Ripening Off the Vine

Do tomatoes ripen after picking? Yes, they do. Tomatoes are climacteric and produce ethylene, which triggers and promotes ripening, a complex process that softens and—most importantly—sweetens fruit. Climacteric fruits (a tomato is a type of berry) include apples, bananas, mangoes, papayas, pears, apricots, peaches, plums, avocados, plantains, guavas, nectarines, passion fruits, and blueberries. Non-climacteric fruits are citruses, berries such as raspberries, strawberries and cherries, grapes, pineapples, melons, and pomegranate. Putting a greenish tomato on its stem end in a paper sack with an apple or banana will help it ripen.

Patio Puppies

I can just hear y’all: “Yancy’s click-baiting a recipe for squash fritters!”  What I’m saying is these nuggets are great for any outside meal. Even a fish fry. Summer squash—yellow, white, or green—with chopped chiles and onions are go-to vegetables. Grate squash, and squeeze out the water. For one cup grated squash to two cups self-rising white corn meal, add a one large egg, well-beaten, about ¾ cup milk and ½ cup vegetable oil. Stir until just mixed and drop by spoonfuls into hot oil. The puppies should rise and turn as they cook and brown. Put pups on a pan with paper towels in a low oven to crisp. Serving with a citrus-y comeback or a thin salsa.

Scampi

In the life of any given classic recipe, you will find instances where it becomes caught in a backwater eddy and becomes a poor, grotesque thing far removed from its heyday, rather much like a fading star of stage and screen who can only find an audience where their celebrity is no more than their name (think Citizen Kane). Many recipes fall subject to this farce simply because their name on a menu is a draw: a pasta prima vera with frozen vegetables, for instance or a  steak Diane with canned cream of mushroom soup. In capable hands classic recipes made with fresh, quality ingredients can be magical, but I’m here to tell you somebody’s bound to fuck up just about anything with alarming frequency.

I worked in a restaurant where the house recipe for scampi was particularly wretched. The sauce consisted of garlic powder, a commercial oil product (Whirl) and the remnants of whatever open bottle of wine the bartender on duty had available. That’s it. This concoction was poured over a dozen medium-sized shrimp arranged in a small circular metal dish and placed in a salamander. More often than not, the results were dry and chewy. Had our customers been more sophisticated, no doubt they would have complained with vigor and frequency, but the very fact that they didn’t led to the recipe becoming entrenched on our menu and likely defining this trash as scampi for many people.

To make proper scampi, sauté or broil the best shrimp available in a really good butter with plenty of fresh, finely-minced garlic, a fruity white wine, salt and white pepper. Before serving, add a jolt of lemon juice and a sprinkling of parsley. Some thicken the sauce with starch,  add scallions, or even chopped drained tomatoes, which I consider rather excessive. Scampi can be served as an appetizer or over pasta as an entree.

About Limas

All butter beans are limas, but not all limas are butter beans. Got that?

Actually, it’s a lot more complicated. While lima beans and butter beans are usually thought of as two different types of beans, they are both varieties of Phaseolus lunatus (literally “moon bean”), which has a very complicated history of domestication in Meso- and South America. During the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru (16th-19th centuries), when limas were exported to North America and Europe, the boxes of beans were stamped with their place of origin (“Lima, Peru“), and the beans got named as such. But of course, when referring to the bean, the word is pronounced LY-mah, while the Peruvian capital is (as you all know) pronounced LEE-mah.

As a rule, large, yellow/white/speckled limas are generally known as butter beans, while the smaller, green varieties are called, well, limas. The smallest may even be called “baby” limas. However, I have been told that “they call butter beans limas up North,” which puts another spin on it. Among the most popular varieties grown in Mississippi are ‘Thorogreen’ and ‘Henderson,’ both small green bush types; ‘Jackson Wonder,’ also a bush variety, is small and brown or speckled; ‘Florida Speckled’ is a larger pole variety, and the hard-to-find ‘Willow Leaf,’ also a pole variety, has something of a cult following. Butterpeas are also a type of limas. Limas are a warm-weather crop and come into season sometime around mid-June and, with the planting of second crops in late July and early August, stay in season well into October.

Fresh beans should be smooth and plump, somewhat tacky to the touch. Limas have a low glycemic index, are rich in fiber, iron, protein and B vitamins. Fresh beans should be washed and picked over for damage, dirt, or detritus, washed, and set to cook in water 2:1; fresh beans don’t need as much water as dried, and they don’t need pre-soaking. As with most beans, hambone is a classic addition, but many people simply use stock. Bring beans to a boil, then lower heat to simmer and cover until beans are soft. I always use white pepper instead of black to season, and rarely use anything more until the beans are cooked, at which point they become the basis for any number of wonderful dishes.

Every summer I make baked limas in sour cream. For a pound of cooked limas with about a half cup of the liquid, add a quarter cup of brown sugar, and a cup of sour cream mixed with a teaspoon corn starch to keep it from separating. Flour will work in a pinch. Mix well. Bake in a low oven until set. This dish goes with anything at all but is open to any number of frivolous variations.

Lemonade Cookies

An easy, delightful recipe for a summer afternoon. Cream 2 sticks of softened butter with a cup of sugar. Mix in two large eggs, and beat until light. Sift three cups all-purpose flour with a teaspoon of baking soda and blend into the creamed mixture. Add a 6-oz. can of (thawed) lemonade concentrate. A tablespoon or so of lemon zest is a nice touch. Drop dough by spoonfuls on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 400 for about 8-10 mins. Cool and coat with icing made with confectioner’s sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Pink or yellow food coloring is pretty in dough and/or icing.

Basic Caponata

Not long ago a friend said that whoever ate the first eggplant was much more courageous than whoever ate the first oyster. I agreed with fervor. The eggplant, like Cher, must be gussied up quite a bit to be palatable. Eggplants have so little character that they’re a pliable basis for dozens of really good dishes such as caponata. This stewy concoction is good  hot or cold, as a side or a spread. A friend makes vegetarian muffalettas with it, and while purists may wail, there’s nothing to stop you from using caponata instead of olive relish on a meat muffaletta. It’s simple to make, keeps well, and the flavor improves with age. This recipe makes about a quart.

Peel and cube one large eggplant, simmer in olive oil with a finely-minced clove of garlic and about half a cup each of chopped celery and sweet onion. This is one of the few recipes you’ll find me recommending a sweet onion; caponata is a sweet/sour concoction, and I prefer to use vegetables and dried fruit for the sweetness instead of sugar. You’ll add maybe a rind of smoked sweet red pepper (a ripe pickled cherry is a nice touch, too), a scant handful of chopped olives and a tablespoon or two of tomato paste to round out the (somewhat) savory elements along with a jolt of strong red wine for both you and the pan. For out-and-out sweetness, use a half cup of dried fruit, figs being excruciatingly appropriate, but don’t let that stop you from using whatever raisins, dates or apricots you have on hand. A heaping teaspoon of capers (the eponymous and ergo compulsory component) gives enough salt. and a measure of herbal vinegar will set the tartness. Season with a good Italian blend, but don’t overdo it; let the meld define the flavor.

The Naked Quiche

At the old Bean Blossom in Oxford, we worked with a limited inventory and a short menu. This was no ball-and-chain for our spontaneity. One morning, with no time to make crusts, we decided on quiches for lunch. So we made naked quiches, and they were beautiful.

These are called frittatas. (My Italian friend Olli says that’s what his gay cousin calls a roofie.) Most frittatas are just fried potatoes and eggs, the most basic dish imaginable. It’s also substantial (i.e., heavy), so unless you’re a real trencherman, a little goes a long way. I always add cheese, usually that Italian blend; if you’re a purist, freshly-grated Romano or Parmesan works, but anything will do in a pinch. This recipe is best made in a 9-in. skillet.

Peel and dice two waxy potatoes; you want about two cups. You can either pan fry these in hot olive oil with a minced clove of garlic or parboil, drain, and then fry. Either way, you want potato chunks that are cooked through and a bit crusty. Beat four eggs quite well, add to oiled skillet, and when eggs begin to bubble, sprinkle in the potatoes, stirring gently. At this point, I always add sweet peppers or spinach, then the cheese. Keep fiddling about until everything is mixed well, then pop in a hot over for about ten minutes.

 

Dolly’s Teacakes

For long afternoons when it’s too hot and buggy to play outside, and the teddy bears are hungry. Cream 1 cup softened butter with 1 ½ cups sugar. Add a tablespoon vanilla extract and 3 lightly beaten eggs. Mix very well. Sift 3 cups all-purpose flour with a tablespoon of baking powder and a teaspoon of salt. Using your favorite wooden spoon, mix flour with butter and eggs. Chill dough, roll out on a lightly-floured board, and cut into small rounds. Bake on a lightly-oiled cookie sheet in a medium oven for somewhere round 10 minutes. Serve with strawberry Kool-Aid.

Pickled Shrimp Salad

Pickled shrimp are a Southern favorite for even the most modest alfresco summer occasion, a solid recommendation for your next kegger. Use nothing smaller than a 26/30 count shrimp, though 21/25 is ideal. Boil, peel, and if you’re the persnickety type, devein. For five pounds of shrimp, mix with two white onions (yellow are too sweet, and red will bleed) thinly sliced, a few fresh bay leaves, a cup of diced sweet pickled red peppers, a cup of rice vinegar, a cup of vegetable oil, a small jar of capers (with liquid), two tablespoons of good Italian herb blend, and a tablespoon of coarse black pepper. Toss until shrimp are coated, cover, and chill overnight. In season, add diced ripe summer tomatoes before spooning over leaf greens and drizzling with marinade.

Did Jones County Secede?

This essay by Alexander Lee Bondurant appeared in Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, vol. 1 (pp. 104-6), printed for the Society in Oxford, Mississippi in 1898. Other entries include “Mississippi as a Field for the Student of Literature”, by W.L. Weber, “Suffrage in Mississippi”, by R.H. Thompson and “Some Inaccuracies in Claiborne’s History in Regard to Tecumseh” by  Charles Riley.

Most alumni of the University of Mississippi will find Professor Bondurant’s name familiar if only for the classes they took in Bondurant Hall, though some of the most hard-core Ole Miss fans will remember him as the man who established the University of Mississippi football team and served as its coach during its first season in 1893. For the record, the Rebs had a 4-1 season, losing only to the Southern Athletic Club in New Orleans (0-24) on Nov. 30; they stayed in the city long enough to beat Tulane there two days later (12-4). Bondurant was also a classics scholar with degrees from the University of Virginia and Harvard.

I reproduce his essay refuting the existence of the Free State of Jones out of historical interest. I myself remain solidly convinced that the Free State of Jones was never a cohesive entity, much less one with noble objectives, most likely nothing more than a handful of outlaws protecting themselves and their families against the depredations of a moribund, corrupt local regime.

Did Jones County Secede?

It seems that many within and without the State would answer this query in the affirmative, and even their ordinance of succession is given by one writer on the subject as follows:

“WHEREAS, The State of Mississippi, for reasons which appear justifiable, has seen fit to withdraw from the Federal Union; and,

WHEREAS, We, the citizens of Jones County, claim the same right, thinking our grievances are sufficient by reason of an unjust law passed by the Confederate States of America forcing us to go into distant parts, etc., and therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That we sever the union heretofore existing between Jones County and The State of Mississippi, and proclaim our independence of the said State and of the Confederate States of America; and we solemnly call upon Almighty God to witness and bless this act.”

Such being the case, it has seemed to me in order to advert to a discussion in The Nation beginning March 24, 1892, which throws considerable light on the question. In the paper of this date Samuel Willard, of Chicago, writes that he had been a soldier in the army which invaded Mississippi, and that he had never during the war heard of such an occurrence. When, therefore, he saw the statement made in The New England Magazine for November, 1891, the author being professor Hart, he doubted its accuracy. It may be stated just here that Professor Hart, in a subsequent history of The Nation, gives as his authority Mr. Galloway, historian of the Sixth Army Corps, who published in The Magazine of American History for October, 1886, an article entitled “A Confederacy Within a Confederacy”; but upon what authority Mr. Galloway based his statements does not appear. He therefore wrote to the Governor of the State of Mississippi and to the clerk of Jones County, and elicited replies from both of these gentlemen, and Governor Stone enclosed a letter from his predecessor, Hon. Robert Lowry, who was sent to Jones County during the war in command of troops for the purpose of arresting deserters. The texts of the letters are too long to quote in full, so a few passages will have to suffice. Gov. Stone writes:

“It gives me great pleasure to inform you that the whole story is a fabrication, and there is scarcely any foundation for any part of it. To begin with, Jones County furnished perhaps as many soldiers to the army of the Confederacy as any other county of like population. * * * Many of them declined to go into the army in the beginning, but so far as formal withdrawal or resolution to that effect is concerned, no such thing ever occurred in Jones County. Hon. Robert Lowry was sent to Jones County during the war for the purpose of arresting and returning deserters to their commands, and there was some little fighting with these bands of deserters, or rather bush-whacking of his men by the deserters; and some of the deserters were arrested and executed, but only a few. The whole story is the veriest fabrication, and I presume few persons of intelligence will believe any of it.”

Ex-Governor Lowry writes: “The county furnished nearly and probably its entire quote of soldiers, many of whom did splendid service. No such effort as establishing a separate government was ever attempted. The story of withdrawal and establishing a separate government is a pure fabrication—not the shadow of foundation for it.”

Governor McLaurin, in a recent letter to me on this subject, writes: “I was a boy thirteen years old when the war commenced. I was ‘raised’ in Smith County, a county adjoining Jones. I was at home the first three years of the war, and, if there was any attempt by Jones County to secede and set up a separate government, I did not hear anything of it. I was in a brigade that intercepted a federal raid that started from Baton Rouge to Mobile in November or December, 1864, and we passed through or very near Jones County, and I never heard of any attempt to set up a separate government in the county. I think it safe for you to negate the whole story.”

E.B. Sharp Esq., chancery clerk, writes: “The report is utterly false in every particularly.”