2018-01-12 / Commentary

Faking Buttermilk

It’s not a criticism; It’s an observation
Mike Cox

Anytime I see an online test determining one’s southerness, I take it. My average score is high 90s. I grew up southern. Never lived anywhere else. I’ve used an outhouse as the primary family toilet facility. I’ve bathed in a #3 washtub. Walked more than a mile to get to the school bus stop. Even can share a true story of a skunk interrupting dinner.

I’m Southern to the core, and that includes cooking. I was the oldest of four kids with working parents. I could make scratch biscuits before I developed acne. I can identify fat back, cook green beans that don’t squeak when one bites into them, and prepare black eyed peas with a thick au jus that Southerners call pot licker. I make a mean pone of cornbread. My cast iron skillet was forged in Birmingham and has never been used for anything else. At least not by me.

So I dang sure know what buttermilk is. My problem is I rarely make cornbread and don’t use buttermilk for much of anything else. I share living space with an unrepentant Yankee who has lived in the South most of her life and steadfastly refuses to accept or acknowledge anything remotely southern, especially food.

Butter beans, black eyed peas and such, cooked with ham offal until near mush, isn’t served at our home unless I’m spending time alone. She doesn’t even like Spam and pineapple sandwiches.

Since I long ago discovered that frozen Pillsbury biscuits were perfect for a once a week biscuit household, there is seldom a need for buttermilk in our home. I’m limited to making cornbread when there is homemade stew or soup involved, so buttermilk isn’t considered a necessity at our house.

While there is usually a cobwebbed container of the stuff sitting way in the back of the bottom refrigerator shelf, sometimes we find ourselves in that place where we’ve just thrown away the old stuff and haven’t picked up a new container just yet.

Part of the problem is I can’t find buttermilk in a container smaller than a quart, and I also am never sure when the stuff has gone bad. No one seems to know.

Buttermilk behaves and tastes just like spoiled milk to an untrained palate and never changes. When it separates, you can shake it real good and everything’s okay, but in this squeamish time we reside in, responsible cooks always worry about poisoning their dinner guests.

As I preheated the oven to 450 the other afternoon while my pork soup simmered, I discovered we were completely out of buttermilk. For this reason, and only this reason, I cranked up the trusty internet to see what buttermilk substitutions were available.

While others were looking for information about Ellen and the Deep State, or whether the Clinton fire destroyed evidence, I was checking out how much water to add to yogurt to fake buttermilk and what the heck Kefir was.

In the end, I made a passable substitute. My cornbread was functional as always. I promise not to make this a habit. I’ve visited Detroit and Cleveland.

Don’t want to be forever banished to either place.

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