Camellia’s Classic Cheese Straws…

If there was a manual for Camellia’s Academy of Fine Arts for Polite Society, there would be an entire section devoted to the proper menus for afternoon teas, bridal showers, various receptions and occasional celebratory parties. And, you may count on Classic Cheese Straws making an honorary appearance on each and every menu. Southern Cheese Straws have been the subject of hot debate for decades…every town has at least one sweet soul who takes great pride in producing the very best cheese straws. Okay, it’s not a hot debate, it’s more like a warm undercurrent. Someone remarked recently, ‘Why, I haven’t made a cheese straw since Captain and Tennielle sang Muskrat Love, I never could get them to crisp up like Gaynelle always could.’  I can’t say I blame her!

Here’s why:

  • Some say it’s too humid right now for making a decent cheese straw.
  • Others think it’s because a certain baker never shared her grandmother’s recipe on her momma’s side, I think it was a deathbed promise.
  • Then, some recipes survive, however the oven temperature tends to vary or a critical ingredient is missing.
  • Even the fact you must be in possession of a proper cookie press has mysteriously been left out.
  • In fact, it must be said-  Blessed is the bride who receives a fine metal cookie press at her kitchen shower and-
  • Far more than blessed is the southern hostess who has inherited her great aunt Bessie’s cookie press which had her famous cheese straw recipe hidden inside the tube.

I’m not exaggerating here. Classic Cheese Straws are highly prized and the one who literally pressed on through the ages- surviving even ‘Muskrat Love’ persists until this day! Still. I’m not going to tell you my cheese straw recipe is the best, I could get into a lot of hot water! I am going to tell you that this recipe is one of my favorites. And! I personally love southern cheese straws so much that I generally make a double recipe at least twice a year and they’re squirreled away in my freezer. I pull out what I need, put them on an ungreased sheet pan and allow them to thaw slightly and bake as directed. Winter is a great time to make cheese straws, but as my friend who probably does make the best cheese (because she does have a genuine handed down recipe) told me recently…’They won’t get crisp if you bake them on a rainy or humid day’. I agree. Try this recipe- I haven’t left anything out.

Join me in keeping this wonderful tradition alive- it’s an heirloom recipe. It’d be a shame for polite society if the tradition didn’t survive, especially if you live, like I do,  where cheese straws are always welcome and the sugar cane still grows.

Love y’all, Camellia

 

Camellia's Classic Cheese Straws

An old classic cheese straw for teas, showers, receptions or parties!
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: American

Ingredients

  • 1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese grated= *do not use pre-grated cheese!
  • 1 stick salted butter if you use unsalted add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to sifted flour
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika

Instructions

  • In a food processor, grate sharp cheddar and chilled stick of butter- doing this in batches if necessary. Put cheddar mixture in a large bowl, covered with plastic wrap and leave overnight to soften- do not refrigerate at this stage. Sift together flour, cayenne, paprika and salt (if using unsalted butter). With clean hands, mix dry ingredients into softened cheese and butter- mixing very well until mixture is smooth.  On ungreased sheet pan, in batches, put dough through a cookie press with a star tip in approximately 4 inch strips. (If you don't have a cookie press- the dough can be rolled with a bit of extra flour and cut into narrow strips.) Placement is approximately 1/2 inches apart. When sheet pan is filled, chill the pressed dough briefly to retain better shape as they bake.
    Preheat oven to 350. Bake 15 minutes, checking after 12 minutes. Cheese Straws should be dried out but not browned. Remove to a wire rack to cook. Keep in an airtight container. Makes 4-6 dozen.   

Notes

The best cheese straws are put through a cookie press, using the star plate. If you choose another design, adjust cooking time.

* all photographs are obviously mine. Williams Sonoma sells a wonderful sturdy cookie press. I also found several good all metal cookies presses sold on Amazon. *Camellia’s Academy of Fine Arts for Polite Society does not exist- though it’s crossed my mind…

Pink Fluff…

ED3E9926-A38A-4138-85CF-C2BA010C2FCDI made some Pink Fluff. From the cradle to the grave, for any occasion, Pink Fluff seems to bring colorful cheer or soothing comfort.  Baby Showers, Wedding Teas or Bereavement food- Pink Fluff can adapt to the occasion. We Southerners do love our color coordination- Pink Fluff can become Blue Cloud, Orange Whip, Puffy Cherry, Apricot Dreams or pale yellow Pineapple Pillow. Pastel Perfection. It’s been said, if the girl’s dress matches the punch- chances are she’s a bridesmaid; if her sash or corsage matches the Fluff, she’s in the bridal party.  Groomsmen even get in on the act- wearing color coordinated ties, cumberbunds (pronounced- cum-bah-buns in the South) or at the very least the boutonnieres match the punch and fluff. Tough guys might not admit it, though as one recipe exclaimed – Pink Fluff – but men love it! 

B8F21724-9E24-412A-9ED9-705C06ECCDDABaby Showers may offer Blue Cloud if the baby is a boy, Easter Dinners might have several colors of fluff to match the décor of Dyed Eggs, Easter Bunny Ribbons or Egg Hunting Children’s Attire. Young ladies- wait, who am I kidding? Ladies of all ages do love Pink Teas and Luncheons with Petit Fours, Colorful Punch, Tea Sandwiches and Table Linens in a profusion of pink cloud perfection; always Pink Fluff has a starring role on the luncheon plate, as a light or frozen fruit salad.

BD94623B-0D98-4AFF-AD6F-601FF7AA5C04As light as angel wings, Pink Fluff seems entirely appropriate as Funeral Food- really…it’s the perfect thing- easy to digest, soothing and cool. The dearly departed would love knowing her family is enjoying the heavenly concoction – Pink Fluff.  I am proud to say, I know ladies who still think to include this light and tender dish to bereaved families. I combined several recipes to make mine. 71FC1F79-7954-4018-9C23-F09442231FE7

The old ones relied on sugar preserved fruit, whipped cream, cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk. The newer ones rely on dry sweetened gelatin, non-dairy whipped topping, cottage cheese, canned pineapple or pie filling and often included miniature marshmallows, chopped pecans. Best of all, when the season begins to warm and the air is tender but thick with humidity, no cooking is required for light and sweet Fluff.

Camellia’s Pink Fluff 

In a large bowl, mix Jello and non-dairy Whipped Topping. Thoroughly combine. Add one container of small curd Cottage Cheese. Blend in Strawberry Pie Filling and a large can of Crushed Pineapple with juice. Blend well. Refrgerate until ready to serve. Keep for days chilled! Serves a crowd. 2AE0A37E-D759-426E-9CA1-1E0F806EC6C5

*To change out flavors, use different pie fillings or fruit- for instance Blueberry Pie Filling and Berry Blue gelatin will make a wonderful rendition of Blue Cloud. Lemon Pie Filling, Mandarin Oranges and Orange Gelatin transform into a wonderful Orange Whip Cherry Pie Filling and Maraschino Cherries with chopped Pecans is another classic rendition of Pink Fluff . Fluff may be frozen and served using an ice cream scoop.**Don’t knock any Fluff, Dream Whip or Cloud until you try it!

If you know how to make Pink Fluff – I strongly suspect you were born and raised in the South. If you recognize Orange Whip or Blue Cloud – you’ve lived in the South long enough, attended various occasions where this mid century delight, in all of it’s various forms has been served .

As light as angel wings, Pink Fluff defies culinary category- Is it a congealed salad or is it a decadent dessert? Some use it as a dessert – As one Church Hen from the excellent cookbook – ‘The Church Ladies’ Divine Desserts’ said – ‘It’s a sin to tell a lie, but if you need a last minute dessert that looks as if it took you hours to make, you should try this one.’ Mrs. Nuntiata Buck’s* version is called Cherry Fluff.  Several other versions include Pink Fluff in the Salads sections of their Cookbooks with the admonition- ‘Substitute flavors  of gelatin for a variety of taste and to match color schemes’

Many congealed salads, from Tomato Aspic to Apricot Dream are found in old Southern cookbooks. Though Christopher Columbus is credited with bringing Lettuce Seed to the New World and Thomas Jefferson popularized Lettuce Salads in Early Spring- Southerners simply could not keep fresh lettuce chilled throughout the year especially in warm weather- so Fruit based, cool Congealed concoctions were thought to be essential at mealtime in our hot and humid environs, where fruit abounds to such a degree that fruit was preserved, jellied, dried and even made into wine. Serving fruit at mealtimes was an essential part of the early Southern diet. Mid-century Post War recipes for sweet fruit salads are found in abundance, as commercially made gelatin became widely available and refrigeration was possible, the recipes became more numerous and refined.CD3EE6DF-7AEB-4893-8660-DF3EB073C7D0

I made Pink Fluff. It’s for a children’s party but it could just as easily have been made for the sick, a wedding, the sad, a bridesmaid luncheon or a tragedy. These last few weeks have brought relief, sadness, sickness and even light and airy happiness to our own sweet cottage door- perhaps that’s why I chose to make Pink Fluff. There are few of life’s events where soothing food is not welcome. If you don’t know what to do or say- make a comfort food offering. To coddle and make over folks in times of sadness or at special occasions. Offering a plate of good food is either festive or restorative and I have to believe -always welcome.

Love y’all, Camellia

*A huge thanks to Lucky and JuJu for the inspiration and recipe input for Pink Fluff! *’The Church Ladies’ Divine Desserts’ written by- and compiled through the efforts of a multitude of African American Church Ladies is one of my personal treasures, you may be able to find a copy of it on Amazon.com *Frozen Pink Fluff tends to darken a bit, I think due to the sweetened condensed milk and is a wonderful alternative to ice cream. *All photographs are obviously mine.