A Yankee in the Kitchen

Jake is from Syracuse, New York, which is the home of other such oddballs as Tom Cruise, Grace Jones and Bobcat Goldthwait, but his people hail from New England. He claims that they came over not on the Mayflower but on the Concorde, and that his ancestors were involved in Greek shipping. Every now and then after a few glasses of wine he’ll talk about “Uncle Ari and Aunt Jackie”, but I know for a fact that his family, while well-off and of Greek descent, settled in Maine no later than a century after my people came to Virginia. He sniffs at my proud Southern heritage, reminding me that his folks used to contribute to organizations that were devoted to eradicating hookworm in Alabama and teaching adults in South Carolina how to read. How he came to Mississippi two decades ago is an epic tale, but here he’s been, and even after all that time, people still ask him, “Where are you from?” It drives him nuts; I try not to smile.

Jake, with a few notable exceptions—chicken and dumplings foremost—loves Southern foods, so in an effort to be charitable myself, I decided to learn how to make good Yankee baked beans using the sturdy bean pots brought back from Maine. I used a pound of navy beans because I couldn’t find pea beans (a oxymoronic ambiguity if I ever heard one), a diced cup of ham with rind instead of the salt pork more authentic recipes call for, and since I was out of black strap, a half cup of sorghum molasses had to do. The soaked beans, pork and syrup went into the pots at noon, covered with water seasoned with salt, black pepper, onion powder and dry mustard. Once in the pot, they went into the oven at around 250. Sometime around six, I found them tender, and Rebel that I am, I have to admit that these are superb; the dry mustard cuts the sweetness just enough to let the beans make a statement, and the texture is close to creamy. Jake said they are really good, but credited the flavor to the pot, so I had to whack him with the wooden spoon. Twice.

 

Čapek’s Garden Prayer

Some know Karel Čapek as a seven-time Nobel nominee, but most remember him as the man who gave us the word “robot”. Among Čapek’s most endearing works is The Gardener’s Year, a learnéd, light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek depiction of the enduring, eccentric gardener, including a “Gardener’s Prayer” that’s almost more of a demand for Eden than an invocation. This illustration from the accompanying pages was drawn by his brother, painter and writer Josef Čapek, who actually coined “robot”.

 O Lord, grant that in some way it may rain every day, say from about midnight until three o’clock in the morning, but, you see, it must be gentle and warm so that it can soak in; grant that at the same time it would not rain on campion, alyssum, helianthus, lavender, and others which You in Your infinite wisdom know are drought-loving plants-I will write their names on a bit of paper if you like-and grant that the sun may shine the whole day long, but not everywhere (not, for instance, on the gentian, plantain lily, and rhododendron) and not too much; that there may be plenty of dew and little wind, enough worms, no lice or snails, or mildew, and that once a week thin liquid manure and guano may fall from heaven.
   Amen

Eden on the Apalachicola

Ever since the Expulsion man has searched for the Garden of Eden, and we shouldn’t find it at all surprising to know that among the many who claim to have found it, one was a bespectacled, God-fearing lawyer from Weogufka, Alabama, who declared in 1956 that “the Garden was in the Apalachicola Valley of West Florida.”

Elvy Edison Callaway was a man of deep faith who fell under the influence of a Dr. Brown Landone, who felt he had a special talent for bringing scientific rigor to mystical problems and wrote several books giving advice to ordinary mortals, among them the titillating Prophecies of Melchizedek in the Great Pyramid and the Seven Temples. Callaway describes his meeting with Landone as a “calling”, promptly abandoned his family, and while surveying his Panhandle land with a tax assessor–no doubt with divorce looming–found the inspiration for his mission from Melchizedek: the rare Torreya yew tree, which Callaway, through the teachings of Dr. Landone and his mysterious “Teleois Key”, declared to be the source of “gofer wood” from which Noah built the Ark. After that revelation, everything fell in place. Abandoning his once ardent faith in Christianity, Callaway, through “teleology”, fused what he knew of evolutionary theory and Scripture and decided that “because all informed geologists admit that it is the oldest land mass on earth”, God created Adam about a mile outside Bristol, Florida. He then created the Garden of Eden along the Apalachicola River there and filled it with citruses, magnolias, hydrangeas, mountain laurel and of course the majestic gopher yew (one of the few trees in North America considered “critically endangered”).

E.E. Callaway’s Garden of Eden is protected today as part of The Nature Conservancy’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. Accessible via Garden of Eden Road, the preserve has a Garden of Eden Trail leading through the site. The scenery is spectacular; clear, bubbling streams flow through the bottoms of the steep ravines, which support rare plants and animals, some found nowhere else in the world. Callaway’s southern Eden might not be the original–who are we, or who is anyone for that matter to say so–but it’s still a little bit of paradise in this fallen world; God knows we need more of them.

A 30-Day Cake

This convoluted recipe comes from a friend on the Gulf Coast, but from what I’ve read it’s a variation on an Amish recipe, which seems fitting, since most people call it a friendship cake. It’s called that because you share the starter with your friends, and they share it with other riff-raff and so becomes an agent for social bonding, but it can also become a dire obligation. You see, the cake is based on a yeast starter, a living thing, so passing along this starter is somewhat like giving someone a puppy to care for and nurture, since it does take tending. Of course losing a batch of smelly yeast is not nearly as traumatic or troubling as losing a puppy (no matter how smelly), but still if the donor should ask you how it’s doing, you must just fess up and admit that you didn’t care enough about him or her to keep the yeast working and make a cake, or you could just tell your buddy to lighten up, get a life and explain testily that you had more important things to do. Given the right set of circumstances the recipe is fun to pass around to your buddies at work or church, but probably not at the neighborhood bar.

FRIENDSHIP CAKE – ORIGINAL STARTER
3/4 c. (can) sliced peaches, drained and diced
3/4 c. crushed pineapple, drained
6 maraschino cherries, cut in half
1/2 c. sugar
1 pkg. active dry yeast
Combine and place in glass (gallon size) jar with a loose cover at room temperature. Stir several times first day; then once daily using a plastic or wooden spoon. After 2 weeks this starter will have fermented enough to start the Friendship Cake Mix (using the second full cycle of above fruit makes a far superior mix than not doing so). It’s recommended that you get 2 or 3 friends together on this.

FRIENDSHIP CAKE FRUIT PREPARATION:
First, beg, steal or borrow 1 1/2 cups starter.
FIRST DAY: Mix 1 1/2 cups starter, a large can peaches with juice and 2 1/2 cups sugar in large glass or ceramic jar or bowl. Cover with lid or plastic wrap. Stir daily for 10 days, using a wooden spoon.
TENTH DAY: Add 2 1/2 cups sugar and a large can of chunk or crushed pineapple with juice. Stir daily for 10 days.
20TH DAY: Add 2 1/2 cups sugar, large can of fruit cocktail with juice, and a large jar of maraschino cherries with juice. Stir daily for 10 days.
30TH DAY: Drain fruit. Bake cakes or cookies using fruit. Save juice; there will be enough for 4 or 5 friends.

FRIENDSHIP CAKE:
DAY 1: Receive fruit/starter and place in large bowl. Cover with waxed paper. DO NOT REFRIGERATE.
DAY 2: Stir.
DAY 3: Stir.
DAY 4: Stir.
DAY 5: Add 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup milk. Stir.
DAY 6: Stir.
Day 7: Stir.
DAY 8: Stir.
DAY 9: Stir.
DAY 10: Add 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup milk. Stir. Take out 3 separate cups of batter and give to 3 friends with directions. For your own cake, add to the remaining batter.
2/3 c. oil
3 eggs
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla
Stir by hand:
1 c. apples, chopped
Raisins (optional)
1 c. nuts, chopped or all 3 or only 1
Bake in greased and floured tube pan at 350 degrees for 45 minutes and heave a great sigh of relief.

Photo courtesy of Southmouth

Country Music Cooking

Trisha Yearwood is a newcomer to the country music cooking scene, which has proliferated ever since Kitty Wells put out Kitty Wells’ Country Kitchen Cookbook in 1964, followed by volumes II and III in the next thirty years.

Kenny Rogers, who was a pitchman for Dole Foods, put out a cookbook that has pineapples in everything. June Carter Cash’s Mother Maybelle’s Cookbook includes a scripture cake. Tammy Wynette put out her Southern Cookbook in 1994, the cook at Graceland, Alvena Ray included a peanut butter, bacon and banana sandwich in her Fir for a King: the Elvis Presley Cookbook (1992), and Loretta Lynn has a recipe for Kentucky frog legs in You’re Cookin’ It Country (2004). Others include Hank Williams, Jr. (who has his own line of barbecue sauces), Dolly Parton (Dolly’s Dixie Fixin’s; “I cook like an old mountain woman.”), Naomi Judd (“healthy” recipes) and Zac Brown, whose Perfect Pocketknife Coleslaw gets a nod for a catchy name, but I can’t see making coleslaw with a pocketknife, no sir.

Then you have The Country Stars’ Cookbook (1977), compiled by Helen Naismith, a direct descendent of Dr. James Naismith, who we all remember as the man who invented basketball. Helen, “a petite food expert … and dynamic speaker”, managed to garner recipes from 85 country singers, groups, Opry stars and (I suspect) two or three of her own. Now, we all know that while Tammy Wynette could no doubt cook eggplant, Jerry Clower never baked a blueberry pie in his life and if Merle Haggard ever cooked catfish he was likely on the lam. You could probably buy mint copies of this piece of tomfoolery at every Stuckey’s in the nation for three dollars, but it’s fun to see how the talent and the recipes match up. Personally, I think assigning Ronnie Milsap a moonshine recipe just ain’t right.

The Ballad of Doc Bishop

This verse, written by Dottie Moore of Pontotoc County, is justly more about Texas lawman William Wise than Doc Bishop, an outlaw who murdered Wise in October, 1884. What a Ft. Worth detective was doing in Calhoun County then is complicated—and ambiguous—even when detailed in Selcer and Foster’s Written in Blood: The History of Fort Worth’s Fallen Lawmen, Volume 1, 1861-1909, which I’ll reproduce in a later entry, but his murder initiated a reinstatement of justice in an area scoured by war. Bishop was hanged on July 3, 1886, “the first white man legally hanged in the state of Mississippi since the Civil War”. Selcer says that this ballad is a “variation on the more famous ‘Ballad of Sam Bass’ and ‘Ballad of Jesse James’”. He also notes that the ballad was frequently sung—to what tune we don’t know—at folk gatherings for over fifty years.

When I lie down at night to rest
And slumber deep steals o’er me,
As I close my heavy eyes in sleep,
Dark visions pass before me.

I see a calm still moonlight night,
No breath of air is stirring;
No sound the silence breaks, except
The wings of insects whirring.

I see a forest deep and dark,
A man walks through it quickly,
Now in the shade, now in the light
Where the dark leaves mingle thickly.

A man with soft, brown, shining eyes,
And gold brown hair o’er lying,
And daring courage on his face,
On his own strength relying.

He treads the darksome forest through,
Where outlaws lie in hiding,
No fearful thought in his strong heart,
The thought of fear, deriding.

He is a bold, true officer
Attending to his duty,
No thought he gives to nature bright,
Nor the night’s calm, holy beauty.

He follows scraps of paper thrown
Into the path before him,
By one in whom his trust he placed
Who threw a glamour o’er him.

He’s walking swiftly to his doom,
But alas! He does not know it;
He sees naught of the danger there,
Oh, God! If thou would show it!

A little distance on ahead
Are two oak trees, o’er bending,
Behind which two cold hearted men
Evil faced are standing.

Crouched, with weapons cocked in hand,
Awaiting for his coming,
They make no sound to warn their prey
Of the awful risk he’s running.

He’s nearer, he’s almost in their hands,
Will nothing now delay him
From those who plotted, worked and planned
To murder and betray him?

Ah! No, for now he steps along
In the path marked out before him;
He sees the fiendish daces not,
No sense of fear steals o’er him.

Another step, Great God! A shot!
Of oaths and groan a medley;
Another shot! And the ground around
With his lifeblood, gleams redly.

“Tis done, a noble soul is sent
to the land of Heavenly Glory;
a brave detective low is laid
by hands all red and gory.

O, Heavenly Father, pity her,
Whose heart will now be broken,
Grant her in mercy, from thy throne,
Some sweet, peace-giving token.

Help her to bear the awful blow,
Her heart with thy grace cover;
She, in the far off “Lone Star” state,
Awaits her husband lover.

Be thou a friend to this fair child,
As much as to the mother,
Oh, Father of the fatherless,
Than Thee, they have no other.

The murderers, here, may still go free,
By lawyers shrewd, defended,
Free in this world, but yet the next,
Shall see their triumph – ended.
–Dottie Moore