Potatoes Anna

A lighter, simpler version of what most of us know as scalloped potatoes, this recipe is also known as a potato cake.

Most versions involve peeled potatoes, but I don’t find this necessary, justifying my lassitude by presentation. The only trick to preparation is turning the cake to brown both sides. I’m certain some people have the strength and manual dexterity to flip the cake, but I’ve yet to master this technique. Instead, I find a lid that fits, flip it, and and slide the potatoes (with exceeding grace and beauty) back into the pan to brown evenly.

Slice small red potatoes very thinly (having a mandolin comes in handy) and–working quickly before the potatoes discolor–arrange in layers, sprinkling with salt and pepper in a well-oiled or buttered sauté pan. I do not like to add herbs in this recipe, nor garlic. Place in a hot oven—400 or so—until bubbling and lightly browned. Flip (however best you can) to brown evenly.

Serve hot with a hard grated cheese or cold with sour cream.

CS’s: A Jackson Institution

CS’s Restaurant at 1359 ½ N. West Street has for years served and influenced the Belhaven and Midtown neighborhoods. It has a narrative and history reminiscent of an earlier and more tranquil Jackson, and like the kites flown at old Riverside Park, thereby hangs a tale. The life of this establishment has been the common denominator of being located on the southwest corner of North West and Adelle Streets with a street number varying from 1357-1361. It has been an eatery in one form or another for 77 years. It remembers when streetcars ran up and down West Street and the country was still in the grasp of the Great Depression. Millsaps boys would sometimes grease the car tracks so that the vehicle could not climb a nearby hill. Boys have always been boys.

The property shared tenancy with the Millsaps College chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity in 1937.The site was originally the home of this fraternity and was a residence for several families prior to that dating back to 1930. It was originally (and later) the College Grill, becoming Adelle Grill in 1939. It retained this name until 1959, when it again became the College Grill under new ownership. In 1969, it became Hollingsworth’s Fine Foods under the proprietorship of Lloyd W. Hollingsworth and remained such until 1976 when it became known as Everybody’s Restaurant. How it became CS’s remains a state secret.

Pat Boland bought Everybody’s in 1978. In visits with Pat, he spoke of how he used to eat at the restaurant while still in high school. One of eight children, he remembers how much his parents enjoyed dining at the old Rotisserie at Five Points, and “I wanted to be in the restaurant business even then. When Everybody’s became vacant I bought it. I wanted to do something new and different both with the menu and the atmosphere.” He started with naming menu items for employees and customers. Many associate the menu with the Inez Burger. Inez Birchfield came to work at CS’s in 1979, left temporarily in 1990 and returned in September 1997. The original Inez Burger was “stolen from the Jackson Municipal Airport”, where Pat once worked and put on CS’s menu in 1980. It consists of homemade chili, nacho cheese and Jalapeno peppers. Other “name” burgers include the Suzy (bacon, Swiss cheese & grilled onions) and the Joe B (bacon, mozzarella and Jalapenos). Mexican, Mushroom and Everyday burgers, which come in different sizes, round out the burger menu and of course, ‘you can have fries with that.’ Plate lunches and entrees are also available.

In 1986, the beer laws changed from 18 to 21 years old and CS’s became more of a true restaurant than a hangout. The atmosphere is unique. Gone are the college motifs, the booths, fraternity crests and at times – but not all the time, the jukebox. Today the front door and walls are adorned with bumper stickers, handbills, photos, posters and pennants spanning nearly half a century. An estimated 3,000 beer cans from the same time period cover wall shelves with some from as far away as Australia. The collections were the brain child of Pat and two partners who thought their walls should “say something.”

I have my own memories of the restaurant from when I was a teenager in old Jackson and the establishment was called the Adelle Grill. Regardless of the name or time this little cafe was a Mecca for Millsaps students who in the 1950’s shared Cokes, shakes and dreams in individual booths. There were several tables in the back for “fine dining.” There was the ubiquitous jukebox playing records by Stan Kenton, Dave Brubeck and the Four Freshmen (no rock’n roll or Hank in this culturally refined milieu), and that staple of the 50’s – the pinball machine in the corner near the front door. Should a member of the college crowd have occasioned a glance in that direction, he or she would have seen the adolescent Billy Harvey easing a ball toward the “special” hole where free games awaited. His bike on the sidewalk outside and his heart on the game, Billy wished desperately to grow up a little more so he could be a college man and sit in one of those curtained booths with a girl who looked like glory.

Bert Case and his family lived directly across Adelle Street in a two-story brick home attached to Case’s Canteen, one of Jackson’s many “ma and pa” groceries and incidentally, near the site of the city’s very first Jitney Jungle store (at the corner of Adelle and Grayson – now North Lamar), back in 1912.

The prices, fashions, trends and dreams have indeed changed over the years – but we can still ‘have fries with that’ and enjoy our lunch among the memorabilia that forms the texture of our past. Bert moved on to prominence at WLBT-TV and subsequently WAPT; his old home now a parking lot. Hollingsworth’s is now CS’s where the burgers are bigger. The shakes, booths, jukebox and pinball machine are gone as is Billy’s bike and the years he rode it. The “glory” girls are grandmothers now and the music is – to put it positively – “different”. But CS’s has a history and Inez was not the first famous inventor of a good burger to add to Saturday afternoon memories of our youth.

Adelle Grill, College Grille, Hollingsworth’s, CS’s; I’ll drink to them all!

Bill Harvey
September 2014

Bill Harvey is a native Jacksonian, living most of his life in Belhaven. An MSU Bulldog, he has had careers in journalism, education and as development director of the Andrew Jackson Council, Boy Scouts of America. Bill enjoys photography, music, writing articles for neighborhood sources and sharing experiences with friends at a local coffee shop. (Text copyright Bill Harvey, used by permission.)

The Bottle Tree

Joyce Sexton was proud of her garden. It occupied the edges of her back yard along the fences; broad beds of perennials punctuated by flowering shrubs whose Latin names she had memorized;  they sounded like an incantation as she recited them in her mind.

In the southwest corner was a short dead spruce stripped of twigs and leaves whose trimmed branches were adorned with brightly-colored glass bottles. Joyce enjoyed the way the glass caught the morning sun and reflected in the lights from the porch during the evenings. It had taken her months to find just the right bottles for the tree, and this morning she finally found the last one, a bright red bottle on top that seemed to glow from inside. She was admiring its light when she heard the front doorbell. She had invited her friend Sandra over for a drink.

“Well, it is pretty,” Sandra said later as they sat under the porch fans.

“At least you’ve got different bottles. I don’t like those with just one kind, especially those milk of magnesia models. They just send out the wrong signal, if you ask me.”

“I think it’s the best bottle tree in town,” Joyce said. “I know it sounds silly, but a bottle had to really say something to me before I put it on.” Sandra just stared at it with her arms crossed.

“You don’t like it?” Joyce said.

“Oh, like I said, it’s pretty, Joyce. And it looks good right next to the Lady Banks. But do you realize what those things are?’

Joyce laughed and said, “You mean that nonsense about trapping evil spirits? Cassandra June, your fanny hits a pew every time First Prez is open. And besides, you’re over-educated to boot. Surely you don’t believe that voodoo junk. ”

Sandra sipped her gin and tonic and smiled at her old friend. “Oh, you wouldn’t care if I were sacrificing stray cats in my basement, you’d still never get along without me.”

“If you were sacrificing stray cats, I’d bring you a few,” Joyce said.

“They kill the little birds, they yowl all night long and they beat up on poor Lucky.” A little terrier of dubious parentage under the table between them raised his head and thumped a raggedy tail.

“Okay, if you think its all stuff and nonsense, let me break one,” Sandra said. “Oh, don’t look so shocked. Admit you had fun looking for these bottles, and one of them’s bound to break sooner or later.”

Joyce thought about it. “Okay, you old witch,” she said. “But break one of the bottom ones. Use Glen’s putter. It’s over there on the corner.”

Sandra retrieved the putter, walked into the back yard and shattered a small green bottle on a lower branch. At the sound, Lucky jumped up and scrambled under the gate towards the street outside. Before Joyce could gather the breath to summon her dog, she heard the screech of brakes and a choked, mournful howl.

. . . . . . . . . .

“Mother, it was just an accident,” Rachel said. “Sandra shouldn’t blame herself. That’s just silly.”

Joyce looked at her daughter. She and Glen had been surprised when her infant golden hair had not only remained gold, but had also matured into a mane that Rachel merely pretended to complain about. Today she had wrestled it back into a tawny mass that spilled in a shower over the back of her bright blue scrubs.

“I know,” she said. “But you know how Sandra loved Lucky. She brought him liver snaps every time she came over. I think she did it on purpose; they always gave him gas.”

Rachel brought her coffee to the table and sat next to her mother. “Mom, just ride it out. I know you loved Lucky, too. Hell, we all did; except Richard, of course.” They both made a face at each other and laughed. “Cliff Stevens told me he was still wearing an ankle bracelet in Chattanooga,” Rachel said.

Joyce sipped from her cup and wished Richard were much further away. She still ran into his parents at parties, his father formal, his mother always managing to snag Joyce away from the crowd and update his doleful story. (“He didn’t mean anything, Joyce. You know that.”)

Rachel glanced at her watch. “I’ve got to go, Mom. Joe Wright told me I could scrub in on a valve replacement this morning.”
Joyce kissed her daughter and took her coffee to the patio. She called Glen at his office, forgot he was in court that day and ended up talking to his secretary Cathy about the upcoming office party.

“Glen’s just a mess about it,” Cathy said. “And I do mean a mess. He can’t decide on a damn thing, and that puts me in charge of everything from food to felonies. Would you please try to sit him down for five minutes and nail something down for me?”

“Oh, just do what you did last year, Cathy. It’s not like he’s going to notice.”

“I know,” Cathy said. “He’s such an airhead.”

Joyce laughed and said goodbye, went and poured another cup and settled back on the porch to admire her garden. The azaleas had exhausted themselves long ago, and the Shastas were now coming into their own, as were the hostas she’d planted last October. Lucky’s grave by the holly was marked with a shaggy little stone dog and a weathered scattering of liver snaps.

The bottle tree glistened in the morning sun. One bottle caught the light extremely well, a beer bottle Joyce found behind the back fence that had a white and blue label. The light it caught dazzled. Joyce laughed, picked a hand spade from her garden shelf, walked up to the tree and shattered the bottle into hundreds of pieces. She was still smiling when she heard the phone ring.

. . . . . . . . . .

“Joyce?”

Glen knocked gently at the barely open door. Joyce lay on the bed, the golden afternoon light pouring onto the floor and casting shadows upon morning windows.

“Joyce?”

He moved into the room and sat on the edge of the bed. “Honey?”

“How did he get out?”

Glen turned, bowed and rubbed his hands together. “He’s been out.”

Joyce rolled over and looked at her husband’s back.

“It’s been eight years, Joyce. He was convicted as a juvenile. It was not a capital offense. He served five years, and then they put him in a rehabilitation unit. He was clean and sober; he had a job at a Walgreens. He was evaluated twice a month.”

“He just killed our daughter,” Joyce said.

Glen’s shoulders heaved and he began to sob. Joyce reached up and brought him to her and they lay there, crying, while the shadows grew on the wall.

. . . . . . . . . .

The summer office party was never conducted, but as the holidays approached, Glen suggested that the traditional year’s end celebration be held, and to his relief Joyce agreed. The firm had had a very good year, and Glen, as senior partner, always enjoyed giving out bonuses and promotions.

Predictably, it began on a muted note, but as the night progressed, the mood lifted and Joyce found herself enjoying being around friends. As they were driving home, she and Glen found themselves laughing about Cathy’s QVC jewelry and Jerry Wineman’s new toupee.
It was warm for a winter’s evening; wisps of fog were settling into the low places along the road, and the lights from the house glowed as they pulled into their drive.

Glen grabbed Joyce’s hand and said, “Let’s sit out on the back porch and have another drink.”

“No, Glen,” Joyce said, caressing his hand, “I’d rather not. Let’s just sit in the living room.”

Glen looked at her and said, “You used to love the porch. You used to love looking at the garden. What’s the matter?”

Then Joyce told him about the bottle tree, about Lucky, about Rachel. Glen sighed and said, “Oh, honey, you know that’s just ridiculous. What did they call it in college, synchronicity? Come on, let’s build a little fire in the fireplace and huddle up next to it on a blanket with a couple of beers.”

“I’d rather have a martini,” Joyce said.

After they’d changed, Glen settled Joyce in front of the fire with her drink. “Glen, I know it’s just a bunch of nonsense, coincidences, like you said.”

“Of course they were, and I know it, but I don’t believe you believe it.”

“I do,” Joyce said, “And I’ll prove it to you. Is your 12-gage in the hall closet?”

“Sure.”

Joyce retrieved the gun from the closet, along with a box of shells. “Show me how to load it again.” Once the gun was loaded, Joyce slung it over her shoulder and headed out the back door.

“If you stand back about ten yards, you ought to be able to get all of ‘em,” Glen shouted. He smiled, took off his shirt and sipped his beer. Then, with a smile, he slicked back his hair and lay down on the couch. A shot echoed from the backyard.

When Joyce came running back in, she said, “Glen, I got them all! And the trunk is in splinters. I’ll have a hell of a time cleaning up all the glass. Glen? GLEN!”

Broiled Catfish

This recipe works with any small fish, not much less nor much more than a pound. Pat whole gutted, scaled or skinned fish dry–this is an important step–score, and slather with softened butter flavored with thyme, garlic, pepper, and paprika. Place in a well-oiled pan, add  lemons with juice, and place in a very hot oven until fish flakes to the bone. A final squeeze of fresh lemon and a drizzle of oil before serving adds much to the dish.

Letter to Jackson

Dear Reuben,

Now that I’m safely in Virginia, I’ll give you the impressions of Jackson you wanted.

I should say first that nothing prepared me for Jackson, Mississippi. I’m still not sure if it’s because that is as far South as I’ve ever been (or want to be again, to be honest) or because Jackson itself is so sullen and isolated.

The city is frozen; those capable of formulating effective fixes for the neighborhoods of row upon row of abandoned, decaying houses are either powerless or don’t care. An economic riptide is washing businesses away from a city bound and gagged by petty racial politics playing to self-interests.

Even compared to the rest of Mississippi, Jackson seems narrow-minded, divided, and backwards. The city reminds me a once-thriving outpost of an eroded empire, leaving an indifferent government, an inefficient bureaucracy, and venal churches blind to suffering and deaf to prayers.

Jackson is a nest  of grasping, insular people huddled together for safety on the banks of a dirty river where nothing is safe. What should be a shining stage for vision and concord is instead a fetid wallow of greed and dissent.

When change comes to Jackson, it will not come from within, but from without.

Yours,

Timothy

Cracker Jacks

People had probably been eating a mix of peanuts and popcorn for at least a hundred years before the Rueckheim brothers created a magical mix with molasses at the 1863 Chicago World’s Fair. Soon they began marketing Cracker Jack nationally, unintentionally becoming the fathers of American junk food.

Junk food it very well is, but crackerjacks are also a great snack, as junk foods tend to be, and fun to make at home for a party

Mix 10 cups popped corn and 2 cups Spanish peanuts in a roasting pan. Place in oven at 250. Bring a half cup dark corn syrup, a half cup butter, a quarter cup brown sugar, and a teaspoon of salt to a rolling boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in a teaspoon vanilla. Working quickly, pour over warm corn and nuts while tossing until well coated. Spread on a  lightly oiled sheet pan and return to oven, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Don’t let it stick. Turn onto foil to cool. Salt lightly before serving.

Egg in a Basket

Use sturdy bread and a sharp cutter. Lightly brown bread on both sides in a hot oiled pan, add a pat of butter in the center, and crack an egg into it. If you’re feeding several people, you can cook these on a sheet pan in a hot oven. Keep the seasonings simple: salt and black pepper. Toast the hole, top with jam, and serve as a side.

Candied Sweet Potatoes

This recipe comes from April McGreger, a fellow native of Calhoun County, Mississippi, and author of Sweet Potatoes, the tenth volume in University of North Carolina’s wonderful “Savor the South” series. April is a splendid cook, but I find her technique a little fussy. I simply assemble the ingredients in a skillet, put a loose lid on it, and bake at 350 until potatoes are tender and syrup reduced.

The genius of southern food is less in its individual dishes than in the overall composition of the meal. Syrupy sweet potatoes balance earthy field peas and sharp turnip greens shot through with hot pepper vinegar. Crispy cornbread swoops in to sop it all up. Here is a particularly nuanced version of ubiquitous candied sweet potatoes that makes use of that coffee can of bacon grease my grandparents and parents kept above the stove.

MAKES 6 SERVINGS

4 medium sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon bacon drippings
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Layer the sweet potatoes in a large cast-iron skillet. Dot with the butter and bacon drippings, and sprinkle with the sugar and salt. Pour the water and lemon juice over the sweet potatoes and cover the skillet with a tight-fitting lid or foil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the cover and simmer until the sweet potatoes are very tender and the sauce is thick, 30-35 minutes more. Baste the sweet potatoes with the syrup from time to time, being careful not to break them up.

Snow Ice Cream

Combine 1 cup whole milk–evaporated is better–in a bowl with 1/2 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Stir in 2 gallons (8 cups) of clean fresh snow. Mix very well. This serves four or five people.

The Man of God

Commentary by Cameron Abel

It was a cold, wet night in Vicksburg. I stepped outside the hotel to smoke a cigarette. A young man in a heavy canvas coat and muddy boots sat on a bench nearby.

He asked, “Are you a man of God?”

I nodded my head, answered affirmatively. I instantly knew where this was heading but didn’t mind or shy away from it. He said he had a new job down Highway 61, but added, “I need some help.”

“What can I do?” I asked.

“How about $5 and a bag of Bar-B-Q Fritos from the machine in the hotel lobby, if they got ‘em?” I gave him $7, thinking he might be pleased with a little extra, but trying to discretely hide the four $20 bills nestled there in my wallet. I went to get him his chips. I returned triumphant and handed him the bag. He was joyous: “They had them! They’re my favorite.”

He paused then asked tentatively, “If I give you the $5 back, will you give me a 20 instead?”

I soured. “Quit while you’re ahead,” I said, and as I walked away, headed for the warmth of my room, I called over my shoulder, “Good luck on the new job.”

Through the remainder of the week, I was approached by two other panhandlers. The first received no more than a “no cash, man.” The second was a woman who clutched her light bill and said that her electricity had been cut off, and she needed to get a room for her and her two boys for the weekend. She got one of those $20 bills.

It had been easy, as a child, to key in on exactly what is expected of us: love God with all your heart, love your neighbor as yourself. The former commandment is seemingly abstract, but practiced through daily prayers of wonder and thanks, and maintaining good stewardship over our world. But being asked to give, on the spot, in person, always gives me a feeling that I’m being tested by God. Am I loving my neighbor?

My first encounter with a panhandler was not long after my first move from Oxford to the Delta, on a hot summer night at a convenience store in Leland, with mosquitos on the assault, me trying to get to my car before being eaten alive.

“I need $2 for gas,” the young man claimed. I was quick to give then, and the resulting feeling was assuring. It didn’t last. The next time I stopped for gas, the same young man approached. Same request. He didn’t recognize me. I didn’t bite.

About 20 years ago, my husband Buddy and I went to San Francisco. The homeless there cast a pall that, along with the weather, really brought down the level of enjoyment. (One sign, propped against an intoxicated woman, said: “Give Me Money Or I Will Get An Abortion.”)

While at City Lights Booksellers, I spotted an elderly woman, at least 80, pushing a grocery cart filled with her worldly goods. I impulsively wanted to give her something, but she hadn’t asked, and I didn’t offer. Yet, she haunted me the next several days.

“What if she were an angel, Buddy?” I lamented. I just couldn’t shake the feeling.

A couple of days later, while we stood at the counter of a coffee shop, we heard squeaky wheels outside the open door. Buddy said, “I’ve got it,” and walked to the sidewalk and pulled money from his wallet to give her. It was the best anniversary gift that he could have given me.

Last story. Parking lot at Walmart. “I need some gas money. I’m coming back from Atlanta and I’m almost on empty. Need to get to Belzoni.”

“I’ll do you better,” I said, pointing. “Meet me at that gas station.”

He drove a huge truck, one of those with two gas tanks. I ran my card, he pulled out the gas nozzle, and opened the gas cover revealing the two caps to the two tanks. He chose the wrong one. It topped off just after $3. He looked at me and started to move the nozzle to the other tank. I flipped the lever and walked away. Neither of us said a word.

It can be difficult to maintain a spirit of charity. I don’t know how to react anymore. I feel spiritually bruised. And used. When I see my priest, I will beg a pearl of wisdom and a breath of revival.

I know the right hook: “Are you a man of God?”

Cameron Abel is an attorney in Greenwood.