Engel on Welty

Jackson native Lehman Engel (1910-82) was a composer and conductor of Broadway musicals, television and film. Engel worked as musical director for the St. Louis Municipal Opera for a number of years before moving to New York to conduct on Broadway. He won 6 Tony Awards, and was nominated for 4 more. Among other works, Engel wrote The American Musical Theatre: A Consideration, the first book to discuss in detail the writing of a Broadway musical, the elements that went into it, and the art of adapting plays into musicals. In his autobiography, This Bright Day, Engel provides an endearing profile of his friendship with Eudora Welty.

It’s strange how people in a small town know each other, speak in passing and not really know one another at all. Although I had met Eudora Welty in Jackson before either of us went away to school, it was not until several years later in New York, when a group of Jacksonians were there each simultaneously pursuing various schoolings, that we had first real contacts. Eudora was at Columbia along with Dolly Wells and Frank Lyell, who had first introduced me to Eudora in the Livingstone Park Lake. I was at Julliard. We changed to meet here and there. I think it was at Norma and Herschell Brickell’s (also from Jackson) where all of us, including Nash Burger, whose father used to play cards with my father, often went.

Each summer all of us went home to swelter, and there the threads grew stronger. There were about five such summers before I began staying on in New York, with work to occupy and to pay me. But at home, Frank, Eudora, Hubert Creekmore, and I used to meet at Eudora’s, and we formed the Night-Blooming Cereus Club, the total membership of which sat up to see the glorious white flower with the yellow feathery center bloom. The morning after, it looked like a swan with a broken neck. Those summers are jumbled together in my memory. During on of them Eudora did some letter-writing for me. Perhaps it was at another time that she took many snapshots. Several of them are among the best any photographer ever took of me. I have one of Eudora, we really invented “camp”, sitting in a tree, a Spanish shawl around her shoulders and on her face an uncharacteristic expression of world-be disdain.

With the passing of time, many things happened to us separately, and we seized every opportunity to communicate and to be together. On my visits to see my family perhaps twice a year—and more often in my parents’ failing days—Eudora was, as she is today, always available whenever it is possible for me to get away from family and family friends. To insure our being together to talk without interruption, she usually picks me up in her car—never a fancy one—and takes me for a ride just anywhere away from everybody else. At her house or mine while my mother was still alive, or at any of my cousins’, Eudora always enjoyed her bourbon and I my scotch.

She has endured a great deal. Her father died many years ago, but her mother lingered in poor health for some years. When finally it became necessary for Eudora to put her in a nursing home in Yazoo City, more than an hour’s drive from Jackson, Eudora drove to see her nearly every day. During those days she developed the habit of starting her work at 5 a.m. so tht she could spend several hours of writing without interruption. She still retains that habit. Very shortly before her mother died, Eudora’s two brothers—both married and each living in his own house—died within days of each other. I have seldom heard her refer to any of this, and what suffering she experienced she kept as her very own.

She is selfless, simple, timid, unworldly, and dedicated to her work. She has had every possible honor and success heaped on her, but nothing has ever changed her lifestyle or her nature. She lives in Jackson—the only place where she feels comfortable—travels when it is necessary only on trains (if possible), and speaks so quietly as to be often in audible. She lives in her parents’ house, which is very nice and devoid of any fanciness. It has two stories made of dark-red-to-purple bricks, and Eudora lives as she prefers—alone. The front yard has large pine trees and the house is surrounded by japonicas (camellias) of all kinds and colors. Behind the house there is a lovely garden containing more camellias and gardenias. The garden is no longer as well manicured as it once was, but I imagine Eudora prefers it that way. Now devoid of family responsibilities, she works consistently and hard. As she prefers never to discuss her work-in-progress, I seldom ask her what she is doing.

If I have given any notion that, like Emily Dickinson, Eudora is a recluse, let me assure you that she is not. She has many old friends, all of whom respect her privacy, and everyone in Jackson is deeply proud of her distinguished achievements.

LEFT: I snapped this picture of Eudora Welty with her camera. Frank Lyell was the Señor; Eudora, the unwitting inventor of camp, was herself above it all. RIGHT: Taken on a summer vacation in Jackson by Eudora Welty. I was about twenty.

Jackson’s Culinary Canon

The culinary literature of any given city (or region) reflects the character of its peoples, and taken altogether, this selection, which I submit as the “best of the best”, shows Jackson as richly cultured, with an enduring commitment to the commonweal. Among its citizens have been talented cooks who were writers of surpassing ability. These books encompass an extraordinary amount of cultural history, contain the highest order of culinary exposition, and taken altogether could work as a syllabus for any tutorial on Southern cooking.

Allison’s Wells: The Last Mississippi Spa
(Muscadine Press: 1981)

In 1981, proprietor Hosford Fontaine—doubtless at the urging of countless friends—published Allison’s Wells: The Last Mississippi Spa. The book is a treasure-trove of history, with profiles of the people who kept the resort functioning as well as other unforgettable characters, musicians and artists such as Till Caldwell, Inez Wallace, Ted Faires, Marie Hull and others. Many of these people contributed to the illustrations, which are augmented by dozens of charming vintage photos including a poignant image of Hosford standing amid the charred ruins. Best of all, The Last Mississippi Spa also includes a sprawling section on recipes for almost anything to put on the table: hors d’oeuvres, soups, salads, dressings, breads, meats, seafood, vegetables, breakfast and brunch dishes, desserts, candy and cookies, all “tried and true” from the La Font kitchens. The book includes a warm and heartfelt Forward by Charlotte Capers and a brief introduction by Eudora Welty.

The Jackson Cookbook
(Hederman Brothers: 1971)

This cookbook could well be held up as an archetype of a Southern ladies’ cookbook; it’s stiff with tradition and understated elegance. Indeed, in a note “About the Cover,” the editors explain that Artist Carl Davis translated Welty’s comments about “the era of the Madeira tea napkin,” into a work of art using an heirloom tea napkin “hand embroidered by Miss Irene Anderson,” with Jackson’s monogram “J”. This note follows a short essay by the Women’s Editor of The Clarion-Ledger, Mary Alice Bookheart, “The Aesthetics of Eating,” which states in part, “This is not necessarily a cookbook of old Jackson recipes. … What (the cookbook committee) has attempted to do in compiling this book is to achieve a happy blend of old and new …” This book also includes some restaurant favorites, such as the “Edwards House (King Edward Hotel) Chicken”. The recipes are simple and use familiar ingredients as well as commercial items, and provide recipes for any occasion, ranging across the menu. The Jackson Cookbook is a wonderful addition to any kitchen library, but what sets it apart, raising it to a level no other cookbook in Mississippi can hope to achieve, is the Forward, “The Flavor of Jackson,” a jewel of exposition by Welty.

 The Southern Hospitality Cookbook
Oxmoor House: 1976

Simply put, Winifred’s The Southern Hospitality Cookbook is not only a groaning board of splendid recipes, but as a whole nothing less than an illuminating documentation of upper-class cooking in the mid-20th century South. The recipes are rich and varied, the ingredients often expensive and times for preparation are usually considerable. Indeed, the most frequent critiques of the book involve how “fussy” the recipes are, many calling for minute amounts of several various ingredients and elaborate stage-by-stage instructions on their preparation. But this is the way Winifred and the women of her class and generation cooked; they had plenty of time on their hands, and more often than not enough money to spend on costly and hard-to-find ingredients. Many of the recipes are true heirlooms from Virginia and the Eastern Seaboard. She also includes recipes from dozens and dozens of friends and neighbors. The Southern Hospitality Cookbook is a milestone in the culinary history of Jackson, but what takes it to a higher level is a short essay by her editor at The National Observer, David W. Hacker (“Savoring Miss Welty’s Wit at a Special Seafood Lunch”) and a preface by Eudora herself (“A Note on the Cook”).

Standing Room Only
Hederman Brothers: 1983

“With Narratives by Eudora Welty and Beth Henley,” announces the marquee on New Stage’s truly superb “Cookbook for Entertaining”. Henley’s short essay on theatre parties is quite fun, and Welty’s “A Note about New Stage” is the definitive article on this beloved Jackson institution. The posters and playbills, along with the accompanying texts, that separate the divisions are also marvelous diversions, but the true stars here are the recipes. This is hands-down my favorite Jackson cookbook because the recipes are sumptuous, clearly presented, and a lot of them are just damned fun. Most of them are written for more than four servings and are captioned with “can double”. Also included are the invaluable sections, “Buying Guide for 50 Guests” and “Setting a Bar for 50 for One Hour”. SRO throws in an herb and wine guide as curtain calls.

Southern Sideboards
Wimmer/JLJ: 1978

The most distinguished cookbook in this selection, and winner of the prestigious Southern Living Hall of Fame Award, Southern Sideboards is THE right cookbook for traditional Southern recipes before the “foodie revolution” of the 1980s. These recipes aren’t designed for health or with an eye to fussy ingredients, so if you’re the type of person who wouldn’t be caught dead in a checkout with a can of Cream of Celery soup, then it’s certainly not for you. But if you’re one of those hide-bound traditionalists who want to know EXACTLY how Granny made that Southern Cornbread DRESSING, then this is your book. Sure, the recipes are often complex and some do take a little time, but you know what? Time and preparation are keys to good cooking and good eating. The game recipes are truly superb, as are the desserts, particularly the cakes. Southern Sideboards is distinguished by a splendid, heartfelt essay by Mississippi native Wyatt Cooper, an author, screenwriter, and actor who is better known as the fourth husband of Vanderbilt heiress and socialite Gloria Vanderbilt and the father of journalist Anderson Cooper.

The Sweet Potato Queens’ Big-Ass Cookbook and Financial Planner
Three Rivers Press: 2003

Despite what you may think, I am not including Jill Conner Browne’s cookbook in this list because I’m afraid that if I didn’t, I’d in the very near future have a magenta sequined bootie up my patootie. No, I honestly think the Big-Ass Cookbook is absolutely fabulous. Not only does it have lots and lots of great—albeit indulgent—recipes, it also has reams of practical advice: “Hormones are serious juju, and if you don’t get them sorted out, you might find that you need money for things like lawyers and bail.” I think it’s Jill’s best book, though I must profess a weakness for cookbooks. Here you’ll find satire without (much) malice or rancor, some of the best writing—flat-out writing—to come out of Mississippi, and humor that’s deliberately  earthy without being crass or (too) coarse. Of course, I’ll never be deemed worthy to sew a single sequin on an SPQ outfit, but I adore them from afar.

Welty’s White Fruitcake

The Jackson Cookbook, first issued by the Symphony League of Jackson in 1971, followed by a well-deserved 30th anniversary issue, features Eudora Welty’s introduction, “The Flavor of Jackson”, a savory dish of Southern culinary exposition.

In the essay, Welty writes: “I make Mrs. Mosal’s White Fruitcake every Christmas, having got it from my mother, who got it from Mrs. Mosal, and I often think to make a friend’s fine recipe is to celebrate her once more,” Welty wrote.

The original recipe in The Jackson Cookbook was submitted by Mrs. Mosal’s daughter, Mrs. D.I. Meredith. In 1980, this expanded version appeared on  a limited edition Christmas card sent out by Albondocani Press, Ampersand Books, and Welty herself.

White Fruitcake

1 1/2 cups butter
2 cups sugar
6 eggs, separated
4 cups flour, sifted before measuring
flour for fruit and nuts
2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1 pound pecan meats (halves, preferably)
1 pound crystallized cherries, half green, half red
1 pound crystallized pineapple, clear
some citron or lemon peel if desired
1 cup bourbon
1 tsp. vanilla
nutmeg if desired

Make the cake several weeks ahead of Christmas if you can. The recipe makes three-medium-sized cakes or one large and one small. Prepare the pans — the sort with a chimney or tube — by greasing them well with Crisco and then lining them carefully with three layers of waxed paper, all greased as well.

Prepare the fruit and nuts ahead. Cut the pineapple in thin slivers and the cherries in half. Break up the pecan meats, reserving a handful or so shapely halves to decorate the tops of the cakes. Put in separate bowls, dusting the fruit and nuts lightly in a sifting of flour, to keep them from clustering together in the batter.

In a very large wide mixing bowl (a salad bowl or even a dishpan will serve) cream the butter very light, then beat in the sugar until all is smooth and creamy. Sift in the flour, with the baking powder and salt added, a little at a time, alternating with the unbeaten egg yolks added one at a time. When all this is creamy, add the floured fruits and nuts, gradually, scattering the lightly into the batter, stirring all the while, and add the bourbon in alteration little by little. Lastly, whip the egg whites into peaks and fold in.

Start the oven now, about 250. Pour the batter into the cake-pans, remembering that they will rise. Decorate the tops with nuts. Bake for three hours or more, until they spring back to the touch and a straw inserted at the center comes out clean and dry. (If the top browns too soon, lay a sheet of foil lightly over.) When done, the cake should be a warm golden color.

When they’ve cooled enough to handle, run a spatula around the sides of each cake, cover the pan with a big plate, turn the pan over and slip the cake out. Cover the cake with another plate and turn rightside up. When cool, the cake can be wrapped in cloth or foil and stored in a tightly fitted tin box. From time to time before Christmas you may improve it with a little more bourbon, dribbled over the top to be absorbed and so ripen the cake before cutting. This cake will keep for a good while, in or out of the refrigerator.

Winifred’s Cookbook

The culinary history of Jackson, Mississippi is filled with colorful characters, including one who exemplifies the genteel aspects of the city in the early decades of the last century.

Winifred Green Cheney was born into a very old Jackson family; originally from Maryland, the Greens moved to Jackson in the early 19th century. Winifred was born in the second family home at 647 North State Street in 1913. She graduated magna cum laude from Millsaps with a bachelor of arts in Latin in 1933, and on October 25, 1934, after a 7-year engagement, she married Reynolds Cheney, who became one of the city’s most prominent attorneys. The couple had three children: Reverend Reynolds S. Cheney II, W. Garner Cheney and Mrs. Patrick (Winifred C.?) Barron.

While Winifred, in almost every respect, was a model for a well-to-do woman of social standing in the mid-century South (active in her church and in social charities, etc.), in another she was not: Winifred was a writer. In the course of her life, she wrote (about cooking, mainly) for such well-known publications as The National Observer, The Rotarian, Southern World and, of course, Southern Living. She published two cookbooks (both by Oxmoor House), Cooking for Company (1985), and the truly wonderful Southern Hospitality Cookbook (1976).

Winifred’s Southern Hospitality Cookbook is not only a treasure-trove of splendid recipes, but as a whole is a tutorial of upper-class cooking in the mid-20th century South. The recipes are rich and varied; the ingredients are often expensive, and the times for preparation are usually considerable. Indeed, one of the most frequent critiques of the book is how complicated, indeed “fussy” the recipes are, many often calling for minute amounts of several various ingredients and elaborate stage-by-stage instructions on their preparation. But this is the way Winifred and the women of her generation cooked; they had plenty of time on their hands, and more often than not enough money to spend on costly and hard-to-find ingredients.

Many of the recipes are heirlooms from Virginia and the Eastern Seaboard, as well as many from “my great-grandmother … from Lone Star Plantation in the Mississippi Delta, written in her fine Spencerian hand.” (“But there were no directions,” Winifred adds. “I found this to be true with most of the old ‘receipts’ in her walnut escritoire papeterie.”) She also includes recipes from dozens and dozens of friends and neighbors: Odel Herbert’s Carrot Casserole, Vivienne Wilson’s Asparagus and Carrot Escallop, Claudia Whitney’s Meat Spaghetti, Zollie Kimbrough’s Shrimp Casserole, Linda Lacefield’s Apricot Stuffing for Duck, Becky Voght’s Caramel Icing; and many, many more.

Winifred’s cookbook is a milestone in the culinary history of Jackson as well as the Middle South, but what takes it to a higher level is a short essay by her editor at The National Observer, David W. Hacker (“Savoring Miss Welty’s Wit at a Special Seafood Lunch”), and a preface by Eudora herself, “A Note on the Cook” in which she writes:

“The original Lady Bountiful was the invention of an Irish dramatist in 1707. Winifred exists as her own version. She makes her rounds with baskets and trays as a simple extension of her natural hospitality.In good weather, but especially in bad, splashing forth in raincoat and tennis shoes, carrying a warm cake straight from her oven, she sympathizes with you or celebrates with you by sharing her table with you.

When Jane Austen’s Miss Bates, attending Mr. Weston’s ball, is seated at the supper, she surveys the table with a cry, ‘How shall we ever recollect half these dishes?’ When I sit down to Sunday dinner at Winifred’s, I feel just like Miss Bates. What guest could not? But it now becomes possible for us to recollect the dishes we’ve dined on there. The cook herself has recollected the recipes for them in her own cookbook. It’s like another extension of Winifred Cheney’s gracious hospitality; she has added another leaf to her table.”

Southern Recipes from The Great American Writer’s Cookbook

“In recent months I have looked forward to the mail with an anticipation and excitement I’ve not felt since, in the summer of 1946 as a ten-year old, I sent off penny postcards from Oxford, Mississippi, to Hollywood, California, and waited anxiously for autographed, black and white glossies of Alan Ladd and Jeanne Crain, Clark Gable and Betty Grable, Cornell Wilde and Yvonne de Carlo, Flicka, and Lassie to be delivered at my front door. The letters I’ve received in the past six months are even better.”

So writes Dean Faulkner Wells in her forward to The Great American Writer’s Cookbook (Yoknapatawpha Press, 1981. Dean Faulkner Wells and her husband Larry collected over 200 recipes sent by 175 writers of novels, short stories, history, commentary, plays, poetry, reportage, columns, and criticism, all among the finest of their generation. Most are predictably far better at writing than cooking, as hinted at in the introductory quote by John Cheever: “The only time I ever go into a kitchen is when I’m being chased out the back door.” The majority of the recipes are serious; exceptions include John McPhee’s “Count Zeppelin Pancakes,” Larry L. King’s “Party Boy’s Midnight Snack Puree,” David Halberstam’s “Cracked Crab à la McNamara,” and Irwin Shaw’s Italian Delight.”

“Many of the writers who sent recipes questioned the title,” Dean wrote, “advising me to change it to The American Writers’ Great Cookbook, or The Minor Regional American Writers’ Cookbook, or even concluding, ‘I heard that there once was a Great American Writer, but he died.’ She adds that the book is “in a small way a tribute to the men and women who have given me, in their distinguished work over the years, so many hours of pleasure and edification.”

In his introduction, Craig Claiborne writes that when attending a party of glittering literati in the Hamptons, he was astounded to find William Styron staring at him and pouting.

“You,” he said accusingly, “are the one critic who hurt me most.” I frowned. Me? A literary critic. He must be thinking of another man with my name. “You,” he continued, “criticized my recipe for fried chicken.” I laughed when he recounted the basis for my alleged attack.

 It seems that some years ago there was published a book called The Artists and Writers Cook Book, and in it was his recipe for southern fried chicken. I should have learned long ago that there is nothing that can come nearer to creating lifelong enmity, if not to say bloodshed and worse violence, than one Southerner criticizing another Southerner’s fried chicken. Bill, of course, is from Virginia and I from Mississippi. It seems that the crux for my attack was that he had recommended cooking that chicken in bacon fat in lieu of lard blended with butter which my mother used and a technique which I in my turn borrowed. He also said, as I recall, that frozen chicken might be used. And that, I found unpardonable. In any event, before the evening which included a pitcher of martinis, we had a fine old time swapping recipes for grits and corn pones and hushpuppies.

Here’s a selection of recipes from Southern writers.

Barry Hannah: Three Bean Soup

This is a recipe that I learned from my aunts when I was little. It’s plain, staple food that can feed a big gang of people-friends, lovers, kids, relatives, everybody! I call it “Three Bean Soup.”

You start with three kinds of beans: kidney, white (navy) and black- eyed peas. Take a big-real big-pot of water, dump ’em in, and add some shredded onions. Sauté either pork or beef, cut up in little chunks, and dump it in. Bring it to a boil. Add salt mixed with pepper, to taste. Turn up the heat and bring it up again. Add water if needed; dump in a small bag of rice, and bring it up. Boil until it thickens. For extra seasoning, I sometimes add some crab-boil, Tabasco, or whatever’s handy on the shelf. Serve it with French bread and butter. It’s all the nutrition you can stand.

Shelby Foote: Viennese Boiled Beer

This is a two-step recipe, long-drawn-out but easy all the way. What’s more the result is well worth the trouble, for what you get is nothing less, I think-though I may be genetically prejudiced; one of my grandfathers came to Mississippi from Vienna-than the best main dish in all the world.

Step One, ingredients:
3 lbs. chicken parts, preferably
backs and wings.
1 veal knuckle.
5 large carrots, sliced.
2 medium turnips, quartered. 6 sprigs parsley.
2 bay leaves.
3 large onions, quartered.
8 stalks celery, sliced.
10 whole peppercorns. 6 whole allspice. 2 T. salt.

Place the above in an 8- or 10-quart stock pot. Add 5 quarts water; cover and bring to a boil, then reduce to a winking simmer for three hours, skimming and degreasing if necessary. Strain into another pot and keep the resultant four quarts of stock hot on the back of the stove for use in Step Two.

Step Two, ingredients:
5 lbs. boned beef brisket, whole and well-layered with fat. 18 small white onions, peeled.
12 small carrots, trimmed. 12 small potatoes, peeled. 6 wedges young cabbage.
Place brisket in stock pot, pour in hot broth from Step One; let simmer gently, covered, for three hours. Then add onions and carrots; let simmer another half hour, while potatoes and cabbage wedges are boiling in separate uncovered pots of salted water.

Serving: Remove brisket to a large well-and-tree platter; arrange vegetables around it and ladle stock generously over all. At table, carve brisket into medium thin slices; serve each plate with two slices of the beef and a fair portion of the vegetables, spooning more stock from the platter. Have handy a bowl of coarse salt, a pepper mill, and plenty of good cold beer. The best accompanying condiments are Dijon mustard, applesauce, and sour cream laced with horseradish. Serves six hearty eaters, most of whom will come back for seconds- and some for thirds. Leftover broth makes an excellent soup for future meals or will serve as the basic stock for preparing sauces.

Borden Deal: Southern Fried Chicken Like It Ought to Be . . . Along with ‘Erbal ‘Ushpuppies

This recipe is not an “old family favorite,” but an invention of my latter-day bachelor status.

Most Southern Fried Chicken you will encounter is not the delicate dish it’s cracked up to be. The culprit, as a usual thing, is the heavy, wet batter applied to the bird so thickly that’s all you can taste. It was precisely my dissatisfaction with “the old family favorite” that led to my creation of the following recipe:
First, dismember your bird: I do it in the country style, removing the wishbone intact, separating thigh from drumstick, trimming off the rear- ward tallow along with the pope’s nose, and surgically removing the neck (all of which I save for homemade soup). Rub the parts with a crushed clove of garlic.
Second, measure out nine tablespoonfuls of corn meal, (preferably stone ground), add three tablespoonfuls of plain flour (for the sole pur- pose of persuading the corn meal to stick better), then sprinkle a modi- cum of salt, two or three teaspoons of crushed fines herbes, a judicious measure of decent paprika to taste, and mix well.

Roll the chicken parts in the dry mixture and drop into a skillet half- filled with simmering corn oil. (You will need two large skillets). Save out the liver and gizzard for later insertion.
It is essential, for achieving the proper golden texture, to cover the skillets for five minutes; turn the chicken, cover for a second five minutes; then allow the chicken to finish cooking uncovered.

As soon as the chicken is underway, add the proper amount of milk and baking powder commensurate with the amount of left-over corn meal (you may also wish to add a bit more fines herbes also), and with your very own hands (a utensil will not do) mix the resultant mess into a firm batter. After flouring your hands, roll out between your palms the ‘erbal ‘ush- puppies in small balls about the size of a large marble. You should have about ten or so when you are done.

When you have turned the chicken pieces and are ready to cover them for the second time, drop the ‘erbal ‘ushpuppies in and around the chicken parts… along with the liver and the gizzard. This should bring them off at approximately the same time as the chicken.
(The traditional hushpuppy is “spoon dropped” into the cooking oil, but that’s hard to do along with the frying chicken. You can cook them separately, but your ‘erbal ‘ushpuppies won’t then pick up flavor from the meat).

Be sure to turn the ‘erbal ‘ushpuppies with a spoon from time to time so they will rise and cook evenly. When they, along with the chicken, are crisp and golden, serve piping hot (with a Scottish bagpiper, if your amenities extend so far) and you have the perfect one-dish meal: South- ern Fried Chicken Like It Ought To Be, with my special creation, ‘erbal ‘ushpuppies.

And it’s just as good cold the next day.

Harry Crews: Snake Steak

Take one diamondback rattle snake.

(Fifteen feet of garden hose, a little gasoline in a capped jar, a croker sack, and a long stick will be all you’ll need to take the snake. On a cold day, 32 degrees or colder, find the hole of a gopher-the Southerner’s name for a land tortoise. Run the hose down the hole until it is all the way to the bottom. Pour a teaspoon of gasoline into the hose. Cover the end of the hose with your mouth and blow. Shortly, the rattlesnake will wander out of the hole. Put the stick in the middle of his body, pick him up, and drop him in the sack. On the way home, don’t sling the sack over your shoulder, and generally try not to get struck through the cloth.)

Gut and skin the snake. No particular skill is needed for either job. Cut off the head six inches behind the eyes. Cut off the tail 12 inches above the last rattle. Rip him open along the stomach and take out everything you see. Peel him like a banana using a pair of pliers as you would to skin a catfish. Cut the snake into one inch steaks. Soak in vinegar for ten minutes. Drain and dry. Sprinkle with hot sauce, any of the brands out of New Iberia, Louisiana. Roll in flour and deep fry, being careful not to overcook. Salt to taste and serve with whatever you ordinarily eat with light, delicate meat.

Figure one snake per guest. Always better to have too much than too little when you’re eating something good.

Hodding Carter: Betty Carter’s Barbecued Shrimp

Hodding was the cook in our family at Feliciana—he and Phalange Word. Phalange would cook-and serve a perfect dinner for ten and leave just before the guests. When they had all gone Hodding would go into the kitchen, open the refrigerator door, look at the dabs of left overs so recently put away and announce mournfully that here was all this good food going to waste. Then, getting out a gumbo pot, he would fill it with whatever he saw, seasoning it as he went and thus creating one of Daddy’s Incredible Ice Box Soups. No recipe ever written down, no two ever alike. (I ate one I had taken out of the deep freeze while he was sail- ing to La Coruña. It was almost cannibalistic of me, it tasted so much like him!)

My forte is easy easies served informally and the best of these is Bar- becued Shrimp, served right from the baking pan with French bread. A green salad and beer and/or coffee and perhaps apple pie for dessert (someone else can make that!)-the smallest possible time investment. But Good!

5 lbs. headless raw shrimp, unpeeled, frozen or fresh, any size from medium on up.
1 pound of oleo (not butter, which burns)
Black pepper-have a fresh can ready
2 teaspoons garlic salt

Thaw the shrimp, if frozen; drain off excess water, spread in two layers in baking pan. Melt the oleo and pour it over the shrimp. Pick up your can of pepper and start shaking it over the shrimp, blanketing the whole sur- face so the shrimp disappear. Then do it again. Sprinkle the garlic salt over the surface. (The trick is to use more pepper than you think you should.)

Bake in 350 degrees about 25 minutes. At end of 15 minutes take a long spoon and turn the shrimp so those on top are on the bottom. Peel and sample one shrimp. Judge whether to cook another five minutes or ten.

Required is a heavy trivet to protect the table from the oven heat of the pan—I use a baking pan a bit larger than a 3-quart pyrex.

When done, take the baking pan directly to the center of the table where the guests will be seated. The diners serve their plates with a spoon, then tear off hunks of French bread and dunk in the liquid in the pan, repeating as their appetite suggests and as long as the sauce remains.

Serves six without trepidation on the hostess’ part, seven adequately and eight perhaps.

Reynolds Price: Pimento Cheese

I’ve failed in a long effort to trace the origins of pimento cheese, but it was the peanut butter of my childhood-homemade by Mother. I suspect it’s a Southern invention (I’ve seldom met a non-Southerner who knew what it was, though they take to it on contact); in any case, prepared ver- sions can be bought to this day in Southern supermarkets-most of them made apparently from congealed insecticides. Last year, once I’d ac- quired a Cuisinart, I rebelled and tried to reconstruct Mother’s recipe. I’ve made a change or two, in the interest of midlife zest; but I think any child of the thirties and forties (from, say, Baltimore down) will recall the glory and bless my name.

Grate a pound or more of extra sharp cheddar cheese. Chop coarsely one jar of pimentos (four ounces, more if you like) with one or two cloves of garlic. Mix into the grated cheese with plenty of freshly ground pepper and a minimum of salt; then gradually add enough homemade mayonnaise (maybe three tablespoons) to form a stiff chunky paste. Sometimes I add a little lemon juice or a very little wine vinegar or Tabasco-nothing to disguise the bare cheese and peppers and good mayonnaise. I’ve been caught eating a pound in two days (though it keeps well), especially if life is hard. On rough brown bread, it’s a sovereign nerve-salve.

James J. Kilpatrick: Black-Eyed Peas and Stewed Tomatoes

Go into the pea patch about 4 o’clock of an August afternoon, and pick half a peck of black-eyed peas and two or three ripe tomatoes. Then repair to the verandah (or deck, or porch as the case may be) and sit in the shade sipping some Tennessee whisky.

The pea pods should be about as long as a fresh copy pencil, fully packed but not turned brown. Using your thumbnail, gouge each precious pearl from its velvet case. When you are done, put the peas on to simmer. Throw in a nice hunk of ham hock or a couple of pieces of bacon. After the peas have simmered for an hour or so, quarter the tomatoes and toss them in. Salt and pepper. A couple of licks of Tabasco will im- prove the batch. Under no circumstances whatever is sugar permitted. A small onion, finely diced, is allowed.

When it gets too dark to see the label on the whisky, remove pot from stove and serve the delectable mess over hot cornsticks. Serves one.

Roy Blount, Jr.: Garlic Grits and A Song to Grits

I have cooked a few things, but I don’t remember how I did any of them. This recipe means something to me, though, because I got it from Maureen Dees, of Mathews, Alabama, who served me and her then-hus- band Morris some of it in their house, which once had a cross burned outside it. I always wanted to eat grits in a house that had had a cross burned outside it.

1⁄2 cup milk
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup quick cooking grits 1⁄2 cup margarine
2 eggs beaten
23 package garlic cheese, finely diced
2 to 3 cups cornflakes crushed 1⁄2 cup melted butter
1/2

Combine 1⁄2 cup boiling water with milk, salt, grits, margarine, eggs and half the cheese in casserole dish. Stir over low heat until cheese melts. Top with cornflakes. Pour butter over cornflakes. Sprinkle with re- maining cheese. Cook in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Yields six servings.

In between bites, sing stanzas of my poem about grits, called “Grits Poem,” or, “A Song to Grits.”

When my mind’s unsettled, When I don’t feel spruce, When my nerves get frazzled, When my flesh gets loose-
What knits
Me back together’s grits.
Grits with gravy,
Grits with cheese.
Grits with bacon,
Grits with peas.
Grits with ham,
Grits with a minimum Of two over-medium
Eggs mixed in ’em: um!
Grits, grits, it’s
Grits I sing-
Grits fits
In with anything.
Grits
Sits
Right.
Rich and poor, black and white, Lutheran and Campbellite,
Jews and Southern Jesuits, All acknowledge buttered grits.
Give me two hands, give me my wits, Give me 40 pounds of grits.
True grits,
More grits,
Fish, grits and collards.
Life is good where grits are swallered. GRITS!

Scottie Fitzgerald Smith: Bloody Bull

Everybody has heard of a Bloody Mary or a Bloody Shame (without vodka), and many have heard of a Bullshot (bouillon with vodka), but better than either on a hot summer holiday, when you can take a nap after lunch, is a cross between them known as a Bloody Bull.

My father and Hemingway are alleged to have invented the Bloody Bull while arguing about a Faulkner novel in the Ritz Bar after Hemingway’s return from Pamplona. My father thought that Mr. Faulkner was one of the greatest writers who ever lived, and it would have been quite characteristic of him to have defended this position while horizontal, if necessary.

1 large can V-8 juice
2 cans bouillon
Juice of 4 lemons
Lemon pepper
Worcestershire sauce Tabasco Celery salt
Stalk of celery
Mix all these, stir vigorously, add vodka, and pour over cracked ice. The celery stalk is not necessary but adds a touch of elegance.

David Donald: Date Loaf

One of my favorite recipes, which my mother gave me and which in turn her mother gave her, is for a Date Loaf.
Here are the ingredients:

3 cups white sugar
1⁄2 pound package of dates
1 cup of chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts)
1 cup sweet milk
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring 2 tablespoons butter.

Boil the sugar, butter, and milk until a soft ball is formed when dropped in cold water. Turn off the heat and add dates and nuts, then cook slowly, stirring all the time until the dates have completely cooked to pieces. Take off the heat, add vanilla, and stir until a little of the mixture will not stick when dropped on a damp cloth (or waxed paper). Pour in rolls (i.e., like a long, thin loaf) on two damp cloths. Roll up the cloths, let cool, and slice with a sharp knife.

The result is a wonderful, rich, and very, very filling dessert. About two small slices will hold the most ravenous adolescent for a whole afternoon.

Elizabeth Spencer: Golden Dream

This is my grandmother Elizabeth Young McCain’s recipe for Golden Dream, which was my favorite dessert when I was a child, and still is! Beat the yolks of 4 eggs slightly and add 1⁄2 cup sugar, the juice of one orange. Grate rind of 4 of it, also juice of one lemon. Cook in a double boiler until thick, then beat in the whites of the eggs beaten stiff. Cook a couple of minutes and if desired two teaspoonfuls of dissolved gelatine may be added and the whole poured into a mould. Chill till firm and serve with whipped cream.

You can also pour it into individual molds, of course.

Turner Catledge: Pork Balls Prytania

Tidbits named for the house on Prytania Street in New Orleans where many have been cooked and enjoyed tidbits between many drinks, where they fit in best.

1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1pound hot sausage
3 cups Bisquick

Mix all ingredients, roll into bite-size balls, place on cookie sheet. Bake for 12 minutes in an oven heated to 350 degrees. Uncooked balls can be stored in deep freezer and heated when needed.

Eudora Welty: Charles Dickens’s Eggnog

This is the eggnog we always started Christmas Day off with. I have the recipe my mother used, though she always referred to it as “Charles Dickens’s Recipe.”

6 egg yolks, well beaten
3 Tbs. powdered sugar, sifted 1 cup Bourbon
1 pt. whipped cream
6 egg whites, whipped into peaks but not dry
nutmeg if desired

Add the powdered sugar gradually to the beaten egg yolks. Add the Bourbon a little at a time to the mixture. Add the whipped cream and the beaten egg whites, folding gently in. Chill. Serve in silver cups with a little grated nutmeg on top if desired.

writers-cookbook-blog

Faulkner and Welty for Children

What compels great writers to write for children? For whatever reason, many do, and some titles are familiar: C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, and T.S. Eliot wrote Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, a childhood favorite of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

More obscure are Joyce’s, The Cat and the Devil, Twain’s, Advice to Little Girls, Woolf’s, The Widow and the Parrot, Mary Shelley’s The Fisher’s Cot, and then we have these little-known children’s books by two of Mississippi’s brightest literary lights; Welty’s The Shoe Bird and Faulkner’s The Wishing Tree.

In 1927, Faulkner gave the story that was to become The Wishing Tree to Victoria “Cho-Cho” Franklin, the daughter of his childhood sweetheart, Estelle Oldham. Faulkner was still infatuated with Estelle and had hopes of her leaving her current husband and marrying him, which she did in 1929. Faulkner typed the book on colored paper, bound it himself and included a lyrical dedication:

        

 

                            To Victoria

     ‘. . . . . . . I have seen music, heard
Grave and windless bells; mine air
     Hath verities of vernal leaf and bird.

     Ah, let this fade: it doth and must; nor grieve,
   Dream ever, though; she ever young and fair.’

But Faulkner made copies for three other children as well, and when Victoria tried to publish the book decades later, copyright had to be worked out between the four. In 1964, Faulkner’s granddaughter Victoria, Cho-Cho’s daughter, got Random House to publish a limited edition of 500 numbered copies, featuring black-and-white illustrations by artist Don Bolognese.

The Wishing Tree is a grimly whimsical morality tale, somewhere between Alice In Wonderland and To Kill a Mockingbird. Dulcie, a young girl, wakes on her birthday to find a mysterious red-haired boy in her room who whisks her, the other children, the maid Alice, and a 92-year old man through a “soft wisteria scented mist” to find the Wishing Tree. They wish, and they unwish, and at the end they meet St. Francis who gives them each a bird–a little winged thought.  The Wishing Tree is about the importance of choosing one’s wishes with consideration. “If you are kind to helpless things, you don’t need a Wishing Tree to make things come true.”

On April 8, 1967, a version of the story appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. Three days later, Random House released a regular edition, which went through three printings that year alone and no more. The book is now regarded as a literary curio from the man who put an Ole Miss coed in a cathouse in Memphis.

Eudora Welty finished what was to become The Shoe Bird in 1963 under the working title Pepe to fulfill a contractual obligation to Harcourt Brace—and to put a new roof on her house. She sent the final draft to Diarmund Russell in March, and he was enthusiastic: “totally charming—something all ages can read.” Eudora readied what was now entitled The Shoe Bird for publication in early 1964 with illustrations by Beth Krush, dedicating it to Bill and Emmy Maxwell’s daughters, Kate and Brookie.

The Shoe Bird is Arturo, a parrot who works in The Friendly Shoe Store “in a shopping center in the middle of the U.S.A.,” helping Mr. Friendly greet customers and bringing him a match for his end-of-the-day pipe. Arturo’s motto is: If you hear it, tell it. One day, a little boy who was leaving the store said, “Shoes are for the birds!” and after the store had closed Arturo, true to his motto, repeats the phrase and all the birds in the world—including a dodo and a phoenix—gather at the shoe store to be fitted for shoes. The Shoe Bird is a nice little story with lots of puns, but it’s heavy-handed with the moral of speaking for oneself instead of just repeating what others say.

Reviews in adult publications were “cordial but restrained,” while reception among children’s literature commentators was either negative or—as in the case of the influential Horn Book, nonexistent. Kirkus Reviews described the novel as uneventful and concludes: “the overly wordy result is so obscure that readers are likely to want to leave dictionaries as well as shoes to the birds.” An orchestral ballet was composed by Welty’s friend Lehman Engel and performed by the Jackson Ballet Guild in 1968. A 2002 choral piece was also commissioned by the Mississippi Boy Choir and composed by Samuel Jones.

As to what compels a writer to write for children, can it ever be as simple as to win over a childhood sweetheart or to roof a house? It’s never that simple, and never that easy.

Aunt Beck’s Chicken Pie

Beck Beecham brought this pie to Granny Vaughn’s 90th birthday gathering ‘specially for her nephew, Jack, who’d escaped from Parchman to be at the celebration. Welty claims it’s a Methodist dish.

1 young chicken (about 4 lbs.)
6 small white onions
2 ounces bacon, cut in small cubes
2 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
3 hard-cooked eggs, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
Pastry to cover a 9-inch pie

Boil the chicken in highly seasoned water and allow to cool in its broth. Separate the meat from skin and bones, leaving the chicken in large pieces. Boil the onions in salted water until tender, but not mushy, and drain.

Fry the bacon until tender, without browning; remove from frying pan and set aside. In the remaining fat, cook the flour over very low heat for 3 minutes, then gradually stir in 21/2 cups of the broth in which the chicken was cooked. Add parsley, celery, salt and pepper, simmer for 6 minutes.

Put half the quantity of bacon, half the chicken pieces, half the quantity of onions and half the quantity of eggs in the baking dish. Lay on the remaining pieces of chicken, add the rest of the other ingredients and pour the sauce over all.

Cover with rich pie pastry, pressing down the edges with a fork. Brush with milk and make several slashes for the steam to escape. Bake in a hot oven (450° F) for 15 minutes, reduce heat to moderate (350° F) and bake 30 minutes longer. Serve at once with succotash. Serves 6.

Welty, the WPA, and Mississippi Food

This text is from a pamphlet that Eudora Welty wrote for and was distributed by the Mississippi Advertising Commission in 1936. Bearing that in mind, the simplicity of the recipes and the appeal to “Old South” sensibilities are better understood. This essay was selected by the Federal Writers’ Project only a short time before the publication of A Curtain of Green in 1941, a work that established Welty as a leading light in American letters, a position she still holds.

Stark Young, in his book Feliciana, tells how a proud and lovely Southern lady, famous for her dinner table and for her closely guarded recipes, temporarily forgot how a certain dish was prepared. She asked her Creole cook, whom she herself had taught, for the recipe. The cook wouldn’t give it back. Still highly revered, recipes in the South are no longer quite so literally guarded. Generosity has touched the art of cooking, and now and then, it is said, a Southern lady will give another Southern lady her favorite recipe and even include all the ingredients, down to that magical little touch that makes all the difference. In the following recipes, gleaned from ante-bellum homes in various parts of Mississippi, nothing is held back. That is guaranteed. Yankees are welcome to make these dishes. Follow the directions and success is assured.

Port Gibson, Mississippi, which General Grant on one occasion declared was “too beautiful to burn,” is the source of a group of noble old recipes. “Too beautiful to burn” by far are the jellied apples which Mrs. Herschel D. Brownlee makes and the recipe for which she parts with as follows:

JELLIED APPLES

Pare and core one dozen apples of a variety which will jell successfully. Winesap and Jonathan are both good. To each dozen apples moisten well two and one-half cups of sugar. Allow this to boil for about five minutes. Then immerse apples in this syrup, allowing plenty of room about each apple. Add the juice of one-half lemon, cover closely, and allow to cook slowly until apples appear somewhat clear. Close watching and frequent turning is necessary to prevent them from falling apart. Remove from stove and fill centers with a mixture of chopped raisins, pecans, and crystallized ginger, the latter adding very much to the flavor of the finished dish. Sprinkle each apple with granulated sugar and baste several times with the thickening syrup, then place in a 350-degree oven to glaze without cover on vessel. Baste several times during this last process.

Mrs. Brownlee stuffs eggs with spinach and serves with a special sauce, the effect of which is amazingly good. Here is the secret revealed:

STUFFED EGGS

12 eggs
1 lb. can of spinach or equal amount of fresh spinach
1 small onion, cut fine
salt and pepper to taste
juice of 1 lemon or ½ cup vinegar
½ cup melted butter or oil
1 large can mushroom soup.

Boil eggs hard, peel, and cut lengthwise. Mash yolks fine. Add butter, seasoning, and spinach. Stuff each half egg, press together, and pour over them mushroom soup thickened with cornstarch, and chopped pimento for color.

Last of all, Mrs. Brownlee gives us this old recipe for lye hominy, which will awaken many a fond memory in the hearts of expatriate Southerners living far, far away.

LYE HOMINY

1 gallon shelled corn
12 quart oak ashes salt to taste
Boil corn about three hours, or until the husk comes off, with oak ashes which must be tied in a bag—a small sugar sack will answer. Then wash in three waters. Cook a second time about four hours, or until tender. -An all day job: adds Mrs. Brownlee.

One of the things Southerners do on plantations is give big barbecues. For miles around, “Alinda Gables,” a plantation in the Delta near Greenwood, is right well spoken of for its barbecued chicken and spare ribs. Mr. and Mrs. Allen Hobbs, of “Alinda Gables,” here tells you what to do with every three-pound chicken you mean to barbecue:

BARBECUE SAUCE

1 pint Wesson oil
2 pounds butter
5 bottles barbecue sauce (12 ounce bottles)
1/2 pint vinegar
1 cup lemon juice
2 bottles tomato catsup (14 ounce bottles)
1 bottle Worcestershire sauce (10 ounce bottles)
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
2 buttons garlic, chopped fine salt and pepper to taste
This will barbecue eight chickens weighing from 242 to 3 pounds. In barbecuing, says Mrs. Hobbs, keep a slow fire and have live coals to add during the process of cooking, which takes about two hours. The secret lies in the slow cooking and the constant mopping of the meat with the sauce. Keep the chickens wet at all times and turn often. If hotter sauce is desired, add red pepper and more Tabasco sauce.

Mrs. James Milton Acker, whose home, “The Magnolias,” in north Mississippi is equally famous for barbecue parties under the magnificent magnolia trees on the lawn, gives a recipe which is simpler and equally delightful: • Heat together: 4 ounces vinegar, 14 ounces catsup, 3 ounces Worcestershire sauce, the juice of 1 lemon, 2 tablespoons salt, red and black pepper to taste, and 4 ounces butter. Baste the meat constantly while cooking.

Pass Christian, Mississippi, an ancient resort where the most brilliant society of the eighteenth century used to gather during the season, is awakened each morning by the familiar cry, “Oyster ma-an from Pass Christi-a-an!” It would take everything the oyster man had to prepare this seafood gumbo as the chef at Inn-by-the-Sea, Pass Christian, orders it:

SEAFOOD GUMBO

2 quarts okra, sliced
large green peppers
1 large stalk celery
6 medium sized onions
1 bunch parsley
½ quart diced ham
2 cans #2 tomatoes
2 cans tomato paste
3 pounds cleaned shrimp
2 dozen hard crabs, cleaned and broken into bits
100 oysters and juice
½ cup bacon drippings
1 cup flour small bundle of bay leaf and thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Lea & Perrins Sauce
1 gallon chicken or ham stock
Put ham in pot and smother until done. Then add sliced okra, and also celery, peppers, onions, and parsley all ground together. Cover and cook until well done. Then add tomatoes and tomato paste. Next put in the shrimp, crabs, crab meat and oysters. Make brown roux of bacon dripping and flour and add to the above. Add the soup stock, and throw into pot bay leaves and thyme, salt and pepper, and Lea & Perrins Sauce. This makes three gallons of gumbo. Add one tablespoon of steamed rice to each serving.

The chef at Inn-by-the-Sea fries his chickens deliciously too. He uses pound or pound-and-a-half size fowls. Dressed and drawn, they are cut into halves and dipped into batter made of one egg slightly beaten to which one cup of sweet milk has been added, as well as salt and pepper. The halves of chicken are dipped and thoroughly wetted in the batter and then dredged well in dry, plain flour. The chef fries the chicken in deep hot fat until they are well done and a golden brown. He says be careful not to fry too fast.

Two other seafood recipes from the Mississippi Coast come out of Biloxi, that cosmopolitan city that began back in 1669, and where even today the European custom of blessing the fleet at the opening of the shrimp season is ceremoniously observed. “Fish court bouillon” is a magical name on the Coast, it is spoken in soft voice by the diner, the waiter, and the chef alike; its recipe should be accorded the highest respect; it should be made up to the letter, and without delay:

FISH COURT BOUILLON

5 or 6 onions
1 bunch parsley
2 or 4 pieces celery
4 pieces garlic
6 small cans tomatoes
1 or 2 bay leaves hot peppers to taste
Cut up fine, fry brown, and let simmer for about an hour, slowly. Prepare the fish, and put into the gravy. Do not stir. Cook until fish is done. This will serve 8 to 10 people; for 10 or more double the ingredients. To prepare fish, fry without cornmeal, and put in a plate or pan. Pour a portion of the gravy over it, and let it set for a while. Just before serving, pour the rest of the hot gravy over the fish.

Another valuable Coast recipe which comes from Biloxi is that for Okra Gumbo.

OKRA GUMBO

2 or 3 onions
½ bunch parsley
5 or 6 pieces celery
1 small piece garlic
4 cans of okra, or a dozen fresh pieces
1 can tomatoes
1 pound veal stew, or 1 slice raw ham
Cut all ingredients in small pieces and fry brown. Let simmer for a while. If shrimp are desired, pick and par-boil them and add to the ingredients the shrimp and the water in which they were boiled. If oysters or crab meat is desired, add to gumbo about twenty minutes before done. Add as much water as desired.

Aberdeen, Mississippi, is a good Southern town to find recipes. Old plantations along the Tombigbee River centered their social life in Aberdeen as far back as the 1840’s, and some of the recipes that were used in those days are still being made up in this part of the country.

Mrs. C. L. Lubb, of Aberdeen, uses this recipe for beaten biscuit:

BEATEN BISCUIT

4 cups flour, measured before sifting 3/4 cup lard 1 teaspoon salt 4 teaspoons sugar enough ice water and milk to make a stiff dough (about Y2 cup). Break 150 times until the dough pops. Roll out and cut, and prick with a fork. Bake in a 400-degree oven. When biscuits are a light brown, turn off the heat and leave them in the oven with the door open until they sink well, to make them done in the middle.

Mrs. Bicknell T. Eubanks, also of Aberdeen, prepares Spanish rice this way.

SPANISH RICE

4 tablespoons oil
1 cup rice
1 onion, sliced
1 green pepper, chopped
1 quart canned tomatoes
2 teaspoons salt, a little less than ½ teaspoon pepper
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large frying pan and add rice. Cook until brown, stirring constantly. Cook remaining 2 tablespoons oil with onion and green pepper until the onion is yellow and tender. Combine with rice. Add tomatoes and let it simmer until the rice is tender, stirring constantly. Add a little hot tomato juice if the rice seems dry. Add seasonings. Serves 6.

Vicksburg, in the old steamboat days Mississippi’s wicked, wide-open town, lived high with all the trimmings. Perched on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi, it is famous still for its excellent catfish. The disarmingly simple recipe for preparing it is here given: Take a catfish weighing 12 pound. Season well with salt and pepper, and roll in cornmeal. Use a pot of deep fat with temperature of 360 degrees. Place the fish in the pot and fry until done. Serve very hot.

To go along with the fish, the Hotel Vicksburg serves a wickedly hot potato salad, prepared as follows:

1 quart sliced potatoes (cooked)
6 pieces chopped crisp bacon
3 chopped hard boiled eggs
1 minced large green pepper
2 minced pimentos
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
salt and pepper to taste
Mix and serve with quartered tomatoes, sliced dill pickles, mixed sweet pickles, and quartered onions.

A collection of recipes from the Old South is no more complete than the Old South itself without that magic ingredient, the mint julep. In the fine old city of Columbus, in the northeastern part of the state, hospitality for many years is said to have reached its height in “Whitehall,” the home of Mr. and Mrs. T. C. Billups. “The drink is refreshing,” says Mrs. Billups, needlessly enough, “and carries with it all the charm of the Old South when life was less strenuous than it is today; when brave men and beautiful women loved and laughed and danced the hours away, but in their serious moments, which were many, aspired to develop minds and souls that made them among the finest people this old world has known.” The “Whitehall” recipe is as follows:

MINT JULEP

Have silver goblet thoroughly chilled. Take half lump sugar and dissolve in tablespoon water. Take single leaf mint and bruise it between fingers, dropping it into dissolved sugar. Strain after stirring. Fill the goblet with crushed ice, to capacity. Pour in all the bourbon whiskey the goblet will hold. Put a sprig of mint in the top of the goblet, for bouquet. Let goblet stand until FROSTED. Serve rapidly.

Who could ask for anything more?

Frank Hains

On July 15, 1975, Jackson was stunned by the brutal murder of a man whose cultural contributions to the city still reverberate.

Frank Woodruff Hains, Jr. was born July 7, 1926 in Wood County, West Virginia. After graduating from Marietta College in Ohio and serving two years in the military, Hains began a radio career that took him to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where he became active in both the Vicksburg Little Theater and the Jackson Little Theater.

A few years later he moved to Jackson, beginning his twenty-year career with the Jackson Daily News as literary critic and champion of the arts. He remained active in the Jackson Little Theater and was one of the founders of New Stage Theater in 1966.

In addition to his position at the Jackson Daily News, through his work as actor, director, and set designer for the local theaters as well as his contributions to the New York Times, Hains helped high schools and colleges in the area with their productions. In 1958 he received the National Pop Wagner Award for work with young people, and in 1970 the Mississippi Authority for Educational Television presented him with its Distinguished Public Service Award.

Hains was savagely beaten to death with a crowbar by a drifter from Indiana who had come to work in a blood bank near the offices of The Jackson Daily News and The Clarion Ledger. Two weeks later, this memorial written by his close friend Eudora Welty appeared in the combined Sunday Clarion-Ledger and Jackson Daily News (27 July 1975):

IN MEMORIUM

For all his years with us, Frank Hains wrote on the arts with perception and clarity, with wit and force of mind. And that mind was first-rate — informed, uncommonly quick and sensitive, keenly responsive. But Frank did more than write well on the arts. He cared. And he worked, worked, worked for their furtherance in this city and state. He was a doer and a maker and a giver. Talented and versatile to a rare degree, he lived with the arts, in their thick.

So it was by his own nature as a man as well as in the whole intent of his work that he was a positive critic, and never a defeating one. The professional standards he set for art, and kept, himself, as a critic, were impeccable and even austere. At the same time he was the kindest, most chivalrous defender of the amateur. And it was not only the amateurs — it was not artists at all — who knew this well: his busy life, as he went about his work and its throng of attendant interests, was made up of thousands of unrecorded kindnesses.

I speak as one working in the arts — and only one, of a very great number indeed — who came to know at first hand, and well, what ever-present perception and insight, warmth of sympathy, and care for the true meaning, Frank in his own work brought to a work of theirs. The many things he has done in behalf of my own books I wouldn’t be able to even count; his dramatic productions of my stories are among the proudest and happiest events of my working life. He was a dear and admired friend for twenty years.

Frank gave many young talents their first hope, sometimes their first chance, and I am sure he never could have let any talent down. He didn’t let any of us down, but was our constant and benevolent and thoroughgoing supporter, a refresher of our spirits, a celebrator along with us of what we all alike, in the best ways we were able, were devoting our lives to.

What his work contributed — the great sum — had an authority of a kind all its own. I wonder if it might not have had a double source: his lifelong enchantment with the world of art, and an unusual gift for communicating his pleasure in it to the rest of us. Plus the blessed wish to do it.

We are grateful.

(Hains was buried in Big Tygart Cemetery, Rockport, WV)

Get Cereus

Just the other day, a neighbor told me that his night-blooming cereus—which of course was heavy with buds—was given to him by his grandmother, who got her start from Chestina Welty at a garden club gathering in Jackson.

Since moving to Jackson twenty years ago, I’ve heard variations of this story ad nauseum from every Tom, Dick, and Harriet I run into. Most will tell you that Eudora gave a cereus cutting to their mother/aunt/sister/nelly uncle, or to some hitchhiker she picked up on the Trace. To admit—as I often do, with characteristic tactlessness —that your “Queen of the Night” is of dubious lineage puts you in a dim, refrigerated social limbo next to a browning head of iceburg lettuce.

The proliferation of Welty night-blooming cereuses mimic the properties of the True Cross, whose fragments once proliferated throughout Christendom to profit the papacy, but we can’t fault the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for peddling the Welty cereus rather much like Borgias did Holy Splinters: MDAH must get  those museum roofs plugged up somehow.

In the end, nobody can possibly certify that their beautiful Mississippi blossom is a blue-blood Welty or just some pass-along white trash epiphyllum somebody stole from off the porch of a double-wide in Scott County.