Mimi’s Potato Salad is, of course my favorite- though I have to admit that any Southern cook worth her salt generally has a recipe that is her family’s favorite too! And, it’s crazy, yet many southerners add potato salad to their meals almost all year round! Mimi didn’t. She considered it a Spring and Summer side dish or even put a scoop on a plate and with a few extras like tomatoes and crackers, she considered potato salad to be a light lunch or a cool supper. Here’s the thing. Mimi was particular about her food and the way it was prepared and for what reason and why. She instilled things like this into my brain- I can still hear her now…
‘ Now, grate that onion! Who wants to bite down on a big chunk of onion in their potato salad!’ Then later she would say- ‘Grate those boiled eggson the coarse side of the grater!’ Why? Boiled eggs can look unattractive if they aren’t perfect and especially unattractive all mixed up ‘with a mess of potatoes’. Also Mimi simply liked the look of the coarse grated boiled eggs! Don’t ask me why. I was just a simple soldier and followed my orders.
Mimi’s Potato Salad was singularly simple with few ingredients. Many southern cooks add other things to theirs, which is fine and also tastes wonderful. Still. If a recipe is the flavor from your childhood or family- I believe we tend to enjoy our own version the best! Mimi used russet potatoes, in spring, she sometimes combined new potatoes and russets, making sure they weren’t peeled yet were cut to approximately the same size. There’s an art to it- unpeeled potatoes hold their shape better, then it’s easy to slip the skins off after they’ve been brought to fork tender, definitely not overcooked! Cut the cooked and peeled potatoes into approximately the same size for the potato salad. (If thepotatoes were overcooked? Start over. You don’t want mashed potato salad.)
While the potatoes are cooking, grate the onion and mix up the dressing of good mayonnaise, yellow mustard and spices. Now, Mimi’s rule for the celery was to either do a fine dice or thinly sliced. You might not want to bite down on a big chunk of onion, yet the celery gave her potato salad a subtle flavor with just the right amount of crunch and a pretty color. Again, I followed orders. My mother did too! Mimi boiled her eggs alongwith the potatoes- claimed the calcium from the egg shells made potato salad healthier. Who knows? I do it too. Gently mix the potatoes into the dressing and chill. This made the potatoes firm up and gave the flavors time to develop. Here’s how you make Mimi’s Classic Potato Salad:
Boil potatoes with skins on until fork tender, not over cooked. Allow potatoes to cool slightly, slip skins off of potatoes and dice into approximately 3/4 inch cubes or slightly larger. Finely slice or fine dice celery. Grate onion reserving juice as well. In a large bowl, mix together mayonnaise, yellow mustard, grated onion and cayenne, until combined. Add diced potatoes, grated boiled eggs and celery, toss gently so as not to break cubed potatoes, gently to combine. Chill. Flavors will develop. Serve with a sprinkle of paprika if desired. This recipe doubles well.
With the spring and summer get togethers in full swing, I think you’ll enjoy Mimi’s Potato Salad, feel free to put whatever you want to in it. Some like pickles or olives. I personally will still be following orders… I sure wouldn’t want to think Mimi was rolling over in her grave if I didn’t! Oh me…
Love y’all, Camellia *all photographs are obviously mine!
With all of the beautiful cakes, the decadent chocolates and luscious pies, it seems to me that Bread Pudding deserves a place on the dessert table, especially at Easter. Many holy days serve symbolic food and Bread Pudding seems to be a teachable opportunity. It’s ‘the Bread of Life broken for you…’ It’s a rustic dessert- reminding me of that oft sung hymn ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ … Bread Pudding is a dessert made by hand with love, served humbly and simply among friends and family, even stretched to feed a crowd.
The Pudding and Sauce are enriched and softly scented- a very comforting combination. Wrapped in orange zest, cinnamon, vanilla and freshly grated nutmeg, the classic Bread Pudding is then dusted with unrefined cane sugar. Who would disagree that plain old broken bread is elevated to an entirely new life, beautifully sweet and dear. Just in time for Easter with its gloriously easy Southern Creme Anglaise… Here’s how you make – Classic Bread Pudding with extra easy Southern Creme Anglaise!
Classic Bread Pudding with Southern Creme Anglaise
A classic Bread Pudding made with a custard base that uses the old fashioned evaporated milk with whipped eggs and classic spices including orange zest. Served with a refreshing cool creme anglaise flavored with Bourbon giving the distinctive southern flavor associated with Bread Pudding.
4 LargeEggs Whisked
1 Large canEvaporated Milk
1-2 Teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract
1Teaspoon Orange Zest
1/2- 1 Teaspoon Fresh Grated whole Nutmeg
1 1/4 Cup Pure Cane Sugar Plus more for top of bread pudding
5-6Cups Torn Day Old Yeast Bread* I used 1 dozen small yeast rolls
Easy Creme Anglaise with Bourbon
4Scoops Vanilla Ice Cream Full fat and flavor
3-4TablespoonsHigh Quality Bourbon
1/2+Teaspoon Fresh Orange Zest
For Bread Pudding- Whisk eggs until very well combined and slightly foamy. Add one large can of evaporated milk (not low fat) - whisk into eggs. Add spices, vanilla, 1 cup pure cane sugar and orange zest, then whisk to combine well. In a buttered oven safe bowl, pour this custard mix over torn Day old yeast bread. * Cover tightly and allow bread to soak up custard 4 hours or overnight. Sprinkle remainder of cane sugar on top of Pudding. Bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour or until puffed, golden and glistening with sugar crystals. Add more sugar and orange zest and a bit of melted butter if desired.
For Easy Bourbon Creme Anglaise
Melt four large scoops of high quality Vanilla Ice Cream. Do not use low fat! When ice cream has melted - Add 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest (if desired) and 3-4 tablespoons of high quality Bourbon. With a small whisk blend and keep covered and chilled until ready to serve over warm bread pudding.
Please use full fat evaporated milk and for sauce. Creme Anglaise is typically a custard sauce made with milk, eggs and sugar...which coincidentally is the same base used to make the custard base for ice cream! Hard sauce is the classic sauce generally served with Bread Pudding- most southern hard sauce calls for Bourbon. This sauce is chilled and a refreshing option to top Bread Pudding.
Now, about that sauce- a heavier warm hard sauce (denoting the alcohol) is generally served with Bread Pudding yet seems to be more suitable in the fall and winter. This sauce is cooler and more refreshing in Spring and Summer. And… The custard base of ice cream is strikingly similar to the famous Creme Anglaise- just be sure to use full fat ice cream!
Also, you may choose to omit the Bourbon and use pure Vanilla Extract ( one of the notes in bourbon), if you do, add Rum or Almond flavoring, adjusting the quantity to taste. The ‘sauce’ is wonderful on its own as well, if high quality ice cream is used. The Orange Zest adds a crisp citrus note for Spring; and it’s worth noting that spices played a role in the Easter Story as well. This classic bread pudding has an abundance of eggs which are also plentiful now. Eggs are symbolic in holy celebrations. And, I omitted the butter except for buttering the baking dish, if you prefer- melt a few tablespoons and pour over the pudding right before baking. If you don’t have access to raw cane sugar, use sanding sugar, you’ll definitely want the glisten when you pull the puffed and golden Classic Bread Pudding from the oven! Here’s wishing you a beautiful meaning filled Easter!
Love y’all, Camellia * All photographs were obviously taken by me.
When I was in grammar school, George Washington’s birthday was apparently an opportunity to teach students about our very first president, to have us do a coloring sheet of Washington’s profile or standing beside a cherry tree with an axe in his hand and to teach a basic value- truth telling.
The way the story went… as a young man, George chopped down a cherry tree on his home property. Some teachers embellished it by saying how valuable the cherry tree was or that Washington had been told not to cut down this particular tree and in show of strength and prowess with an axe or as an act of rebellion, young George chopped down the cherry tree. I’m not sure exactly how the story goes, but I imagine the whole country became fond of cherry pies because of this famous legend.
Allow me to digress here… I went to grammar school after oil lanterns and quill pens went out of style- the electric light bulb had been in use for decades by then… and we had heroes like Superman- who leaped tall buildings in a single bound and lo and behold-here he comes to save the day … Superman even hopped through windows in a swirling cape, tights and a rigged up superhero outfit as the announcer proclaimed that Superman was for ‘Truth, Justice and the American Way’. A holdover no doubt from patriotic reels during World War II. I miss those old black and white yet colorful TV shows!
Anyway, Truth was taught as a value though the retelling of George Washington’s youth– for when the harsh question was asked- ‘Who chopped down the cherry tree?’ George didn’t shift blame…he boldly said, ‘Icannot tell a lie, it was I who chopped down the cherry tree.’ Now, lest you think we as a nation were the only ones profoundly affected by the tale of George and the cherry tree- the nation of Japan, donated cherry trees that surround the Tidal Basin right in the midst of our capitol city- also named Washington! A celebration which is well attended every year- the Cherry Blossom Festival.
So! Recently I concocted a humble cherry crumble and had to name it- ‘Can’t tell a lie’ simply because… the cherry crumble was a failure on my part. I was trying to recreate my grandmother’s beloved recipe for Apricot Casserole by substituting sweet cherries! The failure was due to the fact that I didn’t calculate how many cherries would be needed and it just didn’t come out as I hoped it would. Still. I liked the flavor and the texture. And! Here it came to save the day! An heroic crunchy dessert topper for Sunday Dinner. I thought I would save this recipe for President’s Day weekend after we’ve all had lots of Valentine’s chocolate and need to get back to simple honest food. So here’s how you make Camellia’s Can’t tell a lie’ Cherry Crumble:
To honor Our first President, George Washington- According to legend, as a young man, Washington cut down a valuable Cherry Tree. Rather than allow someone else to shoulder the blame- The young George uttered the famous line ‘I cannot tell a lie.’ This cherry crumble is a particularly good topping for ice cream.
2 Sleeves Ritz Party Crackers Crushed roughly
2 14 ounce cans Sweet CherriesReserve liquid from 1 can
1/2Teaspoon Pure Almond Extract
1 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2Teaspoon NutmegFreshly grated
3/4CupGranulated SugarPlus 1/2 cup sugar for reserved cherry liquid
3/4 Cup Sliced Almonds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt one stick of butter. In a small saucepan, add 3/4 cup reserved liquid from cherries and add 1/2 cup sugar and boil gently to make a simple syrup. Add almond extract to this mixture. While syrup is cooling- add drained cherries. Crush party crackers roughly, add spices and sugars, then pour melted stick of butter over the crumbs. In a buttered deep dish pie pan or 9x9 baking dish, press one half of buttered cracker crumb mixture. Layer cherries and syrup over the crumbs. Top this with the rest of the crumb mixture and top with sliced almonds. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until golden. Allow to cool. Cherry Crumble is delicious over ice cream.
If desired, more butter may be dotted over top of crumb and almond mixture before baking. Cherry crumble is a quick and delicious dessert any time of year!
Full disclosure, with the leftover crumble, I decided to try making an ice cream dessert with some of the crumble on the bottom of a loaf pan, vanilla ice cream layered on top, then added more sweet cherries and to finish, topped it with more of the cherry crumble. The sweet cherries may freeze, so if you decide to do this variation, here’s my suggestion: Slice the ice cream dessert ahead of time- to allow the cherries to thaw out a bit! Or.. omit the sweet cherries and save them as a topper! I can’t tell a lie about this- if I make it again, I’ll probably make the ice cream cake and add the sweet cherries as a garnish but- oh my! it did make a pretty dessert!
I hope y’all are having a restful enjoyable President’s Day weekend. I also hope they’re still handing out coloring sheets and teaching about ‘Honest’Abraham Lincoln and ‘Cant tell a lie’ George Washington in schools- I personally colored his hair light brown with reddish streaks instead of the all white styled wig we see in his portraits. Oh me! I hope we won’t forget to tell the stories and be thankful for this nation and our historic heroes!
Love y’all, Camellia
*All photographs are obviously mine.
*We’re still working on and updating this site, thank you for your long suffering patience! Just blame it on the tech challenged blogger!
*Soon, I’ll be posting that famous Apricot Casserole so you can try it or save it, with our new features- the WPRecipe Makerand the shopping app from Chicory.
*While this site is being updated, I hope you will follow us on Instagram- @brendawyatt7769 or click the icon link on this page…we’re posting something almost everyday over there! And… any advertising you see on this page does not necessarily represent the views of Camellia’s Cottage!
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!
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:
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.
Sweet Potatoes… baked, mashed- candied or casseroled- Southerners do love their sweet potatoes. And while we eat them all year round, the fall and winter holidays – all the way through our traditional New Year’s Day meals of Turnip Greens and Blackeyed Peas tend to feature Sweet Potatoes to signify good fortune in the coming year. Last week, I found some beautiful sweet potatoes from Mississippi at my local grocery store- firm, no blemishes and the color was amazing, so you know they found their way into my buggy. I knew just what I wanted to make- a Sweet Potato Pie- one with all of the holiday flavors I associate with sweet potatoes. Somehow sweet potatoes have always been associated with good memories.
My grandmother scooped the orange pulp from their shells- filled them with mashed spicy buttered sweet potatoes and topped them off with snowcaps of marshmallows- oh my! I can still remember the aroma when they were pulled out of her oven.
I also recall one of her double first cousins- one of nine children- who recalled his momma’s sweet potato biscuits; and another cousin told of one memorably cold morning when he was sent to school with a baked sweet potato in one coat pocket and a sausage biscuit in the other- it kept him warm on his walk to school- he exclaimed that it still remained one of his all time favorite meals.
With the famous Southern Sweet Tooth- it’s no wonder sweet potatoes made their way into sugary pecan topped casseroles and pies- oh yes the pies… Okay. I did a small but significant survey of truly southern folks- who at least had a southern grandmother or two- and yes, it was unscientific – even so of the sampling in my survey- There was one main question…
‘Do you remember eating pumpkin pie when you growing up?’ The most memorable answer was: ‘No, punkin’ pie has a whang to it.’ A whang to it? He went on to tell me that they always grew a few punkins for the kids but mostly pumpkins were ‘fedto the hogs, if the possums didn’t get ’em first.’ Please don’t ask me what it means to have ‘a whang to it’– these are things that can’t be described, you just know. Still. If I ever heard that something had a whang to it- I didn’t eat it. No ma’am, I didn’t. Sweet Potato Pie is the Southern version of the more universally known Pumpkin Pie. So! I set out to make the best Sweet Potato Pie I could… I believe this version is the combination of traditional spices and aromas we all love with a old timey twist on the crust. Here’s how you make it-
Camellia’s Sweet Potato Pie
For the Pie Crust: Make your favorite pie crust or use a prepared 9 inch pie crust. *This is an important step to me- if making your own crust- add a tablespoon or two of cornmeal to the pie dough ; if using a prepared pie crust – brush egg yolk all over the crust including edges, then finely sift cornmeal over the crust- pressing slightly.
I’m not sure why the cornmeal is a necessity for a very good sweet potato pie, yet there’s something about the addition that enhances the sweet potato pie- perhaps it strengthens the pie crust; is just a tradition or adds a subtle flavor but do not miss this step! Chill the cornmeal enhanced pie crust while making the sweet potato filling. *Preheat oven to 450 degrees, after the sweet potatoes are baked and while making the sweet potato pie filling. This is an important step- oven temperature will be reduced in the midst of baking.
For Sweet Potato Filling:
Bake 2 lbs of sweet potatoes. *Please do not use canned sweet potatoes for the filling if possible, the quality of the pie depends on the quality of the sweet potatoes. I baked mine coated with butter.
Peel baked sweet potatoes, removing any stringy fiber, before mashing using a light hand- you don’t want mushy sweet potatoes! At this point when sweet potatoes are done, remember to preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Spice Blend: 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg. I prefer a generous grating of fresh nutmeg. Sprinkle spice mix, a pinch of salt and the zest of one Orange over mashed sweet potatoes.
Add 1/2 cup of melted butter, 1/4 cup of brown sugar and 1/4 cup of granular sugar. Mixture until light and smooth.
Beat 3 large eggs until lightened- add to spiced sweetened sweet potato mixture. Then-
Add 1/2 cup of fresh squeezed orange juice and 1/4 cup of half and half or whole milk and 3 tablespoons of good Brandy.
Mix very well- mixture should be a light, rather airy filling.
Pour filling into chilled prepared pie crust.
*I sprinkled the edges of my pie with raw sugar for a decorative effect.
Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees.
Then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for 25-35 minutes until the pie is puffed and firm.
This is a very good rich fragrant Sweet Potato Pie. Indeed it is my favorite mixture- some add a pinch of ground cloves but I find ground cloves can easily be overdone so use just a pinch. A good sherry or pure vanilla extract can be substituted for the Brandy- again this is personal taste. Fresh Orange Zest and Juice is necessary as well- you may also substitute lemon juice and zest, though I find the orange lends a milder and warmer flavor than lemon juice especially in the fall and winter months..
Okay, I’d like for you to make Sweet Potato Pie like I do- you’ll have a superior pie I think. Or go ahead and use grandmomma’s recipe- even my Great Aunt Trix made a good sweet potato pie, though maybe not as good as this one! Sweet Potato Pie is an iconic Southern pie- one that even our most famous pastry chefs are still making- I hope it will become one of your favorites, too!
Here’s wishing everyone a fun, safe and Happy Halloween!
Love y’all, Camellia
*Regardless how busy you are- Paperless Post is there to help you with some of the cutest holiday e-greetings you ever seen! While you’re waiting for Trick or Treaters…it’s so easy- you can send a few good wishes out- it’s not too late now or for any of your holiday or special occasion needs!
* All photographs belong to the Camellia’s Cottage Community and should never be used without express permission granted. (the moonlit night was taken by award winning Jeremy Miniard! Find him at jeremy-miniard.fineartamerica.com *This is a compensated post by Paperless Post!
Fall and Winter Holidays will soon be upon us- folks are already decorating and frankly, I’ve been trying out a few old but reliable treats – you know, party food, maybe an easy dessert or two… I had just purchased some fresh shelled pecans, I thought of the classic tea time-Pecan Tassies and the famous Mississippi Mud Cakes of my youth.
While I was making them, I started thinking of two Southern cooks I knew- they were next door neighbors- both had large wonderful homes, both loved to cook, both were about the same ages and mostly ran in the same social circles- I say mostly because Mary Jim had grown up in the same area as her mother, grandmother, aunts and uncles- had close friends she’d known all her life- her neighbor Joy Nell wasn’t from here… you know what I mean. In the South, we tend to be close knit; when someone moves in from somewhere else- well, we’re nice to them but… I think you get the picture.
Joy Nell had moved from Tennessee- close to Memphis I think- but most of her family were from further north in Kentucky. Mary Jim was a classic honey blonde, who enjoyed Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Andy Williams. It wasn’t unusual to hear Mary Jim humming ‘Moon River’ while she cooked. Joy Nell was a natural brunette who’d enhanced her hair to a much darker shade- more like Connie Francis and Elizabeth Taylor. Joy Nell greatly admired Priscilla Presley. For one thing- Priscilla dyed her hair to match Elvis’ hair. Joy Nell’s hair was styled a lot like Elvis hair as I recall, pompadour like. She showed a bit more va va vroom when she cooked. Sometimes Mary Jim laughed when Joy Nell belted out an Elvis song as she vacuumed, but thought it was just tasteless to hear Joy Nell cooking and singing along with Connie Francis….‘Where theBoys Are…’ Joy Nell seemed to get a bit dramatic, if you know what I mean. Well, it just wasn’t done among Mary Jim’s friends, who were into planning bridal teas, bridge parties, served on the bereavement committee and altar guild. Mary Jim’s friends were involved in more sedate activities.
It must be noted- Mary Jim called on Joy Nell more than once to help with things like Cheese Straws, Tea Sandwiches and oh yes, Pecan Tassies. No one could match Joy Nell’s recipe for Pecan Tassies. Generous to a fault, Joy Nell contributed her recipe to garden clubs and Junior League cookbooks- especially her Pecan Tassies. The cookbook recipe, while very good- just never turned out quite as good as Joy Nell’s. No one could figure it out. ‘I made that recipe 4 times and not once, not once I tell you, did they ever hold a candle to Joy Nell’s!’
Not one to be outdone-Mary Jim was determined to discover the mystery, she asked Joy Nell to show her how to make Pecan Tassies, the classic southern tea time pastry. She arrived in a starched white blouse, permanent press slacks and Italian loafers- only to find Joy Nell in a Ship and Shore® blouse tucked into bright petal pushers with highly decorated straw sandals she’d bought at the Straw Market in Nassau.
Sure enough, Joy Nell pulled out all of the ingredients, the exact ones from the latest garden club cookbook to make the pastry and filling; when to Mary Jim’s shock and amazement- Joy Nell brought out a mason jar of pecans soaking in amber liquid. Joy Nell said she had a distant kinship to a famous Baptist preacher from Kentucky named Elijah Craig…I believe it was on her momma’s side… he was most likely a primitive Baptist because Joy Nell held up that mason jar like she was handling a rattlesnake! Mary Jim gasped what is that? ‘Why darlin’ I’m gonna measure out mypecans for the tassies!’ That’s right! the secret to Joy Nell’s tipsy tassies wasn’t just any ol’ pecans…no, honey they were soaked in Bourbon!
Before you could say Elijah Craig, Mary Jim started her own batch of cooking pecans… famous for her Mississippi Mud Cake… Mary Jim renamed it Mississippi Mudslide! Between the two neighbors, I’m not sure the secret of either recipe was ever shared! I tried reproducing their famous recipes and they came close… Now, the truth is- you too can revolutionize- even your plain old Pecan Pie…just bake according to directions, when it’s hot- sprinkle Bourbon over the top of the Pecan Pie- the sizzle lets you know- the alcohol has burned off and the flavor is enhanced!
Camellia’s Tipsy Tassies
Tart Shells: Pecan Tassies generally a cream cheese crust, which generally consists of 3 oz of cream cheese and 1 stick of butter softened to room temperature- work in 1 cup of all purpose flour and chill. *You can make or buy your favorite pie crust… chill or roll into small balls and press into well greased mini muffin tins, feel free to use a small round cutter and fit into tins to form small tart shells. (I generally use whatever I have or even purchased pie crust in the refrigerator section of the market.) These can be made in advance and kept in the freezer. Here’s what they look like:
Re-chill once tart shells are formed. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. I have excellent results when I partially pre-bake the tart shells for 3-5 minutes. Filling: Soak 3/4 cup of chopped pecans in 1/4 cup of Bourbon until most of the liquid is absorbed. In a bowl, mix 3/4 cup of Brown Sugar, a dash of salt, 1 large egg- beaten, 1 Tbs. of melted Butter, drained soaked pecans with 1 teaspoon of remaining bourbon and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Mix well. Fill tart shells 3/4 full of filling. Bake 20-25 minutes. *30 minutes may be required if you decide not to partially prebake tart shells. Makes 2 1/2 dozen Tipsy Tassies. These are not overly sweet- and actually make a wonderful addition to appetizer trays. For dessert tassies, I often drizzle chocolate or caramel sauce over them for decoration and additional flavor.
Camellia’s Mississippi Mudslide
For cake base: You will need to soak 1 1/2 cups of rough chopped pecans in 1/2 cup of Bourbon until most of liquid is absorbed. *note: If you think ahead, you can keep pecans in a sealed plastic bag or jar of Bourbon in a cool location – ratio is 3 to 1. The remaining Bourbon may be used again for more pecans. Shaking the jar occasionally to make sure all nuts are covered.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 16x11x1 baking Sheet Pan, dusted lightly with powdered cocoa. Set aside. Melt 2 sticks of Butter; add 1/2 cup of cocoa, stir. Add 1 teaspoon of instant coffee, 4 well beaten large eggs; add 1 1/2 cup of flour, a pinch of salt and mix well. Add 1 1/2 cups of Bourbon Pecans and mix well. Pour mixture in prepared sheet pan and bake 15 minutes. Spread 1 small bag of miniature marshmallows over hot cake. Let this set a while, the marshmallows should be melted slightly. Press marshmallows lightly with hands to make sure they adhere to warm cake before *Some suggest running the hot cake and marshmallows back in the warm oven, being careful not to toast marshmallows. Others suggest allowing the cake to cool slightly then spreading the cake with one jar of marshmallow cream, instead of mini marshmallows. Neither method is necessary for a true Mudslide effect.)
While the marshmallows are softening- make Mudslide Glaze: Combine 3 Tbs. of cocoa, 1 box of confectioners sugar (16 oz. sift if necessary to remove lumps). Add 6 Tbs. of half and half (or evaporated milk or plain whole milk your choice) and 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract. Mix until smooth. Pour thick chocolate glaze immediately over cake and marshmallows while still warm. Spreading as evenly as possible. Cool and cut into squares. Depending on size of squares- this makes several decadents dozens. *Note – some wonderful bakers have told me that they occasionally take a shortcut of using a very good brownie mix, adding a bit more cocoa and the teaspoon of instant coffee, I add Bourbon pecans for a very good Mississippi Mudslide otherwise known affectionately as Mississippi Mud Cake. Some also make this cake with no miniature marshmallows just icing which is an extremely good cake as well.
The secret ingredient these wonderful bakers rarely tell you is about soaking those pecans in Bourbon! Southern food is what binds us together and there are some good cooks who have a few tricks up their sleeves to make ordinary Southern food- extraordinary! And don’t expect to find these little tips in cookbooks- great Southern cooks barely think about it- they have that extraordinary talent of just knowing when something needs a pinch of salt, a hit of cayenne pepper or a sprinkle of sugar. Okay- you know this is coming… like all good Southern Tales… the story of Joy Nell and Mary Jim is part truth, part myth and part outright lies…the part about soaking those pecans? is the truth and nothing but the truth!
Love y’all, Camellia
*All photographs are obviously mine. *This is a work of humorous fiction… any resemblance of Joy Nell and Mary Jim to actual folks is merely coincidence. However, the recipes are real. Several of my older cookbooks do tell the secret of soaking pecans in bourbon and infusing dried fruits also, but it is a rare admission in Southern cookbooks!
*Elijah Craig was indeed a travelling Baptist preacher who was also a distiller of bourbon, as evidenced by his namesake Elijah Craig® Kentucky Bourbon! I just made that up about Joy Nell being distant kin but it could happen! Maker’s Mark® is also fine Kentucky Bourbon. I’m told it’s a good bourbon for drinking…I’ll take mine in Tipsy Tassies or on top of Pecan Pies thank you very much.