The following is an excerpt from Paul V. Canonici’s The Delta Italians, a two-volume work published by the author in 2013 that is “a compilation of stories and experiences of early Italian settlers in the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta. Some of the content is documented history, but most consists of bits and pieces of family stories that have survived the test of time and memory.” Those among you with a deep and abiding interest in the history of the Mississippi Delta would be well-advised to purchase a copy of Fr. Canonici’s work.
Salvadore Signa said in a 1976 interview that he was born in 1902 in a small shotgun house, St. Michael’s Parish, Louisiana, across the Mississippi River from Donaldsonville. His father Carmelo Signa worked in the sugar cane fields. When Salvador was still an infant, Carmelo moved his family to Vicksburg and worked in a fruit stand at the corner of Clay and Washington Streets. In 1912, when Salvador was ten years old, Carmelo Signa moved to Greenville and opened a grocery store at the corner of Hinds and Nelson Streets. The Signa family lived in a small house behind the store in a predominantly African-American neighborhood.
Carmelo Signa and his wife Mattea Maucelli had twelve children: Lena, Carmelo, Jr., Frances, Dominic E., Antonia, Josephine, Sarah, Paule, Rosalie, Frank, Santo and Lucille. Son Salvador had a career with the post office. Dominic work for the Corps of Engineers but on weekends off and off-time he joined his wife Mamie in helping out in his father’s business. “Papa’s Store”, as it was known, thrived in the community until 1927. That year the Great Flood pushed the Mississippi River out of its banks and consumed much of the riverside community that Papa’s Store was located in and depended on. The community around Nelson Street was eventually rebuilt. Carmelo decided to open a honky tonk in the front part of the store. The honky tonk became a popular gathering and entertainment place for the black community surrounding Nelson Street.
In the back of the old store there was a small kitchen where Carmelo’s son, Dominic “Big Doe” Signa and his wife Mamie prepared food such as buffalo fish, catfish and chili for patrons of the honky tonk. On weekends Dominic prepared meals for a group of professionals—doctors and lawyers—who got together and bought him a specially-made grill, and in 1941 someone gave Mamie a partial recipe for traditional Delta-style hot tamales. She improved on the recipe and began selling them at the honky tonk. This was the beginning of Doe’s Eat Place.
Big Doe relied on the help of family and friends to keep up with the demands of his thriving new restaurant. Eventually he closed down the honky tonk to expand and stay focused on the Eat Place. The added space allowed Big Doe and Mamie to prepare a full course meal for their patrons including Mamie’s marinated salad and fresh cut French fries prepared in a cast iron skillet. Despite the added space, the eat Place’s growing popularity never allowed for the dining tables to be removed from the kitchen where several remain to this day. Mamie passed away on November 5, 1955. Dig Doe Signa retired in 1974 and turned the Eat Place over to his sons Charles and Dominic “Little Doe” Signa. Dig Doe passed away on April 29, 1987.
Though time has taken its toll on the old building once known as Papa’s Store, the tradition of the family Eat Place hasn’t changed. Today, when you walk in the front door of the former honky tonk on Nelson Street, you’ll be greeted in the front kitchen where Little Doe cooks steaks for the locals, as well as travelers who have gone miles out of their way to make the pilgrimage to this icon of the South. He uses the same grill that was specially made for Big Doe. There’s nothing fancy about it. It’s simply good people carrying on the delicious Delta tradition of mouthwatering steaks and hot tamales.
I would very much appreciate help in making this bibliography as complete as possible. I know it has a lot of holes already, so try not to fuss at me too much. The criteria are complicated (how could they not be?) but please suggest cookbooks from the Delta or any other works (music, for instance) that dwell on the food and cooking of the Mississippi Delta.
Books by Mississippi Authors, Organizations and Others of Interest
Butler, Jack, Jack’s Skillet. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books, 1997.
Buttros, Waddad Habeeb, Waddad’s Kitchen, Lebanese Zest and Southern Best. Natchez, Ms., 1982.
The Catfish Institute (Belzoni, Miss.), The Catfish cookbook : twenty favorite recipes. Belzoni, Miss.: Catfish Institute, 199-?
Claiborne, Craig, A Feast Made for Laughter. New York: Doubleday, 1982.
Claiborne, Craig, Southern Cooking. New York: Wings books, 1987.
Culberson, Linda Crawford, The Catfish Book. Jackson : University Press of Mississippi, 1991. (“A Muscadine book.”)
Davis, Eva, Mississippi Mixin’s. (A collection of recipes used in Ms. Davis’ daily radio show, “Court Square”, a feature of WQBC in Vicksburg). Illustrations by Andrew Bucci.
Delta Air Lines Activities Committee, Delta’s flying gourmet : favorite recipes of Delta Airline employees. (Jackson, Mississippi, 1981) Lenexa, Kan.: Cookbook Publishers, c. 1981. (Note: Delta is the sixth-oldest operating airline by foundation date, and the oldest airline still operating in the United States. The company’s history can be traced back to Huff Daland Dusters, founded in 1924 in Macon, Georgia as a crop dusting operation. The company moved to Monroe, Louisiana and was later renamed Delta Air Services, in reference to the nearby Mississippi Delta region, and commenced passenger services on June 17, 1929.)
Delta Magazine, Delta Magazine Cookbook. Coopwood Publishing, Cleveland, Ms., 2011.
Foose, Martha, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea. Clarkson Potter, 2008.
—————. A Southerly Course: Recipes and Stories from Close to Home. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2011.
Luckett, Lady W.O., My Fare. Clarksdale, Miss., 1958.
Metcalf, Gayden and Hays, Charlotte, Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide To Hosting the Perfect Funeral Mirimax, 2005.
Owen, Renelda L., “When People Were Nice and Things Were Pretty”: A Culinary History of Merigold: A Mississippi Delta Town. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, March 14, 2010.
Pate, Alisa L., Treasured Family Favorites. Cleveland, Miss.: published by the author, 1998.
Pickett, Susan. Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler’s Journey through the Soul of the South. University of Georgia Press: Athens, GA, January, 2013.
Pitre, Glen, The Crawfish Book: the story of man and mudbugs starting in 25,000 B.C. and ending with the batch just put on to boil. Glen Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1993. (“A Muscadine book.”)
Potts, Bobby, Louisiana and Mississippi plantation cookbook : authentic Louisiana and Mississippi recipes. New Orleans: Express Pub. Co., 197-?
Reed, Julia, Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialties. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008.
Sherrer, Rudy, Memories: Cooking with Rudy. Greenwood, Miss.: published by the author, 19–?
Simpson, Frank, Jr, Marguerite Watkins Goodman, Ken Kugle. Accent One, A Book of Recipes: Treasures from Our Kitchen to Yours. Accent Enterprises Inc., Bentonia, Ms., 1985.
Starr, Kathy, The Soul of Southern Cooking. Jackson, Mississippi; University Press of Mississippi, 1989. (Note: “Reminds me of my childhood in Mississippi. . . an excellent contribution to the history of black foodways and culture” –Craig Claiborne)
Wilson, Denise, Family Secrets. Greenville, Ms., 1986.
All Saints Episcopal Guild, The Inverness Cookbook. Inverness All Saints Episcopal Church, 196-?.
Aid Society of the Tutweiler Presbyterian Church, The Southern Cook Book. (Tutweiler, Miss., 1913.
Anguila Methodist Women, Just Heavenly: A Collection of Recipes. Morris Press: 2004. Anguila, Miss.
Auxiliary of the Beppo Arnold Knowles Post of the American Legion, The Delta’s Best Cook Book, Recommended by the Delta’s Best Cooks. Greenville, Miss., 194?
Belzoni Garden Club, All Rolled Together. Fundcraft Publishing: Collierville, Tn., 1999.
Belzoni, Garden Club. Favorite Recipes of our Members and of Friends. Lenexa, Kansas: Cookbook Publishers, Inc, 1974.
Beta Sigma Phi Beta,Zeta Chapter. Our Favorite Recipes. Greenwood, Mississippi : publisher not identified, 1972.
Calvary Baptist Church (Greenville, Miss), A Book of Favorite Recipes. Leawood, Kansas : Circulation Service, Inc, 1988.
Calvary Episcopal Church, The Cook’s Book. Calvary Episcopal Church: Cleveland, Ms., 1972
The Catholic Ladies Group, Our Lady of Victories Catholic Church, Cleveland, Miss., Divine Tastes. Collierville, TN : Fundcraft Publishing, 2003.
Central Delta Academy Parent-Teacher Organization, The Sharecropper. Central Delta Academy PTA: Inverness, Ms. 1987. (Illustrated with reproductions and descriptions of embroidery by Ethel Wright Mohamed)
Charleston Arts and Revitalization Effort. Cooking with C.A.R.E: A Collection of Recipes by Charleston Arts and Revitalization Effort. 2008. http://www.charlestonartscenter.com.
Church of God (Itta Bena or Greenwood?), Cooking ‘Round the World and at Home. (no date given)
Church of the Holy Trinity. Restoration Recipes. Vicksburg, Miss., Church of the Holy Trinity.
Cleveland Community Theatre, Tastes of the theatre. Cleveland, Miss, 1996.
Cleveland Evening Lioness Club, We serve, too!. Olathe, KS : Cookbook Publishers, Inc., 1988.
Cleveland Garden Club, Taste Buds. Cleveland, Miss.: The Club, 1968.
Cleveland State Bank, Our Best Home Cooking : a collection of recipes. Cleveland, Miss., 19–?
Bolivar Medical Center, A cause worth cooking for: a collection of recipes. Cleveland, Miss., 2006.
Coahoma Women’s Club, Coahoma Cooking: Every Day and Sunday. Coahoma, Miss., 1952.
County Day School (Marks, Miss), Mothers Club. Our Delta Dining. Marks, Miss.: The Club, 1979.
Crawford Street United Methodist Church (Vicksburg, Miss.), The most unique marvelous yummy fantastic cookbook ever! (United Methodist Youth Fellowship) Walter’s Cookbooks; Waseca, MN, 1990?
Crawford Street United Methodist Church (Vicksburg, Miss.), Treasures. Agape Church School Class, Vicksburg, Miss., Nov., 1975.
Culture Club of Indianola, Favorite Recipes. Indianola, Miss., 1957.
Daughters of the American Revolution Mississippi,State Society. The DAR Recipe Book. Place of publication not identified : Mississippi Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1967.
Delta Rice Promotions Committee. Between the Levees. Cleveland, Ms.: 1994.
Deer Creek Mother’s Club, Cookin’ with the Creek Kearney, Nb.: Morris Press Cookbooks, 2002.
Demareé, Troye. Kitchen Table Bridge: A Collection of More than 500 Treasured Recipes from Family, Friends, and some of My Own, edited by Beard, Ann Phillips Adamsville, Tenn.: Keepsake Cookbooks, 2000. [Strayhorn, Ms., Tate County]
Duncan Academy Patrons’ League, The Best in Cooking in Bolivar County. Duncan, Mississippi/Chicago, Illinois: Women’s Clubs Publishing Co. 1985.
Earnest Workers of the Presbyterian Church, Earnest Workers’ Cookbook (revised edition). Greenwood, Miss., 1921.
Easy to Do, Great to Serve Recipes. Clarksdale, MS: Clarksdale, Miss.: Mississippi Madness, 1995.
Episcopal Church Woman, “Lead us not into temptation …” Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Greenwood, Ms., 1983 (?).
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (Greenwood, Miss), Christian Women. Christians Cooking. Collierville, Tenn.: Fundcraft Publishing, Inc, 1980.
First United Pentecostal Church (Yazoo City, Miss), Ladies Auxiliary. What’s Cookin’ in Yazoo City. Kearney, Neb.: Cookbooks by Morris Press, 1996.
Forbus, Kenneth. Forbus Food Favorites. 1984 revised ed. Greenville, Mississippi : Kenneth Forbus, 1984.
Friends of the Bolivar County Library System, Recipes to Read By: A Cookbook of the Friends of the Bolivar County Library System. Cleveland, Mississippi :, 1999.
Girl Scout Council of Northwest Mississippi, Inc., Cedar Point Palette: a gallery of Southern recipes. Greenwood, Miss.: c. 2003.
Glendora Methodist Church (Glendora, Miss.), Glendora Cook Book : Hundreds of Tested Recipes. Glendora, Miss., 1929.
The Division of Home Economics, Delta State University, A Delta Welcome. Cleveland, Miss: Delta State University, 1990.
Humphreys Academy Patrons, Festival Cookbook. Humphreys Academy, Belzoni, Ms., 1983. (This is the cookbook for the Belzoni Catfish Festival.)
Junior Auxiliary of Vicksburg, Vintage Vicksburg. Memphis: Wimmer, 1985. [Vicksburg]
—————. Ambrosia: A Deep-South Mixture of Homes, Recipes and history. 1997; reprint, 2008.
Junior Charity League of Monroe, La., The Cotton Country Collection. New Orleans: Franklin Printing, 1972. [Monroe, La.]
Junior League of Baton Rouge, La., River Road Recipes. Nashville, Tn.: Favorite Recipes Press, 1959. (76th printing, 50th Anniversary Edition, 1999: “The Textbook of Louisiana Cuisine”) [Baton Rouge, La.]
Junior Woman’s Club (Greenville, Miss.), Tasting Tea Treasures. Olathe, Kansas : Cookbook Publishers, Inc, 1984.
North Sunflower P.T.A., The Pick of the Crop. Memphis: Wimmer, 1978. [Drew, Ms.] *Rushing winery, cottonseed flour.
————— McWilliams, Barry, Pick of the Crop 2. Wimmer Cookbooks, 1998 (Drew, Ms.?)
The Ladies’ Aid Society of the Presbyterian Church, Tutwiler, Mississippi, The Southern Cookbook. Tutwiler, Ms., 1913.
The Ladies’ Aid Society of the First Methodist Church, Greenville, Ms., The Delta Cookbook: A Collection of Tested Recipes. Printed by The Greenville Democrat, Greenville, Ms. 1917.
Lee Academy, Family secrets: the best of the Delta. Clarksdale, MS : Lee Academy, 1990.
Order of the Eastern Star Chapter 44, Cooking Around the World and at Home. Indianola, Miss., 1948.
Orr, Ellen. A Pinch of Soda–a Pinch of Salt–, edited by Yates, Allene N., First Methodist Church (Shelby,Miss.).Shelby Woman’s Club, 1965.
Pickett, Bob, Brenda Ware Jones, and of Vicksburg Junior Auxiliary. Ambrosia. Vicksburg, Miss.: Junior Auxiliary of Vicksburg Publications, 1997.
Pringle, Mrs. L.V., Jr. and Dozier, Mrs. Lester, eds., The Garden Clubs of Mississippi, Inc., Gardener’s Gourmet. Wimmer Brothers: Memphis, Tn., 3rd. ed., 1978; reprinted, 1983.
Raworth, Jennie D. Valuable Tested Recipes. Vicksburg, Miss.: Vicksburg, Miss. : s.n, 1913.
Ruleville Parent-Teacher Association, P.T.A. Cookbook. Ruleville, Miss., 1924.
Rolling Fork United Methodist Church, Feeding the Flock. Rolling Fork, Miss. Morris Press: 2003.
Temptations, Presbyterian Day School, Cleveland, Ms.
The Shelby Woman’s Club, Proof of the Pudding Recipes. (Collected Recipes by The Shelby Woman’s Club, Shelby, MS. (Notes: “It is the belief of the compilers of this cook book that the eating of food prepared by the recipes printed between its covers will give only pleasure. For each recipe has been tested and tried and adapted to give complete satisfaction of the gourmet giving it. Some recipes are recent originals. Some are copied verbatim with credit given to the source. Some are hundreds of years old, having been passed from one generation to the next and now written for the first time. Each recipe is as the person who gave it wrote it. The abbreviations or symbols used may vary, but are clearly understood by good cooks.”)
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Yazoo City, Heavenly Dishes. Collerville, Tn.: Fundcraft n.d.
St. John’s United Methodist Church, Greenwood, Ms. Let Us Break Bread Together. Hartwell, Ga.: Calico Kitchen Press, 1999. [Greenwood]
St. John’s Women’s Auxiliary, Leland and St. Paul’s Women’x Auxiliary, Hollandale, The Gourmet of the Delta. Ridgeland, Ms.: Capitol Printing and Blueprint Company, 1964. [Leland, Hollandale]
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Indianola, Ms., Bayou Cuisine: Its Traditions and Transition. Indianola, Ms., 1970.
St. Stephen’s Cookbook Committee, Best of Bayou Cuisine. Quail Ridge Press, Brandon, Ms., 1997.
Southside Baptist Church, Heavenly Dishes. Southside Baptist Church, Yazoo City, (?).
Sunflower County, Freedom Project. Delta-Licious: Family Recipes and Stories from Sunflower County, Mississippi. Sunflower, Miss.: Sunflower, Miss. : Sunflower County Freedom Project, 2005.
Tchula Garden Club, Tchula Garden Club Cookbook. Tchula Garden Club; Tchula, Ms., 1958 (reprinted, 1978).
Trinity Episcopal Church Yazoo City, Sally’s Cook Book., Yazoo City, Miss., 1950.
The Twentieth Century Club, Webb, Ms., Everyday Recipes, As We Like It…Deep in the Delta. The Twentieth Century Club, Webb, Ms., 1947.
Tunica County Women, Tunica County Tasty Treats. Tunica, Miss.: 1953.
Tunica County Woman’s Club, Tunica County Tasty Treats, Tunica, Miss., 1967.
United Daughters of the Confederacy Vicksburg, Dixie Delicacies. 4th ed. Vicksburg, Miss.: Vicksburg, Miss.: United Daughters of the Confederacy, Vicksburg Chapter No. 77, 1978.
Vaught, Marshall and Coahoma Women’s Club (Clarksdale, Miss.). Coahoma Cooking, Every Day and Sunday. 5th publication. Clarksdale, Miss.: Clarksdale, Miss.: Coahoma Woman’s Club, 1952.
Warren County Volunteer Firefighters Auxiliary, Warren County Volunteer Firefighters Auxiliary. Vicksburg, Miss. : Lenexa, Kan.: Cookbook Publishers, 1995.
The Woman’s Missionary Union of First Baptist Church, Our Treasured Recipes. First Baptist Church, Boyle, Mississippi.
The Women’s Society of Christian Service, Methodist Church, Benton, Mississippi, Favorite Recipes of the Magnolia State. Benton, Ms. 1948.
Women’s Society of Christian Service, Satartia Methodist Church, Cook Book. Satartia, Miss. 1952.
Wynn, Margaret Brooks. My Dining Generation. Greenville, Miss.: Greenville, Miss. : Office Supply Co, 1962.
Young Women’s Guild of St. James’ Episcopal Church, The Twentieth Century Cookbook. Printed at the Offices of the Greenville Spirit, 1902.
Selected Mississippi Cookbooks and Others
Bailey, John M. Fine Dining Mississippi Style. Brandon, Ms.: Quail Ridge Press, 2003.
Harris, Gladiola B., Old Trace Cooking: Native American and Pioneer Recipes Memphis: Riverside Press, 1981. [Oakland, Mississippi]
Higginbotham, Sylvia, Grits ‘N Greens and Mississippi Things. Columbus, Ms.: Parlance Publishing, 2002. [Columbus, various]
Home Economics Division of the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service, The Mississippi Cookbook. Jackson, Ms.: University Press of Mississippi, 1972. (New introduction by Martha Hall Foose, 2009)
McKee, Gwen and Moslty, Barbara, eds., Best of the Best from Mississippi. Quail Ridge Press, Brandon, Ms., 2003.
Mississippi V.I.P. Recipes, Pearl, Ms.: Philips Printing, 1995. [Various]
Puckett, Susan (text) and Meyers, Angelo (ed.), A Cook’s Tour of Mississippi. Jackson, Ms.: Hederman Brothers, 1980 (3rd printing, 1989). [Various]
Ferris, Marcie Cohen, The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.
Atlanta Historical Society, Tullie’s Receipts: Nineteenth Century Plantation Plain-Style Southern Cooking and Living. Atlanta: Conger Printing and Publishing, 1976. [General]
Ownby, Ted, American Dreams in Mississippi: Consumers, Poverty & Culture, 1830–1998. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
Telephone Pioneers of America, Bell’s Best. Cookbook Publishers, 1981. (Bell’s Best 2, 1983) [Add other editions.]
Trim one pound gizzards of membranes and parboil in lightly salted water until very tender. Drain, dust with gochagaru (hot pepper powder) and salt to taste. Heat sesame oil in a wok or large sauté pan until very hot, add sliced garlic, sliced peppers (your call; I use poblanos and sweet banana peppers) and gizzards with a little water, toss until thoroughly coated with oil and pepper powder. Like many Korean recipes, this one is spicy and pungent. Serve with a light Pilsner.
Sitting here drinking on this river bank
not knowing the time. Days of whiskey fever
nights of cocaine dreams
and I’m out of my mind.
Leaving you once was easy, I felt
free and alive, but your love
was stronger than me,
now you’re gone and I’m blind.
That river rolls down to the sea,
always has and always ever will.
I can’t make it to take my lies.
Words are more than something you talk.
Tears are more than water and salt.