Before my ancestors were shipped off to Virginia for lampooning the local gentry and skipping out on enormous bar tabs, they lived in a beautiful old country on the west coast of Britain known as Wales. After prolonged contention, Wales–like Scotland and Ireland–has been assimilated into the United Kingdom, but like their sister subjugants, Wales observes its own saint’s day, the Feast of St. David, which falls on March 1.
It’s a crying shame that the blessed David’s feast has been eclipsed in this country by that humbug Patrick’s on the 17th; after all, compared to David, Patrick was second-rate. David was able to make the earth beneath him shift and rise, a truly impressive feat, whereas Patrick’s most notable claim to fame is the single-handed extinction of Ireland’s indigenous snake population. Not only that, but David was a true Welshman, a native of Cardigan, while Patrick himself was actually from Wales. His abduction by the Irish can be interpreted on many levels, none of which are remotely spiritual.
The Irish praise the potato (a 17th century import from America), but the Welsh glory in the leek, which has been cultivated in Britain for millennia. Welsh soldiers wore leeks to distinguish themselves into battle as early as the days of King Arthur, himself a Welshman. As a parting shot, let me add that daffodils, the national flower of Wales, strike a brighter, more noble note in a vase than a bunch of tufted clover ever will.
Leeks are basically big-ass green onions, which place them in the important botanical family Alliaceae; all onions, as well as garlic, chives, shallots and their ilk, belong to this group of herbs. Leeks are a cool-season crop, which goes a long way to explain why they’re not a familiar item on the Southern sideboard, but I can usually grab a bunch (about three stalks) of leeks for about that many dollars any time of the year at my local supermarket. My Scots ancestors used chicken and leeks with barley in their jauntily-named cock-a-leekie soup. Leeks make a beautiful addition to any stir-fry (working well with peppers), and thin slices of leek in a quiche look nice and taste great.
Leeks also take exceptionally well to braising and are great in a gratin. Use about a half cup prepared leek per person. Cut away the roots and all but the last inch or so of the green away and wash very well. Slice and layer the rounds in a gratin or baking dish. Cover with a cream sauce, a béchamel or better yet a Mornay. Keep the seasonings simple, just a bit of salt and pepper, nothing more. A liberal sprinkling of good hard cheese on top is a great idea, but for Pete’s sake get an honest wedge and grate it; don’t use that sawdust in a green shaker. Place in a hot oven (375) until bubbling; fifteen minutes should do it. Serve hot.
Beat together very well six large eggs and 2 cups of heavy cream; you can use half-and-half in a pinch, but even whole milk, won’t give you the best meld. Season with salt and pepper; nutmeg is traditional, but I never seem to have any on hand.
Pour half of this mixture into an 8-in. crust, add mushrooms and spinach–about a half cup of each–and a sprinkling of grated cheese, then pour on the rest of the egg mixture. Shake the pan to settle.
Top with a little more cheese for dining room drama and bake at 375 for about 30 minutes or until the top is puffed and slightly browned. Cool on a counter rack and brush with melted butter before slicing and serving.
When the American Institute of Architects awarded Samuel (Sambo) Mockbee the AIA Gold Medal in 2003, he joined an elite company of architects (including Thomas Jefferson) who received the award posthumously. “The AIA does not like to confer a gold medal on people who are no longer living,” says architect Tom Howorth. “It’s an award for those who have the potential to continue contributing to the field of architecture. The fact that it was conferred on Sambo confirms he is continuing to shape the architectural landscape.”
Sambo Mockbee died in 2001. Hailed as a visionary with designs such as the Barton House in Madison, the Cook House in Oxford and the Magee Church of Christ to name a very few, Mockbee set an even higher benchmark when he and D.K. Ruth co-founded the Rural Studio at Auburn University. There in the heart of Alabama’s Black Belt, the studio continues to be a place where students learn the social responsibilities of architecture by creating homes and buildings with a spirit for poor communities.
“Sambo’s mission was to see about people,” Jackie Mockbee says. Jackie married Sambo in 1970. “We had two blind dates, we really did,” Jackie says. “The first was at a homecoming for Sambo when he was at Fort Benning. I’m sure he didn’t remember me; I just remember having fun watching everyone there. Two years later, my cousin called me and said they were going to a party and said there’s this guy that we all know who needs a date. They started telling me who he was, and. I said, ‘Wait a minute; I’ve had a date with him before.’ They asked me if I had fun, and I told them that we really didn’t get to know one another. That night, Sambo asked me if I went to MSCW, if I was a Baptist and if I’d marry him. I said, ‘Yes, yes and no.’ That was in August. We were married that December.” The Mockbees had four children, but Jackie remembers that at their home in Canton, “We had kids everywhere.” Jackie says. “They ran all around the neighborhood, but always ended up in our yard. Sambo was like the Pied Piper; he always had something going on, he was always the coach, and when he hit that door, the kids came running.”
“He was a gregarious, affable, lovable teddy-bear of a guy,” says Malcolm White, a long-time friend. “Once you became his friend, you were his friend for life. He loved collecting eclectic personalities. He was an engaging conversationalist and could sit up literally all night and carry on about Van Gogh or the Civil War or American history or Western civilization or anything else you might be interested in.”
“In the early 80s, Sambo had an office on North Street on a stretch of property that’s now parking lots,” Malcolm says. “On Friday afternoons, Sambo would gather people and would serve Heinekens, which he loved, and sausages or peanuts, whatever he had on hand. Sambo began to explain to us that he had this big idea that he was closing in on, this notion that was going to involve all of us,” Malcolm says. “He wanted to empower rural people of little means in the same way that wealthy people could empower him to design beautiful, elaborate offices. He wanted to incorporate not just architecture and design, but philanthropy and entertainment and recreation, all the components that build community. Basically what he was talking about became the Rural Studio.”
Former partner Coleman Coker first met Mockbee in Corinth. “I think in 1980 or 1981, and we hit it off, just sitting around and talking. Neither one of us had much work at the time,” Coleman says. “He was making a lot of collages, I was painting, and that’s where we found a commonality in translating the world as we saw it through our constructions and paintings into architectural compositions. We never were successful going out and marketing ourselves, particularly to corporate clients,” Coleman says. “Most of the work we were proudest of involved small residences for people looking for something different, looking for something that had a relationship to place, to locale. Most of those buildings were reflections of the clients, an extension of their personalities, and as we got more built, more people would see them and give us a call.”
“We didn’t sit around talking about the work of other architects; we’d talk about literature—Welty and Faulkner—looking for roots, connections to place, and we found that so much more directly through Southern writers,” Coleman says. “There’s no long tradition of Southern architecture outside of the classical, which comes from Europe, and we weren’t looking for that. We were trying to build on what was just beneath the surface here in the Deep South, whether it was black culture or the culture of the landed gentry, whatever mythology could be unearthed.” Mythology, Coleman admits, is “difficult to talk about.”
“Sambo, through the paintings that he did, was building a whole mythological world,” Coleman says. “Characters would repeat themselves throughout the paintings, and they started telling a narrative. It’s easier to render a narrative through literature, even through painting, than it is through architecture, yet you strive to expound those roots and reprocess them through design. Our concern with social responsibility in professional ethics fell in trying to reach out to a group that was estranged otherwise,” Coleman says. “We were trying to design in context with this locale, the locale in a social sense, when the abject poverty in much of Mississippi was virtually ignored by the great majority of designers and the great majority of people who could afford architects.”
In 1993, Mockbee and D.K. Ruth founded the Rural Studio. “Prior to the Rural Studio there were a few notable construction-focused, hands-on learning opportunities in architecture schools in the country, notably at Yale,” says Tom Howorth, also a former partner. “But there was nothing on the scale, level of commitment and pedagogical continuity that runs through the Rural Studio. Now there are those sorts of programs across the country. So much of what we do is picked from catalogues that the work of putting buildings together becomes a matter of picking the systems that exist and putting them together in a way that you solve the client’s problem,” Tom says. “That wasn’t what Sambo was interested in; he was interested in creating from scratch. He challenged students to think originally.”
Daughter Carol Mockbee recalls that “Papa (Sambo) first started talking about the Subrosa Pantheon in 1999. In the summer of 2001, they started digging in the Alabama clay. D.K.’s mother had died, as well as two young professors at Auburn, and that was probably when they came to the decision to build a memorial space for the Rural Studio, a place to remember and meditate and reflect. So they started digging out the site for the Pantheon in Newbern. By August, they’d poured the first slab. Papa got really sick that fall and passed away in December.”
“The project was suspended for two years,” Carol says. “After I graduated from Auburn in interior design I applied to the Rural Studio as an outreach student to finish the Pantheon. I knew the idea, knew my father’s mythology behind it, and knew that he loved the project. Had I known then what I know now, I don’t think I would have touched it. But, luckily, I was ignorant, young and energetic. For the first few months, I worked on other projects. I had to find my own way, find my role and boundaries. Everyone was skeptical; one engineer at Auburn said, ‘You know, if you were my daughter, I would not let you do this.’ I left that meeting thinking that I am Sambo Mockbee’s daughter and he wouldn’t want me to be doing anything else. I completed it on August 27, 2005. I was so preoccupied with my last pour three days before that I had no idea Katrina was coming.”
“Every June 21, you can go into the Pantheon and stand at different points, align yourself with stars and planets, then sit on a bench next to someone, lean away from them, whisper into a pipe on your side, and the secret travels back to them.”
One morning Trudy Morgan found her bird feeder on the ground surrounded by the mutilated remains of two cardinals, three starlings and a squirrel. She was prepared to blame her elderly tomcat Horace for this slaughter until she found his eviscerated body under her gardenia.
“Dogs,” she thought, saying it aloud. It must be stray dogs. She had seen them wandering the streets in packs, scavenging in the alleys. How they got into her fenced back yard was a puzzle, but they must have gotten in, somehow.
Trudy lived in an old neighborhood of the city, in the house her husband George had built after he returned from Vietnam. They’d spent many happy years together there, had watched the neighbors’ children grow up and move away. They had none of their own. Now George was gone and most of the neighbors they knew had moved away, leaving Trudy among strangers. She didn’t mind; she had her garden, her job at the library, her parakeets Bess and Harry, and poor Horace.
She heard the doorbell ring, a sound she’d not heard in many years. When she opened the door she saw nothing other than a shivering ripple beneath the shrubs. Trudy closed and locked the door quickly, thinking somehow a dog had thrown itself against the ringer. She buried the birds, the squirrel and poor Horace against the back fence and went to the library.
When she returned, the front door was open. She found the bird cage in a corner, and the only trace of Bess or Harry was a single speckled green feather on the sofa. Nothing else seemed disturbed, even the gold coins she’d had framed and foolishly kept on the wall in the hall. Trudy called the police. “It’s probably a raccoon,” they said, and gave her the number of an animal remover.
Before dawn, Trudy awakened and felt a weight upon her. She tried to shove it off and roll over on her side, but it was heavy. She opened her eyes and saw a bearded face with amber eyes looking back at her. Trudy was too scared to breathe, much less scream. She could feel his hardness against her gown. It licked its lips and began rubbing against her, kneading her breasts and twisting her nipples. Its movements and breath quickened; it grunted, and she felt wetness. It jumped off the bed and ran out into the hall before she could even think.
She waited, frozen, until the sun came into the room; once washed and dressed, she ran to her car and drove to the café near the supermarket. She ordered coffee. The waitress, a plump young blonde named Sylvia, said, “Miz Morgan, you look like you’ve seen a ghost!”
“I don’t know what it was,” Trudy whispered, still dazed. Sylvia had ornate knotted tattoos on her arms and many rings in her ears. She looked at Trudy with lowered brows. “What do you mean?” Trudy told her about everything; the birds, poor Horace, Bess and Harry, the ripple in the hedges and, in a whispered rush, about the thing on her chest. She was still shaking, and held her coffee with both hands. Sylvia bit her lip. “Miz Morgan, you just sit for a minute. My shift will be over in a little bit. I can help you.”
“How?” Trudy asked.
Sylvia said nothing, but refilled her cup. When she returned, she had changed into a loose green blouse. She put her hand on Trudy’s and said, “You’ve got a yampus. They’re not really evil like a demon, just mean. It won’t hurt you, but it will kill everything you care for, more out of spite than anything. It will keep you and use you. I know these things. My granny was a voodoo lady. I follow a different tradition,” she said, glancing at the worsted tattoos on her arms, ”but a yampus is a yampus no matter how you look at it.”
Trudy just stared at her. She could still feel it kneading her breasts and smell its warm breath on her neck. “I can’t go home,” she said.
“Of course not,” Sylvia said. “You’re coming with me to my house, and we’ll deal with that yampus tonight. Now get your purse and follow me.”
Sylvia lived in a cottage near the divinity college not far from the library where Trudy worked. The house had a stone fireplace, a crowded library and handful of cats that took their time doing anything at all. Trudy bathed and changed into a housecoat while Sylvia made a light lunch and washed her clothes.
“You need to sleep, Miz Morgan,” Sylvia said, “So go to bed and don’t worry about anything while you’re here.” Despite the assurances, Trudy slept uneasily, but she did sleep, awakening when the sun was sinking. “Get dressed and let’s go,” Sylvia said.
Trudy looked at her, wide-eyed and questioning. Sylvia smiled. “I’ve done this before. Don’t worry.”
When they got to Trudy’s house, the door was still locked. Sylvia followed her in, carrying a brown valise. “I don’t have a stake and a hammer in here,” Sylvia said with a short smile. “Now show me to your kitchen, I’m going to make us some tea, and then I want you to get to bed.”
“I can’t!” Trudy said.
Sylvia took her hands. “Yes, you can. Listen to me. I know he scared you, but he won’t hurt you. He just wants to use you, and you know how he wants to use you. A yampus just wants one thing, and as a woman you ought to know what.”
“Oh, yes,” Trudy said, smiling thinly, remembering and growing warm with the memory. Sylvia looked at her, cocking a brow. “Well,” she said. “Let’s get ready. Dress for bed. I’m going to turn out the lights and sit in the spare bedroom. I’ll be able to hear him when he comes into the house. He’ll take no notice of me. I’m not the one he wants.”
Trudy went to her bedroom, undressed and went to her closet where she selected a silk nightgown and a satin negligee. She turned out the overhead light, folded back the bed and turned on the lamp atop her dresser. She sat, applied lipstick and blush, brushed her neck with perfume, and then climbed into bed. He came through the window, and the warm night air followed. She could hear him as he moved to the end of the bed.
Suddenly he was upon her, holding her, moving his head against her, his hands on her body, touching and probing. He parted her clothing and she felt his lips upon her nipples and his penis pressing upon her stomach.
She caught her breath as he entered her and began to move as he moved, as if she were telling him something. Suddenly he squeezed her with his arms, she gasped, and then she felt him finish and heard him whine as if he wanted more. Then he was gone, as suddenly as he had come, leaving nothing. As she lay there, she heard Sylvia’s voice. “I’ll be going now, Miz Morgan.”
“Yes,” Trudy said. “I’ll be in for coffee in the morning.”
My father often cooked a big breakfast on Sunday mornings, and he always made salmon patties. He said his mother made them with jack mackerel, adding that we should be grateful he went to law school so we could afford salmon. For him, a child of the Depression, that was a step up in the world.
I’ll not lie to you; these taste best when fried in bacon grease. If that makes you clutch your chest, use Crisco. Olive oil just isn’t right, and butter won’t take the heat. Most people I know make salmon patties with flour, but cornmeal gives a crispier crust and a better inside texture (flour tends to make it a bit gummy).
One 16 oz. can of salmon makes 4-6 cakes. Drain fish, reserving a quarter cup of the liquid. If you’re a sissy, remove skin and bones. Mix well with one beaten egg, a little chopped onion, the can liquid, and enough corn meal to make a thick batter. Be careful with salt; I like plenty of black pepper. Brown in at least a quarter inch hot oil on both sides and crisp in a very warm oven.
We’ve seen black-eyed peas made into everything short of cupcakes with sweet potato icing (don’t you dare!), and if I run up on one more gourmet recipe for fried green tomatoes, I’m going to take a skillet out and start swinging at anybody with a fork.
In the restaurant business it’s not unusual for chefs of one ilk or another to turn a hayseed staple into a Broadway entrée. Most basic recipes are open to elaboration, and every cook has a twist; a pinch here, a dash there, a pot for this, a pan for that.
If the cook’s intentions are honorable, meaning that his or her primary concern is with how a dish tastes, all the better. But if you’re putting a heap of crab ceviche over a batch of cold butter bean fritters just so you can charge six bucks more, that’s just wrong.
Usually served over biscuits, rice, or grits, Bill Neale among others recommends it with fried chicken. I serve it with pork chops. Good summer tomatoes singed, peeled, and drained are best, but home-canned tomatoes run a (very) close second. Bacon drippings are traditional. Neale’s recipe uses chicken stock or water, while Robert St. John’s calls for stock and milk. If using canned tomatoes, always add a little juice.
2 cups chopped tomatoes
3 tablespoons drippings or oil
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/4 cups water or stock
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Add salt, pepper, and sugar to chopped tomatoes, and mix well. Heat bacon drippings in a skillet, add flour to make a lightly browned roux. Pour in tomatoes with water/broth, reduce heat, and cook until thickened.
I once knew a woman who claimed to know the Sanders Original Recipe of “11 herbs and spices” because she had worked in a franchise outlet in Grenada, Mississippi for three months while her husband was in the local lock-up for beating up a grease monkey.
She didn’t really know the recipe, of course; her fried chicken tasted nothing like it, though it may have to her after a bottle of vodka. But Harlan Sanders’ original recipe was finally made public in August, 2016, when the Chicago Tribune reported that a nephew by marriage–by marriage, mind you–of Harland Sanders claimed to have found a copy of the original KFC fried chicken recipe on a handwritten piece of paper in an envelope–an envelope, no less–in a scrapbook of an assuredly familial nature .
As journalists of fortitude, integrity, and no small degree of puckish abandon, Tribune staffers tested the recipe before publication, and after “some trial and error” they decided that with the addition of an unspecified amount of MSG, the following seasoning mixture produced fried chicken “indistinguishable” from the fried chicken from a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.
By way of covering their ass, they recommended that the chicken should be soaked in buttermilk, coated once, then fried in oil at 350 degrees until golden brown.
Mix with 2 cups white flour:
2/3 Ts (tablespoons) Salt
1/2 Ts Thyme
1/2 Ts Basil
1/3 Ts Oregano
1 Ts Celery salt
1 Ts Black pepper
1 Ts Dried mustard
4 Ts Paprika
2 Ts Garlic salt
1 Ts Ground ginger
3 Ts White pepper
Cut slits in the slice, no less than four radiating from the middle, or else it’ll buckle, and you don’t want that to happen. You don’t want a lot of grease in the skillet, either. Blister to singing. If you don’t serve it with white bread, you’re going straight to hell.