In a his article “Cooked Books” (The New Yorker, April 9, 2007), Adam Gopnik points out that there are four kinds of food in books: “Food that is served by an author to characters who are not expected to taste it; food that is served by an author to characters in order to show who they are; food that an author cooks for characters in order to eat it with them; and, last (and most recent), food that an author cooks for characters but actually serves to the reader.”
Faulkner falls solidly into the second category, a writer who uses food to show who his characters are, as does (unsurprisingly) a French writer who influenced the Mississippian very much, Marcel Proust. “Proust seems so full of food—crushed strawberries and madeleines, tisanes and champagne—that entire recipe books have been extracted from his texts,” Gopnik says. “Proust will say that someone is eating a meal of gigot with sauce béarnaise, but he seldom says that the character had a delicious meal of gigot with sauce béarnaise—although he will extend his adjectives to the weather, or the view. He uses food as a sign of something else.”
This is precisely what Faulkner does with the Thanksgiving meal at the Sartoris home in Flags in the Dust, his first novel to be set in Yoknapatawpha County (called “Yocona”). Written in 1927, the novel was rejected by his publisher, but it was released in a drastically edited version as Sartoris in 1929. The full manuscript was finally restored and published under the editorial direction of Douglas Day in 1973. The novel is set just after World War I and focuses on the once-powerful, aristocratic Sartoris in decline, clinging to the vestiges of affluence. Here Faulkner describes their Thanksgiving table:
. . . Simon appeared again, with Isom in procession now, and for the next five minutes they moved steadily between kitchen and dining room with a roast turkey and a cured ham and a dish of quail and another of squirrel, and a baked ‘possum in a bed of sweet potatoes; and Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes, and squash and pickled beets and rice and hominy, and hot biscuits and beaten biscuits and long thin sticks of cornbread and strawberry and pear preserves, and quince and apple jelly, and blackberry jam and stewed cranberries. Then they ceased talking for a while and really ate, glancing now and then across the table at one another in a rosy glow of amicability and steamy odors. From time to time Isom entered with hot bread . . . and then Simon brought in pies of three kinds, and a small, deadly plum pudding, and a cake baked cunningly with whiskey and nuts and fruit and treacherous and fatal as sin; and at last, with an air sibylline and gravely profound, a bottle of port.” (Flags in the Dust, Random House, 1973, p. 281)
The meal is lorded over by the family patriarch, Bayard Sartoris II, who is soon to die as well as his son, Bayard III, leaving the few remaining members of the once proud and powerful Sartoris family destitute.
Old Bayard’s attempts to maintain the family’s traditional high standards are exemplified by this meal, which is indeed a groaning board with plentiful meats and game, vegetables and breads, sweets and condiments. The inclusion of stewed cranberries, somewhat of a luxury item at the time, stands out. Towards the end, adjectives begin to cluster as they tend to do in Faulkner, and the final, “sibylline and gravely profound” presentation of port lends a dark, ceremonial coda.
Will and Scott met in a dusty New Orleans bar on a wet November afternoon and shortly fell into a discussion of favored bridge abutments in surrounding states.
Neither in fact were vagrants, both family men: Will an attorney, Scott a businessman, both Mississippians in NOLA for the wedding of mutual friends, Will the bride’s, Scott the groom’s. In time they found ethanol and automobiles in common too, but not hunting. Scott had never taken the field for game.
“Let me take you hunting,” Will said.
“Okay,” said Scott. “For what?”
Will looked him dead in the eye and said, “Snipe.”
“That’s not funny.”
“I’m serious,” Will said.
. . . . . . . . . .
They left Jackson in the darkest dawn, drove through for coffee and biscuits, then went up 49 watching the earth settle, fall away and go somewhere else.
Clambering from the truck with gear, they sank ankle-deep in muck, slugged first to one patch of mud just above the pooled water to another atoll of broken grasses, the Delta sky pushing distance to the rim of a tall lens, bringing all else into focus, amplifying sound. The rattles of the brittle grass echoed into the distance, across the river, all over the world. The mud was as old Egypt, richer than sin itself.
That close to the river, earth is a matter of water–making it, shaping it, teaching it–letting earth absorb all light, all air, all crisp, cold and fragile, brushed with a thin brittle crust on a bitter morning.
Furrowed and churned, the field was a mummified of pale brittle stems that collapsed hither and thither, hiding muck, confusing footwork and sheltering snipe, the being itself, a will-o’-the-wisp the very color of winter—white, grey and black fading to or from indiscriminate brown, beige or buff in indifferent patterns on insignificant substance—a bird of earth without place in air where it seeks in fits to find a place and–failing, furtive–rushes back to the tussocks.
. . . . . . . . . .
“Here we go,” Will said, stepping into the muck and pointing out into the water-mirrored field. “The birds hide up in piles of grass near water. They flush easy, so ease up before you move in.” The grass in front of them rustled and set alight two birds, translucent in the sun trailing faint alarms before they lit in another field.
“Can’t even see them mid-air,” Scott said. “They’re too light and grey.”
Will grinned. The sky was a blinding blue that dribbled down in pools and puddles. The only wind blew way above under a small cool sun, moving shadows of blades, leaves and stems. They walked, guns at their hips, talking to fill the void.
. . . . . . . . . .
“You don’t talk much about over there.”
“Not a lot to say,” Scott said. “It wouldn’t make sense to you.”
“Does it have to? Did it to you?
“Some of it did.” Beside them a clump of cattail folded brown and enclosed exploded into a busy ball of air. Scott crouched and shot, the sound bouncing across the field, the bird falling, twisting, one wing reaching for lift.
Will found the winged bird, wrung its neck, put it in the sack on his shoulder and said, “I want to know what it’s like to kill someone.”
“Why? You gonna kill somebody?”
Will grinned. “Maybe. Maybe I just want to know what it feels like to point a gun at a man and pull the trigger and watch him fall.”
“They weren’t men,” Scott said. “Not to me. They weren’t even enemies. They were just things in the distance. Dark shapes that moved. I never killed anyone. I just shot things and watched them fall.”
“But didn’t they shoot at you?”
“Yes, dammit! Sure they did. You know they did, and I got hit, too!” Scott said.
“I didn’t know that,” Will said.
“In the fucking back,” Scott said. “Shattered my shoulder blade. It’s a steel plate now. Went right through. Bled like a motherfucker.”
“Can I see the scar?”
“It’s too cold to take my shirt off, man,” Scott laughed.
“You don’t have to. Just let me feel it,” Will said.
Scott stopped walking and rubbed the tears off his face. He cradled his gun in the crook of his left arm and with his right unzipped his jacket. “It’s on the left side,” he said.
Will took the glove off his right hand, turned and moved his hand into the jacket, beneath the shirt to the skin, the hair, gently probing, pausing, feeling.
“That’s not it,” Scott said, “That’s my . . .”
“I know what it is,” Will said.
“Up,” Scott said, “There.”
“Yes. Does it still hurt?”
“No,” Scott said. “Not any more. It’s still tender, but you’re not hurting me.”
“I don’t want to hurt you,” Will said. “I just wanted to feel the scar.”
“You’re not hurting me, Will.”
“It’s okay, Scott. It’s okay. Why don’t we call it a day, have a couple of drinks on the way home?”
. . . . . . . . . .
They moved towards the ruts atop the dam that passed for a road, their steps less measured, more insistent, no longer stalking, but in pursuit, the sinking sun reddening, silhouetting the distance, a glittering planet punctuating the blueprint heavens.
They climbed into the truck. Will cranked it up and turned on the lights.
“We can grab a bottle and go to Smitty’s cabin on the Big Black. I’ll call Beth and tell her to call Ann,” Will said. “We’ll tell them we didn’t kill anything, be home tomorrow.”
“Okay,” Scott said, wiping tears from his face. “I’m just tired.”
When November comes, hunters up and down the Mississippi flyway flock to the wild with guns and dogs. In the Mississippi Delta, arguably the heart of the flyway, men of a certain feather abandon their usual nests of domesticity for camp, in Irwin Hester’s case his duck camp on Concordia Island in Bolivar County.
“It’s not really an island,” Irwin said. “If anything, it’s a peninsula, since the river makes a tight loop around it.” He looked out the window at the sunset spread out over Arkansas. “You’d think they’d have a special name for a riparian peninsula, but they don’t.”
Irwin retired from what he calls “the oil business” almost a decade ago. He received his degree in geology from Mississippi State in the early 70s and began working with Gulf Oil, stayed with them through the merger, and remained, working his way up the ladder, eventually landing in Pittsburgh at U-PARK.
An only child, Irwin never married (“Just too damned busy,” he explained). When he retired in 2012, he came back home to Mississippi, made a home, renewed old friendships, and moved his folks’ old home to the end of a dirt road on Concordia Island. Twice a year, the beginning of duck season and the end, November and January, he holds camp.
“I make real, Texas-style chili,” Irwin said. “It’s the best, and once you’ve had it, you’ll never call anything else chili. I learned to make it when I lived in Austin. I knew a guy who cooked it at his hunt camp up on the Pedernales River. He said he got his recipe from Lady Bird Johnson herself.
Irwin’s chili has no beans, no tomatoes, and no onions. He uses a lean cut of beef, usually a top round, cut into large chunks, coats these in a mixture of smoked paprika, crushed leaf oregano, cayenne, and ground cumin, and browns them in a cast iron Dutch oven. For each pound of beef, he soaks, peels and seeds four anchos.
He uses the water from the peppers in the beef, adding more to cover about an inch, and places the heavily-lidded pot in the oven at a low temperature (“Just enough to make it simmer”) in the morning, and by the time the sun gets an angle, the chili must be stirred (“Once is enough”) and returned to the oven for another hour. When men return from the field, the fire is blazing, bottles opened, and a guitar is passed around. He keeps Crystal on the table.
“It’s as good a bowl of red as you’re going to get on this side of the Mississippi,” Irwin says.
“A small and sallow figure whose shorts hung clumsily in the crotch, whose spindly legs looked too naked in comparison to the formal garters and nylon socks that hung near the ankle,” resplendent in a red beard, besotted by the milk of human kindness—and perhaps feeling not a little guilty—stands on the porch of the Reilly home ready to provide some comfort to Irene Reilly. Patrolman Mancuso had found out that Irene couldn’t afford the a $1000 fine for drunk and destructive driving he’d given her.
Mancuso looked at the Plymouth and saw the deep crease in its roof and the fender, filled with concave circles, that was separated from the body by three or four inches of space. VAN CAMP’S PORK AND BEANS was printed on the piece of cardboard taped across the hole that had been the rear window. Stopping by the grave, he read REX in faded letters on the cross. Then he climbed the worn brick steps and heard through the closed shutters a booming chant.
Big girls don’t cry. Big girls don’t cry. Big girls, they don’t cry-yi-yi. They don’t cry. Big girls, they don’t cry… yi.
While he was waiting for someone to answer the bell, he read the faded sticker on the crystal of the door, “A slip of the lip can sink a ship.” Below a WAVE held her finger to lips that had turned tan. (p. 33)
The “chant” Mancuso hears is the refrain from “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” is a song written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio. Originally recorded by The Four Seasons, “Big Girls” hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 on November 17, 1962, and spent five weeks in the top position. The song—along with the movies that Ignatius sees at the Prytania—provides an important signature for the novel’s time setting. Mancuso follows Irene into the kitchen and they commiserate over coffee and donuts. Soon enough, they begin to discuss Ignatius.
“He’s out in the parlor right now looking at TV. Every afternoon, as right as rain, he looks at that show where them kids dance.” In the kitchen the music was somewhat fainter than it had been on the porch. Patrolman Mancuso pictured the green hunting cap bathed in the blue-white glow of the television screen. “He don’t like the show at all, but he won’t miss it. You oughta hear what he says about them poor kids.” (p. 35) “Oh, my God!” Ignatius bellowed from the front of the house. “Oh, my heavens! These girls are doubtless prostitutes already. How can they present horrors like this to the public? What an egregious insult to good taste. Do I believe the total perversion that I am witnessing?” Ignatius screamed from the parlor. The music had a frantic, tribal rhythm; a chorus of falsettos sang insinuatingly about loving all night long. “The children on that program should all be gassed,” Ignatius said as he strode into the kitchen in his nightshirt. Then he noticed the guest and said coldly, “Oh.” (p. 36)
Most of us will recognize “the show where them kids dance” as “American Bandstand,” but in New Orleans, in November, 1962, the popular local edition of was “The John Pela Show.” Pela was a staff announcer for local station WWL-TV who in 1961 took over hosting duties of the show originally titled “Saturday Hop.” Featuring a studio full of New Orleans teenagers dancing to the latest pop hits, and with groovy, era-appropriate graphics—including a stylized riverboat–setting the mood, the live, hour-long dance party originated from the WWL studios every Saturday a must-see for NOLA teens in the day.
Ignatius maintained an extreme opinion.
“The ironic thing about that program,” Ignatius was saying over the stove, keeping one eye peeled so that he could seize the pot as soon as the milk began to boil, “is that it is supposed to be an exemplum to the youth of our nation. I would like very much to know what the Founding Fathers would say if they could see these children being debauched to further the cause of Clearasil. However, I always suspected that democracy would come to this.” He painstakingly poured the milk into his Shirley Temple mug. “A firm rule must be imposed upon our nation before it destroys itself. The United States needs some theology and geometry, some taste and decency. I suspect that we are teetering on the edge of the abyss.” (p. 37)
After a tumult with Irene, Ignatius retreated to his room.
He slammed his door and snatched a Big Chief tablet from the floor. Throwing himself back among the pillows on the bed, he began doodling on a yellowed page. After almost thirty minutes of pulling at his hair and chewing on the pencil, he began to compose a paragraph.
Were Hroswitha with us today, we would all look to her for counsel and guidance. From the austerity and tranquility of her medieval world, the penetrating gaze of this legendary Sybil of a holy nun would exorcise the horrors which materialize before our eyes in the name of television. If we could only juxtapose one eyeball of this sanctified woman and a television tube, both being roughly of the same shape and design, what a phantasmagoria of exploding electrodes would occur. The images of those lasciviously gyrating children would disintegrate into so many ions and molecules, thereby effecting the catharsis which the tragedy of the debauching of the innocent necessarily demands. (p. 40)
Considered the first female writer from the German-speaking lands, the first female historian, the first person since antiquity to write dramas in the Latin West, and the first female poet in Germany, Hroswitha (c. 935–973) was a secular canoness at Gandersheim Abbey In Lower Saxony. She has been called “the most remarkable woman of her time”, and an important figure in the early history of women. Hroswitha’s six short dramas are considered to be her most important works. Ignatius’s conjuration of Hroswitha likely stems from her position of a dramatist, with the medieval stage providing a parallel to a televised dance floor, making her somewhat of a patron saint of public performance. She’s an interesting choice for his appeal, since Tool most certainly would have been aware of Hroswitha’s reputation as a proto-feminist, which jars somewhat with Ignatius’s position as an ultra-conservative Catholic:
“I do not support the current pope. He does not at all fit my concept of a good, authoritarian pope. Actually, I am opposed to the relativism of modern Catholicism quite violently.” (p. 45)
Finally, don’t recoil at Ignatius’s dire punishments for (presumably) innocent teenagers. Ignatius is a medievalist, and however diminished by contemporary horrors, the Middle Ages were brutal and cruel. Ignatius is following the script.
Joyce Sexton was proud of her garden. It occupied the edges of her back yard along the fences; broad beds of perennials punctuated by flowering shrubs whose Latin names she had memorized; they sounded like an incantation as she recited them in her mind.
In the southwest corner was a short dead spruce stripped of twigs and leaves whose trimmed branches were adorned with brightly-colored glass bottles. Joyce enjoyed the way the glass caught the morning sun and reflected in the lights from the porch during the evenings. It had taken her months to find just the right bottles for the tree, and this morning she finally found the last one, a bright red bottle on top that seemed to glow from inside. She was admiring its light when she heard the front doorbell. She had invited her friend Sandra over for a drink.
“Well, it is pretty,” Sandra said later as they sat under the porch fans.
“At least you’ve got different bottles. I don’t like those with just one kind, especially those milk of magnesia models. They just send out the wrong signal, if you ask me.”
“I think it’s the best bottle tree in town,” Joyce said. “I know it sounds silly, but a bottle had to really say something to me before I put it on.” Sandra just stared at it with her arms crossed.
“You don’t like it?” Joyce said.
“Oh, like I said, it’s pretty, Joyce. And it looks good right next to the Lady Banks. But do you realize what those things are?’
Joyce laughed and said, “You mean that nonsense about trapping evil spirits? Cassandra June, your fanny hits a pew every time First Prez is open. And besides, you’re over-educated to boot. Surely you don’t believe that voodoo junk. ”
Sandra sipped her gin and tonic and smiled at her old friend. “Oh, you wouldn’t care if I were sacrificing stray cats in my basement, you’d still never get along without me.”
“If you were sacrificing stray cats, I’d bring you a few,” Joyce said.
“They kill the little birds, they yowl all night long and they beat up on poor Lucky.” A little terrier of dubious parentage under the table between them raised his head and thumped a raggedy tail.
“Okay, if you think its all stuff and nonsense, let me break one,” Sandra said. “Oh, don’t look so shocked. Admit you had fun looking for these bottles, and one of them’s bound to break sooner or later.”
Joyce thought about it. “Okay, you old witch,” she said. “But break one of the bottom ones. Use Glen’s putter. It’s over there on the corner.”
Sandra retrieved the putter, walked into the back yard and shattered a small green bottle on a lower branch. At the sound, Lucky jumped up and scrambled under the gate towards the street outside.
Before Joyce could gather the breath to summon her dog, she heard the screech of brakes and a choked, mournful howl.
. . . . . . . . . .
“Mother, it was just an accident,” Rachel said. “Sandra shouldn’t blame herself. That’s just silly.”
Joyce looked at her daughter. She and Glen had been surprised when her infant golden hair had not only remained gold, but had also matured into a mane that Rachel merely pretended to complain about. Today she had wrestled it back into a tawny mass that spilled in a shower over the back of her bright blue scrubs.
“I know,” she said. “But you know how Sandra loved Lucky. She brought him liver snaps every time she came over. I think she did it on purpose; they always gave him gas.”
Rachel brought her coffee to the table and sat next to her mother. “Mom, just ride it out. I know you loved Lucky, too. Hell, we all did; except Richard, of course.” They both made a face at each other and laughed. “Cliff Stevens told me he was still wearing an ankle bracelet in Chattanooga,” Rachel said.
Joyce sipped from her cup and wished Richard were much further away. She still ran into his parents at parties, his father formal, his mother always managing to snag Joyce away from the crowd and update his doleful story. (“He didn’t mean anything, Joyce. You know that.”)
Rachel glanced at her watch. “I’ve got to go, Mom. Joe Wright told me I could scrub in on a valve replacement this morning.”
Joyce kissed her daughter and took her coffee to the patio. She called Glen at his office, forgot he was in court that day and ended up talking to his secretary Cathy about the upcoming office party.
“Glen’s just a mess about it,” Cathy said. “And I do mean a mess. He can’t decide on a damn thing, and that puts me in charge of everything from food to felonies. Would you please try to sit him down for five minutes and nail something down for me?”
“Oh, just do what you did last year, Cathy. It’s not like he’s going to notice.”
“I know,” Cathy said. “He’s such an airhead.”
Joyce laughed and said goodbye, went and poured another cup and settled back on the porch to admire her garden. The azaleas had exhausted themselves long ago, and the Shastas were now coming into their own, as were the hostas she’d planted last October. Lucky’s grave by the holly was marked with a shaggy little stone dog and a weathered scattering of liver snaps.
The bottle tree glistened in the morning sun. One bottle caught the light extremely well, a beer bottle Joyce found behind the back fence that had a white and blue label. The light it caught dazzled. Joyce laughed, picked a hand spade from her garden shelf, walked up to the tree and shattered the bottle into hundreds of pieces. She was still smiling when she heard the phone ring.
. . . . . . . . . .
Glen knocked gently at the barely open door. Joyce lay on the bed, the golden afternoon light pouring onto the floor and casting shadows upon morning windows.
He moved into the room and sat on the edge of the bed. “Honey?”
“How did he get out?”
Glen turned, bowed and rubbed his hands together. “He’s been out.”
Joyce rolled over and looked at her husband’s back.
“It’s been eight years, Joyce. He was convicted as a juvenile. It was not a capital offense. He served five years, and then they put him in a rehabilitation unit. He was clean and sober; he had a job at a Walgreens. He was evaluated twice a month.”
“He just killed our daughter,” Joyce said.
Glen’s shoulders heaved and he began to sob. Joyce reached up and brought him to her and they lay there, crying, while the shadows grew on the wall.
. . . . . . . . . .
The summer office party was never conducted, but as the holidays approached, Glen suggested that the traditional year’s end celebration be held, and to his relief Joyce agreed. The firm had had a very good year, and Glen, as senior partner, always enjoyed giving out bonuses and promotions.
Predictably, it began on a muted note, but as the night progressed, the mood lifted and Joyce found herself enjoying being around friends. As they were driving home, she and Glen found themselves laughing about Cathy’s QVC jewelry and Jerry Wineman’s new toupee.
It was warm for a winter’s evening; wisps of fog were settling into the low places along the road, and the lights from the house glowed as they pulled into their drive.
Glen grabbed Joyce’s hand and said, “Let’s sit out on the back porch and have another drink.”
“No, Glen,” Joyce said, caressing his hand, “I’d rather not. Let’s just sit in the living room.”
Glen looked at her and said, “You used to love the porch. You used to love looking at the garden. What’s the matter?”
Then Joyce told him about the bottle tree, about Lucky, about Rachel. Glen sighed and said, “Oh, honey, you know that’s just ridiculous. What did they call it in college, synchronicity? Come on, let’s build a little fire in the fireplace and huddle up next to it on a blanket with a couple of beers.”
“I’d rather have a martini,” Joyce said.
After they’d changed, Glen settled Joyce in front of the fire with her drink. “Glen, I know it’s just a bunch of nonsense, coincidences, like you said.”
“Of course they were, and I know it, but I don’t believe you believe it.”
“I do,” Joyce said, “And I’ll prove it to you. Is your 12-gage in the hall closet?”
Joyce retrieved the gun from the closet, along with a box of shells. “Show me how to load it again.” Once the gun was loaded, Joyce slung it over her shoulder and headed out the back door.
“If you stand back about ten yards, you ought to be able to get all of ‘em,” Glen shouted. He smiled, took off his shirt and sipped his beer. Then, with a smile, he slicked back his hair and lay down on the couch. A shot echoed from the backyard.
When Joyce came running back in, she said, “Glen, I got them all! And the trunk is in splinters. I’ll have a hell of a time cleaning up all the glass. Glen?”
Ruth Parker owned over two dozen dolls, and she knew them all.
“This is Snagglepants,” she’d say, holding up a Raggedy Andy with a torn pocket. She called her big Raggedy Ann doll Phyllis and the little one she took everywhere Roo-roo.
Ruth and Roo-roo were best friends. They had three tea sets between them, and if the other dolls were nice, Ruth and Roo-roo would have them for milk and cookies. “But you can’t have any peanuts because Roo’s allergic,” Ruth would remind them. Ruth lived with her parents in a big house on a wooded street.
Aside from Roo-roo, her best friend was the housekeeper, Lena. Lena was tall and her cheeks were very full. As she cooked and cleaned, she sang songs and made cookies for Ruth and Roo-roo’s tea parties, but she always told them she wasn’t supposed to. It was Lena who told her about Mr. Lilyfoot.
Mr. Lilyfoot lived under a tree at the end of the path in the garden behind Ruth’s home. He had a green cap, red overalls and a long white beard. He always smiled. On nice spring days, Lena would sit in the swing with something to occupy her hands while she watched Ruth play in the yard. When she had to go inside to answer the phone or change a load of laundry, she’d tell Ruth Mr. Lilyfoot would watch after her.
At first Ruth didn’t like Mr. Lilyfoot; he was stiff, not soft like her dolls. She’d hold her little Raggedy Ann up to Mr. Lilyfoot’s smiling face and say, “Roo-roo doesn’t like you!” But Ruth was a sweet child, and when she saw that Mr. Lilyfoot’s face was dirty, she asked Lena for a napkin so she could wipe it off because Mr. Lilyfoot’s arms were always behind him.
Lena laughed at her one windy afternoon when Ruth tied one of her father’s socks around Ms. Lilyfoot’s neck and took care to hide the other one.
“Mommie, it’s cold outside. Can Mr. Lilyfoot come sleep in my room?” Janet Parker brushed her daughter’s dark hair. “Sweetie, who is Mr. Lilyfoot?’ “He’s in the garden,” Ruth said. “He’s wearing a hat, but I know he’s cold” “Oh, honey, I don’t want that nasty thing in your room,” Janet said. “He’s not nasty.” “Ruth, he lives outside. He’s an outdoor doll.” “He’s not a doll.” “Well, not like your other dolls, but he’s still a doll.” “Roo-roo says he isn’t. Roo-roo knows everything.” Janet cocked an eyebrow at her petulant daughter. “And what does Mommie know?” “I love you, Mommie!” Ruth launched herself into her mother’s arms and looked into the back yard through the window.
When Ruth awakened that afternoon, Mr. Lilyfoot, scrubbed by the ever-patient Lena and bright as a new penny, was smiling at her from the corner of her room. She and Roo-roo immediately arranged a high tea with hot chocolate and frosted cookies.
When Janet looked in on her later she found that Ruth had arranged her favorite dolls around the little table, with Mr. Lilyfoot at its head.
“Mr. Lilyfoot’s warmer now, Mommie. But Roo-roo’s tired,” she said, holding up the little rag doll. “Well, let’s put her to sleep,” Janet said. She gathered her daughter in her arms, made sure her doll was with her, and put her to bed. She glanced at Mr. Lilyfoot smiling from the corner, lowered the shutters and closed the door. When Janet brought Ruth’s tray upstairs that night, she heard her daughter laughing from the hallway. She found Ruth sitting up in her bed, clutching Roo-roo, and smiling. “What’s so funny?” Janet asked. “Mommie, me and Mr. Lilyfoot took Roo-roo to Magicland, and she had tea with the King!”
Janet tucked a bib under her daughter’s so very thin neck and began feeding her with a spoon. “Did Roo have a good time?” “She was scared at first because the king was so high up and her legs are really short. But then the king asked her to dance, so she didn’t have to go so far up.” “Did you dance?” Janet asked. “No, Mommie,” Ruth said. “I had to help Mr. Lilyfoot make the band play. I’m tired.” Janet tucked her daughter under the covers, kissed her, climbed onto the sagging cot next to Ruth’s bed and closed her sad eyes.
Ruth and Mr. Lilyfoot, with Roo-roo in tow, went everywhere.
The tea parties became a thing of the past. Instead, they took buckets to the beach where they collected shells. Another time they sailed the seas on a boat made of glass and rigged with silver, and once they found a mountain made of chocolate and topped with ice cream. The following morning they went to the moon and found big gold rocks that glittered under the smiling sun. That afternoon Mr. Lilyfoot rearranged the stars, and later they all skated on swirls of light through a sparkling tunnel into a warm, black night.
“Don’t be scared, Roo-roo,” Ruth said. “Mr. Lilyfoot will get us home.”
Ruth’s dreams ended. Lena boxed up the dolls for other little girls, and took Mr. Lilyfoot back under the tree at the end of the path.
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 the 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.”
These words passed among the neighbors each time it happened, and they all nodded knowingly, having long ago concluded that Clara Curtis had indeed slipped over the edge into a comfortable sort of crazy that was perfectly harmless and acceptable.
It was simple enough, after all; they had all known people who had grown up in the Depression, when every penny, every scrap of cloth, every button or buckle was precious, and the food, well people would have shelves upon shelves of home-canned vegetables, pickles, even meats, and smokehouses were filled with hams and salted sides of beef. So it was only natural that Clara, who was born in Mississippi the very year Calvin Coolidge was elected president, would harbor the bitter memories of her early years and retain the habits of her childhood for a lifetime.
Why, those freezers were just full of frozen food—chops and steaks, bags of blanched limas, green peas and corn, stocks and soups—most of which, they said, were fed to the occasional homeless men who having heard of her soft touch would end up first at her front door, then on her back porch eating a hearty meal, usually with plenty of her homemade yeast refrigerator rolls, which were a highly-regarded addition to the pot luck suppers at St. John’s Methodist Church, where she was a devout attendee and tither. Her neighbors would see them stretched out in a post-prandial snooze on the white wicker settee on her back porch in the warm afternoons, but they were always gone by the morning.
Then there were the dogs. She couldn’t abide cats, Ms. Clara, but she loved dogs, all kinds of dogs, and if she found a stray she would take it home for caring. Those she fed from the heavy sacks of dry dog food she had Kenny the check-out man at the local grocery deliver to her house. Though home deliveries were long a thing of the past for most, Clara, being of such an age and means, was an exception to this rule, and nobody begrudged her the privilege. She was, after all, Mrs. Harvey Curtis, that same Harvey Curtis who was one of the founding fathers of a local oil exploration group that happened upon a rich field in a nearby rural county, resulting in a considerable fortune which the childless Widow Curtis held with formidable tenacity in the palms of her tiny immaculately-groomed hands.
And the flowers, let’s not forget the flowers. Clara’s house, an unpretentious two-storied brick affair with three awkward gables, stood in a space surrounded by a ring of trees that provided shade by degrees according to their nature, but around the building itself circled a ring of light that in the spring brought daffodils of every shape, size and color as well as what one local horticulturalist called “the most magnificent collection of heirloom azaleas in the state”. In the summer her marigolds and zinnias laid a golden/scarlet quilt across her south beds, and in the fall burgundy castor beans towered over crimson cockscomb. The coda of every year was a pirouette of the beautiful old mums that shared her name.
How many freezers did she have? Oh, at least three, some argued four and one or two knowledgeable observers just nodded sagely and whispered “five”. There really was no telling, since the house was old and after all did have a huge basement that was sure to be cluttered with God-knows-what else. But this was bound to be her last one, they nodded. After all, she was what? Nearing ninety? And sure, she got around just fine, called a cab when she needed to go anywhere. She’d had a string of regular drivers from the company over the years, the current one a wiry, sullen young man with a shaved head and tattoos who watched over her like a hawk and helped her in and out of the cab.
“I’m sure she tips him very well”, they’d say with more knowing nods. Her alone in that house without a soul in the world, but all the money! That church itself would have folded a long time ago if it hadn’t been for her. Mr. Curtis had that (much younger) half-brother, of course (a drunk, a wastrel, but handsome as Satan they said) who would probably lay claim to some money, but they knowing Clara and her tight fist knew he wouldn’t get a penny.
Still she was getting on, and it was in October, in the lingering heat of a clinging summer, she died. Her driver, who had to break through a window to enter the house, alerted the authorities. They found Clara downstairs in the basement with a dead puppy in her lap surrounded by not three, but five freezers.; written on the first were Cleatra, Rose, Milo and a dozen others; on the second Ophelia, Casper and Rue in the same number; on the third was Mr. Callahan, the fourth Mr. Jones, and in a far corner, Mr. Curtis.
Sylvia’s annual acquiescence to the local ladies’ committee’s request that she show her historic house during the city’s pilgrimage (actually more of a command, since her house was easily regarded as one of the most iconic examples of the city’s 19th century architecture) was an ordeal for her, but she knew it had to be done, and carried off with grace and style.
So every spring she hired a crew to clean the house from top to bottom, another to groom the grounds and provide colorful containers of thriving plants for conspicuous settings, another to fill the home’s pots and vases with fresh flowers and yet another to provide sweets and sandwiches as well as a punch to serve the afternoon her home was on tour. She also attended the beauty parlor that morning, and this year she even bought a new pair of persimmon pants, a matching pastel-patterned top and a silver necklace of pearl and crystal that she’d been admiring at that little boutique near her supermarket, but she wore her best pair of house shoes, since she knew she’d be on her feet for hours.
The tour extended from 2 until 5 on a sunny spring afternoon. The azaleas were in their full glory, blazing in every shade of red punctuated by brilliant whites. Tourists came in three groups of twelve or so, who followed Sylvia through the house while she recited a story (not hers) of the family who built it and lived in it during days when they were one of the wealthiest in the state. The house was of an Italianate design, which was unusual for the decade in this region, and by far its most spectacular features were two towers with abbreviated belvederes and a magnificent set of double stairs that swept upwards from the parquet floor like the wings of an earthbound angel aspiring to heaven.
“Daniel Bauer was a cotton broker,” she’d say. “His family immigrated to Charleston early in the 19th century, and his grandfather owned a grocery on Short Street, just north of Broad. This became the base of the family fortune. Daniel moved here after his marriage to a house on South Street, where their first children were born. He built this house in 1853.” Over time, Sylvia had learned that the question most people asked was why the house wasn’t burned when the federal army took the city. She always hesitated a bit before answering, because she knew the bit of drama would be appreciated.
“Yellow fever,” she said. “When the army came here three members of the family were sick, all but the youngest daughter, Rebecca. The house was quarantined, the family isolated. After her father, mother and older brother died, Rebecca was left alone in the house with the housekeeper Dotty, who was a free woman. The Bauer family never owned slaves. But she stayed with Rebecca, who died the year after the war was over. The house was sold then and turned into a boarding house, where Dotty worked as a cook until she died in 1900.”
The last group included Adelle Smith, the chairman of the pilgrimage committee, as well as her best friend, Mary Beth Langston, who trailed the rest, lingering in the foyer while the other ladies (and one gentleman in a seersucker suit) followed Sylvia into the parlor.
“Every year, she says she won’t do the tour unless she gets to tell what she calls ‘the whole story’ or ‘a better story’,” Adelle said to Mary Beth. “I don’t know how she makes this stuff up. The only documentation we have about the family, besides from the usual public records and old Daniel’s financial ledgers was a diary Rebecca kept starting when she was ten. She died six years later, so it’s mostly just the sorts of things you’d expect a girl her age to write about: birthday parties, visits from family and friends, new clothes, sewing and cooking lessons and schoolgirl crushes. She wrote little during the war years, most of that about everyone leaving and the food running out. She wrote nothing about the sickness and deaths; probably too painful for her, poor thing.”
“And Sylvia claims to know more?”
“Oh, Mary Beth,” Adelle said. “You know as well as I do that Sylvia never leaves this house; well, no more than she has to, anyway. Remember that fire she had three years ago? She burned her hands so badly she was in the hospital for two days. The firemen said it was started by a heater in a little room off the kitchen, and that room was the only room in the house that looked lived-in at all, and the cleaning people she has in before the pilgrimage say it takes them two days to get the dust and spider webs. Then she comes up with these crazy stories.”
“Like what?” Mary Beth asked. Adelle hesitated. “Mary Beth, how long have we known one another?”
“Since your cousin Randy married my sister Ruth,” Mary Beth said. “That was 1977. If you’ll remember, we met at the wedding at St. John’s. You were quite drunk.”
“And you looked like a fire hydrant in that red dress you were wearing,” Adelle replied. “It was also bad form for you to be flirting with the minister.”
“He married me, didn’t he?”
“Yes,” Adelle admitted. “The reason was quite obvious at the time. Mary Beth, Sylvia has always been what our grandmother Ross called ‘queer’, though that meant quite a different thing then than it does these days. Ever since she was a little girl, Sylvia’s always heard things and seen things that nobody else did, and she would have these spells, days at a time, when she’d stay in her room and play with her dolls, and barely speak to anyone else. Their maid used to say Sylvia had a hole in her head, but Granny Ross told us that what she meant by that was that Sylvia had an open mind when it came to spiritual things. She was the only one of us who actually liked going to church. She’d even take her Bible to school and read it in study hall.”
“A real little Goody Two-Shoes, huh?” Mary Beth sniffed.
Adelle looked at her sharply. “No,” she said firmly. “It was more than that. She wasn’t trying to impress anyone.”
Then Sylvia led the group back towards the door, said hello to Adelle and Mary Beth, gathered them all before her and thanked them for coming. “We’re all in our city so very proud to still have this beautiful house for you all to visit,” she said, nodding at Adelle, who nodded back. “I want you all to go to the big reception they’re having over at the old Union Street Lyceum. You’re going to meet some wonderful people, and eat the best Southern food you’ve ever had in your life.”
After a scattering of applause, the group filed out the door. Adelle lingered, waving Mary Beth on with the others. “Thank you, Sylvia,” she said. “The house is beautiful, and we so very much appreciate you opening it up for the public.”
Sylvia suddenly grasped her hands. “Adelle, after I’m gone, take of it for me.” Sylvia tightened her grip. “Don’t let them tear it down. Don’t.” Adelle stepped back at the look in her old friend’s eyes. Then she softened. “I won’t, Sylvia,” she said, knowing in her heart it was an empty promise. She hugged her and walked to the car where Mary Beth was waiting.
Once inside and the door closed, Sylvia heard a tiny, shaken voice from the top of the stairs. “Are they gone?”
“They’re gone, Rebecca,” Sylvia said. “Until next year. We have to do it again next year.”
Welty’s use of foods in her fiction includes the green-tomato pickle in Why I Live at the P.O., the shrimp boil at Baba’s in No Place for You, My Love, and the groaning boards in Delta Wedding.
Welty also wrote the introductions for three Jackson cookbooks, Winifred Green Cheney’s Southern Hospitality (1976), The Country Gourmet (1982), published by the Mississippi Animal Rescue League, and The Jackson Cookbook (1971), which was compiled by the Symphony League of Jackson.
Mark Kurlansky, in The Food of a Younger Land (2009), includes an essay of hers entitled “Mississippi Food” that Kurlansky claims was “a mimeographed pamphlet that she wrote for the Mississippi Advertising Commission and which they distributed.” Kurlansky doesn’t provide a date for the essay, but it was likely written in the mid-1930s.
Then we have Welty’s introduction to The Jackson Cookbook, “The Flavor of Jackson”, arguably the finest example of Southern culinary exposition, a finely-seasoned piece fashioned by a master.
The Flavor of Jackson
Most Jacksonians would agree, I think, that Jackson has always characteristically dined at home and entertained at home, and does so still by first preference. It’s been out natural form of hospitality as of course its been the most logical and economical way to live.
There was indeed and for many years, the elegant dining room of the Edwards House ready for the important or large occasion. But we were too small a place and too far inland from the Gulf or New Orleans to have been heir to restaurants of another kind: one Mexican at his hot tamale stand, on the corner of North West and Hamilton during the cold months, couldn’t make us cosmopolitan. Rather than anything else, I think—and I like to think—the word for the Jackson flavor is “home”.
It was mostly the young who went forth with any regularity for outside refreshment. After the movies, the ice cream parlor. After “The Thief of Bagdad” at the Majestic, the other dime went for the strawberry ice cream soda at McIntyre’s. And wasn’t it Mr. Key’s Drug Store that seemed a functionable part of the Century Theatre? It had purple paper grapes on a cardboard trellis overhead—almost like a part of the stage scenery to come. Just before curtain time, my father took me in there and presented me with the box of Jordan’s Almonds—“bird eggs”—that was part of the theatre rite. Some tired road company would go through its Victor Herbert for us, but it was magic, all the same, and holding a “bird egg” in the mouth (impossible to swallow, in the excitement) was part of the magic.
When the whole family sallied forth for refreshment, it was very likely after supper on hot nights just before bedtime. They’d get in the car and drive to Seal Lily’s and have ice cream cones all around; it was best to hold them outside the car and eat them through the windows, and finish fast before the last bit melted.
But parties were given at home, and they started—I believe it was true for old and young—plenty early in the afternoon. You began eating around 3:30 and kept it up until you had entirely spoiled your supper. Party food drew its praises for how pretty it was (example, Bridemaids’ Salad, all white down to the white grapes) or for how much trouble the hostess went to make it (Pressed Chicken), but it’s a safe bet that all the refreshments were the successes they were because they were rich—thunderously rich.
Sometimes we branched out from home as far as Shadow Lawn. When parties were given there it wasn’t in order to save the trouble at home but to offer the guests a change—an al fresco in the quiet country air of the Terry Road. Some of our high school graduation “teas” took place at Shadow Lawn. The receiving line stood there on Miss Anita Perkins’s lawn, in the very early shadows, and the punch bowl waited on her porch, and there were her own delicious things to eat—frozen fruit salad was her specialty—and all was elegant. It was the era of the Madeira tea napkin. I believe I could say that more tea napkins were handed round at that high-minded time than I ever saw in my life, before or since. (And at least half of them must have been embroidered by Miss Irene Anderson. She too was very much a part of the flavor of Jackson.)
As a child, I heard it said that two well-travelled bachelors of the town, Mr. Erskin Helm and Mr. Charles Pierce, who lived on Amite Street, had ‘brought mayonnaise to Jackson’. Well they might have though not in the literal way I pictured the event. Mayonnaise had a mystique. Little girls were initiated into it by being allowed to stand at the kitchen table and help make it, for making mayonnaise takes three hands. While the main two hands keep up the uninterrupted beat in the bowl, the smaller hand is allowed to slowly add the olive oil, drop-by-counted-drop. The solemn fact was that sometimes mayonnaise didn’t make. Only the sudden dash of the red pepper into the brimming, smooth-as-cream bowlful told you it was finished and a triumph.
Of course you couldn’t buy mayonnaise and if you could, you wouldn’t. For the generation bringing my generation up, everything made in the kitchen started from scratch. There was a barrel of flour standing in the kitchen! Perhaps a sugar barrel too. The household may have provided (ours did) its own good butter (which implies a churn, and, of course, a cow), and its own eggs, and most likely it grew its own tomatoes, beans, strawberries, even asparagus. There’d be the seasonal rounds of the blackberry lady, appearing with her buckets at your door, and the watermelon man with his load, who’d plug you one to your taste, and the regulars sending their cries through the summer streets—“Butterbeans, snapbeans and okra!”—followed by the ice cream man, of course. Meat? Why your mother called up the butcher, talked to him, asked what was especially nice today, and let him send it. There was communication with butchers. And my father sometimes saw them, for he’d stop by on his way from the office and come bringing home by hand the little squared-off, roofed over, white cardboard bucket with the wire handles, fragrant and leaking a little—and produced oysters for supper, just ladled out of the oyster barrel that the butcher got in from New Orleans.
And of course they grated from whole nutmegs, they ground coffee from the beans, went to work on whole coconuts with the hatchet. Some people knew how to inveigle for the real vanilla bean. (Vanilla must have had a central importance in those days—think of all the cakes. Wasn’t there a local lady who made her living, and her entertainment, just selling vanilla extract over the telephone?)
Our mothers were sans mixes, sans foil, sans freezer, sans blender, sans monosodium glutamate, but their ingredients were as fresh as the day; and they knew how to make bread.
Jackson believed in and knew how to achieve the home flavor. And if ever there was a solid symbol of that spirit, one that radiates its pride and joy, it is the hand-cranked ice cream freezer. I see it established in a shady spot on a back porch, in the stage of having been turned till it won’t go around another time; its cylinder is full of its frozen custard that’s bright with peaches, or figs, or strawberries, its dasher lifted out and the plug in tight, the whole packed with ice and salt and covered with a sack to wait for dinner—and right now, who bids to lick the dasher?
I daresay any fine recipe used in Jackson could be attributed to a local lady, or her mother—Mrs. Cabell’s Pecans, Mrs. Wright’s Cocoons, Mrs. Lyell’s Lemon Dessert. Recipes, in the first place, had to be imparted—there was something oracular in the transaction—and however often they were made after that by others, they kept their right names. 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, and in that cheeriest, most aromatic of places to celebrate in the home kitchen.
Jackson had its full plenty of recipes, but I hardly remember a cookbook. My mother had the only one I ever saw as a child, “The White House Cookbook”. I don’t recall which president’s wife was in headquarters at the time of our edition, but the book opened to a full-length drawing of a deer, complete with antlers, marked off with dotted lines to show how to cut it up for venison, which suggests poor Mrs. Teddy Roosevelt. The most useful thing about “The White House Cookbook” was its roomy size, for in between its pages could be stored the recipes jotted down on scraps of paper and old envelopes, that my mother really used. They accumulated themselves over the years from friends and relations and from her own invention and a time or two from the Mystery Chef who came in over the radio. She had a cookbook within a cookbook. She had some of the making, in fact, of the very sort of cookbook that this one (i.e. The Jackson Cookbook) is certain to be. Today there’s a cookbook available for every conceivable purpose and occasion, but in this one we come a full circle: we’re back again to the local using these cherished recipes we can make and delight in the fruits of Jackson itself.
I’d like to express the pious hope that we’re to find these recipes given in full. My mother’s don’t do me as much good as they might because she never included directions. Her reasoning, often expressed, was that any cook worth her salt would know, given a list of ingredients, what to do with them, and if she did come to a momentary loss while stirring up a dish—taste it! Cooking was a matter of born sense, ordinary good judgment, enough experience, materials worth the bothering about, and tasting. I had to sit on a stool while she made spoonbread and take down what I saw like a reporter, to get her recipe.
I can’t resist adding this, for I think it applies. John Woodburn was a New York editor who’d com through Jackson on a scouting trip for young unknown writers and spent a night at our house. He carried my first collection of stories back with him and worked very hard trying to persuade his editor to take them. Several years later, when he succeeded, he sent me a telegram to say, “I knew as soon as I tasted your mother’s waffles it would turn out all right.”