When we saw Polk’s driver Michael Newton making a delivery of Red Rose Sausage to Froogel’s Supermarket on Fortification in Jackson, Mississippi, we had to get a photo. Since making the first post on red rose sausage over three years ago, people across the country have been contacting Mississippi Sideboard about this product, which they all say–in one way or another–that they remember with fondness from growing up in Mississippi, and our posts on red rose sausage receive the most consistently heavy traffic year after year. Thank you, Michael!
Peppers in Mississippi don’t carry the same cachet they do in parts of Louisiana and Carolina where their cultivation and consumption has become a fetish.
That’s not to say that we don’t have our share of connoisseurs here, for indeed we do, even eccentrics who will trot you out to a raised bed in their back yard in order that you might make appropriately appreciative noises over their ghosts. You’ll even find reapers and habaneros at a farmers’ market which I find more evident of their ease of culture than their demand for the table.
The staples prevail. Topmost are the thick-walled bells, best smaller than a fist, dark and tight. Country-style lunches should always include the crunch and zest of fresh sliced onion and sweet banana pepper to cut fat-stewed vegetables. Jalapenos here tend to be woody with more heat than taste, but deseeded and minced they’ll serve in a pico or pureed in a thin salsa. Poblanos should have a larger role in our kitchens, as should all the mild thin-walled capsicums. The thick-walled cherries are regrettably still a novelty.
The Mississippi pepper season begins in earnest when the thin cayennes come to market, as they did today in the form of two mesh baskets filled with spindly green pods marked to sell for a dollar each. At such a price my jaw dropped. The vendor, apologizing (!) said she’d have red ones soon, which she’s sure to mark up, but the greens are just as good if not more so, even dried. We’re finding less and less of the long cayennes now, so if you find a vendor, woo them, fawn and flatter, because cayennes will get you through the winter in the form of sauce or vinegar. Tabascos will too, and they grow well here, in my experience better than cayennes. The meatier tabascos make a better mash for red sauce, but both are equally good simply destemmed, pierced, packed into a jar with salt and filled with hot vinegar.
For two years now I’ve been growing pequinos first sent as a cropped plant from a friend in Austin. In the landscape of my mind where all sorts possibilities entertain themselves, the fiery little pequin is what I remember called a bird’s-eye pepper, not the Asian variety. Pequinos grow at a glacial rate from seed so must be pruned and overwintered.
Here in the Mid-South, we make three sandwiches with raw vegetables. One is the cucumber sandwich, served on pretty little trays aside ewers of lemonade, iced tea or gin and tonic on tables topped with linen and silver, eaten by ladies smelling of lavender sachets and gentlemen of a certain persuasion in pastel seersuckers. Diametrically opposite of this delicate denizen of elegant afternoon gatherings is the sweet onion sandwich, gnawed upon with indecorous gusto as well as deservedly considerable discretion over a kitchen sink and washed down with Miller or PBR by the likes of hunters, ATV enthusiasts and women’s sports columnists.
Then we have the tomato sandwich. Egalitarian and comfortable in company, this summer staple of Dixie is found on every front porch and patio, at picnics and tailgatings, on the table for breakfast, lunch or even a late dinner. For me a tomato sandwich is the ultimate nosh on a sultry summer afternoon when you’re watching the “Real Housewives” reunion. The essential components are bread, sliced tomatoes and mayonnaise. The bread should be sliced loaf, a soft wheat or white; for the sake of authenticity, Wonder bread is often mentioned. The tomatoes should be the best your particular part of the world has to offer, firm and richly ripe, though not uniformly so, since you want a blush of green around the stem end to ensure the fruit has a tinge of acidity that is the signature of a homegrown tomato.
The mayonnaise should be slathered on the tomatoes as well as the bread, thus ensuring an even moisture to the arrangement. Season with plenty of salt and a bit more black pepper then you would ordinarily consider enough. Adding bacon elevates a tomato sandwich from a mere culinary concoction to sheer poetry, but lettuce in any form or fashion is superfluous and annoying.
Here’s a Dr. Seuss twist on an old standby for finger sandwiches on formal occasions or just a nice afternoon nosh. You can add chopped stuffed green olives to this, which makes a colorful mix, and you can use any kind of pepper you like, but if you use a jalapeno, I recommend seeding it to remove most of the heat. You can mash the avocado or cut it into small cubes, and it should be quite ripe or the mixture will be lumpy. Save some of the onion for garnish.
6 large soft-boiled eggs, chopped or diced
1 ripe avocado
¼ cup diced pepper
¼ cup diced red onion
3 or 4 tablespoons mayonnaise
A tablespoon or so of spicy mustard
Juice of one lime or lemon
salt and black pepper to taste
Dr. Amalia Andres-Pizarro, associate professor of Indigenous Peoples Studies at the University of Lima, has discovered what she claims is the world’s oldest recipe for potato salad in a manuscript recently uncovered from the Incan ruins at Lactapata.
“It is an important discovery in terms of Incan culture because it sheds light on the daily lives of the Incan people,” Andres-Pizarro said. “We know that the Incas cultivated potatoes hundreds of different varieties of potatoes, cooked them in stews, baked them in coals, and prepared them for storage. The Incas also invented chuno, the first freeze dried potatoes, a precursor to present-day instant mashed potatoes.”
The manuscript, written in Spanish, was probably set down by a priest who accompanied the conquistadores and was held captive by the puppet emperor Manco. The text describes various dishes prepared by the Incas as well as details of their dress, games they played, housing and exotic sexual mores. Andres-Pizarro said what are most certainly the bones of a European were found in the tomb with the manuscript.
What’s most impressive about the recipe is that the Incans actually had invented an early form of mayonnaise. “The text describes an emulsion made from the eggs of the great curassow (Crax rubra) and maize (corn) oil, which is practically identical to what we know as mayonnaise. The writer describes its preparation as a highly-guarded secret with religious overtones,” Andres-Pizarro said. “The recipe also incorporated chilis of various kinds in different amounts and boiled curassow eggs as well.”
Andres-Pizarro said that she is adapting other Incan recipes from the manuscript for the modern-day kitchen as the basis of a forthcoming Incan cookbook called The Kitchens of Manchu Picchu.
1 pound red potatoes
3 hard-cooked eggs
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 poblano chili finely chopped
¼ cup kernel corn
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
½ cup mayonnaise
cayenne pepper and salt to taste
Peel potatoes, boil and cube, chop boiled eggs, add other ingredients, mix very well and chill overnight before serving.
Use fresh sweet basil if you can find it for that strong hint of clove it carries. Honey is an option, but if you ask me—and I know you didn’t—pure cane sugar is the best sweetener for citrus because it does not blunt the fruit’s bite nor muddle the liquid. Combine a fistful of rinsed basil—leaves, stems and blossoms, whatever you gather with blithe abandon—with about a quarter cup sugar and crush with a wooden spoon. (If you happen to have a mortar handy, of course that is what you should use instead.) Add basil and sugar along with a half cup of freshly-squeezed lemon juice to a quart of water. Stir until sugar is dissolved, strain and add more sugar to taste. Chill and serve over ice.
In this case catfish, but the method works with any small fish, not much less nor much more than a pound. Pat whole gutted, scaled and skinned fish dry–this is an important step–score and slather with softened butter flavored with thyme, garlic, pepper and paprika. Place in a well-oiled pan, add lemons with juice and put in a very hot oven until fish flakes easily to the bone. A final squeeze of fresh lemon and a drizzle of oil before serving adds much to the dish.
You can still buy the grill that brought the American male out of house and onto the patio. The Weber original kettle charcoal 18” grill sells for $89 at weber.com. You can also buy the charcoal originally made from Henry Ford’s Model T production in Edison’s plant—Kingsford—at your local supermarket, though chances are you already have a far more sophisticated grill in your garage that uses a rack of gas burners and lava/porcelain briquettes.
In either case, for most people, summer is the grilling season, and while many (me among them) consider a pan-fried steak, simply seasoned and glossy with butter in and of itself transcendent for any carnivore, grilled meats provide a platform for dozens of sauces and condiments. Here are three you should try over the summer. Perhaps you’ll find one so much to your liking that it will become part of your repertoire.
Marchand du vin is a simple wine reduction, red wine and beef stock with butter and aromatics. In a saucepan, melt a stick of butter, increase heat to medium, add a half cup each finely-minced white onion or shallots, scallions and thinly sliced mushrooms. When vegetables are cooked through, increase heat and add three tablespoons plain flour. Cook until lightly browned, add two cups good beef stock and a scant cup of red wine, Cabernet, Merlot or your choice. Flavor with thyme, bay and Worcestershire. Serve as a side for grilled meats.
Americans devour tomato ketchup in untold gallons daily, but before tomato ketchup became popular, mushroom ketchup, a holdover from colonial days, was a popular standby. This is one of my favorite sides for grilled beef, and it makes a really good spread for sandwiches as well. My standard recipe involves two pounds of mushrooms—white button, portabella, oyster, shiitake, whatever you like—stewed in enough water to cover with a cheesecloth bag of pickling spices, about two tablespoons. Puree the mushrooms with a cup of red wine vinegar and season with ground ginger, nutmeg and allspice, about a half teaspoon of each. I like to add Coleman’s mustard for kick.
Finally, here is another favorite with ancho chilies. Soak a half dozen ancho chilis in warm water until soft. Remove the chilies (reserving the water), take off stems, chop coarsely and set aside. Sauté in vegetable oil one large chopped onion with four minced cloves garlic. Add a small can tomato sauce and a quarter cup or so of red wine vinegar. Let this mixture cool and place with chilies and puree until smooth. Place back on the heat, season with a tablespoon fresh ground cumin, Mexican oregano and cayenne to taste. A sweetener of some form is optional. Reduce to the desired thickness. You can serve this warm or cool.