White Meat and Gravy…

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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 going home 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 – ‘Wait a 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! IMG_2896

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.
  • Serve Hot!

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. IMG_3001

*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:

  1. Did your mother or grandmother make homemade biscuits?
  2. Did she use all purpose or self rising  flour?
  3. Ice water, sweet milk or buttermilk?
  4.  Butter, shortening or lard?
  5. Did she roll, pat or pull the dough? (Some, like my friend, say ‘pinch’ the dough)
  6. If she rolled the dough did she use a biscuit cutter?
  7. Were they Tea Biscuits, Breakfast Biscuits, Drop Biscuits or Cat Head Biscuits?
  8. 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.

A Southern New Year’s Meal…

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Southerners do love the Lord, but we also have a strong superstitious streak. The Southern New Year’s Meal is fairly steeped in traditional superstition, so whether you like it or not- you will be expected to take just a bite or two of Greens, Blackeyed Peas, Roast Pork, Sweet Potatoes and Cornbread! If you don’t? Well, your happy and prosperous New Year has been put in serious jeopardy. Southern mommas are so serious about this- they are willing to doll up their Blackeyed Peas and call it Southern Caviar, of all things. My grandmother wasn’t so accommodating…she said, ‘Learn to like ’em’, which really meant-don’t mess with tradition. Truth be told, up and down most Southern neighborhoods, on New Year’s Day you could smell what everybody was cooking, Southern Soul. We eat Pork- any kind really, Ham, Pork Chops, Hamhocks, Roast Fresh Pork, Salt Pork or Barbeque on New Year’s Day- why?

  • Because Pigs root Forward for food-
  • Cows Stand Still- and chew the cud over and over again- so don’t eat Beef, unless that’s how you want the new year to go..
  • Chickens, well they’re flighty and flap around the coop-but the main thing is they Scratch Backwards for food…
  • Moving Forward, I hate to put it this way-to move Forward like Hogs do- is the way to go in the New Year.

We won’t mention the high fat content of pork while you’re making your New Year’s Resolutions- though fat was considered a good sign, especially to farm and field hands, who preferred fat years as opposed to lean. In fact a Southern New Year’s Meal is actually a pore man’s meal. After the Wah B’tween the States, we were all pore. The New Year’s Meal was scraped together from what the Union Army left behind after Sherman tore through here, leaving basically feed for livestock; corn, dried out peas, potatoes and turnips left undug. When those Carpetbaggers, Scalawags and Yankees came down here to straighten us out – they had to eat pore man’s food too! I guess they learned to like it. Remember, the New Year’s Meal is the Food of the Southern Soul. Now, don’t go thinking we’re unhappy about it- we like itimage

We even spice things up a bit, we always have Hot Pepper Sauce for the Blackeyed Peas and Greens, the Mashed Sweet Potatoes are topped with Pecans, Cinnamon and Sugar swimming in Butter or maybe the Sweet Potatoes will be made into Sticky Candied Yams. This year, I’ve made up a Sweet, Spicy and Hot Pickle Relish for my Turnip Greens or to drizzle over buttered Cornbread. And, I’m having a Turnip Green Casserole made famous by our colorful and infamous Governor Big Jim Folsom. He made a campaign stop out in the middle of nowhere late one night and was served a mess of drained Turnip Greens topped with Fried Onion Rings, then kept warm in the oven. When Big Jim asked what the name of the dish was- they didn’t know…so he dubbed it ‘Ain’t Mad at Nobody Turnip Greens’. The Pot Likker drained from the Greens was saved for Medicinal Purposes, is said to be restorative to the sick. (You might need it!) The only change I’m going to make is to cook some diced turnips in with my Turnip Greens. I also plan to liven up my Roast Pork Backbone with cracked black pepper, a generous amount of salt; then surrounded with whole onions and garlic, while it roasts. Don’t you just love the idea of having a spicy Southern Pork Backbone for New Year’s? My Grandmother did. The superstitious prosperity traditions surrounding the New Year Meal are specific-

  • Dark Leafy Greens represent green folding money,
  • Ground Yellow Cornbread represents gold bullion,
  • Sweet Potatoes represent copper pennies.
  • It is traditional to eat 365 Blackeyed Peas for a prosperous New Year, however many you eat- that’s how many lucky days you’ll have. Blackeyed peas are a type of field pea when left on the vine after harvest will dry, then are hulled and stored up to re-hydrate and eat during winter or kept for starter seed in the Spring.You never know when you might need some ‘seed’ money..
  • Pork is Preserved or Saved, too. The New Year’s Pork and Blackeyed Peas represent the wisdom of Saving- you didn’t think Piggy Banks were a figment of the imagination did you?

So, there you have it, the Southern New Year’s Meal. If you have room for dessert, you’ve missed the whole point- this meal is so well rounded, so complete you really don’t need another rich thing. After all you indulged in during Thanksgiving and Christmas, uh ah-well let’s just say it wouldn’t hurt you pass up dessert. There’s always that fruitcake no one ate or a slice of sweet potato or pecan pie so good it will lull you over to the couch for a nap. Now, I know you’re pining away for that recipe for the Sweet, Hot and Spicy Relish- it’s easy as pie:

Camellia’s Spicy Winter Relish 

  • One 12 oz jar of Sweet Pickle Relish- drained.
  • One small can of sliced Mexican Jalapeno Peppers with liquid
  • 2- 2½ cups of pure cane sugar

Put all of the ingredients in a stainless steel pan, bring to a low boil, reduce the heat and cook until liquid is almost all absorbed- it will be sticky and glistening, candied might be a better word. Makes 2 cups of the best stuff you ever ate any time of the year!image

And for heaven’s sake, get those Christmas decorations down, it’s bad luck! I would love to hear what you’re eating New Year’s Day and whether you’re superstitious about it or not. Whatever you’re having, I hope you are blessed with a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

Love y’all, Camellia

*Photographs are all mine, obviously. *It is worth noting that according to nutritionists, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes and dried legumes all have very high nutritional qualities- no excuses! Eat that good Southern Soul Food!

Award Winning Pimento Cheese…

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Family recipes are sacred in the South- Mimi’s Award Winning Pimento Cheese is one recipe I had held in the family vault for over 30 years until a friend asked for the recipe- actually he begged. He wanted to put it in a Pimento Cheese Contest, and I was not surprised one bit when it won First Place! It turns out there were some serious food critics there. I discovered later that the Cookbook Editor for a James Beard Award Winning Chef tasted Mimi’s Award Winning Pimento Cheese; even she agreed it was indeed the winner! In case you are wondering…there are lots of Variations of Pimento Cheese. Yankees have been trying to duplicate Southern Pimento Cheese for years; without much success I might add- they get too creative. Southerners often add an Ick ingredient to Pimento Cheese-they mash in Cream Cheese! Avoid those recipes like the Plague! As you know, I am an Amateur Food Critic myself- perhaps because my grandmother was the most serious Food Critic I have ever known! Mimi’s food backed up her expertise. I’m feeling in a generous holiday mood, so even though Mimi’s Award Winning Pimento Cheese is a year round favorite- it is especially welcome this time of year! Now, before I share it- you must understand it is a Method as much as it is a recipe! 

Mimi’s Award Winning Pimento Cheese

Ingredients:

  • 12oz Sharp or Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese- finely grated, don’t you dare buy packaged preshredded cheese!
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of Red Pepper Flakes
  •  1 small jar of Pimentos- not diced and not drained!
  • 3/4- 1 cup of good Mayonnaise –  I say this all of the time, it is too bad you don’t make it yourself– however, you must look for lemon juice as an ingredient in store bought mayonnaise, and don’t dare try to cut calories by getting light or reduced fat mayonnaise Hellman’s® has lemon juice and so does Winn Dixie’s® store brand, if you can’t find either, buy the regular kind and add lemon juice to it!
  • 1-2 teaspoons Pepper Sauce – for those of you who don’t know what this is- we use it to spice up turnip greens. It is an essential ingredient in a Southern Pantry- made from pickled hot peppers, the liquid is really what we want far more than the actual peppers! This is not Tabasco ® ! We use a lot of that- but not for Pimento Cheeseimage

Method:

  • I wish everyone had one of these little graters which finely shreds cheese in the most perfect form. You can use the fine side of a box grater- *please don’t do this in a food processor! Finely grate the Sharp Cheddar- *grate it cold, let it come to room temperature for the best results. That pre-shredded mess is coated with corn starch or something and it will not absorb the other ingredients! Put the finely grated Cheese in a medium size mixing bowl, allowing a short time to soften.
  • Start with adding 3/4 jar of the Pimentos and most of the juice to the grated Cheese .
  • On top of Cheese put the good Mayonnaise, start with 3/4 cup- you may need to add the rest later.
  • Add 1-2 teaspoons of the Hot Pepper Sauce on top of Mayonnaise. You aren’t stirring yet are you?
  • Add Spices- Cayenne Pepper, Red Pepper Flakes on top of the Mayonnaise.
  • Now you can lightly incorporate the Mayonnaise, Pimentos, Pepper Sauce and Spices into the cheese. The mixture will seem stiff at first- keep lightly mixing until all is absorbed.
  • At this point, you will know if you need more Mayonnaise or Pimentos with a bit more of the juice. *Hint- for a sandwich spread or Tea Sandwiches you will want Mimi’s Award Winning Pimento Cheese to be thinned out more, but to spread on crackers- a stiffer mixture is better. This is by feel, so you will need to either grate more cheese, if too thin- or add more Mayonnaise if too thick.
  • Do not be overly concerned as you are mixing, right at first. Just know that your hard work of grating that Cheese will pay off! It will begin to absorb the Mayonnaise, Pimentos, Spices and become thicker. When the Pimento Cheese is chilled it will become a stiffer mixture. Wait until it has chilled and set to decide whether to add more mayonnaise or more cheese.
  • Keep refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to use.For a party it will hold well at room temperature. *Warning! This is a spicy Pimento Cheese! Mimi was a spicy lady! But I’m warning you, if you mess with Mimi’s Award Winning Pimento Cheese you’ll be sorry!  Enjoy.

This is a staple in the kitchen of Camellia’s Cottage, I hope you also will be convinced it’s truly Award worthy. *Do not send the container to a friend’s house before their party- you may find Mimi’s Award Winning Pimento Cheese has disappeared before party time! Remember to finely grate the cheese yourself and keep that Cream Cheese for something else, darlin’

Love y’all, Camelliaimage

Obviously all photographs are mine!

French Influence…

imageThere is a definite French Influence in the South…after all one of the Six Flags flown over the South is French!  And let’s be clear, Julia Childs was a Yankee. She did not bring Wrought Iron Furniture, Balconies, Fountains or Railings down here to us- nor did she introduce us to Mayonnaise. It would be easy to believe that food in the Alabama is all ham hocks, cornbread and turnip greens but how would you explain generations of Southern cooks who insisted on a Meringue topping on their famous Banana Puddings if not for a French Influence?

There is a delicate side to Southern Food- one that is unmistakably French. We lighten up our Macaroni and Cheese with enough eggs that it’s almost like a soufflé, in fact souffles are very common in Southern Cookbooks. You could hardly host a Luncheon or, the Lord forbid, a Funeral -without some type of shivering gelatin, Tomato Aspic is iconic. We love our Mayonnaise, homemade if possible- not because of Julia Childs but because our grandmothers made it! I would argue that it was a good ol’ Southern boy named Thomas Jefferson who had America’s first French trained chef!image

The Coastal Southern States almost always have a French Quarter even if miniscule-we just visited a tiny French Quarter in Fairhope Alabama!  Bay Minette, Bon Secour Bay, Daphne, Fayette, Eufaula, Luverne, D’Olive and Dauphin Island (it’s not Dolphin y’all !) are all in Alabama. Look at that Shrimp Boat in Bon Secour Bay! Alabama Seafood comes in there every single day!

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Even our Children have French inspired names– Ladale, Lavonne, Bridgette, Delane, Jeanette, Eugenia, Annette, Dwayne, Charlene, Verne, Louise and Claude are all rooted in French culture. And who would argue that Southern Women embraced the French Twist, we took it to Marie Antoinette heights with a Beehive that some still maintain! Even our menfolks like Elvis, Porter Waggoner, Jerry Lee Lewis. Merle Haggard and Duane Eddy all had that high pompadour hair!

We want our children to have French hand sewn Batiste Christening Gowns and our Brides proudly boast of Wedding Gowns with Broderie or Alencon lace! Ladies used to brag about their Negligees made of floating chiffon – instead of plain flour sack nightgowns! I worked with a lady of a certain age and status who dreamily told us of the beautiful negligees her late husband bestowed on her for every occasion. She was dead set on wearing a Pale Blue Chiffon number at the viewing of her Casket lined in Pale Blue Satin! Southerners  love to dream of their Swan Song outfits– it’s biblical- we’re just going to sleep when we Pass over Jordan’s Stormy Banks, so why not wear lingerie in caskets covered with roses, gladiolas and lilies?

The first women settlers were said to be horrified that there was no refined white flour, so they set about making corn soufflé, shrimp bisque, meringues, tomato aspic and sauces we now call gravy-even our casseroles definitely have a French Influence. The Redneck Red Eye Gravy is actually an au jus! My grandmother was very proud of her French heritage and insisted on being called Mimi instead of MeeMaw- she was adamant that her great grandchildren to call her Gigi.image

The uncouth men who first brought these women into a southern corn fed land, were no doubt pressured into getting White Flour here as soon as possible! We want our-

  • Biscuits to be high and light
  •  Piecrusts to be light and flaky
  • Airy Chiffon and Angel Food cakes and puffy Meringues
  • Southern Pecan Pralines, Beignets and Dreamy Divinity.

While generations of women might have had to depend on canned crescent rolls- we were dreamin’ of Croissants! And oh my! Palmiers! Now, the truth is the name for this pastry confection is derived from the shape of a Palm Leaf- but folks have to redneck it down to Elephant Ears or fancy it up by calling them Butterfly cookies- but please call these crisp buttery puff pastry delicacies by the right name! Palmiers.image

I love Palmiers so much I actually make 18-20 dozen for Christmas! That precious Barefoot Contessa has a wonderful recipe for Palmiers, but I cannot resist gilding the lily by taking the baked Palmiers and dipping them again in melted butter-then in sugar. I bake them again to attain a very crisp Palmier that is perfect with coffee or tea. I will post a link to Ina Garten’s recipe for Palmiers at the end- just know that after they are baked, mine are dipped, sugared and baked again! image

Ok y’all, I’ve got to package these up. I’ve nipped one too many- I’m in danger of gaining too much weight to fit into my Swan Song Burial Negligee to Pass Over Jordan. Don’t depend on Julia Childs for the Art of French cooking- the South already has that down pat! Please add to my list of Southern French names, places and food- we all know there is a definite French Influence in South! Bon Voyage and Bon Appetit !

Love y’all, Camellia

Barefoot Contessa PalmiersBarefoot Contessa’s Palmiers Other Palmiers were made by me yesterday! Funeral flowers funeral flowers  Image of St. Francis at the Point was taken by me at Point Clear Alabama. Image of meringue topped banana pudding- AOL images- may be copyrighted but the one that is embellished with meringue, caramel and whipped cream was taken by me at Buck’s Diner in Fairhope! Fountain and Wrought Iron Chair were taken at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear, the closeup fountain was taken in the little French Quarter in Fairhope! Elvis, Porter Waggoner, Jerry Lee Lewis are AOL images and may be subject to copyright- the photos of Merle Haggard and Duane Eddy were taken by me from vintage albums we own. Shrimp boat was taken just last week in Bon Secour Bay.

A Fall Gathering…

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Several years ago, it was decided that we would have a Fall Gathering …the pumpkins were laid by the door with care, a big dried hydrangea wreath was hung on the door, about two dozen hand painted invitations were sent out with fear and trepidation- too many- too few? IMG_0806

The menu plan was for a heavy laden table with Southern favorites and a few new twists on old standbys. The key word for this Gathering was abundance, but please remember our Southern Mothers believe in small yeast rolls and biscuits– no Cat Head Biscuits here! The Menu would need to be a portable feast, a harvest buffet of regional flavors, with enough food to feed big strapping men, dainty ladies and Sherman’s Army!

The Gathering Menu

Sliced Ham in Millie Ray’s® Rolls with a Spicy Mustard. Fried Chicken Nuggets in fragrant Marshall’s Biscuits® served with pickle slices, Tiny Orange Yeast Rolls thinly iced and laced with Orange Zest alongside Cheddar Cheese Cubes

Low Country Pickled Shrimp, Sweet and Salty Caramelized Bacon, Hot Sausage Balls and Nachitoches Meat Pies

Yellow Squash Frittata Squares, Crispy Oven Roasted Sweet Potato Rounds.

Celery and Carrot Sticks with Fresh Cucumber Rounds. Hot Fresh Spinach Dip. Cheese Straws, Toasted Pecans, Parched Peanuts, Assorted Crackers and Big Apple Shaped Cheese Balls, one in Cheddar, one in Bleu.

Fried Peach Pies, Mimi’s Pound Cake with Strawberries and a Big Glass Bowl filled with Banana Pudding.

 Iced Tea, Lemon Slices, Light Beverages, White Wines and Coffee.

For weeks with an enormous amount of help and encouragement from a few friends, decisions were cussed and discussed.   Silver was polished and shared, linen napkins were rolled, coolers and freezers were shared, the table layout was made and remade. The decorations were easy, what had been planned for the Thanksgiving table, shown above- would be put to use for the Gathering as well.

What I discovered was this- before all of the big holiday entertaining commences in winter, Fall can be the perfect time to gather friends.

 There is one exception- don’t have a gathering during an SEC game or even on weekends for that matter! This gathering was held early on a Wednesday night- from 6-8. Since most of the guests are of a certain age, a weeknight is actually a great time to gather. And even though the house is small- more than 2 dozen guests milled around the cottage. The screen porch was used to great advantage- it is customary in the South for beverages of a certain strength to be served separately from the main food and beverages. The screen porch was a perfect place for the restorative wines and ales, alongside parched peanuts and cozy shawls img_1438

 After a work day or a heavy meal, there is nothing more restorative for the St. Simon Peter’s, Our Lady of the Lake, and even the First United’s- than a hot cup of coffee or a restorative nip swirled in a glass with crisp air and good friends. I hope a good time was had by all, we sure enjoyed having a Fall Gathering! image

Happy Fall, y’all, Camellia

*Most of the photographs used are mine-the hand painted invitations were done by me- however the pics of the silver tray and silverware were found on AOL images and may be copyrighted. And I would be very remiss if I did not thank Paula and Alyson for making the Gathering a success- there was enough food and the guests were completely delightful!!!l

Millie Ray’s Rolls® are made in Birmingham Alabama! Marshall’s Biscuits® are made in Mobile Alabama !

Cheese Straws…

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Real Southern Cheese Straws are a must-have pick up food particularly if you live in the South. I can hardly think of an occasion when Cheese Straws are not appropriate.

  • Baby Showers
  • Afternoon Teas
  • Anniversary Parties Cocktail Parties
  • Gatherings,Open House
  • And yes, Funeral Food

We do adjust the amount of spice depending on the event, an expectant mother may not be able to tolerate heavy spice, nor can mourners be expected to appreciate a Cheese Straw which in anyway indicates a ‘Hotter than Hades’ flavor, it just wouldn’t send the right message for the bereaved.  From the cradle to the grave, with Cheese Straws we know we can count on a savory bit of crunch whether festive or as a consolation. No self respecting Southern Hostess would be caught dead without Cheese Straws on hand, whether she can actually make them or not. In fact, give Southern Hostesses several dozen Petit Fours, a  pound of fresh toasted Pecans. some small handmade Mints and Cheese Straws- and we can throw an Afternoon Tea fit for the Queen. The problem is that most Southern folks who know how to make good Cheese Straws hold the recipe in the family vault and have been known to sweetly give forth a recipe but accidently leave out an ingredient or a critical part of the method- so that others will say, ‘Well, these are good but they sure don’t taste as good as Dixie Jean’s; nobody can make ’em like she does!’   Southern Cheese Straws are not made with puff pastry sprinkled with cheese, twisted and baked.Those taste like cheese flavored cardboard by comparison. The difference in homemade Cheese Straws and purchased- is like comparing a pan of homemade macaroni and cheese to the cardboard box version.  fullsizerender-3Real Cheese Straws are a spicy, flavorful short pastry. An elevated pie crust dough, put through a cookie press. My press is dedicated solely cheese straws! Some ladies inherit their momma’s press, which is a sturdy metal, not those flimsy plastic models! So, with that in mind- I have decided to be magnanimous and share my recipe with you. I try to keep Cheeze Straws ready to bake in the freezer -so that in 15 minutes I have a hostess gift, an unexpected occasion or to bake fresh for drop in guests. A good Cheese Straw recipe is invaluable. Just understand at the getgo that this is not just a recipe – it is also a method.

Camellia’s Southern Cheese Straws

  • 1 pound of chilled sharp or extra sharp Cheddar Cheese- grated by hand (Don’t you dare use already grated in a package!)
  • 1 1/4 sticks of  cold butter, butter flavored shortening or butter flavored oleo margarine (I actually prefer oleo because real butter has milk solids in it and can result in a stickier dough and one that will not dry out as it should while baking.
  • Grate cheese and oleo into a large bowl and cover with a clean flour sack towel. Let sit over night to soften. Sorry, but this is a two day process.img_1623Toss the Cheese and Oleo together gently when softened, until just mixed.
  • Sift together 2 cups of plain flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of paprika and  1/4-3/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper- depending on how spicy you like them- I like them spicy!
  • Carefully toss the flour mixture into the cheese mixture with your hands, the dough will be tough if you don’t. Mix well into a soft dough. A food processor works well for this- if the dough seems stiff add a bit more oleo. Do not chill.
  • Use a cookie press with a star plate. Put just enough dough in to almost fill the tube. Press out approximately 4inch strips onto an ungreased cookie sheet. *Note: I put the filled cookie sheet(s) into the freezer at this point- when frozen I pack them in freezer bags and label. If I need Cheese Straws right away, I put them in the refrigerator to chill, while the oven is preheating. Chilling helps the Cheese Straws keep that cute squiggly shape!
  • When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Make sure Cheese Straw dough shapes are not touching or crowded on the pan.
  • Bake for 15 minutes or until dry but not brown. Store in a tin or airtight container after the Cheese Straws have cooled completely.
  • Hide them from yourself and others until the gathering- otherwise you will never have enough. They can be baked ahead and gently crisped up in a 350 degree oven but Sugah, you really have to watch them. No side trips to watch General Hospital or Guiding Light. Heat for just a few minutes being careful not to brown. *That rule always applies- dry but not brown.
  • This recipe makes 4-6 dozen Cheese Straws. I usually double it and freeze at least half, for other occasions.fullsizerender-5

If you don’t have a cookie press, please don’t despair. Your Cheese Straws won’t be as cute as mine- but you can gently roll this dough and cut into 3/4″ by 4 ” strips. Some roughen the dough a bit by running the tines of a fork through the dough before cutting into strips. Bake as directed. Another method would be to put the dough into a pastry bag and with a medium to large star tip, the dough can be pressed out into smallish dots- adjust cooking time for this! Dry but not brown is the rule.Some have been known to roll the dough into a log, chill or freeze and then cut into rounds for crackers. However, the Southern thing to do is to commit to the idea that Cheese Straws are a necessity, then buy, beg or borrow a cookie press to make them! Let me know if you decide to make them- I won’t have a 24 hour hotline but if there’s trouble, bless your heart, I’ll get back to you as soon as possible, or as a dear baker said- If it doesn’t work- start over. Truly, once you make them I think you’ll be convinced, Cheese Straws are the ultimate in good taste.

Love y’all, Camellia

 

 

Grits…

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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

Pit Barbeque…

 

Three Barbeques, Two Fish Fries, One Pancake Breakfast, a Wedding and a Funeral- all in one day. No time to change in between…if this was a fashion blog I could tell you what to wear- a black dress. Fill a bag with accessories, several pairs of shoes, make up, a damp rag and deodorant. It got me through and we had the time of our lives! I don’t hold a world record on attending events- my husband probably deserves a medal.  We’ve gone to so many Barbeques, we might claim expert status on tasting barbeque. Mastering a pit is an entirely different skill.  Real Pit Barbeque is cooked 10-12 hours…this isn’t backyard grilling.  There’s no doubt in my mind that American Pit Barbeque originated in the South- poor rural folks, fattened a few pigs- so  fresh pork was cheap and available.Raw Peanuts

Alabama’s own -George Washington Carver  taught the art of growing peanuts right here in Alabama; Smithfield Hams of Virginia were known for fattening their hogs on peanuts.  What fattens a hog, fattens human beings, y’all. Boiled or roasted peanuts are almost always found near Pit Barbeque;  shells strewn on the floor add ambience and soak up the grease.  Most farms had a smokehouse for hams and bacon. No part of the hog was wasted. Fresh pork was Pit Smoked to feed harvest workers on large farms, to celebrate or commiserate. The love of barbeque knows no social class. We all love it.

Southern Pit Barbeque ventured off the farms to become Backroad joints, Dives and Honky Tonks. The old ones had a ‘risque’ feel to them. My mother once whined – ‘We can’t take these children in there! Folks are drinkin’ and no tellin’ what all..’; which made the joint even more appealing to children and menfolks. I heard a BBQ Pit Master say: ‘I feed this pit some whiskey every night.’  I’m not sure what he was talking about- however, the combination did exist. You can’t get good barbeque in a chain restaurant– the quality goes down by miles. In fact, folks will drive for miles down blacktop, gravel, or dusty red roads out in the middle of nowhere- just to find a real Pit Barbeque joint. If you’re willing to drive backroads-

  •  scented with Loblolly pines,
  • look for hand written signs-
  • roll down the windows-
  • follow the fragrant wood smoke- That’s where real Pit Barbeque is cooked.
  • Rusted out trucks and dented cars are a good sign;
  • Then look for grimy folks who tend the pit round the clock.
  • BBQ joints are often charred shacks or a blackened concrete block buildings- usually near a small creek to douse the flames.

I have a letter written close to 50 years ago, telling about a shack, a hot plate with a pot of dried beans and a ‘Still -right ready to make up whiskey’  when a fire broke out.  I’m just sayin’ – they had to augment their incomes and somebody must have been feeding a pit somewhere.

Pit Masters are a rare breed– those men are browned to perfection either by birth, the hot southern sun or a combination of both. They are soot streaked, well greased, smoke tinged, and speckled with burn marks up and down their arms. Their aprons are soiled and smeared. Listen to me- never trust a Pit Master who has on a starched white apron– he hasn’t been near a Real Pit and don’t know nothin’ ’bout it!  Pit Barbeque was the usual fare for private parties, political rallies, mysterious Barbeque Clubs, fundraisers and Church Picnics. I’m not sure how church picnics got on the short list– maybe a pit man escaped serious injury, the revenuers or was alone one spooky moonlit night and found Jesus. Of course, there have been many slurs against those of us who enjoy barbeque- calling us hogs, saying we root around or grunt like a pig when we eat it. We endure the ribbing because we know how good Pit Barbeque is for the soul- Southerners can get downright Evangelical about it.

Great Pit Barbeque is born in hot fiery coals. Don’t let anyone tell you- the secret is in the sauce. Whole families would argue me down about this- but if the meat isn’t good, you can’t cover it up or smother it with any amount of sauce and make it taste good. Now here’s how to order-

  • Fold your hands in prayer;
  • Contemplate whether you want it sliced, pulled or chopped; Amen.
  • Baptize it with whatever sauce you like: Red, White, Vinegar based, Sticky, Thin or Thick; Hot, Mild or fire on the tongue-hot! Your choice.
  • Snort, snort, uh-ah, grunt, Soo-ey!  Sorry about that hog-callin’,
  • I like my Barbeque – Chopped Outside Lean- if you don’t understand the lingo, I can’t help you!

One of my favorite local joints is affectionately called the Texa-que, a combo gas station and Pit Barbeque. The real name is Butts to Go. The blackened cylinder pits, the stacks of hardwood, the fragrant smoke billowing up- slows you down, your stomach makes guttural sounds. Butts to Go also smokes hams and turkeys which are to die for; wonderful comfort food for a bereaved family. Spicy hot food, like Pit Barbeque is considered inappropriate funeral food. But if you’re ever on I-20E toward the Talledega Super Speedway,  watch for the signs- pull over, you’ll be glad you did.

From the first bite you’ll know – you’re either a Hog or Evangelical about Pit Barbeque by the sounds that come out of your mouth. I’ve said it before: Southern Food Tales are part passion, part potion and part outright lies. Butts to Go is the real deal.

Love y’all, Camellia

* A big thank you to Wade Reich for allowing me to use his Butts to Go logo and website photo from www.buttstogo.com

All others are AOL Images, if any are not public domain or copyrighted  I will be glad to make the corrections or remove the photographs.

Check out www.smithfieldhams.com too!

 

Tomato Sandwiches…

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Summer tomatoes are a delicacy. The closer you live to a tomato vine the better your life will be. There is nothing like the smell of a warm tomato on the vine, nothing. Here at Camellia’s Cottage-we not only hire a pet sitter, we hire someone to water our tomatoes if we’re gone on vacation!  We’ve even been known to bribe folks with tomatoes…‘If you’ll come by and pick up the mail, you can pick some tomatoes.’ Works every time.  We wait on the tomatoes , fret over them- we check on them, often. When we talk tomatoes- we say morbid things like –

  • ‘I think my tomatoes have blossom end rot’
  • ‘Well, the hornworms are going to get to the tomatoes.’
  • ‘I think a possum uprooted the tomato plants.’
  • ‘The birds are going to get all of the tomatoes if you don’t get them first.’
  • ‘This is the last year I’m going to plant tomatoes, so you better enjoy them.’
  • ‘These tomatoes aren’t fit to eat, they’re mealy, because we’ve had too much rain.’

Even against the odds we continue to plant more than we can eat. We’ve come to believe that the smaller the tomato the bigger the taste; but the real reason is this- you can get a ripe tomato sooner! Some people want a one tomato slice sandwich- from a tomato so big, just one slice covers the whole piece of bread! Southern cooking depends on tomatoes. Fried green tomatoes originated in the south, don’t argue with me about this. We know tomatoes, especially in the very county where I live. In the upper part of St. Clair County- the most famous and highly prized tomatoes are grown, the conditions are said to be perfect right at the tail end of the Appalachian Mountains- in that one boat shaped plateau– Chandler Mountain! People take vacation time, even plan whole expeditions to go to tomato farms, owned by men like Dwight Rogers or the Smith Family and pick Chandler Mountain tomatoes!

There are at least three things folks don’t understand about southern cooking:

  • Why we love to eat Grits
  • Why we drink Sweet Tea
  • The fascination with Tomato Sandwiches

Grits might have to wait for another time- just know that adding sugar to grits is disgusting to a Southerner. Sweet Tea we’ve already covered. Tomato sandwiches are a delicacy which can be eaten for a short span of time, only when summer tomatoes are available; otherwise you have to add things to a tomato sandwich- like bacon and lettuce or a hamburger pattie! You have six to ten weeks to consume tomato sandwiches, depending on where you live in the south- maybe less. Now, here is the recipe for one perfect tomato sandwich:

  • 2 slices of white breadthis is not the time to break out the whole wheat.
  • Good mayonnaise, smeared on both sides of the bread- this is to create a barrier between the bread and the juicy tomatoes.
  • 1 summer tomato– sliced as thick as you dare.
  • Fresh cracked black pepper
  • And a generous sprinkle of good salt, tomatoes take to salt.

That’s it. There are only a few things that you can add to a tomato sandwich. Vidalia Onions sliced as thin as tissue paper and a bit of lemon zest added to the mayonnaise if you didn’t think to look for lemon juice in the ingredient label on the jar! Add anything else and you no longer have a tomato sandwich. On the side, I like to nibble a hot skinny green pepper and munch on Golden Flake Potato Chips made right here in Alabama, with my Tomato Sandwich. Pure, simple- nothing better.

 

 

I don’t expect you to understand this if you don’t have a southern palate. For me, there is a romance to a summer tomato sandwich. Imagine it- a sultry summer morning, you sashay barefoot out to check on the tomatoes, the dew is still thick on the grass. You smell the scent of the tomato vines, you see the green, the newly ripening and the perfect red fruit. Tomato red, like polished toenails. Hanging there, tempting you to reach out and pick. Oh lord, my mouth is watering now… your hand reaches out to pick the tomatoes, the prickly vine warns you to think before you pick– is it ready or not? is there any White Wonder Bread? some good mayonnaise? Golden Flake potato chips? You pick a few perfect vine ripe tomatoes, maybe a green one or two to fry…the tiny green ones would be good pickled. Bend down to the pepper plants and pick several slender.. long…green hot peppers …perfect.   As the sun goes down, you might hear this-

 ‘Honey, do you want me to grill some steaks?’

No darlin’- it’s so hot, I think I’ll just fix us a tomato sandwich.’

‘Sounds good to me.’

I hope wherever you are, the summer tomatoes are red, ripe and delicious- maybe you’ll find it in your heart to try a Summer Tomato Sandwich!  And remember, Southern Recipes are always part passion, part potion and part inherited wisdom.

Love y’all, Camellia

*Image of Dwight Rogers by Mike Callahan from Discover – the Essence of St. Clair – a wonderful local Alabama magazine! The editor is our dear friend Carol Pappas. Click on the link  and you can read more about Chandler Mountain tomatoes! and visit their website- www.discoverstclair.com

Grocery Shopping after Vacation…

imageWhen I get back from vacation, I start the ‘wash’ and then go to the grocery store. As you know, strange things happen at my grocery store. Other people tell me they go without incident, except one friend who was asked on a date not once but twice in the cheese department! She’s a lady of a certain age as I am- so that was remarkable. I have not experienced that yet, however- today’s trip was interesting as usual. Since there was barely anyone in the store, I was sure this would be one of those rare, unremarkable trips.

I was trying to pick out some bananas when someone came up behind me and said- ‘I bought bananas last time and they were tasteless.’ I smiled and said ‘Well you know, we have to have our bananas- for cereal or maybe a banana pudding.’ ‘If you’re talking banana pudding, they might work, but the Granny Smith apples have more taste.  I pushed off thinking how tasteless it was to make comments over what I was buying! I got over to the floral department- nice lady there. ‘How are you?’ Oh fine, how are you? ‘I’m burning up!’ Really? it feels pretty cool in here to me. ‘Well, trying to work under these heat lamps is about to put me under the cooler!’ Honey, I’m sorry…have you told management?

And by the way, while you’re at it can you tell them they are out of Diet Rites? I have to get those because I’m allergic to aspartame and they don’t have any Diet Rites. ‘Allergic to aspertame?’ Yes. A guy from another cola company who was stocking- said, ‘Diet Rites don’t have aspartame? I’m allergic to it too.’ The flustered floral department lady said ‘What happens to y’all?’ Cola man said, ‘It makes my lips go numb.’ I am astounded. ‘It just causes some tingling and numbness but I’ve never had my lips go numb.’ He swore it did. Well, who am I to judge?  ‘ I used to drink these’ and pointed to an offender. He said, ‘I’ll tell you what happened to the mother of a friend of mine. She loved those, she opened a can and something hit her lips and it was a tiny mouse!’ What?!?!? ‘Yep, they wanted to settle out of court for millions- but she told ’em she’d take 2 million and a case of those colas per month for the rest of her life!’ I shook my head and thought how brave that woman was, to put her life on the line every single time she popped a can. I shoved off thinking that was my ‘incident’ of the day…no, wrong.

The floral department lady called out to me, ‘Camellia?’- ‘Yes?’ ‘Did you know that Granny Smith died?’ ‘I’m not sure I know who you’re talking about but I sure am sorry to hear it.’ ‘Well she lives over on Shanghai Road and worked as an OB/GYN nurse for …oh a long time.’ Really?  ‘Yes, there will be a mob tonight at the funeral home, she had 47 great grandchildren.’ Now, how old was this delivery room nurse?  ‘She was 94, had a good long life.’ Yes, she did. ‘And a memory like a top until the last few years, knew the names of every single one of those great grandchildren.’ Now, isn’t that something? But she wasn’t through, told me who was related by marriage to the Nurse…my ankles were twitching thinking about those tiny mice floating around in those diet colas.

She had more to relate and had  obviously recovered from the heat lamps. She started telling me about another lady who was on her deathbed. ‘Yes, two days ago,  called the family in and told them she had about 24 hours to live.’ Her daughters were horrified because for one thing- this lady is one of the best cooks in the county and they just knew she was taking her recipe for pound cake, egg custard pie and coconut cake to her grave, among other things. She never wrote anything down or if she did, there was always a critical ingredient missing. ‘But she’s lingering on, not dead yet…and the food! oh my when word got out that she was dying- offers to make devilled eggs, fresh green beans, squash casserole- the Sunday School class was providing the ham- estimates of how many to feed went out and paper products, cutlery, cups, sweet tea, coffee- then, giggles and exclamations from the floral department about the baker on her deathbed- ‘Maybe the offers of food at her wake had kept her hanging on.’ I wondered myself if the baker was waiting to hear if someone would dare bring a custard pie or a coconut cake to rival hers. ‘The phone lines are hot with arrangements- she was still hanging on but it wouldn’t be long…she’d been ready to ‘go’ ever since her husband had up and died 8 years before. Was never the same. Baked a dozen cakes and two dozen pies the night her husband died-for his wake. It seemed to calm her nerves.’ In the South, when someone dies, we can put on a funeral, is all I can say.

I thought-I’m not encouraging this…’Well which funeral home has Granny Smith?’ She sucked in her breath…and told me the arrangements, told me again that there would have to be enough food there to feed an army what with 47 great grandchildren. I thought about offering up my bananas but why send something so tasteless? ‘Well listen darling, if we can make it over there we sure will.’ I. escaped. Surely this would be it for this trip. Not so, as I rounded the corner the butcher was waiting with his cellphone open…

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His daughter is married to a distant cousin. I thought he had new pictures of his 4 year old grandson, who apparently got the call to preach last year on the Fourth of July. Battling heat, mosquitos and swatting flies- a crowd gathered on the bleachers, waiting for the fireworks. This little dark haired tyke, marched to the front of the bleachers and called out as loud as he could- ‘Can I get an amen? Hallelujah! Thank y’all for coming out tonight!’  He sang, he waved his little arms, he hollered out amen and amen…he ran the rails, he called down fire. And what do you know? Fireworks started popping and fizzling- the sky lit up. Yes, he definitely had the gift. Got it from our side of the family no doubt. But this was not to be the story from the open cellphone…that’s next week…the Fourth of July.

Oh no, the butcher wanted to show me a picture of a buggy load of some of the finest steaks in the store! Someone had tried to leave the store with that buggy load the night before- ‘Well, I’ll be.’ ‘You think that’s somethin’? They did manage to get a buggy full of King Crab legs out of here- just watched it on tape.’ Will wonders never cease.

Surely this was it…I managed to get over to the dairy aisle. I felt the shadow of a man come over my shoulder.- I was thinking- surely it’s not the creepy man who asks women out on dates by the cheese. It wasn’t. He was very tall, so skinny he probably had to stand sideways in the shower. ‘Hey, Ms. Camellia, did ya hear ’bout Granny Smith?’ Yes. I. did. ‘Slipped on a throw rug, broke her nose, black eyes and everything- said some of those great grandkids were underfoot.’ Well, that’s awful. ‘Did ya hear my momma died?’ No, I didn’t. I am so sorry. How did she die? ‘I’ll tell ya what got ‘er. Cigarettes, Lard and Beer.’ I could not think of one thing to say, except – Cigarettes. Lard and Beer? How old was she? Soulfully, the thin man said ‘She was just 92.’ I cleared my throat, straightened up and said-‘Well, I hate to hear it.’ I saw a friend as I was leaving the store- I told him not to buy cigarettes, lard or beer, that he won’t live past 92. He said- ‘I tell you what Camellia, if you’ll add Gin to that diet I’m goin’ on it.’ Me? I’m switching to water. You cannot make this stuff up. image


I missed everybody when I was on vacation- cannot wait to share some of it with you! Just had to have some fun and share the continuing grocery store saga with you! Until next time-

Love y’all, Camellia