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.
Though the Larousse Gastronomique is considered by many the final court of authority on Gallic cuisine, the monumental work is not without an occasional chink in its venerable armor. One albeit small perforation involves its recipe for a remoulade, which calls for a cup of mayonnaise with two tablespoons mixed herbs (parsley, chives, chervil and tarragon), one tablespoon drained capers, two finely diced cornichons and a few drops of anchovy essence (optional). No doubt this mixture is savory, subtle and delicious, but let us note that the Librairie Larousse was a Parisian publishing house specializing in encyclopedias and dictionaries, and as such I find it odd (I can’t quite call it inaccurate) that this recipe ignores the origins of the word “rémoulade” itself, which is derived from a dialectal French term, rémola, with origins in the Latin word for horseradish, armoracea. Given this classical precedent, I find it altogether appropriate that any recipe for a remoulade, be it white, red or green (yes, children, there is a green remoulade, made by adding spinach) should include horseradish, and anchovy oil is a necessary accent as well.
Calhoun County provides north Mississippi with a bucolic idyll between the burgeoning metro areas of Tupelo and Grenada. The Skuna and Yalobusha Rivers run east to west through Calhoun at equal distance into the Yazoo via the Tallahatchie, so geographically the county is divided into thirds. The land is typical of north central Mississippi; rolling wooded hills creased by bottomlands. Given the proximity to Oxford, the county provides a model (if not original) of Yoknapatawpha, but the county seat Pittsboro is sleepy village, contrary to Faulkner’s bustling Jefferson. Pittsboro–the smallest county seat in the state of Mississippi, both in population (212) and in area (one square mile)–sits atop a ridge of hills that marks the southern edge of the Skuna River Valley. To the south, the land slopes in a more leisurely manner to the Yalobusha River just south of Vardaman, Derma and Calhoun City.
Jo Brans is a member of the Reid family, which has lived in Pittsboro for time out of mind. Brans’ writings have explored many subjects, most in a scholarly vein, but Feast Here Awhile is a thoughtful examination of the changes in American cuisine from the 50s to the 90s.
Feast Here Awhile (the title, by the way, is taken from Shakespeare’s Pericles, I,iv,107) is the story of her own culinary coming of age that takes her from the gentle hills of north Mississippi to Belhaven College in Jackson (which was strictly for young ladies until the year after she graduated in 1955), to various locations in Texas, Minnesota and, finally, New York City as well as through two marriages, one to an American journalist, the other to a Dutch academic. Brans moves from her mother’s kitchen through college cafeterias, Texas eateries and European fare on to DeNiro’s TriBeCa Grill in NYC.
She also moves through (predictably, since the book has a pronounced literary bent) Child, Beard and Rosso, managing to mention Proust, Welty and Kerouac on the way. Indeed, Brans is somewhat of a compulsive name-dropper, both of the famous and the near-famous, but I was infinitely proud of her for managing to squeeze in Ernie Mickler and his wonderful White Trash Cooking. In short, Feast Here Awhile is a personal encapsulation of the American culinary experience in the second half of the twentieth century, and a compelling read from any standpoint. It helps, of course, to be up on the literature, culinary and otherwise, but Brans is an excellent writer and rarely boring. I would recommend this book for any Southerner interested in food and cooking, more specifically Mississippians of that bent and particularly the good people of Calhoun County itself.
In preparation for this article on her, I attempted to get in touch with Brans for an interview, but countless attempts to discover her publisher or literary agent failed. Finally my friend Michelle Hudson, who heads up the reference department at the Welty Library asked, “Have you tried the phone book?” Well, no. Sure enough, in minutes Michelle gave me a number to call. When I did, early on a Saturday evening, a polite young man answered the phone and said he’d pass my message on to Jo. Within an hour Ms. Brans called. After making sure I was from Calhoun County (that didn’t take long at all) we chatted. She said she’d think about my request and let me know. Some three days later, I received her reply. I reproduce it here as a testament to her talent as a writer and her graciousness as a lady.
After serious reflection, I have decided that the project you propose is not for me. I enjoyed writing Feast Here Awhile. I am pleased to find that it has found favor with readers, including, especially, you. Many folks, over the years since its publication, have looked me up (“on purpose,” as we Southerners say) to offer thanks and to relate their own pleasures at the table. I would have had material for several sequels.
But no, I thought, and think, not. Essentially I have said in Feast what I have to say about the changes in American eating over the last five or six decades. It’s all there, from the joys of good home cooking and the family dinner table to the more complicated pleasures of Julia Child and those whom she terrified, taught, and liberated–usually all three–and beyond.
Feast Here Awhile is also a personal odyssey, if that’s not too highfaluting a term for just growing up. I ate my way from childhood in a small Southern town through various stops along the road to life in New York City, and recorded the trip, hit or miss, in “The Food Book,” which became Feast. Though food was the focus, I was always aware as I typed away that I was recording the arc of my own life. No news for either of us there: that’s what writers do.
Jesse, I’m flattered that you want to work with me, but don’t be content to retread. I really like your piece about Sambo Mockbee and I suspect, from our brief communication, that you want to be a writer, not an editor. If I’m right, cut loose. My way in was food. Maybe yours is food, too, but your food, not mine. Find your own way in. Tell your story. And send me a copy when the book comes out.
Good luck and God bless,
Thanks, Jo. I will.
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.
Some consider the family a basic building block of society, nests that nurture civility and tolerance, but we all know they’re hotbeds of contention. If you’re lucky and manage to stay out of court most of the time, the strife is petty; just last week I created a tempest in my genetic teapot over pickled peaches.
We’d been having a carefree back-and-forth online discussion on our family website about a traditional holiday meal when I oh-so-casually mentioned that a cold plate featuring stuffed celery, trimmed green onions, black olives and pickled peaches always appeared on our table. The pit hit the fan when a younger relative professed that she had no idea what pickled peaches were, much less what they taste like, to which I expressed an excessive degree of shock and dismay., and before I could sit sideways to assess my position I was in a pickle myself. Another relative called me “a snooty old know-it-all”, another chimed in with “Mr. High-and-Mighty” and after that it was a “jump on Jesse” free -for-all employing much rude language. I managed to remain calm, confident that my modesty and self-effacement are legendary.
Pickled peaches are perfect for any holiday table or used as you might any canned peach in cobblers, cakes or in ice cream. Select the smallest fresh cling peaches you can find. It doesn’t matter if they’re a little bit green; in fact, you shouldn’t use peaches that are soft and ripe enough to eat out of hand because they tend to fall apart when moved. Wash peaches, dropping them for about two minutes in briskly boiling water to loosen the skins and then peel. For every four pounds of peaches, combine 3 cups sugar and 2 cups vinegar, add two pieces of stick cinnamon broken into 2-inch pieces and two teaspoons whole cloves. Heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture is bubbling. Pack peaches into sterilized quart jars, add hot spiced syrup (with enough water if needed to cover) seal tightly immediately and process for 10 minutes in a hot water bath. Wait at least a week before serving.
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.
When Andy Nicholas found a pepper plant someone had placed in a sunny corner of his tiny new garden, two things occurred to him.
His first thought was that his mother had been over again. Andy’s mother, having endured the discomfort and uncertainty of having her youngest son living half a world away, seemed determined to make Andy feel very much back at home, but of course with the proper sort of distance the mother of a 30 year old should have; she would not, for instance, come to his house unannounced, neither would she make arrangements for deliveries of such things as blankets or towels or good stout socks to be made unless Andy had been duly informed. Admittedly, gardening was somewhat of a stretch for her, who was usually too busy with her classes in theology at a local college to bother, but she had been known to throw a few bulbs into a scanty pot.
His second thought was far from maternal. No, what sprang to mind was the recent memory of a night on the back porch with lights off, moon shining, music softly playing, a glass of deep red wine in his hand and the image of a smiling ruddy bearded face seen in the shrubs beyond the fence that disappeared with a wink back into the shadows. At first he was perturbed, but the face seemed benevolent so he brushed it off. Still the image lingered. A connoisseur of such things, Andy recognized the pepper as a potent variety with beautiful fruit, and he cared for it well. The plant thrived as the summer wore on and Andy became more involved in turning the old house into a home.
Andy, an architect, had put down roots in an old, run-down neighborhood with an eye to help promote a renewal. He didn’t see himself as a visionary; instead, he assured himself daily that his idea of making things better in his hometown a fair enough objective for anyone, and he was a strong young man with a good heart. So when he bought the house on Noah Street, he was hoping to bring new life to an old neighborhood come to hard times. That he was making a life for himself somehow never occurred to him. Noah Street was named after the nickname for librarian Ruth Newsome Ark at a local parochial college who taught eventual Mayor Larry Wade Davis the Dewey Decimal System in 1956. Larry got a law degree shortly afterwards and began a rocky career in politics that ended abruptly in a gruesome incident involving a four-wheeler and a goat in 1988, but when the city absorbed two square miles in the mid-70s, Mayor Davis made sure a street was named in Miss Ark’s honor. Davis, a good Methodist, was certain she’d appreciate it, even as dead as she was by then.
Noah Street connects on the west to Harris Street, a former venue of lights, music and vice that after fifty years of decay and neglect had become the focus of an urban renewal project, the Harris Street Project, which for over a decade had kindled hopes for a city-wide economic revival, yet despite a great deal of ballyhoo and no small amount of public funding, the project always seemed to become bogged down in delays, and public as well as corporate confidence had waned considerably.
Andy purchased the house on Noah not because he had faith that the Harris Street Project would come to fruition and the house would eventually increase in value. Andy bought the house because he wanted a place he could transform into a dwelling that embodied the architectural ideals he held dear as well as a place for a home and in time a family. The prospects of Harris Street becoming a busy commercial venue seemed remote to Andy, who felt that the historic old neighborhood could benefit more from an influx of young professionals who would purchase properties and improve them, turning the neighborhood into a residential area that would in turn attract businesses more suited for sustenance than entertainment. This was Andy’s dream: to see the heart of the city he adored beating once again, enlivened by the love of a people for the place they called home.
Though the Harris Street Project had languished, its revival continued to act as a focus for public hope in a revitalization of downtown Jacktown, and every election saw a revival of plans for the project’s future that fit neatly into whatever other agendas local politicians had in mind.
Andy’s vision of the Harris Street neighborhood ran at odds with that of Benny Strokes, a black politico who had used the Harris Street project as a tool for support for over a decade and a half. The people who continually voted Benny into public office both in Jacktown and Heinz County were among the poorest people in the country, people who had endured decades of discrimination and poverty. Their hardships had made them mistrustful of even the most well-meaning of outsiders, and they looked upon white people with an embedded sense of suspicion. But instead of cultivating a sense of reconciliation as most other politicians in Jacktown, who were aware that a divided electorate results in stymied and unproductive public policy, Benny Strokes deliberately kept his voters in a continual state of agitation and alienation, frequently exhorting them to vote for him because he was their champion in the face of a hostile and beleaguering local government, playing on their paranoia of those in power. To the more informed public, Strokes appeared as nothing less than a buffoonish demagogue, but to the people who voted him into office again and again, he was their shield against the encroachments of the rapacious rich.
With his political pull, Strokes had continually funneled the funds appropriated to Harris Street into the hands of his select crew of cronies who owned paper enterprises involving various aspects of construction or consultations on the history and culture of the area. Little was achieved, and the money rapidly disappeared into private pockets, leaving the street itself a broken avenue of decaying buildings with handsome street lights that were never lit and a handful of businesses struggling against the restrictions imposed upon the development. Strokes himself had an office on Harris Street, a simple brick building filled with lavish furniture and young, pretty interns who quickly learned that the best way to keep their jobs was to dress provocatively and not spurn the advances of the grossly obese Strokes, who was at that moment shouting into his phone to Moore Dimm while his massive paw massaged the generous breast of his secretary.
“You better get Henry on the phone. I ain’t in no mood to mess round with you, and Henry got a obligation to me he better live up with. If I don’t get that money for to rebuild the Munson store, he’s gonna be out on his ass like yesterday’s bucket of chicken.”
Dimm hesitated, hating the circumstances that had brought into an imbroglio between the mayor and the city’s most influential and ruthless ward politician. Dimm closed his eyes, counted to five and said, “Councilman Strokes, we submitted the new budget proposal for the Harris Street Project to HUD two months ago. Now, I don’t have to remind you how slow the federal government is on approval for funding. The deadline is in July, but we hope to hear something before then, and the minute we do, Mayor Jackson will be on the phone to you with congratulations.”
“And just what the hell am I gonna do in the meantime?” Strokes shouted. “These people are poor, they’re starving, they’re having to struggle just to make ends meet while you sit in your air-conditioned office jerkin’ off and getting your ass waxed by some trucker from Pelahatchie. I know damn well Henry’s got half a million dollars in a slush fund, and if he don’t cough up a hundred thousand for me to grease some palms, I’m gonna call up your friend August Emerald and tell her to start singing.”
Dimm shuddered. August “Gussie” Emerald was the proprietress of the last bordello in the city. Her wares were varied, her locations discreet, and her clientele included many people of note, including the mayor and Dimm himself. Gussie also happened to be Strokes’ aunt, which had been an immeasurable asset to his political career, since early on Strokes had discovered that blackmail was a powerful tool for advancement when his aunt told him that his opponent in his first race for office enjoyed the attentions of a bevy of young ladies with a very expensive collection of leather underclothing.
“Let me see what I can do, Councilman,” Dimm said. Strokes hung up the phone, chuckled and told his secretary to undress.
(All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.)