This morning Mary Ann was browning several slices of meat to be added to the crock pot, in which our dinner would cook. The distinctive smell of the cooking meat caused me to recall my mother using streaked meat to flavor some of her food– the only flavoring she could afford.
If you are not of a certain age and of a geographical area, you will not understand streaked meat. So, I will save you the trouble of Googling it and tell you that it is heavily salted pork of the same cut as bacon but cheaper than bacon. Folks in my era would fry it before eating as done with bacon or use it as a flavoring for a mess (pot) of beans or greens. My mother used it for the latter. She would send one of us to the near-by store with two quarters with instructions to get the largest piece that the money would buy. As a youngster, I always saw the white, greasy looking slab as distasteful and ugly. Sometimes a piece would have a streak of blood red meat on its edge or in the middle, but it had no appeal until Mother used it for her beans.
To flavor any food properly is an art. Any idiot, such as I, can sprinkle or pour a flavoring into a cooking pot. However, to add the best bit of salt, sugar, spice, whatever requires knowledge and experience, and Mother knew how much streaked meat to add to her mess of beans. If she did not use the entire piece, she would save what she did not need or maybe fry a few slices for herself, which was seldom because she was too busy feeding her six children.
The streaked meat may have appeared distasteful to my young palate, but the flavor it gave Mother’s beans was absolute. While I could never understand how something so ugly and salty and fatty could help a mess of beans taste so wonderful, Mother knew how to use what she could afford to add something to such a basic dish as a mess of beans for her children. The beans now had some charm that appealed to my taste.
Mother never used a crock pot in those difficult days as Mary Ann is doing now. What she had to cook and to cook it in was bare, but she had the will to do with what she had. I think she must have learned that from the story of Exodus and the wandering tribe that learned to live on manna. I don’t know, but I wish I had asked her. But I didn’t, and now all I can do is remember, when I walk into our kitchen and smell browning streaked meat, Mother’s manna for her six children.