Downtown Birmingham was in it’s heyday in the 1950’s. Department Store Window displays were veritable Winter Wonderlands, with electric trains running through magical routes, mechanical elves and snowmen- moved and twirled. Cotton Batting sprinkled with glitter mimicked the real snow of New York City- a favorite destination for wealthy Alabamians, who brought us, not only the wonder of Christmas Shopping but also Department Store Santas.
The Shriners were already bringing the Barnum/ Bailey Circus to town and started their own Clown Units for Parades. The Shriners also brought a Carnival to Birmingham with the big amusement park rides for adults and kids alike. You would see the Shriners in their red fezzes with black tassles and most sported big gold rings with the Shriners insignia. I know this because our daddy was a Shriner at Zamora Temple which is still active today.
I was afraid of the carnival rides,
I was afraid of the circus clowns and-
I was afraid of visiting the Department Store Santa at Loveman’s, as you can see in the photograph.
Birmingham was beautifully decked out for Christmas, Joy Young’s Chinese restaurant was a magical place with the little paper umbrellas in our sweet tea glasses, Italian Restaurants, Greek Restaurants and even a sort of speakeasy style restaurant called Dale’s Hideaway was an event; the Russell Stover Candy Shop was a place to press your nose against the cool glass window, the Ritz, the Lyric and the Alabama Theaters were amazing- and the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ at the Alabama Theater was already legendary. And high atop Red Mountain watching over all of us, was the original Ironman- Vulcan.Famous Hotels like the Tutwiler even had floral bars off the lobby where my grandmother worked from time to time, Woolworth’s Department Store had a lunch counter and bargain basement which were all the rage, Pizitz had a mezzanine with a real elevator operator who said, ‘Going up! or Going down!’ as he turned the big crank and Burger Phillips had glass cases of fur coats- I know these cases inside and out because I got lockedin one of them, hiding among the sneezy furs. My mother searched high and low trying to find me until a sales clerk saw a tiny hand inside the glass case! My track record wasn’t too good with Department Stores. To be honest, the whole Santa Claus thing was sort of frightening- I mean, a man dressed in a red suit, with reindeer landing on the roof and entering our house through our pristine fireplace which was for show but real, and then a big man that shook like a bowl of jelly either left a lump of coal or shiny new toys- dependent on whether or not my sister and I had been good or bad was scary, not to mention those mice that may or may not be in the house! But to actually go see Santa Claus in person and have to ask him di-rectly for presents, well that put me over the edge. Enter my sister who was dressed in a matching sailor coat and tam, but who was infinitely wiser and fearless, stood behind me in line prodding me along. I whispered I was afraid. She told me to stop being afraid. We were almost up to the front of the line, when she got exasperated with my whining and said- ‘Look, he’s not the real Santa Claus! He’s got on spats instead of realboots and he has on a Shrine Ring!’ That settled it, I went through with it, but to be honest? I was still worried to death about the whole thing.
Every Christmas of my childhood, somehow the magic happened…we got Shirley Temple dolls, another year a baby doll named Tiny Tears who worried me to death with wet diapers and another year a Chatty Cathy arrived with a ring on her neck you could pull and she would talk. Talk, Talk, Talk- until my real sister Cathy pulled the string one time too fast and Chatty Cathy was mute from then on…There is not another picture of me with Santa Claus, I suspect the whole thing wore my poor Momma out- or it could be that it was too hard to schedule; not only was the Santa that day a Shriner, he was a famous Radio Personality named Dave Campbell and on alternate days, the Department Store Santa was my Uncle Ellis!
Now, you know that most Southern stories are part truth, part myth and part outright lies- this sad tale, I am sorry to say is the truth, the whole truth- it’s too close to Christmas to risk being naughty!
Love y’all, Camellia
All black and white photographs are from my personal collection and should not be used without permission. Who would want to? The photograph of Vulcan is from Wikipedia and may be subject to copyright.
Christmas actually starts months ahead of December in the South… lots of folks started Christmas Club accounts at their local banks last January, or put things on layaway back in the summer. Folks put up pickled peaches, preserves and cracked pecans for days on end looking forward to pecan pies, toasted pecans, pecan tassies and topping those sweet potato casseroles. And then there are a very few women who start their fruitcakes- real ones made up back in early Fall, when the mixing it all together, baking and the soaking with likker starts in earnest. If their faith teaches against the evil spirits of alcohol, the fruitcake making women enlist a man or a friend who is of another persuasion to ride over at least two counties to the ABC store to buy the Bourbon or the Dark rum- with a warning, ‘For heaven’s sake, please don’t let a soul see you buying this! -it’s for fruitcakes not for drinking!’ These are the Southern Spirits of Christmas. Truth be told most like to put a nip in their eggnog too and the menfolks generally have a spot where they can slip outside and imbibe. Can’t stand either fruitcakes or eggnog, never developed a taste for Strong Spirits myself, yet-I freely admit that it is nearly impossible to cook Southern food without some Spirits accompanying the other ingredients. For instance, after Hot Pecan Pies come out of the oven, a sizzling sprinkle of Bourbon raises up a Pecan Pie like nothing can. One could argue that Rum aids and abets many desserts, a Bread Pudding or the accompanying Hard Sauce really does need to be Spirited, flavored extracts just won’t get it done. Some of the best beverages in the world were conjured up right here in the South. Co-Cola (yes, that’s, how we pronounce it) Bourbon, Sweet Tea, Buffalo Rock and Jack Daniels are just a few. It is the moderation of these Southern Spirits which is key. And while strong drink might be evil to some- it does bring a certain Southern Comfort to some with a bittersweet heartache and even a Festive Spirit to the holidays. Now, about those Bourbon balls…don’t get me started!
No matter what the budget is, Southerners love to decorate their homes at Christmas! A beautiful Christmas tree, a wreath on the door, family heirlooms or sentimental ornaments gathered throughout the years and fresh poinsettias are particularly well suited to the Southern home. The very best holiday decorating includes the home’s year round décor worked in with special holiday touches. Pine is a particularly Southern fragrance, they grow prolifically in the South, and we all love to gather pinecones. I personally love Loblolly Pinecones- perfectly formed or Longleaf pinecones- huge and beautiful. Gathering pinecones to pile in a basket feels just right at Christmas.
The beautiful photographs represent two homes where budget is not a consideration, however we all love to be inspired by Southern beauty wherever we find it.
I hope it puts you in the I’ll be Home for Christmas Mood– if only in your dreams. I am so proud to tell you that my sister supervised the decorating of the gorgeous tree in the top photograph I enhanced her photograph- and the rest are from her very own home! Also edited and enhanced by me…now, really y’all- it sure is pretty! She is an amazing decorator with impeccable taste in her home and beyond and the epitome of a sweet, spunky, smart Southern Lady!
Love y’all, Camellia
*The photograph of the Longleaf Pine may be subject to copyright, the sized pinecones photograph is from www.mr.lsu.edu -*please note a Longleaf Pinecone is very large often up to 9 inches in length, the Loblolly pinecone photograph is my own photograph. The personal photographs should not be used without permission!
Whether you can make them or not- give the gift of Christmas Rolls. One of the most thoughtful things you can do is provide good rolls. Southerners love yeast rolls, especially during the holidays. Old Holiday Menus set our mouths watering with visions of hot yeast rolls and melted butter dancing in our heads. We cut our teeth on yeast rolls made for special occasions. The best memories are conjured up when we smell fresh baked rolls.
We remember yeasty rolls made in school lunchrooms, we can still smell them.
Tiny soft rolls were made for teas, luncheons, bereavement tables or bridge parties.
Ladies went to Cobb Lane for the tiny Orange Rolls.
Even big men delighted in the basket of Orange Rolls brought out in Bogue’s Restaurant while they waited for their Meat and Three lunches.
Cinnamon rolls from The Electric Maid were a special treat.
Hand rolled to order, someone was assigned to pick up the rolls at Savage’s Bakery.
Some ladies had household help or a family member who always made the yeast rolls. Cookbooks abound with recipes for them, with notations:
These make a soft tender dinnerroll.
These can be made ahead, just allow 2-3 hours for them to rise.
Can be shaped as desired but cloverleaf is best.
Allow several rolls for each dinner guest, be prepared with extra to run in the oven, if needed.
There were recipes for Bride’s Rolls, which were said to be easy- though most have so many steps I can imagine a young bride being reduced to tears. Ice Box Rolls for the busy housewife who could make yeast rolls days in advance or even the night before. Then there are the full-on – you-better-know-what-you’re-doing recipes for Parker House Rolls, which came di-rect from Boston. Only the most experienced baker would attempt these!
I am always amazed at how many men can artfully discuss their memories of yeast rolls from days gone by. I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with yeast. As a bride I could not figure out for the life of me, how to make a decent dinner roll! The shame of serving Brown and Serve rolls that came in plastic bags from the grocery store. Apparently I was not alone. Along came Sister Schubert® rolls, busy Southern cooks breathed a sigh of relief. The holiday menus began to add her rolls – ‘Are you going to bring the rolls? get Sister Schubert’s®. Even Julia Reed, the famous southern journalist served them at her swank dinner parties in New York City. They still rule the holiday dinner tables. I now have another favorite.
A lady named Millie Ray began making wonderful rolls for her bridge parties in the late 1970’s, they became so famous in the Birmingham area and beyond that in 2010, Millie Ray’s® went commercial. I love her rolls! Instead of Sister’s round pan, Millie Ray’s come in a square tin. Her rolls are still hand rolled and cut for the homemade look. Busy ladies simply do not have or take the time to make homemade rolls often, but we want them! I once gave a busy lady with a large family a stack of these delicious rolls- she still says it was one of the best gifts she ever received. Are you looking for a last minute gift for the one who has everything but time on her hands? Make her Christmas morning easier! Whether you buy Sister’s or Millie Ray’s- buy at least three types. I buy Orange Rolls which can be served any time, Yeast or Dinner Rolls and Cinnamon Rolls. Stacked and tied with a red bow- add a Christmas Card with a personal greeting- ‘Don’t worry about the rolls Darlin’.
For Christmas morning- all three can be used on a Breakfast Buffet, Orange and Cinnamon Rolls and Yeast Rolls filled with a sliver or two of Ham, truly an entire meal from just a stack of rolls! Christmas Rolls may be the perfect gift- delicious, consumed and well remembered, a welcome addition to any meal. Give the gift of Christmas Rolls!
Love y’all, Camellia
* This post is not a paid advertisement for either Sister Schubert’s® or Millie Ray’s® I just happen to love them! And they are made right here in Alabama! As are Marshall’s Biscuits® which wouldn’t be a shabby addition to the stack of yeast rolls! That makes them extra good in my book. Look for them online or if you are extra blessed, in your local grocery store’s frozen food section. All photographs are obviously mine.
What the South lacks in snowy white winters, we more than make up for in Sugar! After all, how many regions can boast sugar plantations, big copper pots bubbling with molten sugar for Pralines right on the streets, and Sugar Cane chopped and ready to make Sorghum Syrup? One of the joys of my childhood was getting a sliver of sugar cane and chewing on it at county fairs or farmers markets. Long jointed fat sugar canes stripped and chopped into three inch pieces were a special treat for adults and children alike. In the South,
Most of us are born with a Sweet Tooth.
Sugar is a pet name- pronounced- ‘Sugah’ even shortened to ‘Shug’ .
To say ‘Give me some Sugar.’ is to ask for a peck on the cheek or a Sweet Southern Kiss.
I admit to believing Sugar had it’s own special magical qualities. Cooks I knew would say: ‘Now, Betty Jo, you know we can’t make Divinity this week- it’s raining, we’ll have to wait until a good dry day or that Divinity will be as hard as a rock!’ The same was true for Pralines or Chocolate Fudge- make it on a rainy day and it would be grainy, they said- ‘Not fit toeat.’ And, horror of all horrors- ‘Can you believe she put out that grainy Fudge and that hardDivinity? I almost died’.Sugar syrup is a staple in the Southern Pantry- a must have for iced tea or added with confectioner’s sugar to make Icing for cakes. Now, remember, wedon’t say Frosting. For holiday candy making, making a sugar syrup with a candy thermometer is a must- it has to be bubbled to just the right temperature, for the type of candy you are making-
I have yet to per-fect even the first batch of Southern Pralines or Divinity- however they are on the culinary bucket list! I can make Snow White Marshmallows, a fairly decent caramel and if the weather conditions and the candy thermometer are just right, ButterToffee is one of my favorites! Topped with Chocolate and Chopped Pecans, I have to say- it is a little bite of heaven.
The mystery of sugar, the science of sugar, the timing, the weather conditions, the culinary art of candy making is daunting, yet somehow irresistible to me. I drag home five pound bags of sugar, dreaming of the perfect batch of Butter Toffee, Caramels or homemade Snow White Marshmallows, sugary visions dancing in my head. Give me some Sugar, a big pot and a candy thermometer and I’m transformed into a combination of Meteorologist, Mad Scientist and Cauldron Watcher. I feel very mysterious and sticky! If the candy doesn’t turn out- I throw it out and start all over! I never failed to be amazed how- cooking sugar to one temperature can result in an amber colored Butter Toffee and another temperature results in a perfect batch of Snow White Marshmallows-
Here’s a photo journey- Butter Toffee first:
And Snow White Matshmallows:
Oh yes, Give me some Sugar! Pure Cane Sugar. Like I said, what we lack in Sugar White Snowfalls- we more than make it up in Granulated Sugar! It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Give me some Sugar and the Magic begins!