When Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” topped the charts in 1971, many people (me among them) assumed that he got the title from a chicken and egg sandwich—which in diner lingo is known as a Mother and Child reunion.
But in fact the title came from a meal he had at the Say Eng Look Restaurant in New York City. In a 1972 Rolling Stone interview, Simon said, “I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown. There was a dish called ‘Mother and Child Reunion.’ It’s chicken and eggs.”
Known as “mother/child/daughter,” variations of this combination are common menu items at Asian restaurants. Another version—oyakodon: mother/daughter bowl—has been described as Japanese “soul food.” As with any basic dish, the reunion is made in as many ways as there are cooks to make it. Here’s my version, which varies with available ingredients.
Cube a boneless breast of chicken, dust with fresh pepper, and fry in vegetable oil with a a clove of garlic until browned. Poach in chicken broth until tender; doesn’t take long. Drain chicken, reserving the broth, and stir-fry/saute with sliced onions, and whatever else you’re adding. I’ll throw in things like thinly sliced mushrooms, celery, carrots, and cabbage or kale of some kind cut in some form or fashion.
Add enough broth to cover the chicken by half, bring to a simmer, and dribble in two or three beaten eggs in sort of a figure 8. Stir gently, cover, and steam until the eggs have firmed and blossomed. Thicken slightly with a thin slurry of water and corn starch. Ladle into a bowl of rice, and top with chopped green onions..
This recipe fills your home with those aromas many Southerners associate with the coming of cool weather: apples, cloves, cinnamon, and oranges. I recommend tangerines, satsumas, or Valencia oranges, and a mix of tart and sweet apples.
To a gallon of water, quarter about a half dozen apples and three or four oranges, depending on size. Don’t peel the apples, but by all means peel the oranges, saving a strip of peel for zest. Add four sticks of cinnamon, a teaspoon of whole cloves, and a thumb of peeled ginger.
When the apples are soft through, let it cool. Then mash and strain, first through a colander, then a wire strainer. For better clarity, use cheesecloth. Add the juice of a lemon, and brown sugar to taste. A healthy slosh or two of dark rum ensures a warm reception.
Every family has a picky eater, and in ours it was my baby brother, Tom. His hamburgers were mayonnaise only, his salads “honeymoon” (lettuce alone), and steaks not medium well, but well. Very well.
These specifications presented a challenge to our mother, whose patience was as limited as Tom’s stubbornness was infinite. Breakfasts were an ordeal; the merest fleck of white in a serving of scrambled eggs would send him into a sour sulk, complete with crossed arms, a lowered head, and a puckered brow.
He was an absolute tyrant. Bacon had to be evenly cooked, but not crisp, and his biscuits had to come from the center of the pan. Now I wish I’d asked him why.
Eventually, mother found a dish that Tom adored so much that it was all he ate for breakfast until he went to Ole Miss. Even after he’d finished graduate school, she’d make it for his breakfast when he came to visit. You’d better believe he ate it.
We called it French toast, but this simple recipe of bread dipped in beaten eggs and milk and fried is very old and known by many names, most notably pain perdu, “lost bread”. French toast is most often served as a sweet dish much like pancakes or waffles with powdered sugar, syrup and fruit, but Tom preferred it simply seasoned with salt and pepper. We usually made it with Wonder bread, but it’s good with pretty much any sliced bread.
Beat three eggs in a cup of milk, season with a little salt and pepper; add vanilla or almond extract if you plan to serve it sweet. Sop dried bread slices in egg/milk mixture and pan-fry in butter until nicely browned.
“Le bon ton” references that flaky crust of society assumed to have cutting-edge style and better manners than those of us wallowing among The Great Unwashed. As such, the phrase “bon ton” has been used by a variety of businesses–particularly restaurants, of course–hoping to attract such a clientele.
One such establishment, the Bon Ton Café at 211 West Capitol Street in Jackson, opened in the early 1900s. The Bon Ton was one of the city’s finest dining establishments, and had the first electric sign on Capitol Street to better attract customers from Union Station.
Another more famous Bon Ton was established in New Orleans in the Natchez Building at 401 Magazine Street. Originally opened in the early 1900s as well, the business was revived in the early 1950s by Al and Alzina Pierce, who came to the Crescent City from south Louisiana, bringing with them their recipes from Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes, becoming the first dining establishment in the city to stake a claim for Cajun cuisine in a city already famous for its Creole culinary tradition.
The Bon Ton’s best-known dish is its bread pudding. When I worked in the Florida panhandle, we made a similar pudding with stale croissants, but the texture was dense owing to the abundance of air pockets in the bread; a good, foamy French loaf is much better the recipe.
Here is Alzina Pierce’s original recipe, which comes via Jackson native Winnifred Green Cheney’s Southern Hospitality Cookbook (Oxmoor, 1976).
Soak one loaf of French bread in a quart of whole milk and crush with hands until well mixed. Add 3 eggs, 2 cups sugar, 2 tablespoons vanilla extract, 1 cup seedless raisins (optional), and place in a buttered “thick, oblong baking pan”. Bake until very firm, then cool. Make a whiskey sauce; cream a half cup of butter with a cup of sugar, and cook in a double boiler until thoroughly dissolved. Add a well-beaten egg, whipping rapidly to prevent curdling. Let cool and add whiskey of your choice to taste. Pour over pudding, heat under broiler and serve.
This light soup is good cool on a warm afternoon or warm on a cool evening. Add three cups chopped fresh or two cups well-drained frozen spinach and two small jars quartered artichoke hearts to about a quart of broth seasoned with thyme, parsley, chives, and a minced clove of garlic. Simmer for about half an hour. Add a half quart of drained oysters dusted with pepper. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat immediately. Hold on heat for another half hour. Top with finely chopped shallots.
When winter squash come to market, I know we’re not far from a hard frost, and my mind goes back to a dry October hillside on a failing farm in north Mississippi.
My father was a lawyer during the 50s and 60s in a rural county in north Mississippi. Money was never plentiful, but we had what we needed. We never had to buy firewood, we always had a freezer full of meat wrapped in white butcher paper, and a cupboard stocked with some of the best home-canned foods in the South. Around Christmas, Daddy would go to the back door some nights and come back with bottles tightly wrapped in brown paper sacks.
In Octobers, when it was still hot and dry, he’d usher my sister, brother, and me into the car and drive out from Bruce to the Ellard community where an old man and his wife lived on a small farm. Across the road from their house, the slope of a small hill was covered with yellowing vines bearing winter squashes. We’d get out there and gather all we could carry, which wasn’t much, while Daddy sat on the porch with them with a glass of tea and talked.
Once after we left, I asked him why he didn’t pay the man. “Son, they wouldn’t take my money,” he said.
“Years back, their boy got into trouble, a lot of trouble. I did everything I could to keep him out of prison. But I couldn’t, and they understood. I never asked them for a penny. I knew they didn’t have it. But he’d feel bad if I didn’t come out and get these. It’s his gift, and you don’t turn down gifts from a man who doesn’t have much to give. It means more to me–-and him–-than anything anybody else would give me.”
The squash were acorns and yellow Hubbards; some were peeled, cubed, and parboiled for a casserole or pie. Others were split, seeded, usually scored, brushed with melted butter, sprinkled with brown sugar, and baked in a hot oven until soft and slightly singed. Once on the table, we’d scoop out the flesh with a spoon, put it on our plates and mash it with a fork, usually with a pat of butter.
Wash and clean two pounds very small potatoes. Blot dry, toss with oil seasoned with three cloves minced garlic and a tablespoon each of onion powder, salt, and pepper. Spread in a deep pan and roast at 350, stirring every five minutes or so until the larger ones are soft through. Toss with a light vinaigrette before serving.
Nowadays most discussions—more often polemics—about culinary authenticity involve terms such as “the salience of ethnic identity” and “aligning broader socio-political representations”.
These investigations certainly have their place in this global franchise we call a world, but when it comes to a specific restaurant recipe, we’re on less esoteric footing. We know that at some point in time, at this particular place, a recipe was formulated, prepared and served, a recipe that became an archetype for any that followed, and our best means of replicating such dishes is to find recipes written by people who are thoroughly familiar with the original and have the wherewithal to replicate it with authority.
Such is the case with Arnaud’s signature recipe for oysters Bienville in Bayou Cuisine that’s credited to Jackson restaurateur Paul Crechale. This recipe rings with authenticity and authority. Note the use of a beige roux to thicken, cream and egg yolks to enrich, mushrooms, shrimp, and a hard dry cheese for substance.
Prepare the sauce by browning lightly in 3 tablespoons butter 2 minced onions. Stir in 3 tablespoons flour and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is lightly browned. Be sure not to let it burn. Add gradually 1 ½ cups chicken consommé, ½ cup white wine, 1 cup minced raw mushrooms and 1 ½ cups chopped cooked shrimp. Cook slowly, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes. Open 3 dozen oysters and put them in their deep shells (my italics, jly) on individual baking dishes. Bake the oysters in their own juices in a moderate oven (350) for about 6 minutes. Thicken sauce with 2 egg yolks beaten with 2 tablespoons heavy cream and heat the sauce without boiling. Cover each oyster with some of the sauce and sprinkle lightly with equal parts of dry bread crumbs and grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Return the oysters to the oven for about 10 minutes, until browned.
Dishes similar to this are made throughout the West Indies as well as Bermuda, where it’s traditionally served on Guy Fawkes Night (Nov. 5) by evil heathen royalists as well as those noble democratic souls who simply like to set a good table. The texture is fudge-like, very dense and intensely flavorful. The toasted coconut flakes seen here as a topping can be added to the pudding mix as well, but do not use raw grated coconut or it will get gummy.
Mix 1 1/2 pounds cooked pureed sweet potato with 2 cups cream of coconut, 1 stick melted butter, juice of 1 lime and 1 cup brown sugar until smooth. Blend in by spoonfuls 1 cup flour; add 1 cup raisins (optional), a tablespoon each of vanilla and lime juice, and a teaspoon each ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. A generous slosh of dark rum is a nice touch. Pour batter into a well-oiled 8-inch cake pan and bake at 350 for about an hour until firm then cool. Best served chilled; this recipe easily provides a dozen servings.