Mimi’s Macaroni and Cheese is a wonderful memory in my life. Southern food is like that. Southerners have a strong emotional attachment to the methods, the flavors, the ingredients in our heirloom food. My grandmother’s recipes surprised me. As I became more aware of the cultural influences on Southern food, I realized her heritage influenced her food choices. Depending on where our ancestors came from, who their people were and the food that was available to them in this country. It depended on who raised the food or who cooked the food, too. If you look at the ingredients in her Macaroni and Cheese, you might note that her family probably had lots of chickens and probably raised dairy cattle too. There’s lots of eggs, butter and cheese, she always used these in her version.
I also know her uncle managed a large family farm. Mimi knew that French Huguenots were part of her ancestry. Her cooking, whether she knew it or not, is decidedly similar to rustic French cooking. The method for making Mimi’s Macaroni and Cheese is like a soufflé made with eggs rather than with a cream sauce. Béchamel is a more refined sauce of French cuisine, heavier I would insist.
Look at the close up- Mimi’s Macaroni and Cheese is light…almost fluffy from the eggs- yet with deep flavor of strong cheddar cheese and includes the spiciness of cayenne pepper, even red pepper flakes if you choose. The spicy heat in this recipe is also found many southern recipes, especially in the Coastal South. Okay. I’m sorry to be getting into a primer on the history of southern food! Without further ado, here’s how you make Mimi’s Macaroni and Cheese-
This version of the classic Macaroni and Cheese has a light, spicy cheesy quality almost like a soufflé and is in fact best baked in a soufflé dish.
2CupsFreshly Grated Sharp Cheddar CheesePlus more for topping
1 3/4CupsCooked Pasta (Elbow, Linguine, Small Shell)
1/2 -1TeaspoonCayenne PepperSpice is to taste
Red Pepper FlakesOptional
1/2StickButterMore for buttering the baking dish
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Generously butter an 8 inch soufflé dish or 8x8 glass baking dish. In a deep mixing bowl, whisk eggs lightly with whole milk and cayenne pepper. (May add cracked black pepper and a pinch of salt also). Gently add shredded sharp cheddar to combine. Add cooked pasta, combining well, but with a light hand. Pour mixture into a buttered soufflé dish. Bake for 45 minutes or until puffed and golden. (less time for a more shallow baking dish) Serves 6 generously.
It must be said, Macaroni and Cheese was never served as a main dish. Our famous vegetable plates usually included Macaroni and Cheese, it was served along with Baked Ham and fresh Green Beans too. Macaroni and Cheese is an iconic southern dish. I love Mimi’s version of Macaroni and Cheese- it’s loaded with cheese, it’s low on pasta and doesn’t have the creamy texture many modern recipes do. I won’t argue you down if you prefer your family’s version of Macaroni and Cheese. Though, I do hope you will try Mimi’s version!
While you’re at it- hold on to the recipes of your memories. Mimi’s Macaroni and Cheese and other Heirloom Recipes were a motivating factor-when I began writing this blog! Good food, good memories and gracious southern living. You know, in the South- we never say ‘goodbye’ – We say… ‘Y’all come back.’ I think the southern food, was always the reason they did. Now, let me know how your mommas and grandmommas made theirs!
As soon as I see little wild strawberries springing up in the yard, I start thinking about making a Strawberry Cobbler! Now, you know I love almost any kind of Cobbler, though in the Spring, it just seems festive to bake a fresh Strawberry Cobbler.
There was a Strawberry Pie, famous in the 60’s that was basically a pie crust, a thick glaze with big fresh strawberries and loads of whipped cream, that will always hold a sweet place in my heart, just like fruit cobblers evoke certain memories that are always good! Well, this Cobbler, is a bit different from the other cobblers I make, because it does have a glaze-y looking filling very similar to the aforementioned restaurant pie.
The difference is…when it’s baked, the glaze acts as a thickener and the strips of pastry act like dumplings- which gives it that juicy cobbler look- the glaze makes it richer gives the Strawberry Cobbler a brighter, prettier look! And…the sugary buttered pastry top- makes it pretty and gives more texture to the Cobbler!
Here’s how you make- Camellia’s Strawberry Cobbler…
A beautiful and easy spring dessert, filled with a thickened sauce and fresh strawberries- topped with a sugary crust! Perfect for any occasion! Top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it’s a dream...
4CupsStrawberries Cut in chunks and slices
1 Pie CrustFor single crust
2CupsGranulated SugarDivided, plus more for topping
Hull and cut strawberries into slices and chunks, discarding ant bruised areas. Add 1 cup of sugar over the strawberries, set aside. In a medium saucepan, heat water, cornstarch and strawberry preserves whisking and bringing to a low boil,. Add 3/4-1 cup of strawberries , 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/4 stick of butter into the cornstarch mixture, lower heat and stir often until the mixture is thickened. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a square glass baking dish. Roll out pie crust, cutting the sides off to make a square roughly the size of the baking dish. If desired, with a heart shaped cookie cutter, cut a heart shape in center of crust. Working quickly, add fresh strawberries to cornstarch mixture and toss lightly to coat berries. Pour into prepared baking dish. Dot with butter. With the strips of pastry, mix into the berry mixture like ‘dumplings’. Taste mixture for sweetness, if needed, sprinkle more sugar over filling before topping with large square pastry, which has been buttered. * do not crimp pastry edges- it will cook freeform on top of the cobbler. Sprinkle pie crust with more sugar. Bake at 375degrees for 45- one hour. Allow to cool, filling will be very hot! Serve with a good quality ice cream, if desired. 6-8 generous servings.
Right now, grocers are beginning to get in the smaller spring strawberries- Look for them, they make almost every dessert extra special! Spring Strawberry Cobbler was on my list to test when I realized it was Pi Day too! Well, for all you mathematicians out there, in this case, Pi R are Square!
And… think you aren’t a math whiz? If you’re a baker, believe me you are! So, Happy Pi Day, from someone like me- who could eat pie every day! Especially, Strawberry Cobbler with a big ol’ scoop of ice cream!
I’ve said it before- the closer you live to a Tomato Vine, the better your life will be. As soon as the weather begins to warm up, southerners start dreaming of summer tomatoes. Camellia’s Spring Tomato Tart is an early start on summer- while we wait for our tomato vies to bear. Tomato sandwiches are on our minds. Simple sliced summer tomato slices make an appearance on almost every southern plate. We do everything we can, to preserve the taste of summer as long as we can. I think planting cherry tomatoes offers a head start on the taste only a fresh tomato offers, and yes- the closer you live to a tomato vine the better your life will be.
I believe that fresh tomato pies are a distinctly southern dish. When colorful heirloom cherry tomatoes showed up in my grocery store last week… well, after a bit of testing, we came up with a spring version of Tomato Pie- here’s how you make- Camellia’s Spring Tomato Tart.
Using cherry tomatoes, this Spring version of the classic southern favorite, Tomato Pie, is light refreshing and delicious. Served with a mixed green salad and crumbled bacon for a luncheon or as a side for Spring and Easter Dinners, Camellia’s Spring Tomato Tart is a beautiful addition.
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
1 9 inchPrepared Pie CrustRolled, not in pie crust pan.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Unroll prepared pie crust in a lightly buttered springform pan. * the pie crust should come up the sides about an inch or less. With a fork prick bottom of crust. Bake 15-16 minutes or until lightly browned. While crust is baking, combine grated Gouda, cheddar and Parmesan cheeses. Sprinkle a teaspoon of red pepper flakes and 1/4 cup of green onion tops over cheeses and toss to combine. Place on warm crust and allow to sit until filling is ready. *Do not put filling on cheeses and warm pie crust. Mix mayonnaise, sour cream, softened cream cheese, chopped garlic and pesto until combined; mix in more red pepper flakes, 1/2 of remaining green onion tops, dry basil and cracked black pepper. * Salt is not added until Tomato Tart is served. Complete melting cheeses in tart Shell by returning to 400 degree oven for 3-5 minutes. Remove from oven. Allow to cool slightly. Smooth Filling over melted cheese while still in springform pan. Carefully remove filled tart and top generously with halved cherry tomatoes, * Discard an juices from tomatoes before topping tart.Top tart with additional green onion tops, a sprinkling of dried basil and cracked black pepper. Cut in wedges with serrated knife. Serves 4-6 generously.
We found - a 10 inch springform pan is the best and easiest to use for this tomato tart. The tart shell may be baked in a shallow 9” baking pan, however, this tart does not lend itself to a deep dish pie.
Perfect for Brunch, a ladies luncheon or even as a side dish on the Easter table, Spring Tomato Tart is great on its own for a meatless meal, however, ours was served with a mixed green salad with lots of crumbled bacon. Also wonderful alongside ham, roasted fish or shrimp-this tart is beautiful, cool and delicious. Easy enough to assemble that you’ll find time to get the ground ready for those summer tomato plants! Welcome Spring with an early Tomato Tart!
Love y’all, Camellia
* All photographs are obviously mine.
*Tip: For easy, quick assembly, we decided to use prepared pie crust, prepared pesto and pre-grated cheeses may be used as well. It makes an easy weeknight meal, if you blend the cheeses and the filling ahead of time and store in the refrigerator. You may, of course, make your own piecrust or grate your own cheese. Here’s another photograph of how ours came together- .
Celery is so common in Southern cooking that I would say it’s an unsung hero. What surprises me is that there are so few recipes where celery is the star! Oh yes, we must have in almost everything from soups, stews, casseroles and even our beloved salads from chicken , shrimp, mixed greens and even congealed- we tend to add the refreshing crunch of crisp celery. One of my favorite family stories is when my grandmother… who was meticulous in keeping her spice drawer up to date- tossed a handful of celery seed into her small kitchen garden and was rewarded by surprise! Her own home grown celery! She was delighted and never lived it down! I think she would have loved these fun appetizers!
An excellent crisp appetizer of celery filled with a cream cheese mixture- great with Hot Wings or a welcome appetizer anytime!
1 Large BunchCelery Organic if possible
1 8 oz.Cream CheeseSoftened
1/2 CupSharp Cheddar CheeseGrated- not pre-shredded
1 TablespoonFinely Grated sweet Onion With juice included
1 Teaspoon Garlic Salt
1 Teaspoon Fresh Ground Black PepperOr to tastes
1 Tablespoon Milk
1Tablespoon Finely Chopped Green onion TopsOptional
Separate Celery Stalks. Trim tops and bottoms of stalks and wash well, removing any heavy strings or bruises. While celery dries, combine cheeses and blend until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and blend well. Spread cheese mixture into center of each celery rib. Press 3 cheese filled ribs together with filling facing the center. Tie each celery bundle with kitchen twine or string. Chill filled ribs for at least one hour. * covered tightly this is a great make ahead recipe. Slice celery blossoms into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices. Arrange on large edible leaves, such as cabbage or collard leaves. Serves 12-16.
These celery blossoms are wonderful with Hot Wings. Any leftovers should be chilled. They are also a wonderful snack alone or served on a party cracker!
Camellia’s Celery Blossoms are easy to make and a nice alternative to celery sticks on a vegetable platter or even alongside your favorite hot wings . A pretty and delicious appetizer, too! If you’re watching the Super Bowl or managing the food table during the game…I think you’re gonna love them!
Love y’all, Camellia
* All photographs are obviously mine.
* Health and Beauty Tip : Celery is loaded with fiber, high in Vitamin K, helpful in lowering cholesterol and of all things may reduce inflammation and inhibit the growth of certain bacteria in the intestines! That’s a lot of benefits, y’all ! And we all know healthy insides help us be good looking on the outside!
Not a lot of cookies are made here at the cottage. Okay, I make shortbread cookies, they’re my favorite plain and also I’ve have experimented with add ins like pecans or orange zest, have even made a variation with brown sugar and pecans as a unique shortbread, but that’s about it for cookies. I do admit to enjoying bar cookies and the ease of making them,. yet I’ve wanted another cookie to add to my repertoire, if it’s a go to recipe that’s a bit different, with a crisp crumb and a bit of texture added, and of course loaded with southern flavors.
I ran across a cookie recipe- from a community cookbook that I’d kept for over 20 years- it called for walnuts and a few other things I knew would have to change before it would be a cookie I thought would taste good and be worth the time and effort. Now… the baker had called the recipe- ‘World’s Best Cookie’. Southerners do tend to exaggerate when it comes to making up a title for their recipes…everything is – Best, Delight, Divine or named, King or Queen– after Royalty or a famous ranch for all I know… Still. I wondered about this world’s bestcookie…it did sound good, and except for the walnuts, had solid southern flavors. I’ve been clearing out my pantry for a fresh start to the new year and I had all of the ingredients on hand. You might have them too!
I tweaked the old recipe and what do you know? It’s a really good cookie. World’s Best, who knows? Still. For me to put our name on it- well, it’s has to be good!
I’ve named these cookies simply Camellia’s Cottage Cookies… easy to make, even easier to enjoy and the easiest to share! Otherwise… well, let’s just say I was standing there eating them one after another thinking- ‘I’ve got to get these cookiesout of here!’ Hope you’ll try them. As always…
A truly good cookie that has everything but the kitchen sink- pecans, oats, coconut and even corn flakes! The butter makes the texture light and crisp. It's a great after school snack or with all that fiber even a quick breakfast treat with a piece of fruit of course...
1cupregular or frosted corn flakeslightly crushed
1cupold fashioned rolled oatsnot quick or instant
1 cupshredded coconut unsweetened is best
3/4cupcoarse chopped pecans
1 cup butterI use salted, if you don't add 1 teaspoon of salt
1cupdark brown sugarmay use light brown
1large egg- lightly beaten
1teaspoonpure vanilla extract
1/2teaspoonpure almond extract
1 1/4 teaspoonbaking sodasifted with flour
4cupsall purpose flour
In a large bowl, toss to combine- lightly crushed corn flakes, rolled oats, coconut and pecans. Set aside. With a stand mixer, cream butter and sugars until light, about 4 minutes. Add beaten egg, mix well- then add vanilla and almond extracts, beating well. Slowly add vegetable oil until well incorporated. Remove bowl from mixer. By hand, carefully add mixture of corn flakes, oats, coconut and pecans. Then, add one cup at a time of the sifted flour mixture. Be gentle but mix well. Drop by rounded tablespoons on ungreased sheet pans. Flatten each ball of dough with a fork dipped in water - making a cross hatch pattern. Bake at 350 degrees for 14-15 minutes. Check cookies after 12 minutes. Bake until lightly browned. Cool on wire racks. Makes 3-4 dozen.
I had frosted corn flakes in my pantry and they worked just fine! It's important to cream the butter, sugars, egg, extracts and oil in the correct order- and to do this with a mixer. Folding in the mixture of oats, flakes, coconut and pecans must be done by hand to have that wonderful texture. Depending on the size cookies you make- adjust the baking time accordingly. These are truly good cookies!
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!
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.
Southerners love their peppers, most tuck at least a few plants in their gardens even if it’s in among flower beds. Peppers generally love the Southern climate- some old timers say the hotter the weather- the hotter the peppers! I’m not sure about that, I do know that we once planted mild banana peppers close to jalapenos and those highly prized for their pepper sauce- long skinny cayenne pepper pods; well, I’m telling you those sweet banana peppers were hot as fire! I loved them. Usually our Bell Peppers are small, mainly good in salads or chopped along with onions and celery for our trinity to begin making jambalayas, gumbos, even tomato sauces.
This year we planted a few plants of Poblano peppers- they’ve been seriously good and a bumper crop of the big beautiful peppers are just the right size for Stuffed Peppers. I’ve eaten stuffed peppers all of my life and loved them. I have to admit- Before I learned to cook stuffed peppers- I tended to think they were an exotic dish because southern cooks which can be on the eccentric side, had a way of majestically saying… ‘Ah’m makin’ Stuffed Peppers’… it just seemed like a special treat and -they truly are. Now, let me get real here- if something sits still long enough a southern cook will figure out a way to stuff it!
Stuffed Eggs, Stuffed Shrimp, Stuffed Pork Chops even Stuffed Squash Blossoms- now that’s an adventure!
I’m running on and on- though I do want you to know, it’s not hard to make Stuffed Peppers. The beauty of this dish is, of course presentation and taste- Still. Feel free to stuff a few or enough to feed a crowd, which we all know is the real beauty of any recipe. Cook Stuffed Peppers right away or prepare, seal and freeze. Stuffed peppers always call for good ingredients- but the real secret to cooking stuffed peppers is the same for meatloaf- I think… low and slow. If you don’t have time, I’d say don’t make them! Okay, still there might be a way to overcome this. If you have an oven with a timer- it is possible to take stuffed peppers from the freezer, put them in the oven, set the timer and heat at 325 degrees allow for 2 hours before your meal and you might get away with it. So here’s how to make –
Camellia’s Stuffed Peppers
You will need Unblemished fresh and clean – 4-5 large Bell or Poblano Peppers – carefully cut peppers in half, Remove seeds and membranes without damaging the pepper halves. *I think Stuffed Peppers make a wonderful presentation if the stem portion remains intact on at least one half and also keep the filling intact.
For the Filling you will need: 1-1/4 pounds of ground chuck mixed with diced onion, 3/4 cup of crushed saltine crackers, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder and a pinch or two of black pepper-you may use bread crumbs, instead of crushed crackers- if so- add a pinch of salt. If you dare and I do! add 1/2 teaspoon or more of red pepper flakes and one beaten large egg.
*Note: some folks add small diced celery and even carrots- I do not. The mixture will be moistened by the pepper shell, therefore it doesn’t need the extra moisture.
Carefully combine ground beef mixture. Do not overwork the filling.
To stuff: Each pepper half will use approximately 3/4 cup of filling spooned in and pressed down a bit. *Optional: I had some fresh oven roasted tomatoes preserved in oil- so I drained them and topped the uncooked stuffing. *You may wrap tightly and freeze at this point.
This is not optional: Cut uncooked bacon into one inch pieces topping each stuffed pepper with 1-2 small pieces.
Now, this is important! Before baking- preheat oven to 325 degrees. Very low oven temperature is key.
Top each Stuffed Pepper with a generous amount of good ketchup. Bake low and slow- mine were done in 2 hours.
Allow to stand a few minutes, then skim off fat and juices. Serve. Makes 4-5 generous servings, allowing 2 pepper halves each.
It’s actually wonderful to serve Stuffed Peppers on a buffet- they taste good even at room temperature. I also think Stuffed Peppers can be changed up with different spices- such as an Italian mixture served simply with garlic bread and a green salad. If you have the patience, stuffing Baby Bell Peppers would be wonderful appetizers. Of course, one of my favorite combinations for Stuffed Peppers includes the Three Sisters – Corn, Beans and Squash. Corn supports the Bean vines, Squash are planted at the base in a ring around the corn- each has a purpose. Comically and practically- prickly squash leaves deter varmints like raccoons since they don’t like stepping on the leaves. Native Americans taught us how to companion plant these ‘three sisters’ which are a wonderful combination of sides for Stuffed Peppers.
Since the weather is still very warm here- I chose to make cool Shoe Peg Corn Salad, a cheesy Squash Casserole and Speckled Butterbeans cooked with bacon drippings, a bit of hot vinegar-y pepper sauce and crumbled bacon on top.
In the winter, Stuffed Peppers are so good cooked amid a bed of shredded cabbage and onions- of course cornbread and dried beans are also so good. Now, before I leave the fresh vegetable sides, I’d say there’s almost nothing as satisfying as shucking fresh corn, picking fresh summer squash and shelling butterbeans… Well okay- unless it’s feeding your loved ones a meal like this.
It might come as a surprise that the Appalachian Region is apple growing country. Settlers from Scotch Irish descent brought apple seeds with them to grow in the new land… with the help of Cherokee Indians apples became widely grown. With temperatures dipping into the 20s and highs in the 80s – the plateaus produce apples from late July on into late fall. Some heirloom varieties grown in the Appalachians are still considered excellent. My home county is at the tail end of the Appalachians and almost all old home places had at least one or two apple trees, it was encouraged as a way to make property more valuable and of course as an extra food source! The uses for apples is legion, from-
Feeding livestock (especially our beloved pork!),
Jams and jellies, brandies and butters,
Pies and cakes, stuffed and baked or tucked around a pork roast,
Dried for use in the famous mountain Apple Stack cake, a simple pan of Fried apples and one of my personal favorites- Fried Apple Pies.
And of course, as an afternoon snack!
The beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, in the southern part of the Appalachian Region, is one of those apple growing regions. In the upper western corner of Georgia, the entire area is a popular tourist attraction and apple picking territory. Beginning to ripen now, a few days ago, I bought some Blue Ridge Apples; I was especially glad to find these. The skins aren’t tough and thick, this current crop of apples aren’t overly sweet, have good texture and are a beautiful deep red- just perfect for a quick breakfast, a lunchbox treat or an afternoon snack.
Fresh Apple Cakes are legendary in the South, the mere mention of one is followed by swoons. Any southerner I know loves a snack of apples and peanut butter; a nutritious lunch for almost any school kid is a peanut butter sandwich and an apple! I couldn’t resist coming up with an easy apple cake- snack size with the addition of peanut butter…well, let’s just say I surprised myself! These Blue Ridge apples don’t even require peeling, the whole cake can be made from common pantry ingredients and from start to finish, in about an hour, including bake time, you’ll have a Blue Ridge Apple Cake!
Here’s how you make-
Camellia’s Blue Ridge Apple Cake
You will need:
2 cups of Flour
2 cups of Brown Sugar (firmly packed plus more for topping)
1 teaspoon of Ground Cinnamon plus more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 stick of chilled Butter cut in small pieces
1/2 cup of Creamy Peanut Butter (plus more for topping)
1 cup of diced apples (Blue Ridge if possible) plus more (thinly sliced) for topping
1 carton Sour Cream (8 oz)
1 teaspoon of Baking Soda
1 Large Egg lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Cut in small pieces of Butter until crumbly. Add Apples and Peanut Butter- this mixture will continue to be crumbled in texture.
Press half of the mixture in the bottom of a glass baking dish (9×9) as you would for a crust. Combine baking soda and sour cream. Mix well. Add in the slightly beaten egg. Add this mixture of sour cream/baking soda and egg into the remaining crumb mixture. Stir gently to combine. Pour this mixture over the top of pressed crumbs. Decorate the top of mixture with thinly sliced apples. Sprinkle additional cinnamon and brown sugar. Put small dollops of extra peanut butter on some of the decorative apple slices. Here’s how it comes together-
*Variation: Add a sprinkling of chopped peanuts if you want to guild the apples! Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. Cool then, cut into squares.
Yield one nine inch square coffee cake- approximately 9-12 luscious squares.
I know I said to cool the cake, but it is very good slightly warm! Cover tightly. Blue Ridge Apple Cake keeps very well, and retains it’s moisture. The Appalachian region continues to be one of the poorest regions in our nation, it is wonderful to be able to support the farmers there in such a delicious way! And… Alabama is a state where George Washington Carver’s research has provided many folks, like me! with a love of parched peanuts, roasted peanuts and oh yes! Peanut Butter! Blue Ridge Apple Cake seems like a match made in heaven with the combination of Apples and Peanut Butter!
Love y’all, Camellia
*all photographs are obviously mine! September 14 is also National Peanut Day! You have permission to eat all the peanuts you want!