Chick Pea Salad

Toss well-cooked chick peas with chopped fresh tomatoes, white onions, cucumbers and peppers in a sharp (acidic) vinaigrette. Marinate for at least an hour (overnight is better) and serve over a bed of chopped greens with a good crusty bread. This salad goes particularly well with a heavy pasta dish such as lasagna, cannelloni or an Alfredo.

Squash Crust Pizza

This recipe from Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook has a wonderful texture and flavor. Though the original recipe called for just zucchini, any squash will do. You can either line a pizza pan or casserole with the crust or bake the mixture on a cookie sheet before topping.

The crust can be made in advance and refrigerated or frozen. Use 2 cups grated squash to one egg (the original calls for a 1:1 squash/egg ratio, but that’s a little much). Squeeze the liquid out of the squash; add the eggs and mix well with a good slug of olive oil and ½ cup each grated mozzarella and Parmesan and a little grated onion along with enough plain flour to make sticky dough. I like to use a little more Parmesan for a somewhat drier mix and add chopped peppers as well. Season with, salt, pepper, a little basil and thyme; I do not recommend using rosemary as in the original recipe. Bake in a medium hot oven (375-400) for about 40 minutes, or until nicely browned, and brush with oil before cooling.

As to the toppings, you can use those you usually like on your pizza, but I forego meats out of respect for the original recipe as well as for Molly herself. Go lightly on the tomato sauce, since too much will make the crust soggy. Bake pizza in a hot oven as you would any other.

Mickler’s Revolt

By 1986 publishing was already wedded to celebrity so much so that the best-selling cookbook that year was by “The Frugal Gourmet”, an ordained minister who was convicted of molesting teenage boys some years later. But Smith, for all his faults, was an international media presence, while Ernest Matthew Mickler (God rest his sweet soul) who in the same year published White Trash Cooking, was a dying man with a vision.

Ernie insisted on the title, which left him an open target since his simultaneously unblinking and winking approach to the stereotype of the rural South confounded people across the country as well as people on the Redneck Riviera. The only thing even remotely resembling a precedent for White Trash Cooking was written by another Floridian, Zora Neale Hurston, whose studies in anthropology brought her back home, much as it did Mickler, who threw down a gauntlet, insisting that while the nation might profile Southerners as a whole as white trash, the behaviors that earmark anyone anywhere as decent, perhaps in cases even honorable, hold sway in the American South as well, a region that is no more tragic than any other section of the country. He also knew that people outside of the South consider us low and mean, but we are (as they are) a layered society undeserving of their unilateral condemnation; our culture, our manners, our morals all have as much a measure of  civilized imprint as those of our fellow countrymen, but instead of embracing our differences, they persist in considering the South and its people worthy of their collective opprobrium.

With White Trash Cooking, Mickler opened a portal of discovery into the essential character not only of the South, but of the nation; white trash cooking uses cheap ingredients, commercially frozen, dried or canned, few seasonings, packaged mixes, plenty of salt and sugar, lard and margarine in dishes that are quick and easy to cook, unsullied by any degree of sophistication. It remains the most basic form of cooking in the nation,  the cooking of people who don’t read Bon Appetit, people who work a forty-hour week (or more) at a poorly-paying job with little or no insurance, living from paycheck to paycheck, struggling to make a life for themselves and their children. They wouldn’t go to a Whole Foods store unless they lived next door and had to, which is good advice for anybody without an attitude. White Trash Cooking celebrates a significant surface of our many-faceted country, one we should all recognize as uniquely ours and none others. Love it.

 

Dear Kevin Sessums,

Hardly a day goes by, Mec, that you don’t take a swipe at Mississippi on social media citing how “backward” your home state is. When you are brought to task for it, you say we need to quit electing jerkwads to public office and that, in essence, we all deserve the black eye and boycott.

Well, perhaps; but how does that help support those of us who are out to change that? More importantly, how does that bring to attention those we have elected who don’t buy into that bigotry and hatred, such as the mayor and elected city officials of my little town who spot on and quick came out welcoming LGBTs and making sure we, and anyone else paying attention, knew everyone is welcome here? It is easy to criticize from the outside, and words are cheap. Now, you remember Canton, right? Take 43 west out of Pelahatchie. You may know what Canton is to the film industry in that lieu de naissance stamped on your papers. You may not know just how outspoken our film folks have been against this HB1523, but they have been among our best friends here.

Okay, you tell us that there are plans afoot to make your Mississippi memoirs into a film. Some of us are glad to hear that. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about it from you as time wears on. You’ve done moderately well and do seem to hob nob with some of the names in lights. Good for you. They seem like decent people. It is kind of nice to see a local boy living his dream. Now, why don’t you encourage them to come to Canton and Mississippi to do your film? I mean, isn’t this the setting? Why don’t you use your name and fame to support those of your people back home who are doing everything within their power to make this a better place, as we MOTs say, “tikkun olam”.

Put your money where your mouth is, as the old folks here would say. Make Mississippi proud of you.

Love,
Josef

 

Yancy’s Vegetable Stew

Cube three red potatoes and four carrots, then parboil until just tender. Drain and add to two quarts of diced canned tomatoes with juice to which has been added two vegetable bouillon cubes dissolved in two cups warm water. Saute one large diced white onion with three diced ribs of celery and two cloves minced garlic in about 1/4 cup vegetable oil (do not use olive oil), add to tomatoes. Add 1 lb. frozen sliced okra (rinsed), 1 10 oz. can each whole kernel corn and green beans (drained) and 1 lb. frozen baby limas. Simmer on very low for about an hour, adding water if needed. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, add a little more flavor with parsley and basil.

The Christmas War in Calhoun County

While no battles of any importance occurred in Calhoun County, Mississippi, Leon Burgess, in his M.D.L. Stevens and Calhoun County, Mississippi offers Stevens’ account of a December skirmish in the north of the county. The original story appeared in The Calhoun County Monitor on June 4, 1903.

In December, 1862, Gen. Grant’s army pressed back the Confederate army from Holly Springs to Coffeeville where after a sharp engagement Grant fell back to Water Valley, threw out a strong cordon of cavalry and encamped for the winter.

About Christmas a strong company of Kansas Jayhawkers invaded Calhoun County north of Schoona River, spending their fury in and about the village of Banner. They captured the few horses and mules remaining in the county, robbed every chicken roost and hen nest, stole turkeys, geese and ducks, and now and then they took a fat hog. In their rounds they confiscated a barrel of moonshine whiskey near the big rock at the head of Cowpen Creek. They drank freely, filled their canteens and came to Banner, where they took and destroyed everything in sight. In the afternoon they set out for Water Valley. Each marauder had his canteen full of “wild cat” and, tied in front and behind his saddle, a good lot of turkeys, geese, ducks and chickens, and a haversack full of eggs. They left Banner yelling like a mob of Hottentots, all full of wild cat whiskey; more than a hundred strong, the Federals insulted every old man they met and drove women and children from their homes.

A small squad of Willis’ Texas Cavalry was hanging around Grant’s army, watching every movement. They learned of the contemplated raid on Banner, followed in the of the Federal cavalry and kept a close eye on their movements. The Texans received into their ranks a few of the Calhoun boys at home on furloughs, armed with double-barreled shot guns and mounted on mules and horses. The company numbered about 20 of the battalion and 12 or 15 of the local boys. They saw from a distance the devastation of Banner and the surrounding country and saw that the Jayhawkers were tanking up on the “bust skull” whiskey and were preparing to leave for Water Valley. Willis, under the guidance of a friend, hosted his small band of braves in a narrow valley were the horses were tied and the boys were concealed on the crest of a narrow ridge about 60 yards from the road that ran up a narrow hollow west of Gore’s Branch 5 or 6 miles from Banner.

On came the drunken Federal mob, more than a hundred strong, singing, cursing and looting, all bent on reaching Water Valley with their booty. They crossed Gore’s Branch, the headwaters of Long Persimmon Creek, and moved up the road running parallel with the long ridge. When the Federal cavalry had filled the road at the foot of the ridge, Willis gave the command to fire. Sheet of flames leapt from 30 guns; volley after volley was poured into the panic-stricken Federal ranks. Horses and riders were piled promiscuously on the road.

The Rebel boys rushed down the hill and captured men, horses, turkeys, ducks, chickens and canteens half full of mountain dew. They mounted and followed in hot pursuit of the fleeing Federals. Down by Trusty’s and Tatum’s they charged the retreating Jayhawkers, killing and capturing men and horses; their charge to Tuckalofa Creek was a race for life. The next day a regiment of Federal cavalry came out and buried the dead and cared for the wounded. No estimate on killed or wounded.

The Doctor Bird, 007 and a Southern Cake

This is the story of the hummingbird cake, a dish that has only been around for perhaps forty years, but in that time has become a classic, a traditional holiday dessert in many homes and Southern Living’s most requested recipe. Our story begins on the island of Jamaica, on the northern shore in an estate called “Goldeneye” on a cliff overlooking Oracabessa Bay where in 1960 former British naval intelligence officer Ian Fleming began a story (For Your Eyes Only) about a Secret Service agent that began, “The most beautiful bird in Jamaica, and some say the most beautiful bird in the world, is the streamer-tail or doctor humming-bird.”

The name of the Secret Service agent is of course James Bond, code name “007”, a name which Fleming purloined from that of the American ornithologist James Bond, a Caribbean bird expert and author of the definitive field guide Birds of the West Indies (1936). Fleming, a keen birdwatcher himself, had a copy of Bond’s guide and he later explained to the ornithologist’s wife that “It struck me that this brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon and yet very masculine name was just what I needed, and so a second James Bond was born”. He further explained, “When I wrote the first one in 1953, I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened; I wanted him to be a blunt instrument … when I was casting around for a name for my protagonist I thought by God, (James Bond) is the dullest name I ever heard.” (Ian Fleming, The New Yorker, 21 April 1962).

The doctor bird or red-billed streamertail (Trochilus polytmus), also known as the scissor-tail hummingbird, is indigenous to Jamaica where it is the most abundant and widespread member of the hummingbird family (Apodiformes, “without feet”; they’re grouped with the swifts). While it might be somewhat of a stretch that the doctor bird was chosen as the national avian symbol of Jamaica owing to the notoriety of the bird in a James Bond story, it’s a certainty that after Air Jamaica was established in October 1968, the new company chose the doctor bird as its logo. Shortly thereafter the Jamaica Tourism Board distributed recipes to the foreign media showcasing various ‘local’ dishes aimed for American consumers and intended to attract American visitors to the island, as reported in the March 29, 1969 issue of the Kingston Daily Gleaner (Jamaica): “Press kits presented included a Jamaican menu modified for American kitchens and featured recipes like the doctor bird cake made from bananas.”

Food historians generally cite Mrs. L.H. Wiggins’ recipe published in the February, 1978 issue of Southern Living magazine (p. 206) as the first widely-distributed recipe for “Hummingbird Cake.” The recipe features ripe bananas and canned crushed pineapple lightly accented with cinnamon. It is made with oil, and as such is akin to carrot, zucchini, and applesauce cakes that utilize chemical leavening and eggs without the creaming of butter to create an intensely moist, rich cake. It is typically paired with cream cheese frosting and baked in two or three round layers but can be prepared in a tube or Bundt pan. Here is the original 1978 recipe from Southern Living:

Hummingbird Cake

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups salad oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained
2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts, divided
2 cups chopped bananas
Cream cheese frosting (recipe follows)

Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl; add eggs and salad oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. Do not beat. Stir in vanilla, pineapple, 1 cup chopped pecans, and bananas; spoon batter into 3 well-greased and floured 9-inch cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees F. For 25 to 30 minutes; remove from pans, and cool immediately. Spread frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake. Sprinkle with 1 cup chopped pecans.

Cream Cheese Frosting

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 (16 ounce) packages powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine cream cheese and butter; cream until smooth. Add powdered sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla. Yield: enough for a 3 layer cake.

Halcyon Soup

Homemade soups should grace our tables more often; they’ve fed body and soul long before canning came along, and a good soup made with stout stock and proper care is the measure of a good cook. One soup you’ll never find in a can is gazpacho, which rated an entire chapter (“Beautiful Soup”) in The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, and became a culinary craze sometime in the late 1970s. Gazpacho is a king of cold soups, an easily-made, refreshing and somewhat novel way to serve fresh summer vegetables. Historical recipes of this dish always include bread as one of the basic ingredients, usually melded early on with oil, salt and garlic into something resembling a paste. While my recipe does not include bread at that juncture (I simply don’t like the texture), take it from someone who crumbles cold cornbread over a table bowl, bread is a great addition, and any well-textured bread will do.

This recipe is from my halcyon days in Oxford, where I was desultorily studying for a degree, diligently exploring my capacities for vice and desolately working in a string of eateries, among them The Bean Blossom Bistro, the first health-food restaurant in Oxford. It was located on Jackson Avenue across from the old telephone exchange. The Good Food Store, Oxford’s first health-food store—then in its second incarnation—was on the corner next door. Carol Davis opened the Bean Blossom in 1978. We had worked together at the old Moonlight Café, which Betty Blair had opened up in the Hoka a couple of years earlier. Carol and I became fast friends during that time, and when she opened up her own place, she brought me with her. We were very young, and though I like to think that Oxford in those days was an intoxicating environment, perhaps youth itself was our wine.

The Bean Blossom, like so many small restaurants, was founded more on good intentions than experience. I don’t think we ever seated more than fifty people at one time, and usually far, far less. The kitchen could barely hold more than three people. Our menu changed daily, though we could always whip up a tofu burger, or a veggie stir-fry or a great salad any time you wanted it. Carol introduced me to a lot of new foods, including adzuki beans, which I cook like cowpeas, and tofu, which I of course deep-fry. She also brought gazpacho into my world, and for that I am evermore grateful. I remember dipping the soup from a bucket in the bottom of our double-door refrigerator, a sheen of oil glistening atop the mixture. We served it with a variety of breads, and each bowl I eat now is a serving of savory nostalgia. Like memories themselves, this soup improves with age, but sours easily if mishandled.

Bean Blossom Gazpacho

Take two or three cloves of garlic, mince very, very finely and mash in the bottom of a glass or enamel bowl with a teaspoon of salt and about a half a cup of olive oil. If you want to try adding bread, now is the time, but I can’t make a recommendation as to what kind. Add in fine dice one yellow onion, three very ripe summer tomatoes, two peeled cucumbers, two ribs celery (with leaves), and a sweet pepper if you like, though be careful, since the pepper can overpower the other vegetables; a sweet yellow banana pepper works well. If you want to add a hot pepper such as a jalapeno, fine, but I don’t recommend heat; this is a cooling dish, and should be refreshing rather than pungent. Likewise, starchy vegetables such as fresh corn or peas seem out-of-place to me as well, though there are countless variations. Add another teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of cumin, a teaspoon of fresh basil, a heaping tablespoon of freshly-chopped parsley, a teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper and a bit more olive oil, perhaps a tablespoon. You might want to add some liquid, in which case I recommend a vegetable juice such as V8; tomato juice is too thick. Let this mixture sit for a couple of hours in the refrigerator in a sealed non-metallic container overnight. An hour before serving, add more juice if needed, a little fresh chopped parsley, adjust the salt and pepper and return to the refrigerator. Serve in chilled bowls (freshly chopped chives are a nice touch) with good crusty bread.