The Eggnog Party…

7BF94A29-9C64-447C-B51F-C08E9EF6669DWe could have called it a Fruitcake Party, though fruitcake rarely makes an appearance. We could have called it a Caroling Party. We tried that one year- no one wanted to go. Ever. Again. Come to think of it- we could have called it the Bourbon Ball. Okay, that’s a bit pretentious and we’re better at eating than dancing. The truth is- fruitcake, bourbon balls and eggnog tend to be … let’s just say- under appreciated holiday fare. For over two decades, we’ve been going to an Eggnog Party, hosted graciously in the home of friends; attended by families and friends who are loved and cherished as the ‘family we have chosen for ourselves’. It’s uniquely southern, so it’s a traditional party, with the dining room table set buffet style and yes, family china and silver makes an appearance.

7BF94A29-9C64-447C-B51F-C08E9EF6669DThe Eggnog Party is sort of an unorganized , uncategorized gathering of folks bound by generations of communal experiences. Besides the heirloom recipe for Eggnog- what makes this party so charming is the Program, the Favors and the planning for it- often months in advance. There are children of… all ages and highly anticipated by all. The Program always includes Readings for children and one or more Readings which embody the Season and always includes Music. Sometimes the program is as zany as The Sister Act, a goofy rendition of Santa Baby or an airing of jovial grievances through Festivus, which, by decree shall never be repeated again. One of our talented guests might sing Ave Maria or an old fashioned Christmas Carol which would have been introduced by a Reading of the history of the hymn – always accompanied by a classical Guitar. Last year a Reading of Dylan Thomas’s ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’…followed by the old Lullabye- ‘All Through the Night’ with a soloist, the haunting strains of soft music as the rest of us sang the sweet Chorus- that one definitely brought forth a few sweet tears. The favor that year had the theme of Angels.

Always, regardless of the theme, the program is a mix of the significance of the season and the joy of it too. Any gifts are token and quietly exchanged – to be opened later, since this party isn’t centered around gift exchange, instead its more about exclaiming, getting caught up, enjoying the program, the music and always the bubbling effervescent love and laughter. And my oh my! the food! A Christmas Ham and a thinly sliced fragrant Turkey. The sides always include a relish plate, our beloved southern casseroles, a cheese ball, roasted and salted pecans, cheese straws, tiny rolls and a buffet laden with desserts. Groaning might be a better word.

7BF94A29-9C64-447C-B51F-C08E9EF6669DOf course, there’s a silver punch bowl filled with a frothy full bodied Eggnog-

  • The creamy color of magnolias and gardenias,
  • Light as a feather plucked from an angel’s wing,
  • Thick with cream and
  • Freckled with fragrant nutmeg.

In the South, we tend to claim Eggnog as our own, since George Washington of Virginia enjoyed it and recorded a recipe for it. In the southern tradition of leaving out a critical bit- in Washington’s case he left out the number of eggs! Eggnog really isn’t southern at all- it’s British, it’s European, it’s American- yet what makes this recipe Southern is the ‘spirits’. We tend to replace ale or sherry with ‘brown whiskey’ … Kentucky Bourbon or Tennessee Whiskey- some add Rum, to honor our southern proximity to the Sugar Fields and Caribbean flavors. Take a sip of Suellen’s Eggnog and ‘darlin’ you’ll talk southern to me.’

 

7BF94A29-9C64-447C-B51F-C08E9EF6669DHere’s how you make this old classic which we know as Suellen’s Eggnog

  • 14 Large Eggs, separated
  • 1 pint Jack Daniel’s Brown Whiskey
  • 14 Tablespoons Cane Sugar
  • 1 Quart and 1/2 pint Whipping Cream

Separate eggs and reserve egg whites at room temperature. In a large mixing bowl, beat egg yolks until pale yellow. Slowly add whiskey, one silver teaspoon at a time, at first. Increase additions of whiskey beating continually until egg yolks and whiskey are combined thoroughly. Add sugar slowly, one silver tablespoon at a time. Whip cream and add slowly to mixture. In another bowl, whip egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold gently into whiskey mixture. Sprinkle with fresh grated mixture. Keep thoroughly chilled. It is preferable to ladle from a silver punch bowl. Enjoy!

This Eggnog is an adaptation of an old recipe from a Talledega cookbook, one county over from where we live. *Please note that an essential tool is a silver spoon. This isn’t a pretentious tool- old recipes tend to specify silver spoons since other materials could affect the taste, generally metallic.

I’ll admit, I sip only one small punch cup, it’s a thick, rich holiday mixture unlike anything else. Eggnog is also something I taste just once a year at this amazing party. If you’re wishing you had a less spirited eggnog, I’ve had good success slowly melting homemade ice cream, adding a bit of whipped cream on top with a grating of fresh nutmeg.

7BF94A29-9C64-447C-B51F-C08E9EF6669DHere’s the thing- I’ll always associate Eggnog with the exquisite color of creamy magnolias, strengthened with the years of friendships sustained for such a long time… soft strains of music, gentle laughter, so much love, genuine acceptance, concern freely expressed and the joy only this season can bring. Here’s hoping your gatherings are as spirited as Bourbon Balls, as nutty as a Fruitcake, as fragrant as a Gardenia and full of Comfort and Joy!

Love y’all, Camellia

* All photographs are obviously mine. Eggnog contains raw eggs, it’s best to use pasteurized eggs, and it should not be consumed by children due to alcohol content.

Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake

3AF218EB-F82A-4832-9094-8DAD05EB30A5My Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake was not a cheesecake, it was not a very well behaved cake nor was it a particularly beautiful cake. Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake was… a special occasion cake for our family, it was a cake we dearly loved and  a unique cake that frankly I have only found three other recipes for Lemon Cheese Cake! Believe me- I have tried! Lemon Cheese Cake may be specific to my home state, Alabama. All four recipes were recorded by Alabamians! Two famous chefs, who originated in Alabama-  Scott Peacock and Virginia Willis, fondly recall this delicious cake and included it in their cookbooks; then- I found a very similar cake named White Moon Cake in an obscure church cookbook that was compiled by church mothers, fairground workers, military cooks and domestic cooks.

So, what is Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake? It is a white layer cake, filled and frosted with a thick Lemon Curd. I fully believe the ‘curd’ was exchanged in terms- to ‘cheese’ since this recipe is well over 75 years old, perhaps older than that! Now, Aunt Mary Sue was actually my great aunt, she was my grandmother’s younger sister. I loved her, she was fashionable and had an incredible sense of humor- she was also the keeper of this recipe and the designated baker of Lemon Cheese Cake.  Mimi also, in a rare departure of recording recipes, actually wrote down the recipe for the Lemon Cheese Filling  and added my aunt’s shortcut of using a white layer cake mix – with a few tweaks Mary Sue apparently made. You need to know that Mimi was a purist when it came to her own baking, the recipes she wrote down rarely were recipes she never intended to use, and believe me- she never planned to bake a Lemon Cheese Cake herself! That was Mary Sue’s specialty. And! Here’s what I know for sure… Mary Sue’s recipe for the Lemon Curd or Lemon Cheese Filling has never failed, not even once! I’ve used it to make Lemon Curd without even baking the cake! So! Here’s how you make-8B48E839-FBE5-4F59-8592-2C4A16D68DB1

‘Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Filling’

  • Butter – 1/2 cup or 2 sticks
  • 2 cups granulated Sugar
  • 6 Egg Yolks (use large eggs)
  • Zest of 2 Large Lemons
  • Juice of 2 Large Lemons

In a double boiler, mix all ingredients over hot water (not boiling) until thick. Stirring often. This process may take up to 30 minutes. Lemon curd will generally thicken at 200 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Store tightly sealed until chilled.

* For filling and frosting a Lemon Cheese Cake, up to one extra stick of butter may be added, while Lemon Curd is still warm- cut butter into small cubes and add gradually. This recipe may be doubled, yet it takes a good bit longer- therefore I generally make two batches. To use the lemon curd or filling as an icing…it is enough to spread on two 8 or 9 inch layers and I suppose because the egg yolks were used in the filling- the cake was always a white layer cake. 425E2FAD-E423-4103-AE8E-F03A1C2D29A3

To assemble the Lemon Cheese Cake is a matter I’ve struggled with and apparently so did Chef Peacock and Chef Willis- they say to insert wooden skewers on the cake as it tends to shift and that is oh so true! And Chef Willis may have altered it a bit for a more stable cake.

What I did differently was- I put the two 9 inch layers of white cake in the freezer and actually iced the frozen layers with the lemon filling still chilled slightly.

Why did I freeze the layers? Well, my Uncle Charles had an ice house… his sister Mary Sue would keep the Lemon Cheese Cake in the ice box at home and if the special occasion was at Uncle Charles’ house- the cake was held in the Ice House until we were ready to serve it. I recall that the cake didn’t languish on the sideboard- it was cut into slices waiting to be served and I still recommend it that way. (It might also be wonderful made into one layer cakes as well, to avoid the landslide effect! )

Lemon Cheese Cake was almost always served with a seasonal fruit- strawberries or peaches were a summer favorite, in the winter when citrus fruits were available, Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake was served alongside a simple citrus ambrosia of orange sections with fresh grated coconut; this cake and my grandmother’s pound cake were our family’s favorites. I have to say, my grandmother kept a tight rein on who added dishes to the meals, so I strongly suspect that Lemon Cheese Cake was a recipe she and my Aunt Mary Sue may have learned from the cooks in the childhood home. How and why this cake hasn’t survived to become a southern classic may be due to the difficulty of leaving this wonderful cake on a sideboard to be admired otherwise it is a mystery to me! I’ve seen variations that come close, yet with the exceptions of these two wonderful chefs and the church ladies’ cookbooks whose recipes are very close to Aunt Mary Sue’s this is considered by me to be an heirloom recipe and one I’m thrilled to have. If you don’t make the cake- at least hang on to the Lemon Filling…it’s the best Lemon Curd I’ve ever tasted!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine! *Some recommend straining the lemon curd after it’s made- I personally enjoy the lemon zest in it!

Mimi’s Award Winning Pimento Cheese…

80DB15D0-3FF3-49C8-BB76-D2BB0F852A13Mimi never knew her pimento cheese won an award, it would have thrilled her, yet I don’t think she’d have been too surprised. Anyone who ever tasted one of her Tea Sandwiches would have agreed. Her recipe for Pimento Cheese was highly prized. Mimi kept a bowl of pimento cheese made up most of the time. My job was to grate the sharp cheddar cheese, in a little cheese grater with a handle which I turned in amazement. It’s still one of my favorite kitchen tools.

44EB0E2F-C33C-4B48-BA4A-28647A0D9AC4The grated cheese was as fine as angel hair- Mimi’s Pimento Cheese was devilishly spiced, I’m not sure she ever wrote down the recipe but I can still see her now, conjuring up a mixture that’s pure Southern Soul in a bowl. It’s only sharp cheddar cheese, a jar of pimentos and mayonnaise- the spices make Mimi’s Pimento Cheese memorable. Cayenne, Red Pepper Flakes and what we call Pepper Sauce, the brine from a jar of hot peppers that we use to spice things up and even pour over turnip greens or blackeyed peas. Pepper Sauce is one of those secret ingredients that even now, mostly only real southerners know. Go to a local meat and three in small towns across the South and you’ll see a small bottle of pickled hot peppers with a hole in the top of the bottle- a shaker if you will. The bottle’s not there for anyone to actually eat the peppers- no, it’s for the brine, the ‘sauce’ . Pit masters add pepper sauce to their barbecue sauces, old wisened cooks hardly even think about adding pepper sauce to their cooking. Pepper Sauce isn’t the same as ‘hot sauce’ that fiery red hot sauce shaken over… well, lots of things. Mimi added several drops of hot sauce to her Egg Salad but never in her Award Winning Pimento Cheese! So! Here’s how you make it!

Mimi’s Award Winning Pimento Cheese

The classic and highly prized southern classic- Pimento Cheese. Spicy with cayenne pepper and sharp cheddar cheese, is wonderful for tea sandwiches, picnic sandwiches and as a dip for crackers or celery sticks. 

  • 12 Ounces Sharp Cheddar Cheese (Finely Grated * Do not use pre- grated! )
  • 1 Small Jar Pimentos – partially drained (Do not use ‘diced’ )
  • 1/2-3/4 Cup Good Quality Mayonnaise (* look for lemon juice in the ingredients )
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1-2 Teaspoons Brine of pickled hot peppers (* clear vinegary liquid only)
  1. On the fine side of a box grater, shred sharp cheddar cheese.. In a medium sized bowl, put grated cheese. Add brine of hot pepper to fill partially drained jar of pimentos. Add cayenne pepper to pimento jar also. Scoop Mayonnaise over grated cheese. Pour spiced pimentos over Mayonnaise and add red pepper flakes. Stir gently to combine. Mimi’s Pimento Cheese will occasionally need additional mayonnaise- add a bit at a time to desired consistency. Chill, until ready to use. Spread thinly for tea sandwiches. 

Mimi’s Pimento Cheese is a time tested recipe – she often used extra sharp cheese, please do not try this recipe with pre- grated packaged cheese. Fine Grated Cheese is best, however you may like a chunkier Pimento Cheese and a food processor will work well for that.. It is wonderful molded with an indention in the center filled with red pepper jelly or strawberry jam, then surrounded with party crackers…it’s a crowd pleaser! For Tea sandwiches, a thinned out version (do this with more mayonnaise bit by bit) spread thinly on loaf bread, crusts removed,  cut into desired shapes with a serrated knife. Pimento Cheese is used to top burgers, to make grilled cheese and many other uses. Mimi would probably have disapproved, still,  enjoy it however you wish! 

Now a word of caution, don’t use pre-grated cheese, it won’t work! And don’t even think about using a milder cheddar cheese, use sharp or even extra sharp cheddar. The flavor depends on it! Finely grated is best, I never saw Mimi use even a medium grate. Still. It’s not just about ingredients- it’s about the Method too! And if you have a recipe for Pimento Cheese that contains Cream Cheese? Well, Mimi would have been horrified. Don’t use it. Period.

Now- this is important- don’t buy diced pimentos, buy pimentos. And don’t get fancy and add roasted red pepper. Okay, not if you want the Award Winning taste. You may add an extra small jar if you like, though one will do.  Just partially drain the jar of pimentos, leave them in the jar, fill up the jar with the pepper sauce, add the cayenne pepper- screw the lid of the jar back on the pimentos and gently shake before adding to the grated cheese and mayonnaise.

Now, about that mayonnaise- Mimi made her own for years, until she found brands of store bought mayonnaise that contained lemon juice in the ingredients! This is a must! Truth be told she didn’t always add red pepper flakes, yet when she did? Mimi thought they gave her Pimento Cheese flecks of color that she liked to see.  The sharp cheddar, the cool mayonnaise and pimentos are the perfect balance for the heat of the pepper sauce and the spices! Trust me on this.

Now, about that Award… Several years ago, I was cajoled out of Mimi’s recipe, this friend also had a recipe for another famous Pimento Cheese- which was also entered in this fairly high fallutin’ private contest. The competition was fierce, the folks who attended had fine credentials. By all accounts it was a well orchestrated event. I have to say, I wasn’t one bit surprised  her pimento cheese on first place. After all, it was Mimi’s and her Pimento Cheese has always been First Place to me!

Love y’all, Camellia

* All photographs are obviously mine. As you can see, I couldn’t resist making up a few Tea Sandwiches…

Camellia’s Classic Cheese Straws…

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!

Here’s why:

  • 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 probably does make the best cheese (because she does have a genuine handed down recipe) told me recently…’They won’t get crisp if you bake them 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.

Love y’all, Camellia

 

Camellia's Classic Cheese Straws

An old classic cheese straw for teas, showers, receptions or parties!

  • 1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese (grated= *do not use pre-grated cheese! )
  • 1 stick salted butter (if you use unsalted add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to sifted flour)
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  1. 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…