Deviled Ham

Clarify a stick of butter; mix thoroughly with a pound of finely-minced ham. Add a heaping tablespoon of dry mustard, a dash or two of nutmeg, and ground pepper to taste. Be stingy with the salt. Blend very well and refrigerate, the longer the better. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Daddy at the Movies

Jess Yancy, Jr. was an expressive soul with little reserve, a candor celebrated by many, but trying for my mother. It was especially difficult when they went to the movies, since my father’s tastes in films ran to maudlin melodramas.

She said he would hear about these movies from a slew of waitresses, secretaries, and beauticians–Daddy never passed a beauty parlor without going in; he said it caught the girls at a disadvantage–who kept him up with the latest Hollywood tear-jerkers.

He’d drag her to see films such as Peyton Place–“It’s bad Faulkner!”)–Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (Daddy had a lot to say about the legal issues in that one)–and Madame X, which has his favorite courtroom scene.

“My God, Barbara! Can you imagine what she must be going through!?” he’d say in a clearly audible aside as Lana Turner took the stand. “

Mother never responded, stared with resignation at the screen, studiously avoiding the chilling glances of others. Some scenes reduced Daddy to great heaving sobs, like when they had to pull Susan Kohner off Juanita Moore’s coffin at the end of Imitation of Life.

His only child to inherit this sense of cinematic drama was my sister, Cindy, who bolted out of a Memphis theater during The Snow Queen and was half-way down Union Avenue, screaming, “She’s gonna get me!” before we finally caught up with her.

Chocolate Pudding

In a quart pot, stir together a half cup granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, and 3 ounces of good cocoa. To this add well whipped 3 egg yolks and a cup each whole milk and cream.

Blend very well and bring to heat slowly, whisking continually until mixture begins to thicken. Take care not so scorch. When thick, blend in two pats of butter and a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract.

While still warm, pour the pudding through a strainer into a bowl. Refrigerate until cold. Use a fine whisk to cream pudding before spooning into serving containers.

Daffodil Cake

Of course daffodil cake doesn’t have daffodils in it any more than a hummingbird cake has hummingbirds or Girl Scout cookies have Girl Scouts. It just so happens that daffodils–unlike hummingbirds or Girl Scouts–are poisonous.

Daffodil cake is a combination sponge and angel food recipe, both made with a meringue, but the yellow parts of a daffodil cake contain egg yolks—as does a sponge cake—and the white parts do not—as does an angel food. Chiffon cakes, which appeared on tables at about the same time, are a meringue cake with oil.

You will not find an honest mix for any meringue cake in the grocery store; you’re going to have to make it from scratch, and it’s best to make on a clear day because we all know that you can’t make a good meringue when it’s raining, don’t we?

12 large egg whites
1 cup sifted cake flour or sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar (total)
2 teaspoons vanilla
11/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 egg yolks
3/4 teaspoon lemon or orange extract
Finely grated lemon peel

Preheat oven to 350. Bring egg whites to room temperature for 30 minutes. Sift together flour and 3/4 cup sugar 3 times and set aside. Add vanilla, cream of tartar and salt to egg whites.

Beat with electric mixer on medium to high speed, gradually adding 3/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, until stiff peaks form. Sift one-fourth of the flour mixture over egg white mixture and fold in gently. Repeat with remaining flour mixture, using one-fourth of flour mixture with each fold.

Transfer half of batter to another bowl. Beat egg yolks on high speed until thick and lemon-colored. Add lemon extract, mix and gently fold yolk mixture into half of egg whites.

Alternately spoon yellow batter and white batter into a very lightly oiled 10-inch tube pan. You can work the batter with the handle of a wooden spoon to refine the marbling, but don’t let it touch the sides.

Bake on a lower rack for 40 to 45 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched. Immediately invert onto a plate and refrigerate. Top with lemon zest and powdered sugar before serving.

Our Appalachian Table

Travis Milton, a native of Russell County, Virginia, high in the Alleghenys, became a chef on the East Coast. In 2010, at a New York restaurant, Milton was part of a group planning dishes that would “tell about who we are.” He wondered aloud about sourcing leather britches and greasy-backs, a type of beans common in mountain gardens.

The following afternoon, the head chef slapped a copy of Ernest Matthew Mickler’s White Trash Cooking onto Milton’s station. “He got in my face,” says Milton, “and started barking, ‘If this is what you wanna do in my kitchen then you can get the fuck out!’”

Having White Trash Cooking slammed in his face was a turning point. To overcome the stereotypes, Milton realized, he’d need to be able to tell the story of Appalachian food, but writing on the region’s cuisine was mostly focused on single mothers dressing up SPAM in a sugary sauce and other relatively recent ways that Appalachian cooks respond to the poverty that is, for most, coal’s legacy in Appalachia.

Then in 2016, Ronni Lundy published Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes. Her work won the James Beard Foundation Book of the Year and Best Book, American Cooking awards. In Victuals, Lundy claims that European settlers adopted native Cherokee foods almost wholesale. Wild game, wild herbs and greens, nuts, and berries augmented produce from small gardens of beans, corn, and squash using the “Three Sisters” method.

Appalachians let animals range freely, keeping prized breeds adapted to the landscape. Settlers raised pigs on acorns, berries, and chestnuts, which produced the famous hams of Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. After the Civil War decimated the region, residents of isolated Appalachia embraced their gardening traditions, developing thousands of hybridized varieties of apples and pears, squash, tomatoes, collard greens, and other foodstuffs.

While Victuals established a benchmark, the font and source for Appalachian food writing is The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery: Regional Memorabilia and Recipes. First published in 1984, Appalachian Cookery has little resemblance to any other publication involving Southern foods.

The Foxfire Project was the brain-child of Eliot Wigginton, a man from West Virginia who received an advanced education in the north and began teaching at a rural school in northeastern Georgia during the late 1960s. Called “foxfire” after a will-o’-the-wisp in mountain woods, his students collected folklore and customs in a series of oral histories that were first published in a 1972 anthology. Many more editions have followed as well as other volumes documenting Appalachian culture.

According to the text, some of the research and the photographic essays included in Appalachian Cookery were gathered for previous Foxfire books but were not selected for inclusion into an earlier volume. Appalachian Cookery stands out as the most complete and comprehensive record we have of the food, cooking and home life of southern Appalachia in early to mid-20th century. Most of the recipes are very simple; pound cake has four ingredients in equal measure. The book is also a primer on how to use homegrown or wild-gathered foods.

Appalachian Cookery opens a door to a world far away from arugula and alien to star anise, a world where cooking was simple but not coarse, having a balance and symmetry all its own, dictated by the lessons of long-ago voices set in concert with the rhythm of the seasons. For those of us from the upland South, these are our roots.


Cream 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons shortening with an equal amount of sugar. Add one cup molasses and two beaten eggs. Sift together 4 ¾ cups plain flour with 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 ½ teaspoons soda. Then combine with 2 cups grated coconut, 2 cups chopped walnuts and 1 ½ cups raisins. Add dry ingredients alternately with 1 cup milk to creamed egg mixture. Drop by spoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet. Bake in a moderate (350) oven for 10 minutes. YIELD: approx. 7 dozen cookies.

Welsh Rabbit

This is a great late-night dish, wonderful for cold-weather breakfasts, and kids love it because its cheesy and messy and called “rabbits”.

How cheese on toast came to be called ‘rabbit’ or ‘rarebit’–the variations in spelling seem to be arbitrary–is a mystery. You have Scottish and English versions as well–but Escoffier has a recipe for ‘Lapin Gallois‘ and Brillat-Savarin provides one for a ‘Wouelsche Rabette‘.

Mix together a cup of grated cheese–Cheddar or gouda are my usuals–with a slosh of beer–let’s say 1/4 cup–a tablespoon softened butter, and a tablespoon Coleman’s mustard.

Toast thick slices of bread and place in a lightly oiled skillet, top with cheese mixture and broil until bubbling and lightly browned.

Take a Leek

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 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 her sister subjugants, Wales observes its own saint’s day, the Feast of St. David, 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 snakes. 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. Place in a hot oven (375) until bubbling; fifteen minutes should do it. Serve hot with a liberal grating of good hard cheese.

Vardaman Cheesecake

Sweet potato puree blended with a fool-proof New York-style cheesecake; fun to make, sumptuous results.

The cheesecake filling is 16 oz. cream cheese, 2/3 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla and two large eggs. The sweet potato filling is two cups of “candied” sweet potatoes pureed and mixed with 1/2 cup whole cream, 1/2 cup sugar, two eggs and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.

The crust is a box of graham cracker crumbs–adding crushed pecans is a nice touch–mixed with a stick and a half of melted butter, a cup of brown sugar, packed into an 8″ spring-form pan and refrigerated until firm.

Drop both filling mixtures alternately around the crust, then take a spoon and swirl it around a little bit. Be artistic; channel the Pre-Raphaelites.

Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, lower heat and cool for an hour. Refrigerate before slicing.

Pear Preserves

This recipe provides you with firm chunks of fruit in a simple syrup that will keep just fine without processing for a good month on the shelf if jars and lids are sterile and the syrup hot. For two quarts peeled, sliced, very firm pears, use a quart of sugar and enough water to cover by an inch. Add juice of a lemon; a little ginger is a nice touch. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until syrup thickens. While hot, ladle into sterile jars, cover loosely, and cool a bit before sealing tightly.

Bon Ton Bread Pudding

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.