We wait all year long for summer tomatoes. We long for them all year. There’s no end to what we do with summer tomatoes-
We put them in canning jars, freeze them and preserve them any way we can think of for winter soups, warm red sauces and hearty stews, so of course we’re trying keep the memories of summer tomatoes alive.
And yes, we make fresh tomato soup with thin slivers of cool cucumber, snips of green onion, crumbled bacon and a drift of shredded cheese.
We consume vast quantities of summer tomatoes alongside Fried Chicken, Pork Chops and a personal favorite- Fried Catfish.
Who would turn down a vegetable plate of butter peas, steamed yellow squash, corn muffins, macaroni and cheese alongside thick slices of summer tomatoes?
We stuff summer tomatoes with shrimp salad, egg salad, tuna salad or chicken! And it must be summer tomatoes or the taste just isn’t there!
There may not be a better savory pie than Summer Tomato Pie, my sister’s is the best I’ve ever tasted- a flaky pie crust oozing with fresh summer tomatoes, a sour cream and onion filling topped with thick and melting sharp cheese- well, I’m drooling just thinking about it!
Let’s not forget mile high Club Sandwiches, grilled Hamburgers and of course the all time favorite Bacon, Lettuce and Tomatoes… as long as there’s a summer tomatoes on there- any of these are near perfection!
Of course, we love Fried Green Tomatoes- now you may be able to get hot house green tomatoes all year round…yet, if they’re made with summer green tomatoes they’ll have that extra special flavor!
We consume all of these wonderful things and more… almost any mixed green salad is elevated by summer tomatoes, even the humble potato salad with cherry tomatoes is a cool refreshing lunch! Bereavement buffets almost cry out for scalloped tomatoes and tomato aspic which are amazing made with summer tomatoes!
Now, if you’re from the South… and I mean truly from the South- there’s one particular delicacy which is the real reason we wait all year for Summer Tomatoes… Tomato Sandwiches! If you add anything more than loaf bread, mayonnaise, summer tomatoes with salt and a bit of black pepper- then you don’t really have a Southern Tomato Sandwich! I’ll let you all fuss and discuss which mayonnaise is best- to me as long as the ingredients include lemon juice on the label you’ll have good mayonnaise and no, we don’t call it mayo – say that and it might put you under suspicion!
Now, if you’re a true believer in a pure Tomato Sandwich- then you’ll know there’s a secret wish we all have had from time to time… to have one beautiful slice of tomato which will cover the whole slice of bread… Big Boy Tomatoes move over.. the new one to try is – ‘Mater Sandwich’ ! Of course it is! I’m here to tell you this one is a winner… never mealy or bland tasting… the ‘Mater Sandwich’ variety of home grown tomatoes is one you’ll want to try! We’ve been picking and eating these for weeks! Now, if you’ll excuse me- I’m gonna fix me a Tomato Sandwich!
Love y’all, Camellia
All photographs are obviously mine! *Mater Sandwich tomato plants may be a registered trademark!
From the cradle to the grave, in the South- at every occasion of any importance – you can mark this down, a dessert, or two or more will feature lemon. Lemon desserts are legendary and iconic… Lemon Meringue Pue, Lemon glazed Pound Cake, Lemon Ice Box Pie, wedding cakes filled with lemon curd…even our sweet tea is laced with lemon juice! However, these Lemon Squares make a regular appearance on tea tables, at baby showers, holiday dessert tables, bridal teas, anniversary and retirement parties and yes, grieved though we may be for the dearly departed- we tend to consume Lemon Squares in quantities to comfort ourselves. How do I know this? Almost every dark suit and black dress that’s been anywhere near the bereavement buffet bears a sprinkle of a telltale streak of powdered sugar! On one occasion I helped with – Lemon Squares were assigned to more than one trusted baker- but all agreed that Bennie Sue’s recipe should be used for uniform quality. Okay, I made up Bennie Sue’s name to protect the innocent. You know, there’s always at least one Bennie Sue in any southern community whose recipe is considered the gold standard. Rustic and humble in looks- not Bennie Sue, for heavens sake! No, the rustic and humble Lemon Squares- tend to take on a heavenly appearance with their light cloud-like dusting of powdered sugar. I think even the formidable Bennie Sue would approve of this recipe for Camellia’s Lemon Squares!
Cut in bar cookies or tiny squares, Lemon Bars are welcome any time. A shortbread type crust topped with baked lemon curd and dustEd with a snowy powdered sugar topping - it’s a near perfect addition on dessert tables or as a stand alone confection.
ZestLemon from 1 large or 2 small lemons
1/4 teasBaking Powder
3-4TbsLemon Juice* Freshly Squeezed - use zested lemons
Powdered Sugarfor Dusting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine softened butter, 1 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of sugar for crust. Do not overmix. Press into an 8x8 glass baking dish for crust. Bake 12 minutes or until pale but dry. Do not overtake, crust will complete baking later. While crust is baking, make lemon filling with remainder of ingredients, except powdered sugar. Mix well. Pour mixture over partially baked crust. Complete baking at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until Lemon Mixture is done. ( press lightly with your finger, if no fingerprint remains, the Lemon Squares are done. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and continue to cool. Dust again with powdered sugar. When ready to serve, for parties, cut into small squares. As a dessert, larger squares may be preferred. * Serving suggestion: When ready to serve, top with additional lemon zest for a pretty presentation and a tart fresh taste.
While they can be made year round, winter is a perfect time for Lemon Squares. Citrus fruit is fresh and abundant. And while we do make these lemon squares for special occasions, they’re the perfect ending for a Sunday Dinner, when they can be cut generously with no complaints!
I do recommend using three small kitchen hand tools when making lemon squares- a wooden lemon reamer – less cleanup for just one or two lemons, a small hand held specialty lemon zester for those pretty little strands and curls that add a zip of flavor, done as a flourish right before serving and- a small fine mesh strainer in stainless steel to seed and pulp the lemon juice for the filling and again for the pretty finale- the sifting flourish of powdered sugar! And we do love to add a flourish, accessorize if you will. And if there’s one thing Southern women know how to do- it’s to accessorize! Oh me, hope you’ll try them some dreary winter day soon!
Love y’all, Camellia
Health and Beauty Tips: Citrus fruits including – maybe especially lemons, are full of antioxidants, Vitamin C and those all important B for Beauty Vitamins. Some think that lemon juice even in a spa juice does help ease symptoms of the common cold. Here’s a Spa Water I made this week, with sliced ruby red grapefruit, oranges and lemon slices. if nothing else it sure was pretty- so pretty, I was enticed to drink more water! And that has to be good for your skin and keep you healthy and hydrated!
* You can find the small kitchen tools, such as the citrus reamer, the specialty lemon zester and the small stainless steel/fine mesh sieves- at fine kitchen shops, including Williams Sonoma. (This is not a sponsored post) And! that pretty green plate? It’s made by Earthborn Pottery right here in Alabama!
We do have some ads now, to keep the lights on… Camellia’s Cottage does not guarantee the quality of any products or services in these ads!
*And… I just made up Bennie Sue’s name- to protect the innocent you know…
If there was a manual for Camellia’s Academy of Fine Arts for Polite Society, there would be an entire section devoted to the proper menus for afternoon teas, bridal showers, various receptions and occasional celebratory parties. And, you may count on Classic Cheese Straws making an honorary appearance on each and every menu. Southern Cheese Straws have been the subject of hot debate for decades…every town has at least one sweet soul who takes great pride in producing the very best cheese straws. Okay, it’s not a hot debate, it’s more like a warm undercurrent. Someone remarked recently, ‘Why, I haven’t made a cheese straw since Captain and Tennielle sang Muskrat Love, I never could get them to crisp up like Gaynelle always could.’ I can’t say I blame her!
Some say it’s too humid right now for making a decent cheese straw.
Others think it’s because a certain baker never shared her grandmother’s recipe on her momma’s side, I think it was a deathbed promise.
Then, some recipes survive, however the oven temperature tends to vary or a critical ingredient is missing.
Even the fact you must be in possession of a proper cookie press has mysteriously been left out.
In fact, it must be said- Blessed is the bride who receives a fine metal cookie press at her kitchen shower and-
Far more than blessed is the southern hostess who has inherited her great aunt Bessie’s cookie press which had her famous cheese straw recipe hidden inside the tube.
I’m not exaggerating here. Classic Cheese Straws are highly prized and the one who literally pressed on through the ages- surviving even ‘Muskrat Love’ persists until this day! Still. I’m not going to tell you my cheese straw recipe is the best, I could get into a lot of hot water! I am going to tell you that this recipe is one of my favorites. And! I personally love southern cheese straws so much that I generally make a double recipe at least twice a year and they’re squirreled away in my freezer. I pull out what I need, put them on an ungreased sheet pan and allow them to thaw slightly and bake as directed. Winter is a great time to make cheese straws, but as my friend who probablydoes make the best cheese (because she does have a genuine handed down recipe) told me recently…’They won’t get crisp if you bakethem on a rainy or humid day’. I agree. Try this recipe- I haven’t left anything out.
Join me in keeping this wonderful tradition alive- it’s an heirloom recipe. It’d be a shame for polite society if the tradition didn’t survive, especially if you live, like I do, where cheese straws are always welcome and the sugar cane still grows.
An old classic cheese straw for teas, showers, receptions or parties!
1poundextra sharp cheddar cheesegrated= *do not use pre-grated cheese!
1sticksalted butterif you use unsalted add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to sifted flour
2cupsall purpose flour
In a food processor, grate sharp cheddar and chilled stick of butter- doing this in batches if necessary. Put cheddar mixture in a large bowl, covered with plastic wrap and leave overnight to soften- do not refrigerate at this stage. Sift together flour, cayenne, paprika and salt (if using unsalted butter). With clean hands, mix dry ingredients into softened cheese and butter- mixing very well until mixture is smooth. On ungreased sheet pan, in batches, put dough through a cookie press with a star tip in approximately 4 inch strips. (If you don't have a cookie press- the dough can be rolled with a bit of extra flour and cut into narrow strips.) Placement is approximately 1/2 inches apart. When sheet pan is filled, chill the pressed dough briefly to retain better shape as they bake. Preheat oven to 350. Bake 15 minutes, checking after 12 minutes. Cheese Straws should be dried out but not browned. Remove to a wire rack to cook. Keep in an airtight container. Makes 4-6 dozen.
The best cheese straws are put through a cookie press, using the star plate. If you choose another design, adjust cooking time.
* all photographs are obviously mine. Williams Sonoma sells a wonderful sturdy cookie press. I also found several good all metal cookies presses sold on Amazon. *Camellia’s Academy of Fine Arts for Polite Society does not exist- though it’s crossed my mind…
Most Southerners take prolonged cold weather as a personal insult. Oh, we put up with chilly days in a good natured way, some even going so far as to say they love cold weather or that it’s a good thing ‘because it’ll kill off the bugs’. More than a few days? The novelty of wearing wool or goose down or cashmere has worn off- we’ll put on Bermuda Shorts with fake fur lined boots and heavy socks as if to defy the unwelcome visit of Jack Frost.
I admit it, I have taken the recent cold spell as a personal insult, even blaming the Devil for a few days and for me that’s extreme. Okay, I said, ‘It’s cold as the devil.’ Extreme weather conditions call for extreme blame. Fed up, I refused to go out in it and settled in to soothe my nerves. Bundled up in socks and covered with a throw, I was surrounded by my highly prized Southern Ring Bound Cookbooks, you know the ones- that real folks have tested and written. I took perverse pleasure in finding the most difficult, unusual, or even grotesque recipes I could find, with no intention of cooking any of it. Well, maybe the sugar laden ones. Still. I was looking for more than recipes. Let me explain, Church or Organization Cookbooks are Story Books to me. I’m a descendent of at least 2 Grandparents who loved Crossword Puzzles, who were also Amazing Storytellers and one of them was an Amazing Cook- who clipped recipes from her beloved Birmingham News. Thus, I am a collector of- words, sentences, phrases, stories and recipes.
Cookbooks give me a window into other kitchens, other times and in most cookbooks- there are stories, methods, hints and tips that are priceless. I do not buy these cookbooks new, I want the recipes with a star beside favorites, or a note written to improve the recipe at hand.
I found mostly mathematicians in the Baking Sections, the insistent precise ones.
Then there were the Happy Socialites- especially in the Beverage and Appetizer Sections, though I wondered about a non-alcoholic punch I found…the recipe called for an entire bottle of Almond Extract! I asked myself if perhaps the person offering it up was in a 12 Step Program.
The Casserole Ladies might be my favorites, they improvise, aren’t precise, give options and also instruct the reader that the recipe can be stretched to feed a crowd, they are a big hearted group no doubt.
To my surprise on that cold and dreary day- hovering over the Soups and Stews Sections were other Southern Cooks whom I fear must have shared my disdain for cold weather.
One fine example was called NO PEEP STEW. After a sketchy mixture of ingredients was put in a Dutch Oven- the recipe writer directed- ‘Bake 5 hours at 250 degrees. DO NOT PEEP, REPEAT, DO NOT PEEP.’ … I wondered what would happen if one decided to go rogue and PEEP? and who in the world wrote it? a former Drill Sargent? Apparently deciding to calm down- the writer adds- ‘Serve with wedges of your favorite cornbreadand a green salad.’ Still another, in another cookbook, had a much nicer even fun title for hers- it was ‘No Peekie Beef Stewie’ … you have to love her!
Another Stew which was full of ingredients and difficulties was followed by ‘Served withhot buttered French Bread and Assorted Pickles, this will serve about 8 hungry men.’ … From vast experience with hungry men, no doubt. Surely this one had cabin fever like me- with the added pressure of being cooped up with 8 hungry men to feed!
Then there was the sweet lady who got a bit bossy about when to add egg yolk and vinegar to Pig Stew… but regained her composure and politely said- ‘My grandmother’scook made this every Christmas and it was served alongside turkey, dressing etc. It’s very rich and not too good in warm weather, but it wouldn’t be Christmas without it at my home in New Orleans.’ Bless. Her. Heart. Just so you know… we Southerners who had grandmothers or great grandmothers who employed cooks – You have to know- you must know, we do KNOW who taught us how to cook right! I have a cookbook to prove it! It’s ring bound cookbook with recipes compiled by household cooks, fairground workers and large military service organizations. These recipes have exquisite names-
Mardi Gras Chicken
Custard Pie Excellence
Sicilian Meat Roll
Sweet Potato Souffle
Celery and Almond Gratin
A Devil’s Food Cake that has 3 layers with a Lemon Pineapple Filling and a Dark Chocolate Icing boiled to a soft ball stage!
Luscious Chocolate Cake
Lane Cake (a Southern Classic)
Fig Conserve and Creole Pralines
Oh, and please don’t let me forget- Chocolate Fudge that is poured on a platter- this is the hallmark of an old but great fudge recipe!
Some recipes assume you know how to cook. One I’m particularly fond of simply says-
Cook Chicken, cool and shred.
Save Broth. Blanche Broccoli.
Make a White Sauce. Add White Wine and Grated Parmesan Cheese.
Brown Cracker Crumbs in Butter.
Bake at 350 until bubbly. Serve with Rice. That’s it.
I made that one recently. I need no nonsense, clear direction when it’s cold weather. Now, recently I offered you a recipe and our friend Bob remarked ‘Any recipe that starts with frying bacon can’t be bad’. He’s right. These are the recipes you know are winners- if they start with a Cast Iron Skillet and Bacon.
When I found one of those, my Freezing Cold Day- Cookbook Therapy was beginning to kick in. The recipe – no doubt submitted by a beautiful and fragile Southern Cook was so well written, I fell in love with her …not sure about her recipe, but her gentle coaxing ways soothed me. Her Southern Charm, her impeccable manners won me over, not to mention she started out her recipe with charm…
‘Fry Bacon in a heavy cast iron Dutch Oven until crisp- set aside.‘
‘Pour off almost all of the fat leaving just enough to leave a thin film on the bottom.’ There were no upper case letters… gently implied was this-
.‘Now darling, you better save that bacon fat, you may need it later’.
She gets fired up…‘Heat fat to smoking hot, brown meat a few pieces at a time… if needed, add a little more bacon fat.’
(Later on, when she finally finishes browning all of the meat and has removed it to a platter, she goes on… add butter to the pot…onions…)
Then says, ‘You may need more bacon fat.’
Alright, now she wants us to add Beef Stock, Spices and Beer.
Umhmm…Winter Stew for sure…
‘Return browned meat to pot. There should be enough sauce to cover, but if you’re a little short, add beer.‘
Please, please notice how polite she is! You may need more bacon fat,if you’re a little short, you may need more beer! Almost as nice as the lady who is making Beef Roulade Sandwiches…she starts out by saying- ‘First, be nice to your butcher. Smile.’ They both put me in a better frame of mind! Cookbook Therapy works!
Peruse the recipes in good Junior League or Church Ladies Cookbooks and what you’ll find are stories of real people making really good food. And what’s better than a collection of stories that could end up as a feast on your very own table?
Love y’all, Camellia
*Some of these recipes were found in a cookbook my friend Sandra and I think is the cream of the crop- Southern Sideboards compiled by the Junior League of Jackson Mississippi. Others were picked at random from River Road, Junior League of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The other cookbook shall remain unnamed…it is from my own private limited edition- privately published stash! *Photograph from Tante Marie, a French Cookbook published in English in the 1950’s- please note that Café au Lait, is not made with coffee at all…it’s made with a coffee extract and…on the next page we’re told it’s made with chicory– which could explain why Café au Lait in New Orleans tastes so good! Bon Appetite, y’all!
My father in law would have loved his funeral last week… I know, I know…he was ‘absent from the body but present with the Lord’. Still. If he could have been in the body, he would have loved his Home Going – all of it. But then I’m getting ahead of myself… Wallace Wyatt, Sr. was my father in law for decades, he lived to be 93 years old- he had a long, well lived life. He was born in Cool Springs, then made his life just a few miles over in Beaver Valley- in his beloved St. Clair County. A county older than the State of Alabama, where he served the people for 14 years as their Judge of Probate. I remember he told me once that being Probate Judge was the closest thing to the role of a pastor within our government- with duties ranging from adoptions, marriages, guardianships and of course the end of life business with wills and estates. He said that a good probate judge needed to know and love the people he served. He did. He passed this on to his son- ‘To know and love the people he served.’ This is the motto of a true public servant.
He was surprisingly well travelled for a home body. I recall when he and my mother in law went to Israel, they were in their sixties but both of them rode camels, one of the camels thanked him by spitting in his eye! For their 50th anniversary, one of his daughters asked my father in law if he had gotten their mother a gift- he replied, ‘Well, I bought her a pre-paid funeral plan!’ Of course he got her more than that! On their 60th anniversary- if you can believe it- the two of them went for a little anniversary trip to Cheaha State Park, the highest point in Alabama. She would die less than two years later. I still miss her every day. Two days after his funeral, would have been their 73rd anniversary, he went to a far higher place to spend it with her.
Always a generous man, when he worked for Alabama Gas Corporation, he ran up on a young girl who was blind, her family told him she was learning Braille. He couldn’t get it out of his mind; so he talked to his Union Brothers about her. Those men raised enough money to buy her a Set of Encyclopedias written in Braille!
Mr. Wyatt was one the Tom Brokaw’s ‘Greatest Generation’– a World War II veteran, who got lost from his unit in France… it was an experience he rarely talked about. Someone at the funeral told me that- lost from his unit in a foreign country in the middle of a war was frightening enough but my father in law ran up on a Mortuary Unit. They fed him and furnished him a place to sleep with the living and the dead. The next morning, the soldiers told him he was welcome to join up with them, he graciously declined saying- ‘Well, you boys sureare nice and I appreciate what you’re doing; a mighty fine job of it too- but if it’s all the same to you, I think I’d ruther be at my own duties then do yours!’ Can’t say I blame him.
The last years of his life were spent at beautiful Veterans Home in our county- the Colonel Robert L. Howard Veteran’s Nursing Home. When he died, his body was prepared…then- while ‘Taps’ was played, his flag draped body was rolled down a long hallway lined with fellow Veterans- standing or in wheelchairs, gave him a final salute- some with arthritic hands. This is called ‘The Walk’ and is a fitting goodbye to an Old Soldier; he would have loved it.
His firstborn child was a ‘war baby’, Wallace Jr.(above) -Next, were his pretty girls- following soon after his son, Carol Jane, the next, Eleanor Kay was born 6-7 years later, the last was a late in life baby, Vicki Lynn. Then there was me, his favorite daughter in law. Really.
The first time I went to their home in Beaver Valley, newly engaged- I got ‘TheTalk’… He explained, ‘Our family doesn’t believe in divorce, you’re in it for the long haul,just so you know.’ Sort of put the fear of God in me with his bright blue eyes- I nodded in perfect understanding. He restored perfect harmony by playing a stereo record – It was his favorite gospel music group- The Swanee River Boys.
I should say right here that I knew nothing about gospel music- does ‘Michael Row the Boat Ashore’ count? As the Swanee River Boys sang so smooth…I could not believe my ears! Mr. Wyatt alternately sang-All Four. Parts…
High Tenor, have you ever?
Well, I can tell you now…I still have never heard anything like it. What I was about to find in this huge family that embraced me… they all could sing or play. In fact I was told, if a baby was born Tone Deaf in the Wyatt family- they pinched their heads off at birth!
Can I just say right here? They (the entire clan) told me stuff like that all the time, for the shock value I guess or maybe they had detected I am practically tone deaf. I’ll have you know, my children have perfect pitch! Needless to say, there was music at the Funeral for my father in law, last week- just enough and just what he’d like and I tapped my foot a time or two.
A full blown Wyatt event, family reunion, wedding or funeral closely resembles an Ant Bed, occasionally a Fire Ant Bed, depending on who’s there. Pine Forest Baptist was the host of the Ant Bed last week, for decades my father in law was a Deacon there. For the record he would have loved having so many members of his family and the folks that he claimed kin to at his Home Going.
He would have loved the ladies in sensible block heels, flats (me), cowboy boots and four inch heels- especially if they were toting a Crock Pot or a Casserole Dish- Oh my! He would have loved the food, do I need to describe it? Groaning Church tables loaded with Food were Begging for Mercy. That’s the most poetic way to describe it. The only thing that was missing was my mother in law’s Coconut Custard Pie.
Pine Forest Baptist is a small Rock Church nestled in a piney grove, the smell of pine always permeated the dinners on the grounds, surrounded by beautiful farmland. Then there was a growth spurt and a fine Trade School was built across the road….Several sent out directions to the funeral service- my favorite was:
‘Head north on 231 toward Ashville,at the crossroads right at the Trade School, turn right like you’re going to Rainbow City, Pine Forest is beside Dollar General on the right.’
Pine Forest was at capacity, there were fine suits and designer dresses, Versace ties, denim and sequins, work clothes and a few in Military Uniforms- My father in law would have loved it all. His youngest nephew, Danny- the only one who has become a memberof clergy was lined up to preach the funeral, three Nieces were asked to sing a favorite gospel song- ‘Unclouded Day’ , his Grandsons were the Pall Bearers and a handsome group that was! This is a family that can put on a funeral at the drop of a hat. My father in law would have loved-
hearing his Nieces sing for him one last time,
he would have loved Danny’s sermon,
he would have loved the Masonic Funeral Rites which were done in such a moving way by Brother Talley.
Mr. Wyatt would have loved hearing Taps at graveside and-
that the Flag which had draped his body was given to his son.
Yes, he would have loved his Home Going- but most of all- I know he would have loved hearing the recording with his old friend Buford Abner of the Swanee River Boys- the foot tapping upbeat- ‘When I Wake Up That Morning’
Who knows? He might have been singing along- All. Four. Parts. As his favorite daughter in law, I would have loved that. There will never be another like him. For sure. William Wallace Wyatt, Sr. was greatly loved. He will be greatly missed … May he rest in peace.
Love y’all, Camellia
*Okay, I know you want to hear it- take it away Swanee River Boys! https://youtu.be/CVFWDnJtV88
Southern Ladies are known for vague conditions and symptoms, like Sinking Spells. We’re not looking for medical terms or specifics. We prefer eccentric descriptive health conditions like:
Having a Come Apart, Being in a Fog, In a Rigor
Suffering from the Change of Seasons, a Crying Jag or being absolutely Mortified
Wasting Away, Catching a Chill or In a State of Abject Horror
Being covered with Chigger Bites, Flustrated, or Working ourselves into a State.
We know the value and consequences of various Fits- Hissy Fits, Conniption Fits, Running Fits and if the situation calls for it- we might even Pitch a Fit. There are vague Nervous Conditions too, which are never labelled with Capital Letters. Nervous conditions are described in more colorful terms:
A Basket Case
Gone Over a Cliff
Being High Strung
Falling to Pieces (which made Patsy Cline a major Grand Ol’ Opry Star)
Breaking to Bits, Melancholia
Flighty, Nervous Ninnies, Having Spots before Our Eyes
Having Frayed Nerves with Hair Standing on End
Keeling Over (often accompanying an actual Sinking Spell)
Being Fragile or one of my favorites- Delicate.
Actually, any Southern Lady who suffers from nervous conditions such as Sinking Spells is not considered weak, oh no- it is proof of Ah-ris-ta- cra-tic Blood lines, Good Breeding, think of Melanie Wilkes here. Southern ladies who chopped wood and kept the farm running during Wartime, become Fragile– so fragile she might break to bits or fall to pieces in Peacetime. . Some Southern Ladies who are High Strung with an even Higher Temper and seem subject to Tantrams are also prone to being Delicate or having Sinking Spells when deemed necessary, Scarlet. Really now, what woman, regardless of bloodlines wants to be thought of as a Battle Axe? No, Southern Ladies must be fragile and delicate; look wan, pale as a ghost, yellowed with jaundice, so delicate a puff of wind could blow her away, perhaps presenting with Chill Bumps then a Slight Fever. Give us vague symptoms– certainly not a fever raging so high, her hair catches on fire- that’s tacky. Having competing Visions of the Heavenlies or the Gates of Hell is scandalous. It’s not ladylike. Eccentric descriptions of vague conditions- like a head swimming Sinking Spell are just enough to make Brows Furrow in Concern. This is not to imply we don’t have harsher words for more Serious Southern Conditions. We might say:
‘I was in such a state dealing with that Imbecile, Ireally should have been Medi-cat-ed but Momma warned me about Dope Fiends. I don’t want to end up like that! No sirree bobtail cat! I just had to straighten up and be Gracious about the whole thing, so, I took a Minute to regain my Composure.’
Ladies must be on guard to always be Gracious and Ah-ris-to-cra-tic with our various, sundry and vague health problems! We would never appear in public with trashy conditions like Boils, Blisters, Carbuncles, Ri-sens, Knots or Pock Marks. It is unthinkable to appear Run Down at the Heels or be Prone to Hit the Bottle. Having the Heebie Jeebies or Raisin’ Cain isn’t done in polite company. Showing Signs of overtly coarse and common conditions would send a Southern Lady Over the Cliff. We have long known that most of our vague symptoms and Sinking Spells can be cured with a Spring Tonic made from Wood Violets, Smelling Salts, the restorative Hadacol or a numbing dose of Paregoric. If a Sinking Spell occurs in the daytime, it is permissible to lay down fully clothed on top of a coverlet, but for heaven’s sake- please don’t disrobe and cover up by actually going to bed in broad daylight! It’s alright to put a cool cloth on your feverish brow in a darkened room, just don’t sit staring out into space with a washrag just on top of your head while out on the front porch!
Now I know you’re wondering- what is a Sinking Spell?
It is of unknown origin, ‘I told you when youlet yourself get so thick, if you keep wearing those tight clothes you’re gonna start seeing spots before your eyes!’ Tight clothes are thought to be one source of Sinking Spells.
Sinking Spells can be brought on by a Shock to the Nervous System. ‘Maddie Lou called and said, ‘It is with a heavy heart, I tell you the thing we greatly feared has come to pass, our skin has become lined and crepe-y. Wrinkled I tell you!’
A rise in Humidity and a sharp drop in Barometric Pressure can plague us with a Sinking Spell and a Sick Headache. ‘If this Fawg would just lift!’
Right before a Sinking Spell, one might be LeThar-gic (we love the word lethargic!) followed by a Queasy Stomach and Weak Knees. ‘Evah’ time I see Merry Beth in anew outfit, it just gets my goat the way she struts around. You can mark it down on the calendar, the next thing you know, my head’s a-swimming- then I’ll have a Sinking Spell.’ This is typical of a Change of Seasons Sinking Spell, a new outfit is the tonic for it and generally dispels the symptoms.
Sinking Spells are a Southern Ladies secret weapon for getting our own way. Remember ladies, this is how you have a sinking spell… Delicate. Fragile. Vague darlin’, vague… Try having a Sinking Spell if you need a bit of sympathy, feel under the weather, need a lift or a new outfit. Don’t forget to lay in a supply of Pepto-Violet, a Spring Tonic or a Restorative Bottle of Hadacol. You never know when you might need it. Just know that there are times when you definitely will need to take the cure. Like all good Southern tales, this one is part myth, part outright lies and in this case, mostly true.
Love y’all, Camellia
*Vintage photographs from Bing and Pinterest and are not designated with copyrights. Hadacol (20% grain alcohol) and Pepto-Violet are old remedies. Paregoric is no longer available but it was a numbing medication given freely to teething babies or women experiencing Sinking Spells.