Welty’s White Fruitcake

The Jackson Cookbook, first put out by the Symphony League of Jackson in 1971 and followed by a well-deserved 30th anniversary issue, features Eudora Welty’s introduction, “The Flavor of Jackson”, a savory dish of Southern culinary exposition.

In the essay, Welty writes: “I make Mrs. Mosal’s White Fruitcake every Christmas, having got it from my mother, who got it from Mrs. Mosal, and I often think to make a friend’s fine recipe is to celebrate her once more,” Welty wrote. The original recipe in The Jackson Cookbook was submitted by Mrs. Mosal’s daughter, Mrs. D.I. Meredith. In 1980, this expanded version appeared on  a limited edition Christmas card sent out by Albondocani Press, Ampersand Books, and Welty herself.

White Fruitcake

1 1/2 cups butter
2 cups sugar
6 eggs, separated
4 cups flour, sifted before measuring
flour for fruit and nuts
2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1 pound pecan meats (halves, preferably)
1 pound crystallized cherries, half green, half red
1 pound crystallized pineapple, clear
some citron or lemon peel if desired
1 cup bourbon
1 tsp. vanilla
nutmeg if desired

Make the cake several weeks ahead of Christmas if you can. The recipe makes three-medium-sized cakes or one large and one small. Prepare the pans — the sort with a chimney or tube — by greasing them well with Crisco and then lining them carefully with three layers of waxed paper, all greased as well.

Prepare the fruit and nuts ahead. Cut the pineapple in thin slivers and the cherries in half. Break up the pecan meats, reserving a handful or so shapely halves to decorate the tops of the cakes. Put in separate bowls, dusting the fruit and nuts lightly in a sifting of flour, to keep them from clustering together in the batter.

In a very large wide mixing bowl (a salad bowl or even a dishpan will serve) cream the butter very light, then beat in the sugar until all is smooth and creamy. Sift in the flour, with the baking powder and salt added, a little at a time, alternating with the unbeaten egg yolks added one at a time. When all this is creamy, add the floured fruits and nuts, gradually, scattering the lightly into the batter, stirring all the while, and add the bourbon in alteration little by little. Lastly, whip the egg whites into peaks and fold in.

Start the oven now, about 250. Pour the batter into the cake-pans, remembering that they will rise. Decorate the tops with nuts. Bake for three hours or more, until they spring back to the touch and a straw inserted at the center comes out clean and dry. (If the top browns too soon, lay a sheet of foil lightly over.) When done, the cake should be a warm golden color.

When they’ve cooled enough to handle, run a spatula around the sides of each cake, cover the pan with a big plate, turn the pan over and slip the cake out. Cover the cake with another plate and turn rightside up. When cool, the cake can be wrapped in cloth or foil and stored in a tightly fitted tin box. From time to time before Christmas you may improve it with a little more bourbon, dribbled over the top to be absorbed and so ripen the cake before cutting. This cake will keep for a good while, in or out of the refrigerator.

Scalloped Potatoes with Spam

While this dish  just screams of trailer park cuisine to many, I’m certain that millions in my generation who grew up in small towns across the South, likely across the nation, remember Spam in scalloped potatoes as a familiar side on the dinner table and a standard of church potlucks and dinners-on-the-ground.

A bone of contention with scalloped potatoes is whether to add cheese or not. I rarely use cheese myself, opting instead to use a thin, black-pepped cream sauce ladled between layers of sliced parboiled potatoes (peeled or unpeeled) and diced Spam. Chopped onions are an option. Bake in a medium-high oven (350 or so) until the potatoes are tender and browned.

Ginger Pecan Shortbread

Cream 1 stick butter with a cup of confectioner’s sugar and a teaspoon each almond and vanilla extract. Blend in 2 cups plain flour sifted with a teaspoon of baking powder with a  half cup chopped pecans and a tablespoon dried ground ginger. (I have tried this recipe with freshly-grated ginger, and it simply does not work at all well at all with so much butter.) This mixture makes a soft, elastic dough that you must work with flour-dusted hands. Form dough into a ball, and pat or roll into an 8” round, score into six wedges, and crimp the edges with a fork. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 375 until the edges are just brown. Cut and serve. This recipe makes great cookies, too.

Buttermilk Cheddar Bread with Rosemary

Dissolve one package quick-acting yeast and a tablespoon of sugar in a half cup each of warm buttermilk and water. When the yeast begins to work, add a quarter cup of vegetable oil, and blend in a mix of three cups flour (this loaf was made with Martha White), half a cup of grated sharp cheddar, and a quarter cup of fresh rosemary leaves. Knead until smooth, let rise for three hours, punch down, and place in an oiled baking pan to rise until doubled. Bake in a moderate (350) oven until crisp and golden. Brush the top with butter just for the aroma.

Yancy’s Cajun Potatoes

Cut red potatoes into bite-sized chunks and boil with Zatarain’s liquid seasoning (I use a lot) until just tender. Drain very well and toss with vegetable oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Bake on a well-oiled pan in a hot oven (425), stirring occasionally until browned but not crisp.

Of Hams and Dreams

In the 1930s, Harry J. Hoenselaar worked at a honey-baked ham store in Detroit, handing out samples and teaching drugstore clerks how to slice hams for sandwiches. He had long since mastered knifing ham from the bone, but he knew there had to be a better way.

Then Harry had a dream, and with a tire jack, a pie tin, a washing machine motor, and a knife, he fashioned and patented the world’s first ham spiralizer. He later bought the Detroit honey-baked ham store where he once worked from the owner’s widow in 1957.

The original Honey Baked Ham store on Eight Mile Road in Detroit eventually spawned a company with 417 stores, from Southern California to New Hampshire. The busiest is in a suburb of Birmingham, Ala. After decades of familial wrangling and consolidation, the entire operation has landed in the lap of Linda van Rees, a granddaughter, who moved the company headquarters to Alpharetta, Georgia, in 2015.

Many people warm spiral-sliced hams, but it’s best bring the ham to room temperature, twist a steak knife around the small center bone, and follow the natural lines of the meat to cut smaller pieces.

Belles Calas

When it rained, we sat in the kitchen and listened to old Tante Zoe. She talked all the time when she was cooking, about what she was making and how she knew how to do it right from the old days.

If she had a big dinner for special guests, she’d say why this or that was served “To the mayor, not the bishop!” Then she’d sing and talk to herself, look up, smile and coo like the old dove she was. She made us molasses butter for our morning biscuits.

Poppa smoked cigars in the house, but Zoe said she knew better than to smell up the furniture cushions, and took her pipe to the swing on the back porch. Zoe ran that house more than he did. He knew that Zoe was listened to up and down St. Charles, and that was saying a lot.

I don’t think Mama ever knew Zoe the way everyone else did, but Mama was Zoe’s lamb from the manger and that was that.

Sunday mornings she’d fry rice beignets, the calas. She’d tell how they used to sing, the ladies in the Quarter selling their calas, “Belles calas! Mo gaignin calas, guaranti vous ve bons! Belles calas, belles calas!” Then she’s laugh and say how the fancy girls would run down the stairs with baskets to fill and take them back up to the bedrooms where the men were waiting with strong black coffee.

Calas (Beignets Riz)

Add two packets of yeast mixed with a cup of warm water and a tablespoon of sugar to two cups over-cooked mashed rice. Cover and let it work overnight. In the morning, add four beaten eggs, a half cup sugar, a tablespoon of pure vanilla and pinches of nutmeg and allspice. Blend in enough plain flour to make a thick batter, and drop by spoonful into very hot oil. When browned, drain, dust with powdered sugar, and serve.

Andrew Bucci: Art, Food, and History

As incredulous as it may sound to us now, in the 1940s the Old Warren County Courthouse in Vicksburg was under threat of destruction from the very city itself.

The building is perched on the highest point in Vicksburg on land given by the family of the city’s founder, Newitt Vick. Construction began in the summer of 1858 on what was then to be a new Court House for Warren County. Contractors were the Weldon Brothers of Rodney, Mississippi, who used 100 highly skilled artisans to make the brick and erect the building, which was completed in 1860 for a cost of $100,000. During the War, the building dominated the city’s skyline and was the target of much Union shelling but suffered only one major hit. It was here on July 4, 1863 that the Stars and Bars were lowered and the Stars and Stripes were raised as General U.S. Grant reviewed his victorious army.

Enjoying an After-Dinner Pipe-Bucci

With the construction of a new Warren County Courthouse in 1939, the Old Courthouse stood practically vacant for years, and there was talk of its demolition. What was possibly planned to take its place on the highest point in the former Gibraltar of the Confederacy goes (perhaps mercifully) unrecorded. But a local activist, Mrs. Eva Whitaker Davis, realized the significance of the building and established the Vicksburg and Warren County Historical Society for the purpose of preserving the structure. In 1947 she was elected president of the society and with the help of a few volunteers began cleaning the building and collecting artifacts.

On June 3, 1948 the museum opened its doors, where she continued to work on a volunteer basis for many years. Eva Davis was a local celebrity; she had a daily radio show, “Court Square”, which was a feature of WQBC in Vicksburg for many years. She put out two cookbooks, Court Square Recipes and Mississippi Mixin’s, both likely in the 1950s, though neither book is dated. A grateful public added the name Eva W. Davis Memorial to the Old Courthouse Museum several years before her death in 1974.

Fishing in the Mississippi-Bucci
Fishing in the Mississippi-Bucci

Mississippi Mixin’s was illustrated by her fellow townsman and renowned Mississippi artist, Andrew Bucci. Sadly, Bucci’s art is reproduced in black and white, but the impact of the images is still powerful, perhaps even somewhat enhanced. Most of Bucci’s artwork in the book is comprised of small images for chapter headings, doubtless resized from larger works, but two large images are printed full-page (5.5×7). Again, dating these works has so far been unsuccessful and it is not known whether the original artwork still exists.

At least one image is by artist Suzanne Wilder, who was a student in the Mississippi Art Colony at Allison’s Wells, a popular resort in Way, Mississippi that was established in 1889. The Mississippi Art Colony was founded at Allison’s Wells in 1948, and Bucci along with noted Jackson artist Mildred Wolfe taught there until 1963, when the resort was destroyed by fire, then relocated to Utica, Mississippi.

A Barbarian in the Kitchen

Before the quasi-cosmopolitan citizens of Hamburg, Germany began cooking it and putting it between sliced bread, steak tartar consisted of lean, raw beef minced and mixed with egg and seasonings.

The concoction’s name filtered into Europe from those dreaded Mongol allies, the Tatars, who had a tradition of mincing meat (usually horse or camel, since ravaging hoards have little use for anything slower) and serving it raw with (horse or camel) milk and whatever eggs they might not trample underfoot.

Stories of this dish made by tenderizing meat under a saddle likely rose from using slabs of meat for saddle sores. The stench of an onslaught of Tartar cavalry often provided helpless villagers downwind with an advance warning of rape and pillage.

Similarly, sauce tartare--loosely translated as ‘rough,’ since the Tartars were considered violent, savage, and bad at chess–consists of mayonnaise, mustard, chives, chopped gherkins, and tarragon in various combinations.

But in his Creole Cook Book, the irrepressible Lafcadio Hearn, a devoted journalist with a delightful heart, gives us a recipe for tartar sauce that hearkens back to the days when the Golden Horde still cruised the ewes around the Great Gates of Kiev.

HOW TO MAKE TARTAR SAUCE

There are two good ways in which a Tartar sauce may be made. You can try whichever you please; but if you are in a hurry the second will suit your purpose better than the first.

1st: Catch a young Tartar: for the old ones are very tough and devoid of juice. To catch a Tartar is generally a very unpleasant and at all times a difficult undertaking. A young Tartar will probably cost you at least $10,000—and perhaps your life—before you get through with him: but if you must have Tartar sauce you must be ready to take all risks.

Having procured your Tartar you must kill him privately, taking care that the act shall escape the observation of the police authorities, who would probably in such a case be strongly prejudiced in favor of the Tartar. Having killed, skinned and cleaned the Tartar, cut off the tenderest part of the hams and thighs; boil three hours, and then hash up with Mexican pepper, aloes and spices. Add a quart of mulled wine and slowly boil to the consistency of honey.

You will probably find the Tartar sauce very palatable; and if hermetically sealed in bottles with the addition of a little Santa Cruz rum, will serve for a long time. The rest of the Tartar will not keep, and must be disposed of judiciously.

2nd: Take the yolk of a hard boiled egg, a teaspoonful of mustard, a tablespoonful of olive oil, a little vinegar, a little parsley and pickled cucumber, and hash up very fine.