Letter from Langdon: Keep Stirring

Richard Oswald has discovered the secret to successful gravy: Lots of milk and lots of elbow grease.

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After nearly 66 years of life on earth, watching my grandmother, mother, and wife, with a frying pan skillet, suddenly I learned one day I had not a clue how to make good gravy. And so I struggled.

Then, in a single chicken-fried-steak moment, it all came home to me.

Half the secret to good gravy is milk.

I’m talking about white gravy, salty flour and slightly greasy gravy, the kind you eat on biscuits or mashed potatoes when there are no side dishes, no vegetables, no corn or green beans. When all you wanted on that hard day was fatty protein and starch. Rural food. Farm food. Calories fried to splattery perfection in smooth and fatty splendor.

On days like that the definition of sustainability, simply put, is sustenance.
After a long harvest workday, nothing sustains like gravy.

So here it is, half of everything I know; Even if, when the flour hits the grease it congeals, keep stirring–and add milk. Don’t be afraid to add too much. The longer you stir, no matter how watery or lumpy it seems, lactose, flour, and fat eventually turn to a steamy white purée.

Never stop stirring.
It’s a lesson in life.

For some of us Thanksgiving is about turkey, ham, and sweet potatoes. On that special day my grandmother made those, scalloped corn, and oysters too. Candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes. Then…it was about them. But she also made gravy. Sometimes white. But on that day gravy was always brown.

After all, it was Thanksgiving.
But that’s another story.

Salty rich succor, thickened drippings, ladled into a starchy well of mashed potatoes, over bread, onto meat. Gravy transcends everything.

It’s all about the gravy.

We take our food lightly these days in spite of heavy corporate food ladled from branded containers. Who-knows-what stuff, purchased at the store, already-mixed-together labor-savers.

Corporate ham, corporate turkey, corporate beef, corporate chicken.
Corporate gravy devoid of milk and cream–unless you count the profit.
Hydrogenated, whipped to flawed perfection.
Smooth and creamy, yet dairy free.

If long passed souls still have them, grandmother must shake her head now and then.
Or roll silently in her grave.
Perhaps she turns the other cheek, focused quietly on a better outcome.

“Never mind that.
Reach for the milk.
Pour some in.
Keep stirring.”

Buying like we buy the rest, it never occurs to us that pennies on the dollar ingredients in a grease stained skillet have been replaced by additives, preservatives, enamored with corporate earnings and as such higher priced food, sourced from far away.

A lost art, gravy. Disappearing food skills.
If you’re a corporation you can take those to the bank.


Americans are being convinced that grandmother, poor dear, never really knew what she was doing. All that fat and flour. Butter and milk.

Killer combinations.

It’s better from Brazil, China. Or Namibia.
Get your imports while they’re hot.
What’s that in my soup?

Ask them no questions they’ll tell you no lies, except for the obvious ones.

New age gravy flows from business to business, across borders…and oceans.
Transnationals grease the gravy train of food. Shipped first here, then there. Food miles, thousands of them, leading back from nowhere.

Average people don’t understand gravy.
They’re too busy to stir.
Trust in the global corporate America for your food.
It’s better off their shelf.

But here, mixing in my kitchen as so many times before, grandmother smiles down, and everything turns out fine. That’s because half the secret to good gravy is milk.

The other half is love.

Richard Oswald, president the Missouri Farmers Union, is a fifth-generation farmer from Langdon, Missouri. “Letter From Langdon” is a regular feature of The Daily Yonder.



Topics: Ag and Trade

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