Cut a chicken into quarters and simmer in a gallon of water with carrots, onions, and celery. When tender, remove chicken and bone. Return the bones to the pot and reduce by about a third, then strain and return liquid to simmer. You want a gallon of good, rich broth. Make a stiff biscuit dough with sweet milk; roll it out to about an eighth of an inch, cut into strips and drop into boiling broth. As the liquid thickens, add the chicken, cover and let boil for another minute, then reduce heat and cover. After five minutes, cut the heat, stir and cover. Let the pot sit for about another five minutes or so to cook the dumplings. Salt to taste. I like chicken and dumplings with a good dose of black pepper.
One Direction Home: A Review
“South Jackson as a place begins at 2155 Terry Road, the address of the city’s oldest home. It is the last remaining plantation house in the area. Today, an anomaly, a handsome Greek revival structure with Doric columns standing near Interstate 20’s cloverleaf, commercial enterprises and the decay of the Highway 80 Corridor.”
So begins One Direction Home: A History of South Jackson, by Dr. Vincent Venturini and former city commissioner Doug Shanks. Shanks recounts that the work began with a question: Were his fond memories of growing up in south Jackson just nostalgia, or was south Jackson truly a special place? The answer is, of course, yes and yes. There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia, particularly that of the sort leading to such a wonderful work as this. At once scholarly and informal, poignant and piercing, One Direction Home entertains and informs on many levels.
U.S. Highway 51 splits in Jackson, ending on South State Street to the east, and starting again on Terry Road some two miles to the west. When Terry Road emerges from the cloverleaf south of Highway 81, atop a broad ridge sits the Carmelite monastery housed in the aforementioned Greek revival home formerly owned by the Myrant family. The Myrant/Lester home is a focus for an early history of south Jackson, which is integral to that of the city and of Hinds County. Terry Road (Hwy. 51) provides an axis for the geography of the area, which Venturini describes as, “somewhat porous, but we largely see south Jackson as beginning at Highway 80 and extending south to Lake Catherine and west to Mississippi Highway 18. The eastern boundary is the Pearl River. We are also including Provine High School from its beginning until 1968. Although Wingfield High School opened in 1966 for students in the city’s southern section, those already enrolled in Provine were allowed to finish there. As pointed out in Doug’s Preface, Shoney’s is included as a south Jackson institution given the role it played in the lives of our contemporaries.”
And the time? While an early history is presented, Shanks claims, “What follows in the coming pages is a largely nostalgic visit to south Jackson as it existed between 1945 and 1975.” All Jacksonians will recall landmarks such as the Alamo Plaza, the “Chuc-Wagun”, the Frost Top, the Green Derby, Leavell Woods Park, Cook Center, Mart 51 and the Zodiac. They will also recall, among the many prominent south Jacksonians mentioned, Farmer Jim Neal of WSLI, Woodie Assaf of WLBT, “Skipper” Dick Miller of WJTV, Andrew Mattiache, and Walter Bivins. The neighborhoods, the churches, the schools, the streets, parks, and other elements that compose a city are part of this wonderful weave. The book has scores of wonderful photographs, and has a reassuringly extensive and detailed bibliography with notes.
One thing, though; Shanks and Venturini spend an inordinate time mentioning the proletarian reputation of south Jackson. This apologia is distracting, superfluous, and, most importantly, unnecessary. Let’s bear in mind that this is not Natchez, nor Vicksburg, but Jackson, Mississippi, a city no less a cosmopolitan than Audubon described in 1823 as “a mean place.” Sure, you’ll find people who will tell you one Jackson neighborhood is “better” than another, but many an outsider has found the entire city déclassé if not to say destitute. While no doubt many former and current south Jacksonians will find flaws and omissions (that assuredly only they could detect) all Jacksonians, even those (such as I) who aren’t natives, can celebrate this loving biography of a time, a place, a people, a portal in time to a backyard barbecue, a high school football game, or a corner soda fountain.
You’ll find pulled pork with barbecue sauce as a sandwich filling is just about every roadside eatery across the South. Most people will argue that it’s the sauce that makes these sandwiches, and I belong to that school, but the flavor and (above all) texture of the meat are vital components in providing a platform.
The secret is the right cut braised slowly in a low heat, and the right cut is a shoulder roast, also known as a Boston butt or “picnic shoulder. This is an inexpensive cut of well-marbled meat that comes from the top portion of the front leg of the hog (despite the name “butt”). While a butt has a more fat, making it more tender, a bone-in shoulder is your best option for pulled pork, since it has more connective tissue for a better texture and the bone gives more flavor.
Make a spice blend of 3 tablespoons paprika, 2 tablespoons granulated garlic, 2 tablespoons black pepper, and about 2 tablespoons of salt. You can add a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar to this. Mix with about 1/2 cup vegetable oil and rub over a 4-5 lb. shoulder roast pork, bone in. Peel and chop 2 small white onions, and place in the bottom of an oven roaster or slow cooker. If using a slow cooker, set it on low, if the oven, set at 250. The roast will take more time in the slow cooker, about 6-7 hours, somewhat less in the oven. When the meat is fork-tender, remove and discard fat and bone, and reserve the pot liquid with most of the fat drained off. Shred the pork into a lidded container and add enough of the reserved liquid for even moisture. This freezes beautifully.
Aunt Beck’s Chicken Pie
In Eudora Welty’s Losing Battles, this is the dish Beck Beecham brought to Granny Vaughn’s 90th birthday gathering. She brought it especially for her nephew, Jack, who escaped from Parchman to be home for the celebration. Welty claimed, “I always heard it was a Methodist dish.”
1 young chicken (about 4 lbs.)
6 small white onions
2 ounces bacon, cut in small cubes
2 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
3 hard-cooked eggs, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
Pastry to cover a 9-inch pie
Boil the chicken in highly seasoned water and allow to cool in its broth. Separate the meat from skin and bones, leaving the chicken in large pieces. Boil the onions in salted water until tender, but not mushy, and drain. Fry the bacon until tender, without browning; remove from frying pan and set aside. In the remaining fat, cook the flour over very low heat for 3 minutes, then gradually stir in 21/2 cups of the broth in which the chicken was cooked. Add parsley, celery, salt and pepper, simmer for 6 minutes. Put half the quantity of bacon, half the chicken pieces, half the quantity of onions and half the quantity of eggs in the baking dish. Lay on the remaining pieces of chicken, add the rest of the other ingredients and pour the sauce over all. Cover with rich pie pastry, pressing down the edges with a fork. Brush with milk and make several slashes for the steam to escape. Bake in a hot oven (450° F) for 15 minutes, reduce heat to moderate (350° F) and bake 30 minutes longer. Serve at once with succotash.