going to put on breakfast pizza this morning?” I’d give a few suggestions, and we’d use them on my half I made. When I asked, “how much cheese goes on this?” Her answer would be, “enough to cover it so that when it melts, it’s still there.” From Mutsi, the Mississippian, I learned the art of “feeling” how much to use.
That’s one thing I love most about cooking. I’ll often find a recipe that intrigues me, and from there – I’ll make adjustments. I’ll add a little extra this, or I know this will give it a little extra kick.
One recipe that I make that everyone loves is my Challah French toast. Growing up in the South, I didn’t have challah – but we’d use homemade or store-bought thick crust. Other than the eggs and the milk, the recipe was mine to adjust.
So how do I make my delicious Challah French toast? I use 3-4 eggs, a cup of milk, a good bit of cinnamon, some vanilla extract, a tiny bit of salt, a little sugar (or sweet’n low), and flour. Yep, that’s right – I add flour into my mix. Why, you ask? Because it makes it extra fluffy. Have you ever had soggy French toast? It’s the worst, so I add the flour, and the bread keeps its thickness.
French Toast is one of the easiest things to make. It’s also one of my go-to’s when I’m missing home. I try my best to make it on holiday mornings, if possible. I have great memories with both Grandma and Mutsi making French toast – mixing, laughing, and breakfast discussions. So, today – here I am, sharing this southern recipe with you. I hope you enjoy it and share it with your most loved ones. Send us a message if you make it; we’d love to know how it turns out and see some photos!