Cut red potatoes into bite-sized chunks and boil with Zatarain’s liquid seasoning (use a lot) until just tender. Rinse, drain very well, and toss with vegetable oil, salt, and a goodly amount of black pepper. A teaspoon or two of granulated garlic makes a statement. Strow the potatoes on a shallow baker, and throw in a hot oven (400+), stirring occasionally until well browned. Serve with grilled meats and fried seafood. These reheat well, but do not freeze.
Banana pudding casts a golden glow upon our lives. Never have I met anyone who doesn’t like ‘nanner puddin’, but I know in the cockles of my heart that should I ever, my dislike for them will be immediate, profound, and on the spot. I’ll probably stomp on their toe or something.
But banana pudding, like so many treasures on our sideboard, has been corrupted by convenience. What’s most often served as banana pudding is made with cheap cookies, packaged Jell-O, green bananas, and topped with Cool Whip. Quality banana pudding is made with Nabisco/Nilla Vanilla Wafers (kinda/sorta the same thing), ripe, fragrant bananas, vanilla custard, topped with meringue and browned.
First, the custard. Separate 4 eggs; blend the yolks well with 2 cups whole milk (or, better, half-and-half), and a teaspoon vanilla extract. Put this mix in a double boiler. Combine ½ cup sugar with 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, and slowly stir into the warm liquid. Cooking until thick, then cool.
You’ll need about 5 bananas. I implore you to select bananas well beforehand, because if you can only find bananas that have a tinge of green on them, you can set them on a shelf in the kitchen until they soften and ripen. And, yes, a banana will develop sugars in the pulp after being picked. Wait until the bananas are still firm, but lightly flecked with brown. Trust me, this is an essential step. An 11 oz. box of wafers has about 40 cookies. Use all of them.
Begin with a layer of custard in the bottom of an 8×8 baking dish, then a layer of wafers, then a layer of sliced bananas, repeat these layers. Whip egg whites with ¼ cup sugar until stiff. Top pudding with meringue and place in a very hot oven (400) until lightly browned. Cool thoroughly before serving, but this is best made the morning of and not refrigerated.
Sooner or later you’re bound to hear someone say they can’t boil water, or even worse (and this is the voice of experience speaking) hear it said about you. Boiling water without a geyser was a mammoth leap for mankind, so much so that nowadays saying somebody can’t bring water to a boil casts a bad light not only on their cooking, but also on their other basic skills, not to mention their family. Even chemists should be able to boil water, and it should be made an exit requirement on the MCAT and LSAT as well. Not even clergy should be exempt, and if you can’t boil water, I don’t want you fiddling with my fuse box, either.
Shortly after we brought water to a boil on our own, we learned how to steam foods in sealed, slightly vented containers. Given that pottery was still in its infancy then, pressure cooking was probably a messy if not painful innovation; but steaming food was the Paleolithic equivalent of the microwave oven, introducing a quicker method of tenderizing dried grains and tough meats, the staffs of life before Stouffer’s. And because starches and tough cuts are not only inexpensive and nutritious but when properly prepared wonderful, anyone who takes an interest in cooking should learn how to use a pressure cooker. This takes time. God knows I’ve burned everything except water at least twice, but when it comes to pressure cooking I’m not taking all the blame. A pressure cooker can be as cantankerous as a maiden aunt and almost as noisy; the cooker’s regulator jiggles and bangs about before releasing a steady hiss that lets you know it’s at full steam. Unlike most other kitchen activities, cooking with pressure involves hearing more than seeing or smelling.
The first step is to get a cooker. I’m not prone to endorsements (meaning I don’t get paid for any), but Presto pretty much put the lid on canning kitchenware in North America, and after over a century their products are still an industry standard. Buy a new 4-quart cooker, which will set you back about $30 retail. Once you tap into your inner earth mother and get into putting up your home-grown beets, you might buy a bigger, second-hand apparatus with dials and other gadgets, but until that happy occasion live with your new gallon of steam and get to know how it works. I recommend practicing with cooking dried beans because they’re cheap and a quart of simply seasoned beans (especially the larger varieties such as kidneys, limas, and garbanzos) goes a long way in dozens and dozens of dishes all across the menu. Kidneys are a fine example of this versatility; these big red beans stand out in soups and salads as well as sides.
Before cooking beans of any kind, scatter them on a flat surface and remove any rocks or clumps of earth you’re likely to find, as you’re likely to find a few. Pressure-cooked beans need two cups water to one cup beans. Beans need a bit of oil prevent frothing, which could clog up the cooker’s vent and put a serious hitch in your get-along. The chemical processes that make dried beans and grains froth under pressure elude me, but I suspect this preventative measure is the culinary equivalent of an oil slick. What you do with your cooked beans is up to you. Be happy.
To each pound 90/10 ground beef, add a quarter cup finely diced onion, two minced cloves garlic, a tablespoon of salt, two of coarsely-ground black pepper and three of Worcestershire sauce. Form into patties, brush with light vegetable oil and refrigerate for at least an hour. Grill until just done; they should be pink in the middle. Top with smoked cheddar before serving.
Mix sour cream and buttermilk 2:1 with the juice of a lime and a teaspoon salt. Refrigerate. Coat sweet potatoes with vegetable oil and generous amounts of salt, and bake until cooked through. Cool thoroughly before slicing and topping with the crema and a dusting of black pepper. These are excellent with grilled meats and vegetables.
Glaze ripe fresh figs by covering in a hot simple syrup with a squeeze of lemon and refrigerating overnight. Drain, slit and stuff with Roquefort. Top with crushed pecans. These are good with cold coffee.
The first time I had this recipe was at D&D sessions in the late Seventies, which were of course quite avant-garde in those days. Now what’s usually called seven-layer dip is cliché, but it’s still a good, cheap, and easy go-to nosh for a big group. Most versions include refried beans, guacamole, sour cream, salsa, grated cheddar cheese, and black olives, but consider it a chaotic good concoction.
In a glass or ceramic baking dish, layer 1 (16-ounce) can refried beans (Blue Runner cream-style red beans are also great to use), 2 cups guacamole with the juice of two limes, 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar or a taco cheese blend, 1 finely-chopped raw red onion, 2 cups of sour cream seasoned with a packet of taco seasoning, 2 cups pico de gallo (recommended) or a very chunky salsa drained, 2 small ripe tomatoes diced, and 1 small can of sliced or diced black olives (optional, at least in my game).
Refrigerate—covered with foil or plastic wrap—for at least an hour. Top with finely-shredded lettuce, and serve with corn tortilla chips. This is the most basic recipe; feel free to improvise and revise. I like to add a little garlic to the beans, and if I add ground beef—which I rarely do, since the dish is quite substantial as is—it’s layered between the beans and guac. If you use a store-bought salsa, it’s important to drain it in a sieve beforehand, else it will make the mixture quite soupy. I also add diced jalapenos to the beans rather than sliced japs in the tomato/onion layer. Chopped green onions mixed with the lettuce adds more texture and zing.
A poignant tale of love, loss and thralldom, doubtless embellished with the romance of legend as tales of that time often are, this story was published almost a century ago in The Calhoun County Monitor-Herald.
In the cold, dreary winter of 1852, just after the organization of Calhoun County, quite a number of citizens of Spring and Brushy Creeks were sitting in a rude log cabin by the roadside, where John McCord kept a store, lightly stocked with the necessities of life, discussing the new county and squirting tobacco on the old, rickety stove. Bob Brown, the Postmaster, (for there had recently been established at this place a post office called Banner), came around and stood in the door. Snow and sleet were falling thick and fast and the cold north wind howled through the towering pines and drifted snow against the rude fences. All nature seemed at war–and the howling storm quelled the spirit of those pioneers, who were acquainted with trouble and knew danger and privations.
“The coldest day I ever felt,” said Bob. “Everything outside is freezing.”
While the men were buttoning up their coats, preparatory to breasting the storm en route to their homes, Bob looked eastward along the road and saw a lone woman trudging through the snow storm, coming in the direction of the store. She soon appeared at the door and asked permission to warm at the fire. The gentlemen gallantly gave way and tendered her a seat near the stove.
“Bad weather to be out,” remarked McCord, the merchant. “Quite unpleasant,” replied the woman in soft, sweet voice. She was well and comfortably clad, and had in her hand a well filled grip. She was tall and well formed, with a handsome figure and soft, appealing eyes. Her hair was long, dark and wavy, and her skin was a soft yellow–not quite as dark as the Indian. Her features were animated and her countenance sparkled with every change of expression. Her step, quick and elastic; voice, soft and musical; her language, pure and faultless English and her age about 22 years. The men soon started for home through the drifting storm, and left McCord, Brown and Sid Brantley and the woman still clustered about the stove. The able, big-hearted Brantley asked the woman how it happened that she was caught out in the storm, and where she was going in all this bad weather.
After some hesitation, she answered in a low, musical voice, “I am part Indian and I am making my way to the Indian Nation, where my tribe, the Chickasaws, went in 1836. I was then a small girl living with my grandmother. My mother, a Chickasaw died when I was a baby. My father, a white man, went with the tribe. My grandmother, being very old, was left with me. After grandmother died, I was taken by a nice family of whites, who gave me a home, taught me the art of dressmaking and educated me. But I could not forget my brothers and sisters in the Indian Nation and at last resolved at every hazard, to make my way to them. I have no money or friends that I can call upon for assistance, so I am trying to make my way afoot.”
Her simple story touched Mr. Brantley’s heart, and he cordially invited her to his nearby home. She, with some hesitation, accepted his generous invitation and accompanied him home, where she remained until the storm was over. In conversation, on the way home, Brantley asked her name. She modestly answered, “Bombazelle McAllister”. She was introduced to the family and assured that she could make her home with them until the weather settled. She was assigned a room with Brantley’s oldest daughter. The next day was still cold and blustery and the ladies were confined to their rooms. The stranger soon became familiar with the family. Miss Brantley had a nice new dress pattern she was preparing to make up. Bombazelle examined the goods with great care and suggested how it should be designed. Sissy was delighted. Bombazelle took her measure–a thing heretofore unknown in these wild woods–and she assisted in making the dress. The family was delighted with the attractive design and the gracious fit of the dress. Hence the news spread rapidly throughout the neighborhood that a marvelous designer and dressmaker was stopping at Sid Brantley’s–and the blushing lassies in all the region gathered ’round to have Bombazelle cut and fashion their dresses. She moved from home to home as her services were requested, and at night, occupied rooms and beds with the young ladies of the community.
The snow storm had passed, but Bombazelle remained, kept busy cutting out and making dresses. She was well paid and was kindly received by every family. She was ready and willing to give the young ladies instructions in cutting materials and in dressmaking. She was a fine talker and a lovely girl, her color rather dark, but being part Indian, this was understood. She soon became the Belle of Banner, and the boys called her “The Yellow Rose of Schoona”, and she received the attention of all the nice young men in the neighborhood. John McCord fell desperately in love with Bombazelle, and after a spirited contest with the young swains about Banner, won her heart. McCord was, as the term was known in those far-off days, “well-off”. He had a good house, servants and quite a number of Negro slaves. The couple was married at Brantley’s home, Esquire John Hankins making the happy couple man and wife. There was quite a gathering at the wedding, and, as was the custom, all who wished, were privileged to kiss the bride, as did some of the girls and women present.
The springtime in all its beauty was rapidly approaching. The dogwoods were budding, the birds were all a-twitter and the geese were flying north to their faraway homes. Bombazelle was happy in the home of John McCord. She had a husband who was a leader in the young county and was loved and admired by everyone. She also had Old Sylvia, her trusted servant, and her flock of boys and girls, to attend to her every want. She kept a close eye on the servants, and they had to “toe the mark”. She had her rooms well furnished, wore wonderful clothes, and kept everything about the place in “apple pie” order. Every servant jumped when she spoke, for she was a firm mistress, and ran the house with energy and ability. McCord, too, was happy with his beautiful wife and his elegantly arranged home. The “Yellow Rose” was happy and excited because she was the leader in style and fashion in the whole county. She was constantly sought out and consulted about dresses and was a close friend to the young belles for miles around.
Spring opened in all its glory. The whippoorwills sang at evening, the sun smiled all day on the new fields, just wrested from the primeval forests, and the birds and animals made love in the swamps and endless forests. Late one afternoon, a fine looking gentleman was seen riding a splendid blooded horse into Banner. Mrs. McCord (Bombazelle) observed him–and, in consternation, made it convenient to disappear at once. The traveler alighted and entered the saddle shop owned by J. Brown, and after passing the compliments of the season, inquired if there had been seen in that place a woman who had disappeared. He gave an accurate description of Mrs. McCord. Bob hesitated, looked wise and gave an evasive answer. Night was approaching, so the stranger asked if there was a house of entertainment in town. Brown directed him to Mr. Arnold’s home, just west of town. He made his business known to Mr. Arnold, and said he had traced the woman to Banner–and that she was his Negro house servant and seamstress–and that she had run away from the family home at Aberdeen, Mississippi. Arnold repeated to him the story of Bombazelle’s appearance, her captivation of the community and her marriage to John McCord months before.
“That’s my Negro,” said the stranger, “she is almost white in appearance and is very smart.”
It is hardly necessary to add that the people of Banner were stirred up and greatly excited by his revelation. The belles and beaus were crestfallen. The girls who had entertained and associated with Bombazelle were dumbfounded. The idea of having so cordially entertained this servant in their homes was humiliating. And the young men who had called upon Bombazelle and sought her hand were shocked beyond expression while the older men, who had so fondly kissed the yellow blushing bride, were punched in the ribs by their wives for having embraced the woman in their presence. But the “Yellow Rose”! Where was she? McAllister (the stranger) could not find her anywhere. She had suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. McCord was wild and miserable. His happiness was swept away in the wrinkling of an eye. Dispirited and troubled, he stood about, wondering what to do! His wife, with his knowledge, had been secreted in a cabin on Schoona, there to await the issue. McCord was a good man, law-abiding and honest, yet he did not know but that McAllister was a fraud.
McAllister posted off to Hartford (the community now known as Oldtown, which was the county seat at that time), here he learned that the marriage certificate had been issued to John McCord and Bombazelle McAllister, and that it had been returned by Esq. Hankins. He at once instituted suit against John McCord and his securities, for marrying a Negro, contrary to the laws of the State of Mississippi. McCord’s friends were in close consultation all day, devising ways and means to extricate McCord from his dilemma. Brantley, with a keen eye to business, also went to Hartford, and there met McAllister. Brantley, being always a friend for anyone in distress, had a long interview with McAllister, and induced him to suspend legal proceedings until he could see McCord, assuring him that it was a fraud practiced on McCord, and McCord truly believed that she was part Indian, but had never dreamed that she was a runaway slave–and that she would be found and returned to McAllister. Old Sylvia was the happiest Negro in the county. She and her children clapped their hands at being relieved of such a hard head mistress.
Brantley returned to McAllister that afternoon, after having a long talk with McCord and Brown, entertained him that night and promised him that Bombazelle would be forthcoming in the morning. So, in the morning, bright and early, “The Yellow Rose of Schoona” fondly embraced Mr. McCord, bid him an affectionate farewell, and promptly reported to her master, and they departed for Aberdeen.
Editor’s Note:  In the 1940’s, Dr. W. A. Evans of Aberdeen researched The Monitor Herald story of Bombazelle McAllister in the county courthouse records at Aberdeen. He found advertisements by the man McAllister, giving notice that his slave Bombazelle had run away. After McAllister took her back to Aberdeen, he sold her at once, as she had given trouble before. The money paid for Bombazelle went into the building of a new McAllister home, located in the city of Aberdeen. Dr. Evans reported that no further evidence of Bombazelle exists after she was sold.