Slice a 12 oz. pork tenderloin into 6 medallions and pound thinly. Have on hand 6 thin slices prosciutto and 6 large fresh sage leaves. Dredge pork in all-purpose flour seasoned with salt and black pepper. Arrange 1 prosciutto slice over pork. Top with 1 sage leaf and spear with a wooden pick. Heat about 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil in a sauté pan, add pork and brown lightly. Remove pork; add about a tablespoon of finely chopped shallots and a teaspoon of garlic. Add about 1/4 cup each white wine and chicken stock to pan, cook until reduced by about half, finish with about a tablespoon unsalted butter. Arrange pork on a warm plate and drizzle with pan juices. Serve immediately.
Not long ago a friend said that he who ate the first eggplant was much more courageous than he who ate the first oyster. (Yes, they were both guys; Urk, the Australopithecus I channel to know such things told me so). Oysters, after all, are mere mollusks while eggplants are noxious nightshades. Since eggplant must be gussied up quite a bit before I’ll make a meal with it, I agreed with fervor. Fortunately, the eggplant, like Cher, has so little character that it’s a pliable basis for dozens of really good dishes such as this Sicilian nosh which itself has many variations, served hot or cold, as a side or a spread. A friend makes vegetarian muffalettas with it, and while purists may wail, there’s nothing to stop you from using caponata instead of olive relish on a meat muffaletta. It’s simple to make, keeps well, and the flavor improves with age. This recipe makes about a quart.
Peel and cube one large eggplant, stew in olive oil with a finely-minced clove of garlic and about half a cup each of chopped celery and sweet onion. This is one of the few recipes you’ll find me recommending a sweet onion; caponata is a sweet/sour concoction, and I prefer to use vegetables and dried fruit for the sweetness instead of sugar. You’ll add maybe a rind of smoked sweet red pepper (a ripe pickled cherry is a nice touch, too), a scant handful of chopped olives and a tablespoon or two of tomato paste to round out the (somewhat) savory elements along with a jolt of strong red wine for both you and the pan. For out-and-out sweetness, use a half cup of dried fruit, figs being excruciatingly appropriate, but don’t let that stop you from using the raisins, dates or apricots you have on hand. A heaping teaspoon of capers (the eponymous and therefore compulsory component) gives enough salt. and a measure of herbal vinegar will set the tartness. With seasonings you’re on your own, but don’t use too much of anything; let the meld define the flavor.
On Saturday, March 17, 1951, the stage of Jackson’s Civic Auditorium supported a cast of players the likes of which never had nor never again would tread the boards in the capital city. As the very Devil himself, Charles Laughton led Agnes Moorehead, Charles Boyer and Sir Cecil Hardwicke in a surprisingly successful enactment of Shaw’s “Don Juan in Hell”. The review in Sunday’s Clarion-Ledger (“‘Don Juan in Hell’ a Big Hit Here”) states that the Jackson audience was thrilled with “Agnes Moorehead’s amazing transformation from a woman of 77 at death to a lady of 27 in Hell”, adding that “Laughton stated categorically that he is not ‘the beefy bird of comic strip fame.’” One year later, a Time magazine article stated that the production’s tour had amassed gross profits of more than $1M.
The Jackson performance was engaged by a man who recognized not so much a shy hunger here as an earnest yearning not only for literature, but for music, for lights, for the engaged delight of people in a body, the laughter, the suspense, the applause: Armand Coullet, who provided the city with over three decades of entertainment.
According to Jacksonian Harry Brown, “About a decade after H. L. Mencken declared the South ‘The Sahara of the Bozart’, Armand Coullet arrived on the Jackson scene to do something about it. He quickly established himself as the city’s resident Frenchman, a position he proudly made the most of and which of course carried a certain primacy in cultural affairs. Mr. Coullet was actually from Algiers. but that was certainly close enough for Jackson society of the day. And he became the town’s impresario, bringing notable entertainers and productions not only to Jackson but to other cities in the region. The Coullets—his wife Magnolia was an accomplished vocalist as well as being Chair of Foreign Languages at Millsaps, and his son ‘Tink’ went on to the Broadway stage and beyond—were welcome in the very highest social circles, and Armand was a highly valued addition to any gathering. He naturally had an approving and charming eye for the ladies, but of course all with courtly decorum.”
Armand Coullet was born in 1899 to a well-to-do French family that had relocated to Algeria shortly after France conquered the North African country in the early 19th century. His father was a French civil servant. He attended public schools in Algiers, graduating from the French Government School of Topography. He also graduated from the Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts with the Premier Prix in violin, conducting and orchestration. Advanced study in conducting and orchestration was completed with composer and conductor Camille Saint-Saëns, and and was later assistant to Saint-Saëns as concert master of the North African Symphony Orchestra.
He continued his violin studies in France at the Conservatoire de Paris; when Armand completed his musical training, his father and mother, Eugene and Marguerite, presented him with a fine violin made in 1667 by Francesco Ruggieri, who served as an apprentice in the workshops of Stradivarius. Coullet played first violin in the Opera House in Algiers for two years and directed his orchestra in the city’s leading hotels. He also served three years in a field artillery unit of the French Army during World War I.
Coullet came to the United States in 1924. In an interview fifty years later, he recalled, “The only thing I had was my violin and $27, but I had the world by the tail. When I got off the boat, there was an agent standing there who sked me in French if I played the violin. He gave me a job right there on the spot with the Boston Little Symphony.”
As concert master of the Boston Little Symphony Orchestra, Coullet traveled with the Chautauqua Tours, and for the next several years, he conducted his own orchestra in various New England resorts and spent a year as first violinist in the Roxy Theatre Orchestra in New York City. He first came south with various road shows and located at Palm, Beach, Florida with his own orchestra. He opened and directed the Academy of Music in West Palm Beach, with a faculty of 12 and an enrollment of 140 students. While in Palm Beach, Coullet regularly heard residents’ complaints about the town’s lack of theatrical offerings. Together with a local theater owner and three partners, Coullet contacted New York producer Lee Shubert and convinced him to send a touring company of “George White’s Scandals” to Palm Beach. The show was a hit and Coullet was bitten by the promoting bug. The itch would last the rest of his life
The devastating 1928 Okeechobee hurricane that practically destroyed West Palm Beach ended Coullet’s career there, and he went back to New York. While there, Hazel Chisholm, who was then working for Jackson radio station WJDX, called him to come to the city. When he arrived in the Jackson, he gave his two weeks’ notice his first day at the station. “I saw the town and thought, ‘Oh, my God,” Coullet recalled fifty years later. “It was so primitive. They had streetcars being pulled down Capitol Street by mules. I knew the town had potential, but potential was for the future. I wanted to leave immediately.”
But he was persuaded to stay, crediting his decision to the kindness of his employers. It was 1928, and in those days radio stations provided their own music. Coullet conducted a 14-piece orchestra for WJDX. He originated special instrumental and vocal programs in classical, semi-classical and popular music. He also met a young lady, Magnolia Simpson, from Madison, Mississippi, who was later to become Mrs. Coullet. Magnolia, Mrs. Sarah. B McLean, and Coullet broadcast every Sunday afternoon from the old Century Theatre the highly successful “Rice Dream House” program, sponsored by Rice Furniture.
Fellow musician and ofttimes traveling companion Muller Adkisson remembers, “During the Depression Armand played violin in the WPA orchestra and he said that’s what kept them going, what put food on their table. He had married Magnolia at some point in there. She taught both voice and Latin at Millsaps College. Later she taught German. WJDX’s original studio was in the Lamar Life building in one of the upper stories under the clock tower. Later when the Heidelberg Hotel added the upper six stories to their 12-story building, they added two stories that weren’t accessible by the elevator. WJDX moved there.”
In 1935, Coullet was instrumental in organizing the Jackson Symphony Orchestra and in 1937 he originated the All-Star Series (now a part of the Jackson Music Association). Coullet also found a theatrical vacuum in Jackson similar to the one in West Palm Beach so he again contacted Schubert, who persuaded New York agencies to place Jackson on their lists; it was a natural stop between Memphis and New Orleans, he reasoned with them.
“Because of union rules traveling shows could only travel so many miles a day,” Adkisson said, “so Armand was often able to bargain them down, get shows here, even though Jackson audiences weren’t that big and couldn’t afford the big shows. But often because of the rules somebody would call him up and say, ‘We have to have a show in Jackson, what can you pay us?’ And he got a lot of good shows here that way.”
His first Broadway production in Jackson was “Blossom Time” in 1935. Coullet later said, “(Being an impresario) might sound romantic and fascinating to some people, but it is hard work and full of worry.” After swinging the deal to bring “Blossom Time” he said he got the stage hand bill and it scared him so much he almost backed out.
Many names headlined his shows through the years: Tallulah Bankhead, Helen Hayes, Ethel Barrymore, Nelson Eddy, Jeanette McDonald, Nelson Eddy, Bette Davis, Grace Moore, the Don Cossack Chorus, Bob Hope, Marion Anderson, Eva Le Gallienne, Joseph Szgeti, Fritz Kreisler, Richard Crooks, Albert Spalding, San Carlo Opra Company, NBC Opera Company, James Melton, Gladys Swarthout, Signumd Romberg, Nadine Conner and Guy Lombardo. His encounters with famous performers were brief, and he said, “you’d have to see them more than I do to feel that you know them.”
For over three decades, Armand Collet Associates sponsored shows in 15 cities and 12 states and across the South from El Paso to Birmingham, but beginning in the mid-1980s, Coullet limited himself to the presentation of Broadway theatre in Jackson and only a few other Southern cities. Included have been: “Hello, Dolly!”, “Fiddler on the Roof”, “Man of La Mancha”, “Zorba”, “My Fair Lady” (which ran for seven weeks), “Mame”, “Cabaret”, “1776”, “Your Own Thing”, “I Do, I Do”, “George M” and a sneak appearance by Mantovani and his Orchestra. Coullet said he considered bringing the Beatles to Memphis in 1966 the crowning glory of his career, but his role in the Fab Four’s appearance at the Mid-South Coliseum can’t be substantiated.
“The big ones carry me,” Coullet once said, referring to smash hits such as “My Fair Lady” and “Hello, Dolly,” but he had his share of bombs. His biggest bust as a promoter was “Cabaret,” here. Coullet considered Grace Moore and Liberace his most glamorous stars. Liberace sold out twice.
“Armand always said how surprising it was to think of the large number of elderly women who came to Liberace’s performances,” Adkisson said. “It was a matter of sex appeal, or what they thought was sex appeal, since of course he was gay. Anyway, Liberace would invite the women in the audience to come backstage after the performances, and he’d wink and mug, and say, ‘Oh, what is your name, darling?’ and the woman would say like ‘Mary’ or something and Liberace would go, ‘Oh, my dear Mary!’ or something. Armand said the first time Liberace appeared in a city he might make a little money for his appearance, might even lose a little, but Liberace would come back two years later and the promoter would make a big profit. That was Liberace’s modus operandi, that he could tour successfully all over the country because he felt a responsibility to the local promoter. Armand had Liberace here three times with sold-out houses. The little old ladies would like up and Liberace would take an hour or more to schmooze with them.”
Even after decades living in Mississippi, Coullet retained his French accent. “It’s the one thing I’m stuck with and can’t lose,” he once said. “I’m not trying to lose it. It’s my natural way of speaking. You must realize that when I first came to this country, the only words of English I knew were ‘yes’ and ‘no’. I had to learn English by myself. I would read the newspapers and, when I found a word I didn’t know, I would write it on a little piece of paper and tack it on the wall. I’d see the word every day until I learned it, then I’d take it down. By that time, there would be 10 or more new ones.” Muller Adkisson recalls that when Coullet promoted shows in New Orleans and south Louisiana, he would give the promotional commercial in English, and then he would give it in French. “Of course people flocked to the shows because they loved hearing the promotions in their everyday speech. ”
In his last published interview, in May, 1977, the 79-year old Coullet, preparing for an upcoming season which was to include the touring company of the Broadway production of Welty’s “The Robber Bridegroom” as well as “My Fair Lady” and “Same Time Next Year”, said, “In this business you can’t slow down. If you slow down, you’re dead. It took me 40 years to build up the following I have. There’s no retirement for an impresario. I’ll be retired when they put me in a pine box. Sure, I’ve slowed down a little with age, but not so you can tell. You can’t kill a good Frenchman.”
Coullet died New Year’s Eve, 1983.
It was in the spring of the year in the dear long ago. There had been a long dry spell and the farmers were well up with their work, but, complaining as to the weather quite a number were gathered in town. A dark heavy cloud was seen rising in the west and about noon a nice refreshing shower fell to bless and benefit these sons of toil.
In the afternoon the village of Banner was filled with happy farmers. The postmaster, Esq. Brower, and myself were sitting in the post office looking at the throng around Frank Brantley’s grocery. The dingy old gallon pot was sitting on a stump in front of the grocery, well filled with red liquor and surrounded by a happy crowd, all in a merry mood and still partaking rather freely.
All at once a young man stepped into the post office and asked if there was any mail for John Martin. He was rather small, with light hair and a few strangling red hairs on his upper lip and chin. Brower, after a careful look, told him there was no mail for John Martin. He said then, “I am a stranger here. This is the first time I was ever in Banner. I am Fighting John Martin from Butta Hatchie creek; I am a fighter from the east. I have often heard of Banner and I have come over to-day to clean her up and paint Banner red. I understand you have some fighters here and I would like to meet them. I tell you I am a fighter.”
He pulled from his ponderous pocket an old-style, iron-barrel pistol, with tube and hammer on the top and said, “You see this. I am going to have some fun this evening. The first man that bristles up to me, I’m going to down him.”
He walked nimbly across the muddy street to the stump and gallon pot, introduced himself to the crowd and took a drink of the liquor. A dispute between the Van Winkles and the Hardins soon resulted in a general fight. The men were all in their shirt sleeves and most of the young men and boys were barefooted. The men engaged in the fighting were old Carter Van Winkle who had a small lumber stick in his hand and he knocking the Hardins right and left, when he was modestly confronted by John Martin who asked, “Who are you and which side are you fighting? I am Fighting John Martin from Butta Hatchie. Did you ever see me turn loose in Banner? If not, look out!”
He thrust his old pistol into Van Winkle’s face and pulled the trigger, but the pistol snapped and Van Winkle struck him over the head with his stick and brought him to his knees. Martin galloped across the muddy street on his all-fours with Van Winkle striking him with the lumber stick first on the right and then on the left side as he crawled across with his pistol in one hand and his hat in the other.
Just as he crossed the street Van Winkle left him and returned to the general fight. Martin dragged himself into the post office all covered with blood, handed his pistol and hat to Brower and called for a doctor. The little Banner doctor examined him and found that he had received a downward lick on the side of his head that pealed the scalp his forehead back beyond his ear.
“Fix it quick doctor I want to get away from here.” The doctor took two or stitches, brought the edges of the wound up together, tied a few bands across. Brower handed him his hat and pistol; remarking as he did so, “This is hell turned loose in Banner, is it not?”
“No,” said the little doctor, “he is the man that painted Banner red.”
“Let me out of here,” said Martin and he slipped out, took through the woods to the south of Banner and that was the last seen of Martin, the Fighter from Butta Hatchie that painted Banner red.
(Signed, The Rambler, The Calhoun Monitor, Pittsboro, MS, Aug. 18, 1904)
Greenwood Cemetery is not within the confines of Belhaven Heights but many of the Heights former residents are now within the confines of Greenwood Cemetery. Early Jackson Mayor James Boyd is buried there as well as Miss Eudora Welty. They are not alone in their repose. They are surrounded by six Confederate generals, seven Mississippi governors, 14 Jackson mayors, six Supreme Court justices, 27 clergymen, and about 600 Confederate soldiers, most of who have been identified. In its earliest days it was known simply as “the burial ground.”
The cemetery is part of a federal land grant which also established the city of Jackson as the official site of the Capital of Mississippi on November 21, 1821. It was formally designated by the state legislature effective January 1, 1823. The original six acres were known simply as “the graveyard” and later as the City Cemetery. It was officially designated Greenwood Cemetery in 1899. An early map (1822) showed the area of what is now West Street as vacant land indicating that the cemetery was not yet within the city limits which ended at High street. Over time the six acres was extended northward from George to Davis Street, delineated on the west by Lamar and on the east by West Street.
Interviews with Cecile Wardlaw, president of the Greenwood Cemetery Association, and Peter Miazza in 2013 provided a wealth of information on the early days and development of the cemetery. “There are 330 unmarked graves at the original south end of the cemetery,” Mrs. Wardlaw related, “with the estimated number of all graves today being 5,000.” The oldest known surviving marker with a date is Governor Abram Marshall Scott who died June 12, 1833. There are an estimated 2,200 monuments posted on the Find a Grave website.
Mrs. Wardlaw told of how the roses came to be along the roads and walkways. “Local horticulturalist Felder Rushing donated the roses you see along the paths which he obtained from the Antique Rose Emporium in Texas. He did some work for that establishment and instead of getting a fee; he came back with a truck and trailer load of roses. He will not tell us the names of the cuttings but only to say ‘they are there for people to enjoy’.”
The city of Jackson owns the cemetery but much of the maintenance is done by the Cemetery Association which also raises funds to repair and perform landscaping work. Various volunteer groups including local Boy Scouts, AmeriCorps, the Phi Theta Kappa honorary fraternity at Mississippi College and various neighborhood groups have donated time to keeping up the facility. The Brookhaven Monument Company is the primary source of stone repairs.
A number of Jackson’s first families have been interred in the cemetery. Marian Dunbar, first pastor of Mt. Helm Baptist Church is there. It was named Helm because Thomas Helm contributed the lot for the church and gave the church money to help with construction. According to its website, Mt. Helm, Jackson’s oldest African American church began in 1835 with several enslaved African Americans who worshiped in the basement of the First Baptist Church. It became a separate body in 1867, the year the 13th Amendment was ratified. A modern version of the structure may be seen today at 300 E. Church Street near the west side of the cemetery.
In addition to Miss Welty and Mayor Boyd, other Jacksonians of note interred in Greenwood Cemetery include Millsaps College founders Colonel William Nugent, Bishop Charles Betts Galloway, and Dr. William Belton Murrah, who served as the college’s first president; Dr. Lewis Fitzhugh, first president of Belhaven College; founders of the Baptist Hospital Harley R. Shands, M.D. and John Farrar Hunter, M.D., Reverend John Hunter, pastor of First Presbyterian Church (1858) and R.H. Henry, founder of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. Monuments are plentiful for many early Jackson families including the Yergers, Spenglers, Greens, Poindexters, Lemons, Virdens, and Miazzas.
Monuments range from barely noticeable to imposing. In the circle by the cemetery’s summer house, is the monument of Rev. Amos Clever, an Episcopal priest, who died in October 1853 from yellow fever. Five years after his death some women took up money for this monument. The exact location of his grave is unknown so his marker was placed where it is today. The widow Clever had a girl’s school in a frame building where St. Andrews Episcopal Church stands today at S. West and E. Capitol Streets. In 1854, she sold the school to the state for its first school for the deaf. There is also the “Weeping Lady” (Sarah Ann and George Lemon plot), the Hilzheim lot framing structure, which looks like a church, and the “Angel Tombstone” in the Poindexter lot.
The most interesting monuments have stories associated with their namesakes.
The Saunders Stone
Lawrence Saunders was a professor at the deaf school which was then across the street from his mother’s house near Barksdale and North State Streets. On Christmas night in 1895, he dressed as Mrs. Santa Claus to entertain the students. Saunders was on his way to the school and stopped by his mother’s home to show her his costume but the front door was locked. He let himself in through the back gallery. The only person home was his nephew who awoke to discover a strange presence. He shouted “stop or I’ll shoot.” Unfortunately, Lawrence, being deaf, did not hear the warning and was killed by his own kinsman. It is never a good idea to shoot Santa Claus.
The Little Dog Tombstone
An unnamed small girl lived in Jackson during the mid 1880’s. Her family moved from the capitol city to Oxford where the child died. She was buried in the Simms plot which may be seen north of the summer house to the right of the circle. It is said her small grief-stricken dog would not leave her grave and died at its foot a short time later. His likeness remains to guard his mistress through the portals of eternity – faithful to the end.
The Good Samaritan Monument
Dr. Samuel Cartwright was well known for his work and writings to control the great yellow fever and cholera epidemics. During the Civil War, he was charged with getting rid of dysentery in the Confederate military camps but he contacted dysentery himself and died in 1863. The carving of “the Good Samaritan” on his tombstone attests to his sacrifice and may be seen on his marker today.
My Dog Skip
A movie scene filmed in Greenwood Cemetery was based on Willie Morris’ 2000 novel My Dog Skip, and represents the witch’s tomb in the Yazoo City Cemetery which depicted one of the characters going out among the tombstones to sit down and drink booze. Also, a replica of the Helm mausoleum was constructed for the movie in which the bootleggers stored their moonshine. There is no written record, however, of these spirits raising other sprirts or sharing their company for the evening.
Lorian Hemingway’s Ghosts
The granddaughter of the novelist Ernest Hemingway came to Jackson in 1999 to write an article on the 1966 Candlestick Park tornado. While here she participated in a ghost tour in Greenwood cemetery, which was conducted and scripted by Jo Barksdale, much to the delight of a number of children.
The Tallest Monument
The most imposing monument in the cemetery looks eastward toward the rising sun. Edmund Richardson was fabulously wealthy, controlling more cotton land than anyone outside the country of Egypt. He died in New Orleans in an area made famous by Josh White’s folk ballad “House of the Rising Sun”. No one knows exactly to what extent the sun rose on that occasion, but it does make for fascinating speculation. Following his death his wife donated $5,000 to the church in his name. Perhaps this was a wise investment.
They are all here, diverse in their lifetime but equal in the eyes of God. Within the 22 acres of monuments and memories lie those who preceded this day and share its common ground. There are the wealthy and the pauper, the slave and his master, the business owner and his clerk, the patriarch and his child. There are the physicians the barristers, the judges, the politicians, the writers and artists, the entrepreneurs and the indigents. There are the prominent with their success and their secrets. There are the unnamed and the unknown. There are the wretched and the rascals and the Good Samaritan and the faithful dog. There is Everyman. As Albert Einstein once said, “Before God we are equally wise and equally foolish.”
As you walk the paths of Greenwood cemetery, contemplate the rose shaded spirits around you. Feel their presence. You, like them, are part of our neighborhood’s heritage and its destiny. While our own lives are but a flash of light in the darkness of creation, the deeds of those who sleep around us endure forever. It is one final reminder that beauty is at our fingertips and that we are not alone.
Thanks go to Cecile Wardlaw, president of the greenwood Cemetery Association and board member Peter Miazza for providing the material for this article. Copyright Bill and Nan Harvey, April, 2018
Naturally I had every intention of entering the contest in Laurel Street Park, but I was advised by a dear friend that as a food professional I am tacitly eschewed from entering such cordial amateur competitions, even to the point of my neighborly offering of a random preliminary judgement free of charge. So in lieu of more active and visible participation and in the utmost spirit of concord and rapport, I here offer a modest backstage contribution.
As stipulated by the contest rules—and yes, I did solicit (and receive) a copy—a grilled cheese is in some form or the other heated bread and cheese, and while starches are a widespread culinary commodity, cheese is not for the simple reason that the greater part of humanity is lactose intolerant. Most of the cheese-eating peoples are in the ‘northwestern’ quadrant of the globe, which has led some geneticists to theorize that the gene governing lactose tolerance is linked to that of blue eyes. This in turn has led other species of scientists to speculate both characteristics are evidence of sexual congress between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, but if you ask me that’s sheer projection on their part.
Let’s start at ground zero, the American grilled cheese. The classic American grilled cheese is simply a piece of American cheese layered between two pieces of white bread and then griddled with butter. In 1916, James L. Kraft obtained a patent for processed cheese that was easy to transport without spoiling or perishing. Soon slices of the cheap processed cheese was being grilled between slices of mass-produced white bread (Wonder bread was a frequent choice), and the dish became an essential companion to heated canned soups, particularly Campbell’s tomato. Though like any mass-produced/processed product the American grilled cheese has multitudes of detractors, it remains a favorite staple in households across the country.
Across the Pond there’s Welsh rabbit, which is made not with conies but bread, cheese in a sauce and the always-welcome option of beer. The most basic version involves thick slices of bread slathered in a thick cheese sauce made with Cheddar or some other substantial firm, off-white cheese with a slosh of your choice of beer (a good stout is excellent) and broiled. No one really knows any more how cheese on toast came to be called ‘rabbit’ or ‘rarebit’ (the variations in spelling seem to be arbitrary), but both Escoffier and Brillat-Savarin gave a recipe for ‘Lapin Gallois’ and a ‘Wouelsche Rabette’ first appeared in Antoine Beauvilliers’ L’Art du Cuisinier in 1814. Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches.
Traveling east across the Channel you find in France the croque monsieur, which is Gruyere cheese melted inside a ham sandwich, topped with a Bechamel sauce, more Gruyere and broiled. A version called croque madame is topped with a fried egg. The dish originated in French cafés and bars during la Belle Époque as a quick snack, the name based on the verb croquer (“to bite, to crunch”) and the word monsieur (“mister”). The sandwich’s first recorded appearance on a Paris café menu was in 1910 and the dish is actually mentioned in volume two (À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, 1919) of Proust’s epic À la recherche du temps perdu, a profound work which also happens to be a culinary mother lode.
Then you have raclette, a semi-hard cow’s milk French cheese usually fashioned into a wheel of about 3 lb. that’s heated, either in front of a fire or by a special machine—you can buy a Swissmar KF-77045 Classic 8 Person Raclette (with granite stone top: red) for $120 on Amazon—then scraped onto diners’ plated bread. The term raclette itself derives from the French word racler, meaning “to scrape”. Raclette was mentioned in medieval writings in texts from Swiss-German convents dating from as early as 1291. The cheese was originally consumed by peasants in the mountainous Alpine regions of Valais (Switzerland), Savoie and Haute-Savoie (France). It was then known in the German-speaking part of Switzerland as Bratchäs, or “roasted cheese”. Traditionally, cow herders carried cheese with them when they were moving cows to or from mountain pastures and the cheese would be placed next to a campfire for melting.
In Italy you have what is called mozzarella in carozza, which translates as “cheese (okay, mozzarella) in a carriage”. Sliced mozzarella is placed between sliced, crust-less white bread, dredged in a milk with beaten eggs and either pan- or deep-fried. If you ask me, it’s the mozzarella in carozza—NOT the croque monsieur that’s the undoubted precursor of that classic old diner specialty, the Monte Cristo sandwich, which employs the exact same procedure and ingredients with Swiss cheese and sliced ham or turkey. I substantiate this claim for the simple reason that the Monte Cristo’s origins can be traced to New York City, which has always boasted a great many people of Italian descent and Monte Cristo itself happens to be in Livorno.
A grilled cheese in Sweden (sounds like a Vonnegut title, doesn’t it?) is called a varm macka, which simply means “warm muck”. Some of you might recoil at such nomenclature, but let me be the first to assure you that when it comes to culinary terminology, “muck” is small potatoes indeed. For the most part, Swedish sandwiches—called smörgås—are open-faced, and even most simple cheese sandwiches are made open-faced and eaten cold. But a varm macka is cheese, not Grevé or Herrgårdsost as you might suspect but rather Gouda (Dutch) or Swiss, sliced, placed on buttered bread and heated in the oven.
Back to the New World and across the Rio Grande is the quesadilla, a tortilla, usually a flour tortilla but sometimes corn, filled with cheese and grilled. A full quesadilla involves two tortillas filled with cheese, stacked and heated, halves are a single tortilla filled with cheese and folded into a half-moon shape. Mexican quesadillas are traditionally cooked on a comal, which is also used to prepare tortillas. They are usually cooked without oil, but quesadillas can be fried to make quesadillas fritas, While Oaxaca (or string) cheese is the most common filling, other ingredients are also used in addition to the cheese, including cooked vegetables, such as potatoes with chorizo, squash blossoms, mushrooms, epazote, huitlacoche, and different types of cooked meat, such as chicharron, tinga made of chicken or beef, or cooked pork. Avocado or guacamole, green or red salsas, chopped onion, tomato, chiles, and cilantro are the most common toppings.
Farther south in Venezuela is the arepa de queso, a stuffed corn cake made from masa flour and then cooked on a cast iron skillet. The arepa is filled with local farmer’s cheese (mozzarella is a viable substitute) and then griddled again. Thee word arepa comes from “erepa” which means corn bread in the language of the indigenous people of Venezuela and Colombia. Early arepas were made with cassava (or yucca) flour as well as corn.
Finally, in Brazil you have a fascinating dish called the bauru. The traditional recipe calls for cheese (usually mozzarella) melted in a bain-marie, slices of roast beef, tomato and pickled cucumber in a French bun with the crumb (the soft inner part) removed. The bauru’s origins are actually well documented. In 1934, a student at the Faculdade de Direito do Largo de São Francisco, in São Paulo, Casemiro Pinto Neto (known as Bauru for coming from the city of the same name in São Paulo state), entered Ponto Chic, a traditional eatery and student hangout, and asked the cook to prepare a sandwich from his specifications. “Bauru’s Sandwich” was an immediate hit, and eventually became the best-selling dish at the place. Many other eateries offer sandwiches named bauru with different combinations of ingredients—using sliced ham instead of roast beef or sliced bread instead of French bread. The city of Bauru eventually named the traditional bauru as the city’s official sandwich, codifying the recipe in a municipal law and instituting an official certification program.
In closing, I do hope the weather proves fair enough to hold the competition and wish the best of luck to all the contestants.
The Railroad and a Ghost
Railroads have always had an element of romance as they snaked across America beginning in 1827. They brought with them cheap travel, commerce, new lands, pioneer families, train robbers and the ever-present element of excitement. Steel rails linked our oceans, joined the great lakes with the Gulf and over time reached out to help unite our people into a great nation.
Formerly the Gulf, Mobile & Northern (GM&N) Railroad, the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio (GM&O) began its journey in Mobile about 1940 and traveled northward to Jackson, TN. Old maps show a corollary loop of track that began in New Orleans, ran through Jackson, MS and joined the main line at Meridian. The passenger train that passed through Jackson was named the ‘Rebel’ which may still be remembered by older Jacksonians as the sleek red and silver locomotive which daily pulled into the passenger depot under the old Pearl Street Bridge. The freight depot was located in the structure which houses Hal and Mal’s Restaurant today. Both were built by the GM&N in 1927.
The GM&O and its rolling stock was an early exponent of the modern age. It had the distinction of having one of the first diesel locomotives in the country and I can still remember its whistle and roar from my open bedroom window on Manship Street when I was a boy.
There was a reason that musicians like Jimmie Rodgers and Arlo Guthrie sang of the dynamism of the rails, why Mark Twain and Thomas Wolfe wrote of them, Rob Harkins and Norman Rockwell painted them and Americans for more than 190 years have ridden them to their destiny wherever that might be.
All cities had their trains and Belhaven Heights had its railroad in the GM&O which until recent times formed the eastern border of this neighborhood. The rails are gone now, given way to progress and its bed is destined to become a bike and walking trail. Yet a landmark remains and if you will climb aboard with me, I’ll tell you about it.
There was a beanery in Belhaven Heights. It was the only early industry in the neighborhood and over a lifespan of 80 plus years hosted wayfarers, roustabouts, a Rebel….and a ghost.
The term ‘beanery’ dates from the year 1887 in England and was loosely thought of as an inn for travelers. It had nothing to do with coffee or tea or a vegetable. In America, a beanery became the name of a hotel for railroad men; a place to rest, to eat, to sport or reflect on their way to further destinations. The term beanery came to mean “let’s go eat” and breakfast, the primary meal for freshly awakened sojourners, was served by “beanery queens” – waitresses, some left over from the night before.
Our beanery stands at the curved intersection of Madison and Spengler Streets. Built in 1927 as a two story craftsman residence, it resembles a fugitive image from the old west with a downstairs porch and upper balcony that could have welcomed the likes of Jesse James or Doc Holladay.
According to former owner Jackson photographer Steve Colston, the structure was purchased from Mrs. Louise Middleton by J.W. Miller in 1930 and was called Miller’s Café, with Humphries Barber Shop on the eastern corner. It was subsequently named Miller’s Place and remained so for a number of years. According to Colston, back in the day you could get an upstairs bed for thirty-five cents a night and for an additional dime, access to a shower. Plate lunches were available downstairs where the special was a large bowl of soup for a quarter.
Over the years the building passed through several hands. Mrs. Louis Miller ran the restaurant in the 1940’s, while J.W. took care of upstairs. From Herbert Stair’s restaurant in 1950, it became the GM&O Beanery restaurant in 1954, Hugh Tullos’ restaurant a year later and the Spengler Street Café in the early 1960’s. It was vacant for several years before housing the Central Systems Company in1973. It was bought by Colston in 1976 where it served as his photography studio for 35 years.
My own familiarity with the beanery was as a teenager in the 1950’s. Several neighbor children along Madison and Harding streets would visit the establishment for soft drinks and to take in the atmosphere. There was a bar and a jukebox and railroad men who played and bet on pinball. We weren’t allowed to share in this entertainment, much less a beer, and if we had bothered to sneak upstairs would doubtless have grown up far quicker than we could imagine.
No old haunt worth its copper plumbing would be complete without a ghost. Of course our beanery had one and not only that – it’s been documented.
In a feature article in the Times-Picayune’s Dixie Magazine dated October 28, 1978, Maybelle Gorringe interviewed owner Steve Colston who confirmed the existence of the specter. In the article Steve tells of his grandmother hearing footsteps, of curtains moving, of doorknobs turning, voices in the night, tinkling bells, light fixtures falling from the ceiling and a blowing wind along the stairs.
Neighbors told of two men who met mysterious deaths; one stomped to death in an upstairs bedroom, the other fatally shot on the stairs. Colston said railroaders told him stories of police raids and chases. One said he saw police back a paddywagon up to the door and load it full of people arrested for gambling. On another occasion police chased a man from one of the upstairs rooms to the nearby rail yard and shot up three train cars getting him out and into custody.
Other strange events have taken place in the old structure over the years. The 1979 flood covered the first floor and when workmen replaced it they discovered human bones and a boot. Could this have been the unfortunate soul killed on the stairs? Could all the strange happenings been his ghost?
Was there a ghost? Could it be that Colston, being a professional photographer has a specter silhouetted on a lost negative in a forgotten drawer? Were there footsteps in the hallway? Did the bells ring? Did the doorknob turn and voices mumble in the night? Or was it just the wind?
After 90 years, our beanery stands today as a modern duplex, renovated and modernized and chic in its new design. Yet if you look closely at the upstairs window on the east side of the balcony, you might imagine Maybelle’s ghost, watching and listening for the thunder and rumble of the Rebel, the clash of switching boxcars and the mournful whistle of an early diesel heading north to the river trestle that still stands behind Laurel Street Park, pulling behind it a time forever gone but being replaced by an innovative neighborhood reinventing itself.
What happened to the ghost? It most likely left on the same train on which it came to join the workers and vagrants and ladies from the second floor streaming to the thousand destinations of their lives to begin again the process of creating the folklore of America.
And speaking of ghosts, our next installment will be on Greenwood Cemetery.
The source of this segment is from the article A beanery in Belhaven by Bill and Nan Harvey, 2012; 2015. Copyright Bill and Nan Harvey, April, 2018
I am sorry I cannot take part in the Laurel Park competition because my Aunt Myrtle in Little Rock had a mild heart attack, and I have to drive her brother—my uncle—up there to take care of the old bat. You just would not believe the ruckus she made over him having to stay at her house, too like Emery could afford a motel, not that he would stay at one. Not over night, I don’t think.
Anyway, I wanted to be there. I had it all worked out, was going to speak on “Grilled Cheeses from Around the World” (croque monsieur, raclette, Welsh rabbit, quesadilla… ) for maybe thirty seconds then segue onto my own recipe, the inevitably prize-winning combination of buttered Bunny Bread and Kraft American singles toasted and sliced.
I hope it’s a blast for everyone. Me I’ll likely be, driving up I-530 listening to Hank Snow cds. Emery said he had an illegitimate daughter in Pine Bluff, but I ain’t stopping for any of that.