Fried Okra…

img_3323.jpgFried Okra! This Southern Favorite has been around as long as anyone can remember and without exception is remembered fondly! So fondly that one friend named her precious little Dog, Okra. I’ve been told that a man who had a particular fondness for Okra named his two daughters Okra and Hibiscus! (Okra plants bear Hibiscus-like blossoms and are in the same plant family!) Those were brilliant names; a guarantee that everyone would love those girls! However, Okra is an acquired taste for anyone who was born outside of the South- there are whines that it is slimy (and it is slimy unless it’s fried)  Folks also wonder ‘Why anyone would eat Okra!’ Well, okra that is not fried, is used to thicken the finest gumbos, the best pots of vegetable soups, and a pod or two placed on the top of a pan of simmering Field Peas, Baby Limas or Speckled Butterbeans- makes the broth thicker with a distinct flavor that cannot be achieved by any other means. South Carolina touts Okra Soup- a comfort food for them, associated with being home… A friend who is an only child– (this is an important point)- had one grandmother who would fry up a mess of okra, put it in a large bowl and he would eat it like popcorn! Many have actually dubbed Fried Okra as Southern Popcorn. IMG_3320

The most difficult part of making Fried Okra is having enough fried okra to begin with, then actually getting a full platter to the table! Folks will actually stand in the kitchen while it’s frying and eat it right as it’s being pulled out of the hot grease! So, rule 1- Don’t let anyone in the kitchen when you’re frying Okra!

I believe the very best Okra is no longer than the average size pinky finger in length. *If it is longer, discard or cut the bottom part as larger Okra can be woody and tough.  And the quicker you fry it after it’s picked the better it will be!

Everyone has their own method of frying Okra, always in hot grease; How to bread or batter Okra before frying can be debated. All I can say is that I don’t like a heavy batter on Okra as it can get soggy. Actually, I don’t batter Okra at all, I don’t flour it, I don’t just dust it with cornmeal– I whisk a bit of salt with 1/3 part Corn Starch to 2/3 part Self Rising Cornmeal, soft grind and white meal. *Using Corn Starch is my grandmother’s secret! It makes Fried Okra stay crisp longer! IMG_3305

Camellia’s Cottage Fried Okra

  • Buy the freshest small Okra pods you can find.
  • To prepare Okra:  Cut the pods of Okra in 1/4″ to 1/2″ pieces
  • Dredge them in the Cornmeal/Corn Starch ( 1/3 part Corn Starch/ 2/3 part Cornmeal and pinch of Salt Mixture) immediately.
  • Don’t make the mistake of cutting the okra, salting it in prep time and letting it sit before dredging it in your choice of a Cornmeal Batter or dusting it in the Meal Mix
  • *Salt and Time cause the Okra to weep slimy tears!
  • Some say and I believe it- if you refrain from cutting the tops off of the Okra Pods and instead cut okra slices from the end of the pod toward the top- then discard the tops, there is less chance of weeping. IMG_3318
  • Fry the cut and dusted Okra in Hot Oil, Shortening or even Lard which is at least one inch deep in a Cast Iron Pan until golden brown and crispy (Okra doesn’t like to be crowded or it won’t be crispy! So plan to fry in small batches.
  • Drain on paper towels or even better a brown paper bag!
  • Season with additional Salt before serving as Hot as possible!

Now, if you want to make sure you have enough for folks to enjoy, buy lots of Okra at the Farmer’s Market!  Allow a whopping 1-2 lbs per person! *Any leftover Corn Meal Mixture and a few pods of Okra- add a whisked egg and a bit of water or milk and thinly sliced okra to make a loose batter which will in turn make wonderful Okra Patties! IMG_3322

You may be wondering what we eat with Fried Okra, the answer is actually everything… a few months ago, one of my dearest friends and I ate at a BBQ dive which also serves our beloved Southern Vegetable Plates! When I ordered my BBQ sandwich, my ‘choose any side’ was Fried Okra!

  • Oh yum, BBQ plates with cool slaw, fried okra and baked beans- wonderful combo!
  • Fried Okra is a wonderful addition to an all Vegetable Plate- Fresh Field Peas, Macaroni and Cheese and Sliced Summer Tomatoes.
  • Fried Okra is unexpected when tossed on top of Soup, Gumbo or Salad instead of Croutons! Fried Okra also makes a wonderful topping for Shrimp and Grits
  • A side of Fried Okra is  great with Chicken and Dumplings.  Alongside Meat Loaf, Pork Chops or Country Fried Steak with Gravy and Rice, Fried Okra is perfect!

In fact Fried Okra elevates any meal to a Southern Specialty! If you go to the Farmer’s Market this weekend, get some fresh Okra for Sunday Supper! Fried Okra, Country Ham, Butterbeans, yes Ma’am!

Love y’all, Camellia

Please join Camellia’s Cottage in praying for the residents and emergency workers of entire Coastal and Lower South which may be affected by Hurricane Harvey. * Fried Okra, Country Ham…is a play on a famous fraternity ditty *All photographs are obviously mine! *I use Argo Corn Starch but this is not a paid advertisement for the brand

Southern Spirits of Christmas…

imageChristmas 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!

Love y’all, Camellia

Give me some Sugah!

img_1839What 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 to eat.’  And, horror of all horrors-  ‘Can you believe she put out that grainy Fudge and that hard Divinity? 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, we don’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-img_1805

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. img_1839

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- image

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!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are mine.

 

Foundations…

women in girdles

There was a time when language was carefully and kindly spoken- where even women’s undergarments were called foundations. The vintage photograph shows women of all shapes and sizes beautifully.  Women who were statuesque were admired. I personally think that Margaret Mitchell contributed to this admiration when she had Scarlett say- ‘I’ll never go hungry again!’ The great equalizer after the War between the States was that all Southerners were poor. Struggling through Reconstruction, some held on to their dignity, some got just plain mean, some had never known anything else but being poor- scraping out a living from red clay soil, while the Yankees were in the process of re-building us. Scarlett O’Hara decided to work with the Carpetbaggers, Scalawags and Yankees, and like it or not- she did succeed in never being hungry again.  Southerners developed a distaste for Yankees. My grandmother said it best- ‘I know why Yankees are so harsh- they’re cold all the time and they don’t eat right’. And actually the South does have better food, that’s probably why we struggle with Obesity. I mean when you fry a whole lot of stuff like:

  •  Green Tomatoes
  • Chicken
  •  Catfish and Okra

Well you get the picture. Fried food made inexpensive food just tastes better.

Just when the economy was getting better- 64 years after the war had torn us apart…the Great Depression knocked a whole lot of folks back down. Many in Alabama had always been poor, now it was worse.  I recall asking my husband’s grandmother one time- ‘Is she poor?’ and she answered – ‘Oh yes honey, she’s real skinny’.  Grandmamas was a tall, statuesque woman who wore hats and probably knew a thing or two about folks going hungry. And she fed more than a few folks all the years I knew her.IMG_0531I completely adored her! Our older daughter is named for her. A big part of the foundation of her life was to make sure her table was laden with food, the extra produce was canned and preserved. And while she was a ‘true daughter’ of the confederacy- I never detected the least bit of mean-spirited nonsense in Grandmamas at all toward anyone, I never heard a slang term used by her or about anyone. I wrote in my journal- ‘When Grandmamas hugs me, it is like sinking into a feather bed.’ She was ample, she was generous, she was bighearted. She wrote me five page letters that she called ‘newspapers’, giving me all of the latest triumphs and tragedies from family, friends and community.  It is well known in the South- that

  • Pyrex dishes were filled to the brim- taken to new mothers, sick folks, church picnics and to the bereaved- why, a glass sea of Pyrex dishes could be seen anywhere you went!
  • Roasting pans produced large Hens, Roasts or Hams
  • Iron skillets put forth the sustenance of Southern Life, Fried Chicken or Cornbread
  • Canning jars not only got people through the long winter but added an extra bit of flavor with pepper sauce, jams and jellies, pickled peaches or cucumbers. These were the tools they used to sustain us throughout our lives.IMG_1393

The foundation Grandmamas laid- of tables laden with food- was passed down to her daughters. My mother in law was known for baking a Coconut Cake for anyone who just mentioned loving her cake! She once made dozens of fried pies for the entire JSU Marching Southerners Band Dorm, when our daughters were there! That’s bighearted, abundance! The words- full-bodied, lush or abundant when applied to wines, gardens or buffet tables give the most pleasant mental images. When applied to a woman’s statuesque full figure, not as much. And that’s a shame – there are days when I would love to receive a hug that felt like I was ‘sinking into a feather bed’.  Our Grandmothers were of a genteel generous generation who spoke kindly and made sure that no one, no matter who they were- left their homes empty handed.

Now, I’ve gotten all historical on you because it occurred to me that the Foundation of Southern Food is Big Hearted, Generous and Abundant. And while I applaud the efforts to eat healthy- we can’t deny that much of the move back to all natural fresh food– is not new- it is just newly discovered. Homegrown fresh food was all we had just a couple of generations ago- at least where I come from!

Chicken, Casseroles, Shrimp, Grits, Cornbread and Pound Cake are all big hearted and generous- all make up the Foundation for great Southern meals. Just plain wonderful as they are- still Chicken, Shrimp, Casseroles, Grits, Cornbread and Pound Cakes accept other ingredients graciously. I’ll leave it for another day to expound on these wonderful combinations.

Since I’m being nostalgic today-I recall when ladies and gentlemen spoke with genteel courteous language. The foundation of their lives was rich in the traditions of good manners, speaking well and good regardless of poverty or wealth.  Rough, coarse and common talk is the stuff of honky tonks. Language that separates, tears down or degrades is worthless to  society.  Perhaps we could blend diverse ingredients into polite disagreements and dignified conversations, like a good spicy Gumbo or a comforting Casserole.. I long for it truly.

Love y’all, Camellia

Image of vintage women in foundations- from a wonderful site- www.fortieswardrobe.blogspot.com Images of chickens, casserole and shrimp are from AOL images and may be subject to copyright. Image of Grandmamas, kitchen implements, the cornbread, pound cake and grits are from our personal collection.

Grits…

image

Grits. Simple. Unadorned. In the South, if you truly grew up here, there is a primal instinct to crave Grits. People don’t understand this outside of the region, in fact you may not even be able to find Grits on the grocery shelves in other regions of the country, much less the world. I have a friend whose daughter moved to Los Angeles a decade or so ago, she would whine so pitifully for grits! So, my friend bought and sent her daughter a bag of grits from time to time. The same thing happened when a friend’s sister moved to New York around the same time frame- ‘Well, I guess she’s homesick, she wants me to send her a bag of grits.’

To be fair, some of the great chefs have taken a low class food like grits and elevated them to a delicacy once known as breakfast grits for fishermen or laborers near the coastal areas of the south- Shrimp and Grits. Yet, if a poll were taken I would be willing to bet these same chefs in major cities outside of the South would never eat plain old Hominy Grits for breakfast! In the South, field hands to fine gentlemen  want and expect Grits for breakfast! From nursery food, to sick beds, to hearty men’s breakfasts, and ladies brunches- you will always find Grits on the savory side of the menu, never the sweet.  I can’t say it any better than Alabama girls, Deborah Ford and Edie Hand in their ‘GRITS Handbook’ *-

‘Grits are eaten with butter, gravy or cheese- never sugar.’image

Y’all, trust me on this- true Southerners crave Grits from their bassinets to their deathbeds. Grits are the ultimate comfort food, considered a healing aid, a cure for the sick. I once heard my grandmother say, ‘I knew he was real sick, when he turned his nose up at a bowl of grits.’  Grits are like kinfolks, we sometimes take them for granted, grits are the unsung companion to many a fine meal. Grits are the big-hearted, open-to-embellishment relative at the Southern table, it accepts additions graciously- butter, cheese, shrimp, crumbled sausage and bacon, even eggs have been poached in Grits’ Casseroles.

Just remember, never sugar. There is a limit to even the most generous among us! You will never find Grits on a dessert table so why would you even think of adding sugar?  We southerners love our food, we talk about it- we pass recipes down and around; what we may have lacked in fortunes, was more than made up for on food laden tables, generously shared, eaten heartily without shame or daintily with lively conversation.

Even when we’re out at a restaurant, someone will say ‘Here, try this’ – To say ‘No’ is not done.  You will hear-‘Really, you have to try this.’- as we put at least one bite over on the loved one’s plate.

We can get downright biblical about food– someone once asked, ‘How many people will that pot of grits feed?’ The answer? ‘Oh honey, multitudes.’ Grits have served multitudes, down through Southern history- using the basic elements of fire, water, salt and that most ancient food- Corn. image

In my southern childhood innocence, there was no doubt Goldilocks interrupted the Three Bears’ breakfast of Grits, not porridge! Southern women have a distinct, almost unnatural fascination with ancestral food, like Grits. We rely on family recipes, our grandmothers’ ancient potions and mysterious cures. When prescriptions or modern medicine fail us- we offer Grits as part of a curative white diet, along with chicken broth, weak tea, ginger ale, soda crackers, rice, dry toast,mashed potatoes and scraped apple.image

When we cook Grits, we are communing with our ancestors; even when I am alone in my kitchen- the mothers, aunts and grandmothers are with me- informing me. Like taking care of a family- Grits have to be watched, tended to, kept moving- stirred gently with a languid patience, especially when they are absorbing the hot water of life.

Now, please use Hominy Grits- these yellow stone ground just doesn’t work. You have to learn to swirl the a Hominy Grits into water that is at a rolling boil, then bring them down to a soft bubble- never stepping away from the simmer, taking the time to get it right, gently adding a bit of cool water if they start to thicken too soon- bring the grits to just the right consistency, turn off the flame, adding bit of butter for richness; then cover with a lid, almost like tucking the grits under a quilt.

You learn these things when you’re the cook, when you’re the nourishing caretaker of a husband, of a family or a community. You learn how much effort it takes to get it right, just from making a pot of Grits. The humble bowl of Grits-is proof that whether in a rundown shack, a double wide trailer, a lake house, a high rise beach condo or a country club- in the South we are all linked by a simple warm bowl of Grits.

You either like them or you don’t- but you can’t deny the allure of Grits- the generous big hearted food of the South is what culinary dreams are made of- in fact, I’m dreaming of having a Build Your Own Shrimp and Grits Party! We’ll top it with spicy shrimp, cheese, crumbled bacon, ham or Andouille  sausage- maybe some red eye gravy,  fried okra, bell peppers, finely diced purple onion and red tomatoes …what else? Well, my grits are getting cold…

Love y’all, Camellia

*Now, if you really want to make a horrible bowl of grits? Buy those instant grits (they taste worse than pablum!) And then add lots of sugar to those pasty awful instant grits! Now, that’s a bowl of grits you would only serve to your worst enemy! Buy instead Quick Cooking Hominy Grits- cook slowly according to directions- believe me there’s nothing really quick or instant about them! I do love a good bowl of Grits!

*quote from The Grits (Girls Raised in the South) Guide to Life by Deborah Ford with Edie Hand Product Details

Tea Sandwiches…

2015-06-05 10.16.04

Tea Sandwiches. Tea Sandwiches were a standard menu item for almost every important occasion.. They were tiny works of art, delicate finger foods, savory pickups-alongside petit fours, cheese strawsdelicately tinted mints, salted or sugared nuts, thimble angel biscuits with a sliver of Virginia Ham elevated a get together to an occasion. At the best events – tea sandwiches were artfully arranged on doily covered, freshly polished, ancient silver trays.

Even Southern men, strong or shrewd, have been known to put on smooth talking airs, dainty manners and seersucker suits with bow ties, just for the privilege of eating tea sandwiches– I’ve witnessed it- big strong outdoor types going weak kneed, gently holding a tea sandwich as if he’d just swirled the belle of the ball around the dance floor.

Let me tempt you to traipse down memory lane where tea sandwiches grace the tables:

  • Afternoon Weddings, Bridal Teas
  • Mother/Daughter Teas, Garden Parties
  • Afternoon at the Bridge Tables
  • Baby Showers, Christenings, Sunday Afternoon Socials
  • Birthday or Anniversary Parties, Historical Society Soirees

And who knows what all…Gatherings to honor:

  •  the Most Worshipful Mothers of the Conecuh County Sausage Makers
  • the Worthy Matrons of the Chilton County Peach Park
  • the Queen Mothers of the Etowah County High School Homecoming Queen Reunion
  • the Outgoing Officers of the Shelby County Cowbelles
  • an Ice Water Tea for the Hysterical Society for the Keepers of the Covered Bridges

I made those events up– yet, whatever the special occasion- again, you could count on tea, punch, cheese straws, highly decorated petit fours or cakes, mints, nuts, tea sandwiches, the perfect finger foods.

Blessed is the one who knows the procedures for making tea sandwiches. Blessed is the one who has the recipes for the fillings. Blessed is the one who is willing to make tea sandwiches- her social value increases dramatically. Cursed is the one who makes tea sandwiches for a living, since they take a period of 2-3 days to make.  Blessed is the one who chooses to make them for loved ones. I am blessed.

My grandmother taught me the procedure and about a dozen filling recipes. The top four most requested are: Chicken Salad, Pimento Cheese, Egg Salad and Cool as a Cucumber Tea Sandwiches.

Because it has been so hot this summer, I decided to share the procedure for making:

Cool as a Cucumber Tea Sandwiches 

  • 3 slender cucumbers- about 7-8 inches long (plus one for garnish-reserve)
  • the zest of one medium lemon
  • approximately 1 teaspoon of finely grated onion
  • one 8 oz package of cream cheese softened to room temperature
  • 1-2 T. of good mayonnaise- Hellman’s or any that has lemon juice in the ingredients label
  • 2 Pullman loaves of bread, white or light wheat
  • Yield 10-12 dozen and even this might not be enough!

Procedure for cucumber filling: Carefully remove the zest of one medium lemon being careful not to get into the white pith which can be bitter, then with a sharp knife, cut off the bitter ends of the cucumbers- a Tea is the Time for Celebration- it is not the time for bitterness of any kind.

I like to leave the peels on the cucumbers for color and texture, however you can keep part of the cucumbers with the peel on- then peel one or two of the cucumbers before grating them on the coarse side of a box grater. Put the grated cucumbers and lemon zest in a large fine mesh sieve placed over a deep bowl. Then on the fine side of the box grater- grate about a teaspoon of yellow onion directly into the sieve, in with the lemon zest and grated cucumbers.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the softened cream cheese, mayonnaise and about 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice. Refrigerate.

Inside the sieve, fit a small plate on top of the grated cucumber, lemon zest and onion-weight this down with something heavy- a large jar of pickled cucumbers will do nicely. Drain and rest in the refrigerator overnight, you will be surprised the next morning- to find about a cup of cucumber juice in the bowl. Discard liquid or if you are a health nut- drink it.

The grated cucumber, lemon zest and grated onion will be ‘dry’, that is exactly what you want to prevent soggy sandwiches. Remove the cream cheese mixture from the refrigerator. Fold the drained cucumber mix into the cream cheese mix. Chill- you may want to leave this overnight- which I prefer to do. Just think of the zest of life, the spice of life combining with an attitude of cool and calm cucumbers. Perfect!

To assemble the tea sandwiches: Discard the end pieces from the Pullman loaves of bread, white or light wheat. When the chilled cucumber mixture is a spreadable consistency, spread evenly over one side of the bread, topping it with another. You should have 40 full size sandwiches. (I make them in batches).

Now for the fun part! Trim the crusts with a serrated knife- discard or snack on… then cut the trimmed sandwich into four tiny squares or triangles- or even 3 rectangular finger sandwiches. Line a large pan with parchment, and slightly damp paper towels. Place the tiny sandwiches close together in a single layer as shown above. At this point, decorate each one as you choose- I like to top with thin sliced cucumber wedges and a few grains of lemon salt. On the single layer of sandwiches, put more damp paper towels, then another layer of tea sandwiches decorating as you go…ending with damp paper towels on top. You will need two pans. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill- generally overnight. This ‘chill’ makes the tea sandwiches hold together as one piece, not separated. All types of tea sandwiches follow this part of the procedure- regardless of fillings.

Keep chilled, do not unwrap until you are ready to serve. Put out in small batches if possible to keep the bread soft.  Keep any reserved sandwiches covered and chilled- and if you are smart, hidden.2015-06-05 09.21.38

I hope you’ve stayed with me this long… ‘Cool as a Cucumber’ is a Southern term- it either means- ‘we’re all perspiring but she’s sitting there as cool as a cucumber’. However I have heard no better use of it- than what my friend Coral Anne told me years ago-

 No matter what kind of mischief her favorite ex-husband had gotten into, Coral Anne said he could sit there just as cool as a cucumber!


Oh me! Makes me think of Cool as a Cucumber Tea Sandwiches every time. To loosely quote Simone Weil- ‘To be rooted in Southern culture to know where you come from and embrace the worthwhile traditions– is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.’  I hope there are some brave souls who continue to hold the traditions of making tea sandwiches for generations to come…it is one of those least recognized needs.

Love y’all, Camellia

Simone Weil’s real comment is- ‘To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.’

 

Simple Spicy Shrimp…

I admire food bloggers- their sites offer photographs of food that are so beautiful they make  my mouth water even when they use food I otherwise wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole! It’s doubtful I will ever be a decent food blogger- however food is one of my passions, instilled in me by my grandmother. She was the best cook I’ve ever encountered.  I’ve eaten in the finest cities in the United States, I’ve tasted some of the best southern cooking right here in my home county, but Mimi’s recipes are my touchstone. When I cook, I ask myself- ‘Would Mimi think this is fit to eat?’  This recipe is not one of hers but she would have loved it- so here goes…

01aa1224594b7cb8fd6d23df2d8cb0687c0f8bd4a8

Simple Spicy Shrimp


Alabama’s Gulf Shrimp is some of the best in the world, there’s even an annual Shrimp Festival! I buy Gulf Shrimp from my local grocery store which gets deliveries almost everyday- the seafood manager has told me if I am not going to use it immediately to freeze it, so I do. If you buy shrimp, let me tell you how old timers gauge if it’s fresh- the next time you are at the Gulf of Mexico-or in the ocean- scoop your hands in the water, smell it deep and long…that’s what fresh’shrimps’ smell like. Strong odor? don’t buy it!

The shrimp in this dish are large (21-30 count per pound) peeled, deveined and tails removed but you can use unpeeled, peeled with tails on, whichever you like; the truth is, if you keep at least the tails on- the sauce will be more flavorful. I used 2 pounds of shrimp. I also made rice according to package directions for 4-6 servings. and I steamed broccoli, adding some lemon zest and 2 wedges of lemon as it was steamed. And I purchased Italian bread and warmed it, then sliced it before serving. Do not add anything to the bread! it is used for dipping!

  • This one platter meal serves 3-4. The shrimp cooks in the ‘sauce’. I  say that loosely because, this easy sauce thickens as the shrimp cooks. The sauce uses a bottled dressing which I only use for Simple Spicy Shrimp. I prefer making my own salad dressings. I have tried to reproduce this Shrimp without using the bottled dressing and it never turns out right. Since it is so good? Why mess with it?

01e1d1bf28b708d581fc2eb5c191bf7336a90cdb18_00001

There are several brands for the Zesty Italian bottled dressing – I prefer Kraft. You may find Lawry’s Seasoned Pepper difficult to find, but it must be used as well. Old Bay Seasoning is readily available – usually in the seafood section. For the Simple Spicy Shrimp, I used-

  • 2 lbs. of Uncooked Large Shrimp (thawed, chilled and set aside- until the sauce mix is ready)

For the Sauce-

  • 3/4 stick of salted butter (no substitutes)
  • 1/2 bottle of the Zesty Italian Dressing
  • 1/4 cup of the Lawry’s Seasoned Pepper
  • Old Bay to taste- which for me is about a tablespoon.
  • 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes (to taste if you are sensitive to spice)
  • 1 tablespoon of salt (shrimp needs salt- sea salt is best)
  • Zest and juice of one lemon

In a large saucepan, over low heat-gently melt butter. Add Zesty Italian, Lawry’s Seasoned Pepper, Old Bay, red pepper flakes, lemon zest and juice, bring to a gentle bubble. Add Shrimp. *caution, do not leave the saucepan- do not overcook shrimp! Shrimp continues to cook even after you turn off the heat and it will get as rubbery as a garden hose if you bubble or boil it too long! Just let it get gently pink, stirring occasionally. Take off heat, let it shrimp stand in sauce as you are assembling the platter. Cut Italian Bread, drain prepared steamed broccoli and fluff up the rice- add a little lemon zest to the rice if you’re so inclined.

Before I started the shrimp and the sauce, I prepared a large platter as shown, with hydrangea leaves and fig leaves if available. Separate the rice from the broccoli- or shoot! you can just mix it all together – however you want to serve it!

With a large slotted spoon, remove the spicy shrimp from sauce- pour the remaining sauce into a bowl- you’ll want to provide small individual bowls for each guest. (You’ve gotta dip that bread into the sauce and slurp it all over the rice and shrimp and broccoli too!) Decorate platter with lemon wedges and serve! Let me know how you like Simple Spicy Shrimp!01ab07f152d8843cc5dacd87f62023a58483f2db78

 

The great food bloggers don’t have anything to worry about from me! Just wanted to give it a try! You know, I get sort of tickled- recently Birmingham Alabama was voted a ‘new foodie’ city and it is; the truth is? I rarely remember a gathering of any sort where food was not cussed and discussed- Southerners love food, they love to eat it- talk about it- fix it, tweak it, fry it- oh yes, and real frying is not like you get in fast food places either…We have always had good food, and good cooks, good bbq joints and fish camps, fine dining, dinners on the ground where tables are groaning with food and folks never leave empty handed- taking a ‘plate’ home. I guess I learned that putting a lot of a few great things on the table, with a little something extra- like a platter of sliced tomatoes, thin slices of onion and fresh cucumbers…truly make a meal easier and oh so good!

Love y’all, Camellia

Find cookbooks and recipes for Alabama Gulf Coast Shrimp Alabama recipes

 

Vidalia Onions…

imageIf you live in the South, you know what it means when you hear: ‘They had Vidalia Onions!‘. This is a special type of sweet onion, grown in Vidalia, Georgia- in fact you can’t even call sweet onions ‘Vidalia’ unless they are actually grown there. Listen, you won’t believe this but the Vidalia Onion is defined by the law of the state of Georgia and the United States and approved by the Secretary of Agriculture! That’s some more onion!

According to the Official Website for Vidalia Onions, they were accidently discovered in 1930 and are still hand-planted and handpicked. This onion is the pioneer of sweet onions. ‘Vidalia Onions aren’t just the most famous onion in the world; I think they may be the only famous onion in the world’, says Chef Bobby Flay.Vidalia Onions even have their own Wikipedia page which says: ‘The different varieties are unusually sweet, due to the low amount of Sulphur in the soil in which the onions are grown.’ – This highly prized, sweet onion is like no other! So, when we southerners whisper, ‘I found some vidalias!’… as if we have just discovered French Macaroons or it seems we have received a box of Jacques Torres Chocolates; it’s because these onions elevate a simple vegetable plate, a homemade hamburger sings and in late summer, slice a Vidalia so thin you can see through it, top a tomato sandwich with it …well, it’ll knock your socks off!  Now, that’s an ol’ saying for describing something that’s really good!image

They fry up into the best onion rings you ever tasted ! The growing season is relatively short, and because of so much natural sugar in these onions, they do not store in the pantry for long periods of time. The Vidalias pictured here were brought in from Coot Partridge’s Annual Memorial Day picnic- where a man was frying Vidalia onion rings. Folks were eating them so fast he couldn’t keep up with it! The yellow onion in the photograph is of normal size- the Vidalias are as big as grapefruits! I keep taking beauty shots so I might as well share them with you-

Well…I’ll talk you to death, but I noticed that you can order Vidalia Onions online! So when you finish up here? You might want to ‘google it’ -order, find recipes and more, they won’t be around long! In the meantime, I’ve got some onions to fry!

Love y’all , Camellia

www.vidaliaonion.org

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vidalia_onion

Annual Mother’s Day at Peach Park…

image

Well, I hope y’all had a Happy Mother’s Day. We met the kids on their way back from beach at the Peach Park in Clanton. Chilton County Peaches are well known- they aren’t ripe yet- but this combination of farmer’s market and restaurant includes sandwiches and cobblers, fried pies and homemade ice cream almost all year round. It is a favorite stop for those on their way to or from the Alabama Beaches. image

We drive the back way, on rural county roads. I amuse myself by writing down names of places, church signs, businesses and the sights of the countryside. This year, I noticed that every Dollar General we passed had folks boiling out-probably pickin’ up a card, gift or supplies for Mother’s Day. Near Beaver’s Collison and Auto Body Shop, a wooden floor had been set up, I said, ‘family reunion’…he said, ‘tent revival’ – in the rear view mirror I said he was right since there was a big white van with Independent Holiness Church on the side. Down the road a bit was a cemetery. A family was having a ‘flag ceremony’ for their loved one. There was a full size American flag and a full size Crimson flag with a big white Alabama ‘A’ on it. A good sized group was standing around. This is the South, folks like to personalize their funerals. This is Alabama where folks love God, country, their mommas and take a firm stand on football- Auburn or Alabama. image

I began to sing -‘When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll…Tide!’ He cut his eyes over to me- I said ‘well, that’s how we sang it at Campus Crusade meetings when I was at Alabama’.  I saw a church sign which said ‘Have an Epic Mother’s Day’ …am still wondering what that would entail.  It has been said that a mother loves the black sheep of the family the most. I thought about that when we cruised at 25 miles per hour through a small town, past the city hall – several people were milling around the parking lot by the jail. A pickup truck had the tailgate down with a picnic going on- men and women in tank tops sporting tattoos alongside men with short sleeved shirts and ties, seemed to be having a good time. There were women sitting in the back seats of sensible sedans. I wondered if momma was brought over to the jail to visit the black sheep or if it was momma they were visiting. Either way, you can mark it down that her knees were worn out from praying for that bunch. Out front of the Farmer’s Co-Op there was a sign that said- ‘Onion Sets, Seed Taters, Mater Cages’- the owner is a clown. A truck farmer was setting up shop with some good looking spring Vidalia Onions with thick green tops. Past fallow farmlands that would soon be sprouting cotton or stands of corn, we saw a hand lettered sign- ‘Gourds for Sale’ – Get those now! put ’em up for the purple martins! keep the skeeters away! – is what I always think.

We passed a sale lot filled with new tractors and backhoes and a cute shop called ‘bulbs.sprig.birds.chirp.’ – and a beauty shop called ‘Shear Elegance’- probably worked overtime on some epic Mother’s Day hairdos; another church sign- this one said ‘God plus one is a majority’ – I actually think God is a majority all by Himself. We were listening to music on Garrison Keiller’s Prairie Home Companion- folks singing ‘wicked path of sin’ songs. We decided to stop and use the facilities at a gas station. I heard a woman checking out say- ‘We picked up the chicken and biscuits, stopped at the grocery store, got the cake, then we called Rusty, he had just gotten up, stayed out all night and was sleepin’ it off’…yes, ‘wicked path of sin’ songs were in order. Right across the interstate from the gas station was the big water tank painted to look just like the biggest peach you ever saw! Two more exits down, ‘which way?’ – we were behind a car with a specialty tag that read- GoneWTW- I said ‘go left’. When we got to the Peach Park, we pulled in, got a good parking place, folks were sitting in the big rocking chairs, or bringing out boxes of fried pies and barbeque, one couple had bought a gallon of peach ice cream- probably to take up to momma’s. A big man and a little woman came out with big bowls of ice cream- she slid daintily onto a picnic bench, he hiked his leg over the bench as it groaned- ‘um baby, this sure does look good, don’t it?’. Our children were already there- I wanted to say- ‘um baby, they sure look good, don’t they?’ We ate our share of the bounty, I took some pictures of past Peach Queens- which line the walls.

For my gifts-the kids brought me a quart of gumbo from Doc’s Seafood Shack in Orange Beach, two boxes of Peeps and a mug with ‘Mom’ on the side and ‘love’ on the inside-exactly what I wanted. I almost cried.image

When they got in the car to leave I wondered if they knew that our hearts were travelling in the car with them. On the way home, several times my eyes filled with tears, I looked out the window often. We passed over Beeswax Creek- I sniffed big- he said ‘What is it?’ I said ‘none of your beeswax’, and got tickled. Right after we passed the ‘Red Barn Bent and Dent Grocery’ but before you get to the ‘Dixieland Trading Post’- I thought about that church sign- ‘Have an Epic Mother’s Day’; I’m still not sure what epic would entail, but any day you get to be with your children is an epic day, especially when the nest has emptied. On those days-I can honestly say, ‘It is well… it is wellwith my soul, it is well, it is wellwith…my soul! Roll Tide.

Love y’all, Camellia

  • feel free to take sides and add ‘War Eagle’…

image

Raisin’ Cain in the Pantry…

imageIn an earlier post we talked about shoppin’ our closets, the pantry and fridge- working down what we have on hand. This week, we cleared out the pantry and found 3/4 of a loaf of raisin bread, some raisins, a can of evaporated  milk and a jar of hot fudge sauce. In the south we love our bread puddings! Raisin Bread is almost perfect for a good bread pudding but how could we make this one different? Bread pudding usually has a hard sauce for the topping- we had the jar of Hot Fudge Sauce and who doesn’t like chocolate covered raisins? Hold the popcorn at the movies, give me some chocolate covered raisins! So, what about a hard sauce made with raisins, rum, and hot fudge sauce? We keep some ‘likker’ here just for medicinal and cooking purposes you know…whiskey, bourbon and rum are ‘must-haves’ in the southern kitchen, almost like strings of pearls and white blouses in a southern lady’s wardrobe, got have those accessories! We had plenty of eggs, milk, pure cane sugar and vanilla extract so we were set!

 

image

 

 

Camellia’s Cottage Raisin’ Cain Bread Pudding

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees if baking right away.
  • Tear 3/4 loaf of raisin bread into large pieces- (we used Pepperidge Farm) in a large mixing bowl.
  • In a Pyrex 4 cup measure, crack 4 large eggs, add one can of evaporated milk, 1/4 cup of brewed coffee, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 stick of melted and cooled butter, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg and 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
  • With a whisk, mix the egg mixture until foamy, pour over raisin bread pieces and allow the mixture to set until the bread is completely soaked – about 15 minutes or you can refrigerate overnight.
  • Butter a 9×12 glass baking dish. Pour in soaked bread mixture. This bread pudding will rise.
  • Bake 30-40 minutes in hot oven. Do not over bake!
  •  

  • Meanwhile soak 3/4 cup of raisins in 1 cup of dark rum (we used Bacardi Dark Puerto Rican Rum).
  • Remove from oven when Bread Pudding is set and tops of bread are beginning to brown. Dot with more butter and sprinkle cinnamon sugar over the top- you can use plain sugar if you don’t have cinnamon sugar mixed up. We always have that in our pantry!
  • Lightly drain the plumped rum raisins and drizzle the excess rum over the hot bread pudding. Don’t waste any of that hard stuff!
  • Bread Puddings can be served hot or at room temperature, we let ours cool a bit while we prepared the hard sauce, Rum Raisin Hot Fudge Sauce, are you raisin’ cain yet? We never said this was going to be low cal…

Camellia’s Cottage Rum Raisin Hot Fudge Sauce 

We had a jar of Hershey’s Hot Fudge Sauce which we heated in the microwave according to directions on the jar. We spooned it into a small saucepan and added the rum soaked raisins to chocolate sauce- now, how else are you gonna make hot fudge sauce into a ‘hard sauce’ without the ‘hard likker’?


 

Darlin’ you’re gonna want to keep this recipe on hand, even if you just spoon the sauce  over ice cream! We topped our bread pudding with the Rum Raisin Hot Fudge Sauce, whipped cream and to make it healthy we added that sweet sprig of fresh mint!

Sugar Cane is grown in Alabama, that’s why we’re so sweet! Shoppin’ our pantry is going to be fun!

Love y’all, Camellia

Spring!