Mimi’s Award Winning Pimento Cheese…

80DB15D0-3FF3-49C8-BB76-D2BB0F852A13Mimi never knew her pimento cheese won an award, it would have thrilled her, yet I don’t think she’d have been too surprised. Anyone who ever tasted one of her Tea Sandwiches would have agreed. Her recipe for Pimento Cheese was highly prized. Mimi kept a bowl of pimento cheese made up most of the time. My job was to grate the sharp cheddar cheese, in a little cheese grater with a handle which I turned in amazement. It’s still one of my favorite kitchen tools.

44EB0E2F-C33C-4B48-BA4A-28647A0D9AC4The grated cheese was as fine as angel hair- Mimi’s Pimento Cheese was devilishly spiced, I’m not sure she ever wrote down the recipe but I can still see her now, conjuring up a mixture that’s pure Southern Soul in a bowl. It’s only sharp cheddar cheese, a jar of pimentos and mayonnaise- the spices make Mimi’s Pimento Cheese memorable. Cayenne, Red Pepper Flakes and what we call Pepper Sauce, the brine from a jar of hot peppers that we use to spice things up and even pour over turnip greens or blackeyed peas. Pepper Sauce is one of those secret ingredients that even now, mostly only real southerners know. Go to a local meat and three in small towns across the South and you’ll see a small bottle of pickled hot peppers with a hole in the top of the bottle- a shaker if you will. The bottle’s not there for anyone to actually eat the peppers- no, it’s for the brine, the ‘sauce’ . Pit masters add pepper sauce to their barbecue sauces, old wisened cooks hardly even think about adding pepper sauce to their cooking. Pepper Sauce isn’t the same as ‘hot sauce’ that fiery red hot sauce shaken over… well, lots of things. Mimi added several drops of hot sauce to her Egg Salad but never in her Award Winning Pimento Cheese! So! Here’s how you make it!

Mimi’s Award Winning Pimento Cheese

The classic and highly prized southern classic- Pimento Cheese. Spicy with cayenne pepper and sharp cheddar cheese, is wonderful for tea sandwiches, picnic sandwiches and as a dip for crackers or celery sticks. 
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: American

Ingredients

  • 12 Ounces Sharp Cheddar Cheese Finely Grated * Do not use pre- grated!
  • 1 Small Jar Pimentos - partially drained Do not use ‘diced’
  • 1/2-3/4 Cup Good Quality Mayonnaise * look for lemon juice in the ingredients
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1-2 Teaspoons Brine of pickled hot peppers * clear vinegary liquid only

Instructions

  • On the fine side of a box grater, shred sharp cheddar cheese.. In a medium sized bowl, put grated cheese. Add brine of hot pepper to fill partially drained jar of pimentos. Add cayenne pepper to pimento jar also. Scoop Mayonnaise over grated cheese. Pour spiced pimentos over Mayonnaise and add red pepper flakes. Stir gently to combine. Mimi’s Pimento Cheese will occasionally need additional mayonnaise- add a bit at a time to desired consistency. Chill, until ready to use. Spread thinly for tea sandwiches. 

Notes

Mimi’s Pimento Cheese is a time tested recipe - she often used extra sharp cheese, please do not try this recipe with pre- grated packaged cheese. Fine Grated Cheese is best, however you may like a chunkier Pimento Cheese and a food processor will work well for that.. It is wonderful molded with an indention in the center filled with red pepper jelly or strawberry jam, then surrounded with party crackers...it’s a crowd pleaser! For Tea sandwiches, a thinned out version (do this with more mayonnaise bit by bit) spread thinly on loaf bread, crusts removed,  cut into desired shapes with a serrated knife. Pimento Cheese is used to top burgers, to make grilled cheese and many other uses. Mimi would probably have disapproved, still,  enjoy it however you wish! 

Now a word of caution, don’t use pre-grated cheese, it won’t work! And don’t even think about using a milder cheddar cheese, use sharp or even extra sharp cheddar. The flavor depends on it! Finely grated is best, I never saw Mimi use even a medium grate. Still. It’s not just about ingredients- it’s about the Method too! And if you have a recipe for Pimento Cheese that contains Cream Cheese? Well, Mimi would have been horrified. Don’t use it. Period.

Now- this is important- don’t buy diced pimentos, buy pimentos. And don’t get fancy and add roasted red pepper. Okay, not if you want the Award Winning taste. You may add an extra small jar if you like, though one will do.  Just partially drain the jar of pimentos, leave them in the jar, fill up the jar with the pepper sauce, add the cayenne pepper- screw the lid of the jar back on the pimentos and gently shake before adding to the grated cheese and mayonnaise.

Now, about that mayonnaise- Mimi made her own for years, until she found brands of store bought mayonnaise that contained lemon juice in the ingredients! This is a must! Truth be told she didn’t always add red pepper flakes, yet when she did? Mimi thought they gave her Pimento Cheese flecks of color that she liked to see.  The sharp cheddar, the cool mayonnaise and pimentos are the perfect balance for the heat of the pepper sauce and the spices! Trust me on this.

Now, about that Award… Several years ago, I was cajoled out of Mimi’s recipe, this friend also had a recipe for another famous Pimento Cheese- which was also entered in this fairly high fallutin’ private contest. The competition was fierce, the folks who attended had fine credentials. By all accounts it was a well orchestrated event. I have to say, I wasn’t one bit surprised  her pimento cheese on first place. After all, it was Mimi’s and her Pimento Cheese has always been First Place to me!

Love y’all, Camellia

* All photographs are obviously mine. As you can see, I couldn’t resist making up a few Tea Sandwiches…

Mimi’s Macaroni and Cheese…

B9307548-5C4F-417D-ADC4-F1859960544FMimi’s Macaroni and Cheese is a wonderful memory in my life. Southern food is like that. Southerners have a strong emotional attachment to the methods, the flavors, the ingredients in our heirloom food. My grandmother’s recipes surprised me. As I became more aware of the cultural influences on Southern food, I realized her heritage influenced her food choices.  Depending on where our ancestors came from, who their people were and the food that was available to them in this country. It depended on who raised the food or who cooked the food, too. If you look at the ingredients in her Macaroni and Cheese, you might note that her family probably had lots of chickens and probably raised dairy cattle too. There’s lots of eggs, butter and cheese, she always used these in her version. 531AED76-DFC2-4543-8839-11416A2EE89F

I also know her uncle managed a large family farm.  Mimi knew that French Huguenots were part of her ancestry. Her cooking, whether she knew it or not, is decidedly similar to rustic French cooking. The method for making Mimi’s Macaroni and Cheese is like a soufflé made with eggs rather than with a cream sauce. Béchamel is a more refined sauce of French cuisine, heavier I would insist.

716C20DC-9567-49C7-8028-75ABA3400DE0Look at the close up- Mimi’s Macaroni and Cheese is light…almost fluffy from the eggs- yet with deep flavor of strong cheddar cheese and includes the spiciness of cayenne pepper, even red pepper flakes if you choose. The spicy heat in this recipe is also found many southern recipes, especially in the Coastal South. Okay. I’m sorry to be getting into a primer on the history of southern food! Without further ado, here’s how you make Mimi’s Macaroni and Cheese-

Mimi’s Macaroni and Cheese

This version of the classic Macaroni and Cheese has a light, spicy cheesy quality almost like a soufflé and is in fact best baked in a soufflé dish. 
Servings: 6

Ingredients

  • 6 Eggs Large
  • 1/3 Cup Whole Milk
  • 2 Cups Freshly Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese Plus more for topping
  • 1 3/4 Cups Cooked Pasta (Elbow, Linguine, Small Shell)
  • 1/2 -1 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper Spice is to taste
  • Red Pepper Flakes Optional
  • 1/2 Stick Butter More for buttering the baking dish

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Generously butter an 8 inch soufflé dish or 8x8 glass baking dish. In a deep mixing bowl, whisk eggs lightly with whole milk and cayenne pepper. (May add cracked black pepper and a pinch of salt also). Gently add shredded sharp cheddar to combine. Add cooked pasta, combining well, but with a light hand. Pour mixture into a buttered soufflé dish. Bake for 45 minutes or until puffed and golden.  (less time for a more shallow baking dish) Serves 6 generously. 

It must be said, Macaroni and Cheese was never served as a main dish. Our famous vegetable plates usually included Macaroni and Cheese, it was served along with Baked Ham and fresh Green Beans too. Macaroni and Cheese is an iconic southern dish. I love Mimi’s version of Macaroni and Cheese- it’s loaded with cheese, it’s low on pasta and doesn’t have the creamy texture many modern recipes do. I won’t argue you down if you prefer your family’s version of Macaroni and Cheese. Though, I do hope you will try Mimi’s version!

Mimi’s Macaroni and Cheese

While you’re at it- hold on to the recipes of your memories. Mimi’s Macaroni and Cheese and other Heirloom  Recipes were a motivating factor-when I began writing this blog! Good food, good memories and gracious southern living. You know, in the South-  we never say ‘goodbye’ – We say… ‘Y’all come back.’ I think the southern food, was always the reason they did. Now, let me know how your mommas and grandmommas made theirs!

Love y’all, Camellia

* All photographs are obviously mine.

Fried Apple Pies…

75B4BD0B-9E57-402F-BC1F-298D2212D7E6Southerners are a peculiar bunch of folks. Eccentric? Colorful? Quirky? We tend to revel in it. We accept it, enjoy it even. Of course we disagree and have our own opinions- yet the one place we find common ground is the Table. Kitchen, picnic or dining table.. put real southern food on the table and it has a settling effect.  it helps us remember our ancestors, our upbringings and our rural roots.  Food also helps us detect who’s from here and who’s not by the food they eat or know about. I have a list. Now. this is by no means complete, just a starter list…

I would say if you’ve heard of all of them- you’ve probably been here for several generations- if you can barely make it out? Well, bless your heart- it might be a blessing or a curse depending on your perspective.  Don’t stress out too much as you read through the list. See how many you recognize and yes, you do get extra points if you have actually eaten these foods- regularly.

  • Grits– no darlin’ you don’t eat these with sugar- or even milk…no! that’s cream of wheat! Butter, salt and pepper, please.
  • Corn Pone. This would be on the advanced level. Points will not be taken off if you crumble or sop with Corn Pone- either is acceptable.
  • Salmon Croquettes. We will consider you kinfolks if you know what this one is!
  • Pepper Sauce– this comes in a narrow necked bottle, hot as fire and vinegary. Extra points if you know what to douse with it.
  • Sorghum Syrup– if you have some in a can that looks suspiciously like a small paint can – and a homemade label? it’s authentic.
  • Cat head Biscuits. No explanation necessary- extra points if you can name a few other types of biscuits too.
  • Sawmill Gravy– extra points if you know several other gravies are.. Red Eye Gravy, Tomato Gravy – whoa extra points for Chocolate Gravy. If you know what White Meat and Gravy is- well, don’t bother coming to the front door like a visitor- come on in through the back door like home folks!
  • Squash Casserole. Now, this is a tricky one. Hint: it doesn’t have butternut or acorn squash in it. No- ma’am.
  • Cracklin’ Cornbread. Again this is advanced level of southern food knowledge.
  • Pot Likker – only third or fourth generation southerners know what this is. Last but not least-
  • Fried Pies… yes ma’am, I’m talkin’ about genuine southern fried pies… apple or peach will most likely top the list and no, we don’t call them ‘Hand pies’ or ‘Turnovers’ either, we’ll let other regions of the country call them that!

DDDA03AC-D6A0-4EB7-97D6-44520BC3F094A genuine fried pie is.. I believe a distinct southern delicacy. Made mostly from dried fruit, preferably you own but no points are deducted if you use store bought. The dough has… shall we say, evolved. But here is a very old recipe for the dough:

  • 2 cups sifted plain flour (that means all purpose) 3 tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. salt 1/3 cup of solid shortening or lard.
  • Mix with pastry cutter until the texture is like cornmeal.
  • Add 2/3 cup of milk and mix into a soft dough.
  • Divide dough into 6 large or 12 smaller balls. Roll or pat each ball on a floured surface to make circles.
  • Fill with prepared dried fruit or fill half of the dough circle; fold dough over filling/ seal the edges- crimping with a fork dipped in flour. Fry pies in a heavy iron skillet in hot Crisco until golden brown on both sides. Drain.
  • *This recipe is from my grandmother’s family cookbook and it is from an anonymous source.
  • Apple Filling: In a medium saucepan place 6 ounces of dried apples. Season with 2-3 Tbs. of cinnamon sugar (or 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and 2-3 Tbs. of sugar), a grating or two of fresh nutmeg.
  • Almost cover the dried apples and spices with water, bring to a  boil, reduce heat and simmer until the water thickens to a syrup and the color is a beautiful copper color, but the apples aren’t mushy. *I generally take a potato masher and lightly mash apples (or peaches) to absorb some of the syrup. Here’s what they look like:B321E8F4-8460-4BDC-911E-23D49F70D019

Any remaining dried fruit is wonderful on hot buttered biscuits. Refrigerate leftovers.  Now, here’s the evolution of how many Fried Pies have been made for decades- in the 1930’s canned biscuits became available and were widely in use after World War II – and some folks tend to truly love them, even using them in place of homemade biscuits, I’ve never really made the switch with the exception of using them as dough for frying. The texture is truly perfect for making Fried Apple Pies or any other type of fried pie for that matter. The dough is stretchy and tends to hold up better for me than my efforts at using the old way that my grandmother’s kinfolks used. Here’s what they look like filled:

My mother in law was one of the best southern cooks I’ve ever known and was particularly well known for her Fried Pies. She personally made fried pies for the dorm used by the Marching Southerners of Jacksonville State University here in Alabama when our daughters were students there- needless to say our daughters were very popular band members! The dough she used was from canned biscuits.  It might be an acquired taste but I prefer it to this day! And they truly fry up beautifully!83ABAA90-2A3D-4188-9672-B5D2BE3CA36E

I tend to make up the dried apples, chill and then roll out the dough, put a little more than a tablespoon of prepared dried apples; and make the fried pies. At that point they do better if chilled before frying. I also freeze on a sheet pan and store frozen in freezer bags until you’re ready to fry! Also, I don’t use solid shortening, preferring instead to use a mere 1/3 inch of vegetable oil in a medium high skillet per dozen Fried Pies! *If you’re making more you may need to add a bit more oil.  A 6 ounce bag of dried apples makes enough for 20-24 fried pies! Some dust their fried pies with confectioner’s sugar, I don’t. ‘It just don’t seem right’. Fried Apple Pies are a treat year-round, however in Fall and Winter they seem to be one of those vintage homemade treats that brings on such fond memories of our mothers and grandmothers!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine. Photograph of cooked dried apples has not been enhanced- look for that color if possible for your dried apples!  *Any canned biscuit dough will work, with the possible exception of the flaky layered type! *Now, if you need any help with those other classic southern foods, don’t hesitate to ask! I’d be curious to know just how well you did on the quiz!

Comportment…

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Minnie Holman Grammar School

Her name was Miss Badeaux. She was dramatic. No, wait! She was theatrical… When Miss Badeaux strode across the front of the room, her long flowing scarf trailed behind her like Loretta Young. She didn’t aim to look like the dark haired Loretta Young, I think she wanted to look like Marilyn Monroe, in chiffon shirtwaist dresses, platform high heels, flowing scarves, red lacquered nails with matching lipstick and yes, blonde hair, ‘straight from a bottle’, our mothers whispered.

5A635FDB-7321-4F5B-B20B-79F3D5772626I should clarify that Miss Badeaux didn’t look like Marilyn Monroe- her facial features weren’t soft, angular is a better word; she had a look about her that was distinct…her eyes sparkled with either mirth or fury; her eyebrows were arched a bit too high with a very liberal use of eyebrow pencil  which made her eyes as dramatic as her full red lips, which were pursed in displeasure, wide with laughter or shaped in a perfect ‘O’ when she was shocked by her students’ behavior.

Miss Badeaux was my fifth grade teacher at Minnie Holman Grammar School. I was rather frightened of her theatrical ways; yet I liked her, was fascinated by her. Still.  Miss Badeaux wasn’t like anyone I’d ever known, peculiar seems a good word to describe her. Completely different from my other teachers who wore sensible shoes, freshly starched shirtwaist dresses of modest length and straightforward eyeglasses; with the exception of Miss Collier- my second grade teacher wore fitted worsted wool suits and silk bow blouses and who was always kind. She was a terror with her wooden ruler. Rapping either our desks or our wrists as we practiced cursive writing, Miss Collier meant for our penmanship to be a work of art. (No, this was not a private boarding school- it was one of many Birmingham City Schools. At the time, they were considered high quality schools until the urban sprawl changed the landscape) I still find it hard to believe that-

  •  We were graded on Penmanship,
  • We had Auditorium once a week to train us in the art of Public Speaking and Drama.
  • We were offered weekly Art Classes.
  •  Advanced Art, Piano and Dance Classes were also offered for a small fee.
  • And we had teas for special occasions.

573E875A-3CB1-4503-AC0F-C797FD1C4543Miss Badeaux, my fifth grade teacher dramatically taught her awestruck students- Greek Mythology, Literature, History, Geography and yes, Grammar. Every morning, Miss Badeaux stood at our classroom door until every student had arrived- she was insistent that we stand by our desks until she entered.  Dramatic, with flowing scarf, long strides gesturing theatrically. she spoke

  • ‘Boys and Girls! Place your hands over your heart while we pledge allegiance to the Flag!’
  • ‘Now! You may be seated!’
  • ‘Feet and eyes forward- heads up! straight backs- no slouching !’
  • ‘Your attention please!’

Then, as only Miss Badeaux could do-  she called roll, using our full names, no nicknames- pursing her lips as she marked the roll call book- one by one we said ‘present’ or were marked ‘absent’. I had the impression this was a teacher who really could see in any and all directions, must have had eyes in the back of her head; she brooked no foolishness- a good conduct grade in her class seemed to be near unachievable. She had a way of pausing… as if waiting for our full attention. When Miss Badeaux was sufficiently satisfied that her class was willing and ready to learn- Rapping her  wooden talking stick on her desk with a flair, dramatically say-

  • ‘Merriam! Webster! May I have a word?’ She would cup her hand over her ear as if she was listening to the huge dictionary which stood on the library side of the room. ‘Ah, yes- comportment! Did you hear that class? Comportment! What a word! Thank you!’ She proceeded to write COMPORTMENT on the blackboard, did I mention she was theatrical? Yes, that’s how Miss Badeaux did everything. ‘Is anyone able to decipher this very important word- Comportment?’ There were sighs and giggles; no one seemed able to give Miss Badeaux a definition – of course she sent a student to Merriam-Webster for the answer.

‘The way or manner in which one conducts oneself’, Rosemary, the teacher’s pet, read. ‘A little louder, please- what is the meaning of Comportment’. Then, calling on Tommy, forgive me- Thomas. ‘Thomas, would you endeavor to use comportment in a sentence?’ … To be fair, the young boy tried but it was a monumental failure. Miss Badeaux sighed, then instructed Thomas to use his best penmanship and write the word comportment in his notebook while she used ‘comportment’ in a sentence-

‘The ambassador’s comportment was a reflection on his country.’ Students! Do you realize the ambassador’s entire nation would be judged for good or bad, depending on his personal comportment?’

She asked the unfortunate Thomas, who sat at the front of the class, to write the word ‘ambassador’ on the blackboard for all the class to see- ‘Use your phonics and sound it out!’ Somehow, Thomas got the word ‘ambassador’ on the board, while Miss Badeaux launched into a very dramatic explanation of how important our comportment was- We are ambassadors of our homes, our neighborhoods and the reputation of Minnie Holman Grammar School depends on our comportment!  An all encompassing word, comportment meant more than mere a conduct grade- Comportment included:

  • Our Bearing- how we held ourselves with good posture or a slouch. Bearing was very much related to-
  • Our Carriage- how a person carried oneself reflected comportment!
  • Our Grammar -whether the words we used were civilized or uncouth – courteous or rude!
  • Our Demeanor depended on good manners or bad, either poised or filled with fear, Whether we treated others with courtesy or not, even our facial expressions showed a pleasant demeanor or not!
  • Comportment included Habits- fidgeting or biting fingernails were not  good habits!
  • Comportment showed forth in our personal style and distinctiveness- this was a tricky one! One must conform, yet be sure to add that special something to make ourselves unique. Miss Badeaux certainly had her own personal distinct style!
  • Comportment showed up best in how we presented ourselves to the world-27C903B4-2D89-4B87-8B00-B54A7F316BBA
  • Were we going to have our hair hanging in our face or neatly combed?
  • Would our clothes, be neat and clean or wrinkled and dirty?
  • Would our papers and books be neat and tidy or a wadded up mess?
  • Comportment was all about our actions-  Actions speak louder than words.

Comportment was a running theme throughout my fifth grade year! Yet, curiously, after she had drilled the word into our little heads and tested us on spelling and meaning… the word was rarely spoken. Miss Badeaux, instead pointed to our history books- she said we would find out how peoples of the world had acted for the good or evil of society; she pointed to Geography books and told us we would discover which countries thrived and which did not.  Even the great myths or fables from ancient cultures, taught important lessons through action and reaction!

In Miss Badeaux’s class it was understood that her students would not just receive a conduct grade. Our grade would be decided by our overall comportment! I can still hear her say- ‘Young man! watch how you comport yourself!’ She impressed on students that we were transitioning in fifth grade from children to young adults. At the end of the year, if our comportment grade had been a B or higher… we would be recommended to attend a special course called- B4Hi.  Miss Badeaux and Mr. Wright – the principal of Minnie Holman Grammar School would have to approve.  B4Hi, was extracurricular social graces and deportment classes. Okay, we’ll have to wait on Deportment Classes and B4Hi, just know that we learned about comportment with a bit of etiquette thrown in for good measure! Then on to Charm School! 9C2672D0-37BF-47BC-90B8-4270314AB971

Now, y’all… I know all good southern tales are part truth, part myth and part outright lies- however… I cringe to admit, I actually did attend B4Hi and Charm School! I learned invaluable lessons like how to walk as if gliding… how to enter and exit an automobile gracefully- how to serve punch, form a receiving line, pour tea or go through a buffet line.

ECB2FDA6-3C89-4293-967C-2FB82BD509C6So many social graces and invaluable lessons were taught; I’m sure I’ve forgotten half of them. What I know for sure is that social graces were considered an important part of our education and upbringing.

As students start a new school year, we hope they will have a wonderful year of learning and growing! I’m thankful for good teachers. We pray our children will have at least one unforgettable, animated, even theatrical teacher like Miss Badeaux! I had many other wonderful teachers who came in different forms – and some unforgettable children who’ve taught me quite a few profound lessons in life!

Love y’all, Camellia

*I wish I had a photograph of Miss Badeaux, she was certainly unique and unforgettable. The photograph of Minnie Holman Grammar School was found on Pinterest and could be subject to copyright though none seemed to be exerted on it or the actual Girl’s Tea held at Minnie Holman. The photograph of Loretta Young also did not credit a photographer or exert copyright. I would love to give credit to these photographers if you know who they are. *

I have no idea who Minnie Holman was- however, my older sister told me that Minnie Holman was buried in the large front planter shown in the photograph! After telling me that if I stepped on a sidewalk crack I would break my mother’s back! I am ashamed to say my comportment at that moment was not poised…I was terrified! Then- tearfully upset when I learned she was just kidding me! God bless her, she is my Sailor Girl and my North Star!

*Merriam Webster online (www.merriamwebster.com) was a great resource for this piece of writing! *Other photographs were from the Ash-Clairma school annual from 1961- no copyright is exerted and some photographs I used throughout were edited for content or made into a black and white photograph.

 

Contemplatin’ Freedom…

408E9F09-38B0-4454-B5EB-16462BF5C81BI was feeling contemplative about the Fourth of July- okay, I was peeling potatoes for the potato salad- a mindless task… that’s when contemplating is easy. We had just gotten back from a last minute trip to Washington D. C., a city that is filled with more  profound history and symbolism than perhaps any other in this nation. It’s a white columned marbled and statuesque city- some of the marble was quarried right here in Alabama! Of course I’ve been to DC several times in my long and storied life- yet I always come away with a sense of awe and wonder; always learning something new…or something I knew seems to come alive in my mind.  For instance, the expanse of the sky overhead is startling for a major city- there are no skyscrapers- by law. Why?

E2F13F06-B017-41B7-8FDD-73C0CC7D0E9CLook at the statue that crowns the dome on top of the US Capitol Building. Her name is Freedom.

  • No building shall rise above Freedom.
  • Nothing in our nation’s capital is allowed to cast a shadow on Freedom.

Pause and contemplate that! Profound, especially when you consider that Freedom was commissioned in bronze when our nation was divided- literally by civil war and unrest. The pediment that Freedom stands on is embossed with the Latin words E Pluribus Unum, out of many one.  The center part of the capitol building had been destroyed during the War of 1812.. it was being rebuilt; the new plans included the iconic dome…made of cast iron weighing 1000’s of pounds… President Lincoln insisted that work continue on the building despite the war that had torn us apart, so the American people would be encouraged that our nation would once again be united and whole.

F7C6A780-B268-464D-BB94-1E223DA6F00BWhen we last visited Washington D.C. renovations were being made to the interior of the dome, now completed, it is once again a masterpiece.  I couldn’t help being reminded of one of my favorite Scriptures…

‘Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses who have  gone before us, let us throw aside every encumbrance and run with patient endurance the portion of the race set before us…’ Hebrews 12:1

George Washington figures strongly in the painting- he is flanked by Liberty and Victory within the dome and each symbolic creature seems to be looking down from the heavens…other figures represent aspects of American life and industry that helped forge our freedom. For instance, Mercury is offering a bag of gold to Robert Morris- the financier of the American Revolution, the war which defeated tyranny and the power of a monarch.  Americans prize freedom; historically, we’ve been willing to fight and struggle to remain free. Now, I know most of you are thinking…

‘Wow, that’s pretty heavy stuff to be thinking when you’re peeling potatoes.’ Well, yes, I guess it is-  however, even Southern girls can contemplate things like this quicker’n whipping up a bowl of potato salad!  After all, it was the Fourth of July- it’s not all about fireworks and barbeque- though I must admit to lovin’ the tastier aspects…. George Washington loved pit barbeque- even gave a few barbeques himself! A tall athletic man, Washington was also endowed with amazing leadership skills, wealth and an impeccable reputation- wouldn’t even lie about cutting down a cherry tree as any school age child is taught. The cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin evoke his memory. George Washington was honored as a Revolutionary War General, the First US President and also called The Father of our Country. Washington was named a national icon in the 1800’s when the new capitol dome was being designed. The dome’s design includes a feature that bathes the entire Rotunda in light. Light is symbolic of Truth and Goodness… the two virtues that our government and her people should always strive to attain.

Anytime you’re going on vacation to an historic city- there’s so much to see and do…it’s good to have a few goals. For this trip to Washington DC, the purpose of our trip was to attend an award ceremony at the Pentagon and take the tour, which included the location in the building where an airliner struck the Pentagon on 9/11- the damaged section is now a chapel with  an honor anteroom, including a window looking toward the frightful path of the weaponized plane and overlooking a memorial garden for the 183 lives lost that fateful day. Also we wanted to see the newly renovated dome, eat a lobster roll at Luke’s near the National Portrait Gallery, eat at Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace in Georgetown and we had plans  to watch the somberly beautiful- Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. CD31FDD7-D9A1-44C7-BD8D-23B97C0FDEB3

The day we were there, four funerals were to be held. As we waited for our tram to take us back- everyone became quiet and with hands over heart- we watched as a caisson slowly passed by- with 6 saddled black horses- the horses on the left had riders…the horses on the right were riderless adding to the  beautiful yet haunting sight. No photographs were taken out of respect for the slain veteran. The architecture in the cemetery is astounding in its masterful detail.

I had finished making our Fourth of July potato salad… A thought had occurred to me- Just how long had it been since I had actually read the Declaration of Independence and why among all of our national holidays had I not made a tradition of reading it? We read the Thanksgiving stories of Pilgrims and Indians, we read the ‘Night before Christmas’ to our bright eyed children…of all the traditions we have in this great nation…why not read the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July? Oh, I think we all know some of the beautiful phrases-

  • ‘When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary…’
  • “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’
  • ‘And…with a firm reliance on divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.’

Yet somehow the whole declaration and its history isn’t dwelt upon annually. For instance, when you read the whole document- just the reading of the indictments of the monarch, King George III- are extremely informative. The time frame of it’s writing is also interesting… the Revolutionary War was already underway  when the declaration was written and ratified. Even more pressing and dramatic to contemplate- British war ships were bearing down upon New York Harbor!

In June of 1776, the colonies had become increasingly united concerning the need to declare independence from the Crown and Parliament. The delegates appointed a Committee of Five, which included Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson- Time was of the essence…

Jefferson was assigned the task of writing the declaration…he had a little over 2 weeks to write what would become one of the most important documents in human history. After consulting others who edited the document… Jefferson wrote that they ‘mangled it’  even as he exclaimed in his later years that the edits to sentence structure and removal of a full fourth of his original produced ‘the majestic document’ we now know as the Declaration of Independence…it was accepted on July 2, 1776. With that, the colonies had officially severed ties with Great Britain. John Adams believed that eventually Independence Day would become a day of celebration for generations.

  • On July 4 with a few more changes…
  • the wording was approved, it was signed and sent to the printer.
  • Two hundred copies were printed-

Now, this is important! President of the Continental Congress, John Hancock sent a broadside copy of the Declaration to General George Washington, who ordered that the declaration be read in full publically on July 9, 1776 to encourage folks to join the cause and to inspire his troops in New York City…wait for it…

  • The Declaration of Independence was read aloud… as 1000’s of soldiers on British warships were in New York Harbor!
  • This is profound enough, yet when you consider that 225 years later… the United States was attacked near the same location.
  • Standing overlooking the New York Harbor the Twin Towers were pummeled by those who would terrorize the American People.
  • Symbolism is one of our greatest teachers… Overlooking the same New York Harbor, rising up out of the ashes, in 2014 the new and gleaming One World Trade Center stands 1776 feet tall…

EA88D03E-E929-4DDA-BBB1-1CC5A50428C0May I be so bold as to suggest that-between July 4 and July 9 of each year… we make an effort to read the Declaration of Independence?After all, it ultimately became the spectacles through which the US Constitution is interpreted.   And in the reading of it, perhaps we will hear the echoes General George Washington’s voice , full of truth and goodness- as he declares Freedom from Tyranny and hear the inspiring words of the majestic document that still inspires generations..

The Declaration of Independence-  ‘…with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other- our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.’

Every thing they had was offered for the cause of Liberty- their lands, possessions and incomes, their very lives and the one thing these brave men valued above all- their honorable reputations.

E2F13F06-B017-41B7-8FDD-73C0CC7D0E9CRemember Freedom? Standing high above our nation’s capitol building? Contemplate Freedom, often. Let nothing overshadow Freedom. Let nothing rise above Freedom.

Independence Day is a wonderful national holiday, full of many reasons to be thankful for the protection of divine Providence – I hope yours was full of good food, fireworks, inspiration and contemplatin’ Freedom.

Love y’all, Camellia

*Please make note: The purpose of Camellia’s Cottage is not political opinion or commentary. Our purpose is to promote gracious inspiration and genteel conversations.

*All photographs are obviously mine. The photograph of the small American flag was near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I wondered if perhaps a young child had placed it there…

*Forgive me for not crediting sources…many are from tour guides and multiple resources from which notes were taken but no one source to provide a consistent resource.

Trail of Ironwork…

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It’s no secret that Southern women guard their grandmother’s Cast Iron with the same zeal as the family silver, both were used to feed their families. Cast Iron actually helped settle this entire country. Ironworkers fed their families with hard work born in fiery furnaces. I grew up under the watchful eye of the original Ironman- the god of the forge, Vulcan. We sang Vulcan’s Song in grade school… ‘High on mountaintop am I, I look o’er the valley from on high…’  The statue stood atop Red Mountain beribboned with rich iron ore.  Nighttime drives through the city of Birmingham were ablaze with the sights of furnaces pouring molten lava into molds that created all manner of necessary steel and iron. Perhaps a higher than normal amount of iron runs through my veins and maybe- just maybe, that’s why I love the Ironwork throughout historic Sea Soaked Cities of the South.

Balconies with lacy ironwork, parks and cemeteries surrounded by ironwork fencing are distinctive in Charleston, Savannah, St. Augustine, Old Mobile and of course, Ironwork is iconic in New Orleans.

There is literally a Trail of Ironwork in New Orleans, not derived of French influence but from Spanish architecture. After wooden columns and homes went up in flames, it was Spanish inspired Ironwork, reminiscent of feminine black mantilla lace installed on balconies and more…ah, the romance of it all still lingers.

It might surprise you to know, this frilly Ironwork was added during the Victorian era, not before. Most Coastal Southern Cities experienced floods, scourges of yellow fever, social upheaval, war, natural disasters and fire. Ironwork Architecture represents to me, the will to prevail come what may. 9E508902-71C2-46EE-85FB-E86E65230DF1

Hundreds of years later, the ancient words in Deuteronomy ring true – ‘…but the Lord hath taken you out of the iron furnace…to be a people of inheritance as ye are this day..’   Whenever I visit an historic city, one of my favorite pastimes is sign up for Walking Tours.  In fact, strapped for time…guided tours may be the best way into the spirit and sense of an old city.

  • The Garden District Tour of old mansions near Tulane,
  • The Spirits and Ghosts Tours,
  • The Culinary Walking Tours,
  • The Cemetery Tours and probably my favorite, even though I’m a teetotaler, is-
  • The Cocktail Walking Tour which includes a revolving Carousel Bar, an authentic Blacksmith Shop, Pirate’s Alley where the mysterious Absinthe is still served- illegal in many states, it is amazing to watch a cocktail being made!
  • Fine old restaurants, like Antoine’s, where the rich and famous dined are included too. (And no requirement to imbibe though time is allowed).
  • A self guided walking tour of the French Quarter in pamphlet form, is provided by the Louisiana Tourism Office on Jackson Square which is challenging, no cost except for a bit of perspiration and direction!
  • Then, last but not least- along Royal Street around Jackson Square and beyond -is the photogenic French Quarter Ironworks Trail.

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I hope you enjoy this collage from my own traipse through the Trail of Ironwork in the Crescent City. This fall, if you take a last minute trip or long weekend to an historic city- sign up for a Walking Tour, if there’s old Ironwork and Architecture all the better!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are mine. *Verse from Deuteronomy 4:20 speaking of the Hebrews being brought out of great difficulty and slavery in Egypt.

*We continue to be very concerned about the wildfires in California, thankful for the brave firefighters and heartbroken for the residents who have lost their lives and so many homes.

Icebox Pies…

IMG_3201When the weather is hot as blue blazes, our skin begins to glow (that’s the nicest way I can say it) and as the humidity rises so does our hair, inevitably  the Southern Sweet Tooth flares up- Cool Ice Box Pies are the perfect summer dessert. A few ingredients, easy to make- without breaking a sweat- an Icebox Pie is truly easier than making homemade ice cream.  Some have even figured how to make it without turning on an oven, just use a prepared graham crust.  I’d rather make my own pie crust mainly because I can control how much sugar and how deep the crust will be- and I like crust! But hey it’s summer- take it easy if you want to… In Alabama, it’s amazing but children are already back in school! Icebox pies are a sweet reminder of vacations– remember that Key Lime Pie you ate? And.. you’ll know you’re in a good place to eat out just by tasting their Ice Box Pies! There are all kinds of Ice Box Pies- some have cooked pudding or custard fillings-however…IMG_3295

Citrus Ice Box Pies are my favorite-

  • Pit Barbeque whines for relief with Lemon Ice Box Pie,
  • Seafood and spicy Mexican Food seem to whimper for cooling Key Lime Pie,
  • Sour Orange Ice Box Pie- is the perfect ending for Chicken dinners, a cool Chicken Salad.

Sweetened Condensed Milk is essential to Citrus Ice Box Pies. I guess the only ‘southern’ ingredient in them could be considered the plentiful citrus we grow down this way.. New Yorker Gail Borden Jr. received a patent on Sweetened Condensed Milk August 19, 1856 and darlin’ I’m celebrating! IMG_3296

In an effort to find a way to store milk safely (when you don’t have a cow nearby) he developed a method of evaporating the liquid and using sugar as a preservative which produced sweetened condensed milk. Southerners embraced the product wholeheartedly. Why,  teethin’ babies were comforted with a small square of cotton fabric soaked in it, thinned out? It was used a baby formula, in the sick room- sweet cool and creamy, condensed milk was considered a safe food supplement.  Straight from the can- well, let’s don’t go there because I could possibly eat the whole can! Gail Borden, Jr. spent some time working for a newspaper in Texas before he came up with his famous dairy products and has been credited with the phrase- ‘Remember the Alamo’ and I can tell you, a can of sweetened condensed milk will defeat a whole low calorie diet!  Of course, southern folks began making desserts, candies, cakes and pies- Oh my, what glorious pies originated from the humble can of Eagle Brand, we cannot live without it!

Sweetened Condensed Milk was originally sold by Borden to maintain the U.S. Army during all of that unpleasantness of the War between the States. Shortly, after the war -sweetened condensed milk, in a new and improved version became available nationally, it was especially embraced in the Southern States because of it’s long shelf life which has always been of concern here. Throughout our history, in the South, what we share in common is our love of good food.  Sweetened Condensed Milk was patented first in America and a short time later in Switzerland. Since then, it has been embraced literally all over the world!

You might be interested to know that Key Lime Pie first showed up on Southern tables in 1901. And just in case you’re thinking Ice Box Pies are a relatively new concoction, they’ve been around over 150 years!  Key Limes are not to be confused with Persian Limes- key limes are tiny- about the size of a quail egg; are more tart and almost yellow in color- Persian limes are the bright green limes of grocery produce department stores. The truth is most true Key Limes are imported from the Caribbean or for a very limited time in the Florida Keys and are very costly. Key Limes are no longer widely available and that’s a shame…Modern Key Lime Pie recipes call for the addition of Lemon Juice and Persian Lime zest to make a blend which tastes more like the real deal.

Sour Orange Ice Box Pies have an almost identical history- Sour Oranges were once found in the Alabama Sunbathing Capital, Orange Beach!  Sour Orange trees are little scrubby trees bearing.. a ‘pucker up baby’ Sour Orange flavor. Almost all of the Coastal South had some of these small citrus trees- the ones that survive are still not considered valuable- too little flesh and too many seeds…Sour Oranges can be found in specialty markets, but never on a large scale. To get that Sour Orange flavor-mix Equal Parts:

  •  Lemon juice, Orange Juice with Orange Zest and Grapefruit Juice to mimic the flavor of an actual Sour Orange.
  • I  like to add about a teaspoon of Orange Marmalade, 1/4 teaspoon of orange extract- even a dribble of orange blossom water is a nice addition!

IMG_3301Almost all Ice Box Pies start with a Graham Cracker Crust. Talk about an interesting product!  Evangelist and hard core prohibitionist, Sylvester Graham is credited with the first vegetarian movement in the United States in the 1800’s… He believed wholesome foods would result in wholesome living… Alrighty. Anyway, Honey Grahams® became the standard Graham Crackers that we know as the base for those chocolate-y toasted marshmallow-y fireside treats known as S’mores– and other, almost sinful desserts! Wonder what ol’ Sylvester would think of that?IMG_3302

And let’s not forget a wholesome ingredient in Graham Crackers- Honey. The finest- often called the gold standard of American produced honey, is Tupelo Honey. (not Tupelo Mississippi) For just a very few weeks along the Coastal South, the Black Gum or Tupelo Trees bloom- the catch? They grow in the swamps! Bee Hives are cleaned out completely, then hauled to the swamps, set on stands or left on anchored boats and checked daily. Some have called Tupelo Honey- the ‘champagne of honey’ which naturally has a slight lemon flavor. Tupelo-Gum-Trees_finchlake2000

The swamps of the Apalachicola River have the highest concentration of Tupelo Trees in the United States. Very close to Alabama’s Gulf Coast- the town of Apalachicola is only 3 square miles, an old and famous fishing village, but also right near the National Forest bearing the same name and the swamps! Needless to say, we’re proud of this Southern Honey! And yes, we do hope our Graham Crackers have a touch of honey, especially when we make our teetotalin’ Graham Cracker crusts!

I actually love the term ‘Ice Box Pie’  – it sounds old fashioned and better yet? Cool… Years ago, once or twice a week- the Ice Man delivered a huge block of Ice hoisted with big tongs and dropped it in the top of the old Oak Ice Box- set inside the house or a storm shelter- the ice would last…well, depending on the time of year- maybe a few days to a week. The time frame for the invention of the Ice Box was also in the 1860’s- Now come on, you thought all that was going on was that awful unpleasantness between the North and the South, right? Not so…Ice Boxes, Graham Flour Products and Sweetened Condensed Milk were finding their way into homes North and South! In fact, just fifty years later, when we were all united under the same flag, wearing the same uniforms– (Southern Ladies do love to see a man in uniform!) Sweetened Condensed Milk made it’s way once again to battlefields and mess halls uniting us all around a product that was safe, had a long shelf life and sustained us all. So, in commemoration of the American version of this sweet milk’s Birthday, August 19, I give you..IMG_3200

Camellia’s Cottage Lemon Ice Box Pie

Honey Graham Cracker Crust

Preheat oven to 350º

  • 8 graham crackers pulsed 8-10 times in food processor
  • 3 tablespoons sugar plus 1 teaspoon of Tupelo Honey (optional)
  • 3/4 stick or 6 Tbs. of melted butter

In mixing bowl combine graham cracker crumbs and  sugar. While the butter is still warm, add Tupelo honey. Add melted butter/honey mixture to graham cracker/sugar mixture and toss together until well combined. Do not overmix. Press into a 9 inch glass pie plate-or spring form pan- pressing crumbs on the bottom and up the sides. Bake until a warm golden brown- 10-15 minutes. Do not overbake.  Cool while making the Lemon Filling.IMG_3195

Lemon Filling

  • 1 can of Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • Zest of one Large Lemon (reserve some zest for garnish)
  • 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice (no substitutes!)
  • 3 large egg yolks Fresh Grade A

Blend together condensed milk and egg yolks with hand mixer on low speed- add lemon  juice slowly, blending well. Beat until stiff enough to stand in peaks. Pour into cooled graham cracker crust. Garnish with reserved lemon zest. Chill for at least 6 hours or overnight.  Some folks like to add a meringue, I prefer Citrus Ice Box Pies without a meringue – the soft creamy, cool, tart and softly sweet dessert  seems perfect without embellishment! I am particularly sentimental about Lemon Ice Box Pies since it is the very first pie I learned to make, it’s just that easy!

As an extra note- if you don’t enjoy making pies yourself, should you run up on a Pit Barbeque Joint or a truly Southern restaurant… look for the glass refrigerator case, if they have Ice Box Pies, then you know it’s a great place to eat!  Love y’all, Camellia

*Lemon juice has the effect of ‘cooking’ the eggs, however use caution if a health condition such as pregnancy warns against the consumption of raw eggs. *All photographs are mine, except the photograph of Tupelo Trees which is from www.nationalforests.org and may be subject to copyright.

IMG_3298 *The Lee Brothers of South Carolina have an excellent recipe for Sour Orange Ice Box Pie which is only slightly different from mine. This wonderful cookbook can be found through major booksellers * How exciting to have an Eagle Brand cookbook- I’ve had mine for years and I believe they are still available at their website or on Amazon.com Check out www.eaglebrand.com and www.bordendairy.com/history for more information!

*I’m ashamed to say- I researched Graham Crackers and Tupelo Honey on my own and neglected to source the sites. *Eagle Brand® and Nabisco Honey Grahams® are registered trademarks- Tupelo Honey is a type of honey, if you find it- buy it! Camellia’s Cottage is not a paid advertiser. There are other great brands available as well, Graham crackers, sweetened condensed milk and Tupelo Honey have a long shelf life and should be part of any well stocked pantry!

 

Summer Corn Salad…

IMG_3157Bubbled or Brewed, Souffle’d or Stewed. Roasted or Raw, Fresh or Fried…Corn nourishes the South. When Settlers bringing domesticated hogs stepped onto land in what is now Virginia and met Native Americans bearing corn- Southern Cuisine was born.

From Pig to Pone, Pot to Plate- take Corn from the Southern Pantry and more than half of our delicious diet would collapse in despair!

Corn feeds our livestock and our families all year round. If you’ve never rustled down a row of sweet corn, well, you’ve missed one of the great joys of summer. The first ripe ears of corn are a sight to behold, the most highly prized Summer Corn of my youth was White Corn- Yellow Corn was preferred boiled or roasted on the Cob. The merits of white cornmeal versus yellow cornmeal continues on- I have to admit I still prefer White Corn, White Grits and White Cornmeal. Someone jokingly told me recently that if you preferred Yellow- chances are you’re either a Yankee or an Aristocratic Descendent of Carpetbaggers, who  probably sneaked in yellow seed corn! Actually I’m glad they did! Yellow Corn is wonderful! I’ll admit that Yellow Corn on the Cob and in Shrimp Boils can’t be beat, but that’s getting off on a tangent…Before Summer Corn gives way to the dried and ground Cornmeal of Autumn, I’m  thrilled to bring you a Southern dish that won’t have you breaking a sweat to prepare. (Besides Southern ladies don’t sweat– we perspire delicately.) Summer Corn Salad. IMG_3162

Because of the heat and humidity, Garden Lettuce wilts before Spring has barely sprung. Try to grow lettuce in our climate and it will just up and bolt on you! Therefore, many of our Summer Salads are based  on Seasonal Vegetables, like Summer Corn Salad- now, this salad is so familiar that I have to confess- I don’t own a cookbook which records how to make it, though I’m sure someone somewhere did put pen to paper for it.

Camellia’s Cottage Summer Corn Salad

  • In a large bowl, take 3 fresh shucked ears of White Corn – cut kernels and scrape juices from the cob. (Do not cook, y’all- it will ruin it.)
  • Add additional vegetables to the large bowl of Cut Corn.  All vegetables should be chopped in small dice. IMG_3157
  • Chop- 1/2 of a good sized Purple Onion
  • Seed and chop in  either one large or preferably two small pickling Cucumbers (I leave the skin on- but peel if you prefer before chopping- no need to seed small summer pickling cucumbers)
  • One large Summer Tomato- cut and chopped.
  • One medium Green or Yellow Bell Pepper, cut and chopped. Do not overdo the Bell Pepper, try to keep the added vegetables in the same quantity- about 3/4 to one cup.
  • *If you like a little extra zing, like I do- add chopped and finely diced Jalapeno Pepper to taste, I used one half of a large jalapeno.
  • Dressing *Before mixing the corn and other vegetables together- In the bowl, add on top of the vegetables-  4oz of Sour Cream, 1 teaspoon of Garlic Powder; squeeze the juice of a medium size lemon on top of the sour cream. Add fresh cracked Black Pepper and Salt to taste.
  • Gently stir and combine all of the ingredients, being careful not to break up the tomatoes.  Summer Corn Salad is best if refrigerated several hours or overnight- keep covered until it is served. IMG_3162

The best thing about Summer Corn Salad- besides the fresh taste is no cooking required! This is a wonderful side dish with anything from Pit Barbeque to Fried Chicken, Country Ham…oh! and let’s not forget Fried Fish or as a great addition to a Southern Vegetable Plate. I hope you love Summer Corn Salad as much as I do! Oh, lordie- Pig to Pone…now that’s corny.

Love y’all, Camellia

 

The Church Cookbook Mystery…

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It was one of those evenings in the hours after twilight- a cloud covered waning full moon when crickets sang and lightning bugs fly closer to the ground…the perfect night to scan through a few cookbooks I had found in a claustrophobic flea market stall. Two cookbooks, instinctively I knew I would know and love- another was a mystery to me. Why I would even be drawn to put one dime down for it- yellowed but not worn- the front cover had faded just enough to make the stuffed apples look seriously unappetizing…but that old familiar streak of electricity zinged up my left ankle and my right eyebrow twitched as I held the cookbook. A Church Cookbook Mystery! Here’s the confession- I read old local cookbooks like novels– I read the names of people, places and foods; before I know it- I have made up a story about a Cook or two within the pages… This time was a little different;  it is a Birmingham area United Methodist Church Cookbook, published over 40 years ago in 1975. The cookbook shall remain mysterious and as nameless as Mrs. Fleck’s Nameless Cake on page 108. I knew no one from the cookbook- but let’s just say I developed a fond affection for the Cooks, the Church but not all of the recipes. I mean really, do I want to cook Slumgullion? I don’t think so! But yes, oh my yes- I would love those ‘Cracklin’ Corn Pones’… I found myself wondering why they compiled this cookbook, it gave off a desperate vibration to me.  Was it to raise funds for a playground, new pews or to finish the church basement into a soup kitchen/homeless shelter/secure meeting rooms- an all purpose expansion? What? and why? and more important Who were these ladies?  There was an appreciation page, a cover page with information on Circle Meeting times and General Assembly times, but no Mission Statement page. It was almost too sparse in titles and ingredients for a regular cookbook. It seemed like a Church in a Struggle.

IMG_2671The recipes are mostly forthright with plain names like – Pound Cake, Meatloaf, Pecan Pie, Squash Casserole, Coleslaw- with a rare flowered up exuberant name here and there.  I had the feeling that these ladies spent so much time working, cooking and washing dishes there wasn’t much time for frills. I found recipes for

  • Corn Dogs for 200 servings
  • At least five Armed Forces Service Recipes for 100,
  • Spaghetti Italian Style that fed 150
  • Chili Con Carne from Lodge 808 for 75 servings

What puzzled me was that there was a mixture of fine food, old time basics, budget or quick recipes and surprisingly recipes for Bath Salts, Modelling Clay, Bubble Bath and Finger Paints, no doubt for the children’s activities . The names of the ladies were either Mrs. or Mae- I began to feel like the Mrs’s were the Church Mothers- the girlish names were still a puzzle to me.  And there was a definite sense of Church Humor goin’ on… I imagined the meeting for the gathering of the recipes-  a Church Mother presided- wore sensible block heel shoes, a dark fitted serge suit with short pressed sleeves and a modest skirt just below the knees, a bit of a ruffle blouse at the neck and peeking out of the sleeves to disguise the landslide of flesh on her aging neck, knees and elbows. As she took the podium she thanked the ladies for their submissions, reminded them of the need to include Recipes to promote Faith and Bible Study, in fact she would bring her own Version for their Edification! She meant business too, but then I’m getting ahead of myself. So, recipes were added-

  • Angel Food Cake,
  • Heavenly Hash,
  • Trinity Biscuits,
  • Christening Day Seafood Casserole (always some sort of seafood – what with the water and all),
  • Lemon Divinity Pie,
  • Baptist Pound Cake,
  • Presbyterian Punch,
  • 300 Degree Church Casserole (*Put in before Sunday School, ready after church, not the temperature of the Devil’s Doorknob!),
  • Divinity Candy,
  • Grand and Glorious Punch
  • In fear and trembling- a few submitted Devil’s Food Cake or My Mother’s Devil Food Cake (whose gonna disqualify yo’ momma’s cake?)

Now, whoever submitted Witch Stix might have held her hand up as if to testify on a stack of Bibles, her recipe was for the children! She must have been persuasive! The Church Mother truly did mean business- she included a Scripture Cake. IMG_3139Now, I’ve seen these recipes before in Church cookbooks but always the church ladies are kind enough to translate- Not this tough bird!

Scripture Cake

  • 1 1/2 c. Judges 5:25
  •  2 cups Jeremiah 6:20
  • 1 1/2 c. 1 Kings 4:22
  • 2 cups I Samuel 30:12
  • 2 cups Nahum 3:12
  • Season to taste with II Chronicles 9:9
  • 1 cup Numbers 17:9
  • 1/2 tsp. I Samuel 14:25
  • 2 tsp. Amos 4:5
  • 6 Whole Jeremiah 17:11
  • Pinch of Leviticus 2:12

*Beat Judges 5:25 until creamy; gradually add Jeremiah 6:20 beating well. Add Jeremiah 17:11, one at a time. Mix together  I Kings 4:22, Amos 4:5, Leviticus 2:13 and II Chronicles 9:9 ; reserve small amount; gradually add balance to Judges 5:25 mixture. Add Judges 4:19 and I Samuel 14:25. Mix I Samuel 30:12, Nahum 3:12 and Numbers 17:8 and coat with reserved portion of I Kings 4:22 mixture; then add to batter, mixing well. Bake 45 minutes at 325 degrees. Leave cake in the pan until it cools. To store, wrap tightly in foil.


And no, I haven’t baked it! I think I’ve figured it out though…as we say- ‘Curiosity killed the cat.’  I did a little research on the church- it is over 100 years old! A member of the congregation died in 2016 at age 94. She never married or had children but there were scores of family members, one of which contributed to the church cookbook. Her name was Mary Elizabeth. She attended Birmingham Southern- a Methodist University in Birmingham, not very far from her neighborhood church. She may not have attended at an early age. After a career working for the U.S. Army, she retired from Alabama Department of Revenue. Mary Elizabeth would have been in her early 40’s during the Civil Rights Movement, yet may not have even lived in Alabama at the time. It seems her forbears pulled themselves up by hard work and Mary Elizabeth’s surviving relatives became well educated and successful. I have a strong suspicion that this UMC Church was a mixture of folks who were:

  • Service workers,
  • Domestic Help or Cooks-
  • Some may have been Educators,
  • Small Business owners or
  • Laborers in the Iron Works or Steel Mills in Birmingham.

Some of the recipes indicate a level of poverty for their membership.  Maybe Mary Elizabeth attended college on the GI bill. Her age tells us that she lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War and the Viet Nam era, the Space Program, certainly the tragedy of 911 and maybe, just maybe those Armed Forces Services Recipes were sent in by this amazing lady, Mary Elizabeth. Her dying request: ‘in lieu of flowers make a donation to my church…’

All Cookbooks have a story to tell… this church faltered shortly after the cookbook was written, perhaps the congregation was struggling to keep it going… however, in a few years they re-opened their doors and continues to thrive! I’m not sure this whole cookbook will remain in my collection but there are several recipes that I wouldn’t give up for the world! And to:

  • Mae, Erline, Lois, Jessie,
  • Vivian, Rosalie, Dora, Estelle,
  • Gaynelle, Ruth, Winifred, Cassie,
  • Anne, Ottalie, LaFaree, Ora, Willie Mae,
  • Beulah, Bennie, Maybelle, Thelma,
  • Vista, Cadie and all the Church Mothers… Bless your hearts, I thank you, your hard work lives on…

The Church Cookbook Mystery was just the right thing to do on a summer evening in the hours after twilight…with a waning full moon covered with clouds as crickets sang and the lightening bugs flew closer to the ground…Now, you know I made up the story about the Church Mother, but it could have happened just that way!

Love y’all, Camellia

p.s. The Mystery of  the Scripture Cake is solved …what else? A Fruitcake!

Benne Seed…

IMG_3070Only in the lower Southeast corner of the United States, are sesame seeds still referred to as Benne Seed and almost always connected with a candy, a savory cracker or a sweet wafer. Watermelon seeds and Benne Seed were brought to America on slave ships back in the early 18th century from Africa. It’s difficult to think of the hardship to get these seeds to our shores and difficult to imagine American cuisine without Watermelon or Sesame Seed. The first time I ate a Benne Seed Wafer, I was on a Girl Scout trip in Savannah, at the home of Founder Juliette Gordon Lowe, actual Girl Scouts baked the small thin crunchy wafers for us there. Lucky for me, since I wasn’t born a roughin’ it type of girl, much less a very enthusiastic scout, I never forgot those little wafers.  Only in the Low Country and Coastal South do you regularly find recipes where Benne Seed are a central ingredient.  I rarely make Benne Seed Wafers- they need to come with a warning on the recipe- *Do not make these home alone! You are at risk of eating the entire batch! I have made Benne Wafers which are like a savory shortbread dough baked then salted while hot, I have added lemon zest and thyme or even grated sharp cheddar cheese for variations, but again not often- honestly you could stand there and eat every one. Just look at these Salty Benne Wafers! Great with a summer salad, or to serve with soup or a fancy snack! IMG_3078

Benne Seed Candy has a caramel like base with a heavy dose of toasted Benne Seeds- wrapped in little squares of cellophane. Toasted Benne Seed are the key ingredient- to do this , place the pale white seeds in an iron skillet and toast in a hot oven until they are browned, being careful not to burn the seed. As the seeds cook in a recipe, a browned nutty flavor is achieved.  Topping off Yeast Rolls, sprinkled across a pan of cornbread, browned on the bottom of biscuits or even tossed in the batter for fish- Benne Seed add crunch and texture.  I just had to share the best recipe I’ve come up with for Benne Seed Wafers, tweaked from several very good old fashioned cookbooks.  And darlin’, it’s not pronounced- Been– with the ‘e‘ dropped; please say it like Jack Benny or Awl-benny Georgia!  IMG_3073

Camellia’s Cottage Benne Seed Wafers

  • Toast 3/4 cup of Benne Seed, set aside to cool.
  • Cream together 1 stick of butter with 1 cup of light brown sugar. (In Southern Recipes, because of the age old problem of heat- butter was salted to retain freshness, therefore salted butter is used in old recipes unless otherwise indicated.)
  • Add 1 large beaten egg to the butter and sugar mixture. Mix well.
  • Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla, stir well.
  • Now, add 3/4 cup of sifted self rising flour (add 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder to all purpose flour if you don’t keep self rising flour on hand) Do not overbeat but mix well.
  • Fold in 3/4 cup of toasted benne seed carefully.
  • Pre-heat oven to 350º, while dropping  mixture from a scant teaspoon approximately 2 inches apart onto a buttered parchment lined baking sheet (I use a silicone baking mat- if you have one it makes baking easier).
  • Bake for 11-12 minutes (14 for silicone baking mat). IMG_3070
  • Remove and cool slightly, no more than a minute because the cooled Benne Seed Cookies will stick!
  • Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely- the cookies will crisp up as they cool.
  • Makes an incredible 5-6 dozen Benne Seed Wafers!

Serve as soon as possible so you won’t eat them all yourself! Actually, they keep very well stored in an airtight container. If you’re smart, you will package them up in cellophane bags for 4th of July Favors! IMG_3082

While you’re enjoying Hamburgers on Sesame Seed buns and cold wedges of Watermelon- tell the story of how these African treasures made it to our shores, for it is in the telling…we won’t forget.

Love y’all, Camellia