Summers growing up in small town Texas, usually in the mornings you attended some form of Vacation Bible School at one of the 100 Baptist churches in the area and then, if you were lucky, spent the rest of the day riding bikes and getting into trouble, occasionally stopping for the omnipresent Little Debbie snack cake and 16 oz. Dr. Pepper at the corner feed and grain store.
Those were the days.
Or at least I heard they were. We had a small farm and my Depression Era father grew a pretty decent sized garden that we were expected—not asked, but expected—to help with every aspect of it. From following behind the rototiller and planting the applicable seeds to boiling hot afternoons pulling tomatoes and picking okra, those fiberglass-like hairs rubbing your hands raw, these were our summers and our reward for said labor? Being lucky enough to have a seat at the dinner table and hopefully a place in Heaven, not necessarily in that order.
There was something so special, however—and even more so in aged retrospect—in feasting over the same food you spent all afternoon bleeding on while your old man called you a “cotton-pickin’ idiot” over and over again. The magical smell of those mustard greens and dirt-encrusted onions simmering in vinegar, the warm tartness of a firm green tomato and I’ll always remember the fresh snap of that okra—that damned okra—breaded and browning in ancient coffee-can manteca and always served hedonistically next to some gravy-charged “Manager’s Special” meat, usually chicken but hopefully pork.
The only restaurant that has ever, at least in my recent memory, even come close to that farm-bred country cooking at the dinner table has been the incomparable Florence’s Restaurant, 1437 NE 23rd St. A tried and true Oklahoma City landmark since 1952 when Boley farm-girl Florence Jones brought those rural recipes to the burgeoning big city. For well over 60 years, she’s been giving the people something they obviously can’t get anywhere else around here and, by all regards, doing it right.