Salmon Patties

In the culinary sphere it’s not unusual for chefs of one ilk or another to turn a hayseed staple into a Broadway entrée. Examples abound; swear to God, we’ve seen black-eyed peas made into everything short of cupcakes with sweet potato icing (don’t you dare!), and if I run up on one more gourmet recipe for fried green tomatoes I’m going to take a skillet out and start swinging at anybody with a fork.

Well, so be it. Most basic recipes are open to elaboration, and every cook has a twist; a pinch here, a dash there, a pot for this, a pan for that. The possibilities are endless. If the cook’s intentions are honorable, meaning that his or her primary concern is with how a dish tastes, all the better. But if you’re putting a heap of crab seviche over a batch of cold butter bean fritters just for the novelty or so you can charge six bucks more, that’s just wrong.

Capote once said of writing that you must learn the rules before you can break them, and this is true of cookery as well. Be “original, not outrageous,” Alice B. Toklas cautions. Her advice is especially valuable for those of us who cook at home, because most people prefer the familiar to the exotic, and even slight variations in a favorite dish might give pause to your most appreciative audience. (If you really mess up, you might find yourself on a bus to Batesville.)

Back-to-basics movements happen from time to time because they cleanse the palate of all accumulated froth or frippery and help us remember why we liked something in the first place. The Outlaw country music of the 70s made “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed” sound operatic. Now y’all know I love that single, and I love Barbara; she was just overproduced for profit at the time, which is the point I’m trying to make. Southern food staples are falling victim to the same marketing mojo as that banjo-pickin’ little girl from Houston, and it’s just sad.

M.F. K. Fisher has a recipe for salmon pancakes (i.e. patties) in How to Cook a Wolf, which is very much a solid recommendation for their goodness, but you’ll rarely if ever see them on a restaurant menu for the simple reason that with the exception of tuna salad, dishes made with canned fish are not considered marketable commodities.

My father liked to cook a big breakfast on Sunday mornings, and he always made salmon patties. He said that his mother used to make them with jack mackerel, always adding that we should be grateful he went to law school so that he could afford to feed us salmon; for him, a child of the Depression, that was a step up in the world. Mackerel patties are almost every bit as filling and nutritious as salmon, but take it from me; they’ll make your house smell like a hot wharf for a week or so depending on your upholstery.

I’ll not lie to you; these cakes taste best when fried in lard, or, even better, bacon grease. If that makes you clutch your chest, use Crisco. Trust me, though, olive oil just isn’t right, and butter won’t take the heat. Most people I know make salmon patties with flour, but cornmeal gives a crispier crust and a better inside texture (flour tends to make it a bit gummy).

Some nights a wind from the hills reaches me in this mean, dirty old city, and I find that can of salmon back up in the cabinet, heat up a skillet and make what sings to me of home. In the end, no matter who you are or where you’re from, it’s our childhood foods we cherish most.

Salmon Patties

One 16 oz. can of pink salmon makes 4 to 6 cakes. Drain fish, reserving two tablespoons of the liquid. If you’re squeamish, remove the skin and bones, but I leave them because of the added nutritional value. Mix well with one beaten egg, the reserved liquid from the can, and about a half cup chopped green onion. Add enough white corn meal or bread crumbs to make a thick batter. You should need very little salt; I like plenty of black pepper in mine. Form into patties and fry in at least a quarter inch of oil. Brown on both sides, then place in a very warm oven (about 300) for about ten minutes to crisp the crust and ensure a cooked inside.

Marchand de Vin

A smart-ass from New Orleans—they’re all over the place down there, trust me—once asked (in a job interview, no less) if I knew how to make marchand, and when I said no, the bastard actually curled his upper lip a definitively unctuous, condescending sneer. If I had heat vision, he’d have been char. I got the job anyway because the guy who asked me to apply owned the joint. The smart-ass from New Orleans got fired four months later for stealing and selling coke under the bar. We never did get eggs Hussard on the menu, but here’s how to make marchand de vin sauce This version of Brennan’s batch recipe makes about a quart and refrigerates well.

In a stick of butter, brown a half-cup flour. Add a clove of garlic smashed and minced, three or four chopped green onions, and a cup of diced fresh mushrooms. Working quickly, whisk in two cups of beef stock mixed with a cup of good red wine. Reduce heat and cook until smooth. The sauce should be somewhat on the thin side, and the wine shouldn’t be overpowering. Season with thyme, parsley, salt, and fresh black pepper.

Eggs Adrianne

This sumptuous brunch dish is a riff on eggs Florentine. In culinary parlance, “Florentine” indicates a recipe contains spinach, which in this instance is enriched with mushrooms, crab meat, and plenty of butter.

To poach eggs, heat water to a depth of about 2 inches in a in a saucepan or skillet. Some will tell you to add vinegar to keep the whites intact, but in my experience (which is vast and defining) it’s best to use the very freshest eggs possible and drain their excess liquid by breaking them into a tea strainer. Bring water to a to a simmer, then reduce the heat so that the surface of the liquid barely shimmers; in France, where of course they have terms for such things, they will say that the water is souriant: “smiling.” Gently pour the eggs into the water and, with a large spoon, ladle hot water over the yolk and repeat until the yolk whitens. Cook the egg for about 3 or 4 minutes until the whites are set and the yolks are still soft. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the eggs to a large bowl of lukewarm water. Drain on paper towels before serving.

For the sauce, add a quarter cup plain flour to a half stick of melted butter over medium heat and stir until the bubbling subsides Whisk in a pint of whole milk and cook over low heat until thickened and smooth. Stir in a half pound thawed frozen leaf spinach that’s been squeezed and coarsely chopped, along with a half-pound sauteed fresh mushrooms. Artichokes are a nice option. Add white pepper and salt to taste. Reduce heat to low and keep warm. Prepare a pound of picked lump crab meat by heating with butter, lemon juice and a little black pepper. To serve, place a Holland rusk or slice of thick toast on a large saucer. Cover with creamed spinach, add a heaping spoonful of buttered crab meat, and, with the back of the spoon, make a depression and add an egg.

Jumping Chicken

At the Warehouse in Oxford we had frog legs on the menu and made damn sure we had them prepped to cook, because if someone came in for frog legs, by God, they wanted frog legs, and raised Cain if we didn’t have any.

The legs came to us individually wrapped and frozen in a block, from—of all places—Pakistan (actually, East Pakistan, aka Bangladesh). This was puzzling because in Mississippi we have a frog season, which this year is from April Fool’s Day until September 30th. Limit is 25 frogs per night/day. Then again, the Warehouse operated in the 1980s, before all this half-harted emphasis on local sourcing.

Though the frogs were from Asia, they were undoubtedly American bullfrogs, the frog of choice for connoisseurs thereof because their hind legs—the only part of any frog that’s eaten, in case you didn’t know—are large and meaty. The Larousse Gastronomique lists about 20 recipes for frog legs including grenouilles a la aurore (“pink frogs”) in white sauce with lobster coral. Here frog legs are fried or grilled. For best results, soak overnight in buttermilk.

 

Scampi

In the life of any given classic recipe, you will find instances where it becomes caught in a backwater eddy and becomes a poor, grotesque thing far removed from its heyday, rather much like a fading star of stage and screen who can only find an audience where their celebrity is no more than their name (think Citizen Kane). Many recipes fall subject to this farce simply because their name on a menu is a draw: a pasta prima vera with frozen vegetables, for instance or a  steak Diane with canned cream of mushroom soup. In capable hands classic recipes made with fresh, quality ingredients can be magical, but I’m here to tell you somebody’s bound to fuck up just about anything with alarming frequency.

I worked in a restaurant where the house recipe for scampi was particularly wretched. The sauce consisted of garlic powder, a commercial oil product (Whirl) and the remnants of whatever open bottle of wine the bartender on duty had available. That’s it. This concoction was poured over a dozen medium-sized shrimp arranged in a small circular metal dish and placed in a salamander. More often than not, the results were dry and chewy. Had our customers been more sophisticated, no doubt they would have complained with vigor and frequency, but the very fact that they didn’t led to the recipe becoming entrenched on our menu and likely defining this trash as scampi for many people.

To make proper scampi, sauté or broil the best shrimp available in a really good butter with plenty of fresh, finely-minced garlic, a fruity white wine, salt and white pepper. Before serving, add a jolt of lemon juice and a sprinkling of parsley. Some thicken the sauce with starch,  add scallions, or even chopped drained tomatoes, which I consider rather excessive. Scampi can be served as an appetizer or over pasta as an entree.

About Limas

All butter beans are limas, but not all limas are butter beans. Got that?

Actually, it’s a lot more complicated. While lima beans and butter beans are usually thought of as two different types of beans, they are both varieties of Phaseolus lunatus (literally “moon bean”), which has a very complicated history of domestication in Meso- and South America. During the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru (16th-19th centuries), when limas were exported to North America and Europe, the boxes of beans were stamped with their place of origin (“Lima, Peru“), and the beans got named as such. But of course, when referring to the bean, the word is pronounced LY-mah, while the Peruvian capital is (as you all know) pronounced LEE-mah.

As a rule, large, yellow/white/speckled limas are generally known as butter beans, while the smaller, green varieties are called, well, limas. The smallest may even be called “baby” limas. However, I have been told that “they call butter beans limas up North,” which puts another spin on it. Among the most popular varieties grown in Mississippi are ‘Thorogreen’ and ‘Henderson,’ both small green bush types; ‘Jackson Wonder,’ also a bush variety, is small and brown or speckled; ‘Florida Speckled’ is a larger pole variety, and the hard-to-find ‘Willow Leaf,’ also a pole variety, has something of a cult following. Butterpeas are also a type of limas. Limas are a warm-weather crop and come into season sometime around mid-June and, with the planting of second crops in late July and early August, stay in season well into October.

Fresh beans should be smooth and plump, somewhat tacky to the touch. Limas have a low glycemic index, are rich in fiber, iron, protein and B vitamins. Fresh beans should be washed and picked over for damage, dirt, or detritus, washed, and set to cook in water 2:1; fresh beans don’t need as much water as dried, and they don’t need pre-soaking. As with most beans, hambone is a classic addition, but many people simply use stock. Bring beans to a boil, then lower heat to simmer and cover until beans are soft. I always use white pepper instead of black to season, and rarely use anything more until the beans are cooked, at which point they become the basis for any number of wonderful dishes.

Every summer I make baked limas in sour cream. For a pound of cooked limas with about a half cup of the liquid, add a quarter cup of brown sugar, and a cup of sour cream mixed with a teaspoon corn starch to keep it from separating. Flour will work in a pinch. Mix well. Bake in a low oven until set. This dish goes with anything at all but is open to any number of frivolous variations.

Did Jones County Secede?

This essay by Alexander Lee Bondurant appeared in Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, vol. 1 (pp. 104-6), printed for the Society in Oxford, Mississippi in 1898. Other entries include “Mississippi as a Field for the Student of Literature”, by W.L. Weber, “Suffrage in Mississippi”, by R.H. Thompson and “Some Inaccuracies in Claiborne’s History in Regard to Tecumseh” by  Charles Riley.

Most alumni of the University of Mississippi will find Professor Bondurant’s name familiar if only for the classes they took in Bondurant Hall, though some of the most hard-core Ole Miss fans will remember him as the man who established the University of Mississippi football team and served as its coach during its first season in 1893. For the record, the Rebs had a 4-1 season, losing only to the Southern Athletic Club in New Orleans (0-24) on Nov. 30; they stayed in the city long enough to beat Tulane there two days later (12-4). Bondurant was also a classics scholar with degrees from the University of Virginia and Harvard.

I reproduce his essay refuting the existence of the Free State of Jones out of historical interest. I myself remain solidly convinced that the Free State of Jones was never a cohesive entity, much less one with noble objectives, most likely nothing more than a handful of outlaws protecting themselves and their families against the depredations of a moribund, corrupt local regime.

Did Jones County Secede?

It seems that many within and without the State would answer this query in the affirmative, and even their ordinance of succession is given by one writer on the subject as follows:

“WHEREAS, The State of Mississippi, for reasons which appear justifiable, has seen fit to withdraw from the Federal Union; and,

WHEREAS, We, the citizens of Jones County, claim the same right, thinking our grievances are sufficient by reason of an unjust law passed by the Confederate States of America forcing us to go into distant parts, etc., and therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That we sever the union heretofore existing between Jones County and The State of Mississippi, and proclaim our independence of the said State and of the Confederate States of America; and we solemnly call upon Almighty God to witness and bless this act.”

Such being the case, it has seemed to me in order to advert to a discussion in The Nation beginning March 24, 1892, which throws considerable light on the question. In the paper of this date Samuel Willard, of Chicago, writes that he had been a soldier in the army which invaded Mississippi, and that he had never during the war heard of such an occurrence. When, therefore, he saw the statement made in The New England Magazine for November, 1891, the author being professor Hart, he doubted its accuracy. It may be stated just here that Professor Hart, in a subsequent history of The Nation, gives as his authority Mr. Galloway, historian of the Sixth Army Corps, who published in The Magazine of American History for October, 1886, an article entitled “A Confederacy Within a Confederacy”; but upon what authority Mr. Galloway based his statements does not appear. He therefore wrote to the Governor of the State of Mississippi and to the clerk of Jones County, and elicited replies from both of these gentlemen, and Governor Stone enclosed a letter from his predecessor, Hon. Robert Lowry, who was sent to Jones County during the war in command of troops for the purpose of arresting deserters. The texts of the letters are too long to quote in full, so a few passages will have to suffice. Gov. Stone writes:

“It gives me great pleasure to inform you that the whole story is a fabrication, and there is scarcely any foundation for any part of it. To begin with, Jones County furnished perhaps as many soldiers to the army of the Confederacy as any other county of like population. * * * Many of them declined to go into the army in the beginning, but so far as formal withdrawal or resolution to that effect is concerned, no such thing ever occurred in Jones County. Hon. Robert Lowry was sent to Jones County during the war for the purpose of arresting and returning deserters to their commands, and there was some little fighting with these bands of deserters, or rather bush-whacking of his men by the deserters; and some of the deserters were arrested and executed, but only a few. The whole story is the veriest fabrication, and I presume few persons of intelligence will believe any of it.”

Ex-Governor Lowry writes: “The county furnished nearly and probably its entire quote of soldiers, many of whom did splendid service. No such effort as establishing a separate government was ever attempted. The story of withdrawal and establishing a separate government is a pure fabrication—not the shadow of foundation for it.”

Governor McLaurin, in a recent letter to me on this subject, writes: “I was a boy thirteen years old when the war commenced. I was ‘raised’ in Smith County, a county adjoining Jones. I was at home the first three years of the war, and, if there was any attempt by Jones County to secede and set up a separate government, I did not hear anything of it. I was in a brigade that intercepted a federal raid that started from Baton Rouge to Mobile in November or December, 1864, and we passed through or very near Jones County, and I never heard of any attempt to set up a separate government in the county. I think it safe for you to negate the whole story.”

E.B. Sharp Esq., chancery clerk, writes: “The report is utterly false in every particularly.”

Pimento Cheese

Robert Moss, who is from that most eccentric of Southern cities, Charleston, South Carolina, describes himself as a culinary historian, a member of a geeky gaggle of food writers in which I am a mere gosling. In Going Lardcore: Adventures in New Southern Dining, Moss delves into stories of Low Country dishes such as shrimp and grits and she-crab soup as well as elements of our broader Southern cuisine like bourbon, fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese. It’s with these subjects that he becomes troublesome, claiming rum is more Southern than bourbon, that fried green tomatoes are a Yankee invention and that pimento cheese originated in upstate New York.

It’s this pimento and cheese issue I’m all over like a duck on a June bug, but before going any further, let’s turn to this matter of spelling, since I’m acutely aware that any article in Mississippi is going to be scratched over and henpecked by a contentious flock of literati. Yes, I am quite aware that the it’s the pimiento pepper, but in his article “Creating a New Southern Icon: The Curious History of Pimento Cheese”, Moss notes that “In the late 1890s, imported Spanish sweet peppers started being canned and sold by large food manufacturers, which not only boosted their popularity but also introduced the Spanish name pimiento. Soon the ‘i’ was dropped from common usage, and by the turn of the century most print accounts of the peppers call them ‘pimentos’.” I’ll remind you that Moss has a PhD. (in English, no less) from Furman, and though I’m not known for my slavish allegiance to academics, like the rest of you I always heartily concur with eggheads when they’re in my corner. It looks so good on paper.

Moss does not create another idol in this article; instead he reveals himself as an iconoclast of the first order by exposing the Yankee roots of a Southern dish Boston-based food writer Judy Gelman claims is “held sacred by Southerners”, and his research seems brutally thorough. However, as a former graduate student of the English department at the University of Mississippi, I’m delighted to say I have discovered a thin spot in Dr. Moss’ exposition. Even more appropriately, this modest and assuredly well-intentioned debunk comes via Martha Foose, the final court of authority on Mississippi food and a resident of Oxford for many years. Whereas Moss maintains that pimento and cheese is unknown outside of Dixie, Martha, in her splendid Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, points out that the pimento cheese capitol of the Midwest is Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Evangelism is clearly in play.

What made pimento and cheese characteristically Southern is the use of cheddar. In the rural South of the early 20th century the most commonly found cheese was mild cheddar called hoop cheese because it was sold commercially in large round wheels, red rind cheese because of the color of the wax coating or even rat cheese because it was often used to bait rodent traps. In memory lives the vivid image of a red hoop of cheddar sitting on the counter of a small country store under a wrap of wax paper ready to be sliced and eaten with saltines and a hunk of baloney or a can of Viennas. Without a doubt it was this cheese that was most often grated and used with homemade mayonnaise in making pimento and cheese in country and small-town kitchens throughout the South.

Still and all, Moss makes a valid point; if foods we consider Southern are anathematized by Yankee roots, then our idolized pimento cheese has feet of clay. We just found out how to do it right and made it ours. But how is it that we’ve come to make a cult of cornbread, a fetish of fried chicken and an idol of black-eyed peas, all adorned with the trappings of media devotion and academic Sunday schools? Let’s please move beyond the iconography of food (barbecue is just short of having a clergy) and come to realize that any significant foodstuff is nothing more than a pleasing combination of tastes and textures. And sure, let’s have food festivals; of course you wouldn’t expect to find a shrimp festival in Omaha or one for mountain oysters in Key West (I could be wrong about that) but let’s come to know them for what they are, celebrations of community, people and locale.

As to pimento and cheese itself, I’m not going to be so crass as to give you a recipe. You do it the way you like it; God knows you’re going to anyway. Pimento cheese should be devoid of controversy. It’s not, of course, because everyone thinks their version is the best, but you’re the one making it, so just relax. Though Moss claims that recipes with cream cheese are “definitely in the minority”, I always add it to mine, mixing it with the mayo one to two. I also belong to a schismatic if not to say heretical sect who find a chopped fresh sweet red bell just as acceptable in pimento cheese as canned pimientos, and have no problem adding chopped green onions, though I once had a matron from Tupelo to give me a good finger-wagging over that. All I could do was wince.

Menu for a Delta Wedding

Food rarely plays a significant role in fiction, but when it does the part has a specific function. Adam Gopnik lists four kinds of fictional food: “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.”

As an example for a writer who uses food in fiction to illuminate character, which seems to be predominant, Gopnik serves up Proust. “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 Faulkner does as well 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”), as does Welty, whose novel Delta Wedding, in itself the most lyrical evocation of life in the Mississippi Delta on the eve of or in the 1920s, a delightful, warm-hearted and spellbindingly-written work, is a Southern (perhaps “the most Southern”) smorgasbord. Though three main meals are described–a rehearsal supper, the wedding feast itself and a picnic afterwards–people are eating all the time on almost every page of this book. This a listing could very well be offered as a textbook example of foods served in a well-to-do household in the South during the Coolidge administration. In both Faulkner and Welty, the food is a prop, a signature of their collective character, not a judgement.

Coconut cake, sugared almonds, cold biscuits with ham, sugar cane (likely left on the porch for the children to peel and chew), homemade fudge, wedding cake (made in Memphis), chicken salad, “Mary Denis demanded a cold lobster aspic involving moving the world . . . of course we moved it”, stuffed green peppers, hoe cakes and ash cakes, chicken broth, Coca-Cola, barbecue (most likely pork), the patty cake gift for George Fairchild (made with white dove blood, dove heart, snake blood and other things; he’s to eat it alone at midnight, go to bed and his love will have no rest till she comes back to him), licorice sticks, crusted-over wine balls, pink-covered ginger Stage Planks, bananas and cheese, pickles, a mousse (probably chocolate), chicken and ham, dressing and gravy, black snap beans, greens, butter beans, okra, corn on the cob, “all kinds of relish”, watermelon rind preserves, “that good bread” (likely yeast bread), mint leaves “blackened” (bruised) in the tea, whole peaches in syrup, cornucopia (horns of pastry filled with cream or fruit), guinea hen, roast turkey and ham, beaten biscuits (an “aristocratic” Eastern seaboard recipe: i.e. blistered biscuits), chicken salad, homemade green and white mints, fruit punch, batter bread and shad roe, ice cream, chicken and turkey sandwiches, caramel and coconut cakes, lemon chiffon pie, watermelons and greens.

As much as I want to call this a complete list, it likely is not. When it comes to Welty, who is not only subtle and understated, but knows food as few writers do, it’s easy to miss things; read Delta Wedding again, if for that reason alone.

Tammy Tell Me True

In 1949, Twentieth Century-Fox released Pinky, a film that would have a lasting impact on the American film industry. The movie was based on Quality, a novel by Jackson native Cid Ricketts Sumner.

Ricketts grew up on North State at a time when Woodrow Wilson wasn’t even a president, much less a street. She taught at both Jackson High School and her alma mater Millsaps College (where she graduated summa cum laude at the age of 16) before attending medical school at Cornell University. There she took classes under James B. Sumner, who shared the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1946. They were married in 1915 and divorced in 1930. They had four children. Sumner’s first novel was published in 1938. Her second, Quality, was published in 1946; her third, Tammy Out of Time, was published in 1948.

According to film scholar Melanie Addington, “Pinky premiered in the same year (1949) as Intruder in the Dust. Both films and novels explore legal and societal racism. Mississippi novelists at that time were helping to create some of the earliest arguments against racism and Hollywood was enamored with the idea. While Pinky may have its controversy that could limit its effectiveness, like casting a white actress (Jeanne Crain) as the lead instead of a black star like Lena Horne, the film reaches into the center of American sentiment and finds a way to move us,” Addington says. Variety reported that Pinky was one the top-grossing films of 1949 and observed that though the story “may leave questions unanswered and in spots be naive, the mature treatment of a significant theme in a manner that promises broad public acceptance and box office success truly moves the American film medium a desirable notch forward in stature and importance.”

Addington says that though an aristocratic white woman helps Pinky move towards pride in being a black female, “This leads to a more interesting conclusion for the film, given the patronizing attitude that she would listen to a white woman and not her own grandmother. Ethel Barrymore’s character (Miss Em) notes, ‘Nobody deserves respect as long as she pretends to be something she isn’t,’ and the line resonates with Pinky. Hearing the truth about ourselves from strangers often helps us stop perpetuating our own myths.” When she dies, the enlightened despot Miss Em leaves her estate to Pinky, and rumors swirl that Pinky may have killed her. Accused, she stands trial. “Much like Lucas Beauchamp in Intruder in the Dust,despite her innocence, society still finds a way to shun Pinky for ‘causing trouble’,” Addington says. “This is evident in the hushed courtroom as she slowly makes her way to freedom. Pinky, in love with a white man from the North, must choose to leave but instead realizes that she must remain in the South to claim her identity.”

Pinky stays and turns the estate into a nursing school for black women. “The film falters in the final scene, which shows Pinky standing alone and misty-eyed,” Addington says. “The adaptation avoided the ending that made Quality such an interesting original story. In the book, the home is burned to the ground by the Klan, a much stronger and more dramatic ending. The studio scrapped that outcome to provide a ‘tragic heroine’ ending that left audiences feeling good about racial issues in the South. Ricketts, not Hollywood, actually got it right with a much darker truth to an ending that sadly was too real for too many.”

Pinky was the first big studio picture to troop into race issues. The movie garnered Academy Award nominations for the three female leads, Jeanne Crain, Ethel Barrymore and Ethel Waters, who played “Pinky’s Granny”. “It also led to an appeal before the United States Supreme Court in Gelling v. Texas, a victory for the local movie theater owner who screened the film over a local decree censoring it from public viewing. The June 3, 1952 edition of The New York Times reported, “The Supreme Court today struck down a motion picture censor ordinance by which the city of Marshall, Texas, disapproved the showing of the film Pinky.”

Sumner’s third novel, Tammy Out of Time (1948), an unabashedly romantic tale of a Mississippi girl, was a significant departure from the tense realism of Quality, but doubtless due to the success of Pinky, the studios took a look, and between its pages found an iconic figure for mid-century America, and its heroine. Tammy Tyree, provided a generation of young ladies with a smart, charming role model. One critic described the film adaptation, Tammy and the Bachelor (1957) as a “whimsical romance for middle America, which started Hollywood’s last series of proletarian family appeal before the family was entirely forsaken for four-letter words.”

Sumner’s three “Tammy” novels provided fodder for four films as well as a television series over a ten year period. Tammy was played by both Debbie Reynolds and Sandra Dee, and the supporting casts of the films included Leslie Nielsen, Walter Brennan, Fay Wray, Adam West, Macdonald Carey and (in his first feature role) Peter Fonda. Denver Pyle, who played Uncle Jesse in “The Dukes of Hazard”, portrayed Grandpa Tarleton in the television series (1965-66).

Writer Jill Conner Browne says, “As I was writing the first book (The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love), we decided that a modicum of anonymity regarding some of the tales might be in order, so we decided to select stage names for ourselves. As it turned out, since we are all Of A Certain Age and grew up watching and loving all of Tammy’s exploits (she was way better than Cinderella and seemed much more attainable to our young minds) we ALL wanted to be “Tammy.”  Believing that it was unfair for one to be allowed to use the name that ALL wanted, we simply decided that we would ALL be ‘Tammy.’”

The movie also spawned an eponymous Top 40 hit in 1957. Music historian Brian Hargett says, “The song, which Reynolds herself describes as a “sweet, simple ballad”, went to #1 for three weeks beginning August 26, 1957. The #2 song that week was ‘Teddy Bear’, by a young man from Tupelo named Elvis Presley. At the onset of the youth revolution, it was possible for a 25-year old like Reynolds to have a hit record sung rather simply without studio gimmickry,” Hargett says. “Until the Beatles came along, record companies happily recorded talent like Debbie Reynolds. After 1964, ‘older’ acts like Reynolds were quickly dropped off record company artists rosters. The studio first recorded ‘Tammy’ with just piano backing, but Henry Mancini sweetened it with strings, and Hollywood liked it enough to put it in the movie,” Hargett says. “The Ames Brothers sang it as the thematic introduction to the film, and they had a fair hit with it, too.” The song was also nominated for an Oscar.

Though the movies based on the works of Cid Ricketts Sumner are noteworthy, Sumner’s literary achievements seem more than modest by Mississippi standards; she garnered no literary laurels, and she is largely forgotten, even in her hometown. Still, she was a remarkable woman. She married a Nobel laureate, wrote 13 books, toured Europe on horseback, and when she was 64 she was the only woman in a group of eight who made a 31-day rafting trip down the Colorado River.

Sumners was bludgeoned to death at the age of 80 in her home in Duxbury, Massachusetts. Her 16-year old grandson, John R. Cutler, was charged with her murder.