Kettle-Fried Matzo Balls

The name beneath this recipe from Jackson’s New Stage Theatre’s Standing Room Only: Recipes for Entertaining (1983) is Ellen Douglas, but everyone should know that Ellen Douglas is the pen name for writer Josephine Ayers Haxton. Born in Natchez, she married composer Kenneth Haxton in 1945 and shortly afterwards moved to Haxton’s hometown of Greenville. There she befriended Shelby Foote, Hodding Carter, and other local literati.

According to the author, she entered into a wager with her husband and a mutual friend on who could finish a novel in the least amount of time. She won the bet by writing A Family’s Affairs (1962), which is largely autobiographical in nature, requiring her to get her family’s permission to publish the narrative and resulting in her adoption of the pen name Ellen Douglas. The book not only sold well, but it also won the Houghton Mifflin Esquire Fellowship Award for best new novel and was named as one the year’s ten best books by The New York Times. Her second work, Black Cloud, White Cloud (1963), a collection of short stories, also won the Houghton Mifflin Esquire Fellowship Award, and her 1973 novel Apostles of Light was a finalist for the National Book Award. Other works include The Rock Cried Out (1973) and A Lifetime Burning (1982). Josephine Haxton died in Jackson in 2012.

Though Ayers was not Jewish, her mother-in-law Ellise Blum Haxton was the daughter of Jewish merchant Aaron Blum of Nelms and Blum department store in Greenville, and this recipe may have come from her kitchen. From my (demonstrably non-Jewish) perspective, fried matzos seem like just another variety of hushpuppy, though serving them with catfish—which is decidedly non-kosher—might be a bit rude. These make a great side for any number of meat dishes—baked chicken or fish, beef roast, what have you—but they’re also a great buffet nosh served with a sauce made with one part each grated horseradish, sour cream and mayonnaise seasoned with salt and cayenne to taste.

Soak two matzo crackers in water; drain and squeeze dry. Heat 2 tablespoons chicken fat, and sauté ¼ medium onion until golden brown. Add soaked matzos and cook and stir until the mixture “clears” the skillet. Cool. Add a teaspoon chopped parsley, a teaspoon salt, a quarter teaspoon of ground ginger, an eighth teaspoon both ground pepper and nutmeg, two lightly beaten eggs and enough matzo meal (about a quarter cup) to make a soft dough. Let stand for several hours to swell. Shape into small balls. Fry in deep fat (assumedly not lard, jly) until golden brown. The balls can be formed and frozen before frying. (This recipe makes about 20 balls.)

The Essential Mexican Cookbook

Diana Kennedy was a Brit who married the New York Times correspondent for Latin America in the 1950s and early 1960s. She fell in love with Mexican food, which she soon discovered is far better in the country. She learned the cuisine literally from the ground up, visiting every state in Mexico on buses and donkeys and in her Nissan pickup with no power steering, carrying a shovel to dig out of mud and sand.

Kennedy’s explorations resulted in an authoritative body of work that provides a thorough, extensive survey of the many cuisines of Mexico from Chiapas to Baja. Her essential work is The Cuisines of Mexico (Harper & Row, 1972). If you are at all interested in food and cooking, and you have a taste for books that are well-written, well-researched and ring with conviction, then you must have this one on your shelves.

Kennedy’s introduction, “A Culinary Education” certainly ranks among the most notable essays about coming to know food as more than mere nourishment (see below). The first section, “Ingredients and Procedures” gives the initiate a thorough grounding in such arcana as herbs, kitchen equipment, and chilies. You’ll find no better introduction to the basics of the Mexican kitchen.

As to the recipes, bear in mind that Kennedy was writing for a somewhat less sophisticated audience, and these were selected for simplicity and ease of preparation; still you will find surprises. You might be, as I was those many years ago on first reading, delighted by the seafood recipes (“There is an awful lot of coast to Mexico …”), which includes perhaps one of the first recipes for “cebiche” included in an American cookbook. The inclusion of many Gulf species among these recipes is poignant indeed in this post-BP Gulf world. My personal favorite among them is the snapper Vera Cruz, which we served at the Warehouse during my tenure.

Kennedy’s writing is strong and serviceable, rarely lyrical but savory when so. Her most powerful gift is an excruciating, attention to detail in every respect, evidence of her intelligence and commitment to authenticity. She wanted you to know what she loved.

Kennedy died on July 24, 2022, at the age of 99.

A Culinary Education

Although I have always loved good food, it was in Wales during the war years, when I was doing my service in the Women’s Timber Corps, that I first savored food I can still remember today.

In the Forest of Dean we would toast our very dull sandwiches over the smoldering wood fires and roast potatoes and onions in the ashes to help eke out our rations on those frosty, raw mornings. Later, in the Usk Valley, as we cycled for pleasure through the country lanes and walked the Brecken Beacons, we would stop for the farmhouse teas: thick cream and fresh scones, wedges of homemade bread spread thickly with freshly churned butter, wild damson jam, buttery cakes that had been beaten with the bare hand. From there I moved to an even more remote village in Carmarthenshire. To supplement the strict rationing, there was salmon trout fished from the river that ran within a few hundred yards of the cottage; when fishing wasn’t good there was a steaming bowl of cowl, a soup made from stinging nettles, or just a plate of green beans-picked fresh from the garden and doused with butter from the big earthenware crock that stood by the kitchen door. The butter was soft and yellow, with perceptible grains of salt and globules of water-hand-churned butter from the farm next door. On summer evenings, when everyone from the village would go up to the hillside farms to help bring in the hay, the ham that had been strung up to the rafters by the fireplace months earlier was cut down. It was a feast to us then with bread, onions, and creamy local cheese. Thursday was baking day, and as we cycled wearily home from the woods the smell would waft toward us as the bread was being taken, very crusty, from the brick wall ovens.

After the war there were occasional trips to France, and memories flood back of the first belons, and moules along the Côtes du Nord; rice cooked with minute crabs that had to be sucked noisily to extract their sweet juice; the ratatouille, and refreshing Provençal wines in a Saint-Tropez bistro. I can’t forget the lunchtime smell of olive oil in northern Spain as we walked up through the oleander bushes from the beach, and the never ending meals in the Ramblas restaurants in Barcelona, or beef à la tartare after a day’s skiing in the Austrian Alps. It was then that I really learned to cook, to reproduce what had been eaten with such pleasure.

I soon wanted to travel further afield, so I emigrated to Canada. I had never before eaten such crusty rye bread as that of the Spadina Road market in Toronto, or cheeses, summer sausage, and sugar-cured ham quite like the ones the Mennonites made. There was a wonderful breakfast of freshly caught fish on the banks of Lake Louise after an early morning hike through pine forest on a sparkling and pine-scented day. Later in our journey it was followed by poached West Coast salmon in Vancouver, the minute Olympia oysters, and further south in San Francisco the sand-dabs and rex sole.

When I traveled back to England via the Caribbean, everything was new and had to be tried: callaloo, lambie stew, and soursop ices; salt fish and ackee in Jamaica, where, too, you had to see the famous Blue Mountain coffee growing and buy the syrupy sugarloaf pineapples. I ate my first mango, a huge Bombay, conveniently standing up to my neck in crystal clear water on a small island off the Kingston harbor.

And that was the summer I met Paul Kennedy in Haiti, where he was covering one of the many revolutions for The New York Times. We fell in love and I joined him in Mexico later that year.

And so life in Mexico began. Everything was new, exciting, and exotic. Luz, our first maid, loved to cook. One day she brought her corn grinder to the house and we made tamales: first soaking the dried corn in a solution of unslaked lime, washing the skin of each kernel, and then grinding it to just the right texture. It seemed to take forever, and our backs ached from the effort. But I shall never forget those tamales. She introduced us both to the markets and told us how to use the fruits and vegetables that were strange to us.

Finally Luz had to go, and Rufina came from Oaxaca; it was her first job. She was young and moody, but she was a really good cook and my apprenticeship continued as she taught me how to make her rather special albóndigas, rabbit in adobo, and how to draw and truss a hen.

But I suppose it is Godileva to whom I am most indebted. I always loved the evenings she would stay to do the ironing; we would chat about her life when she was a young girl on her father’s small ranch in a remote area of Guerrero. They had lived well, and she loved good food. She would pat out our tortillas, and before lunch would make us gorditas with the fat of marrow bones to enrich them, and as we came in the door would hand us, straight from the comal, sopes smothered with green sauce and sour cream. We would take turns grinding the chilies and spices on the metate, and it is her recipe for chiles rellenos that I have included in this book.

I had other influences as well. My friend Chabela, on several trips into the interior, taught me almost all I know about the handicrafts of Mexico; together we visited craftsmen in remote areas and on those journeys we would try all the local fruits and foods. It was she who spent many hours in my kitchen showing me, accompanied by meticulous instructions, the specialties of her mother’s renowned kitchen in Talisco.

At last our stay had to come to an end. Paul had been fighting cancer courageously for two years, and it was time to return to New York. By then we had traveled extensively together, and on my own I had driven practically all over the country, seeing, eating, and asking questions. I started to collect old cookbooks and delve into the gastronomic past to learn more for the cookbook that I hoped some day to write.

Paul died early in 1967, and later that same year Craig Claiborne suggested that I start a Mexican cooking school. I suppose I wasn’t ready to start a new venture; I was too saddened and worn by the previous three years. But the idea had planted itself, and in January 1969, on Sunday afternoons, I did start a series of Mexican cooking classes-the first in New York. A wintry Sunday afternoon is a wonderful time to cook, and the idea caught on.

The classes expanded beyond those Sunday afternoons, and the work for the book went on as well. But while the classes continue to flourish and grow, the research and testing have come at least to a temporary halt-if only to allow the book to be published at last. For I find myself involved in a process of continual refinement, due both to the frequent trips I make to Mexico to discover new dishes and to refine old ones, and to the constant dialogue between myself and my students and friends who try these recipes with me.

DIANA KENNEDY
New York April 1972

Bad-Mouthing Mississippi

Southerners share an acute awareness that most of our fellow countrymen view us with disdain. This knowledge of ill regard is something we learn from an early age, and the message is amplified and compounded by a steady stream of negativity from every imaginable source: books, movies, television and other media, not to mention personal experiences garnered by traveling outside our lands and meeting that contempt face-to-face.

As powerful as this imprint is, still it can come as a shock, particularly for a Mississippian, who even among their fellows from other Southern states are pissed upon as if from a great height, to find that a person you admire for talent, wisdom, and at least an ostensible generosity of mind can be vehemently bigoted towards a region and people never visited. Such was my reaction to Bill Bryson’s account of a visit to Mississippi in The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, in which Bryson chronicles a 13,978 mile trip around the United States in the autumn of 1987 and spring 1988.

When I was a graduate student studying English as a language, Bryson’s The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way (1990) captivated me. Witty, informative and occasionally dazzlingly well-written,–he hangs 10 all through Middle English–Bryson came across as the bluff, jovial professor of the sort one should hope to have in a subject that can be stupefying.

Many years later, when I came across Bryson’s account of his journey through Mississippi in The Lost Continent, I was stunned to discover him, a native Iowan now living in Britain, as full of bile as most American writers who venture south and dismayed to find his account packed with the usual shopworn stereotypes, clichés, and overt contempt. Here’s some of what he wrote.

   Just south of Grand Junction, Tennessee, I passed over the state line into Mississippi. A sign beside the highway said, WELCOME TO MISSISSIPPI. WE SHOOT TO KILL. It didn’t really. I just made that up. This was only the second time I had ever been to the Deep South and I entered it with a sense of foreboding. It is surely no coincidence that all those films you have ever seen about the South – Easy Rider, In the Heat of the Night, Cool Hand Luke, Brubaker, Deliverance – depict Southerners as murderous, incestuous, shitty-shoed rednecks. It really is another country.

    I followed Highway 7 south towards Oxford. It took me along the western edge of the Holly Springs National Forest which seemed to be mostly swamp and scrub land. I was disappointed. I had half expected that as soon as I crossed into Mississippi there would be Spanish mosses (sic) hanging from the trees and women in billowy dresses twirling parasols and white-haired colonels with handlebar mustaches drinking mint juleps on the lawn while armies of slaves gathered the cotton and sang sweet hymns. But this landscape was just scrubby and hot and nondescript. Occasionally there would be a shack set up on bricks, with an old black man in a rocking chair on the porch, but precious little sign of life or movement elsewhere.

    At the town of Holly Springs stood a sign for Senatobia, and I got briefly excited. Senatobia! What a great name for a Mississippi town! All that the old South stood for seemed to be encapsulated in those five golden syllables. Maybe things were picking up. Maybe now I would see chain gangs toiling in the sun and a prisoner in heavy irons legging it across fields and sloshing through creeks while pursued by bloodhounds, and lynch mobs roaming the streets and crosses burning on lawns. The prospect enlivened me, but I had to calm down because a state trooper pulled up alongside me at a traffic light and began looking me over with that sort of casual disdain you often get when you give a dangerously stupid person a gun and a squad car. He was sweaty and overweight and sat low in his seat. I assume he was descended from the apes like all the rest of us, but clearly in his case it had been a fairly gentle slope. I stared straight ahead with a look that I hoped conveyed seriousness of purpose mingled with a warm heart and innocent demeanor. I could feel him looking at me. At the very least I expected him to gob a wad of tobacco juice down the side of my head. Instead, he said, “How yew doin’?” This so surprised me that I answered, in a cracking voice, “Pardon?”
    “I said, how yew doin’?”
    “I’m fine,” I said. And then added, having lived some years in England, “Thank you.”
    “Y’on vacation?”
   “Yup”
   “Hah doo lack Miss Hippy?”
    I was quietly distressed. The man was armed and Southern and I couldn’t understand a word he was saying to me. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I’m kind of slow, and I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
     “I say” – and he repeated it more carefully – “how doo yew lack Mississippi?”
It dawned on me. “Oh! I like it fine! I like it heaps! I think it’s wonderful. The people are so friendly and helpful.” I wanted to add that I had been there for an hour and hadn’t been shot at once, but the light changed and he was gone, and I signed and thought, “Thank you, Jesus.”
    I drove on to Oxford, home of the University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss as it’s known. The people named the town after Oxford in England in the hope that this would persuade the state to build the university there, and the state did. This tells you most of what you need to know about the workings of the Southern mind. Oxford appeared to be an agreeable town. It was built around a square, in the middle of which stood the Lafayette County Courthouse, with a tall clock tower and Doric columns, basking grandly in the Indian-summer Around the perimeter of the square were attractive stores and a tourist information office. I went into the tourist information office to get directions to Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s home.

   Behind the desk sat a large, exceptionally well-dressed black woman. This surprised me a little, this being Mississippi. She wore a dark two-piece suit, which must have been awfully warm in the Mississippi heat. I asked her the way to Rowan Oak. “You parked on the square?” she said. Actually she said, “You pocked on the skwaya?”
    “Yes.”
    “Okay, honey, you git in yo’ car and makes the skwaya. You goes out the other end, twoads the university, goes three blocks, turns rat at the traffic lats, goes down the hill and you there, un’stan?”
    “No.”
    She sighed and started again. “You git in yo’ car and makes the skwaya–”
    “What, I drive around the square?”
   “That’s rat, honey. You makes the skwaya.” She was talking to me the way I would talk to a French person. She gave me the rest of the instructions and I pretended to understand, though they meant nothing to me. All I kept thinking was what funny sounds they were to be emerging from such an elegant-looking woman. As I went out the door she called out, “Hit doan really matter anyhow cust hit be’s closed now.”  She really said hit; she really said be’s.
    I said, “Pardon?”
    “Hit be’s closed now. You kin look around the grounz if you woan, but you cain’t go insod.”
    I wint outsod thinking that Miss Hippy was goan be hard work.

There’s more; some worse, some better. Bryson visited Tupelo and Columbus as well, but in the final analysis. he left Mississippi with pronounced relief, and his impressions of the state were, I’m disappointed to say, rather much what we have come to expect of most people who visit with preconceived prejudices and with no desire to do anything more than capitalize upon the surety that their condescension would be well received by the world at large.

Faulkner’s Walk on the Wild Side

In 1931, William Faulkner published his first collection of short stories, These 13, which in addition to some of his most acclaimed and frequently anthologized stories—“A Rose for Emily”, “That Evening Sun,” and “Dry September”—included “Divorce in Naples”, Faulkner’s most direct if not overt exploration of  homosexuality.

Faulkner had already broached the theme in the intimacy between Quentin Compson and his Harvard roommate Shreve McCannon in The Sound and the Fury (1929), and Jenny and Patricia as well as the openly gay lesbian Eva Wiseman in Mosquitoes (1927). He’d renew and expand his depiction of Quentin and Shreve and introduce a parallel relationship with Henry Sutpen and Charles Bon in Absalom, Absalom! (1936). Faulkner employed the theme in diverse manners in later works, but “Divorce in Naples” stands as his most explicit work on homosexuality.

Simply put, the story depicts the relationship between two sailors, George (“Greek, big and black, a full head taller than Carl”) and the younger Carl (“with his round yellow head and his round eyes, looking like a sophisticated baby”).

‘THEY CAME INTO THE SHIP together at Galveston, George carrying a portable victrola and a small parcel wrapped in paper bearing the imprint of a well-known ten-cent store, and Carl carrying two bulging imitation leather bags that looked like they might weigh forty pounds apiece. George appropriated two berths, one above the other like a Pullman section, cursing Carl in a harsh, concatenant voice a little overburred with v’s and r’s and ordering him about like a nigger, while Carl stowed their effects away with the meticulousness of an old maid, producing from one of the bags a stack of freshly laundered drill serving jackets that must have numbered a dozen. For the next thirty-four days (he was the messboy) he wore a fresh one for each meal in the saloon, and there were always two or three recently washed ones drying under the poop awning. And for thirty-four evenings, after the galley was closed, we watched the two of them in pants and undershirts, dancing to the victrola on the after well deck above a hold full of Texas cotton and Georgia resin. They had only one record for the machine and it had a crack in it, and each time the needle clucked George would stamp on the deck. I don’t think that either one of them was aware that he did it.’

One night Carl disappears and George, frantic, fails to find him. When Carl returns after three days, he reveals that he has been with a woman, and George kicks him out of their berth only to discover later, after their reconciliation, that Carl was too naive to have sexual congress with the woman, and

“ …two weeks later we were watching him and George dancing again in their undershirts after supper on the after well deck while the victrola lifted its fatuous and reiterant ego against the waxing moon and the ship snored and hissed through the long seas off Hatteras.’

Most of Faulkner’s examinations of same-sex desire focus on men; Faulkner had close relations with many homosexual writers and artists, including his townsman and fellow writer Stark Young and his childhood friend Ben Wasson as well as William Alexander Percy and Lyle Saxon. It goes without saying that while living in New Orleans he doubtless knew many others.

The story draws most directly on Faulkner’s experiences with William Spratling, a down-on-his-knees New Orleans fairy, in sailing to Europe on the West Ivis beginning July 7, 1925 and to Genoa on August 2, where after landing they celebrated their arrival by going drinking with the ship’s officers. The drinking bout turned into a brawl with “pimps and prostitutes”, after which Spratling was arrested and thrown into an Italian prison where during the night he had a “homosexual encounter”. Rape is of course implied, but then again we don’t have any evidence that the encounter wasn’t consensual. The event in Genoa provided the kernel for the story, and Faulkner himself was heard to joke at one point that he was jealous of Spratling.

Faulkner’s representations of human sexuality are ambivalent and veiled. “Divorce in Naples” displays sexual activity blended with romantic idealism and sexual innocence if not confusion, but typically for Faulkner leaves the tension between them suspended.

The Sweet Potato Queens’ Big-Ass Compendium of Fat and Happy: A Review

In “A Note from Jill,” which serves as an introduction to her latest book, The Sweet Potato Queens’ Big-Ass Compendium of Fat and Happy: Recipes to Improve Your Disposition (Shelton House Press, $14.95), HRH the BOSS QUEEN HERSELF declares (Jill Conner Browne never really merely says anything), “There Are NO Funny Stories in This Book.” Well, perhaps not AS SUCH, but ANYTHING Ms. Browne puts her lacquered and bejeweled hand to is going to be smart, sassy, brassy, and, yes, funny.

The fun begins far before Jill’s “Note” (p. 11), with a lengthy disclaimer: WARNING AND HOLD HARMLESS: ALL OF THE RECIPES HEREIN ARE POISON! IF YOU EAT THIS STUFF ALL THE TIME, YOU WILL DIE- AND YOU WILL DIE WITH A HUGE BEE-HIND; HOWEVER, THEY ARE VERY GOOD FOR YOUR DISPOSITION. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK. This elaborate salute to our litigious society goes on for another ninety words, followed by a declaration of LIMITS OF LIABILITY AND DISCLAIMER OF WARRANTY, which includes such pettifoggery as THE AUTHOR AND PUBLISHER MAKE NO REPRESENTATIONS OR WARRANTIES WITH RESPECT TO THE ACCURACY, APPLICABILITY, FITNESS OR COMPLETENESS OF THE CONTENTS OF THIS MATERIAL. What follows this delightfully dense froth of legalese is nothing less than a NOTE REGARDING FOOD ALLERGIES: in which Her Majesty avows that SHE HERSELF has no food allergies and furthermore hasn’t made ANY INGREDIENT ADJUSTMENTS, ALTERNATIVE RECOMMENDATIONS, OR CONSIDERATION WHATSOEVER FOR SUCH IN THIS MATERIAL, and if you have food allergies it’s your responsibility to deal with them. “Be particular,” she adds.

Back to the introduction, where Ms. Browne presents her two-fold purpose for this work. “First-fold” (secondary) is “to give YOU death-defying recipes from ALL of the Sweet Potato Queens® books (so far) in one convenient pile . . . with absolutely no entertaining embellishments whatsoever.” “Second-fold,” (primary) is to PREVENT you from e-mailing and Facebooking and Tweeting me that you “lost/loaned/gave away your book(s)” and you “MUST HAVE CHOCOLATE STUFF (or Whatever It Is You’re Currently Craving) RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND OR YOU WILL SURELY DIE” and would I please take the time out of MY day to go personally find which book of the NINE that your desired recipe is in (oddly enough, I do not know them all by heart) and would I furthermore then take the time out of MY day to sit down and RE-TYPE said recipe FOR YOU when AS WE ALL KNOW, I have ALREADY DONE THAT when I put them ALL into convenient BOOKS for you, but which YOU have somehow-through no fault or responsibility of MINE- not managed to hold onto.” So much for “no entertaining embellishments,” right? “I never intended to take y’all to raise,” she adds.

In two successive “folds,” Browne informs readers that the titles of books where the recipes were originally printed appear at the end of each recipe (the e-book contains links to purchase these works) as well as you will find links “to some ingredients and pots, pans, bowls, utensils, etc. that you might be lacking.” And, finally, “One More-Fold: I have also included 33 NEW recipes that will appear in the next SPQ” book as well – just to demonstrate what a Good Sport I am.” How sweet is that?

My hope-no, my prayer – is that y’all will also buy the printed copies and their electronic twins of all nine of my other books, and the audio versions of them as well BECAUSE I have, once again, massive plastic surgery needs and your purchases are simple ways that YOU can help!”

Browne also has a Kindle App for download (“so you can easily shop for the ingredients of your favorite SPQ recipes AND you’re not likely to be loaning out your PHONE, tablet, or Kindle then e-mailing me in tears for some recipe”.) Never let it be said that Jill Conner Browne is not au courant. Likewise, never let it be said that Ms. Browne doesn’t know her way around a kitchen. In her “Basic Stuff to Know Before You Begin Using These Recipes,” she makes several smart recommendations, among them using a “running over” teaspoon whenever one of vanilla needed, using salted butter, and to “be particular” when it comes to buying (DARK) brown sugar. Jill also provides this wonderful piece of don’t-be-a-dumb-ass/no-nonsense advice:

“If the recipe does not specifically state the size/type pan to be used, it doesn’t really matter. Look at how much is in the bowl and figure out which pan you have that will hold it. I am going out on a limb and assuming that you have sense enough to NOT try to cram a gallon of something into a quart pan-or try to make a quart of something cover the bottom of a gallon pan. Please tell me that my trust is not misplaced.

The Sweet Potato Queens’ Bog-Ass Compendium of Fat and Happy contains 216 recipes; breads (18), breakfast (11), casseroles (17), chicken (7), dips and appetizers (23), drinks (9), meat (11), salads (10), “sammiches” (8), seafood (4), veggies (28), and sweets (69)(!). Nine other recipes fall into the category of “weird shit,” among them “Love Lard,” “Racoon Loaf,” and “Damon Lee Fowler’s Bacon Popcorn.” Stellar additions include: “Queen of the Night Salsa,” “Spinach Madeline.” “Bacon and Beagle Dicks (cocktail sausages),” “Olive Yum Yums,” and “Armadillo Hunter’s Shrimp.”

Sure, you’re not going to find many of these recipes on a keto sideboard, and you might want to double down up your Lipitor for any extended indulgence. Browne is a great cook, and she’s taken a lot of care with the recipes, which are well-written and quite easy to follow. This isn’t what I’d call a “family” cookbook, but if you do a lot of entertaining or have a lot of company over the holidays, it’s a wonderful thing to have on hand, and a TON of FUN!

A Feast of Feathers

This absolute gem of a story by Jeff Weddle, a man of many parts, but a poet at heart, was inspired by true events. It’s the lead item in his brilliant collection, When Giraffes Flew (SYP; Tallahassee, 2015).

You’re ten years old the day the chickens explode. What could possibly prepare you for this? You’re in the living room watching TV, and you hear the bang out in the yard, and you run to the door. A pickup truck is turned over beside a broken elm tree, and there are chicken crates everywhere and chickens all over the yard. Some of the chickens look dead already, but others are screaming and running around flapping their wings. Poochie and Smoke appear from somewhere out back and lay in on the chickens. They bite the heads and sling the bodies, both just the same, as if they had been taught to do this. They kill the birds and eat their fill, then kill more and leave them lying dead on the lawn.

“Mama,” you scream, but she’s not there. She’s visiting her sister in town, and you’re in the house alone-just you and the wrecked truck in the yard and all those chickens. Dead chickens, dying chickens, chickens being murdered by the dogs. The scene is horrible. Poochie and Smoke fight over a small bird. Poochie has it by the head and Smoke has a wing. The wing rips off, and Poochie backs away, growling.

“Mama,” you scream again.

The driver is still in the truck, but you don’t know this. You don’t even think about him. All you can think about is the chickens in your front yard.

You don’t know how long it is before you think to call somebody. You call your mother at your aunt’s house and tell her what’s happening.

“Calm down,” she says. “Talk slow. Tell me what’s the matter.”

Where do you start? What can you tell her?

“Feathers,” you say. “There are all these feathers. The yard is filled with them.”

“Feathers?”

But that’s all you can think to say. After a while, she stops trying to get the story, and says she’s coming right home. You hang up but don’t dare walk back to the door. Instead, you go back and stare at the television. You turn up the sound so you can’t hear what’s going on outside.

The front door opens. There’s a man standing there, a man you don’t know. He’s bloody and feathers are stuck all over him. He looks like a big, awful rooster. He stands there in your front room for a second then dips over and slides against the wall, all the way to the floor. There’s a wide trail of blood where he slides. You realize this isn’t good.

This is the driver. He’s a farmer from out in the county, and he was on his way to sell his chickens in town. Now he’s had a bad experience in your yard, and his chickens are mostly beyond salvage. Now he’s lying on your living room floor bleeding to death, feathers stuck all over his body. Now you have to deal with him.

But of course you can’t. There’s nothing to do but sit where you are and wait. The noise outside has quieted to the din of a few dozen chickens clucking and squawking. The dogs have followed the man into the house. This is the biggest chicken of them all, and they each know they must have him. Smoke wises up and latches onto his head, just above the cheek, and locks her jaw tight. Poochie has a shoulder. They try their best to sling him around and kill him, but he weighs too much. They growl and jerk, but it’s no good.

You run over and kick the dogs away, but they are crazed with blood. For a moment it looks like they’re going to jump on you, but they don’t; they want the big chicken and nothing is going to keep them from having it.

By the time your mother arrives it’s all over. The man’s face and arm are chewed to pieces. He’s on the floor, dead-blood and feathers stuck all over the floor and walls.

Your mother doesn’t know what to make of any of this. You think she’ll scream or faint, but what she does is scoop you up and run into the bathroom and lock the door.

“Are you okay?” she yells at you. “Are you okay?”

There is no way to answer this question. You sit on her lap and shake your head back and forth, but you don’t know what you’re doing.

A week later, things are mostly back to normal. The truck has been towed away and most of the feathers are gone from the yard. The front room is immaculate. The broken elm tree has been removed. A man from the sheriff’s office has come and taken Smoke and Poochie away. You cried over the dogs.

When the deputy came for them, you tried to keep him away, but you’ve learned now, there’s no fighting a man with a badge and a gun.

Your mother hasn’t left your side in seven days.

“Mama,” you tell her, the chicken man can’t hurt us anymore.”

She smiles the tiniest bit, but you know she believes something different. From now on, every so often, the yard will yield a host of bones.

If there is anything in the world you miss more than your dogs, you don’t want to think of it. At night, now, you wonder about all that road out there. There must be more trucks heading your way, and maybe chickens aren’t the worst of it. It’s hard to imagine this might be true, but something tells you to believe it.

The Giant Houseparty Cookbook

This gem was another find among the amazing avalanche of books at Fred Smith’s Choctaw Books when it was on North Street in Jackson. Published in 1981 by the Philadelphia-Neshoba County Chamber of Commerce, the book itself is hefty, a good inch-and-a-half thick, and contains almost 1000 recipes. Most of these recipes are typical of the time: dozens of casseroles, oodles of pies and cakes, and of the sixty-odd salad recipes only two involve no gelatin whatsoever.

The introduction was written by Stanley Dearman, who for 34 years (beginning in 1966) was the editor and publisher of The Neshoba Democrat in Philadelphia. Dearman’s editorials expressing outrage at the 1964 murders of three young civil rights workers helped set the stage for the belated conviction of a former Klansman for organizing the killings, The case that became a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, and was the basis for the 1988 film “Mississippi Burning.”

Along with the introduction, I’ve included Turner Catledge’s cheese grits, Fannie Smith’s blackberry trifle, and another blackberry recipe, “Blackberry Acid,” a truly antique refreshment.

In this particular region of the South–the east central hill country of Mississippi—the tradition of food and fellowship go back many generations. More specifically, eating and talking are two things that natives in this region value highly and take seriously.

Nowhere do these two activities blend more happily than at the Neshoba County Fair-which in fact started in 1889 with a picnic under the trees and around the wagons by community residents who wanted to get together and talk-while they ate, of course, and to display their agricultural achievements. For many years the Fair has been known as “Mississippi’s Giant Houseparty-hence the name of this cookbook.

During one week of the year, usually the first in August, the Fairground is transformed into a bustling city with a festive air. More than 500 cabins circling the racetrack, as well as hundreds of campers and mobile homes from across the South, are temporary homes for thousands who migrate back because of family connections or friendships. There are no strangers here; hospitality abounds and food and drink are shared by all.

The fame of the Fair has spread over the years. Last year it was featured in National Geographic and Southern Living magazines. And during the presidential campaign, Ronald and Nancy Reagan paid a visit and drew a record crowd. State politics and its florid oratory have been a part of the Fair since before the turn of the century.

Fair Week is preceded by several weeks of brisk activity and planning by the womenfolk-casseroles are made and frozen; hams and turkeys are baked or smoked; menus are planned and the shelves are stocked. In this region of abundant agricultural crops, corn, tomatoes, peas, butterbeans, squash and okra are harvested and processed, fitting complements to the succulent fried chicken and magnificent repertoire of dazzling desserts. A section of special Fair recipes is included in this book.

The production of the Giant Houseparty cookbook was the result of a project begun by the Philadelphia Rotary Club. For many years the Rotary Club distributed mimeographed recipe booklets at its annual pancake suppers. These booklets became collector’s items over the years.

The Rotary Club first considered producing a cookbook, but later granted permission to the Chamber of Commerce to assume the project. The committee selected and edited recipes from the existing collection prior to collecting others. A special effort was made to gather recipes which not only had become part of the local culinary lore, but to achieve a balance of “useful” recipes.

Another special effort was made to gather recipes from former residents in various parts of the country. For example, Turner Catledge, retired editor of the New York Times, was kind enough to send us his recipe for cheese grits. Mr. Catledge grew up in Neshoba County and now lives in New Orleans. He and Mrs. Catledge gave a dinner party in their home for Van Cliburn, whose father, the late Harvey Lavan Cliburn, was born and reared in Neshoba County, Catledge and Cliburn had much to talk about at that dinner party, which included that grits casserole.

Also, closer to home, we are delighted to include a recipe for Blackberry Trifle from Mrs. Fannie Johnson Smith, who at the age of 102 vividly recalls the day in 1889 when, at the age of 10, she accompanied her parents across a hill or two to the first Neshoba County Fair.
—Stanley Dearman

Catledge Cheese Grits

1 cup grits
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 ½ cups grated cheese
Dash of red pepper’1/2 stick butter

Combine grits, salt, and water and bring to a boil, stirring well. Place over bottom of a double boiler and cook for 40 minutes. While this is cooking, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add cheese, eggs, butter and pepper. Place in a Pyrex dish and heat in oven about 30 minutes.

Blackberry Trifle

1 cup blackberry trifle
1 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup butter
2 tablespoons flour
4 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 9-in. unbaked pie shell
4 tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix well jam, sugar, buttermilk, butter, flour, egg yolks, and vanilla. Pour into pie shell. Bake about 40 minutes. Beat egg whites until stiff, gradually adding 4 tablespoons of sugar. Spread meringue on top of pie and return to oven to brown lightly.

Blackberry Acid

3 gallons blackberries
½ gallon boiling water
4 ounces tartaric acid
1 ½ cups sugar to 1 cup juices

Crush berries, add boiling water, and let stand 24 hours. Strain, add tartaric acid and sugar. Let stand at least 24 hours before bottling.

Faulkner’s Marble Faun

According to Fred Smith, appraiser for Mississippi State University’s archives and former proprietor of Choctaw Books in Jackson, “When it comes to the ‘Holy Grail’ of Mississippi book collecting, Faulkner’s The Marble Faun is it.”

“For one thing, he’s the most important literary figure this state has ever produced, and this book of poems is his first work,” Smith explained. “Faulkner thought he wanted to be a poet, and Phil Stone had it printed or helped him to get it printed. Stone bought many of the unsold copies and stored them in the attic at his home in Oxford, but they were destroyed when the house burned. I’ve only had one copy in my 31 years in business, and it wasn’t in good shape; the spine was really fragile, and the binding had come off. Whatever the print run was, and I’m sure it wasn’t big, a lot of the original copies didn’t survive.”

“Signed copies are worth tens of thousands of dollars,” Smith said. “The absolute best copy came up for sale at Christie’s, a copy he had inscribed to his mother and father. Ole Miss has a couple of copies, and someone donated one to Mississippi College a few years ago. But that book is one thing that I’ve kept searching for all these years. I did buy one from a lady in Oxford some twenty years ago, but because of its poor condition it wasn’t worth a lot then. I think I sold it for $750, but if I had one to resell now, it would bring ten times that much, probably up to ten thousand, because there just aren’t any around.”

The Christie’s first edition of Faulkner’s The Marble Faun (Four Seas Press: Boston, 1924) sold for $95,600 in October, 2002. In the lot description, Christie’s adds:

“Four Seas agreed to issue Faulkner’s collection of poems in 1923, provided he pay for the manufacturing costs (their standard arrangement). They offered him a royalty arrangement, but Faulkner declined to proceed, at the time not having enough money to carry the costs. Within six months, though, he’d received the encouragement and financial support of Phil Stone and the twenty-seven year old Faulkner contracted for the printing of 500 copies of The Marble Faun. The book sold poorly and quickly was remaindered. No records survive detailing the number of copies Four Seas actually sold prior to disposing the stock on the remainder market, but an early estimate suggested 100 copies. William Boozer, in William Faulkner’s First Book: The Marble Faun (Memphis, 1975), specifically located 56 copies. Boozer considered the existence of other floating copies for a total of near 70, and has since found more, but his total is still short of the 100 copies initially assumed.”

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.

Barry

I can’t claim to have known Barry Hannah well, but we knew each other. I took Barry’s first class at Ole Miss as an undergraduate. The class was held in Bondurant East, second floor, overlooking the Williams Library. Donna Tartt was in the class as well, a very pretty young lady who turned in a wonderful short story about a woman held captive by a man whose passion was orchids. I turned in one about a woman who had murdered her husband in front of her youngest child, a brutal little story that Hannah found “too much”, since the child later went on to commit suicide as an adult. “Murder and suicide both in less than five pages?” he asked. He looked at me, shrugged and grinned.

Barry was drinking heavily at that time, and it wasn’t a week later before he showed up just as drunk as he could be. The entire class just sat in their seats, dumbfounded, as he rambled on about poetry, fiction and flying around the Gulf of Mexico shooting tequila with Jimmy Buffet. We were dismissed early. My friend and classmate Robert Yarborough told me to stay after class and help him get Hannah home. I drove Barry’s car, Robert followed on his motorcycle. First stop was to a supermarket, where Barry gave me a wad of money and told me to buy a steak (“I need protein!”), then to the run-down duplex he shared with Robert on Johnson Avenue. At the next class we were on pins and needles wondering if Hannah would show up, but of course he did, apologized, told us to forget about it and delivered one of the best lectures on the craft of writing I’ve ever heard before or since. “You’ve got to write, write, write” he said. “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” Trite, I know, but when Barry said it with that raffish grin of his, he made it stick.

Later on that semester, I was sitting in the Gin having a few beers and scribbling on a pad when Hannah walked in. I nodded a greeting, and eventually he ambled over and we started talking. He asked about the short story I’d written. I told him I’d gotten the title (“A Roof of Wind”) from Faulkner. This infuriated him; I got the impression that he was sick and tired having his mule and wagon stalled on the same track the Dixie Limited roared down. Not knowing what else to do, I apologized and left posthaste. He never brought it up again, and I certainly didn’t.

Like Morris, Hannah was subject to the fawnings of fans, but while Willie reveled in holding late-night, dissolute salons where he was the center of the attentions of a cadre of hangers-on, Barry kept a somewhat lower profile and a more select company. I knew many people who traveled in those circles, and they enjoyed regaling those of us who weren’t members of those cliques relishing their wit and wisdom.

On reflection, it wasn’t a good time for either Morris or Hannah. Neither published anything of matter those years; Barry began bottoming out with Ray, while Willie was churning out even worse froth in the form of Terrains of the Heart. But unlike Morris, Hannah pulled out of it, wrote, and wrote well. He had to, and he did.

Hannah is the finest Southern writer of his generation, eye, ear and voice. Oh, he was a bad boy to be sure; he had the witting arrogance to be vulgar when the situation presented itself and his snide insinuations peppered anything he wrote. Begrudge his digressions, but Hannah was a lyricist; he taught us to listen to ourselves.