Governor from Calhoun: Dennis Murphree

Dennis Murphree was three times elected lieutenant governor of Mississippi, and on two of those times he succeeded to the governor’s office upon the death of the incumbent. Although he ran for governor in his own right three times, he was never elected. Few people ever wanted to be elected governor more than did Dennis Murphree, but the political scales in Mississippi during his lifetime did not permit this. The following text is adopted from The Governors of Mississippi (Pelican Publishing: 1980) by Cecil L. Sumners.

Dennis Herron Murphree was three times elected lieutenant governor of Mississippi and was twice elevated to the governor’s office. He was born at Pittsboro, Mississippi, on January 6, 1886, the first child of Thomas Martin Murphree and Callie Cooper Murphree. His father, who was prominent in the local affairs of Calhoun County, served four years in the Confederate army and two terms as justice of the peace. He was a member of the school board, twice served as circuit clerk, and was twice elected state representative from Calhoun County. Dennis Murphree’s father was also a newspaper editor and died during his second term as state representative.

The first American ancestors of this Murphree family were three brothers named Murphy who had taken part in Emmet’s Rebellion and had fled the country, seeking refuge in America. When they came to America, they changed their name to Murphree and settled in Tennessee and Alabama. However, his great-grandfather David Murphree, who was a resident of South Carolina at the time, served as a soldier in the American Revolution. His grandfather Martin Murphree served under General Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812 and was in the Battle of New Orleans. He moved from Tennessee to Chickasaw County after 1830. There he served on the county board of police (board of supervisors) from 1847 to 1849. When the legislature provided for the creation of Calhoun County from parts of Chickasaw, Lafayette, and Yalobusha counties on March 8, 1852, Martin Murphree was one of the seven commissioners charged with bringing the new county into being. He served as the secretary of that commission and helped locate the present county site.

With this distinguished record of public service among his ancestors, it was natural for Dennis Murphree to want to hold public office. Taking over the printing and newspaper office at his father’s death, he was successful in that business and in banking as well. In 1911 he was elected state representative from Calhoun County, Mississippi, the youngest person to be elected to that office from Calhoun County up to that time. His formal education was limited, but he obtained a vast amount of experience in the printing office of his father. He was reelected state representative in 1915 and again in 1919.

Dennis Murphree married Clara Minnie Martin of Pittsboro, Mississippi. They had three daughters and one son. Dennis Murphree was a Methodist and belonged to several fraternal organizations.

Dennis Murphree had oratorical ability, and in 1920 he was unanimously elected as temporary speaker of the house of representatives to serve during the sickness of Mike Conner, the regularly elected speaker. He served thirty days and obtained valuable experience presiding over that body, experience that he used later as presiding officer of the senate.

In 1923 Dennis Murphree ran for lieutenant governor, hopeful that he would not have any opposition. His opponent, however, was Hernando DeSoto Money, the son of Senator Money. Although Dennis Murphree did little campaigning, he won by a vote of 122,827 to 103,065. Mississippi, at the time of Dennis Murphree’s term as lieutenant governor, was experiencing depressed prices for the agricultural products; therefore, he helped promote legislation to help the farmers. Delta State Teachers College (now Delta State University) was established, and the mental institution in Jackson was moved to Rankin County and later named Whitfield. When Governor Henry Whitfield became ill in the summer of 1926, Murphree acted as governor much of the time. On March 16, 1927, Governor Whitfield died, and Murphree was sworn in as governor on March 18, 1927.

Governor Murphree had already announced that he would be a candidate to succeed himself as lieutenant governor; but after he became governor, the pressure was so great from his friends that he felt that he had to run for governor. He thought he should have retired from politics and awaited his turn to run for governor in 1931, but he listened to his friends and entered the governor’s race. He faced two well-seasoned and tough opponents: former Governor Theodore G. Bilbo and Speaker of the House Mike Conner. As opponents, these men were as strong as could be found anywhere in the state. Backed financially by Hugh L. White and L. O. Crosby, who agreed to underwrite his campaign expenses, he ran for governor. During the last part of his term as governor, there was a disastrous flood in the delta, a flood that almost took his life. It required most of his time and prevented him from campaigning properly. He went into the second primary with former governor Theodore G. Bilbo, but Bilbo defeated him by a vote of 147,669 to 137,130.

In 1931 Murphree ran for lieutenant governor against Bidwell Adams and won by a vote of 173,339 to 108,022. Again in 1935 he ran for governor against Hugh L. White and Paul B. Johnson, Sr. He ran third and failed to get into the second primary. In 1939 he ran his third successful race for lieutenant governor, receiving 172,201 votes and defeating three able opponents in the first primary by more than 40,000 votes.

Lieutenant Governor Murphree helped Paul Johnson carry out most of his proposed legislation. This included free textbooks for the schoolchildren of the state, an increased homestead exemption (from $3,500 to $5,000), and an expanded membership for the Board of Trustees of Institutions of Higher Learning. This latter move was an attempt to remove the board from political influences. BAWI laws were passed to help “Balance Agriculture With Industry,” as was proposed under Governor Hugh L. White’s administration.

In 1943 he ran for governor the third time against strong opposition consisting of former Governor Mike Conner, Thomas L. Bailey, and Lester C. Franklin. This was a hotly contested race; Bailey barely eased into the second primary with former Governor Conner. Murphree was eliminated. In an upset victory, Tom Bailey won the election for governor.

Then a little more than a month after the November general election, Governor Paul B. Johnson, Sr., died on December 26, 1943. Once again, Lieutenant Governor Dennis Murphree was elevated to the governor’s office to serve the remainder of the Johnson term. He served as governor of Mississippi from December 26, 1943, to January 18, 1944, when Governor-Elect Thomas L. Bailey was inaugurated. He had failed to get into the second primary by less than 400 votes. Governor Murphree believed for the rest of his life that if he had followed his own political judgment, he could have beaten Thomas L. Bailey in the first primary and would have eventually been elected in the second primary as governor.

After making three strenuous countrywide races and six hard-fought statewide campaigns, Murphree died of a stroke on February 9, 1949, at the age of sixty-three. He was buried near his home in Pittsboro, Mississippi.

Fried Turkey

Food historians agree that deep-fried turkeys trace their roots to bayou Louisiana/Texas cuisine although no exact year, restaurant, or person is connected to this particular food by primary documentation.

There is no mention of fried turkey in Lafcadio Hearn’s La Cuisine Creole: A Collection of Culinary Recipes [New Orleans: 1885] or The Picayune Creole Cook Book, 2nd edition [New Orleans: 1901], but according to tradition fried turkeys were cooked outdoors for large popular events (family reunions, charity dinners, church suppers, etc.) in the early years of the twentieth century. About twenty years ago fried turkeys received national press and caught the attention of mainstream America. This recipe migrated from Louisiana/Texas to Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia (peanut oil), then up the eastern seaboard to D.C. before it took a drastic turn northwesterly to Seattle and Vancouver. Most articles written in the last couple of years simply reference fried turkey as a tasty alternative to the traditional holiday roast, usually with some sort of vague warning about frying anything that size inside the home.

Paul Prudhomme includes a recipe for “Cajun Fried Turkey (D’inde Frite) in The Prudhomme Family Cookbook: Old-Time Louisiana Recipes [William Morrow:New York] 1987 (p. 105- 109)

“Fried turkey has been all the rage at least for the last decade in New Orleans, and long before that it was a tradition in the bayou and throughout the South. Like many a vainglorious culinary mania before it, the national renown of fried turkeys can be traced directly to Martha Stewart, who plucked them from regional obscurity and put them in her magazine in 1996. “—It’s Treacherous, But Oh So Tasty; Fried-Turkey Fans Take the Risk, Annie Gowen, Washington Post, November 22, 2001 (p. B1)

“Frying whole turkeys is sort of the Southern version of making fondue. You have a lot of your friends over, you poke around in a pot of hot oil with some sticks, and then you pull out your dinner. Justin Wilson, he of Cajun fame, recalls first seeing a turkey fry in Louisiana in the 1930s.”—Something Different: Deep-Fried Turkey, Beverly Bundy, St. Louis Dispatch, November 24, 1997 (Food p. 4)

“A longtime food favorite in the southern United States, the delicious deep-fried turkey has quickly grown in popularity thanks to celebrity chefs such as Martha Stewart and Emeril Lagasse. While some people rave about this tasty creation, Underwriters Laboratories Inc.’s (UL) safety experts are concerned that backyard chefs may be sacrificing safety for good taste. “We’re worried by the increasing reports of fires related with turkey fryer use,” says John Drengenberg, UL consumer affairs manager. “Based on our test findings, the fryers used to produce those great-tasting birds are not worth the risks. And, as a result of these tests, UL has decided not to certify any turkey fryers with our trusted UL Mark.”—Deep-Frying That Turkey Could Land You in Hot Water; UL Warns Against Turkey Fryer Use, PR Newswire, June 27, 2002

Sweet Potato Cake with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

1 ½ cups butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 large eggs, separated
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups finely grated sweet potato
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 3 (8in) cake pans with nonstick baking spray with flour. In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar, and vanilla at medium speed with a mixer until fluffy.  Add egg yolks, beating until combined. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Gradually add to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture, beating just until combined after each addition. In a medium bowl, beat egg whites at high speed with a mixture until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into batter. Gently stir in sweet potatoes and walnuts. Spoon batter into prepared pans. Bake for 20 to 23 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove from pans, cool completely on wire racks. Spread White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting evenly between layers and on top and sides of cake.

White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting

1 (4oz) white chocolate baking bar, chopped
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup butter, softened
16 oz. cream cheese softened
2lbs. powdered sugar

In a small sauce pan, combine chopped white chocolate and cream. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth.  Remove from heat, and cool for 1 hour. In a large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with a mixer until creamy. Add white chocolate mixture, beating until combined. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until smooth. Note: Cake layers can be made up to 1 month ahead; wrap cooled layers tightly in plastic wrap and Freeze. To serve, spread frosting on frozen cake layers (frozen layers are easier to frost), and thaw. Store thawed cake, covered, in refrigerator up to 3 days.

Recipe and photo from Melissa Edmondson

The Agony of Ambrosia

One Thanksgiving as we were unpacking her car, my sister Cindy passed me a sack of oranges, a pineapple and two coconuts. I shuddered, knowing she wanted to make ambrosia. Ambrosia, literally translated, means “immortal,” which is appropriate because it takes forever to make. It’s a fruit salad traditionally made with orange, pineapple and coconut. Some sort of sweetener is also involved, either syrup macerated from the fruits themselves or, more formally, grenadine or maraschino. Because ambrosia is so time-consuming, most people nowadays use processed ingredients like canned mandarin oranges, Dole pineapple chunks and zip-lock grated coconut. But Cindy was an old-school kitchen Nazi; it was going to be done right.

First, the coconuts; I twisted a clean screwdriver into the eyes, a Phillips head, which come to think of it is probably the best tool for the job. (I wouldn’t be surprised if some outfit actually sold a customized screwdriver with a teak handle for fifty bucks as a “coconut pick.”) Then I drained the milk and drank it with a jigger of rum. Cindy already had a claw hammer out for the next step in this brutal affair, so I broke the nuts into pieces with it on the back porch. Once the meat was extracted, it had to be skinned and grated. This took about an hour. Fortunately, the pineapple was soft and ripe. I twisted the top off, trimmed it a bit, set it off in a glass of water and assaulted the fruit, quartering it, cutting out the core, peeling off the skin and nicking out the eyes. I diced the flesh coarsely, sprinkled a little sugar on it, and set it in the refrigerator. Sis said she could not find Valencias, which are sweeter, so she had navel oranges which despite their shortcomings in the sugar department are infinitely easier to section. Frankly, I’d rather have my teeth filed with a rock than section citrus, but somebody had to do it, and in a half hour I had about a quart of orange sections to macerate.

Cindy, always the traditionalist, opted for a layered presentation. The oranges were drained and pressed into the bottom of a cut-glass bowl along with a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Then a generous sprinkling of hand-grated coconut, the pineapple, also drained and topped with the rest of the coconut. The juices from the maceration processes were saved, mixed together and some was poured over the salad before serving (not much, just enough to moisten) and the rest was reserved for rum punch.

Cindy’s ambrosia was a dish for (and from) the ages. How I wish she were still here to bully me into making it.

 

Shirred Eggs

Once upon a time, you could buy an oven dish for eggs called a shirrer, and while you can’t buy a shirrer anymore (Williams-Sonoma might have one for all I know), shirring is what you do when you bake eggs. Now, you can bake eggs by themselves, or you can bake eggs on top of things. One of the most popular shirred egg dishes is ranch eggs, huervos rancheros. Simply line a shallow dish with salsa, crack eggs into it (be artistic), and bake at high heat to however you like to eat your eggs. I like mine done through, but with a soft center. If you crack and bake eggs over spinach sauce, you can call them eggs Florentine. If you crack and bake over grits, they’re angels in the clouds.

French Silk Pie

This old bake-off recipe from the “Ice Box Pie” category is a Southern favorite. It’s basically a chocolate mousse in a crust.

Use a commercial refrigerated pie crust for this recipe because the crust must be blind baked, and blind-baking a homemade crust is tricky. Blind baking simply means pre-baked, and you pre-bake crusts for refrigerator pies—those that aren’t baked—so the crust won’t get soggy. Some people will also blind bake crusts for pies with a dense filling (e.g. pumpkin or sweet potato). Use a glass pie pan.

Drape the crust over a rolling pin and ease the crust into the pan without stretching it. Wet your fingers and press any cracks together. Press the crust firmly against the sides and bottom. It helps to pop it into the freezer for five minutes or so to keep it from slumping down the sides. Generously prick the crust on the bottom and sides to prevent bubbling, and line the inner edges with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Put your pan on a preheated sheet pan and bake the crust for 10 minutes at 400 with the foil, remove the foil and return to the oven for maybe five minutes to brown.

Whip a cup of heavy cream to stiff peaks, cover and chill. Melt 8 oz. chopped bittersweet chocolate (I use a glass bowl in the microwave). Stir until smooth and set aside. Add 3 eggs, ¾ cup sugar, and a couple of tablespoons of water to glass bowl. Beat with an electric mixer 5 minutes, until pale yellow and thick. Place this bowl over a smaller pot of simmering water and cook, whisking continually, until the mixture is hot through and through. Remove from heat and continue beating until cooled and fluffy. (This might take up to 10 minutes because you want some serious fluff.) Add the melted chocolate, 2 teaspoons vanilla, a stick of very soft butter, and beat until very smooth. Now carefully blend in the whipped cream, just until you have a more or less even color; don’t over-mix.

Pour mixture into the pie crust and spread evenly. Top with another half cup of whipped cream sweetened with a quarter cup powdered sugar and a teaspoon vanilla (or almond) extract.  Beat ½ cup cream till soft peaks form, add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat till stiff and smooth. Spread over the chocolate filling. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least three hours.

 

 

A Letter from Jackson

Darling Julia,

The project here at long last is over, and I should be coming home for good, back to the mountains, to the house you love, to the deep old woods I love, and to holding you, forever.

When I get home, I know you will ask me of this place, what it is like, what its people are like, how it looks, how they live, what makes the city what it is, but once home I do not want to think of it, not because I hate it, but because I want to clear my mind of it, so I’m writing you this letter to explain Jackson to you before you ask me about it one night when we’re settled on the front porch with a bottle of wine watching the stars wheel over Balsam Gap.

It’s been three months since I got here–I will never forget the heat hitting like a fist when I stepped out of the car onto the parking lot behind the hotel! This leads me to ask: how long does one have to be in a place to know it? My answer would be that it is not so much a matter of time as it is of engagement, not just of being but of living, of going out into the city and seeing it, smelling it, hearing it, tasting it, developing a feel for it. Surveying the streets has taken me all over the city, north, south, east and west, at all times of the day and often into the nights. Yet most of the work has been downtown, the strangest part of the city, yet its most characteristic.

Jackson doesn’t feel old, it doesn’t look old; there are no beautiful buildings save a few Modernist towers, none of the stately homes one would expect to find in a Southern city built before the Civil War, just blocks upon blocks of decaying buildings. The face of its main street, Capitol, is punctuated by vacant shops and offices with empty or shattered windows like broken teeth. Even the recent and prolonged transformation of Capitol Street itself into a two-lane thoroughfare with roundabouts and narrow verges cannot disguise the squalor. The city lacks grandeur, even faded grandeur, in any degree.

Poverty is one of two characteristics that shape Jackson; the other, closely intertwined, is racial tension, a volatile combination that composes more in discord than harmony the social, economic and political nature of the city. Time stands still here; though a great show of progress is made in the local media, there is no progress. The city weekly, which proclaims to be a smart alternative to the moribund daily, constantly aggravates the cauldron, and the political landscape is dominated by self-serving personalities motivated by a desire to stay in office. These people funnel federal funding to redevelopment projects designed not to improve the city, but to affect their political ends. No cohesive vision exists because Jackson is not a city, only a fractured collection of people in a place that has lost all sense of itself, a shattered glass best melted and recast.

I can see you smiling as you read this, thinking, “You fool, it’s Mississippi; what did you expect?” Well, darling, I did expect more. I told you that before I came here. I expected to find people working together, a marketplace of ideas, a common goal. Tell me that’s why you love me, because I am a dreamer, even though every night here I dreamed only of you in that old house on the mountainside under a starry sky.

All my love,

Timothy

 

Prudhomme’s Original Blackened Seasoning

When Paul Prudhomme came barreling out of the bayous in the early 80’s, his cuisine had an enormous impact on the restaurant industry. The Cajun rage prompted restaurants as far away as Seattle to place jambalayas, gumbos, and etouffees on their menus. But the one dish that inspired a genuine craze was his blackened redfish.

Prudhomme first served blackened redfish at K-Paul’s in March, 1980, serving 30 or 40 people. It was an immediate hit; within days the restaurant was full, and within weeks, there were long lines. The dish became so popular that redfish (aka red drum, Sciaenops ocellatus) populations in the Gulf were severely impacted. The fish were sucked up in nets by the truckload in the bays, passes, and inlets from the Florida Keys to Brownsville, Texas, nearly wiping out the overall redfish stock. Fortunately, intensive conservation efforts were put in place—one of them being the founding of the Gulf Coast Conservation Association—and the redfish rebounded.

Blackening is an ideal cooking method for fish, but you can also blacken meats and shellfish, even squash and eggplant. Foods to be blackened are dredged in melted butter, coated in the following seasoning mix, then seared in a super-heated skillet. Do not try blackening inside unless you have a commercial vent hood, and if outside you must use a gas flame. Prudhomme’s herbal measurements are excruciatingly precise, so. I usually quadruple the recipe to make it easy.

1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground red pepper (preferably cayenne)
¾ teaspoon white pepper
¾ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
½ teaspoon dried oregano leaves

Election Day Cake

Americans have always celebrated our elections, and it seems logical that our traditional election day cakes are based on the old British yeast-raised holiday fruitcakes. Since the recipe evolved in the dour kitchens of New England, the lavish libations of brandy the Brits employed were foregone, but don’t let that stop you from dribbling a soupçon of good bourbon over this cake before frosting.

In a large bowl, mix two packets of yeast into a cup and a half of warm water. Stir in a tablespoon of sugar and a cup and a half of plain flour, mix until smooth, cover and let work until bubbly, about half an hour. In another bowl cream one and a half sticks soft butter with a cup of sugar. Use a whip to fluff the mix well, then sift in about two and a half cups flour with a teaspoon of cinnamon and a half teaspoon each of ground clove, ginger, and nutmeg. A few drops of almond extract is a nice touch. Add two beaten eggs to the bubbly yeast mixture, then gradually combine with the seasoned flour blend. Mix until smooth, and stir in a half cup of raisins, a half cup chopped dates, and a half cup chopped pecans. Pour into a tube pan that’s been well coated with cake oil (a paste of one part shortening, one part vegetable oil, and one part plain flour). Cover and let rise in a warm place for about two hours, bake at 375 for one hour, and cool before drizzling with a confectioner’s sugar glaze.