I recently attended a second-year food and nutrition class taught by Mary Cunningham at Beaufort High School.
The class had been assigned a project: Each student was tasked with planning a nutritious dinner for their families. The meals had to be colorful and show off the students' cooking talents. The students had to discuss the plans with their parents, and though the parents could provide some guidance along the way, the cooking, serving and cleanup were going to be the students' responsibilities.
Every year, Mary and I team up to teach the kids how to cook the "Cunningham-Faulkner Meal": fried fish, grits, homemade biscuits, homemade preserves and orange juice.
The two of us wear aprons and give the history of the meal. After this, the students -- some of whom are the grandchildren of my former students -- chime in with their special food memories. Some talk about going out in the creeks with their grandfathers to catch their food. It is here I tell them about coming to the Lowcountry, knowing a lot about fish, a little about oysters and nothing about shrimp.
The storytelling and the sharing makes us almost like family even though I am meeting most of them for the first time. Mary Cunningham blends in her "coming to Beaufort" stories and also talks about the importance of healthy eating habits.
The students then help prepare the meal. One is assigned getting out pots and pans, one has to set the table, another will watch the oven as the biscuits bake.
When I ask the students about their plans after high school, many of them say they love food enough to attend culinary school; a few have afterschool jobs at fast food restaurants.
You should see the looks on their faces when I tell them that back in the days the fastest place to get a sandwich or a hot dog was from our refrigerators.
The students are very proud and eager to show off their skills, but the most impressive part of the day is saying grace and talking to each other during the meal.
You might want to try the Cunningham-Faulkner Meal as a treat with some of the students in your life.
THE 'CUNNINGHAM-FAULKNER MEAL'
Fish for frying must be in small pieces, either small whole fish or fillets. Prepare the fish for deep frying by rolling in a mixture of flour and cornmeal. Using hot vegetable oil, fry a small amount of fish at a time. Cook until brown, turning only once. Season fish to your taste.
1 gallon figs
Juice of 2 lemons
1 cup of sugar for every cup of figs
Place figs in alternate layers with sugar in an enamel or stainless steel pot. Let stand overnight. The next morning, stir and add the juice of the lemons, and cut the lemon into slices; add sliced lemons. Cook over medium-low heat for 1 to 1 hours or until the color is amber. Place figs and syrup in sterilized jars with hot lids. Jars should seal.
1/2 cup grits
2 cups water
Put grits in water, and place on medium heat until it begins to boil. Add salt. Reduce heat to low. Cook 10 to 12 minutes. Serve hot.
2 cups self-rising flour
1/3 cup Crisco shortening
1 small carton whipping cream
Cut Crisco in flour. Add whipped cream and mix with fork making sure flour and Crisco is mixed well. Knead until the mixture has the feeling of good biscuits. Break off the mixture to the size of the desired biscuit. Shape with hands. Place on an ungreased pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Serve hot.