Poach boneless breasts of chicken until tender. Shred, add green chilies (with juice; about four ounces to two cups meat), about a tablespoon lime juice and sour cream to bind, season with equal parts cumin, chili powder and granulated garlic, salt to taste. Keep warm, roll in 6-in. flour tortillas heated and brushed with corn oil. Top with a white queso made with corn oil roux and jack cheese seasoned with the same spice mixture. Serve with pintos.
This image is from “A Cook’s Tour of Mississippi” (The Clarion-Ledger: 1980). It accompanied an article, “The biscuits Nannie and Callie baked for the boys”, written by Dean Faulkner Wells. The recipe itself is “Nannie Faulkner’s Beaten Biscuits”, which are quite different from the “quick-rise” kind you find most often these days. “Into 1 qt. sifted flour work well 1 tblespn each lard, butter and teaspn salt. After well worked moisten with 1/2 pt. (sweet) milk and make stiff dough. (Beat by hand.) Bake quickly.
With Beanland: Rising from the Riverbed, Scotty Glahn and Kutcher Miller have distilled the essence not only of a hot jam band but of a special milieu. Art fares best in an open forum, and in the 80s and early 90s no freer field could be found than in Oxford, Mississippi, where a variety of thriving businesses supported an eclectic marketplace for invention that Mississippi will never see the likes of again. In those halcyon days, Willie Morris, Barry Hannah and Larry Brown contributed their literary wattage to an arts scene already illuminated the bright musical lights of the Hilltops/Blue Mountain, the North Mississippi Allstars and, of course, Beanland. It was a heyday of the muses; throw in a couple of Jere Allen’s brilliant brushstrokes, and you have nothing short of a red clay Parnassus.
Rising from the Riverbed attempts to and largely succeeds in capturing the freewheeling, lackadaisical and somewhat dissipated spirit of that time and place. This achievement proves to be somewhat of a drawback, however, since the result is a roman à clef best appreciated by those who were there then and know or knew members of the cast of characters. It’s an insider’s view into a seminal period in the cultural life of Oxford. Interviews add to the film’s appeal (Barton made the cut). Nostalgia is not a bad thing, especially when it’s worked out so carefully and lovingly. Allow me to tip my hat to Glahn and Miller not only for recognizing Beanland as worthy of a broader stage, but also their foresight in documenting a very special time in a very special place.
Food rarely plays a significant role in Faulkner’s fiction, but when it does the part has a specific function. Adam Gopnik, in a his article “Cooked Books” (The New Yorker, April 9, 2007), 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 he describes 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, influential and aristocratic Sartoris family contending with decline, but still clinging to the vestiges of affluence.
. . . 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, referred to as “Colonel” or “Old” Bayard. Once one of the leading citizens in Jefferson, elected mayor around 1894, later founding the Merchants and Farmers Bank and serving as its president until being forced to resign because of his age, Bayard is soon to die and his son, Bayard III, to flee Yoknapatawpha County and himself die in an airplane crash in Dayton, Ohio, leaving the few remaining members of the once proud and powerful Sartoris family in a state of decay and destitution. Old Bayard’s attempts to preserve tradition and heritage are exemplified by this meal, which is indeed a groaning board by any standard. The inclusion of stewed cranberries, somewhat of a luxury item at the time, stands out. Towards the end, the adjectives begin to cluster as they tend to do in any Faulkner sentence, and the final, “sibylline and gravely profound” presentation of port lends an appropriately ceremonial coda.
Café Olé on University Avenue in Oxford was a popular eatery in the 1990s. I worked there briefly when I returned to Ole Miss and finished my degree after several years in Florida. The dip was served as a complimentary side with a basket of warm tortilla chips, and we made gallons of it at a time.
Converting a restaurant recipe to one easily made at home presents problems both with the scaling-down process and the ingredients. Bear in mind also that this recipe is my adaptation of the one I copied down some twenty years ago. Make a batch of this dip according to these directions and then modify it as you see fit. I have scaled down the more distinctive ingredients (lime juice, vinegar, jalapeno “juice”, onion, garlic and cilantro) in this version, because once these are added, you can’t very well remove them. If you want more, you can add it later. The dip should be on the thin side, very spicy and redolent of garlic, cilantro and lime.
1 12-oz. can tomato puree
1 cup water
1 12-oz. can whole tomatoes (with juice)
1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup canned jalapeno juice (or any hot pepper vinegar)
1 cup jalapenos (half that if you’re using fresh)
1 large white onion, chopped
1/4 cup granulated garlic (I recommend dried/minced as a substitute)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Process until smooth and serve with warm home-fried corn tortillas.
I began working at the Hoka in the summer of 1977. The theater opened in 1974 and was was housed in a long corrugated building with a walkway that extended perhaps 2/3 its length on the west to street level north. A single door was at that end; midway was a short roofed porch with a paned double doorway. To the left of those doors was the Hoka logo, a winged Chickasaw princess.
The auditorium seated perhaps 150-200 people (usually much less). The projection booth was up a short flight of stairs from a tiny, spectacularly untidy office. The concession stand sold candy, popcorn and soft drinks. A bare concrete floor sloped up to the ticket stand, which was nothing more than a rough-hewn pulpit with a top shelf that held a cash box and a roll of tickets. The projectors were twin 1936 carbon arc machines, which took a lot of practice with levers and foot pedals to run a seamless show.
Typically, in the early days, we’d have two showings, an early movie that started around 6 or 7, and a later feature beginning at 8 or 9, depending on the duration of the first. Later on we started showing X-rated flicks at midnight, which caused quite a stir at the time, but were quite profitable. Films were rented for three to four days, shipped in bulky hexagonal aluminum containers holding anywhere from one to three spools of 35mm film. Most often they were shipped by bus, and we’d pick them up at the Greyhound station on the corner of 10th and Van Buren, but at times we’d drive to Memphis.
Once in the theater, the film had to be checked for tears, mended if needed, and then loaded on our projector reels. These movies were hardly ever first-run, of course. Ron showed a lot of great movies, including ones by John Waters, Russ Meyers and William Castle along with hundreds and hundreds of cinema classics. The Hoka reintroduced film as an art form to Oxford.
Ron was a good boss; pay could be erratic, but if I needed money, he’d give me enough to get what I needed or do what I wanted. When my friend and fellow projectionist Joe Cupstid and I took an impulsive road trip to the Smokies late one summer, he gave us both a hundred bucks and told us to have a good time. We did, and I’ll never forget that kindness.
A decade after the trauma of the Sixties, Oxford had become a laid-back, picturesque Southern academic backwater, full of good people with great ideas. The art scene was strong, and the town was full of bright, ambitious young businessmen. Oxford’s flowering of culture in the 80s was seeded in that time. Those years were halcyon days for me, as they were for many, many other people, and the Hoka was very much a part of it for us all.