Thank You Notes…

e662cc3e-e8ed-4539-b3c8-8bce54b7c88aA certain type of Southern lady may be thought to be snobbish because she only joins small groups such as sewing circles, book clubs, altar guild or exclusive clubs with limited memberships. I’m here to dispel this ugly rumor. It’s not really about being exclusive, it’s more to do with her ancestor’s obsession concerning proper thank you notes!

Recently, a southern mother was deeply concerned when her daughter signed up for speed dating…‘Marybelle, what were you thinking? Yes, darling I certainly want you to find a suitable match but speed dating? Just think of how many thank you notes you’ll have to write to find Mr. Right?’   Okay. I made that up but it could happen.

Southern mothers do belong to one large group- the one which is simply horrified that cursive writing is no longer part of the curriculum. Penmanship speaks volumes. Fine penmanship, eloquent sentiments and a unique signature spell Culture with a capital C. Sloppy handwriting, fill in the blank notecards, preprinted sayings with a signature which has reverted away from fine cursive writing, not to mention being struck through with mistakes, misspellings and has ink blobs, well…this just reeks of being low and uncouth.

Actually I’m exaggerating a bit here…today’s southern mothers are willing to accept neatly penned and simply worded notes of any kind as long as it’s not mass produced, pre-printed or electronic. Shiver. And! The best southern mothers try to make sure their offspring- male or female- stays well stocked with suitable stationary, pens and notecards with proper envelopes… Some mothers have even stooped so low as to include postage stamps. Save the precious children the price of a postage stamp and remember – metered postage is tacky. So are pre-printed well wishes, sympathy or thank you notes which only require a signature. Tacky is not an image builder. While monogrammed or personalized stationary is preferred- nice blank notecards are suitable for informal notes.

49e6806f-7ea5-4c4d-8f23-083a51f5a079If the all occasion blank notecards are hand embellished- well, it’s better…anything that has a personal touch is acceptable when engraved is simply too formal. I personally received a box of beautiful notecards as a Christmas gift, also I had picked up several packages of informal blank notecards during the past year. With snippets of ribbons found while I was putting away holiday packaging, I decided a bit of embellishment was in order for the thank you notes I still need to write- in my cursive writing of course. Using a paper hole punch placed in strategic locations, I threaded ribbon and even hem tape through the holes and tied them in cute bows.

78c0d6c5-2e97-48d0-8104-f2aee32d724cThat’s all there is to it. Still. I think they’re just precious. Oh my, how I do run on..Now. While I’m at it… and though it’s electronically transmitted– I hope my image won’t suffer too much for saying ‘Thank you’ to all y’all who have graciously followed this crazy blog in the last three years! You’ve made it so much fun for me, I hope we can continue to bring good things to your inbox in 2019 and hey! We’d appreciate it if you’d tell your friends about us too!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine.

*The hole punch I use is from a scrapbooking kit, however what you may need to embellish your own  notecards is a hole punch with a longer reach than standard hole punchers – like this McGill 2″ reach craft punch from Amazon

Merry Ball Fudge…

8DFD4493-DD67-439C-B6FE-1DF2E5A37A57Most 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 it too long, it seized up.’
  • ‘Her Divinity is hard as a rock but she keeps making it like that every 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.

AEBF7E43-EA8B-47F2-B965-2DD63ECCD080 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.4C8E4EA3-06D2-4166-BDA8-612481440017

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-19F76BAF-01A6-4150-AF61-B6988AFCEF22

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
  • Fantasia Fudge,
  • 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: AEBF7E43-EA8B-47F2-B965-2DD63ECCD080

 

Homemade Mushroom Soup…

832349B1-6BD5-40DE-9C71-42EED73E818AWe southerners love soups, stews, gumbos, cream sauces, gravies, and we also tend to use the freshest ingredients possible. Since a good part of our land is agricultural, we have access to all kinds of fresh food and food we’ve grown and canned or put in the freezer. That includes Mushroom Soup… you might be surprised how many of our traditional dishes include fresh mushrooms!

Still.  We also know part of our cuisine -often referred to as the ‘cream of soup dishes’ – has been made fun of, considered low rent even rejected out of hand as substandard by those stuck up cooks in other parts of the country! I would argue that any real southerner finds generational comfort in soup can recipes, namely our famous casseroles. Green Bean Casserole has been around for over 75 years and there are Classic Chicken Casseroles that spell comfort. As soon as we hear of a death- before the grave is dug… you can hear the cans opening! No self respecting southern cook would even think of having a bereavement spread without several soup can casseroles, they feed a crowd and offer comfort at a time when fresh food might be a bit too lively to offer. I mean, who in their right mind shows up with a bushel of bell peppers or cucumbers when the digestive systems of the bereaved need soft creamy food with a bit of Ritz Crackers on top?  Though-

I do need to add that we southerners don’t actually open a can of cream of mushroom soup, heat it and eat it like that! No, it’s a mainstay in our pantry, strictly used as an ingredient in those famous casseroles- and every southerner I know- who has the decency to send food to the bereaved- keeps her pantry and freezer ready for life’s unexpected trials and tribulations.

Still. When I make soup, I want it to be made from scratch. Last year, I fiddled around and came up with a Mushroom Soup recipe and it was good! I didn’t share it with you, because it wasn’ a ‘tested and tried’ recipe. With the cold snap we’ve been having and all of the holiday leftovers a distant memory- Soup of any kind just felt right. My grocery store had some good looking mushrooms and I basically had every thing else I needed to make Homemade Mushroom Soup! Here’s how I made-12C27364-54B8-4556-A58F-A62EE104C7FF

Camellia’s Homemade Mushroom Soup

You will need:

  • A drizzle of Bacon Fat
  • One Stick of Butter (1/2 cup)
  • 1 medium Onion finely chopped
  • 3 Garlic Cloves chopped
  • 4 cups of Whole Fresh Mushrooms – sliced (can be one type or several – your choice)
  • A few sprigs of Fresh Thyme
  • 4 Tablespoons of All Purpose Flour
  • 4-5 cups of good quality Chicken Stock – homemade if possible
  • Small Diced Ham – 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup
  • A couple of splashes of White Wine
  • 1 cup of Half and Half or Heavy Cream if you prefer
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Use 1/4 cup of  powdery grated Parmesan Cheese only as a seasoning or thickener, but it’s worth keeping in the pantry! If the soup needs to be a bit thicker- this type of parmesan cheese is an excellent way to season and thicken the soup before adding Cream, just reduce the amount of salt a bit.

To Prepare Soup

  • In a large soup pot, pour a drizzle of Bacon Fat- okay I admit it- to be Southern Style- it has to have some pork! Also melt one half of the butter (half stick) over medium high heat.
  • Add finely chopped onion. Saute until onion is soft. Reduce heat to medium and add chopped garlic- be careful- garlic scorches easily, saute Garlic for no more than one minute.
  • Add sliced Mushrooms- I used a mix of Baby Portobello and White Buttons, also add the remainder of the Butter. Stir until butter has melted, then add fresh Thyme (leaves only) and diced Ham.
  • Cook until mushrooms are soft and moisture has cooked off.
  • Shake Flour over the mushroom mixture, stir to coat- then add White Wine. Stir often until liquid has cooked off. Mixture will be thick. *It will look like this- 97F6F54D-8448-4967-AAC8-50B7CE5FDE5B
  • Add 4 cups of Chicken Stock, bringing it to a bubbling simmer. Cook on medium until this mixture is thick and smooth- up to 30 minutes, stirring often.
  • *To thicken- use the powdered Parmesan Cheese. I use it as a seasoning or thickener only! Add up to 1/4 cup of  this type of Grated Parmesan Cheese stirring it until completely absorbed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. *I found when the recipe was tested, the extra thickening was needed.
  • *At this point the soup may be refrigerated! When ready to serve, bring thickened mixture to a simmer and carefully add Half and Half, stirring until absorbed into the Mushroom mixture. Serve immediately. *If you aren’t quite  ready to serve, the soup may be kept covered in the oven for a bit- at 170 degrees, no longer than 10-15 minutes.

Serving suggestion: Melt a half stick of butter in a cast iron skillet. Toss in a 16 oz. bag of Oyster Crackers and stirring  to coat. Remove from heat. Put skillet of Oyster Crackers in a cold oven set to preheat at 350 degrees. When oven is preheated- the Oyster Crackers will be buttery and toasted. Excellent accompaniment! 5845CDA8-3A6B-4435-83A2-A27FF7071738

Homemade Mushroom Soup is rich and hearty enough for a main dish, though I must admit a small cup would be an excellent first course. Homemade Mushroom Soup doesn’t aim to be a substitute for any of the famous soup can recipes we southerners also love, however it does bridge a gap between haute cuisine and the so called low rent dishes. Homemade Mushroom Soup is so good on chilly days- fresh but without the bite, that I’m reminded of a family’s beloved but protective family dog… When she runs out barking… they reassure folks…‘She won’t bite.’ Well…not hard.’

Homemade Mushroom Soup has lots of flavor from onions, ham, garlic, fresh thyme, wine and good chicken stock- comforting but surely not bland.

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine.

Dressing for Thanksgiving…

9496F288-14EA-488D-936D-44DEAE40EE38And 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 own family’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 called Cornbread 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!

13A59A1E-5B2C-43E5-AB44-2B22277A9527Forget 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 believe Chester’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 importantat 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 is left out!9496F288-14EA-488D-936D-44DEAE40EE38

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 cornbreadthe taste will be all off and you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.

Sweet Potato Pie…

9CA703A3-6DFD-471A-858B-1A5F67E01411Sweet 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.

B5020501-338D-4227-8F81-AE679B73EDB1With 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 ‘fed to 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-A7A52AC8-42E5-410D-86A5-DB3CDE708411

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.

4E207F95-3D44-4FF1-81F8-D651D1E7C7B8 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.

F3AA21F5-CE47-4E00-B4DB-937BE2BFBF2EThis 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..

A7A52AC8-42E5-410D-86A5-DB3CDE708411Okay, 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!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photgraphs were obviously taken by me.

Homewreckers…

BDB6AC65-F5E4-437E-BA57-084BCB00E203An amusing dessert for Fall and even Halloween sounded fun, maybe something chocolate would be a good idea- I had seen a lot of wonderful and photogenic desserts, so mine had to be different. I thought of a confection I had made for a Holiday Bake Sale I hosted several years ago. Okay. Here’s the problem- I couldn’t find the recipe! I turned this house upside down looking for it! Homewrecking, if you will. When I made the first version of my confection, I’d decided to make an extreme version of Blondies. I planned to called them Blonde Bombshells- reminiscent of the beautiful blondes of the silver screen.

  • Jane Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, Ingrid Bergman,
  • the Gabor Sisters, Jean Harlowe, Grace Kelly even Brigette Bardot-

Rich, talented, beautiful – a feast for the eyes… but wait a minute! Why not celebrate Brunettes! There was-

  • Ava Gardner, Natalie Wood,
  • Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor and more…

Why, they too were rich, beautiful, talented even warm and spicy. So, I made something like a Brownie but added warm spices like black pepper, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon. Let me tell you- they were so decadent- a one inch square was… well, all anyone needed!  Still. I couldn’t find the recipe. All I knew, from the scribbled notes- there was a notation- ‘Base is like Katherine Hepburn’s Brownies’… the lost recipe for the brownie had a notation in one of my grandmother’s cookbooks or scraps of newspaper clipped recipes- I believed it was in a cookbook compiled by her double first cousins. No luck- but I did find a recipe purported to be similar to Katherine Hepburn’s Brownies in one of my community cookbooks by a lady named Maybelle, whom shall remain anonymous. 8E79A7D4-52D3-4930-B50F-1C12803E5F31

Could I just take a minute and say- There were certain things we were taught not to talk about di-rectly. Or in mixed company- even in polite society. Things like mental lapses were spoken of as being eccentric or colorful – Money- the haves and the have nots- whether you had money or you didn’t – had absolutely nothing to do with whether you acted right, had social graces and good manners – You could be poor as Job’s turkey and still be genteel. Marital problems? Ladies might read about it in True Confessions or a tabloid at the Beauty Parlor whispering among themselves in hushed tones then nervous giggling ensued. A ‘Homewrecker’ was rarely spoken of – those with refined sensibilities just didn’t talk about these unpleasant things.

The first time I ever actually recall hearing the word ‘Homewrecker‘ – my grandmother practically hissed the word- in her own home, mind you! To be honest, until I was out on my own I had the feeling that a homewrecker was someone who owned a small time wrecking company and ran one of those wrecking ball machines in dubious neighborhoods- someone who tore down houses…perhaps under the cover of darkness. Though, I vaguely recall believing homewreckers mostly lived out in Hollywood- since my dreamy eyed mother mentioned admiring Katherine Hepburn… my grandmother quickly followed that by hissing…‘Homewrecker’. It sounded unusual and perfectly scandalous.

I know now that Miss Hepburn apparently had a long running love affair with a married man named Spencer Tracy. Neither movie star looked like the type to run heavy equipment on a regular basis. Though Mr. Tracy was described as ‘powerful’ and ‘dynamite’– he was never…nevah! described as a homewrecker– and apparently he never … shh- D-I-V-O-R-C-E-D .  Thank you very much, Tammy Wynette.  Still. Miss Hepburn must have made some wonderful brownies; maybe Spencer Tracy was partial to chocolate. And y’all, for the record?

I long for that vintage civilized conversation– in polite company. Too much information and vulgar language in society has become one of my pet peeves; genteel, polite, kind and respectful conversation would be like a breath of fresh clean air. Don’t you think?   At any rate- down through time the recipe for Katherine Hepburn’s Brownies was touted as a dense rich chocolate confection filled with walnuts or pecans and for sure those brownies were socially acceptable. Just for fun- I adapted Maybelle’s recipe a bit, I added strong coffee, doubled the recipe and used Baking Chocolate instead of Cocoa, Butter instead of Oleo and of course no walnuts- I used Southern Pecans. So, stay tuned- you’ll see why I dubbed my new brownies- Homewreckers, just for fun and pure devilment!

4488E530-663B-4FAD-961F-81D1B72F97D5Camellia’s Homewreckers

  • You will need 4 oz. of Baking Chocolate – broken into squares
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter (plus enough to butter the baking sheet)
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  •  1/2 cup of sifted all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon of strong brewed coffee or 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 2 cups of pecans toasted with a pinch of salt and then rough chopped.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. On another baking pan- spread 2 cups of pecans and a pinch of salt. Toast pecans in the oven while it is preheating, they will be perfectly roasted, remove and chop coarsely. Set aside. Prepare a 10×15 baking sheet linws with parchment paper which has been buttered well. Set aside.

EB4EAB18-B784-4924-B892-D416393096A3*This is a one pot recipe! In a large saucepan, melt 4 oz. of Baking Chocolate (use the best you can find) with the 2 sticks of butter on medium low heat until just melted (be careful and do not scorch or you’ll have to throw the whole thing out and start over!). Remove from heat, then add 2 cups of sugar- stir until sugar is completely absorbed. Add 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract  and 1 Tbs. of cool and strong coffee.

Break eggs into a measuring cup and stir until combined. Combine well with chocolate mixture. Then quickly stir in 1/2 cup of sifted all purpose flour until just combined. (Can you believe it? just one half cup flour in the whole thing!) Add in coarsely chopped pecans. Pour mixture evenly onto baking sheet.

8d48cfa5-4857-469d-96cb-1bdde2870e1e.jpegBake for 25 minutes or maybe less at 350 degrees. Test with a toothpick, if it comes out clean- they are done and no one will be mad if they are slightly underdone! These Homewreckers are soft fudgy Brownie Bars, if they are hard and dry? Again I say, throw them out and start all over! *note: These brownie bars will cut best if they are chilled in the pan- uncut. To be honest, I love to cut brownies in small pieces, dip the fudgy bottom in granulated sugar for an effect similar to the Electric Maid Bakery or several other fine baking establishments in the Birmingham area which have long shuttered their doors- they made a habit of offering their brownies dipped in white sugar and… I suspect to keep them from sticking together and making a mess.

Here’s the two secrets for very good brownies which are rarely shared- the perfect brownies or brownie bars have very little flour and are best undercooked! Please note again: Camellia’s  Homewreckers have just one half cup of flour in this whole pan! (you can make thicker brownies by baking in a 9×13 pan and increase the baking time just slightly)

Now, in an effort to make an amusing Halloween treat- I cut the chilled Homewreckers into 3×3 inch squares, using two of them, I filled the center with vanilla ice cream and topped it with hot fudge sauce- and a spritz of whipped cream on top- the ‘eyes’ aren’t the confectioner’s type but could be! *I double checked Katherine Hepburn’s Brownies – they don’t contain the strong coffee or espresso powder- her recipe calls for an 8×8 inch pan- mine for an 10×15 inch baking pan, they are surely thinner but do make sure not to overcook.  Imagine my surprise when I found an NPR segment citing a New York Times article with the recipe for Miss Hepburn’s Brownies- and the subtitle of the NPR segment was ‘A Recipe for Homewrecking?’(link to NYT article, posted on NPR is a segment called the Salt- an article written by Maquita Peters at www.npr.org)

Cooking and baking should be fun- and when you make your own rendition of any recipe- half the fun is naming the recipe! Be sure to share your rendition! By the way, if I ever do round up that recipe for Brunettes? You’ll be the first to know! As for this recipe? The only homewrecking these confections will create is maybe some scuffling over the last bite! Have fun making a batch of Homewreckers of your own- or Ghostbusters, whatever you call them- they’re good!  if you want to try your hand at coming up with a recipe for some Platinum Blondies or even some Fiery Redheads – I don’t know, maybe rich red velvet cookie bars vamped up with nuts and warm spices, just be sure to share the recipes!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine. I must say- Katherine Hepburn was one of my all time favorite actresses! And she was neither a blonde or a brunette but a beautiful redhead!

*I believe True Confessions was a magazine but maybe it was a tabloid- please forgive my lapse. I haven’t seen a copy in years

 

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!

Tipsy Treats…

B9A442C2-3947-45DD-8C68-32489223A84FFall 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 the Boys 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 my pecans 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! 0FFB5ED5-EE0B-412E-9E49-7A8410CD336B

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!

4B351217-216F-428C-A338-5EDC82B9E569Camellia’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:

3B7E9D8B-75CB-43FA-BF35-E051ECD96D2ARe-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.

1DD227EB-BD13-4C37-A0C4-E560107ABDCFCamellia’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.)

AAAFD16F-0249-4AE0-A492-3727D297F46DWhile 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.

8431415B-92EB-401D-96A6-E288B47D8FC3The 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.

Nerves…

D0F39752-CB7D-4458-A05A-D49D5B63887D

She was the nervous type, always scared to death of something or other, I tell you she was no Grace Kelly, Her Serene Highness of Monaco.  An old timer said of her nervous condition, ‘You can always hear a chicken’s feathers ruffle. Scared of her own shadow.’  I rifled through my notes and found that Southern folks talk about their nerves– a lot. Here’s a sample.

  • ‘I was nervous as a cat.’  I have to admit most cats I know don’t exactly quiver like nervous ninnies. They nap a lot. I have known a few cats- a very few- who get on my last nerve. That goes for other things or people too.
  • Some folks say- ‘My nerves were bad that day.’ or… ‘I was a bundle of nerves!’  even this…
  • ‘That noise is working on my nervous system.’ or if it’s really bad- ‘I felt like I was about to have a complete nervous breakdown.’
  • Or nervous exhaustion- ‘ I can’t sleep. I’ve worried myself to death’.
  • ‘My nerves are shot, I tell you they were almost completely gone. If someone tells you I’m Koo Koo for Cocoa Pops. Believe them’

You don’t hear about nerves much these days….oh maybe something like ‘Nerves of Steel’…Mostly, we hear about Stress, Anxiety or other disorders which are all real and can be serious conditions… the terms and treatments have changed. I’m guessing, for lack of a better way to describe things, our Southern Mothers tended to blame the nervous system for the unexplainable. It’s sort of shame terms change like they do. A case of ‘Nerves’ was one size fits all- a delicate way of putting things.  If there is one thing Southern folks used to excel at- is putting things in a more genteel format. The South is a region of church steeples, azaleas, Dollar Trees and eccentricity.

817EB075-9980-49F3-AA90-364003142014For instance, even when we suspect someone is acting in an unusual way….  ‘We always felt a little bit sorry for her- she was a shy soul who had fallen arches, varicose veins, thick ankles and- kept her venetians closed tight as a tick. Most folks suspected her nerves were bad or that she might be a closet drinker. But nice, let me tell you- you will never meet a nicer person in the world, a little unkempt, bless her heart- but so nice.’ Yes, that’s the Southern way of putting things. If we suspect someone might be going over the edge- well… there are telltale signs…

7B5D1FF2-B9DC-4998-8021-BCA16E4D9C16‘Most folks plant petunias in an old tire, but Emma’s been working herself to death- she’s got a whole tire garden – whitewashed or white walled tires with a bottle tree slap dab in the middle or it- I think she’s just got nervous energy that needs workin’ off- One of the neighbors said they thought they heard incantations at night around the bottle tree- but I think it was just those bottles rattling when the wind got up. So what if she planted a tire garden anyway? It’s better than keeping things all bottled up or falling out with a case of bad nerves.’

FFBFBD55-3F11-4FEE-9936-5BC1B6892790And there’s this- naturally some folks do get nervous when they have to get up at meeting to make a little talk, their hands sweat and quiver-One suffering man said…‘I’m so nervous, I could thread a sewing machine and it going.’  Nerve wracking.

3615C552-C99B-44A7-88CD-7CDC0BD9EE6FAll women worry about their children; if they will they make it all right when they get grown but some Southern women worry about whether or not theirs will rise above sorry circumstances– one woman said the houses she grew up in smelled of chlorine bleach, steamed cabbage and home permanents. She wondered if her daughters would rise above it– they did. One has her own Happy Housecleaning Service and the other is a Beauty Operator.

Now, it must be said- that often Southern Mothers are simply mortified by person’s behavior, it sets their nerves on edge. It’s imperative to point things out to their children-

‘Don’t be hanging out over there. Her mama’s not right…mental. Goes to juke joints on Saturday nights. Some say it’s her nerves…but really! layin’ out at night and then layin’ out in the yard in broad daylight to even out her tan. I tell you she’s on the verge…or maybe she’s already gone cuckoo- a genuine floozie. Why, it’s beneath her. Some folks try to excuse it away by saying she was an army nurse in the South Pacific for 15 years and never adjusted to civilian life. The nerve! honestly. I tell you now, it’s no place for young folks to gather. You just need to politely decline any invitations from them and their loud mouthed neighbors too.’

781CACEF-A11C-4645-B3AF-F99391EAEC5DAnd then there’s the case of Aunt Freezia Butler… she’d always been a bundle of nerves, she was high strung when she was a young girl. As a grown woman, Aunt Freezia suffered from tension headaches, nervous stomach, had occasional bouts of Saint Vidas Dance and knew the heartbreak of psoriasis. Aunt Freezia was a buttoned up type, had a tight perm to match; mostly she didn’t trust doctors. Still.  Freezia was a spiritual type – Hard shell Baptist. She claimed it was biblical to take a nip for her oft infirmities according to St. Paul. So she kept a bottle of spirits in her chifforobe ‘for medicinal purposes only’ said it settled her nerves. It probably did.

06FB0CC4-D75D-4F33-A2E5-EF0584686C28A final warning, beware of the wilting Southern Beauty Queen who has gotten to the age when her mind has started to wander… she will offer her delicate and limp hand like a fading gardenia, then takes to her bed with a rare case of Magnolia Fever. Watch out for this type.  Her nervous spells will run you to death- waiting on her hand and foot. Do everything- only to watch her turn on you… mean as a snake! Then! this old Beauty will have the nerve to blame it on a tension headache; says she is declining rapidly- knows the end is near- makes elaborate funeral plans and final wishes. Southerners fall for this- Every. Single. Time.

Okay. ‘Pull the velvet drapes, please. I think a bad case of nerves is coming on… I need to collect myself. There. I’m back to being the Serene Highness of the South.’

C90CCD7E-E08B-4B96-9412-1E13DCCF0540Now, you know the secret of my crazy writing habits- it’s keeping notes…in no particular order, of amusing or unusual phrases or words- then it’s like pulling a rabbit out of the magician’s hat. Some time, somewhere when I least expect it- all of those reams of random paper bring on a goofy piece of writing designed to amuse and inform. This one- for instance- is like all Southern tales… part truth, part myth and part outright lies.  And, you have to admit- it took a lot of nerve to write it!

Love y’all, Camellia

*This is meant to be a humor piece. I have the utmost sympathy for anyone who suffers from any type of nervous disorder and am thankful we have better ways to address it medically. *All photographs are obviously mine. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.  *This is the truth and the whole truth- I have come up with no word for a collector of words and phrases- this photograph is just a fraction of the crazy notes I keep! *And one more thing- we were asked back in the Spring by Z Publishing – to submit an article from a previously published piece of writing. We chose one from Camellia’s Cottage entitled- Bevy of Beauties. We were astounded and grateful to have been chosen and included in Alabama's Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Fiction

Late Summer’s Verdant Path…

D4E1475A-AC7F-4E3D-90FE-43D32B92985EThe best ways for me to find enjoyment in late summer’s neglected garden, is not in hacking away in disgust or to yank and pull or sweat and swear – though I do admit to a bit of that mingled with my worst complaints…

  • “That’s right let me go out of town and you decide to run wild!’
  • ‘ Choking out your companion plant is as coarse and common as talking religion or politics!’ or…
  • ‘Okay, really? Staging a hostile takeover in this heat? What’s gotten into you?’

Now, as amusing as it is- to talk to our plants this way…it doesn’t work, the damage has already been done! Faced with difficult and mundane jobs like pulling weeds, I enjoy taking a stroll, framing a view, documenting with a few photographs, thinking of my best words, waxing poetic even humming the sweetest melody, in fact- it surprises me that I usually don’t do these things first! But when I do…

I find crisp cool ferns, an unusual view through an errant Mimosa,

13B44B76-0C30-4A74-B0F3-545A80506EFBHydrangeas, this time several on the wane and one amazing fresh green one made even more beautiful in a hazy light.

Views through a garden bench, beauty entwining itself up and around wherever it may find the opportunity…

 

Soft and sweet Lamb’s Ears and an iron bird hiding in rampant rose canes and even Autumn Joy beginning to bloom.

Now, normally I don’t use words like verdant in the course of everyday conversation- but the word did come to mind… ‘Verdant means- Abundant, green vegetation, lush green lawns or rich forestation.’ Weeds or not- that’s what we have!

2CA12AE5-AEE0-4B44-8F90-2D8991616A7EStill.  Verdant was one of the good words… followed by Decent, Fresh, Trustworthy, Wholesome, Bighearted, Devotion, Wholehearted, Loving and Kind.

My good words were followed by Phrases like- Cool and calm, Soft and tender, Milk of Human Kindness, A sweet embrace… Try it! Good words and gentle phrases usually bring forth the Poetic!

‘Sleep thou, and I will wind thee in my arms…So doth the woodbine, the sweet honeysuckle Gently entwined. Oh, how I love thee! How I dote on thee!’ from A Midsummer’s Nights’ Dream-

Or what about these?‘In life’s uncertain voyage, I will some kindness do them.’ Timon of Athens and  ‘Beauty lives with kindness.’ Two Gentlemen of Virona  – and a personal favorite…

‘To me, fair friend, you never can be old.’ Sonnet 14 All by the poet emeritus of good words….Shakespeare

87F1B149-CA3A-4654-81D4-5417384F49D7It was time…The gazing at pictures, the doodling, dawdling and daydreaming had to stop or nothing would get done. I must admit, my greatest gardening challenge became one of my sweetest musings…

390DD5C5-0D91-48EF-9890-C55C5D71AFA1The Angel Vine had become rampant squalling baby – crying out for immediate attention. A pair of water meter readers couldn’t even find the meter since the Angel Vine had completely covered it over… fiercely verdant? Perhaps not a good phrase… I pulled it back to show them where it was…and decided I could amuse myself no longer. I began pulling and outright hacking and cutting…. and then it happened again…Ah yes, a song… a lullaby… okay really I thought of Willie Nelson’s ‘Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground’ about an angel with a broken wing that Willie fell in love with, that was my first thought. Kept in check, Angel Vine is such a sweet planting…tiny brown vines dotted with tiny green leaves. Angel Vine is a native of New Zealand also known as ‘Mattress Vine’ … so yes, as overgrown as it was- eventually a Lullaby came to mind. May I pause here? I’ll admit it- at first a gardening song starts as an annoying hum…I can’t put words to the tune… but when I do? I am amazed at how perfectly it does fit the situation. Angels, mattresses for cradles and little children…came to mind. The neighborhood is quieter now….children have gone back to school when I’m at my gardening chores…. I began thinking of the times I sent my first graders off to school- it never got easier, I always cried and prayed….counting on these beautiful and promising words for children-

 ‘Become as little trusting loving children. Whoever receives and welcomes one little child is greatest in the Kingdom of heaven… and also welcomes Me. But whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble, whoever entices him or hinders a child’s progress from right thought and conduct… Anyone who causes suffering to a little child- a millstone should be hung around his neck and be thrown in the depths of the sea… Beware that you do not despise or demean one of these little ones… See that you do not offend one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven are always in the presence of and earnestly watch the face of My Father’…’Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to Me.’ 

Stern warnings concerning treatment of children from the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of St. Matthew. So yes, pulling back that Angel Vine I thought of Guardian Angels…prayers for all little children-the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

F81C0824-BDC4-490C-9955-972A1041A154I found myself humming an old Welsh lullaby …Sleep my child let peace attend thee, all through the night.  Guardian Angels will defend thee, all through the night.’

All the while thinking of angels. The pile of trimmings was quite large, I wound the Angel Vine into a verdant wreath and hung it’s delicate form on the Front Door knowing it would stay fresh for only a few short days. My Late Summer’s Verdant Walks, like childhood-   don’t last long, but the memories will be cherished a long while.

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine. *The Scripture is from Matthew 18- my interpretation- alongside the Amplified Version of the KJV *Please don’t get any grand ideas that I’m an expert on memorizing Shakespeare! It’s a trick I employ to try to match up my ‘best’ words with poets or quotes from famous folks!  *’All Through the Night- a Welsh lullaby is generally sung around the Christmas holidays- but so beautiful I couldn’t resist. I found no author credited for the song.