My grandmother made a warm lemony stew that she claimed would cure anything. Mimi’s Lemon Butter Chicken has been an all time family favorite for at least three generations. Cold? Flu? Sore Throat? All of these were soothed by this simple stew. Wait a minute. Nervous stomach, depression and heartache were eased as well, for all I know. What I know for sure is whether we were sick or not, Mimi’s Lemon Butter Chicken has very few ingredients and what’s amazing is that it turns out so well- Every. Single. Time. And it sure doesn’t taste like medicine! I make no claims of actual medicinal qualities beyond the obvious- we all feel better after eating it! Served simply with tiny soft yeast rolls, a mixed green salad with a creamy lemon dressing- it’s easy enough for weeknight meals yet makes a regular appearance here at Camellia’s Cottage with a simple dessert for Sunday Dinner. Here’s wishing you a healthy and happy new year.
A Lemony Chicken Stew with just 4 main ingredients! Chicken, Potatoes, Lots of fresh Lemon Juice and Butter!
Course: Main Course
4split chicken breastsbone in, skin on
3 lbs. 6-8 mediumpeeled potatoes (such as russet)cut in large chunks
3/4 cupfresh squeezed lemon juicedo not substitute, may use zest of up to 2 lemons)
1stickbutter, cut in 4-6 segmentsno substitutes
Salt and Pepper generouslyfresh cracked black pepper preferred
1 quart watermay need more to cover potatoes
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, pat chicken breasts dry- salt and pepper generously. Place cup up potatoes in a large covered pot. Cover with water, Salt generously. Place Chicken Breasts on top of potatoes, do not cover with water. Pour fresh lemon juice and zest over chicken. Evenly space chicken and place segments of butter over chicken. Salt and Pepper again. Cover pot with oven safe lid. On stovetop, bring stew to a boil. Carefully remove from heat and transfer covered pot to preheated oven. Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until chicken is done. (Falling off the bone is desired.) When done, remove from oven, carefully remove chicken from the pot. Allow to cool slightly. Remove chicken skin and bones. Shred or chop cooked chicken breasts and return to the pot, stirring in gently with broth and potatoes. To serve: Remove chicken and potatoes with slotted spoon to a plate, pass small bowls of hot broth. May also be served in large bowls as a stew. Any leftovers? Reheat and mash potatoes slightly to serve as a soup.
Please do not substitute chicken broth or stock instead of water, this makes it’s own rich broth.
You must not use boneless chicken or the broth will not be enriched.
Any herbs, seasonings or vegetables beyond what the recipe calls for will change the recipe entirely!
A certain type of Southern lady may be thought to be snobbish because she only joins small groups such as sewing circles, book clubs, altar guild or exclusive clubs with limited memberships. I’m here to dispel this ugly rumor. It’s not really about being exclusive, it’s more to do with her ancestor’s obsession concerning proper thank you notes!
Recently, a southern mother was deeply concerned when her daughter signed up for speed dating…‘Marybelle, what were you thinking? Yes, darling I certainly want you to find a suitable match but speed dating? Just think of how many thank you notes you’ll have to write to find Mr. Right?’ Okay. I made that up but it could happen.
Southern mothers do belong to one large group- the one which is simply horrified that cursive writing is no longer part of the curriculum. Penmanship speaks volumes. Fine penmanship, eloquent sentiments and a unique signature spell Culture with a capital C. Sloppy handwriting, fill in the blank notecards, preprinted sayings with a signature which has reverted away from fine cursive writing, not to mention being struck through with mistakes, misspellings and has ink blobs, well…this just reeks of being low and uncouth.
Actually I’m exaggerating a bit here…today’s southern mothers are willing to acceptneatly penned and simply worded notes of any kind as long as it’s not mass produced, pre-printed or electronic. Shiver. And! The best southern mothers try to make sure their offspring- male or female- stays well stocked with suitable stationary, pens and notecards with proper envelopes… Some mothers have even stooped so low as to include postage stamps. Save the precious children the price of a postage stamp and remember – metered postage is tacky. So are pre-printed well wishes, sympathy or thank you notes which only require a signature. Tacky is not an image builder. While monogrammed or personalized stationary is preferred- nice blank notecards are suitable for informal notes.
If the all occasion blank notecards are hand embellished- well, it’s better…anything that has a personal touch is acceptable when engraved is simply too formal. I personally received a box of beautiful notecards as a Christmas gift, also I had picked up several packages of informal blank notecards during the past year. With snippets of ribbons found while I was putting away holiday packaging, I decided a bit of embellishment was in order for the thank you notes I still need to write- in my cursive writing of course. Using a paper hole punch placed in strategic locations, I threaded ribbon and even hem tape through the holes and tied them in cute bows.
That’s all there is to it. Still. I think they’re just precious. Oh my, how I do run on..Now. While I’m at it… and though it’s electronically transmitted– I hope my image won’t suffer too much for saying ‘Thank you’ to all y’all who have graciously followed this crazy blog in the last three years! You’ve made it so much fun for me, I hope we can continue to bring good things to your inbox in 2019 and hey! We’d appreciate it if you’d tell your friends about us too!
Love y’all, Camellia
*All photographs are obviously mine.
*The hole punch I use is from a scrapbooking kit, however what you may need to embellish your own notecards is a hole punch with a longer reach than standard hole punchers – like this McGill 2″ reach craft punch from Amazon
Since New Year’s Eve is known as a time for fireworks and tooting your own horn…we decided to take a look back and see what posts y’all seemed to like best before we declare in the very best southern fashion- ‘That’s all she wrote’ for 2018. To be honest, we were amused to see which ones they were… Given that there’s a whole slew of them… why choose the Top Five? Well, the number five is symbolic of Grace… We consider the fact that you read Camellia’s Cottage- a true measure of grace on your part with every single post-you don’t have to read what we write, when you do- well, it’s a kind and gracious thing to do. Also, our mission statement for writing all of this for nearly three years is to present ‘the wit and wisdom, the graciousness and generosity, artistry and beauty of southern people’ to still be relevant today as it was when we first began. Then, there is a grace note in music- where you have an extra note…give a little extra trill than the score of music called for- we hope to always give you just a little bit more than you expected- a funny story along with a recipe, a beautiful photograph to accompany a project even a bit of trivia or history in our travels along the way. So, without further ado… here’s the New Year’s Eve countdown of the top 5 posts for 2018… Drumroll please…
Coming in at Number 5 is none other than Cookbook Therapy… in which I regale my love of reading cookbooks as literature in addition to recipes of course… Find this humor piece at https://camelliascottage.com/2018/01/10/cookbook-therapy/ Enjoy!
In 4th place is one of my personal favorites- Going Away Outfits… which recounts the… dare I say, ‘old custom’ when a bride’s trousseau included a suit or nice dress to wear when leaving for the honeymoon! I totally enjoyed this because it includes some very good friends who were very good sports for sharing photographs! Find this one at https://camelliascottage.com/2018/05/19/ This one, honestly tickled me to write!
In 3rd place for 2018 was a post actually written in 2017 about a southern girl with Alabama ties- whose become a quite famous actress, none other than Sandra Bullock! This post is about a type of Southern lady whom gentlemen tend to admire, entitled – Smart Sassy and Southern… I totally enjoyed sharing this one with you but was also totally floored that it was in the top 5! Find it at https://camelliascottage.com/2017/02/07/smart-sassy-and-southern/
Now, I have to admit I thought y’all loved my grandmother’s cooking and our recipes best of all, however, only one recipe post made the top 5 in 2018! Of course it was a post called Mimi’sFried Chicken! I shouldn’t be surprised because fried chicken is almost synonymous with Southern Cooking! Find our Number 2 at https://camelliascottage.com/2018/02/03/mimis-fried-chicken/ I was also highly amused that apparently some of you readers and y’all know who y’all are… prefer your own mother’s or grandmother’s methods for frying chicken!
In First Place– now really I shouldn’t be surprised at this one- Sinking Spells… This post was also written in 2017 and consistently it has spoken to women all over the place, though I thought originally that Sinking Spells were particular to the South! Find Sinking Spells – our number one post for 2018 at https://camelliascottage.com/2017/06/12/sinking-spells/ I hope it tickles your funny bone on into 2019!
Happy New Year’s Eve! Wishing you good cooking, loads of laughs and lots of kindness ! Thanks for reading and as always….
Love y’all, Camellia
*Photographs are credited in each of the winning blog posts, with the exception of the cookbooks photograph which was not in the original post, however is a photograph taken by me of some of my personal favorites! Blog posts have not been edited but probably need to be! Let me know, which one is your favorite!
Holiday Parties are rarely sit down affairs… the best gatherings are winter buffets with pickup foods that are easy to pick up and eat and if utensils aren’t required that’s even better! I hope it goes without saying that I love Southern Food. While we generally have iconic pick up foods on hand such as cheese straws, deviled eggs, pimento cheese, toasted pecans, ham biscuits and even tea sandwiches with simple fillings can be assembled in just a few minutes. Still. Some of my favorite southern foods don’t exactly come in pick up form. Southern flavors like sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese and so many wonderful casseroles. My personal favorite is Squash Casserole; made with summer squash and yellow onions steamed together- bound by eggs and cheese into a wonderful dish that is beloved by all, but certainly not a dish that’s easy to serve for a Winter Buffet. Several years ago, we hosted a party which highlighted southern foods– specifically local cheeses, produce, even preserves, nuts, fruits and honey. A few years later, I decided to have a party at home with even more of my personal southern favorites- Pickled Shrimp to Ham Biscuits to Banana Pudding, Pound Cake and Fried Pies… For this party, I experimented with a sheet pan frittata – which I called Summer Squash Squares. To be honest, I wanted to include foods that made the buffet taste like a sit down dinner. That meant getting creative with the taste of a casserole in pickup form!
Summer Squash Squares were a personal favorite for me that night and I think the guests enjoyed it too! Easy to make, good hot or at room temperature and best of all- no forks required! Here’s how you make a Pick up Food with a Southern Flair!
Camellia’s Squash Party Squares
8-10 cups of sliced Yellow Squash
2 cups of thin sliced Yellow or Spanish Onions
Salt and Pepper to taste
4-6 slices of Hickory Smoked Bacon
1 small carton Sour Cream
2 cups of shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 cup of green onion tops or scallions
1/2 cup of Self Rising Flour
Optional- parsley for garnish
Steam yellow squash and onions in a small amount of salted water- generously adding black pepper while steaming. Drain squash and onions very well in a colander and allow to cool. On a large sheet pan, oven fry hickory smoked bacon at 350 degrees for 7-8 minutes or until done. Remove, drain on paper towels. Set aside. Drain almost all of the bacon drippings from sheet pan- leaving enough to oil the sheet pan. *Cook bacon on the same sheet pan as the squash squares will be baked on! Chop bacon into medium size crumble.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, add carton of sour cream, 1 and 1/2 cups of sharp cheddar cheese and green onion tops; fold drained squash and onion in carefully- sprinkle flour over mixture and gently stir. Carefully pour the mixture into oiled sheet pan. Sprinkle chopped bacon evenly over top of squash mixture. Bake 30-35 minutes, until edges are lightly browned and center is set. Do not overbake. Remove and sprinkle the top with reserved 1/2 cup of shredded cheese. Allow to cool and cut into 2 inch squares. Garnish with additional green onion tops if desired.
Summer Squash Squares were served here at the cottage in 2018 for Thanksgiving and transported well as my contribution to a Christmas gathering which was a Winter Buffet, and the name was shortened to Squash Bites! Easy, pretty and quick enough to make for a New Year’s Eve party, a casual football party and would even be appropriate for a bereavement buffet. During the upcoming chilly and dreary months ahead…why not have a few friends over for a Sunday Supper or a Winter Buffet? Okay, okay… I know folks are ready for a break from holiday food now… but surely there will be those days when we just wish the fog would lift! And a Winter Buffet may be just the answer for lifting the spirits and a good excuse to gather again!
Love y’all, Camellia
*All photographs are obviously mine.
*Summer Squash Squares are also wonderful cut in a larger ‘luncheon size’, with a simple side salad, a bowl of soup or a few slices of ham- makes a satisfying light meal. Leftover squares may also be stored in the freezer and reheated successfully. And… I do also think Summer Squash Squares would be truly delicious all year round!
I hope your 2018 holidays have been happy, and I continue to be humbled that you read and follow Camellia’s Cottage! Follow us on Instagram! We’ve been posting content that doesn’t always make it to the blog! And…
We’re planning now to bring you more and hopefully even better content in 2019! Wishing you all a safe and Happy New Year’s Eve!
We’ve been busy in the kitchen making Christmas sweets and treats! At the same time, we’re in the process of making some much needed renovations to this site – Camellia’s Cottage! Still. Here’s what we’ve been up to- There’s Classic Christmas Fudge-
We intended to make some chocolate truffles but got sidetracked making some adorable Chocolate Mice!
Then, there’s Alabama Pralines… an amazing recipe which doesn’t require a candy thermometer!
And we couldn’t leave off the old Southern Favorite- Divinity… she’s finicky at times, though this time- this batch turned out pretty as a picture!
We’ve made Sugared Apricots…
And! Three batches of Toffee! Amazing how butter and sugar can be boiled up into that luscious golden crunch with milk chocolate or semi sweet and toasted chopped pecans blend into this amazing candy!
Tomorrow is pound cake making day, with Mimi’s Pound Cake making a welcome appearance! These will be gifts for some very special family members !
Hopefully, these Christmas Sweets will be welcome additions on Holiday Tables! I hope your Christmas Sweet and Treat making is going well… would love to hear what you’ve been making!
Love y’all, Camellia
* Follow us on Instagram as we continue the renovations. We’ll continue to share a post or two in the meantime. Then by the New Year, hopefully you’ll find more user friendly recipes and shopping lists too!
The Candy Kitchen is open for Christmas at Camellia’s Cottage…couldn’t resist sharing this recipe for Alabama Pralines with you again- I tried it again today and it was a success again! Easy enough for gifts- delicious enough for your very own Southern Sweet Tooth! And while I’m at it- I hope you’ll follow us on Instagram- we’ve been having a good time sharing photographs and tips since before Thanksgiving… you’ll see a few more things there than here! Love y’all, Camellia
Most of the iconic Southern Candies are made in the wintertime- Divinity. Toffee. Peanut Brittle. Caramels. Pralines, Bourbon Balls and of course Fudge. There’s are reasons for this winter phenomenon… some are scientific in nature, some are mythical and some are downright insane- we won’t go into that now, but here’s what you’ll hear at the desserts and sweets table… with lots of soulful shaking of heads and tsk-ing and sucking in of breath-
‘Well, it’s finicky.’
‘Have you tasted these pralines? Grainy.’
‘Cooked ittoo long, it seized up.’
‘Her Divinity is hard as a rock but she keeps making it like thatevery year.’
And maybe worst of all…‘It just won’t set up, I tried everything- I tell you it just wouldn’t set up- so I threw the whole mess out!’
Now, apparently there were a few wise souls in my storied youth who could make a decent batch of fudge… My Aunt Trix made the classic Fantasy Fudge, My Aunt DawDaw favored Mamie Eisenhower’s Fudge – DawDaw was such a fan of Mamie’s.. she trimmed her bangs real short- though it didn’t work on DawDaw’s low forehead. But the fudge was good. And… Aunt Mary Sue used Mary Ball’s Fudge recipe. It turns out that all three of those recipes are basically the same! All call for semi-sweet chocolate, sweetened condensed milk, pure vanilla extract and either marshmallows or marshmallow crème. How do I know this? I’ve seen it in black and white. I’ve made them all too. These recipes are legendary.
I was making a test run on Aunt Mary Sue’s dark chocolate fudge using the Mary Ball formula. Mary Sue was my favorite of the three aunts. The first batch was perfect. It was a cold crisp day after all… the humidity and the barometric pressure must have aligned. Still. Most recipes for fudge in old southern cookbooks tend to have a few variations… I was on the lookout for a variation that had some additions- maybe pecans or candied cherries- even almonds and almond extract….
How in the world I veered off course is still a mystery. I must have started out on the Bourbon Balls page, run down to Mamie Eisenhower’s fudge and ended up with something akin to a Fantasy Fudge on steroids!
Let me break with my southern roots and say – I don’t like Bourbon Balls. Those crushed up vanilla wafers rolled in powdered sugar kind of bourbon balls. Never tasted one I’d write home about….however, this Bourbon Ball recipe I’d run up on wasn’t like the traditional ones at all! It was more like a fondant- a buttered powdered sugar base filled with pecans, candied oranges and cherries- and oh yes! Bourbon. That mixture was made into little balls then dipped in chocolate…sounded wonderful.
Still. I wasn’t making Bourbon Balls. I was looking for a variation on fudge. I don’t know why but I followed the dipped bourbon ball directions- ‘ Soak the pecans in bourbon overnight.‘ Check. The next morning, I chopped the candied fruits then started in on another batch of fudge. I drained the pecans soaked in bourbon, folded them in.
I felt dizzy when the heat hit that chocolate mixture and those bourbon soaked pecans. Maybe it was the heat, humidity and the barometric pressure. Who knows? Still. Once you start a batch of fudge you can’t just stop. I was reeling, giggling and stirring like a whirling dervish, adding those candied oranges and cherries. Before I knew it… I’d made a batch of something befitting a finer name than Bourbon Balls or even Fantasy Fudge… Anyway, here’s how you make-
Camellia’s Merry Ball Fudge
3 (6 oz. packages semi sweet chocolate chips
1 (14oz.) can of sweetened condensed milk
2 cups of miniature marshmallows
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons of instant coffee or espresso powder
1 1/4 cups of rough chopped pecans
1/2 to 3/4 cup of Bourbon
1 cup of candied cherries
1/2 cup of candied oranges
In a sealed jar, soak chopped pecans in bourbon overnight. Set aside. Line a 9×12 dish with wax paper. In a medium glass bowl set over simmering water, melt semi-sweet chocolate chips with miniature marshmallows, a pinch of salt, instant coffee and sweetened condensed milk until thoroughly melted and smooth. Remove chocolate mixture from heat. Drain bourbon soaked pecans, reserving bourbon. Fold pecans, candied cherries and candied orange carefully into melted chocolate mixture. Add 2 teaspoons of reserved Bourbon, mixing gently but thoroughly. Spread fudge mixture into wax paper lined pan spreading evenly. Chill until firm approximately 2 hours- no longer. On cool counter or cutting board, turn out chilled fudge and remove wax paper. If you prefer uniform pieces- remove rough edges as a cook’s treat. Then cut into equal pieces. (I like to use miniature muffin cup liners as candy holders for fudge pieces.) Store in a covered container at room temperature or chilled as necessary. Flavor develops overnight. Makes 2 or 2 1/2 pounds of fudge.
I had a good bit of trouble coming up with a name for this bourbon soaked pecan candied fruit studded fudge… I thought of-
Jubilee Fudge or
Maybe Jewel Box or
Christmas Carousel since I felt like I’d been on a merry-go-round!
Then, I recalled finer days…when ladies showed up in Plaid Taffeta, Velvet, Silk or Satin- with stockings swishing; bejeweled and well heeled- sometimes dyed to match. The men were starched and pressed, clean cut and close shaved, four-in-hand tied, spit shined shoes as we like to say… smelling good with fresh comb marks… ah yes! There was always soft music playing, a bit of dancing and cheerful laughter as the night wore on… Sometimes there are still Christmas, Camellia or Poinsettia Balls. So why not call my festive fudge – Merry Ball Fudge? I would say- try this fudge at your own risk, who knows how much the bourbon will develop between now and then? All I know is that it’s a very festive fudge- similar in flavor to chocolate covered cherries and not overly sweet either…but yes! It sure is festive!
Oh my, like all southern tales, this one is part truth, part myth and part outright lies! Though Merry Ball Fudge is a real happy coincidence!
Love y’all, Camellia
*All photographs are obviously mine.
P.S. For Basic Fudge- I won’t say foolproof since who knows what this fickle weather might do? The classic fudge omits the candied fruits, the bourbon soaked pecans and needs a few teaspoons of pure vanilla extract. Be sure to use pecan halves which have been salted and toasted- this always improves the flavor of pecans. This is what a typical Mary Ball Fudge looks like:
We southerners love soups, stews, gumbos, cream sauces, gravies, and we also tend to use the freshest ingredients possible. Since a good part of our land is agricultural, we have access to all kinds of fresh food and food we’ve grown and canned or put in the freezer. That includes Mushroom Soup… you might be surprised how many of our traditional dishes include fresh mushrooms!
Still. We also know part of our cuisine -often referred to as the ‘cream of soup dishes’ – has been made fun of, considered low rent even rejected out of hand as substandard by those stuck up cooks in other parts of the country! I would argue that any real southerner finds generational comfort in soup can recipes, namely our famous casseroles. Green Bean Casserole has been around for over 75 years and there are Classic Chicken Casseroles that spell comfort. As soon as we hear of a death- before the grave is dug… you can hear the cans opening! No self respecting southern cook would even think of having a bereavement spread without several soup can casseroles, they feed a crowd and offer comfort at a time when fresh food might be a bit too lively to offer. I mean, who in their right mind shows up with a bushel of bell peppers or cucumbers when the digestive systems of the bereaved needsoft creamy food with a bit of Ritz Crackers on top? Though-
I do need to add that we southerners don’t actually open a can of cream of mushroom soup, heat it and eat it like that! No, it’s a mainstay in our pantry, strictly used as an ingredient in those famous casseroles- and every southerner I know- who has the decency to send food to the bereaved- keeps her pantry and freezer ready for life’s unexpected trials and tribulations.
Still. When I make soup, I want it to be made from scratch. Last year, I fiddled around and came up with a Mushroom Soup recipe and it was good! I didn’t share it with you, because it wasn’ a ‘tested and tried’ recipe. With the cold snap we’ve been having and all of the holiday leftovers a distant memory- Soup of any kind just felt right. My grocery store had some good looking mushrooms and I basically had every thing else I needed to make Homemade Mushroom Soup! Here’s how I made-
Camellia’s Homemade Mushroom Soup
You will need:
A drizzle of Bacon Fat
One Stick of Butter (1/2 cup)
1 medium Onion finely chopped
3 Garlic Cloves chopped
4 cups of Whole Fresh Mushrooms – sliced (can be one type or several – your choice)
A few sprigs of Fresh Thyme
4 Tablespoons of All Purpose Flour
4-5 cups of good quality Chicken Stock – homemade if possible
Small Diced Ham – 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup
A couple of splashes of White Wine
1 cup of Half and Half or Heavy Cream if you prefer
Salt and Pepper to taste
Use 1/4 cup of powdery grated Parmesan Cheese only as a seasoning or thickener, but it’s worth keeping in the pantry! If the soup needs to be a bit thicker- this type of parmesan cheese is an excellent way to season and thicken the soup before adding Cream, just reduce the amount of salt a bit.
To Prepare Soup–
In a large soup pot, pour a drizzle of Bacon Fat- okay I admit it- to be Southern Style- it has to have some pork! Also melt one half of the butter (half stick) over medium high heat.
Add finely chopped onion. Saute until onion is soft. Reduce heat to medium and add chopped garlic- be careful- garlic scorches easily, saute Garlic for no more than one minute.
Add sliced Mushrooms- I used a mix of Baby Portobello and White Buttons, also add the remainder of the Butter. Stir until butter has melted, then add fresh Thyme (leaves only) and diced Ham.
Cook until mushrooms are soft and moisture has cooked off.
Shake Flour over the mushroom mixture, stir to coat- then add White Wine. Stir often until liquid has cooked off. Mixture will be thick. *It will look like this-
Add 4 cups of Chicken Stock, bringing it to a bubbling simmer. Cook on medium until this mixture is thick and smooth- up to 30 minutes, stirring often.
*To thicken- use the powdered Parmesan Cheese. I use it as a seasoning or thickener only! Add up to 1/4 cup of this type of Grated Parmesan Cheese stirring it until completely absorbed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. *I found when the recipe was tested, the extra thickening was needed.
*At this point the soup may be refrigerated! When ready to serve, bring thickened mixture to a simmer and carefully add Half and Half, stirring until absorbed into the Mushroom mixture. Serve immediately. *If you aren’t quite ready to serve, the soup may be kept covered in the oven for a bit- at 170 degrees, no longer than 10-15 minutes.
Serving suggestion: Melt a half stick of butter in a cast iron skillet. Toss in a 16 oz. bag of Oyster Crackers and stirring to coat. Remove from heat. Put skillet of Oyster Crackers in a cold oven set to preheat at 350 degrees. When oven is preheated- the Oyster Crackers will be buttery and toasted. Excellent accompaniment!
Homemade Mushroom Soup is rich and hearty enough for a main dish, though I must admit a small cup would be an excellent first course. Homemade Mushroom Soup doesn’t aim to be a substitute for any of the famous soup can recipes we southerners also love, however it does bridge a gap between haute cuisine and the so called low rent dishes. Homemade Mushroom Soup is so good on chilly days- fresh but without the bite, that I’m reminded of a family’s beloved but protective family dog… When she runs out barking… they reassure folks…‘She won’tbite.’ Well…not hard.’
Homemade Mushroom Soup has lots of flavor from onions, ham, garlic, fresh thyme, wine and good chicken stock- comforting but surely not bland.
Cookbook Therapy was written during a cold snap last year- it was one of our most popular humor posts- I continue to entertain myself in this manner! With all of the Thanksgiving cooking and feasting behind us- and as the Christmas season begins in earnest with all of the shopping- I also take part in the time honored tradition of buying myself a gift or two along the way – my first gift to myself was a 1986 copy of ‘White Trash Cooking’ by Ernest Matthew Mickler- which was so popular- there is a 25th edition! Just the names of recipes make me laugh- Russian Communist Tea Cakes, Charlotte’s Mother’s Charlotte and Bonnie Jean Butt’s Banana Puddin’ are just a few…it would also make a great gift for the favorite cooks or …just folks who love to eat a regional type of food or even get a good laugh or two! I also hope you’ll enjoy reading Cookbook Therapy again! Love y’all, Camellia
And so it begins… It came to me that Fall and Winter Holidays in the South begin and end with Cornbread. Yes, we eat it all year round, but cornbread is the one thing that sets the Southern cooking apart from other regions. Make the first pot of vegetable soup, chili or chicken and dumplings and while it simmers a Southern cook is making a pone of cornbread. As Thanksgiving approaches- Southerners are looking forward to their ownfamily’s recipe for Dressing. Indulge me here- true Southerners don’t eat Stuffing- Ever. We might tolerate Stuffing, but count on hearing this if anyone makes Stuffing for Thanksgiving-
‘ Bless her heart, she didn’t make Dressing. Can you believe she made stuffing? I think her momma’s from New Jersey- no wonder. Now, Eugene- don’t worry honey, I’m making us a pan of dressing to go with our turkey.’
And no, we don’t call it Cornbread Dressing…if you ever find a dressing recipe that goes with Turkey- first be skeptical, then know- it might be calledCornbread Dressing– but y’all, we don’t say that! It’s Turkey and Dressing. Or Chicken and Dressing. We don’t have time to specify the Cornbread– we know what kind of dressing we’re talking about, though I did find a precious recipe for Cornbread that specified – Iron Skillet Cornbread!
Forget worrying about cooking the Turkey…there’s hotlines for Turkey! Not so with Dressing. It’s a generational thing. The recipes aren’t written down, okay… rarely. Thanksgiving Turkey and Dressing has…almost a mythical quality. Write the recipe down and you still won’t get the taste and flavor of the real deal. It goes by taste, texture and feel.
Now, I’ve eaten many many many helpings of dressing… okay maybe that’s one too many ‘many’s’ ….let’s just say I’ve eaten a lot of dressing and leave it at that. Some dressing I’ve eaten, I wouldn’t put out for a possum to eat- others were sublime, just not mine. I still want the taste of my family’s – specifically my grandmother’s Dressing on Thanksgiving! My momma made excellent dressing, she used my grandmother’s recipe- it was moist, seasoned just right- even developed a better flavor with leftovers. Every. Single. Year. the family legend or horror story was recounted…
Mimi told about the year they went to Texas for Thanksgiving with my uncle Chester. Chester might have owned an oil well or two- but he might have been married to a Yankee, maybe of Italian descent- she committed a cardinal sin. Uncle Chester’s wife added Oregano instead of Sage to her Dressing. Like I said, every single year- Mimi would exclaim-
‘Can you believeChester’s wife put Oregano in that dressing? It wasn’t fit to eat! I thought I would gag, had to spit it out into my napkin and excuse myself from the table!’
Could I add here? I never even knew Uncle Chester’s wife had a given name! The only time Mimi brought up Uncle Chester’s wife was in connection with that awful dressing loaded with oregano.
Real dressing can’t be made in one sitting. Last week, I baked two pound cakes, one for the freezer and one for a bereavement table- and three pones of cornbread. All three pans of cornbread also went in the freezer for the upcoming holiday, this week. Now please note: it’s not just cornbread in the dressing… there’s white bread crumbs (slices of bread which has been left to dry out a bit before they’re crumbled up in with the cornbread. Now, because I’m superstitious and Mimi’s grandchild- I add a few crushed saltine crackers and – this is important– at least one Biscuit is also crumbled up in the cornbread portion of the Dressing. Please don’t laugh- I can actually tell if the biscuit isleft out!
All of the cornbread, bread crumbs and (added quirks) mixture must be tossed together, then one must carefully add the dried sage, a bit of thyme, salt and pepper to taste. I have to stop here- this is a point of contention. Normally, I prefer fresh herbs- just not for Dressing. I once ate dressing with so much fresh sage- it had a green tinge to it. Not. Good. Much better to go with the old formula of dried herbs. And yes, I almost had my very own- ‘oregano moment’ with that fresh sage dressing! I still break out with a bead of sweat across my brow thinking about it
Then, there’s celery and onions. We might need to explain here- some add celery and onions in without cooking them, some saute celery and onions in butter, I personally add the celery and onions to my homemade chicken broth and cook them gently until just warmed and softened, then, I also add a bit of fresh celery for texture. Peculiar right?
Dressing takes a lot of broth. For our family dressing- at least 3-4 cups of broth is required, preferably homemade broth- I make sure to have extra store bought broth on hand. Then there’s the Custard part (which some fine Southern Cooks do not add to their Dressing), I do- I make a custard of up to 6 eggs and 2 cups of whole milk stirred together, then poured over the cornbread, seasoning and broth mixture. This is left to soak over night in …usually one large pan and maybe one or two other smaller pans (these are for leftovers or emergency extras). My family actually believes that I can’t make a small amount of dressing. They are right!
After soaking for a number of hours or overnight- the whole thing is baked at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour. sometimes a bit longer- it will be slightly puffed and golden. It’s moist on the inside and has a bit of crust on it- overbake it? And the Dressing is dry. Oh lord, when is some smart Southern Cook going to set up a hotline for Dressing?
The whole thing is totally worth the effort and I honestly wish I had this recipe for Mimi’s Dressing written down…but, y’all- it’s just a few days before Thanksgiving and I’ve got a sweet potato casserole, a strawberry jello/ pretzel salad (yes, I know it sounds awful, but it’s not), cranberry sauce, gravy base (you can never have too much gravy), a few casseroles and side dishes, rolls. mashed potatoes and…I don’t know what all; not to mention that Turkey to bake. At least the pound cake is already baked!
I’m apologize for not having a beauty shot of my Thanksgiving Dressing- it will be made fresh and hot for our meal. And, I have to say… we’ll all be very grateful! Now, I know it might sound crazy to folks who don’t live in the South– just remember down here, there’s no Stuffing- oh no, we’re Dressing for Thanksgiving!
Love y’all, Camellia
*Photographs are obviously mine.
*Sorry no recipe, maybe I’ll try to get one written down! But if you try to make Dressing with sweet cornbread– the taste will be all off and you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.