Let’s Talk About Gizzards

First off, just what the hell is a gizzard? We have livers, we know what they do–and don’t–but gizzards aren’t something an intern has to deal with unless his daddy was a duck.

Gizzards are a bird’s second stomach, the avian organ that breaks down items difficult to digest. It’s all lean muscle and sinew. According to Gill’s Ornithology, a turkey gizzard can “pulverize walnuts, steel needles, and surgical lancets.”

Chicken gizzards are good, cheap, and no trouble to cook. Poach in seasoned water until tender, drain–reserving that beautiful gelatin-laden broth for any number of sauces and gravies, even those pâtés you’ve always wanted to try–and set aside until ready to use . Once tenderized, you can bread and deep-fry gizzards, use them in dirty rice, or put them in a stir-fry. Marinate in lite soy with sesame oil and garlic, skewer, and broil or grill for an appetizer.

Banana Pineapple Pudding

A delicious twist on a traditional favorite. Mix two packages instant vanilla pudding mix with a cup of milk, refrigerate until partly set. Stir in a can of condensed milk, 8 oz. each of sour cream and whipped topping, 3 ripe (freckled) bananas, sliced or diced, a drained 8 oz. can crushed or chunk pineapple. Layer with vanilla wafers—wafers first, pudding last—and crush a few wafers to sprinkle on top. Some people will sprinkle coconut between the layers and add to the topping. Chill before serving.

Sansing’s History of Calhoun County, Mississippi

David Sansing was—and remains—a towering figure among Mississippi historians. A native of Greenville, Sansing received his Bachelor and Masters degrees from Mississippi College and his PhD from the University of Southern Mississippi. He began teaching at Ole Miss in 1970. Sansing wrote about various aspects of the state’s history in eleven books. He wrote this history of Calhoun County in 1959 for his master’s thesis at MC.

Why Sansing, a Delta native (and of Greenville at that) chose Calhoun County, which is in the hill country of the state, for his thesis study presents something of a mystery to those of us familiar with Delta/hill contention, but he give us a clue: “Calhoun County has changed very little in the last fifty years.” Perhaps for Sansing, the county provided the opportunity to document a place thus far sheltered from the winds of change he saw coming swept through the state. We natives of Calhoun should take great pride in having our past documented by a giant of Mississippi history.

David Sansing: A History of Calhoun County

Photo by Robert Jordan

Hoover Lee Sauce

Hoover Lee is a grocer in Louise, Mississippi who makes a sauce for marinades and barbecue he formulated to replicate Cantonese duck. His concoction has a heavy soy background accented with garlic and ginger. These chicken leg quarters were marinated overnight and roasted in a slow oven for two hours. The skin is crisp and the flesh succulent, reminiscent of the character if not flavor of roast duck.

Luncheon Dish

Women in any given society will assemble to sip, nibble and talk about anything they want and anyone who isn’t there. Speaking as an ardent fan of my opposite sex, I’ll be the first to say that the world is a much better place due to distaff parliaments. Civilization itself depends on feminine attentions if not to say machinations, and it’s usually in these gaggles that the most uninhibited deliberations between our sisters take place. Men should understand and appreciate this phenomenon, since when it comes to gossip, the trickle-down theory actually works; you may not know that your boss is sleeping with your secretary, but it’s a fair bet that you have a better chance of finding out if your wife knows. And God help you if you’ve been shtupping her as well.

The food served at more formal klatches of this type is delicate, often to the point of fussy. This is no place for pork chops: small servings of carefully prepared, light offerings are the rule. You’ll find salads with cold seafood or chicken, pasta or seasonal vegetables alongside the obligatory crustless geometric sandwiches. Sweets, with the exception of a killer cake, are dainty and plentiful as are the drinks. I’ll not go so far as to swear that food is primarily intended to buffer the effects of a Bloody Mary luncheon—that would put my life in danger—but the theory has been broached. In the South, pimento and cheese, chicken salad, deviled eggs and pound cake (lemon or poppy seed particularly) at a ladies’ luncheon seem mandatory now, but it wasn’t so long ago that holding one without serving tomato aspic would imperil your membership in the 20th Century Club.

Because of recoil from the foods of the Sixties, congealed salads (like fondue) have become not only passé but proscribed. This reaction is somewhat justified; on any given month between say 1960 and 1975 in any magazine devoted to food, you’ll find tons of recipes for gelatin involving practically every ingredient in the kitchen, more often than not canned fruit, citrus Jell-O and mini marshmallows. But we shouldn’t abandon a good recipe because it’s showing its age, and this is a great dish: light, savory, easily prepared and attractive. Let’s hope tomato aspic is going through a trial period in popular tastes before it becomes not so much a novel legacy but a standard for our tables.

Tomato Aspic

3 cups tomato juice
2 packets unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons finely minced white onion
2 tablespoons finely minced celery
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce to taste

Warm tomato juice, add gelatin and dissolve. Stir in lemon juice, black pepper, Worcestershire and hot sauce (I like Crystal), add vegetables and chill until partially set, spoon or pour into individual (5 oz.) lightly oiled molds and chill until set. Unmold and serve with sides such as boiled eggs, green beans, or asparagus.

Ars Voces: Euphus Ruth – The Mind’s Eye

This is a scanned copy of an 11×14″ red glass ambrotype I made at Poplar Springs Cemetery in Calhoun County in April of 2012. I had been staying in Bruce at my parent’s and decided to go up to Poplar Springs where my great-grandparents (Starling Monroe and Nancy Ruth) are buried..

When I go somewhere to photograph I sort of have something in mind but it has to feel right or speak to me for me to actually make a wet collodion photograph. I may shoot some snapshots on film or take some documentary shots of things I am recording over time but for the plates it has to be that feeling; that feeling of time and place, of past and present of connection. After walking around the cemetery for a long while, reading the gravestones and making a few snapshots with a hand-held camera I decided I would not set up the wet collodion. I got in the car to back out of the cemetery entrance for some reason instead of driving through. That is when I saw this image. It hit me: there it was the old fence I had noticed and not noticed my entire life of visiting there. I could see my relatives’ gravestones in the background but what grabbed me was the fence, the plants, the foliage: that feeling.

I pulled back in and proceeded to set up the portable darkbox, get the chemicals ready and mount the camera on the tripod. In about 30 minutes I was looking through the camera’s ground glass at this image. In another 15 minutes I was washing the chemicals from the glass and feeling good about the plate. In 2014 the cemetery caretakers in their infinite wisdom of cleaning up have totally removed the fence and cleaned the bank off, forever destroying some of the visual reminders of 50 plus years of visiting this cemetery.

Nothing lasts forever; that is one of the reasons I photograph. This plate is not for sale.

11′ X 14″ red glass ambrotype made at Poplar Springs Cemetery in the Reid Community near Bruce, Ms., (Calhoun County) in April of 2012.

Home to the Flowers

The most evocative personal memoir to come out of Calhoun County, Mississippi, Home to the Flowers is described as an “anecdotal history” in Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817-1967, and though it’s certainly populated with folk tales—some of them quite “earthy”—Smith’s account of his life in the area during the first two decades of the 20th century is lyrical and poignant, the detailed observations of an educated man living in a quasi-frontier setting.

Tilmon Henry Smith, son of Tilmon Holley and Fannie Hawkins Smith, was born in 1883 in Water Valley, Mississippi, and received his M.D. from the University of Tennessee in 1915. He began practicing medicine in Banner, Mississippi in 1915. He moved to New London, Ohio in 1922 where he remained until his death in 1969. His memoir, Home to the Flowers was published privately in 1964.

When Smith was six, the family moved to Pittsboro, where his father was postmaster before becoming pastor of a church in Ellzey, where they built a home, he remembers his mother surrounded with flowers, particularly roses. Young Smith attended the school there, which was established by brothers W.T. and B.G. Lowery and T.C. Lowery, who later founded Blue Mountain College. When still a boy, he and his brother started a brick manufacturing business and built the J.D. Richards store in Vardaman, which is still standing. Smith moved to Vardaman in 1901 after his father’s death. He was still in the brick business, but he also worked on Mississippi river barges and as a logger in Yazoo County to help support the family. He attended Meridian Medical College, and graduated from the University of Tennessee Medical School after a short stint in the Chicago School of Medicine. He served as the health inspector for Calhoun County throughout World War I and beyond.

Here he recounts the struggles of the people of Calhoun in the early decades of the 20th century against typhoid and the devastating influenza epidemic of 1918:

“One must realize the primitiveness of our existence to understand. These people had no indoor water supply or toilet facilities. Water was secured from a well in the yard, or a spring or a creed–often a quarter of a mile away. Toilet facilities were at best an outdoor privy in the back yard. Many times, during this period, my first duty upon arriving at the patient’s home was to bring buckets of water from the spring and remove the offal from another bucket beside the bed.

This time of trial and ordeal gave me an abiding faith in people. They exhibited gallantry far beyond the call of duty. Some people had a mysterious resistance to the flue germ. A dozen people would be stricken down around them and they would nurse and care for them all. When this group was reasonably comfortable and cared for, they would walk to miles to minister to other friends or relatives who had no well person to look after them. Some people cut and ran. They used all sorts of low excuses, but it came down to the fact that they were overwhelmed by the solid fear of death. I was continuously amazed by those who really had the sand, as well as those who did not. There were so many heroes and heroines in this terrible tragedy that all cannot possibly be mentioned, but some of my expected friends let me and themselves down, as well as their dependents. I do not remember this with bitterness or condemnation, but with pity.

During the epidemic the community drunk, faced with adversity, found himself and became one of the noblest men of my acquaintance. He sobered up for the first time in years and walked the roads giving help to all in need. It was not unusual to find him carrying water to the sick in one community, and a day later he would be ten miles away cutting wood to warm another family, both of which had probably ignored him in the past. It was just as astounding to find a logging camp lady of the evening bending over the sickbed, tending the sick with all the tenderness of a Florence Nightingale. My dear old mother always referred to her in a disdainful manner as a scarlet woman. I thanked God for this scarlet woman, and learned again that nobility of the soul is sometimes lodged in strange places.”

Fannie Hawkins Smith

Eudora on the Rocks

The muse of fiction is a thirsty bawd, particularly in the South where the icon of a hard-drinking writer unjustly brushes even us most humble wordsmiths with a tar of dissolution. Eudora Welty, every inch a lady, certainly did not fall into this rough-hewn category. Nonetheless, I have it on good authority that Welty and her friend Charlotte Capers, a Jackson historian, wit and essayist, were often to be found ensconced in Eudora’s home on Pinehurst with a bottle of Old Crow, and other guests are rumored.  (The same authority relays that Welty later became a convert to Maker’s Mark, which she took it on the rocks with a splash of water.)

Eudora lived to a ripe old age, garnering laurels all the way. In her youth, she worked for the short-lived (1935-39) Federal Writer’s Project. Thousands worked on the project, including several well-known authors, many of them women. Fieldworkers such as Welty made about $80 a month, working 20 to 30 hours a week, collecting stories, local histories and taking photographs. They also collected recipes for a project entitled “America Eats”, and most of these recipes and recollections of foods have been gathered together by Mark Kurlansky in his splendid Food of a Younger Nation. Welty’s contributions to “America Eats” are somewhat substantial, and from all over the state: stuffed apples, stuffed eggs, lye hominy, barbecue sauce, a seafood and an okra gumbo, court bouillon, beaten biscuit, Spanish rice, potato salad and, last but not least, a mint julep. Welty writes:

A collection of recipes from the Old South is no more complete than the Old South itself without that magic ingredient, the mint julep. In the fine old City of Columbus, in the northeastern part of the state, hospitality for many years is said to have reached its height in Whitehall, the home of Mr. and Mrs. T.C. Billups. “The drink is refreshing,’ Mrs. Billups says, needlessly enough, “and carries with it all the charm of the Old South when life was less strenuous than it is today; when brave men and beautiful women loved and laughed and danced the hours away, but in their serious moments, which were many, aspired to develop minds and souls that made them among the finest people this old world has known.’ The Whitehall recipe is as follows:

Have silver goblet thoroughly chilled.
Take half lump sugar and dissolve in tablespoon water.
Take single leaf mint and bruise it between fingers, dropping into dissolved sugar.
Strain after stirring.
Fill the goblet with crushed ice, to capacity.
Pour in all the bourbon whiskey the goblet will hold.
Put a spring of mint in the top of the goblet, for bouquet.
Let goblet stand until FROSTED.
Serve rapidly.

“Who could ask for anything more?” she adds.

WPA History of Calhoun County

You can find a print resolution of this document in the Mississippi Library Commission’s Online Resources. It is a formidable file, 1.7 G, but I’d encourage everyone with an interest or–as in my case–love for this place, this land, these skies, to download the copy at MLC just to have it. Dennis Murphree’s introduction is a testament of devotion from the heart of a man who loved his home, his people, and the land he grew up in; the rolling, wooded foothills of the Appalachians.

From the Forward:

“This volume of historical data is one of a series of eighty-two, assembled by the W. P. A. Mississippi Historical Research Project, under the Division of Women’s and Professional Projects, Miss Ethel Payne, Director. In 1935, under the New Deal, funds were allocated to the Works Progress administration for that purpose. The project was set up on a state-wide basis, February 19, 19236, with a unit in each county, and employing about 400 persons of work relief status. The plan was unique in that it provided for the writing of eighty-two county histories instead of one state history. Each volume purports to set forth the background of social, economic, and political history of its respective county.

The original Project Proposal, which has been closely followed, succinctly states the objectives and character of the work: “Historical research and compilation of historic data: Work to consist of (1) searching city, county and official records, (2) interviewing old inhabitants, (3) collecting date, (4) compiling data pertaining to historic, civic and cultural development of locality. Index and condense into handy volumes for educational and reference purposes.

This compiled data will be made a permanent record. One volume of the historical data will be given to the State Department of Archives and History, one volume to the county library, and other volumes to other designated public institutions. Particular consideration will be given to the making of photographs and sketches of public institutions, municipal halls, schools, churches, and all historic sites and places of interest as well as photographs of old portraits of pioneer citizens and famous men and women who have been instrumental in building and developing Mississippi.”

WPA History of Calhoun County

Cathead Biscuits

Take two cups of self-rising flour and sift in dry a scant teaspoon of baking soda. Work thoroughly into this about 1/3 a cup of cold vegetable shortening. Mix with the fingers until it has an almost granular texture. Then, working quickly, stir in enough buttermilk to make a sticky dough. Throw this dough out on a generously-floured surface, sprinkle with a scant more flour and knead once or twice, only enough to make it manageable mass, then roll out thick, about half an inch, and cut into large rounds, at least 3″. Be sure to cut them with a sharp edge that won’t pinch the dough: a Mason jar just won’t do it. Again, work quickly so that the dough doesn’t get warm; the soda has to work in the oven. Place the biscuits together, just touching, in a lightly greased skillet (or a thick metal pan); the light oiling ensures a nice bottom crust. Pop them in a very hot oven for about a quarter an hour. You want them golden-brown and fragrant; brush lightly with butter while hot.