You must use a quart of the clearest, richest broth thickened while hot with a thin paste of corn starch and water. To this add the yolks of at least two eggs which have been creamed with a pat of butter. Then add four more chopped hard boiled eggs (yolks and whites), the cooked and chopped livers and gizzards of the turkey as well as the hen you used for your stock (about two cups), but not the meat from the necks, which are superfluous and troublesome. I often add a half cup of chopped, sauteed celery for texture. Salt to taste and season with white pepper. Parsley is pretty, and a smidgen of thyme is a nice accent.
Most Southern holiday dishes are home-grown recipes of family favorites, but it’s a sure bet that many tables will have one dish that was developed in a commercial kitchen in New Jersey. Unlike Grandma’s sweet potato pie or Aunt Sally’s ambrosia, the ubiquitous green bean casserole was developed in 1955 in the Camden, NJ test kitchens of the Campbell Soup Company by home-town girl Dorcas Reilly.
A 1947 graduate in home economics from Drexel University, Reilly began working at Campbell’s in 1949 as one of two full-time staff members in the company’s home economics department. Reilly became something of a prototype for today’s culinary celebrities in the sense that she was among the first to use multiple media outlets for marketing. Not only did her job with Campbell’s involve creating recipes from the company’s products, but she also sent press releases to print media, prepared food for photo shoots and cooked live on television. The difference lies in that Dorcas was not promoting herself; she was promoting Campbell’s, which was a good way to make a living.
“It was really a lot of fun,” Reilly later recalled. “Each Thursday, I would travel to New York to meet with the ad agency. They would tell me what I was to prepare for the live commercial breaks during The Henry Aldrich Show in Studio 3B on NBC. I did everything from shopping for what I needed to preparing the food on the set. Campbell’s sponsored the show from 1951 until it ended in May 1953.”
Since the show was live, Reilly prepared the dishes in a makeshift studio kitchen on two heating elements near a utility sink. When time came for the commercial to air, she would bring the hot dish to a table in front of the camera. “Most times there wasn’t time for me to get out of the shot, so I would hide under the table until the commercial was over,” Reilly said. Reilly led the team that created the green bean casserole in 1955. She says the casserole was invented as a recipe involving two things most Americans always had on hand in the 1950s: canned green beans and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. Like all recipes typical of the period, the casserole requires minimal number of ingredients, takes little time and can be customized to fit a wide range of tastes. An estimated 15 million households will serve Dorcas’ green bean casserole this holiday season. The Campbell’s Soup Company estimates that $20 million worth of cream of mushroom soup are sold each year for use in this recipe alone.
In 2002, Reilly, then living in Haddonfield, NJ, appeared at the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame to donate the original copy of the recipe to the museum. In 2008, Alpha Sigma Alpha, Reilly’s sorority at Drexel, honored her with the Recognition of Eminence Award. And in January of 2013 Drexel established an annual $1,000 scholarship in her honor and bestowed her with its inaugural Cultural Contribution Award. Dorcas died on Oct. 15, 2018 in Haddonfield at the age of 92.
In a his article “Cooked Books” (The New Yorker, April 9, 2007), Adam Gopnik points out that there are four kinds of food in books: “Food that is served by an author to characters who are not expected to taste it; food that is served by an author to characters in order to show who they are; food that an author cooks for characters in order to eat it with them; and, last (and most recent), food that an author cooks for characters but actually serves to the reader.”
Faulkner falls solidly into the second category, a writer who uses food to show who his characters are, as does (unsurprisingly) a French writer who influenced the Mississippian very much, Marcel Proust. “Proust seems so full of food—crushed strawberries and madeleines, tisanes and champagne—that entire recipe books have been extracted from his texts,” Gopnik says. “Proust will say that someone is eating a meal of gigot with sauce béarnaise, but he seldom says that the character had a delicious meal of gigot with sauce béarnaise—although he will extend his adjectives to the weather, or the view. He uses food as a sign of something else.”
This is precisely what Faulkner does with the Thanksgiving meal at the Sartoris home in Flags in the Dust, his first novel to be set in Yoknapatawpha County (called “Yocona”). Written in 1927, the novel was rejected by his publisher, but it was released in a drastically edited version as Sartoris in 1929. The full manuscript was finally restored and published under the editorial direction of Douglas Day in 1973. The novel is set just after World War I and focuses on the once-powerful, aristocratic Sartoris in decline, clinging to the vestiges of affluence. Here Faulkner describes their Thanksgiving table:
. . . Simon appeared again, with Isom in procession now, and for the next five minutes they moved steadily between kitchen and dining room with a roast turkey and a cured ham and a dish of quail and another of squirrel, and a baked ‘possum in a bed of sweet potatoes; and Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes, and squash and pickled beets and rice and hominy, and hot biscuits and beaten biscuits and long thin sticks of cornbread and strawberry and pear preserves, and quince and apple jelly, and blackberry jam and stewed cranberries. Then they ceased talking for a while and really ate, glancing now and then across the table at one another in a rosy glow of amicability and steamy odors. From time to time Isom entered with hot bread . . . and then Simon brought in pies of three kinds, and a small, deadly plum pudding, and a cake baked cunningly with whiskey and nuts and fruit and treacherous and fatal as sin; and at last, with an air sibylline and gravely profound, a bottle of port.” (Flags in the Dust, Random House, 1973, p. 281)
The meal is lorded over by the family patriarch, Bayard Sartoris II, who is soon to die as well as his son, Bayard III, leaving the few remaining members of the once proud and powerful Sartoris family destitute. Old Bayard’s attempts to maintain the family’s traditional high standards are exemplified by this meal, which is indeed a groaning board with plentiful meats and game, vegetables and breads, sweets and condiments. The inclusion of stewed cranberries, somewhat of a luxury item at the time, stands out. Towards the end, adjectives begin to cluster as they tend to do in Faulkner, and the final, “sibylline and gravely profound” presentation of port lends a dark, ceremonial coda.
Bourbon plays a key role in Southern holiday cooking; both Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Capote’s A Christmas Memory tell of Prohibition-era ladies sending someone to the local bootlegger to get a bottle for their fruitcakes and eggnog as well as for that indispensable Southern holiday dessert, pecan pie.
But it’s not about the booze; it’s about flavor. Alcohol boils at a much lower temperature than water, so even a simmer will cause the alcohol in any dish—even eggnog, if it’s served hot—to evaporate. Not completely, of course, but you can usually reduce the amount of alcohol in any dish to an insignificant amount by heating. Then, of course, if you use only a few tablespoons in a cake or pie, it’s diluted in the mix. Even if you’re just dousing a cake with bourbon over a period of time, most of that alcohol will evaporate. Alcohol also brings out flavor compounds not soluble by water or heat. That’s exactly what happens in this recipe; the sweet, mellow bourbon just snuggles up to the bar with the brown sugar and pecans.
Beat together ¾ cup Karo Light, ¾ cup packed light brown sugar, 3 large eggs (at room temperature), a tablespoon of corn starch or arrowroot mixed with a tablespoon of water, 2 tablespoons melted butter, a teaspoon salt, a tablespoon vanilla extract, and 2 shots (1/4 cup) good bourbon. I use Southern Comfort because it’s sweet. Add a cup of chopped pecans and mix very well. This is your filling Melt a quarter cup butter, add a half cup brown sugar, stir in a cup and a half pecan halves, cook for a few minutes, drain and cool Pour filling into a 9-inch pie crust. Topping with pecan halves, and place on the center rack of 350 oven. After 30 minutes, cover loosely with foil and cook until set, about 15 minutes or so. Cool and refrigerate before serving.
His name was Clifford. According to my mother, he was the son of my father’s first cousin once removed, but as far as I was concerned, he was a spawn of Satan. Clifford taught me how to roll rabbit tobacco, what a wedgie is, and made me eat my first (and only) Irish plum.
It’s quite possible that the reason most people in my part of the world aren’t accustomed to cooking with persimmons is because they were tricked into eating an unripe persimmon as a child. That’s what Clifford called an Irish plum, and it sure looked like a green plum, which should have clued me in on not eating it in the first place. Anyone who bites into an unripe persimmon will never forget the experience; it’s agonizingly, mouth-puckeringly astringent; the tannins in the green fruit turn spit into chalk.
The fruit Cliff dared me to eat (successfully) was the fruit of the American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). American persimmons are astringent. They really don’t need a frost to ripen; that’s more or less a rule of thumb, but a frost will cause ripe fruit to fall. Ripe American persimmons have a wrinkled, waxy, reddish-orange skin, and while they don’t have a lot of pulp, it has a deep, unique, molasses-y taste.
The most common persimmon you’ll find in markets is the non-astringent Oriental, Chinese, or Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki). This non-astringent persimmon—usually referred to as fuyu—isn’t totally free of tannins, but are far less astringent when green and lose their tannins sooner. These persimmons are the national fruit of Japan, a symbol of autumn in much the same way pumpkins are in the United States. In Buddhism, they are symbols of transformation: green persimmons are bitter, representing ignorance; sweet, ripened fruits represent the wisdom that comes with maturity.
If the persimmons you buy in the store have even the faintest tinge of green, let them to sit at room temperature in natural light for a couple of days or put the persimmons in a paper bag along with pieces of apples, bananas, or pears. These fruits give off ethylene gas, which helps the persimmons to ripen more quickly as well. Once ripe, persimmons can be stored in the refrigerator and should be eaten or used within three days. The Persimmon Festival held every September in Mitchell, Indiana, hosts a contest for persimmon pudding, a baked dessert with the consistency of sweet potato pie. To Hoosiers, this dish is sacred, and purists insist on fully-ripened native fruit, but most all the rest of us must make do with fuyu.
Peel and chop five ripe (fuyu) persimmons until smooth and strain. You should get about two cups of pulp; if you don’t, add another persimmon. Blend pulp with two beaten eggs and two cups sugar until smooth. Stir a teaspoon of baking soda into a cup of buttermilk. Add to persimmon mixture along with 1 ½ cups flour sifted with a tablespoon of baking powder. Stir in a quarter stick melted butter, a teaspoon vanilla, and a dash or so of cinnamon. Pour into a buttered dish and bake at 350 until firm and set, about an hour or so.