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- .
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…
If you’ve visited any great southern cities, particularly coastal cities such as Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans – chances are you’ve been drawn into a Praline Shop. We southerners call this sweet confection – Praw-leens, we’ll know right away you aren’t from the south if you call them Pray-leens. Since we’ve gotten the correct pronunciation out of the way, let me just say, however you pronounce Pralines, you will either love them or say- they’re too sweet! Eat enough pralines in your lifetime and you will become a praline critic- I complain that some pralines are too grainy- the sugar isn’t smooth enough or sometimes the pecans aren’t toasted enough to suit me. Yet even as I criticize- I will stand there and eat a praline until all of the sugary morsel is gone… Every. Single. Time. Why is the South so famous for Pralines?
We seem to have a corner on the market of the famous pecan candy.
The infamous Southern Sweet Tooth is on full display in that little patty of a praline.
The South grows an abundance of Sugar Cane and we do love our homegrown Pecans.
Still. Food historians tell us that pralines have been made for 100’s of years in the South- getting their start in New Orleans. According to John Egerton’s tome, called Southern Food– he quotes the Picayune Creole Cookbook written in 1901- Pralines are, ‘dainty and delightful confections that have, for upwards of 150 years, delighted…generations of New Orleans…’ Wait a minute! In 1901 they were saying Pralines had been made for 150 years? Crazy, now it’s over 250 years! Egerton goes on to explain that a French diplomat named Cesar du Plessis-Praslin gave his name to a confection of ‘caramelized almonds and sugar’. Could we pause a minute.. I need to say a prayer of praise- ‘Lord, I’m thankful those Creoles swapped out toasted pecans for thealmonds!’ Okay, let’s resume… I want to use my best words to describe pralines-
They are small puddles of caramelized sugar, rich with real butter and thick cream stirred in great copper vats. The fragrance of pralines spills out of candy shops onto sidewalks luring tourists As they watch confectioners with wooden paddles stir the roiling hot sugar to perfection before adding vanilla and exquisitely toasted pecans. On cobbled streets and sidewalks-folks watch in amazement as the hot sugary mass is carefully poured into small patties which become the delectable mass of Southern sweetness, we call Pralines.
Alabama isn’t widely known for her pralines- the sweet confections of my youth spun sugar more often into Divinity, Peanut Brittle or a plate of Chocolate Fudge; all of which depended on the weather for success. Humidity is the enemy of granulated sugar in cooked candies. Sugar will do weird things like turn grainy or stiff or sit there and sulk- weeping. I know this to be true- I’ve rarely found a perfect day and have made enough mistakes to throw out whole batches of candy that weren’t fit to eat. Recently, I found, a yellowed and fragile newspaper clipping with a recipe for Alabama Pralines stuck in my grandmother’s cookbook. I don’t recall that she ever made them. Perhaps she was unskilled at candy making…though she did revel in making a white mass of sugar studded with pecans into Divinity- only on a crisp, cool and dry day sometime before Christmas. I recall Mimi saying-
‘Edna Earle brought her divinity. It was hard as a rock- I almost broke a tooth trying to eat a piece! You’d think she’d at least check the barometric pressure before she tried to make divinity!’
Will you allow me to go off on a short tangent? I didn’t have a soft cuddly grandmother…no, she was funny, opinionated, had high standards and might have been the best cook I’ve ever known. The women’s rights movement in the 1960’s never made much of an impression on Mimi. Why? She’d always been in charge of the men in herlife. Mimi was a spicy Southern Spitfire. Still. To find an unmarked recipe for Alabama Pralines in my grandmother’s cookbook intrigued me. I’ll admit I’m no stranger to making candy-
Toffee and Caramel are two successful favorites…I’ve rarely attempted making Divinity, for fear it might turn out like poor Edna Earles. I’ve tried making pralines a time or two and failed. Anyway, when I decided to make these Alabama Pralines, it was on the absolute worst day for making candy. It was hot and humid- dark clouds threatened rain. I thought this recipe would surely fail. I made them because of one change from the other recipes I’d tried… the Alabama Praline recipe doesn’t call for granulated sugar! Okay, my sweet tooth had flared up too. It didn’t hurt that I had all of the ingredients and a bit of free time. I am happy to report- the recipe for Alabama Pralines not only worked but as most real deal recipes will tell you- pralines can be stored in the freezer. Now, that’s important because faced with a dozen glorious pralines? Let’s just say- they need to be frozen for health and safety concerns! I know you’ll want to make a batch of-
Toast 3/4 chopped pecans and salt. *Here’s how I do it. Put the pecans on a small baking sheet in a single layer- don’t be shy with the salt. Place the salted pecans in a cold oven, setting the temperature to 350 degrees- when the oven has reached 350 degrees- the pecans are toasted perfectly! Set aside and cool. Meanwhile…
Over low heat- Melt one stick of Butter- no substitutes and
1/3 cup of light brown sugar- packed.
Cook butter and brown sugar over low heat for 3 minutes- stirring constantly
Gradually add 2-3 Tablespoons of Half and Half- (you may substitute evaporated milk or heavy cream) Please don’t add milk to the hot sugar and butter mixture all at once lest it bubble up too much! Now-
Still on low heat, bring the butter/ brown sugar/ milk mixture up to a boil.
Remove from heat- add 1 Teaspoon of Pure Vanilla Extract stirring completely
Add 1 cup of sifted confectioner’s sugar-( I had to add another 1/3 cup to my mixture- this could account for the humidity of the day) Beat confectioner’s sugar in well. If the mixture is too thick, you may add a tiny bit more milk
Add salted toasted pecans. Stir in well.
Drop from heaping tablespoon into glorious puddles on a cookie sheet lined with silicone mat or wax paper until cool.
Wrap in wax paper or parchment paper. Yield – one dozen. *When cooled and wrapped the pralines may be stored in the freezer in an airtight container.
Oh my, I hope you’ll try these Alabama Pralines. I would not double the recipe since candy making is a science and the cooking time may vary to get the right consistency. This recipe’s use of confectioner sugar- created a smooth praline-there was no graininess at all, the toasted and salted pecans offered a welcome relief to the oh so sweet praline mixture. Best of all- no huge copper kettle or wooden paddle required! Amazingly, the original recipe also says you can pour the praline mixture into a buttered glass baking dish, cool then cut into squares like fudge! I didn’t try that, I wanted to see if I could actually pull off the dropping into buttery puddles!
I hope you’ll try making a few batches of Alabama Pralines…apparently they remain fresh in the freezer for 6-8 months. Why, if you make them now… Alabama Pralines can be your effort toward Christmas in July! I’m guessing mine won’t last that long! Oh me…
Love y’all, Camellia
* Crushed pralines are a wonderful topping for ice cream.
*John Egerton, a southern food expert, in his landmark work- ‘Southern Food’ subtitled ‘at Home,on the Road, in History’ (copyright 1987) is one of my all time treasured books, find his remarks about Pralines on page 325.
‘Now the Lord of peace Himself give you peace by all means. The Lord be with you all.’ Second Thessalonians 3:16
In this time of national tragedy in Las Vegas, the ongoing damage from flood waters in the U.S.Virgin Islands, and our beautiful island of Puerto Rico, our wonderful states of Texas and Florida as they continue to recover; there are also natural disasters and unrest around the world. When we observe these tragedies, it is human nature to feel a heightened sense of confusion and helplessness. It is important to find peacefulsanctuary in your faith, the verse from II Thessalonians has been a comforting companion for me, so often. I hope you will share your affirmations with me during these difficult days.
I also find peaceful sanctuary in nature, the roses have been uplifting and glorious. I find peaceful sanctuary in beautiful communal spaces, like St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans where we visited last week.
Acts of kindness no matter how small go a long way. When we extend understanding to one another, light a candle or two, share a meal, find language to calm and soothe others- we can stave off feelings of personal helplessness.
Here in this small public space we call Camellia’s Cottage -we believe in offering peaceful sanctuary whenever we can- a place of peace from the world’s upheaval.
We believe in promoting goodwill
We believe in community
We believe in the power of comfort food
We believe in lifting spirits whether by the old wise ways or gentle wit and
We believe in the strength of human kindness and the power of genuine prayer.
I hope you agree, it is important to find and offer peaceful sanctuary by all means humanly possible wherever you are.
Love y’all, Camellia
verse from KJV of the Bible
*photograph obviously taken by me in St. Louis Cathedral, on Jackson Square in New Orleans, Louisiana
When the weather is hot as blue blazes, our skin begins to glow (that’s the nicest way I can say it) and as the humidity rises so does our hair, inevitably the Southern Sweet Tooth flares up- Cool Ice Box Pies are the perfect summer dessert. A few ingredients, easy to make- without breaking a sweat- an Icebox Pie is truly easier than making homemade ice cream. Some have even figured how to make it without turning on an oven, just use a prepared graham crust. I’d rather make my own pie crust mainly because I can control how much sugar and how deep the crust will be- and I like crust! But hey it’s summer- take it easy if you want to… In Alabama, it’s amazing but children are already back in school! Icebox pies are a sweet reminder of vacations– remember that Key Lime Pie you ate? And.. you’ll know you’re in a good place to eat out just by tasting their Ice Box Pies! There are all kinds of Ice Box Pies- some have cooked pudding or custard fillings-however…
Citrus Ice Box Pies are my favorite-
Pit Barbeque whines for relief with Lemon Ice Box Pie,
Seafood and spicy Mexican Food seem to whimper for cooling Key Lime Pie,
Sour Orange Ice Box Pie- is the perfect ending for Chicken dinners, a cool Chicken Salad.
Sweetened Condensed Milk is essential to Citrus Ice Box Pies. I guess the only ‘southern’ ingredient in them could be considered the plentiful citrus we grow down this way.. New Yorker Gail Borden Jr. received a patent on Sweetened Condensed Milk August 19, 1856 and darlin’ I’m celebrating!
In an effort to find a way to store milk safely (when you don’t have a cow nearby) he developed a method of evaporating the liquid and using sugar as a preservative which produced sweetened condensed milk. Southerners embraced the product wholeheartedly. Why, teethin’ babies were comforted with a small square of cotton fabric soaked in it, thinned out? It was used a baby formula, in the sick room- sweet cool and creamy, condensed milk was considered a safe food supplement. Straight from the can- well, let’s don’t go there because I could possibly eat the whole can! Gail Borden, Jr. spent some time working for a newspaper in Texas before he came up with his famous dairy products and has been credited with the phrase- ‘Remember the Alamo’ and I can tell you, a can of sweetened condensed milk will defeat a whole low calorie diet! Of course, southern folks began making desserts, candies, cakes and pies- Oh my, what glorious pies originated from the humble can of Eagle Brand, we cannot live without it!
Sweetened Condensed Milk was originally sold by Borden to maintain the U.S. Army during all of that unpleasantness of the War between the States. Shortly, after the war -sweetened condensed milk, in a new and improved version became available nationally, it was especially embraced in the Southern States because of it’s long shelf life which has always been of concern here. Throughout our history, in the South, what we share in common is our love of good food. Sweetened Condensed Milk was patented first in America and a short time later in Switzerland. Since then, it has been embraced literally all over the world!
You might be interested to know that Key Lime Pie first showed up on Southern tables in 1901. And just in case you’re thinking Ice Box Pies are a relatively new concoction, they’ve been around over 150 years! Key Limes are not to be confused with Persian Limes- key limes are tiny- about the size of a quail egg; are more tart and almost yellow in color- Persian limes are the bright green limes of grocery produce department stores. The truth is most true Key Limes are imported from the Caribbean or for a very limited time in the Florida Keys and are very costly. Key Limes are no longer widely available and that’s a shame…Modern Key Lime Pie recipes call for the addition of Lemon Juice and Persian Lime zest to make a blend which tastes more like the real deal.
Sour Orange Ice Box Pies have an almost identical history- Sour Oranges were once found in the Alabama Sunbathing Capital, Orange Beach! Sour Orange trees are little scrubby trees bearing.. a ‘pucker up baby’ Sour Orange flavor. Almost all of the Coastal South had some of these small citrus trees- the ones that survive are still not considered valuable- too little flesh and too many seeds…Sour Oranges can be found in specialty markets, but never on a large scale. To get that Sour Orange flavor-mix Equal Parts:
Lemon juice, Orange Juice with Orange Zest and Grapefruit Juice to mimic the flavor of an actual Sour Orange.
I like to add about a teaspoon of Orange Marmalade, 1/4 teaspoon of orange extract- even a dribble of orange blossom water is a nice addition!
Almost all Ice Box Pies start with a Graham Cracker Crust. Talk about an interesting product! Evangelist and hard core prohibitionist, Sylvester Graham is credited with the first vegetarian movement in the United States in the 1800’s… He believed wholesome foods would result in wholesome living… Alrighty. Anyway, Honey Grahams® became the standard Graham Crackers that we know as the base for those chocolate-y toasted marshmallow-y fireside treats known as S’mores– and other, almost sinful desserts! Wonder what ol’ Sylvester would think of that?
And let’s not forget a wholesome ingredient in Graham Crackers- Honey. The finest- often called the gold standard of American produced honey, is Tupelo Honey. (not Tupelo Mississippi) For just a very few weeks along the Coastal South, the Black Gum or Tupelo Trees bloom- the catch? They grow in the swamps! Bee Hives are cleaned out completely, then hauled to the swamps, set on stands or left on anchored boats and checked daily. Some have called Tupelo Honey- the ‘champagne of honey’ which naturally has a slight lemon flavor.
The swamps of the Apalachicola River have the highest concentration of Tupelo Trees in the United States. Very close to Alabama’s Gulf Coast- the town of Apalachicola is only 3 square miles, an old and famous fishing village, but also right near the National Forest bearing the same name and the swamps! Needless to say, we’re proud of this Southern Honey! And yes, we do hope our Graham Crackers have a touch of honey, especially when we make our teetotalin’ Graham Cracker crusts!
I actually love the term ‘Ice Box Pie’ – it sounds old fashioned and better yet? Cool… Years ago, once or twice a week- the Ice Man delivered a huge block of Ice hoisted with big tongs and dropped it in the top of the old Oak Ice Box- set inside the house or a storm shelter- the ice would last…well, depending on the time of year- maybe a few days to a week. The time frame for the invention of the Ice Box was also in the 1860’s- Now come on, you thought all that was going on was that awful unpleasantness between the North and the South, right? Not so…Ice Boxes, Graham Flour Products and Sweetened Condensed Milk were finding their way into homes North and South! In fact, just fifty years later, when wewere all united under the same flag, wearing the same uniforms– (Southern Ladies do love to see a man in uniform!) Sweetened Condensed Milk made it’s way once again to battlefields and mess halls uniting us all around a product that was safe, had a long shelf life and sustained us all. So, in commemoration of the American version of this sweet milk’s Birthday, August 19, I give you..
Camellia’s CottageLemon Ice Box Pie
Honey Graham Cracker Crust
Preheat oven to 350º
8 graham crackers pulsed 8-10 times in food processor
3 tablespoons sugar plus 1 teaspoon of Tupelo Honey (optional)
3/4 stick or 6 Tbs. of melted butter
In mixing bowl combine graham cracker crumbs and sugar. While the butter is still warm, add Tupelo honey. Add melted butter/honey mixture to graham cracker/sugar mixture and toss together until well combined. Do not overmix. Press into a 9 inch glass pie plate-or spring form pan- pressing crumbs on the bottom and up the sides. Bake until a warm golden brown- 10-15 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool while making the Lemon Filling.
1 can of Sweetened Condensed Milk
Zest of one Large Lemon (reserve some zest for garnish)
1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice (no substitutes!)
3 large egg yolks Fresh Grade A
Blend together condensed milk and egg yolks with hand mixer on low speed- add lemon juice slowly, blending well. Beat until stiff enough to stand in peaks. Pour into cooled graham cracker crust. Garnish with reserved lemon zest. Chill for at least 6 hours or overnight. Some folks like to add a meringue, I prefer Citrus Ice Box Pies without a meringue – the soft creamy, cool, tart and softly sweet dessert seems perfect without embellishment! I am particularly sentimental about Lemon Ice Box Pies since it is the very first pie I learned to make, it’s just that easy!
As an extra note- if you don’t enjoy making pies yourself, should you run up on a Pit Barbeque Joint or a truly Southern restaurant… look for the glass refrigerator case, if they have Ice Box Pies, then you know it’s a great place to eat! Love y’all, Camellia
*Lemon juice has the effect of ‘cooking’ the eggs, however use caution if a health condition such as pregnancy warns against the consumption of raw eggs. *All photographs are mine, except the photograph of Tupelo Trees which is from www.nationalforests.org and may be subject to copyright.
*The Lee Brothers of South Carolina have an excellent recipe for Sour Orange Ice Box Pie which is only slightly different from mine. This wonderful cookbook can be found through major booksellers * How exciting to have an Eagle Brand cookbook- I’ve had mine for years and I believe they are still available at their website or on Amazon.com Check out www.eaglebrand.com and www.bordendairy.com/history for more information!
*I’m ashamed to say- I researched Graham Crackers and Tupelo Honey on my own and neglected to source the sites. *Eagle Brand® and Nabisco Honey Grahams® are registered trademarks- Tupelo Honey is a type of honey, if you find it- buy it! Camellia’s Cottage is not a paid advertiser. There are other great brands available as well, Graham crackers, sweetened condensed milk and Tupelo Honey have a long shelf life and should be part of any well stocked pantry!
White Meat and Gravy. We don’t talk about it very much. It’s hard to explain. Yet, if the tap root on a Southern Family Tree runs deep, no explanation is needed for exactly what is meant by White Meat and Gravy. I realize the name might throw shallow rooted folks, but I do not know of a True Southern Soul who does not love the combination of fried Salt Pork and the drippings made into a Satisfying Gravy. We know what goes with White Meat and Gravy. Just say those four words and it conjures up the whole combination. From the most humble kitchens to the finest homes, true Southerners love the divine food of the impoverished-White Meat and Gravy. Recently, I was checking out at the grocery store; a friend who was headed home from work didn’t even have a buggy- she had a package of Sliced White Meat, a carton of Brown Eggs and big fragrant Cantaloupe. Quite proudly she exclaimed, ‘I’m goinghome and making us some White Meat and Gravy’. She didn’t have to tell me she was also having Sliced Cantaloupe, Scrambled Eggs and Homemade Biscuits. I knew it. I wanted some too! I said – ‘Waita minute, do you make your own biscuits?’ She told me she did. Now, I’ve been on a tear doing an unscientific study of Southern Biscuits. ‘Do you pat, roll or pull the dough?’ She said- ‘I peen-ch ’em’ …Oh lord, I would have gladly gone home with her right then if she’d asked me!
Totally satisfying, that’s what her supper was going to be! I could. not. get. it out of my mind. I had to have White Meat and Gravy! Perfect for any meal really…White Meat is thick sliced and has the Salt Pork Rind still attached, it is so satisfying, almost tangy. The smooth Milk Gravy poured over hot buttered biscuits is perfect with Salt Pork. I don’t always make Scrambled Eggs with it- but it’s the fresh cool Cantaloupe which is amazing alongside. Here’s what you do:
Fry Sliced Salt Pork (White Meat) until crisp and browned. Remove and drain.
Stir about 1/2 cup of all purpose flour into the pan drippings to make a loose paste, . Stir until smooth. Add more flour if necessary to absorb most of the drippings. *This is an inexact recipe!
Pour at least 1 1/2 cups of whole milk gradually into the paste and stir quickly until the Gravy is smooth, then deeply freckle the Gravy with Black Pepper. *The drippings of White Meat is naturally salty so there is no need to add extra salt.
I hope it goes without saying- Fry the White Meat and make the Gravy while Homemade Biscuits are in the oven! *I won’t tell anybody if you use biscuits from the freezer section, just please don’t use canned biscuits! White Meat and Gravy, Hot Biscuits, Sliced Canteloupe. This is Southern. This is Satisfying. This is Food for the Soul. If you aren’t hungry by now, I cannot help you. It could be a regional thing…I hope not.
*The results of Camellia’s Cottage Biscuit Research is almost finished, if you would like to participate- There are no wrong answers, here are the questions:
Did your mother or grandmother make homemade biscuits?
Did she use all purpose or self rising flour?
Ice water, sweet milk or buttermilk?
Butter, shortening or lard?
Did she roll, pat or pull the dough? (Some, like my friend, say ‘pinch’ the dough)
If she rolled the dough did she use a biscuit cutter?
Were they Tea Biscuits, Breakfast Biscuits, Drop Biscuits or Cat Head Biscuits?
Were biscuits made everyday, mostly on the weekends or for special occasions?
I know you are desperate to find out the results! It might surprise you… Here is a warning…the tap root on your Southern Family Tree needs to be fairly deep to fully participate. While you’re at it, make some biscuits, if you dare…try White Meat and Gravy, you’ll be glad you did.
Love y’all, Camellia
*photographs of the delectable White Meat and Gravy are mine. Vintage Photograph is from an old set of children’s encyclopedias called ‘The New Wonder World’ published in the early 1940’s.
It’s Porch Sittin’ Time in the South… Actually we can Porch Sit all year round but it’s especially nice when the weather gets warm. Some of my fondest memories revolve around porch sitting. Front Porches are mostly for company, greeting friends in the neighborhood, folks dropping by to say hello and sit for awhile. Front Porches were the original Neighborhood Watch. I recall a man who sat on his front porch rocker with a shotgun across his lap- when asked why- he said-
‘It ain’t loaded. But before thecreek dried up and houses were built all around here- Daddy did it. He would shoot water moccasins or cotton mouth snakes right before we had a Baptism in the creek. I guess I’m just carrying on the tradition, though it does cut down on visitors don’t it?.’
Really? Stranger things have happened. Neighbors watchedout for one another from their front porches, they knew what was strange or dangerous and the quacks or quirks. The five year old Al Capone who held up his grimy hand to stop cars and then motion them on after giving them a piece of his mind and banging the side of the offending car. Or, when an otherwise perfect lady was laying in the road with bacon draped across her body. No one thought that was especially alarming- ‘Don’t worry about ‘er, every time that dog of hers gets out, she lays in the road- dog loves bacon.’ Talk of the weather resumed.
Porch Sittin’ is so fine, especially if there are Rocking Chairs… sip some sweet tea, have a heart to heart or don’t talk at all… it’s relaxing, eases stress. Of course you can tell the mood of folks by the pace at which they rock, fast talking Door to Door Salesmen rock quick, Book Readers rock even and steady, Tall Tale Tellers lean back- stretch their arms above their heads as others pause, then rock forward to hear better, Weeping Mourners stop and start, dab their eyes then slow rock awhile to regain their composure. One especially sweet memory is of a family circled up, holding hands and praying and there are those who form a Step Sing for the sole purpose of clapping and singing- long and loud to everyone’s delight. The neighbors are encouraged to join in.
Front Porches used to be the entrance to budding Romances.
A Young Man was required to come up on the front porch,
Speak to folks, knock on the door,
Endure a firm handshake and eagle eye from the daddy
Then wait for his charming date;
When he brought her home in the soft dark evening,
The young man might attempt to steal a good night kiss-
That is, unless her daddy started flicking the porch light on and off-
One young man was so startled he fell off into the bushes-
It’s a real mood killer.
Sadly for the young lady, she rarely gets asked for a second date, unless the young man is intrigued by it all or-
Has a sister who gets the same treatment.
Front Porches in the South are notorious for Haint Blue ceilings and ghost stories. Haint Blue is an actual color that is said to keep the haints, wasps and yellow jackets away. Haints and Ghost Stories abound- there’s always an adult who’s willing to sneak around the house and jump out of the bushes at just the right time, invoking more havoc and squealing than a real Haint could ever do – unless it’s the town’s Peeping Tom who could run down an alley like lightnin’, talk about squealing ….
Porch Swings are pure pleasure for relaxing- I recall stopping by a house one Sunday afternoon, an elderly man was dressed for company- he was outfitted in a suit and tie reading Herbert W. Armstrong’s Plain Truth magazine, getting his perspective on world affairs. There’s nothing like a Front Porch to contemplate life, to form opinions and to think. I love to see a porch full of family and friends, some in rockers, some on the porch swing, some leaned against the railing or with a leg thrown over the rail, talking and laughing and usually eating peach cobbler or a dish of homemade ice cream; children ripping and running in the yard to shouts from grownups saying,
‘Y’all get out of the road!’
‘Stay out of the flower beds!’
‘Stop fussin’ andfighting’ or
‘Settle down, you’re hollerin’ loud enough wake the dead!’
One of my favorite memories is when my little girls would wake up from a nap, freshly bathed and dressed waiting for their daddy to get home, we would get up in the porch swing and sing. Their legs weren’t long enough to start the swinging so I would start us off, remind them to push their legs forward and then back to keep us going. Favorite swingin’ songs were ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ and ‘Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham’. Nothin’ like it. And nothing like a gentle breeze, the soft sway, the groan and creak of a porch swing to rock a fussy baby to sleep.
Back Porches were the work horses, never as spruced up and nice as front porches. It’s where muddy shoes are kicked off or brooms, mops and gardening supplies are kept. Bushels of peas, okra and corn would be shelled, shucked or cut, to the rhythm of a cushioned metal glider. Big Enameled Dishpans or Galvanized Tubs held in laps waiting for the bounty; a broom at the ready to clear off the hulls and husks. A basket of line dried clothes, diapers orsheets stood waiting to be folded on the back porch, always near the Clothes Line. The song for Back Porch Sittin’ was ‘Bringing in theSheaves’ which I always thought meant ‘Bringing in the Sheets’. A play pen might be set up for small children to take a nap while getting some fresh air and a bit of sunshine. Neighbors might hook up several extension cords- drag their black and white TV and antennas out to the Back Porch- someone would man the broom to swat the Mimosa Tree so the Katydids would hush; otherwise Elvis, Patsy Cline or the Beatles couldn’t be heard on the Arthur Godfrey, Grand Ol’ Opry or the Ed Sullivan Show. Back Porches are perfect for cranking homemade ice cream, eating boiled or parched peanuts, getting a haircut or watching the kids play in the hosepipe.
Ah, let’s not forget the joys of Screened Porches, a big wicker sofa piled with cushions and pillows maybe even a quilt is an invitation for reading or taking a nap; or my favorite- Night Watches with the heavy scented glow of magnolias and gardenias-
Listening to rustling bushes, hoot owls or the soulful night song of mockingbirds and whipperwills, trains running through or Storm Watching….I recall being held tight on a screen porch during a thunder storm- scared to death-
‘Calm down, chil’- A storm is just God’s Way of Talking’
‘Talking to who?’
‘Either folks like us or the Devil- so settle down and let’s listen close’…
Mostly God was talking to the Devil.
Carports, Decks and Patios just don’t have the same feel as Porches. Some affectionately call Screen Porches- Sleeping Porches when they stretch the length of the second story of the house and are lined up with mismatched cots or narrow beds. The night air starts out sticky and then turns so cool, with whispers of ‘Are y’all alright? We’re alright.’ before you doze off…that kind of sleep is tranquilizing.
Folks don’t Porch Sit as much as they used to before central air conditioning. When long, low nice brick homes were built after the second World War even until now, whole subdivisions omit the front porch. The odd house with a front porch tends to be the most inviting home of the bunch. I hope these porches are actually used and enjoyed- not just for the styled look found on magazine covers. With the sad omission of the Front Porch on Modern Houses, folks began to get more isolated; they stayed to themselves. That’s a shame. Community and neighborhoods suffer. Porch Sittin’ is perfect in the South almost year round- bundled up in a quilt with steaming coffee in early evening or sipping lemonade in the lazy days of summer; playing Old Maid, Go Fishing, Shoots andLadders, Checkers or Yahtzee. You might even find a bit of romance, rekindle an old friendship or confirm your patriotism while Porch Sittin’ .
Vow to find a true blue Southern Porch this summer! Now, you know I’m gonna say this- like all Southern tales this one is part myth, part truth and part outright lies- names have been omitted to protect the innocent. The whole truth is- Porch Sittin’ seriously needs to make a comeback!
Love y’all, Camellia
*Most of the beautiful photographs of Old Porches of Alabama, including Haint Blue and the featured photograph- Porch Swing belong to Jeremy Miniard- www. Jeremy.miniard.fineartamerica.com to whom we are deeply indebted for his generosity in sharing his work. Other less spectacular photographs like the one below, the gardenias, magnolias, screened porches and rocking chairs belong to the Community of Camellia’s Cottage.
If you live in the hot humid South, Ice isn’t optional, it’s a necessity… I learned this from an early age- my Uncle Charles owned an Ice House, back then folks had Ice Boxes- even when ladies began to buy refrigerators, many still said, ‘It’s in the Ice Box’. Where do you think Ice Box Pies came from? Anyway, Uncle Charles taught us, by example, that there is a culinary art form to-
Icing down co-colas
Ice was a must have to use with Rock Salt to make Homemade Ice Cream
And of course the South cannot drink our Sweet Tea without Ice
Many of us pronounce- ‘Eye-ce’, with two syllables. Southern folks need our Ice. Mommas all over the South would say- ‘Stop crunchin’ that ice, your teeth are gonna fall out, not to mention it’s bad manners to sit there crunchin’ ice.’ And still, especially crude menfolks would sit there with glasses empty of all but the Ice, shaking it and then crunchin’ the Ice. Not southern ladies, oh no, we had Ice Water Teas- yes, you read that right- leave it to us to figure out a way to make Ice Water into a Tea! And, well, it was nice… a sparkling glass filled with Ice and maybe a sprig of Mint or a think slice of Lemon, walking around with a water glass, holdin’ it up above our waists. I recall going to an Ice Water Tea, the hostesses made festive ice cubes and put them in fancy glasses. They actually served Water with Ice Follies set on doilies atop Silver Trays! It was impressive!
I’ve been sipping my share of ice water while doing a little yard work here at the Cottage- the Wild Strawberries, Violas, Wood Violets, Clover and Oxalis are charming here in Springtime. I was reminded of Ice Rings -a Ring Mold studded with fruit and sometimes flowers, that floated lazily in a punch bowl for Teas, Parties and Weddings, surely that was how those hostesses figured out how to make festive ice cubes! I rounded up an old ice tray, clipped and washed a few leaves and blooms to make Ice Follies.
These are so easy, children can help out with the picking and making- and it sure would make a Mother’s Day Breakfast Tray or Brunch sweet and pretty. I’ve been putting mine in freezer bags to use through the spring and summer.
I imagine I will use mine to encourage hydratin’ myself or greeting a guest with-
‘Darlin’ would you like something to drink?’
‘Why yes, Iam thirsty now that you mention it, but I’ll just take water.’
Won’t they feel special when the glass of water is served on a doily with an Ice Folly or two?
Maybe the custom of Ice Water Teas will be revived, at the very least, maybe you will just have a little fun making Ice Follies for Spring Parties, Teas, Graduations or to dress up an everyday meal. I’m gonna risk this- Ice Follies are a great way to say, ‘I loveyou berry much!’ or ‘Good Luck!’.
This has been a nostalgic week, my best friend from high school and college met me for lunch this week- halfway between her town and mine, she gave me a beautiful White Hydrangea in honor of my mother, we had such a good time!
The two of us attended quite a few of those Ice Water Teas together! Hopefully I will see her again soon, I know this for sure- every year the White Hydrangea blooms? I’ll think of my beautiful friend. Meanwhile, if you try making festive ice cubes? I’d love to hear your ideas for Ice Follies of your own…
Love y’all, Camellia
*Use only pesticide free- edible leaves, herbs or flowers when making Ice Follies!
When you live in a Southern Coastal state- the Spring rising of Sap in Southern Pines, the Budding of Magnolias and the Pull of Tide draws us to our Sea Soaked Cities….circling down the powerful Atlantic Ocean- around the Gulf of Mexico, the migration begins. Cultured beauties give way to ocean drenched dives- dress shoes yield to boat shoes, silk slippers litter closet floors in favor of flip flops- Fishing Vessels pull out of winter storage and Sailboats slip away from docks, soft melodies shift to beach music or jazz.
The Sea Soaked Cities of the South draw us like moths to a porch light. We ignore the heat and humidity in favor of a cobbled street crawl,relish the comfort food, sip tall frosted glasses and speak with slow southern drawls.
Charleston’s culture and sophistication with her bubbling fountains, South of Broad mansions where no woman would be caught dead sitting on the front porch in housecoat and curlers to magnificent church spires of the Holy City, folks are drawn in carriages or mesmerized by soft sea grass baskets, lured by creamy brown pralines or shrimp and grits- but it is the Battery or harbor with it’s sea-going vessels that tug at our hearts.
Savannah’s Squares, wonderful Historic Town Homes with lush gardens, the whispers of posh garden parties or Midnight’s Good or Evil enchants us- the sight of the water ultimately pulls sea searching souls to haunts on the wharf and huge cargo ships which still the hearts of mere mortals. The Atlantic pulls folks to barrier islands, marshes and beaches.
Key West’s Sherbet Painted Ladies and Ocean Drinking Dives, Street Performes, Tall Ships and gasp worthy Sunsets soothe the soul.
Mobile has her own sophistication amidst azaleas, southern genteel ladies and gentlemen with unfailing civility; across Mobile Bay- beautiful Bay Houses with names like Restoration overhung with massive live oaks sporting long gray beards; small towns with quaint cottages in Daphne, Fairhope, Point Clear and Magnolia Springs.
White Sugar Sand Beaches on the Gulf of Mexico pull us out of our winter doldrums from spring to fall. Ocean Drenched Dives, the promise of warm sunshine draw us to Gulf Shores, Perdido or Orange Beach.
New Orleans’ Garden District is genteel, yet it’s the black lace balconies in the French Quarter, the smell of chicory coffee and fluffy beignets near the Waterfront that draws folks into a different state of mind.
What is it about the presence of a large body of water that heals and renews? There is a powerful spiritual energy at work in the Sea Soaked Cities of the South. Is it the presence of long lost spirits or the tidal magnetism? More than a dozen years ago, in the pointed boot of Texas’ own Sea Soaked City- Galveston- I found these Old Men of the Sea tossed like conch shells on a dusty shelf in a Nautical Repair Shop near the ocean- with no idea what I would do with them I had to have them- Dried Bamboo Roots with Carved Bearded Faces. I mounted them inside the round frame like a porthole to remind me of my own love of the seashore.
I rarely remember a summer of my life without at least one trip to the Beach- building sandcastles, stooping for shells or tiptoeing in the edge of the ocean- ever aware of undertow warnings or the way it felt to have sun tipped shoulders or new freckles on my nose. The salt air settles into our minds; like mystical memories there remains the longing to go back and back- to the gulf’s bounty of fish, oysters, blue crab and pink shrimp made a hundred delectable ways, swimsuits damp with sea water- bright umbrella-ed beach chairs with her giggles shared or beach books read; the glimpse of a glimmering dolphin, the tiny translucent sidewalking sand crabs or a long leg-ged white egret standing silent on a dock ; the soft pungent smell of salt water, the life restoring sea air, the feel of sand between my toes. Ocean Drenched Dives and Sea Soaked Cities of the South with her bayous, bays and beaches seem as
Confessionals and Cathedrals
Altars and Alcoves-
Shell Crusted Grottoes with Screeching Sea Gull Pipe Organs
We slow down, contemplate, let our minds go blank for a spell. Just let me start getting out summer beach bags and there will be errant grains of sand and an inevitable seashell- rubbed between my fingers, mindlessly looking for the sharp broken hinge. Ridiculously, I let myself think that the other half of the seashell or an errant piece of myself might be found if I return to the shore. Always convinced- it’s that pull of the tides, the magnetism of foamy waves ever running toward to the beach and back out toward the shimmering horizon that gives me a longing for the Sea Soaked Cities of the South. I’m heading there soon…
Love y’all, Camellia
*Old Men of the Sea Photographs are mine- Jeremy Miniard’s Mobile Bay photograph is wonderful! And the phrase ‘sea soaked cities’ and ‘ocean drenched dives’ was inspired by Charleston’s own Josephine Pinckney who wrote a book called ‘Sea Drinking Cities’, slightly scandalous in her day- I look forward to reading her books.