Roadkill Caviar

This is not an affluent neighborhood—I don’t think Jackson, Mississippi has one of those—and sure, this is lump fish caviar, not sturgeon, but still finding a jar of caviar in the middle of the street, even during the holiday season when people tend to splurge, is not the sort of thing one expects on a morning walk. Did I open the jar? Oh, yes, of course I did, and the contents had been partially eaten but didn’t smell rancid, though of course I wasn’t about to stick a cracker in it and find out if it was still edible.

Even with the heavy traffic on this street, the jar is still there, smack dab in the middle of the road, reminding me of the pound of butter Gertrude Stein said a German soldier tasted like an ice cream cone then threw down in the street during the Occupation, and even given the expense and scarcity of butter nobody would touch it, leaving it for the dogs and rats.

Laurie’s Kitchen

We speak of cult musicians or novelists, and while it might seem odd to speak of a food writer that has such a following, Laurie Colwin does, primarily I think because Colwin has one thing that other food writers in this age of kitchen glamour don’t, which is a total lack of pretension.

Colwin, who died in 1992, the year before the Food Network was founded, wrote in an era when food and cooking were still relatively pedestrian topics. Sure, Martha had already spread her elegant wings, Prudhomme was burning up the scene and of course Claiborne, Childe and Beard had lit the way, but Colwin wasn’t a media personality. Far from it; she was a working writer and mother. In addition to her two collections of culinary essays, Home Cooking (1988) and More Home Cooking (1993), which were inducted into the James Beard Hall of Fame in 2012, Colwin published eight novels and her work appeared in The New Yorker, Mademoiselle, Allure and Playboy.

Colwin doesn’t have a style so much as she does a voice, which some might say is much the same thing, but no: she writes as if she were talking to you across a picnic table or at a bus stop, intimate but breezy, alternately tongue-in-cheek, insistent and certainly droll at times, always warm; somehow when reading her my mind hears her as what the Brits would call “fruity”, though not strained or shrill. “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant” is usually cited as a signature piece, but “Kitchen Horrors” is essential, as is “How to Avoid Grilling” and my favorite, “How to Cook Like an American”. Colwin writes a great deal about how to (and not to) cook for children and the infirm, how to feed a multitude with grace under pressure but above all how much of our lives revolve around the things we see, touch, hear and eat every day.

Colwin’s fans constitute a cult in that they are devoted to her writing as a source of discovery as well as comfort, and acknowledge self-effacement as a virtue in those who know their craft and practice it with modest aplomb.

Colwin by Crampton
Colwin by Crampton

Frank N. Meyer’s Lemon

In August, 1905 a Dutch immigrant, horticulturalist and fitness buff became the first plant explorer hired by the USDA’s newly-created Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction to travel the globe in search of plants useful for American agriculture. The first expedition (he undertook three others through 1918) through China, Manchuria and Korea in 1905 was daunting, to say the least, but Meyer was an enthusiast if not to say fanatic, and the constant travel on foot, the weather, the tumultuous politics and the Spartan living conditions were simply taken in stride.

In the Far East Meyer discovered the eponymous plant now most widely recognized by the general public (horticulturalists are also familiar with Meyer zoysia grass). Though Meyer failed to take note of its origin, he probably purchased the ornamental lemon plant from a nursery in Fentai near Peking. Meyer lemon (Citrus x limona ‘Meyer’ or citrus x meyeri) is most likely a hybrid between Citrus limon, the true lemon, and C. reticulate, the mandarin orange. While the Meyer lemon is larger, juicier and more cold tolerant than true lemons, it doesn’t ship well and has never been widely adopted by the citrus industry. In time, it has become successful in limited local marketing and has become a gourmet selection for any number of culinary uses.

“It Just Stuck”

The Atkinson Candy Company was founded in the east Texas town of Lufkin by B.E. Atkinson, Sr., and his wife, Mabel in the desperate days of 1932, when it was getting hard for anybody to make a living. The company currently operates out of a 100,000 square feet facility and is led by siblings Eric and Amy Atkinson, grandchildren of the founders. The Atkinson Candy Company specializes in peanut butter and peppermint-flavored candies; the current product line includes Coconut Long Boys, Gemstone Candies, Black Cow, Slo Poke and Chick-O-Stick.

Chick-O-Stick is a round bar dusted with ground coconut, the interior honeycombed with peanut butter and the orange hardened syrup/sugar mixture that also forms the shell. When eaten fresh, the candy is dry and brittle, but it has a tendency to draw moisture and become hard and chewy on the shelf. Chick-O-Stick is available in 0.36-ounce (10 g), 0.70-ounce (20 g), 1.0-ounce (28 g), and 2.0-ounce (57 g) sizes, as well as bags of individually wrapped bite-sized pieces.

The original wrapper featured a stylized cartoon of a chicken wearing a cowboy hat and a badge in the shape of the Atkinson logo. The chicken is absent from the more recent wrapper, since it understandably created some confusion over whether Chick-O-Stick was candy or a chicken-flavored cracker. The Atkinson Candy Company’s website states that one of their sales guys just “came up with the name one day, and well, it just stuck.”

Angelo’s Onions

Angelo Mistilis has without doubt cooked more onions than anyone in the state of Mississippi, onions that he slapped on that seasoned grill on College Hill Road in Lafayette County and served up to generations of Oxonians, Ole Miss students and other sorts of riff-raff on his legendary hamburger steaks. To have Angelo teach you how to cook an onion is on the level of having Yo-Yo Ma show you how to tune a bull fiddle; thank you Lisa for sharing.