The Food and Cooking of the Mississippi Delta

Though documented in fiction, periodicals, and memoirs, community cookbooks are the doors to Delta tables.

Ground Zero

The food of the Mississippi Delta is for the most part typical of Southern foods. Some time ago, I made a list of 12 essential dishes any Southern cook needs to know. I ran it by my friends on social media, and it was like I’d thrown a June bug down in a chicken run. It took a month before the dust settled and I was able to nail it down. Here they are:

Buttermilk biscuits
Cornbread
Pimiento and cheese
Fried chicken
Barbecued pork
Pound cake
Fruit cobbler
Cornbread dressing
Chicken and dumplings
Sweet potato pie
Banana pudding
Stewed greens

I consider this a list of representative foods you might find anywhere in the Lower South as well as Mississippi, but in the Delta you have one big distinction, that being the cultural influence of New Orleans; the culinary influence of Memphis is bush league in comparison. One of the most authoritative books on Delta cooking, Bayou Cuisine, has a gumbo recipe on the third page. You’ll find barbecue recipes there too, but you can find recipes for barbecue from San Antonio to Savannah and as far north as Louisville.

Creole was the blanket term for the distinctive foods of New Orleans and neighboring parts of Louisiana in that day, and it wasn’t until the late 20th century when Creole and Cajun cuisine became separate entities. Paul Prudhomme hammered in this distinction, but later I’m going to introduce you to a man who was raised in the Delta who also made clear the difference is important, but another author who deserves mention is Lafcadio Hearn.

lafcadio hearnHearn was born in Greece in 1950. Shortly after his birth, his mother moved to Ireland, where she abandoned him. Then he was abandoned by his father and a great-aunt, his guardian, who sent him to school in France. Then he moved to England, where he received most his education, then Cincinnati, where he began writing for The Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, becoming a successful writer of “real life” crime stories, humor and popular songs. He moved to New Orleans in 1877, saying that “it’s time to get out of Cincinnati when they start calling it ‘The Paris of America’.  He lived in New Orleans for nearly a decade. In his time there, Hearn was little known, and even now he is little known for his writing about New Orleans, except by local cultural devotees. However, more books have been written about him than any former resident of New Orleans except Louis Armstrong. Hearn is credited with “inventing” New Orleans as an exotic and mysterious place. Hearn died in 1904.la cuisine creole cover

La Cuisine Creole: A Collection of Culinary Recipes, From Leading Chefs and Noted Creole Housewives, Who Have Made New Orleans Famous for its Cuisine (New Orleans: F.F. Hansell & Bro., Ltd., c. 1885)  is one of the great classics of Creole cuisine. It was anonymously printed in 1885 but its authorship by Hearn is generally accepted. In his brief but intriguing introduction, Hearn tells us that Creole cookery partakes of the nature of its birthplace – New Orleans – blending the characteristics of the American, French, Spanish, Italian, West Indian and Mexican, Native Americans, African Americans and others in the melting pot near the mouth of the Mississippi.

Food in Fiction

Food is rarely mentioned in fiction because writers of fiction are more concerned with the human condition than soups and sauces. Nonetheless, many writers refer to food, some more, some less, and this descriptions of a Southern table comes from  Gone with the Wind. The war rages, and they’re all seated around the table at Aunt Pittypat’s eating the scrawny rooster Uncle Peter had caught in the rain, and Scarlett remembers:

How careless they had been of food then, what prodigal waste! Rolls, corn muffins, biscuit and waffles, dripping butter, all at one meal. Ham at one end of the table and fried chicken at the other, collards swimming richly in pot liquor iridescent with grease, snap beans in mountains on brightly flowered porcelain, fried squash, stewed okra, carrots in cream sauce thick enough to cut. And three desserts, so everyone might have his choice, chocolate layer cake, vanilla blanc mange and pound cake topped with sweet whipped cream. The memory of those savory meals had the power to bring tears to her eyes as death and war had failed to do, the power to turn her ever-gnawing stomach from rumbling emptiness to nausea.

This could be a meal in any upper-class antebellum home including those in the Delta. From another era, Faulkner includes a description of a Thanksgiving meal in Sartoris. Food rarely plays a significant role in Faulkner’s fiction, but when it does the part has a specific function. There are four kinds of food in books: Food that is served by an author to characters who are not expected to taste it; food that is served by an author to characters in order to show who they are; food that an author cooks for characters in order to eat it with them; and, last (and most recent), food that an author cooks for characters but actually serves to the reader. Faulkner falls squarely in the second category:

. . . Simon appeared again, with Isom in procession now, and for the next five minutes they moved steadily between kitchen and dining room with a roast turkey and a cured ham and a dish of quail and another of squirrel, and a baked ‘possum in a bed of sweet potatoes; and Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes, and squash and pickled beets and rice and hominy, and hot biscuits and beaten biscuits and long thin sticks of cornbread and strawberry and pear preserves, and quince and apple jelly, and blackberry jam and stewed cranberries. [Sartoris (1929), Flags in the Dust, (1973), p. 281)]

delta-wedding-cover1Then we have Delta Wedding. Welty didn’t include a lot of food in most of her fiction; you have the green tomato pickles in Why I Live at the P.O., for instance, but she wrote introductions for four cookbooks: The Country Gourmet, by the Mississippi Animal Rescue League in 1960; The Jackson Cookbook, published by the Jackson Symphony League in 1971; The Southern Hospitality Cookbook, written by her friend and neighbor Winifred Green Cheney in 1976; and Allison’s Wells: The Last Mississippi Spa, written by Hosford Fontaine in 1981. Welty also knew the importance of food as a significant element of human character, and in Delta Wedding, people are eating all the time. It is after all a wedding.

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

Memoir: Trials of the Earth

Read this book, and the next time you’re having a bad day, think back to this woman’s life. Mary Hamilton was a teenager in Arkansas in the early 1880s when she met and married Frank Hamilton, an Englishman who was manager of a lumber camp charged with clearing the forests of the Delta. Her straightforward narrative details cooking for large groups of lumberjacks, children’s births and deaths, impermanent homes in camps and farms, loneliness, natural disasters and her husband’s death in 1914. This remarkable memoir owes its existence to Helen Dick Davis who with her husband Reuben Davis wrote two works of fiction set in the early Delta, Butcher Bird (1936) and Shim (1953). She met the elderly Mary Hamilton in 1931 and encouraged her to set down her recollections of life in the Mississippi Delta backwoods during the latter part of the 19th century. Mary Hamilton died in 1936, or thereabouts; I couldn’t find an exact date. Rejected by Little, Brown in 1933, the manuscript, edited by Davis from Hamilton’s handwritten original, resurfaced in 1991. Davis copy-edited it and approved its publication before her death in 1992.  Mary Hamilton may not have had an education but she was a capable writer. She came into the area east of the Sunflower River in 1897.

Camp life was always either a feast or a famine. That week Frank killed a bear that weighed 250 pounds dressed. I cooked bear meat every way I could think of, and we sent the (neighboring) Minkus camp some. I didn’t cook it every meal, as we got a beef or a hog from Lemaster (the provisioner?) every week and corned beef by the barrel from New Orleans. We treated our men so well during the feast days that when the famine days came on because of bad roads or high water or misspent goods, they understood it wasn’t out fault, and never grumbled. Those men were the bravest, biggest-hearted men, and from those common work-men came some of our richest citizens in the Delta. They took advantage of the cheap lands, took care of their money, and fought their way through a wilderness to make this country what it is today, the garden spot of the South. (p. 84)

Periodicals

The Delta had two historic publications: Delta Review (Winter 1963-64)-v. 6, no. 9 (Nov./Dec. 1969); the self-titled “Magazine of the Mid-South”, and  Delta Scene (Nov. 1973- 1986?). Now, Delta Scene and The Delta Review were more concerned with literature and cultural matters. Food was not a big topic for them, and it really wasn’t for most magazines and periodicals back then, with one exception, which I’ll discuss shortly. But in Delta Magazine (2003—present), not only is food a predominant theme, but yes, they put out a cookbook. Then there’s Progressive Farmer and Southern Living, both of which have a long history of readership in the Mississippi Delta.

Progressive Farmer was founded in Winston, North Carolina in 1886 by North Carolina native Leonidas Lafayette Polk (1837–1892; a Confederate Army veteran. After Polk died in 1892, Clarence H. Poe from Raleigh, NC took over as editor in 1899 and in 1903, he and three partners purchased the publication, taking it from a newspaper to a magazine with 36,000 subscribers by 1908. The magazine soared to a circulation high of 1.3 million by the 1960s.  From the pages of Progressive Farmer rose the largest and most successful regional publication in history. In 1966, the management, led by Emory Cunningham and the editors of Progressive Farmer launched Southern Living magazine fashioned after the lifestyle and home life section in the magazine. The Progressive Farmer had extended its appeal among suburban housewives, and that segment of its circulation received the new magazine, Southern Living to establish its distribution and advertising rate base. Southern food was, is, and always will be a predominant theme in Southern Living. I’ve not yet gone through to find articles and recipes that mention the Mississippi Delta, but that would be a good week’s work if not more.

Newspapers

There are many weekly newspapers in the Delta, The Deer Creek Pilot being foremost among them, of course, and three predominant dailies, the Delta Democrat-Times, founded in 1938, and the metro dailies of The Times-Picayune ( founded 1837) of New Orleans and The Appeal/Commercial Appeal (founded 1841). Food and food writing was very much an incidental subject in most newspapers in the Delta, indeed across the country, until a boy from Sunflower County, Mississippi changed everybody’s mind.

Craig Claiborne

It’s not such a stretch for me to include The New York Times Cookbook in this survey of the literature of Delta food and cooking. If I were to have left Craig Claiborne out of this talk, I’m sure some of you might have pulled a skillet out of your purse and come at me, and I’d be getting ugly emails until New Year’s.

Craig Claiborne is a towering figure; he invented culinary journalism as we know it; if it weren’t for Claiborne, the Food Network wouldn’t exist, which might make some people happy, but broadcast and print media of this genre generate millions upon millions in revenue every year, and employ thousands upon thousands of people, most of whom should either drop a couple of hits of acid or find some form of religion that absolves them of their sins.  Claiborne discovered and promoted chefs as cultural and media personalities – Jacques Pépin, Alice Waters and Paul Prudhomme among many others – helped publicize the West Coast/James Beard movement, and introduced Americans to nouvelle cuisine. Claiborne also celebrated a “pan-global eclecticism”, publicizing the cuisines of China, Mexico and Vietnam (during the War), among others. Claiborne was the first to mention tamales as one of the few street foods in the Delta, and the stature of his authority had a great deal to do with establishing the quality as well as the significance of Southern foods across the nation.

claiborne southern cooking cover PPT The fact that he is from Sunflower County is simply mind-boggling.  When it boils down to it, though, Claiborne might best be described as the right man in the right place at the right time. His hiring as the first male food editor of a major newspaper came about as the result of crass opportunism if not (as is hinted) chicanery.  Craig Claiborne knew that Turner Catledge, the managing editor of the Times, just happened to be an old Mississippi boy, who just happened to have gone to Mississippi State. Claiborne spent a year and a half at State (1938-39), was tapped by Pi Kappa Alpha, but he hated it. But during his interview with Turner Catledge, who graduated from State, Claiborne now suddenly remembered it with sugar-coated nostalgia. Claiborne found out that Catledge stayed in the dorm called Old Main, also known as Polecat Alley, and Claiborne suddenly remembered that dang if he hadn’t too! Of course he hadn’t, but the boy needed a job. He was hired in April, 1957. (McNamee, p. 52)

Claiborne set the tone of American culinary culture for two decades and beyond. He became America’s unquestioned authority (his columns went directly to print; no editor) on the full culinary spectrum of foods and restaurants, chefs and cookbooks. He wrote and co-wrote many best-sellers, first and foremost The New York Times Cookbook. You just can’t find exact figures on copies sold of any work, and I’m not sure why. Claiborne got all the copyrights to the work, which was pretty much the basis of a very large fortune.

For all that I admire Claiborne, I just don’t trust him when he’s talking about himself. Even his confessions of being molested as a child somehow seem a bit melodramatic, perhaps a justification of his own homosexuality, as if to say, “It’s not my fault.” Claiborne’s ill-advised 1982 autobiography tells more than you want to know about Claiborne, but leaves a lot of questions.

Howard Mitcham

mitcham bowler PPTNow I want to introduce you to a man who I’m confident most if not all of you have never heard: Howard Mitcham. Mitcham was born in Winona, but his Delta credentials are impeccable.  James Howard Mitcham, Jr. was born June 11, 1917. His father, a house painter, died when he was a year old. His mother moved to Vicksburg to find work, leaving the infant Howard with her parents on their watermelon farm on Sawmill Road. Mitcham attended Greenville High School with lifelong friend Shelby Foote as well as Walker Percy. After graduating high school (year!), Mitcham moved to Vicksburg and began attending Louisiana State University.

Mitcham made his first visit to Cape Cod as early as 1948, and began living in New Orleans sometime in the early 60s. Thereafter for most of his life, Mitcham divided his years between New Orleans and Provincetown. Anthony Bourdain, who worked in Provincetown during the mid-1970s when he was attending (of all places) Vassar, knew Mitcham and in his Kitchen Confidential writes that “Howard was the sole ‘name chef’ in town.”

“To us, Howard was a juju man, an oracle who spoke in tongues,” Bourdain wrote. “He could be seen most nights after work, holding up the fishermen’s bars or lurching about town, shouting incomprehensibly (he liked to sing as well). Though drunk most of the time and difficult to understand, Howard was a revered elder statesman of Cape cod cookery, a respected chef of a very busy restaurant and the author of two very highly regarded cookbooks: The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook and Creole Gumbo and All That Jazz—two volumes I still refer to, and which were hugely influential for me and my budding culinary peers of the time. He had wild, unruly white hair, a gin-blossomed face, a boozer’s gut and he wore the short-sleeved-snap-button shirt of a dishwasher. Totally without pretension, both he and his books were fascinating depositories of recipes, recollections, history, folklore and illustrations, drawing on his abiding love for the humble, working-class ethnic food of the area. His signature dish was haddock amandine, and people would drive for hours from Boston to sample it.”

“We might not have understood Howard, but we understood his books, and while it was hard to reconcile his public behavior with the wry, musical and lovingly informative tone of his writings, we knew enough to respect the man for what he knew and for what he could do. We saw someone who loved food, not just the life of the cook. Howard showed us how to cook for ourselves, for the pure pleasure of eating, not just for the tourist hordes. Howard showed us that there was hope for us as cooks. That food could be a calling. That the stuff itself was something we could actually be proud of, a reason to live.”

Mitcham’s best-known work in my part of the world is Creole Gumbo and All That Jazz (1978), arguably the most embracive and best-written book about the food and people of southern Louisiana. The exuberance of this work needs many readings to encompass. In Creole Gumbo, Mitcham celebrates his love for the kaleidoscopic, carefree world of the Crescent City: its food, its history and, astoundingly, given that Mitcham was deaf from the age of 16 from spinal meningitis, its music. Like any knowledgeable writer on the subject — Paul Prudhomme, for instance — Mitcham takes great pains to distinguish between Creole and Cajun, two distinct populations often erroneously lumped together by less astute writers and epicures.

Mitcham died at the age of 79 on August 22, 1996, at Cape Cod Hospital. Mitcham once told Donnels he’d like to be buried in a Truro, Mass., cemetery beside an old clam digger friend of his, but at another time Donnels said, “We were sitting in Pat O’Brien’s, and he said if ever he died, he would like to be cremated and have his ashes scattered through the ventilating fan of the ladies room there.” Mitcham’s ashes were spread over the ocean off Cape Cod.

Granted, neither Claiborne nor Mitcham lived long in Mississippi, but the years they did spend here were formative, and the significance of food in their lives, their family’s life as well as the life of the community, perhaps even the region itself, made a profound impression. Diametric as their culinary careers were, each one had its roots in the Delta.

Community Cookbooks

By far the most important literature for the foods of the Mississippi Delta are community cookbooks published by various organizations, the earliest dating from 1912. These cookbooks are the best historical record of foods and cooking in the region; not only that, but many if not most of them contain far more than just recipes: you’ll also find historical information about churches, or schools or social organizations (ladies clubs, Rotary, etc.) that were very much a part of the town or city of their time.

This is the earliest cookbook I could locate from the Delta, the Twentieth Century Cookbook/Tried and True Recipes by the Young Women’s Guild of St. James’ Episcopal Church in Greenville, January, 1902.  The introduction refers to “A number of these (recipes) which accomplished cooks will find new and pleasing are contributed by well-wishers in New Orleans, justly famed for its cuisine Creole (note Hearn’s title here). We believe these Creole dainties will be found unique and as useful as the more common ones used to make this Greenville cook book a thoroughly complete and valuable aid to its friends and purchasers.” The book sold for fifty cents, which was a lot in those days.

In Jackson, people make a big deal of the white fruitcake that Eudora Welty wrote about in her introduction to The Jackson Cookbook, first issued by Symphony League of Jackson in 1971 and followed by a well-deserved 30th anniversary issue. In a pamphlet issued many years later, Eudora greatly expanded on the original recipe. On page 9 of The Delta Cookbook, you’ll find recipes for a white and a black fruitcake. Only the black fruitcake has whiskey in the recipe, but the white fruitcake recipe in The Jackson Cookbook includes bourbon.

Undoubtedly the best-known cookbook to come from the Mississippi Delta is Bayou Cuisine (1970).  Sales figures on books are hard to come by; usually only the publishing house will have them, and when I called St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Indianola asking about sales on this book, they were appropriately ambiguous. A figure of “over 100,000 copies sold” is mentioned in the 1997 sequel, Best of Bayou Cuisine, but I consider that figure very low indeed. Another Delta cookbook stands out as a significant work for a higher reckoning of merit. The Sharecropper,  put out by the Central Delta Academy Parent-Teacher organization in 1987, elevates the community cookbook to the realm of art. In her later years, Ethel Wright Mohamed was known internationally as the Grandma Moses of stitchery. But this native of Fame, Mississippi, spent most of her life raising a family and tending to customers at the store she ran with her husband, Hassan Mohamed, in the Delta town of Belzoni. When Hassan passed away in 1965, Ethel picked up a needle and embroidery floss and began documenting her life: Hassan telling folktales to the children; their housekeeper, Mittie, tending to the stove; the ledger she kept at H. Mohamed General Merchandise. She called her embroideries “memory pictures”. In 1974 one of Ethel’s memory pictures was featured at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, DC. Ethel passed away in 1992.

The food and cooking of the Mississippi Delta is not as distinct and certainly not as famous as its music, but it is a vital element of life for its people, and should be considered as much a portal to the history and essential nature of this fascinating region as any other legacy of its character.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books by Mississippi Authors, Organizations and Others of Interest

Butler, Jack, Jack’s Skillet. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books, 1997.

Buttros, Waddad Habeeb, Waddad’s Kitchen, Lebanese Zest and Southern Best. Natchez, Ms., 1982.

The Catfish Institute (Belzoni, Miss.), The Catfish cookbook : twenty favorite recipes. Belzoni, Miss.: Catfish Institute, 199-?

Claiborne, Craig, A Feast Made for Laughter. New York: Doubleday, 1982.

Claiborne, Craig, Southern Cooking. New York: Wings books, 1987.

Culberson, Linda Crawford, The Catfish Book. Jackson : University Press of Mississippi, 1991. (“A Muscadine book.”)

Davis, Eva, Mississippi Mixin’s. (A collection of recipes used in Ms. Davis’ daily radio show, “Court Square”, a feature of WQBC in Vicksburg). Illustrations by Andrew Bucci.

Delta Air Lines Activities Committee, Delta’s flying gourmet : favorite recipes of Delta Airline employees. (Jackson, Mississippi, 1981) Lenexa, Kan.: Cookbook Publishers, c. 1981. (Note: Delta is the sixth-oldest operating airline by foundation date, and the oldest airline still operating in the United States. The company’s history can be traced back to Huff Daland Dusters, founded in 1924 in Macon, Georgia as a crop dusting operation. The company moved to Monroe, Louisiana and was later renamed Delta Air Services, in reference to the nearby Mississippi Delta region, and commenced passenger services on June 17, 1929.)

Delta Magazine, Delta Magazine Cookbook. Coopwood Publishing, Cleveland, Ms., 2011.

Foose, Martha, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea. Clarkson Potter, 2008.

—————. A Southerly Course: Recipes and Stories from Close to Home. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2011.

Luckett, Lady W.O., My Fare. Clarksdale, Miss., 1958.

Metcalf, Gayden and Hays, Charlotte, Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide To Hosting the Perfect Funeral Mirimax, 2005.

Owen, Renelda L., “When People Were Nice and Things Were Pretty”: A Culinary History of Merigold: A Mississippi Delta Town. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, March 14, 2010.

Pate, Alisa L., Treasured Family Favorites. Cleveland, Miss.: published by the author, 1998.

Pickett, Susan. Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler’s Journey through the Soul of the South. University of Georgia Press: Athens, GA, January, 2013.

Pitre, Glen, The Crawfish Book: the story of man and mudbugs starting in 25,000 B.C. and ending with the batch just put on to boil. Glen Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1993. (“A Muscadine book.”)

Potts, Bobby, Louisiana and Mississippi plantation cookbook : authentic Louisiana and Mississippi recipes. New Orleans: Express Pub. Co., 197-?

Reed, Julia, Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialties. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008.

Sherrer, Rudy, Memories: Cooking with Rudy. Greenwood, Miss.: published by the author, 19–?

Simpson, Frank, Jr, Marguerite Watkins Goodman, Ken Kugle. Accent One, A Book of Recipes: Treasures from Our Kitchen to Yours. Accent Enterprises Inc., Bentonia, Ms., 1985.

Starr, Kathy, The Soul of Southern Cooking. Jackson, Mississippi; University Press of Mississippi, 1989. (Note: “Reminds me of my childhood in Mississippi. . . an excellent contribution to the history of black foodways and culture” –Craig Claiborne)

Wilson, Denise, Family Secrets. Greenville, Ms., 1986.

Community Cookbooks

All Saints Episcopal Guild, The Inverness Cookbook. Inverness All Saints Episcopal Church, 196-?.

Aid Society of the Tutweiler Presbyterian Church, The Southern Cook Book. (Tutweiler, Miss., 1913.

Anguila Methodist Women, Just Heavenly: A Collection of Recipes. Morris Press: 2004. Anguila, Miss.

Auxiliary of the Beppo Arnold Knowles Post of the American Legion, The Delta’s Best Cook Book, Recommended by the Delta’s Best Cooks. Greenville, Miss., 194?

Belzoni Garden Club, All Rolled Together. Fundcraft Publishing: Collierville, Tn., 1999.

Belzoni, Garden Club. Favorite Recipes of our Members and of Friends. Lenexa, Kansas: Cookbook Publishers, Inc, 1974.

Beta Sigma Phi Beta,Zeta Chapter. Our Favorite Recipes. Greenwood, Mississippi : publisher not identified, 1972.

Calvary Baptist Church (Greenville, Miss), A Book of Favorite Recipes. Leawood, Kansas : Circulation Service, Inc, 1988.

Calvary Episcopal Church, The Cook’s Book. Calvary Episcopal Church: Cleveland, Ms., 1972

The Catholic Ladies Group, Our Lady of Victories Catholic Church, Cleveland, Miss., Divine Tastes. Collierville, TN : Fundcraft Publishing, 2003.

Central Delta Academy Parent-Teacher Organization, The Sharecropper. Central Delta Academy PTA: Inverness, Ms. 1987. (Illustrated with reproductions and descriptions of embroidery by Ethel Wright Mohamed)

Charleston Arts and Revitalization Effort. Cooking with C.A.R.E: A Collection of Recipes by Charleston Arts and Revitalization Effort. 2008. http://www.charlestonartscenter.com.

Church of God (Itta Bena or Greenwood?), Cooking ‘Round the World and at Home. (no date given)

Church of the Holy Trinity. Restoration Recipes. Vicksburg, Miss., Church of the Holy Trinity.

Cleveland Community Theatre, Tastes of the theatre. Cleveland, Miss, 1996.

Cleveland Evening Lioness Club, We serve, too!. Olathe, KS : Cookbook Publishers, Inc., 1988.

Cleveland Garden Club, Taste Buds. Cleveland, Miss.: The Club, 1968.

Cleveland State Bank, Our Best Home Cooking : a collection of recipes. Cleveland, Miss., 19–?

Bolivar Medical Center, A cause worth cooking for: a collection of recipes. Cleveland, Miss., 2006.

Coahoma Women’s Club, Coahoma Cooking: Every Day and Sunday. Coahoma, Miss., 1952.

County Day School (Marks, Miss), Mothers Club. Our Delta Dining. Marks, Miss.: The Club, 1979.

Crawford Street United Methodist Church (Vicksburg, Miss.), The most unique marvelous yummy fantastic cookbook ever! (United Methodist Youth Fellowship) Walter’s Cookbooks; Waseca, MN, 1990?

Crawford Street United Methodist Church (Vicksburg, Miss.), Treasures. Agape Church School Class, Vicksburg, Miss., Nov., 1975.

Culture Club of Indianola, Favorite Recipes. Indianola, Miss., 1957.

Daughters of the American Revolution Mississippi,State Society. The DAR Recipe Book. Place of publication not identified : Mississippi Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1967.

Delta Rice Promotions Committee. Between the Levees. Cleveland, Ms.: 1994.

Deer Creek Mother’s Club, Cookin’ with the Creek Kearney, Nb.: Morris Press Cookbooks, 2002.

Demareé, Troye. Kitchen Table Bridge: A Collection of More than 500 Treasured Recipes from Family, Friends, and some of My Own, edited by Beard, Ann Phillips Adamsville, Tenn.: Keepsake Cookbooks, 2000. [Strayhorn, Ms., Tate County]

Duncan Academy Patrons’ League, The Best in Cooking in Bolivar County. Duncan, Mississippi/Chicago, Illinois: Women’s Clubs Publishing Co. 1985.

Earnest Workers of the Presbyterian Church, Earnest Workers’ Cookbook (revised edition). Greenwood, Miss., 1921.

Easy to Do, Great to Serve Recipes. Clarksdale, MS: Clarksdale, Miss.: Mississippi Madness, 1995.

Episcopal Church Woman, “Lead us not into temptation …” Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Greenwood, Ms., 1983 (?).

First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (Greenwood, Miss), Christian Women. Christians Cooking. Collierville, Tenn.: Fundcraft Publishing, Inc, 1980.

First United Pentecostal Church (Yazoo City, Miss), Ladies Auxiliary. What’s Cookin’ in Yazoo City. Kearney, Neb.: Cookbooks by Morris Press, 1996.

Forbus, Kenneth. Forbus Food Favorites. 1984 revised ed. Greenville, Mississippi : Kenneth Forbus, 1984.

Friends of the Bolivar County Library System, Recipes to Read By: A Cookbook of the Friends of the Bolivar County Library System. Cleveland, Mississippi :, 1999.

Girl Scout Council of Northwest Mississippi, Inc., Cedar Point Palette: a gallery of Southern recipes. Greenwood, Miss.: c. 2003.

Glendora Methodist Church (Glendora, Miss.), Glendora Cook Book : Hundreds of Tested Recipes. Glendora, Miss., 1929.

The Division of Home Economics, Delta State University, A Delta Welcome. Cleveland, Miss: Delta State University, 1990.

Humphreys Academy Patrons, Festival Cookbook. Humphreys Academy, Belzoni, Ms., 1983. (This is the cookbook for the Belzoni Catfish Festival.)

Junior Auxiliary of Vicksburg, Vintage Vicksburg. Memphis: Wimmer, 1985. [Vicksburg]

—————. Ambrosia: A Deep-South Mixture of Homes, Recipes and history. 1997; reprint, 2008.

Junior Charity League of Monroe, La., The Cotton Country Collection. New Orleans: Franklin Printing, 1972. [Monroe, La.]

Junior League of Baton Rouge, La., River Road Recipes. Nashville, Tn.: Favorite Recipes Press, 1959. (76th printing, 50th Anniversary Edition, 1999: “The Textbook of Louisiana Cuisine”) [Baton Rouge, La.]

Junior Woman’s Club (Greenville, Miss.), Tasting Tea Treasures. Olathe, Kansas : Cookbook Publishers, Inc, 1984.

North Sunflower P.T.A., The Pick of the Crop. Memphis: Wimmer, 1978. [Drew, Ms.] *Rushing winery, cottonseed flour.

————— McWilliams, Barry, Pick of the Crop 2. Wimmer Cookbooks, 1998 (Drew, Ms.?)

The Ladies’ Aid Society of the Presbyterian Church, Tutwiler, Mississippi, The Southern Cookbook. Tutwiler, Ms., 1913.

The Ladies’ Aid Society of the First Methodist Church, Greenville, Ms., The Delta Cookbook: A Collection of Tested Recipes. Printed by The Greenville Democrat, Greenville, Ms. 1917.

Lee Academy, Family secrets: the best of the Delta. Clarksdale, MS : Lee Academy, 1990.

Order of the Eastern Star Chapter 44, Cooking Around the World and at Home. Indianola, Miss., 1948.

Orr, Ellen. A Pinch of Soda–a Pinch of Salt–, edited by Yates, Allene N., First Methodist Church (Shelby,Miss.).Shelby Woman’s Club, 1965.

Pickett, Bob, Brenda Ware Jones, and of Vicksburg Junior Auxiliary. Ambrosia. Vicksburg, Miss.: Junior Auxiliary of Vicksburg Publications, 1997.

Pringle, Mrs. L.V., Jr. and Dozier, Mrs. Lester, eds., The Garden Clubs of Mississippi, Inc., Gardener’s Gourmet. Wimmer Brothers: Memphis, Tn., 3rd. ed., 1978; reprinted, 1983.

Raworth, Jennie D. Valuable Tested Recipes. Vicksburg, Miss.: Vicksburg, Miss. : s.n, 1913.

Ruleville Parent-Teacher Association, P.T.A. Cookbook. Ruleville, Miss., 1924.

Rolling Fork United Methodist Church, Feeding the Flock. Rolling Fork, Miss. Morris Press: 2003.

Temptations, Presbyterian Day School, Cleveland, Ms.

The Shelby Woman’s Club, Proof of the Pudding Recipes. (Collected Recipes by The Shelby Woman’s Club, Shelby, MS. (Notes: “It is the belief of the compilers of this cook book that the eating of food prepared by the recipes printed between its covers will give only pleasure. For each recipe has been tested and tried and adapted to give complete satisfaction of the gourmet giving it. Some recipes are recent originals. Some are copied verbatim with credit given to the source. Some are hundreds of years old, having been passed from one generation to the next and now written for the first time. Each recipe is as the person who gave it wrote it. The abbreviations or symbols used may vary, but are clearly understood by good cooks.”)

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Yazoo City, Heavenly Dishes. Collerville, Tn.: Fundcraft n.d.

St. John’s United Methodist Church, Greenwood, Ms. Let Us Break Bread Together. Hartwell, Ga.: Calico Kitchen Press, 1999. [Greenwood]

St. John’s Women’s Auxiliary, Leland and St. Paul’s Women’x Auxiliary, Hollandale, The Gourmet of the Delta. Ridgeland, Ms.: Capitol Printing and Blueprint Company, 1964. [Leland, Hollandale]

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Indianola, Ms., Bayou Cuisine: Its Traditions and Transition. Indianola, Ms., 1970.

St. Stephen’s Cookbook Committee, Best of Bayou Cuisine. Quail Ridge Press, Brandon, Ms., 1997.

Southside Baptist Church, Heavenly Dishes. Southside Baptist Church, Yazoo City, (?).

Sunflower County, Freedom Project. Delta-Licious: Family Recipes and Stories from Sunflower County, Mississippi. Sunflower, Miss.: Sunflower, Miss. : Sunflower County Freedom Project, 2005.

Tchula Garden Club, Tchula Garden Club Cookbook. Tchula Garden Club; Tchula, Ms., 1958 (reprinted, 1978).

Trinity Episcopal Church Yazoo City, Sally’s Cook Book., Yazoo City, Miss., 1950.

The Twentieth Century Club, Webb, Ms., Everyday Recipes, As We Like It…Deep in the Delta. The Twentieth Century Club, Webb, Ms., 1947.

Tunica County Women, Tunica County Tasty Treats. Tunica, Miss.: 1953.

Tunica County Woman’s Club, Tunica County Tasty Treats, Tunica, Miss., 1967.

United Daughters of the Confederacy Vicksburg, Dixie Delicacies. 4th ed. Vicksburg, Miss.: Vicksburg, Miss.: United Daughters of the Confederacy, Vicksburg Chapter No. 77, 1978.

Vaught, Marshall and Coahoma Women’s Club (Clarksdale, Miss.). Coahoma Cooking, Every Day and Sunday. 5th publication. Clarksdale, Miss.: Clarksdale, Miss.: Coahoma Woman’s Club, 1952.

Warren County Volunteer Firefighters Auxiliary, Warren County Volunteer Firefighters Auxiliary. Vicksburg, Miss. : Lenexa, Kan.: Cookbook Publishers, 1995.

The Woman’s Missionary Union of First Baptist Church, Our Treasured Recipes. First Baptist Church, Boyle, Mississippi.

The Women’s Society of Christian Service, Methodist Church, Benton, Mississippi, Favorite Recipes of the Magnolia State. Benton, Ms. 1948.

Women’s Society of Christian Service, Satartia Methodist Church, Cook Book. Satartia, Miss. 1952.

Wynn, Margaret Brooks. My Dining Generation. Greenville, Miss.: Greenville, Miss. : Office Supply Co, 1962.

Young Women’s Guild of St. James’ Episcopal Church, The Twentieth Century Cookbook. Printed at the Offices of the Greenville Spirit, 1902.

Selected Mississippi Cookbooks and Others

Bailey, John M. Fine Dining Mississippi Style. Brandon, Ms.: Quail Ridge Press, 2003.

Harris, Gladiola B., Old Trace Cooking: Native American and Pioneer Recipes Memphis: Riverside Press, 1981. [Oakland, Mississippi]

Higginbotham, Sylvia, Grits ‘N Greens and Mississippi Things. Columbus, Ms.: Parlance Publishing, 2002. [Columbus, various]

Home Economics Division of the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service, The Mississippi Cookbook. Jackson, Ms.: University Press of Mississippi, 1972. (New introduction by Martha Hall Foose, 2009)

McKee, Gwen and Moslty, Barbara, eds., Best of the Best from Mississippi. Quail Ridge Press, Brandon, Ms., 2003.

Mississippi V.I.P. Recipes, Pearl, Ms.: Philips Printing, 1995. [Various]

Puckett, Susan (text) and Meyers, Angelo (ed.), A Cook’s Tour of Mississippi. Jackson, Ms.: Hederman Brothers, 1980 (3rd printing, 1989). [Various]

Southern Foodways

Ferris, Marcie Cohen, The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

Miscellaneous

Atlanta Historical Society, Tullie’s Receipts: Nineteenth Century Plantation Plain-Style Southern Cooking and Living. Atlanta: Conger Printing and Publishing, 1976. [General]

Ownby, Ted, American Dreams in Mississippi: Consumers, Poverty & Culture, 1830–1998. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

Telephone Pioneers of America, Bell’s Best. Cookbook Publishers, 1981. (Bell’s Best 2, 1983) [Add other editions.]

Haley/USM Resources

http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/html/intro_essay.html

http://mscommunitycookbooks.usm.edu/coahoma-cooking.html

http://mscommunitycookbooks.usm.edu/mccain-library.html

http://ocean.otr.usm.edu/~w589232/page2/page2.html

Pimento Cheese

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cookbooks of the Pros

These are the first responses received in a query to food professionals (chefs, cooks and restaurateurs) across the state about cookbooks that have inspired, informed and entertained them from their earliest years.

Dan Blumenthal: (BRAVO!) La Technique by Jacques Pepin—step by step intro to classic French cooking with many helpful photos; On Food and Cooking by Harold Magee-The Bible of food chemistry; just loaded with knowledge about food in general; The Classic Pasta Cookbook by Giuliano Hazan—Wonderful intro into the world of Italian pasta making

Taylor Bowen Ricketts: (Fan and Johnny’s) The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall because I love him and the way he cooks, my great-grandmother’s well-documented, preserved and used notebooks that somehow I was lucky enough to inherit, and the St. Stephens’ Episcopal chicks of Indianola, Ms. cookbook, Bayou Cuisine. Delta women are by far and away the best cooks and hostesses, more particular, demanding, and expecting of any women on earth, and rightly so; almost every one of us bitches can cook.

Alex Eaton: (The Manship) Donal Link – Real Cajun -This is a bad ass book that is spot-on with his recipes.  He really is teaching how to cook real Cajun food.  From boudin to fried oysters it’s my go to when cooking rustic Cajun food. Mike Solomonov – Zahav Cookbook– In the world of Middle Eastern cooking Arab chefs are so secretive; I once tried to learn how to plate hummus and the chef would not let me come back in the kitchen and watch.  This book is useful and extremely helpful with his techniques in the secretive cooking of Middle Eastern food. Hot and Hot Fish Club, Chris and Idie Hastings; I love this book not only because it goes season by season… but I actually worked here and was impressed that the cooks and prep cooks used the book for their work; often times chefs seem to just guess at these recipes and they never come out right.

Martha Foose: (Screen Doors and Sweet Tea) The Inverness Cookbook, The Time-Life Picture Cookbook, and The Better Homes & Gardens Look and Cook Book.

Dixie Grimes: (The B.T.C Old-Fashioned Grocery) These are in no particular order, as I adore all three equally. White Trash Cooking– Ernest Matthew Mickler. This book speaks to my very soul as a southerner from rural Mississippi. One has to understand that this is not a book mocking a poor class of people but a shout out to the most real and righteous cooking of the south. Recipes for Potato chip sandwich, Cooter Stew, 1-2-3-4 cake as well as or most importantly Fried Squirrel, Butt`s Gator Tail and Aunt Donnah`s roast possum.  It is all about necessity, using what you have, not what you want and making it taste good. Betty Crocker`s Picture Cook Book circa 1950. This book was geared towards the 1950`s house wife, a era of three martini lunches, church socials, afternoon bridge games and cocktail parties and the perfect Ozzie and Harriet housewife/mother who flawlessly executed them without so much as a wrinkle in her skirt; simple, yet elegant. The recipes consist of all things souffléd, scalloped, congealed and supremed. Canapes and sparkling punch with sherbet is what’s up.  As a chef I adore the nostalgia this book holds and the old school feel of classic recipes no longer in use like Pompano En Papillote and Seafood a la Newberg. The Joy Of Cooking: The title says it all, cooking can be fun and easy it does not have to be a chore or dreaded task. This is the book that I give to all young couples starting out and to anyone who says, “Hey, I would love to learn to make some basic dishes but just do not know where to start.” I consider this book a staple in my own kitchen. It pretty much has a recipe for ANYTHING one might want to cook as well as covering all basic techniques baking and cooking, i.e. roasting, boiling, braising, sautéing etc. It explains why things work the way that the do, like why butter needs to be cold for biscuits and pie crust or softened for cakes and frostings. Also included is a fantastic conversion chart for measurements which believe it or not I still use regularly, because like most chefs math is not my strong point.

Jesse Houston: (Saltine) Three cookbooks that had a large influence on my career are Momofuku, The Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook, and Under Pressure. I read them all cover to cover and absorbed as much of their knowledge as possible. I’ve cooked more recipes out of Momofuku than almost all of my many cookbooks combined. I was a kid right out of culinary school when it came out, and picked it up because I heard it was a fresh way of looking at food. In the opening pages they were dropping f bombs, and I knew this would be unlike anything I had read before. Being a Dallas native, Southern food wasn’t really easy to come by and I didn’t know much about it, but was about to relocate to the South to open a revolutionary Southern restaurant, Parlor Market. I read every word in the Lee brothers’ book, and I was able to get comfortable with ingredients I had never used before in my life. It should be considered a Southern cook’s bible. Under Pressure is a book all about advanced cooking techniques used in a modern kitchen, most noticeably sous vide. Although I don’t use sous vide much anymore, it taught me so much about modern cuisine. Currently I’m influenced by books from Noma and Rene Redzepi for their beautiful simplicity and natural approach. They use a lot of modern techniques as well, but hide them in ways that will surprise you, but also seem incredibly natural, as if it were found in nature that way.

Lou LaRose: (Lou’s Full-Serv) I can tell you that Larousse Gastronomique was the first book I ever got. My dad gave it to me back in the early 90’s. From there I was intrigued by lots of the recipes. Old school French was definitely a favorite of mine. I was also very fond of the early “great chefs” shows. I collected all of the books from San Francisco, New Orleans. Chicago etc. James Beard’s Beard on Bread was a hand me down from my grandmother, and I cooked many things from that as well.

Randy Yates: (formerly Ajax, now at large) The Joy of Cooking and the Jackson Junior League cookbook, Southern Sideboards, were always in our kitchen, as was the Baton Rouge, River Road Recipes, and I learned how to read from a book version of the song “On Top of Spaghetti”.

 

The Southerner’s Cookbook: A Review

Transitions in regional media are often difficult to discern, but when it comes to the South, which has an arguably more identifiable character than any other region of the country, watersheds can be mapped with a bit more precision.

Such is the case with Garden & Guns newest release, The Southerner’s Cookbook, which is the third installment in three years (each October) under the G&G label. The first two imprimaturs, The Southerner’s Handbook: A Guide to Living the Good Life (Oct., 2013) and Good Dog (Oct., 2014), set the tone of the magazine’s brand, which is clearly targeted, in the words of G&G president and CEO Rebecca Darwin, “to people like me or to people who were very sophisticated, very worldly, but in love with where they’re from, which is this beautiful place called the South.” The label has a pronounced literary bent as is evidenced by its contributors, and given its added emphasis on sophistication and worldliness, one might well gather that Darwin and her team have set their collective caps to filling a decidedly upscale niche somewhere between brashness of The Oxford American and the comfort of that grand dame of regional periodicals, Southern Living. What with the progression of G&G’s publications so far, it’s a safe bet to expect the release of a book on Southern gardening next year.

The Southerner’s Cookbook is indeed market-generated, and I really shouldn’t be surprised that only one restaurant from the entire state of Mississippi carries a recipe. John Currence has a passage about his latest project, whole roast hog, which is somewhat of a departure for a native of the Big Easy operating in the Little Easy, but this is an era of diversity. Martha Foose inexplicably given the context is mentioned in a recipe for bacon crackers. The one recipe that shocks and dismays me is the one for “Comeback Sauce (sic)”, which is not only compared with McDonald’s “Secret Sauce”, but also provided by a chef from Alabama with a restaurant in Atlanta. The nod to Jackson in the first few words simply does not make up for such a slight. The cookbook is also far off the mark by consigning Jesse Houston’s restaurant Saltine, which specializes in oysters and seafood, to a sauce (Black Pepper Ranch Dressing) rather than an entrée. Both Mississippi and Jesse deserve far, far better than this.

If you need more evidence that Mississippi is nothing more than “that land mass between Louisiana and Alabama”, you need turn no further than The Southerner’s Cookbook. Yupster cookbooks have come of age, and Julia Reed is the bellwether for Mississippi. God help us all.