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, who would whine so pitifully for grits that her mother bought and sent her 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 have elevated them to a delicacy once known as breakfast grits for fishermen or laborers near the coastal areas of the south- to Shrimp and Grits, but if a poll were taken I would be willing to bet these same chefs in major cities outside of the South would never eat Grits for breakfast! In the South, field hands to fine gentlemen, get it- they 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, they 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 eating out, someone will say ‘Here, try this’ – to say ‘No’ –is out of the equation you will just 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. You learn to swirl the 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 them to just the right consistency, turning off the flame, adding a bit of butter for richness; then covering with a lid almost like tucking them under a quilt. You learn this 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

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