Let the Herbs speak…

BA1C7C01-836D-4FF1-BF9D-5E5F64E22C8DIt’s a language as old as the hills, if we’d only listen…the Language of Herbs and Flowers. As the festive seasons approach… my mind turns to comfort foods and gifts. There is no more wonderful Gift of the Earth for cooking than Herbs. Fresh or dried herbs can make a lowly Chicken sing instead of squawk… an humble bowl of Vegetable Soup will fill the house with a more exquisite aroma. Who can imagine Cornbread Dressing without the scent of Sage? A Steak is fragrant encrusted with Rosemary. Herbs and Flowers have been speaking to Folks for hundreds of years. Bundled and hung to dry, herbs are gifts that keep giving long after harvest. No one really knows just when Herbs and Flowers uplifted folks with their Fragrant Whispers…and were often thought to ward off evil spirits. Historically, the color of flowers gave way to romantic notions.

  • Red Roses meant romantic love- therefore florists deliver their message often.
  • Did you know that purple flowers speak of love at first sight?
  • Orange tones practically shout of enthusiasm and fascination…
  • Yellow Roses tell of joy and friendship
  • Green for young love or peace
  •  White is reserved for reverence, purity and sympathy.

Herbs speak a similar language with potent hidden meanings and messages. As long as anyone can recall- as far back as early 1000 A.D. huge Yule logs began warming folks when the nights grew short and dark…ghost stories were told around the fire that must not be allowed to go out..even a chunk of the Yule Log was saved to start the New Year’s Fires but not before a Green Leaf was brought into the house, most believe it was an evergreen herb of some sort!F58B9363-33C5-4FED-ADBE-1AA2A0DE3C0C

If you’ve ever grown Rosemary, Lavender, Sage, Oregano or Thyme… these Mediterranean beauties have an intense aroma which actually softens with age as they hang to dry.  I’m not sure when I first heard of the tradition of drying a meaningful bundle of herbs which were tied to a Yule Log or given fresh then dried to throw on the New Year’s Eve fire.  The bundle of herbs had meaning, some said warded off illnesses and misfortune; brought all kinds of good gifts to the home when folks threw the fragrant bunch on a hot fire. If you’re blessed with an herb garden of any sort- it’s easy to collect the herbs now, tie them off and hang to dry for the holiday’s good wishes! Or you can have some early fun- throw them on your Autumn fires and listen to what they say…

  • Rosemary for Remembrance,
  • Lavender for Love and Devotion,
  • Oregano for Joy and Happiness,
  • Thyme for Affection and Friendship which does take some thyme to foster…excuse me- Time.
  • And don’t forget old gray Sage… he’s always good for some Sage Advice or Wisdom! I particularly love the custom in other cultures to bundle Mexican Sage into smudge sticks… when it’s almost dry…the end is lighted to cleanse the house with it’s fragrant incense.

The Greenery I harvested include regional favorites- Magnolia whose glossy leaves remind me of a sweet wedding with her huge lemon-y jasmine scented blooms- for me, Magnolia represents- Home. The gray Spanish Moss hangs in profusion from Live Oaks along the Coastal Region- representing this strange, everlastingly wonderful region where I’ve spent most of my life-called the South.4055B045-7D4B-44D4-8E1C-15B9FE7E28D1

I’ve added Holly, often used for a Hedge of Evergreen Protection. The wooly Lamb’s Ear with her fuzzy leaves, which for truth- can stop the bleeding; I’ve used that Old Wives’ Wisdom of wrapping a Gardener’s nicked or scraped finger with an herbal bandage, Lamb’s Ear to stop the bleeding! So, adding Lamb’s Ears represent the Healing of Wounds suffered in the course of Living in this old world…

Quite often I add other fragrant natural aromatics, such as cinnamon sticks or pinecones to my offerings-  representing the Spice of Life and Life Eternal. Attached to bundles of Kindling or a small Yule Log- Keep the evil spirits away and Send a Message in a way nothing else can- Let the Herbs speak for themselves…

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine  *No claims of Lamb’s Ear’s healing properties are offered by me, I can attest wrapping a small wound from a thorn or scrape while gardening is temporarily effective. Lamb’s Ear was used to staunch blood flow and dress wounds on battlefields for centuries. Herbalists note the natural bandage has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and antiseptic properties. Please use caution- as soon as possible, wash and dress any wound properly. For the purposes of a Lamb’s Ear’s addition to a bundle of herbs- the symbolism is a wonderful thought- ‘to heal wounds’.  *Herbs added to a small fire log or bundle of kindling along with a written explanation of the meanings is so nice- be sure to add instructions to remove the ribbon. Carefully toss the bundle of herbs on a fire for fragrant sentiments. What a nice way to send good wishes any time of the year!

SEC tips…

IMG_3370You know summer has taken it’s last gasp, not by the Heat Index but by the First Kickoff of the SEC…Southeastern Conference Football is major in the South! In fact football season is so important to us, it considered the height of poor taste to plan a wedding during football season! No, I. Am. Not. Kidding… There are rules for what we wear on Game Day- here at Camellia’s Cottage, of course we wear Officially Licensed SEC garments, team colors and particular to the ladies, there is a lucky Elephant Necklace, that must be worn with the elephant facing left- do not ask me why- it has just proved lucky! IMG_3410

All over the SEC region, there are certain foods which are considered ‘team foods’ – here in Alabama for Bama fans- Do I hear a Roll Tide? Since the days of Bear Bryant- our lucky foods are: Golden Flake Potato Chips Barber’s Onion Dip and Co-cola otherwise known as Coca Cola™! All are made or bottled right here in Alabama!

On game days, all over the SEC- Tailgate Food is served from the tailgate of an humble pickup truck, from RV’s, all the way to an Upscale Campus Affair- with food served on a sorority’s mahogany table draped with antique lace tablecloths, complete with a Chandelier hanging from a Live Oak tree! On some campuses, you might find a crazy fraternity serving …uh, cold drinks from a casket! It’s true. The food can be elaborate or simple- but always delicious and appropriate to the home team! When we watch games at home, there’s always popcorn, parched peanuts, cream cheese, party crackers and pepper jelly, chips with dip or celery sticks and…last week we had pit BBQ baby back ribs! Now, if you’re looking for actual football tips- you might be barking up the wrong tree here! I do, however, scream and holler during the games, it’s just more fun!

SEC stands for other lesser things too! For instance, the South Eastern Corner of the United States is:

  • The only region to be occupied by the Federal Government, where handsome men have worn military uniforms for years and to this day, the South Eastern Corner of the U.S.A. can proudly boast that our folks arguably sign up more often for military duty than any other region! We love our soldiers!
  • We have a history of courageous women who opened their doors to bears, raids and standing armies, faced tornadoes and hurricanes and they helped settle farms, homesteads, taught school, kept their families strong, yet are smart and beautiful all at the same time, with possibly more beauty queens than any other part of America… though it could be that we have more opportunities to serve as Peach Queens, Cotton Queens, Mardi Gras Queens and more… is there a Bo Weevil Queen? Anyway, we think we’re prettier for sure!
  • The South Eastern Corner is where children played in the dirt with silver spoons or found arrowheads in the backyard, learned how to fish before they were knee high to a grasshopper, little girls still wear Big Hair Bows, monograms abound, sandcastle building is second nature and all of them can charm the horns off a Billy Goat any day of the week!IMG_3408
  • The South Eastern Corner had more Dry Counties than any other part of the country, but still make the best Bourbon in the world. In fact we lay claim to the best Iced Tea and the best Soft Drinks (which we never call them!) Anyone who loves Coca Cola, Royal Crown and Pepsi would agree!
  • The South Eastern Corner is the only place in America where folks actually pull off on the side of the road near a homemade sign that touts ‘Boiled Peanuts’ and are excited about it! …Okay- it’s an ah-quih-ed taste! If you aren’t from here, let’s just say you probably won’t acquire a taste for ’em.
  • In fact, put a Barbed Wire Fence around the entire South Eastern Corner and eventually it will turn into a literal Nut House….peanuts, pecans, hickory nuts so hard you’d have to run an 18 wheeler over ’em to crack the shells… But where else but the South could George Washington Carver figure out how to enrich the soil and feed the masses with peanuts in this land flowing with Milk and Peanut Butter sandwiches?IMG_3411
  • The South Eastern Corner of the U.S.A. is where Church Choirs still sing with a Twang or fill the rafters with Soul; and where Gospel, Country, Beach Music and Motown are loved in equal measure.

I wouldn’t take anything for living in the SEC, for the football, the people and the good food! I have to admit – my personal favorite SEC stands for- South Eastern Cooking Tips! Here’s to Butter Balls and Spicy Shrimp and Shells!

Butter Balls are an old French method of food preparation for enriching sauces and gravy- keep these in the freezer and grab a few – you will be surprised what this simple little ball of flour and butter will do to make pan juices silky or definitely enrich the sauce for Spicy Shrimp and Shells! (Yes! the South Eastern Corner’s Food has a strong French Influence!) I made the Butter Balls recently, while I was cooking some bacon wrapped steaks to enrich the sauce. Let me show you…

Camellia’s Cottage Butterballs Soften 2 sticks of salted butter (if using unsalted butter add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt) lightly mix Butter into 1/2 cup of All Purpose Flour, do not use more flour! With a teaspoon or your clean hands, scoop up a small bit of the butter/flour mixture and shape into rough butter balls no larger than a teaspoon, placing on a parchment lined pan. Butter Balls take no time to make, but make a world of difference in your cooking! Freeze at least 4 hours. Carefully store in a freezer safe container. Use to enrich sauces, pan juices and gravies.IMG_3271

Spicy Shrimp and Shells is a quick and easy recipe, full of flavor. This dish can be elevated to Party Status, can be stretched to serve a crowd, is wonderful served for Sunday Supper or eaten cold as a most delicious and different Pasta Salad! Add garlic bread and sliced Summer tomatoes and you have a complete meal! Most of the ingredients are pantry staples and here, we keep shrimp in the freezer all the time!IMG_3401

Camellia’s Cottage Spicy Shrimp and Shells

  • Prepare 12 ounces of Seashell Pasta according to directions.
  • Steam 1 cup of chopped Broccoli, drain and set aside
  • Drain 3/4 -1 pound of  uncooked Gumbo Shrimp (approx. 65-70 per pound) peeled, tails removed if desired
  • On low heat, combine 3 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet
  • Add 2-3 tablespoons of chopped garlic, zest of a whole lemon, 2-3 teaspoons of red pepper flakes, a good amount of freshly ground black pepper, add salt as desired.
  • Stir until butter has melted and spices are combined IMG_3395
  • Saute Shrimp in batches until pink- Do not over crowd shrimp.
  • Place all shrimp back in warm skillet add 1-1/2 cups of pasta water, steamed chopped broccoli and 3-4 Butter Balls-
  • Cook on low until Butter Balls have been absorbed. No more than a minute or two. (If you have not made Butter Balls, add 2-3 teaspoons of butter)
  • Squeeze the juice of zested large lemon over pan straining seeds.  (Caution- do not add lemon juice utntil the end otherwise shrimp will become tough) I often make thin slices of the squeezed lemon and add to the Spicy Shrimp Mixture, for extra lemon-y flavor.

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  • Drain Seashell Pasta. Put in large serving bowl, add Spicy Shrimp Mixture.
  • Sprinkle liberally with Parmesan Cheese, believe it or not- using the cheap type blends in best! Toss Spicy Shrimp and Seashells. Top with 1/2 cup of chopped green onion tops.
  • Wonderful with crusty garlic bread. Serves 4-6 depending on how hungry you are!IMG_3401

No matter what your favorite SEC team is, no matter where your favorite place to be in the South Eastern Corner, I know you’ll enjoy South Eastern Cooking Tips. Come back often to the Cottage for more! And always, I hope your SEC team wins unless they’re playin’ mine!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine. Parched Peanuts are a southern term for roasted peanuts! Continued prayers for victims of Hurricane Harvey and for those in the path of Hurricane Irma.

Southern Sweet Potato Salad…

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Recently I attended a Barbeque, most of the side dishes were picnic style- Coleslaw and Classic Potato Salad with Desserts to die for, however one lady who knows how much Southerners love to eat Barbeque with Spicy Greens, Cornbread, Fried Okra, Baby Limas and Sweet Potatoes; brought a wonderful Classic Sweet Potato Casserole with brown sugar, butter and pecans as a thick crunchy topping, oh my! It was wonderful! I started thinking about how good sweet potatoes are with barbeque but also how I had never seen a recipe for Southern Sweet Potato Salad– now, I know recipes are out there but not with completely Southern ingredients! So what you see is rare, here at Camellia’s Cottage, we don’t mess with perfection- we love our classic recipes, we want to preserve the traditions! Yet, I could not stop thinking that a chilled Sweet Potato Salad could be Devised, Concocted or Dreamed Up.  The Pecan Topped Sweet Potato Casserole was my inspiration. (please don’t say – pee-can, we say Pa-cahn)  I began a list of ingredients that are often paired with Sweet Potatoes.

  • My grandmother loved to squeeze fresh Orange juice and a bit of pulp into hot buttered mashed Sweet Potatoes. Then she scooped out and filled the Orange Shells with the Sweet potatoes for a wonderfully fragrant side dish. Citrus is a very Southern ingredient!
  • Of course, Pecans are as Southern as can be.
  • Celery is added to so many Southern Salads, and often include the Tops for crisp crunchy texture.
  • And finally because of our proximity to the Caribbean, Pineapple is often used in Southern  cooking, particularly salads and desserts. in fact it is not unusual to find Pineapple incorporated into a Sweet Potato Casserole.

An idea for a Southern Sweet Potato Salad was Dreamed up, Devised and Concocted.. Southern Sweet Potato Salad

  • Preheat oven to 375º
  • Partially bake or boil one large Sweet Potato. Cut in Cubes, do not peel.
  • Rough chop 1 cup of Pecans.
  • On a parchment lined baking pan, mix cubed Sweet Potato and Pecans.
  • In a small bowl, combine 3 tbs. of Sugar, 1/3 cup of Brown Sugar, a pinch of salt, 1 teaspoons of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Toss sweet potato and pecans with the sugar mixture.
  • Pour 3/4 cup of melted butter over all and spread in a single layer on parchment- Roast this until sugar mixture has caramelized. About 12 minutes. IMG_2986

While the sweet potatoes are roasting, make the Salad Dressing.

  • Combine the zest and juice of one Lime, 1/3 cup of Orange Marmalade, 1 tablespoon of local Honey, 1/4 teaspoon of Cinnamon, pinch of Cayenne Pepper and 1 teaspoon of Apple Cider Vinegar. * This is my all purpose Fruit Salad Dressing and is equally good drizzled over seasonal fruits like strawberries, blackberries and blueberries.

Now, chop one stalk of Celery including Tops. Cut up 3/4 cup or more of fresh Pineapple and 3/4 cup of diced unpeeled Tart Apple. Put Salad Dressing in a large bowl, toss to coat- Celery, Pineapple and Tart Apple. When the Sweet Potatoes and Pecans have roasted, carefully incorporate into the Salad Dressing, Celery, Pineapple. Be sure to include the buttery juices. Southern Sweet Potato Salad is good room temperature or chilled. IMG_2987

Okay y’all, I am going to tell you that my picky Test Taster loved this Southern Sweet Potato Salad with Fried Pork Chops! Now, I will admit this Salad will never reach the heights of glory our Southern Potato Salad has with old and classic recipes. Southern Sweet Potato Salad is certainly unconventional, though it is dependent entirely on Southern Soul Food ingredients, so… it might just end up becoming a new favorite here at Camellia’s Cottage! Let me know if you try it!

Love y’all, Camellia

*The results of our Biscuit Research is forthcoming soon! Stay tuned…

Welcome Spring!

Spring is surely my favorite season…In February, we had early blooming Bulbs and Branches- then a cold snap in the last week or so. In the South, we always expect fickle weather, some downpours, a late frost or two and outright craziness. It’s been beautiful here for a few days, so what could be a better time than the first of Spring to get out and poke around, make some observations, snip some herbs, look for the bare spots and make some lightweight decisions? Here’s what I found… IMG_2402

It’s fun to make a Bouquet of Herbs, spread Clippings out, round up some errant Seed Packets and gather up some Passalong Plants.  I found sweet faced Wood Violets, Pansies and Johnny Jump Ups- all edible flowers, they would be so pretty decorating a Cake or even a Spring Salad. The Mint is looking good, the Sage didn’t do so well and one of the new Rosemary plants may need to be moved. I sketched out a new place to grow hardy herbs- and moist or sunny places to put Basil, Mint and tender Lettuces depending on what they like best! The Dandelion’s flowers are bright but it’s the leaves that add a peppery flavor to Salads. The Red Camellia is still holding forth but the new Pink Camellias struggled with the drought last year.  The Flowering Quince has just about had it for this spring and is beginning to leaf out, there are Bearded Iris Rhizomes we divided last fall- so many in fact- I know I’ll need to pass some of those along! IMG_2408

The tiny blades of Yard Chives- are fun to wrap up Tea Sandwiches like a little package or snip across a bowl of Potato Soup. The Mixed Lettuce and Spinach Seeds are up a few inches, time to plant some more and get a few pots of Basil Seeds started. I even found a few faux eggs hanging around! Wonder where they came from?? Of course nothing’s better than to sit down with a cup of Coffee with Pen and Paper to make a few notes for what the Cottage Garden’s been doing- it’s like welcoming back old friends and greeting new ones . Before the Garden Centers are a riot of color, see what you already have… I hope you’ll get out and Forage for Spring’s  Facts and Fun in your yard. Let me know what your Garden’s been up to!

Love y’all, Camellia

*photographs are obviously mine!

Southern Pound Cakes…

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Deke’s Decadent Chocolate Pound Cake

 

Southern Pound Cakes are the standard bearer of civilized Southern Society. You can hold your head up high if there is a pound cake in the house, especially if you have perfected pound cakes made by your ancestors. It is considered treasonous to proclaim another person’s pound cake is better than your momma’s. The Southern obsession with good manners, genteel living and our thinly disguised ancestor worship may be summed up in the humble Southern Pound Cake. ‘This pound cake was mah momma’s recipe and her muhtha before her- why mah family’s been making pound cakes for at least 7 generations. If ah’m not badly mistaken it was one of her ancestors who brought the first pound cake over on the Mayflower or they surely would’ve starved to death!’  We can say that without shame or the benefit of DNA testing – because we know who we think we are!  We know our pound cakes are the best if our mommas made it- the crumb must be microscopically fine, the texture must be moist, tender, baked to perfection and long lasting, just look at the texture-IMG_2291

Southern Pound Cakes are high in fat content- the term ‘livin’ high on the hog’– means you have an all butter Southern Pound Cake in the house! The Southern standard of excellence in pound cake baking is to carry on the all-important tradition of being able to entertain at a moment’s notice. To have a pound cake in the freezer or to send a pound cake to any and all joyous occasions and a Southern Pound Cake for uplifting sustenance during bereavement is an inherited skill. Bake a pound cake and you’re ready for anything life throws your way.  IMG_1581

Bake a pound cake and you will hear– ‘Mah ancestral muh-thas were known to have beaus swarming from all the surroundin’ counties just to get one taste of those delectable pound cakes! Make a pound cake and men will flock around like a murder of crows!’ So, one of our closely guarded secrets is out– Men love pound cakes and will worship the women who bake them. Southern Pound Cake bakers don’t need dating advice or ancestry sites- we just need to have a third or fourth generation recipe for a Southern Pound cake! And…if you have several variations of that recipe- let’s just say…it’s very effective. Well before a Southern lady was rulin’ the world rockin’ the cradle, she was wielding a silver handled cake knife over an array of pound cakes!

We also know this to be a fact, if a Southern Belle is incapable of outrageous flirting or holding up her end of the conversation, when she sweetly says-‘Would anyone like a sl-eye-ce of pound cake?’ – all eyes will rivet toward the Belle with the silver cake server shining like new money. We southern girls invented the concept of the way to get to a man is through his stomach. My own grandmother’s pound cake recipe was delicious plain but- she had at least four killer variations!  Recently we had a birthday at Camellia’s Cottage- the birthday boy wanted a Chocolate Pound Cake with Chocolate Glaze. Months before his actual birthday, he ventured very carefully into the sensitive subject of pound cakes-

‘Now you know I think your pound cake is the best in the world but I was just wondering if you evah make a chocolate pound cake? I was actually dreamin’ of one that had a chocolate glaze on top!’ The answer was quick and sure, ‘Why yes, GiGi made chocolate pound cakes for special occasions and always gilded the lily with a chocolate glaze!’  Because of his sincerity and genteel request, Ah’ve re-named this one- Deke’s Decadent Pound Cake– that boy was proud as punch of the chocolate pound cake of his dreams!IMG_2304

Chocolate Pound Cake is one of my grandmother’s variations- another variation was:

  • GiGi’s  Coconut Pound cake. Grated Coconut was added to the batter- and always flavored with Almond Extract. After the tube pan was greased, instead of flouring the pan- the tube pan was coated heavily with finely grated coconut. This outstanding version came out of the oven with Toasty Coconut on the sides and bottom.  GiGi’s Coconut Pound cake was wonderful during the Holidays alongside Southern Orange Ambrosia.
  • Another variation to the plain Southern Pound Cake is the substitution of Lemon Extract, then finished with a Thick White Lemon Glaze; sip a glass of lemonade or a long tall iced tea with Heavenly Lemon Glazed Pound Cake
  • Still another variation was a family favorite that I’ve never found in any Southern cookbook. The batter is GiGi’s plain pound cake- along with vanilla extract, then for the killer variation- Bourbon is added to flavor the batter. Grease and flour as usual except for the bottom of the tube pan- at least a half stick of melted Salted Butter is p0ured in along with 2 cups of pecans. Don’t get any ideas that this variation is like those Yankee Sticky Buns- this is a Southern Salted Pecan Pound Cake.  A man will lay down his life for just one slice of the Salted Pecan, so ladies please don’t trifle with a man’s affections if you aren’t serious.IMG_2293

I must tell you that in civilized gatherings Strawberry Shortcake is made with Plain Southern Pound Cake, topped with lightly sugared fresh strawberries and fresh whipped cream, that’s the right way to make it. Do not use those dried out grocery store shells or  Cat Head biscuits. To use a Cat Head biscuit with sugar on top for Strawberry Shortcake is just plain laziness.

Gigi’s Plain Pound Cake has 3 sticks of salted butter creamed with 3 cups of sugar, 8 large eggs added one at a time, 1 teaspoon of vanilla and at least ½ teaspoon of almond extract. Sift together at least three times- 1 ½ cups of all purpose flour and 1 ½ cups of cake flour, then fold the flour into the butter, sugar and egg mixture- do this as lightly as you can. Do not use a mixer to do this step.The batter will be thick. Prepare a tube pan with parchment paper on the bottom, then the sides and bottom are greased with butter, then floured. Scoop the thick batter in, smooth the batter out lightly and evenly before baking  in a 325ºoven.Bake for one hour, test with a toothpick, just know that the pound cake will most likely need to be baked another 15 minutes. Let cool until cake pulls away from the sides on it’s own. Do not force the pound cake from the pan. Run a knife carefully around the tube. Remove the pound cake with the top side up. Cool completely on a wire rack.IMG_2288

It is tempting to eat a piece of hot pound cake- please note this is uncivilized, even uncouth; though eating a slice of pound cake for breakfast is an exceptional luxury. Now, you may have noticed that there is not one drop of Milk in GiGi’s recipe- butter is the only dairy product included.  My grandmother collected recipes for Sour Cream Pound Cake and Cream Cheese Pound Cake but she never veered from her own perfect Southern Pound Cake. She believed that milk or cream in any form- made a pound cake tough which tended to make the cake dry out quicker. Also, I know she suspected that a Cream Cheese Pound Cake was made by some woman who had made an unholy alliance sometime during or after that unpleasant conflict with the Yankees. Since it is a well known fact that Philadelphia is the home of American Cream Cheese…do I have to spell it out for you? Though some women insisted that their Cream Cheese came from Philadelphia Mississippi, still we aren’t going to mess with GiGi’s ancestral pound cake recipe! Though I do have to admit that I have had cream cheese and sour cream pound cakes that are exceptionally good! By now, I am sure you are completely convinced that we are crazy in Alabama- well we are crazy, we’re crazy ’bout Southern Pound Cakes in all of their glory and variations!

Now you know those are some beautiful Southern Pound Cakes!

Love y’all, Camellia

*photographs are obviously mine! A big thank you to Deke for letting me photograph a slice of Deke’s Decadent Chocolate Pound Cake!

Big Momma…

big momma in the kitchenBig Momma is a Southern Icon. She’s the matriarch. Big Momma is a force of nature without blinking a charming eyelash- she’s cool, calm and always and forever collected. She’s the hand that rocked the cradle while the menfolks ventured forth to trailblaze, fight, lead or evangelize. Big Momma may be beautiful but she is no simpering Southern Belle. She sails through troubled waters with the dignity of the QE2. When everyone else is jumping ship, Big Momma is bailing water. Big is a misnomer, my unofficial polling suggests Big Momma isn’t necessarily a ‘big’ woman at all- she may be small of stature but all Big Mommas are statuesque in character, generally having considerable but quiet influence.2 vintage women She is connected to her family, her children, her husband and often beyond the core family. She firmly believes that people need to be seen about, taken care of- tended to- therefore her arms embrace the many instead of the few. Big Momma is defined by her character and her expectations. She expects her brood to do better than their ancestors, she expects good grades, good behavior and expects her own to have some gumption. Big Momma doesn’t put up with cheap or low morals which has always led to a bad reputation. She stresses that- a bad reputation doesn’t stop at the offender, it reflects poorly on the entire family. Her standards for herself are high; starched and clean- smelling of an intoxicating blend of talcum and lemon verbena, not a hair out of place- Big Momma has at least one high quality dress, one good winter coat and sensible walking shoes. She sees no use in a man looking seedy- it’s a bad reflection on his wife. Her husband may own the sawmill, but Big Momma runs the family business. That sawmill owner may have originated the phrase ‘Go ask your momma’… Never skittish, healthy as a horse,  never thought about flying the coop-Big Momma is the hen who rules the roost. She runs the laundry, the garden, the store room, the land and the hen house. Big Momma is always in charge of the sick room- she relies on her own blend of home remedies, blames the full moon or the barometric pressure. 3oldladies

Big Momma teaches personal and moral hygiene with religious fervor. ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness’ is her motto.  Rural, Suburban, Inner City- across racial or religious lines, Big Momma insists on clean living and godliness, whether you’re from her brood, extended family or guests in her home. When she says-‘Don’t track dirt in the house!’ Big Momma means more than just muddy shoes. No trashy clothes, no idle gossip, no filthy talk.

If you need to talk to Big Momma about a problem- do it while she’s outside working in the garden- yanking weeds. Sort out whatever mess you’ve gotten yourself into this time while you work.. She’ll listen to your side of the story, but insists on knowing the other side too.  ‘Alright, You’ve told it, you’re sorry about it- next time you’ll know better.’ Neat as a pin, polished with beeswax, disinfected, scented with castille soap, her house is her sanctuary, track dirt of any kind in there- well, it’s just not fittin’ . Big Momma knows what kind of stock you came from without even knowing who your people are, she has eyes in the back of her head, sources all over town- she’s been accused of having radar and being psychic. Big Momma insists on her children being brought up in the faith. And while she might be home cooking Sunday dinner- she expects everybody else to be in church spic and span- hair slicked back with fresh combmarks, hands washed and folded, quiet and respectful.

If you ask a suburban Big Momma what she would be if she wasn’t Episcopalian- she’ll say ‘Why darlin’ Ah’d be ashamed!’ If you ask a rural Big Momma what she’d be if she weren’t a Primitive Baptist- she’ll likely say –‘Ah’d be going to hell in a handbasket!’

 Big Mommas don’t believe in whitewashing anything including eulogies, she knows by experience it’s always better to know the unvarnished truth about things. She drives like a Sherman tanker or sits in the back seat with the kids- arms outstretched like a human seatbelt. Big Momma is philosophical about life and death- considers it to be the way of the earth. She might be deeply grieved but goes on about the business of living, she has had to- her entire life. Big Momma isn’t uppity- she  expects her family to help the less fortunate, otherwise you’ll hear the dreaded- ‘I guess you’ve gotten too uppity to eat grits.‘ Big Momma either has a good cook in her family or is a good cook- her food is basic, wonderful, no nonsense, seasoned perfectly, soul satisfying and cooked in large batches- to freeze, share or send. If the suburban Big Momma shares a recipe- she’s likely to add: ‘Marmaduke Casserole is a favorite at St. John’s Episcopal for Wednesday’s Women’s Luncheon- it may be doubled, tripled or quadrupled. It freezes well and has not been known to cause digestive upset.’  OR if she is a rural Big Momma- her recipe will be no nonsense entitled:

RR and G (Roast, Rice and Gravy)

  • Whole beef roast cut 2″ thick
  • 12 toes of garlic
  • Flour
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • Peanut Oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Large Iron Skillet with Lid

Stab roast in 6 places on each side. Turn knife blade in hole, pour in salt and pepper in hole, push in toe of garlic. Sprinkle roast with salted flour. Brown in hot oil in skillet, turn and cover. Brown darker than desired as gravy lightens when liquid is added. When roast is dark enough, add onions above and below roast. Cook ’til onions are clear. (Never add onions first or you’ll never get that roast browned) Add water up the sides of the roast. Cook, simmer ’til fork tender about 2 and 1/2 hours. Let roast rest, pour gravy in a boat, serve with rice. Freezes well.IMG_2226

*I recently did a test drive on this Roast- look at the color of that gravy! And ‘stabbing the roast’ was actually therapeutic! This recipe is from a well worn family cookbook- compiled by my grandmother’s double first cousins. Lest you think Big Mommas throughout the South were humorless- they were not! Excerpts from the  introduction say,

‘Mom was as excellent a saucier as any found in France; as any found just about anywhere, for that matter. She could be fixin’ the simplest supper any night of the week and it would be delectable to any palate that was lucky enough to pull up a chair….one of her favorite (cookbooks) was Escoffier’s Original Notes. She, Lou, Hazel, all of them understood cuisine…I don’t recall anything ever being spit out in a napkin…they learned about food since the day it was planted in the ground until harvest. We’ve learned to marry flavors…identify herbs and know their uses. Mom taught Suwannee, Penny and me by making us assist her…You see, in the South, dining is an event, an outing, a social gathering…from chopping the onions to ironing the tablecloth…I had to comb the neighborhood for the perfect magnolia leaves and blossom…not too waxy looking…for the centerpiece. Men were part of the process…but in limited usage. Daddy was allowed in the kitchen only to slice the roast or get the ice cream freezer ready…Very few of Mom’s recipes were written down; we just learned what went together from what she taught us…She was the best storyteller in the bunch, and would only tell you enough to be dangerous….I can still see her now, standing in the blue kitchen, wallpapered to match her periwinkle blue eyes….patiently stirring the fried corn saying, after sampling what was in the skillet, “Now, that’s fittin’ “…this cookbook and the stories intertwined is dedicated to my mother, Frances Virginia Garrison Randolph..’

Ah yes, we all love Big Mommas no matter what their given names are-they made growin’ up in the South possible.

Love y’all, Camellia

* all photographs are from AOL images and may be subject to copyright – except that iron skillet full of gravy! yum…that one was taken by me.

Southern Cheese Custard Pie…

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This is settled fact- the closer you are to someone who can make Southern Custard Pies, the better your life will be. The smoothness of a plain Sweet Egg Custard pie or a ragged Coconut Custard pie conjures up the most soothing Southern comfort imaginable. Southerners are no strangers to Savory pies- we love our Chicken Pot Pies, Summer Tomato Pies, Crawfish Pies and our hand held Meat Pies, but one Savory pie has eluded us during this day and age, because somewhere in our youth or childhood, a Southern Cheese Custard pie became an upscale lady’s luncheon or a miniature party food- and it was called by a fancy French name- Quiche. At country clubs or cobbled lane cafes, at private parties- the cheese custard pie was elevated and re-named to reflect the French Influence over our rustic home cooked food to newly fashionable Southern cuisine. In my older cookbooks- I have found Cheese Custard pies which  are slightly different from what we now know as Quiche, and frankly I have recently tried making fillings with the standard quiche piecrust or the old style cheese custard pie with a buttery cracker crumb crust. The old style crumb crust tastes better and lighter to me. Think of the difference between a graham cracker crust and pie crust; then think of a cross between a casserole and a pie, then add eggs, cheese, gentle spices and savory sautéed vegetables then baked to oozing perfection, well I’m drooling writing this! And ladies, listen up! When you call it a Cheese Custard pie instead of a Quiche- well, believe me, real men won’t just eat it- they will finish off every last crumb.

The Cracker Crust is always the same-

  1. Crush one sleeve of buttery crackers (not saltines)
  2. Melt 5 Tablespoons of butter (no substitutes!)
  3. Mix together and press firmly into an 8 or 9 inch pie plate (think graham cracker crust for sweet pies)
  4. Do not pre-bake.

While the cracker crumb/butter cools down, mix Savory Filling. Now, here is where it gets interesting- you can basically raid your refrigerator for the filling-as long as the ratios are right you are good to go.  The constant is:

  1. 2 Large Eggs
  2. 3/4 cup of sour cream or cottage cheese and-
  3. At least 12 ounces of some sort of hard cheese.

If your vegetables need to be sautéed or parboiled do that- onions, squash, mushrooms, green peas, broccoli, spinach are all good choices, you will need one cup total after lightly cooking the vegetables you choose. You do not have to add meat in a Southern Savory Cheese Pie, though most call for chopped ham or bacon, even shrimp- all of which add so much to the flavor. For this Southern Spring Savory Pie,

  1. I made the Cracker Crumb Crust.
  2. I preheated the oven to 375º
  3. Then I chopped 1/4 cup of fresh Green Onion Tops and 3/4 cup of parboiled, drained Asparagus Spears, cut in one inch pieces- don’t measure- just eyeball it!
  4. I used 5 slices of crisp Bacon rough chopped.
  5. I had about 6 ounces of Swiss Cheese and a little more than 6 ounces of Muenster Cheese, which I grated. *Here the measurement is not critical but don’t go over 12-14 ounces.
  6. In a bowl, I lightly whipped 2 large eggs
  7. Then added 3/4 cup of sour cream
  8. Next, I added grated cheeses, the green onion tops and asparagus
  9. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Stir.
  10. Then I added the chopped Bacon, gently stirred into the thick mixture.

I carefully poured the thick mixture into the cracker crumb crust, sprinkled lightly with red pepper flakes, then baked in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. Let Spring Cheese Custard pie cool for at least 5 minutes, before cutting into 6-8 slices, since it is a rich pie. img_2213

With this Southern Cheese Custard Pie, I served Oven Roasted Shrimp, thinly sliced Navel Oranges on a bed of lettuce with a dessert of Strawberry Shortcakes. A slice of this pie and a citrusy fruit salad would also be a nice luncheon. The variations are endless. Let me repeat, the closer you live to someone who can make sweet or savory Southern Custard pies, the better your life will be!

Love y’all, Camellia

* Ritz® or Townhouse® crackers are good choices Photographs are obviously mine.

When Seasons Collide…

‘For everything there is a season and a season for every purpose under heaven’s canopy…’sally-smith-flowering-quince-with-snow

For valiant undaunted courage, persistent love with a magnificent obsession for life in the face of heartbreaking uncertainty as Seasons Collide…sally-smith-crocus-in-the-snow

For enduring faithfulness, unfailing civility, uncommon graciousness and transcendent hopefulness in the radiant promise of Spring…sally-smith-scilla-and-snow

‘God has made all things beautiful in His Time… ‘

Love y’all, Camellia

These beautiful photographs, which I named ‘When Seasons Collide’ were shared with me by friend and amazing Alabama photographer, Sally Smith of www.CampCreekCreations.com The dazzling photographs were taken as winter fumbled with life’s thin veil and the seasons of life collide.  The photographs belong to Sally and can only be used with permission. *The quotes are extracted from Eccelesiastes 3, with additional text added by Camellia’s Cottage.

Winter in the Deep South…

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After the beautiful weather we’ve had this week, it’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, we had snow! That’s Winter in the Deep South for you.  The Seasons here are like a big family, we love to show off our Spring Beauties in all of their glory days, we have loads of fun with the Triplets- Lake, Bay and Gulf Coast in Summer, then we long for the weather to cool off for when the fun, colorful cousins-Fall, Foliage, Football and Holly Days arrive. But Winter in the Deep South is the fickle eccentric side of the family. Snow is like the flighty aunt who lives way up above the Mason Dixon Line, who makes sneaky calls to the weatherman sayin’ she’s coming home but changes her mind at the last minute. Aunt Snow is mostly a no-show, but when she does drift down it’s a surprise visit. She comes breezing in and before she can wear out her welcome she’s gone- leaving us to wonder when or if we’ll ever see her again. Snow is the most fickle weather condition in the Deep South. This sun-filled winter week, the flowering quince is showing out and bulbs are pushing up foliage- like when our colorful sun-loving cousins are around, quirky things happen. It’s because we’re having another weather pattern that actually does happen every Winter in the Deep South- a warm spell right in the dead of winter. We worry about the foliage and blooms- we would rather have blossoms near Easter. Old gardeners tell me that it’s actually a good thing for bulbs to put out foliage- if a killing frost comes through, the bulbs will have extra food to make it until Spring. Who knows if it’s true? Yet, somehow we do manage to have a beautiful show sometime along April or May- though I do recall one Easter when everything was just beautiful then lo and behold! Aunt Snow showed up before we had a chance to get out the bed sheets to throw over the azaleas!  We generally accept that Winter in the Deep South will be like having unexpected company, you know the type, the eccentric, unusual characters. Uncle Duncan Raines is quite a character- using colorful loud language, Uncle Dunc storms in, dropping by for a few demanding hours and then leaves you with a mess to clean up. vintage-burl-and-freesia-2

Or, the unexpected company is like Uncle Burl Frost, who always overstays his welcome. If he brings his sister with him? Let’s just say, we  nevah roll out the welcome mat when Burl Frost and his sister Freesia Butler drop by! Brrrr! It’s a chilling visit! Pipes rattle and freeze when they hear these two coming. Burl and Freesia are considered bonafide nuts! However, the most peculiar and eccentric of the whole Winter clan is- Uncle Gray Ova Caste. He doesn’t say much, so we don’t either. We tell ourselves that Winter’s occasional visits from Aunt Snow are fun, that Frost and Freesia kill off the bugs, we always need a Duncan Raine…it’s just the cold, gray overcast days that dampen our spirits. The doldrums set in when Uncle Gray Ova Caste settles in for a long dreary spell. They say he made his fortune in pharmaceuticals.  After one long stretch of heartbreakingly damp, overcast days, hanging heavy with fog- a friend once exclaimed, ‘If this fog would just lift!’ Uncle Gray Ova Caste is plain depressing, he shows up with heavy footsteps, damp boots and sits there looking dreary. We sit around longing for him to move along. That’s the part of Winter in the Deep South we dread the most, but then there are those clear dark starry nights when he finally drifts away. Without much warning, another warm spell will come along and lift our spirits. The Camellias will bloom, and we’ll tell ourselves that Spring in all of her glory will come by soon. I for one, am longing for it.

Love y’all, Camellia

*Vintage photographs of ‘Uncle Burl Frost and his sister Freesia Butler’ are from old family photographs belonging to Camellia’s Cottage- they were unnamed so Burl and Freesia seemed as good as any!vintage-burl-and-freesia-3

*Also, I would like to say- it’s at times like these that I truly wish I was a better writer and made better use of this beautiful language to convey what Winter is like in the Deep South, but hope you had fun with my folly and unusual cast of characters!

Imaginary Southern Party…

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Southern Party Food, just those three words conjure up delight. I’m not sure why I haven’t had more parties. I think I might regret it one day. I have helped with quite a few Southern Parties, but ‘at-our-house-parties’ have mostly been given for the now all-grown-up children. I do however, plan quite a few Imaginary Southern Parties. Sometimes, I will dream of having a table groaning with pick up food hearty enough for the men but in dainty portions for the ladies. Maybe I will have a neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt, with big containers of jelly beans and foil covered chocolate eggs, a bakery cake with all of that icing, big decorated sugar cookies and Pre-School Punch! Or perhaps I will do something unexpected like have a Build Your Own Shrimp and Grits Party– with all of the extras,

  • grated cheeses, chopped green onions, diced bell peppers,
  • pickled sliced jalapenos, diced ham, halved cherry tomatoes,
  • crisp crumbled bacon, fried okra, maybe even slices of Conecuh County Sausage and of course Tabasco®!

I would add baskets of corn muffins, tiny biscuits and cheese crackers alongside a big platter of fresh fruit. And Oh! the stories that will be told! I love the one about a high ranking military man who impersonated Elvis to entertain the troops! I will have a piano and a fair haired young man whose slender fingers softly play familiar tunes like Summer Time, the Tennessee Waltz or Broadway show tunes; perhaps a lady crowned with a cloud of white hair wearing Red Revival® Lipstick  will drape herself across the piano singing low and slow.  Maybe some of the guests will sway. I’m sure there will be a tall dark handsome man eating a slice of Mimi’s Pound Cake who insults me by saying his mother’s Cream Cheese Pound Cake was better, but I won’t care, after all a man should love his momma’s pound cake best. When the Beauties arrive, lacquered and sleek with twinkling eyes and big wide smiles, the men will hear- ‘Hey good lookin’ – what ya got cookin’ , then they will exclaim over every Brown Eyed Handsome Man. No matter how old we get- Southern ladies love to flirt and flatter. Outrageous stories will be told and re-told, followed by bursts of laughter. Perhaps there will be a jigsaw puzzle set up by a window and every now and then someone will pause to see if they can find solve a piece or two. The dessert table will have a big bowl of Banana Pudding, Pound Cake with Sugared Strawberries and fresh whipped cream standing by; there might be bite size tarts like our famous Pecan Pies. Coffee will be served to those who want it. Small groups will form and a few secrets shared. By the time the party is over, spirits will have been lifted and later we will say- ‘A good time was had by all.’   These are the Southern Parties of my Imagination. We used to call these- At Homes.  img_2098

Southern Party Food is like none other. It can be quick and easy or so complicated even Escoffier wouldn’t be able to pull it off! The best place to start when planning a party in the South is to weasel recipes from the best local cooks or find them in local and regional cookbooks. Southern cookbooks always tickle me, set my tastebuds tingling and are the cookbooks which fire up my imagination, especially the local Church or Junior League Cookbooks. I went on a tear recently and ordered about a half dozen cookbooks which had been on my wish list for years. I always start at the beginning, just like a best selling novel. I read the prologues, I scan the names of the contributors, the auxiliary, or officers. Then I imagine them planning  in soft southern drawls.

  • ‘Now Betty Gene, don’t forget to include that Pre-school Punch you always submit for the Beverage section- we can’t have the teetotalers out there thinkin’ we’re all a bunch of winos’ – or
  • ‘Tammy Faye, now you know we can’t put together this cookbook without your Great Aunt Mary Sue’s recipe for Cheese Souffle, I know she never made them herself but she guarded that recipe like it was pure gold- which, to be honest it was.’
  • Gaynelle, now we must have the recipe for your Sunday Roast Beef and Horseradish Sauce- it won’t be complete without it.’

I am forever amazed at how much drama there is in a single cookbook- recipes which are not for the faint of heart- like Fried Rabbit wherein we must leave to our imagination just who shot that rabbit and where- but the dainty lady who submits it makes sure that you rinse it well- making sure there is no hare in it- uh I mean hair, that all the leaves are rinsed out of the cavity – and ‘Oh my! get the saltbox out to kill the bacteria! I love to dream up scenarios for these formal little ladies who use their husband’s names. These cookbooks bring my Imaginary Southern Parties a special flair. Recipes warn or designate that some dishes are ‘Chafing Dish’ and some are to be served Hot, Chilled or Room Temperature. The Beverages are an amazing array- one Party Punch left me wondering if you would have to use a big galvanized tub to make it up – I’ve changed it up a bit with fond memories of Pre-School Graduation parties, but not the quantities so you can see what I mean!

Pre-School Punch

  • 1/2 Gallon of Pineapple Sherbet, 1/2 Gallon of Lime Sherbet,
  • 4 -28 oz. bottles of ginger ale – chilled, 1- 28 oz. bottle of soda- chilled,
  • 1- 48 oz. can of pineapple juice- chilled,
  • 1- 16 oz. jar of maraschino cherries, 1 quart of sliced fresh strawberries.

Mix all ingredients together. Stir and Serve. Yields two punch bowls. *Now, I ask you what size container would you need to stir and serve all of that for two punch bowls??? I can tell you now it would be slopped all over the place if I was making it! However you can take it from me- this punch is famous! I think if the recipe is halved it would be great for my neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt. For my Imaginary Build Your Own Shrimp and Grits Party– I would definitely add these whimsical appetizers from Bay Tables of the Mobile Junior League! I would double or triple the recipe, I do believe they would be just that good!

Jalapeno Gator Eggs

  • 1 (12 ounce) jar of jalapenos
  • 1 pound of Cheddar Cheese – grated
  • 1 pound lean ground sausage
  • 1 (10 count) can of biscuits

Drain jalapenos and remove the stems. Cut the jalapenos lengthwise and remove the seeds under running water. Stuff the jalapenos with the cheese. Shape the sausage into patties. Wrap around the stuffed jalapenos. Arrange on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Drain and cool. Sausage Jalapenos can be frozen at this point. Separate the biscuits into two layers. Wrap each around the sausage jalapenos and seal the edges. Place on baking sheet. Bake at 400 degree for 10 minutes. Yield 20 servings. * Note: Some recipes leave out some critical information-for instance, these would be whole pickled jalapenos. The canned biscuits would be the flaky type. I would also use mild sausage since the jalapenos add heat, but hey go for it if you love it hot! Recipes like Jalapeno Gator Eggs- get me in party planning mode- real or imagined!  Now I ask you darlin’, which Imaginary Southern Party would you come to? Or, maybe there’s another one…just a few pages away! I’ll keep you posted…

Love y’all, Camellia

All cookbooks were found and ordered from Amazon.com  Photographs are obviously mine!