Stalking Jezebel

Most recipes named for a person tend to have documented pedigrees; we can trace bananas Foster, Melba toast and chicken tetrazzini to a particular person and chef in a particular restaurant. But Jezebel sauce is an orphan. Jezebel herself was a 9th century BCE Phoenician princess known best as the wife of Ahab, King of Israel, who she converted to the worship of the Lord of the Flies. Her foe Elijah, speaking through the prophet Elisha, brought about her downfall, and it’s because of her idolatry and animosity towards Hebrew prophets (she had a number of them killed) that she is remembered as a voluptuous temptress who led the righteous Ahab astray. While Jezebel’s association with sexual promiscuity is of more recent vintage (e.g. Frankie Laine’s 1951 hit “Jezebel”), it’s usually taken for granted that this cloying reputation led to the naming of this blend of sweet condiments mixed with pungent horseradish. Jezebel sauce is most often served with ham, pork or other meats such as roast beef or smoked turkey, but is sometimes poured over cream cheese for use as a cocktail dip with crackers.

Biblical precedent aside, the sauce’s parenthood is shrouded. In response to a query about Jezebel’s culinary origins, Liz Williams, President and Director of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, said, “You are asking about one of those mysterious things in food. I think that most people agree that Clementine Paddleford’s is the first written reference to the sauce as Jezebel sauce in the mid-1950s. Other than that, I do not know.  Fruit sauces mixed with horseradish existed before, but were not called Jezebel sauce.” The delightfully-named Clementine was an American food writer active from the 1920s through the 1960s, writing for the New York Herald Tribune, the New York Sun, and the New York Telegram, among others. Paddleford’s recipe for Jezebel sauce is in her landmark work, How America Eats (1960), though she may well have written about it elsewhere before then.

Gary Saunders of (“May the Fork Be with You!”) says, “Jezebel sauce is a spicy sauce (like Jezebel herself) that contains pineapple preserves, apple jelly, horseradish, and mustard. The Jezebel sauce (or glaze) is often served over ham. A Southern origin of this dish seems certain, with Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida all putting in claims.” He then cites recipes from the Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard, 26 October 1958, “‘Mrs. Kansas’ Is a Cooking Whiz: Treats from the Sunflower State,” This Week magazine; the Pontiac (IL) Daily Leader, 21 November, 1967; and the Elyria (OH) Chronicle-Telegram. This last source states that the recipe is from Sunny Side Up, “the excellent cookbook published by the Junior League of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.”

More confusingly, Andrea Yeager, in an August, 2005 article in the Biloxi Sun Herald, “On the Trail of Jezebel Sauce”, writes, “Is Jezebel sauce a Mississippi creation? Rodney Simmons of Bell Buckle Country Store in Tennessee wants to know. His company recently began producing Jezebel sauce, and he would like to know the origin of the sauce. He has traced the recipe’s history to the Gulf Coast. “I thought it was Creole or Cajun, but after a recent conversation with Paul Prudhomme, we think that it originated on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, around Gulfport.” (Simmons doesn’t fully recount the conversation.) As a native son proud of his state’s culinary heritage, I’d like to think that Jezebel sauce originated in Mississippi, but I suspect it originated in the Midwest. This Jackson recipe is from the splendid The Southern Hospitality Cookbook by Winifred Greene Cheney, who claims, “Some of this sauce would have made Ahab’s wife a better woman.” I doubt it; Jezebel was a real bitch.

Fidelia’s Jezebel Sauce for Pork

1 (16-ounce) jar of pineapple preserves, 1 (12-ounce) jar apple jelly, 1 (6-ounce) can prepared mustard (I use a brown, jly), 1 (5-ounce) jar horseradish, salt and freshly ground pepper. Blend all ingredients with an electric mixer. This sauce keeps well refrigerated in a sealed container. Yield: 3 cups.


3 Replies to “Stalking Jezebel”

  1. Jesse–this is a small point & makes no difference in your article, but I have a tiny correction for your biblical references. Tho TECHNICALLY, God had already taken him up in the fiery chariot & Elisha was indeed God’s choice as new prophet, it was ELIJAH who tormented the evil Jezebel, & God, speaking through Elijah, foretold that the dogs of the street would lick up, as it were, Jezebel’ s blood, all of which would come true. The newly anointed king Jehu of Judah commanded the eunuchs to throw Jezebel over the wall, & they did. This is an incredible story, found in I and II Kings. Fearful is the wrath of the Lord for the non-repentant! someone should make a movie!

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