Jake Wilder has jealously guarded his grandmother's secret family recipe for an authentic Kentucky favorite: southern fried squash.
But a little persuasion has unlocked the secret for the Cook's Corner readership. "I now have permission to hand it out to the public," he said.
"This recipe dates way, way, way back when money was so scarce due to lack of work in the foothills of the Appalachians that our people needed to make do with what God gave them.
"This recipe is so easy but yet so delicious, it keeps itself alive through the hearts of the those who love simplicity," he added with a smile.
Wilder is a fifth-year voice performance major at Bowling Green State University who hails from Van Wert.
"I've been in Ohio all my life, but still my heart belongs to southern Kentucky where our family originates from. I'm 24 years old and love to cook southern-down-home food!"
Even as a young boy, "I always cooked."
The first thing he recalls making on his own was pancakes. But these weren't the boxed-mix version. "We cook them in oil! It gives them a crisp edge."
The fried squash is a treat in the hands of a southern cookery master like Wilder. The first bite yields a burst of buttery flavor. It's made even better by the great contrast between the mellow crunchy coating and juicy contents.
Don't like squash? Forget that; it's great. Grandma knew what she was doing.
"There's no one I know that does them like that" and northern restaurant versions of squash tend to be a sad joke alongside Grandmother Wilder's authentic version.
"It's more of an appetizer" and back home on a sunny Kentucky summer day would likely served with "homemade mashed potatoes with butter; home-fried chicken, or steak or ribs; and any other vegetable like fresh green beans or fresh peas."
Wilder's paternal grandparents and their siblings are all from Kentucky, "the deep southeast part down by Cumberland Gap." Wilder himself still returns to the Bluegrass State for family visits four or five times a year.
His grandmother uses the exact same recipe and method, by the way, to make fried green tomatoes. Her grandson plans to do the same as soon as tomatoes come into season in Ohio.
The historical Appalachian approach to cooking was to use everything available and emphasize fresh produce for both health and economic reasons.
On past Kentucky visits his relatives have been known to serve "ribbles," which are flour-and-milk or flour-and-water dumplings. "They put it with potatoes or beef.
"Also, they do a lot of wonderful things with rhubarb."
Along with his studies, which Wilder intends to lead to a master's degree, he has been working as a waiter at Cucina di Betto Italian restaurant in downtown Bowling Green for the past three months.
"I try to practice the recipes (served at Cucina) at home. I tried the shrimp scampi the other day" and it got his roommate's seal of approval.
So did the squash. "He tried it for the first time this week and he liked it."
Wilder has two firm suggestions for anyone who opts to make this recipe.
"Now I know most people use canola or vegetable oil, but butter was the only real easy, money-saving cooking product they used back home and it really gives the squash their flavor."
Also, he says, be sure to use a Teflon-style skillet rather than something else like an iron skillet "because (otherwise) the skin will come off the squash real easy."
Wilder thanks Sentinel-Tribune readers for giving him an opportunity to share a secret family recipe that - as he puts it - "fills the heart as much as it fills the tummy!"
1 stick of butter (or margarine) for every 15 slices of squash
3 whole squash
half a white onion (optional)
2 cups of cornmeal *
1 cup of flour
Slice the squash to the thickness desired of each slice (usually 1/4 inch). Next, slice or dice half the white onion.
In a separate bowl beat the four eggs.
In another separate bowl combine the cornmeal (* Martha White brand recommended) and the flour. Flour helps add body to the crust while frying, therefore the crust won't fall off when flipping the squash.
Now take each slice, dip it in the egg batter and transfer each piece to the bowl of cornmeal/flour. Sift each piece, making sure it is entirely covered in meal.
In a medium or large sized skillet, melt 1 stick of butter on medium high heat (usually a 7 or 8 on electric stoves). When butter is melted and ready for frying, transfer as many pieces as will fit into the skillet. Salt and pepper each side when ready to be flipped. At this time add the onions, if desired. Onions are optional, but it does give an extra zest to the squash.
From here on out just fry the squash until golden brown on each side.
Serve nice and hot.
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