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.

Pepper Vinegar

Throughout much of the nation exists an erroneous notion that the quintessential Southern hot sauce is a Tabasco-type mash, but restaurants in the Mid-South usually offer such a red sauce as well as a shaker of pepper vinegar, which most find essential to a serving of greens and for some such as me of peas as well. Pepper vinegar can be used in as many ways as you can conceive short of a cake, and to make it you need no more than a glass container filled with peppers and hot vinegar, a bit of salt, a bit of sugar if you like, an optional drop of olive oil for more kick and a lid. Pepper vinegar ages beautifully, and you can infuse the peppers with more vinegar (no heating required) once you’ve used the first batch.

Mississippi’s Ark of Taste

The Ark of Taste is an online catalogue developed and maintained by the Slow Food Foundation that is growing day by day, gathering alerts from people who see the flavors of their childhood disappear, taking with them a piece of the culture and history of which they are a part. The Ark collects small-scale quality productions that belong to the cultures, history and traditions of the entire planet: an extraordinary heritage of fruits, vegetables, animal breeds, cheeses, breads, sweets and cured meat. The Ark was created to point out the existence of these products, draw attention to the risk of their extinction within a few generations and to invite everyone to take action to help protect them. In some cases this might be by buying and consuming them, in some by telling their story and supporting their producers, and in others, such as the case of endangered wild species, this might mean eating less or none of them in order to preserve them and favor their reproduction. Here are a selection of foods listed on the Ark with links to the site that most Mississippians will find familiar and some surprising; I was particularly intrigued by the Piney Woods Cattle, the Cotton Patch Goose, the White African Sorghum and the White Velvet Okra. As a Calhoun County native, I’m of course including the two heirloom sweet potato varieties listed.

American Native Pecan
American Paddlefish
American Persimmon
Bradford Watermelon
Cotton Patch Goose
Hayman Sweet Potato
Louisiana Mirlitron
Mississippi Silver Hull Bean
Moon and Stars Watermelon
Nancy Hall Sweet Potato
New Orleans French Bread
Pawpaw
Piney Woods Cattle
Shagbark Hickory
Southern Field Peas
Traditional Sorghum Syrup
Tupelo Honey
Watermelon Pickles
White African Sorghum
White Velvet Okra
Wild Gulf Coast Shrimp
Yellow-Meated Watermelon

Watermelon pickle

Garlic Chicken Rolls

Fillet and pound boneless chicken breasts thinly, spread with softened butter seasoned with finely-minced garlic, sprinkle with diced peppers and grated Swiss or Jack cheese, roll and secure with toothpicks. Place in the refrigerator for about an hour. Beat 1 whole egg with 1 cup water, brush chicken rolls, then coat with seasoned bread crumbs. Roast in a medium (350) oven until lightly browned. Remove secures and serve whole with salsa verde or slice for an appetizer.

Mexican Corn Sticks

You’ll find Mexican cornbread  on supermarket deli buffets all over Jackson, and they’re offered in other such environments across the middle South from Austin to Atlanta–I honestly can’t speak for Nashville or Pensacola–as an option to regular cornbread or white bread rolls. This recipe makes light, crisp sticks, great with any tomato-y soup from chili to gazpacho. (Stop before aspic.)

Add chopped chilis–hot, mild or mixed, your preference–whole kernel corn–do NOT use creamed corn–a little chopped, very well-drained tomato and minced onion to cornmeal batter (use the Martha White Buttermilk Mix), include chili powder, cumin and black pepper. Pour into a hot, well-oiled corn stick pan and bake in a very hot oven (400F) until lightly browned. Allow to cool before removing from pan.

Parchman: A Review

Documentary photography has been an instrument for social reform since Jacob Riis, who focused the nation’s eyes on the grinding poverty of New York City slums in How the Other Half Lives (1880), inspiring the work of photographers who seek to depict history as well as comment on society. A branch of this genre, prison photography, is by nature dramatic and controversial, focusing on the human condition in confinement (at times awaiting execution) and though their ability to convey the reality of prison as opposed to the projected feelings of the viewer is dubious, the images are inevitably stark and gritty, grim and sullen.

Taking photos of Parchman Prison is like shooting fish in a barrel; it’s a given that the results will be iconic on a documentary level. While it’s arguable that the cruelties and injustices at Parchman are no more heinous than in any other penal environment, this is after all Mississippi’s state prison and carries a particular notoriety for that singular reason. But with Rushing’s Parchman what we have is a failure to communicate; the photos are technically precise, yet without resonance, more substance than style and not edited to bring emotion. The lack of angles, of effective use of light, shadows and contrast is evident; often the quality is purely that of straight-on recording, which in most cases is lifeless and banal, with no finesse and less feeling. The inclusion of text from the subjects (albeit in the form of images) undermines an emphasis on the photographs themselves, leaving us with a definitive visual record of Parchman in the 1990s, which is nothing to deride in terms of an historical document, providing an appropriate companion volume to two significant books about Parchman that appeared in the 90s, Taylor’s Down on Parchman Farm (1993) and Oshinsky’s Worse Than Slavery (1996), but nothing to acclaim in terms of art.

This is University Press of Mississippi’s second foray into the field of prison photography; in 1997 it published Ken Light’s Texas Death Row, which followed on the heels of Light’s Delta Time (Smithsonian Institution Press; 1995). Yet even given the lack of effectiveness in the photographs, it’s reassuring that University Press of Mississippi is still on top of their game; though it has at times dropped the editorial ball, when it comes to putting together a quality product, University Press can and has given Rushing’s photos good framing.

(Photo copyright Kim Rushing)