Mason Jar Salads

This is a cool way to pack individual salad servings for picnics or cookouts. You don’t have to use a Mason jar; any wide-mouthed lidded container will do, but the iconic Mason makes for a (somewhat) classier presentation. Blend textures and flavors, use your imagination, consider who you’re feeding, and (above all) make it pretty. If you’re using tomatoes, cut the fruit in half and squeeze out the juices before dicing/slicing for the salad, and I’ll advise against including cheese because it will sweat.

In preparation, sequence is paramount. First in goes your dressing. Make different salads with different dressings for a crowd: a Caesar, a Cobb with blue cheese, an antipasto with vinegar and oil, etc. The next layer should include chunky items: beans, cucumber, carrots, celery, chick peas, green beans, pepper strips, broccoli/cauliflower, sliced radishes, olives, pickled vegetables, and such things. Then diced chicken, sliced eggs, diced (drained) tomatoes, sprouts, diced onions, peas, sliced mushrooms, and nuts. Finally, your leaf vegetables, and this layer should comprise about the top third of the container. Make sure the jars are water-tight before packing in an ice chest.

Mistilis’s Hamburger Steak

Angelo Mistilis opened his restaurant on College Hill Road in May, 1962 and closed in 1988. The menu featured dozens of items over those many years, but first and foremost was the hamburger steak with potatoes.

“You could have it regular, you could have it with onions, you could have it with just cheese, or you could have it all the way, Angelo said. “The hamburger steak was on the original menu, the hamburger steak with cheese and onions came in a little later, in the mid to late 60s. We used about nine tons of fresh ground beef a year. I had a butcher that got my hamburger meat with all the trimmings, and I got some from James’ Food Center. We always served it with hand-cut home fries. We’d use around 1200 lbs. of potatoes a week and two fifty-pound sacks of onions. The cheese was always sliced American, and we served it on a paper plate in a wicker basket.”

About Boiling Shrimp

Don’t bring shrimp to a boil.; the water should sourer, “smile,” heated to that steamy, shimmering just-before-boiling point, the shrimp stirred to distribute the heat and cook thoroughly before draining and icing. If the shells are loose, the shrimp is over-cooked.

Banana Pineapple Pudding

A simple twist on a summer favorite. Mix two packages instant vanilla pudding mix with a cup of milk, refrigerate until partly set. Stir in a can of condensed milk, 8 oz. each of sour cream and whipped topping, 3 ripe (freckled) bananas, sliced or diced, a drained 8 oz. can crushed or chunk pineapple. Layer with vanilla wafers—wafers first, pudding last—and crush a few wafers to sprinkle on top. Some people will sprinkle coconut between the layers and add to the topping. Chill before serving.

 

Fudge for a Rainy Day

This Alice B. Toklas Cookbook recipe was omitted in the first American publication (1954) but was included in the second (1960). Here’s Alice’s recipe from the 1984 edition:

Haschich Fudge

(which anyone could whip up on a rainy day)

This is the food of Paradise—of Baudelaire’s Artificial Paradises; it might provide entertaining refreshment for a Ladies’ bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR. In Morocco it is thought to be good for warding off the common cold in damp winter weather and is, indeed, more effective if taken with large quantities of hot mint tea. Euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter; ecstatic reveries and extensions of one’s personality on several simultaneous planes are to be complacently expected. Almost anything Saint Theresa did, you can do better if you can bear to be ravished by un évanouissement revelle’.

Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 whole nutmeg, 4 average sticks of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts; chop these and mix them together. A bunch of cannabis sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.

Obtaining the cannabis may present certain difficulties, but the variety known as cannabis sativa grows as a common weed, often unrecognized, everywhere in Europe, Asia and parts of Africa; besides being cultivated as a crop for the manufacture of rope. In the Americas, while often discouraged, its cousin, called cannabis indica, has been observed even in city window boxes. It should be picked and dried as soon as it has gone to seed and while the plant is still green.

 

Charlotte’s Mummy

Charlotte Capers, long-time director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History was—unlike present-day bureaucrats—a woman of considerable intelligence, charm, and wit, characteristics which she brings to the fore in a speech on the history of MDAH given before the Mississippi Historical Society in March, 1972. In this excerpt, she talks about a once locally famous curio that is still displayed on occasion at the Old Capitol Museum.

The Department remained in the basement of the New Capitol until 1940, when more commodious quarters, but not much more, were provided in the War Memorial Building. Since Dr. Rowland’s day, the Department has acted as a clearing-house historical agency, and the Museum function was included in this. However, when the Department moved into the War Memorial Building, the collection housed in the New Capitol was, of necessity, abandoned. Certainly, there was no space in the north wing of the new building for a full-fledged museum. Thus, we left in the basement of the New Capitol, a mysterious and miscellaneous collection including an Egyptian mummy, the hip-bone of a North Dakota dinosaur, a pair of size 20 shoes worn by an Alabama Negro in World War I, and a toy snake from the Philippines.

The star of this collection was the mummy, who had enchanted visitors to Jackson ever since she had been acquired as lagniappe in a collection of Indian artifacts many years ago. A real mummy mystique had developed, and grandfathers brought their toddling grandchildren in to see the mummy that they had seen as boys. When the board of trustees quite properly adopted in the Old Capitol Restoration, the collection was limited to items associated with Mississippi history. The mummy, an Egyptian, was plainly out of place. It fell my lot to separate the little Egyptian, known variously to her public as ‘The Little Gypsy Lady,” or occasionally as ”The Dummy,” from her admirers. I knew that such a move was to court disaster, for my generation, too, had visited the mummy on our way to Central High School, and we considered her as much a part of our American heritage as George Washington, Robert E. Lee, or Theodore G. Bilbo.

But, in what may have been my finest hour, I saw my duty and I did it. And I firmly withdrew ”The Little Gypsy Lady” whose connection with Mississippi history was tenuous at best, from the Museum exhibits. She was relegated to a collection file room in the old Capitol to be seen only on demand by her most avid admirers. Her admirers all turned out to be avid, and they continued to demand her until the day when a staff member, annoyed by constant calls for our most popular tenant, stated in a speech that he would like to bury the mummy.

That blew it. The wire services picked up the story and the shot went round the world. The public from all over arose to defend “The Little Gypsy Lady.” We got insulting mail and insulting telephone calls; and one concerned gentle man wrote from Germany about “das mumi,” calling us bigots for some reason. Offers of adoption for the mummy flowed in. An undertaker from Ohio wanted “‘The Little Gypsy Lady” as an example of his art. An archaeologist said that when he examined her he found her to be a young female offered her a home provided that her esophagus came with her (translate: sarcophagus).

The strife went on, I held my ground, the story of Mississippi, as you will see, is told in thirty-three permanent exhibits in this Old Capitol Museum, and the small foreigner slept on in a collection file room. Way back in Dr. Rowland’s day he had a seal designed for the Department with the motto ‘Veritas,” or “Truth.” Seldom in our lifetime, however, are we justified for taking an unpopular stand on the side of the truth. The mummy proved to be a heartening exception. In the 1960s a young medical student at the University of Mississippi asked for permission to x-ray the mummy. In the interest of truth, permission was granted. The startling results of this scientific investigation were reported in The Mississippi History Newsletter as follows:

“Our mummy, who has been the star of our museum for as long as we can remember, was exposed as a fake when Gentry Yeatman, an enterprising Ole Miss medical student x-rayed the little Egyptian princess and found her heart was full of nails. Further, she had a German language newspaper in her left foot, and her right arm yielded a copy of The Milwaukee Journal, 1898. Again we note that things are not always what they seem, and the mummy is a dummy after all.”

Photo by Patti Carr Black

Muscadines and Scuppernongs

North America has two native grape species, Vitis labrusa, often called the fox or possum grape, and Vitis roundifolia, which most people call a muscadine. While the wild fruit of both species is edible, the fruit of cultivated varieties is vastly superior. Naturally, both species are widely used for making wines, which are most often cloyingly sweet and best used as an aperitif or digestif. The name muscadine comes from its similarity to early settlers with the Muscat grape, a Mediterranean type used in making muscatel, both words deriving from the musky scent of the fruit.

Muscadines come in a variety of colors, but there are two basic color types: the black or purple and the bronze. “Scuppernong” is the name of the first muscadine cultivar, a cultivar being a variety of plant that is created or selected for cultivation. This “white” (most types are a light greenish) was so named because of its discovery along the Scuppernong River in North Carolina. Interestingly (and surprisingly) the original mother vine is still on Roanoke Island, where it has been growing and producing for several hundred years. Because scuppernongs are such an early variety of muscadines, scuppernong entered common usage to refer to any bronze/green/”white” muscadine grape even though botanical correctness dictates that “Scuppernong” should only designate the cultivar and not all such color types.

You can use muscadines and scuppernongs as you might any berry: in pies and cobblers, muffins, jams and jellies, but because their fresh taste is so incredibly wonderful, I recommend that you simply keep a bowl  on the kitchen table for a quick little nosh during the season.

Brabant Potatoes

This old New Orleans side dish is different from most pan potato recipes such as hash or fritters, which usually call for waxy potatoes because they hold their shape better than starchy russets. This one, however, does use white/baking potatoes, and the result is a pan full of golden cubes with a crunchy outside and a fluffy inside. The recipe for Brabant potatoes in The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook (1901) doesn’t include garlic, but most contemporary recipes use about a clove, minced or slivered, per potato. Oh, by the way, Brabant is a region in the Low Countries (Belgium, the Netherlands); how this Crescent City side came by the name is unknown . New Orleans is a full of mysteries.

For two servings, scrub and cut into large dice (about a half inch) two russet potatoes. You can peel them if you like. Place potatoes in a colander and rinse until the water runs clear. You want to get rid of the surface starch. Dry thoroughly between paper towels. Heat about a half inch of vegetable oil in a skillet. I don’t recommend olive oil because it has a lower burn, and you want the oil very hot to flash fry the cubes. Stir the potatoes vigorously to ensure that the cubes are a uniform nice light brown. Then drain the oil, add about three tablespoons butter and two finely diced cloves of garlic. Reduce heat to simmer until garlic is fragrant and potatoes are coated with butter. Chopped parsley and/or green onion are traditional toppings.

Pickled Pepper Roast

Most recipes for this old buffet dish involve pepperoncini, though there’s no reason not to use pickled cherry peppers, banana peppers or another pickled vegetable such as okra or green tomatoes, but not cucumbers. I mean, think about it.

Marinate a lean cut of beef in the pickling solution or vinegar and water (2:1) overnight or longer if you like, place meat in a covered baking dish with the pickled vegetables, plenty of garlic, freshly-ground black pepper and enough water to cover half the meat; you shouldn’t have to add any salt to this at all. Cook in a slow oven (300) until the beef is quite tender, chop or shred, add reduced liquid and serve warm or cold with hard rolls, a mild horseradish sauce and/or a good mustard of your choice. It should go without saying that this is one of those dishes that’s better the next day, but I’ll mention it.

 

Quick Summer Pickles

Later in the season, when the cucumbers, okra, and tomatoes have almost petered out, you can put up those special pickles for the holiday table, but peak summer vegetables make great quick pickles to have with your fresh vegetables. Do not–I repeat NOT–attempt this with vegetables you’ll find in a supermarket. The vegetables should be young and very firm. Slice or cube cucumbers, small okra, green tomatoes or squash. For every two cups of vegetables, add about a half cup of finely sliced white or yellow onion (red will bleed). Pack into a quart jar. In a bowl, mix a cup of water, about a third a cup of vinegar (apple cider, white, and rice wine are all good), 2 tablespoons sugar (optional), and 1 to 2 teaspoons salt and stir until dissolved. You can include a clove or so of slivered garlic, if you please. Let these sit for at least three hours before serving, overnight is better. They will keep in the refrigerator for a week, but they rarely last that long.