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Posts Tagged ‘mississippi’

Pearl Barron portrait September 23, 1944Editor’s note: I inherited my grandmother’s recipe box when she died. Instead of finding recipes for the family favorites we loved to eat, I found instructions for foods most of us had never eaten. I’ve decided to try some of these recipes as I have time for a new series I’m calling “Pearl’s Kitchen.” I think Minnie Pearl Reeves Barron would approve of my kitchen adventures. 

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To say I was excited to find a recipe for Butterscotch Cookies was an understatement. Cookies that tasted like butterscotch pudding? Those delightful little hard candies? The ice cream topping?

Count me in.

Alas, they ended up more teacake than butterscotch, but there’s nothing wrong with that. They’re softer than the teacakes I grew up with, and pretty satisfying with a cup of coffee (I also imagine they’re a pretty good accessory for a glass of milk).

A note on the “nut meat” question: This recipe seems to come from a time before we had access to any number of nut species from around the country. I split the dough in half and used chopped walnuts in one half and chopped pecans in the other. (Pecans readily grew close to the part of Mississippi where my grandmother lived, so I assume that was probably her nut of choice, and walnuts are readily available in Costco, so that’s my nut of choice.) Both were delicious, and made little difference in flavor. I may lightly toast the nuts before adding them if I make these again.

 

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Butterscotch Cookies

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tbsp. boiling water
2 eggs, well-beaten
3 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup nut meat (chopped nuts of your choice)
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Cream the butter and sugar, and add boiling water. Add eggs. Sift flour and add the baking powder. Sift again, and add this to the first mixture. Add nuts and vanilla.

Form into rolls and roll in wax paper; store in refrigerator until ready for use. Slice and bake on greased (I used parchment paper) baking sheet at 375 degrees for approximately 10 minutes. (My oven had them ready at 9 minutes – they didn’t get very brown on top, but the bottoms were starting to brown, so watch them carefully.)

I froze one roll for a week; after thawing, I sliced and baked and the cookies were as good as they were the first time. So these could be a good make-ahead cookie.

(more…)

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If I had a nickel for every time I deftly shook all the coins out of this little piggy bank when I was a little girl, I would need a WAY bigger bank for all my nickels.

Like the old glass measuring cup and my grandfather’s blue denim jacket, it’s one of the few items that I simply HAD to have from my grandparents’ house. I seriously played with it for hours at a time when I was younger, shaking out coins, counting them, stacking them and carefully putting them back in again.

It’s made it all the way from Smithdale, Mississippi, to Huntsville, Alabama, and then Atlanta.

It’s still doing its job beautifully, holding the coins fished out of pockets and the bottom of my purse. The only difference is that I don’t really have the urge to shake them out and sort them anymore.

Not much of an urge, that is.

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I was excited and a little leery when I found a bagful of fresh English peas in my latest CSA box.

As confirmed by my CSA representative, English peas are extremely sensitive to hot weather, so they would have never had a chance on my grandparents’ farm in South Mississippi. Therefore, the only English peas I’ve ever eaten have come straight out of the can, slightly mushy and pretty bland. Meh.

Since the record-breaking heat in North Alabama/South Tennessee was making it clear that this would be the only fresh English peas I would get this year, I knew I had to make the most of them.

I don’t mean this as an insult to my Southern ancestry, but at some point cooks in the South started boiling vegetables into a salty mush. I remember the first time I ever had a string bean that had been briefly steamed, and thus still held a bit of natural sweetness and a light crunch. (Truly, it would have been considered underdone at my grandmother’s house.) Corn on the cob became a whole new experience for me when I discovered that I could simply wrap individual ears in waxed paper and microwave them for a few minutes, leaving sweet and crunchy kernels that needed neither salt nor butter.

I was determined not to turn these peas into mush.

I found inspiration at Williams-Sonoma’s website: Sautéed English Peas with Garlic and Sesame. Unfortunately, I didn’t have sesame seeds or sesame oil in my pantry, so I had to wing it. I also don’t know how many pounds of peas I started with; Williams-Sonoma recommended two garlic cloves for 3 pounds of unshelled English peas. Do the math for the amount of peas you have, or just use a couple of cloves of garlic.

There are few vegetable recipes that wouldn’t be made better with a couple of cloves of garlic.

The husband was at first stunned by the color of the peas when I removed the lid from the pan; the short cooking time had left the peas a brilliant green. The texture was magnificent; they weren’t crunchy or chewy, but they weren’t mushy either. The garlic flavor burst through with every bite, but not in an overwhelming way.

Sautéed English Peas with Garlic

  • Fresh English peas, shelled
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl 2/3 full with ice water. Add the peas to the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes. Drain the peas and immediately plunge them into the ice water. Let stand for two minutes and drain.

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté, stirring constantly, until it is fragrant but not brown, about 30 seconds.

Add the peas, salt and pepper, and sauté, tossing and stirring occasionally, until the peas are just tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve immediately.

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Yang hasn’t given up his photobombing duties; here, he inspects the bowl of English peas mid-shoot.

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True confession: Despite growing up with ready access to my grandparents’ South Mississippi farm, I never learned to like cucumbers. Plates of cucumber slices would appear on the table throughout the summer, and I carefully avoided them.

I eventually learned that cucumbers were delicious alongside other foods. First, a high school friend made me a cucumber sandwich, well-salted and slathered with mayonnaise, and eventually I discovered cucumber salads. Mixed with tomatoes and an olive oil-based dressing, cucumbers became perfectly acceptable, if not well loved.

These perfectly acceptable vegetables show up every two weeks in my CSA box, so I had to find a go-to recipe for a quick and easy salad. Christy Jordan over at Southern Plate posted a recipe last year that looked like every cucumber salad I had ever loved. As a bonus, it called for bottled Italian dressing, so all I had to do was chop vegetables.

I pretty much just chopped up a cucumber, a medium tomato, a small red onion and a banana pepper, then coated the mixture with a few tablespoons of Italian dressing (the Southern Plate recipe calls for an entire bottle of dressing — I just can’t justify making the veggies slosh around in that much dressing).

Marinated for two hours, the salad was the perfect accompaniment to eggplant pasta (also a CSA-inspired dish). Marinated for two days, it was an even better accompaniment for leftover eggplant pasta.

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The “Do One Thing” series chronicles my yearlong effort to tackle one project every day to organize my life and home.

Day 42: I picked up a Michael Graves drawer organizer, priced at $4 rather than the normal $10, at Dirt Cheap, which seems to have an unending supply of items from Target this winter. I had three small kitchen cabinet drawers filled with accessories and gadgets, all of which I use sometimes, but some of which I use ALL the time. And drawers are like handbags — the thing you need is always at the bottom under other things.

Now I have the stuff that I use all the time sorted into four little organized rows in a larger drawer. I moved the contents of the larger drawer (rolls of foil, plastic wrap, parchment paper, etc.) into two small drawers, and the third small drawer holds the things I use sometimes.

The three small drawers before organization.

 

(If you haven’t heard of Dirt Cheap, it’s an offshoot of Hudsons Salvage. When I was growing up in South Mississippi, Hudsons was known for selling what I called “disaster merchandise” from stores that had suffered fires or flood. Today, Hudsons and its offshoots, Treasure Hunt and Dirt Cheap, sell what’s known as “problem inventories,” which apparently include everything from closeout stock to seconds. Shopping at these stores is an adventure, to say the very least.)

Also this week:

Day 41: Filled all the liquid soap containers with liquid soap, then forgot to bring them upstairs for a whole 24 hours. But it’s the thought that counts, right? And your hands can’t be that dirty anyway.

Day 43: Sort of organized some school files I brought with me on a CD from my last job. This is the sort of task that makes Dropbox pretty appealing.

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It’s good to have friends who help you maintain a positive attitude and healthy habits. It’s also good to have friends who urge you to make questionable choices every once in a while.

When I emailed a photo of a surprising food find — Little Debbie Banana Pudding Rolls — to a former colleague earlier this week, he responded immediately:  “My professional advice to you is to buy two boxes of them right now. Why two? Because you’ll eat one box on the way home from the store.”

How could a girl resist?

I grew up eating Little Debbie products at my grandparent’s house in South Mississippi — my brother and I could always find a box of the treats on top of the refrigerator. I am the Forrest Gump of Little Debbie products, with a readily accessible running list of the different varieties taking up valuable space inside my brain. Ask me about nearly any of the company’s products, and I can run down a quick review for you. Here are just a few that popped into my head this very minute:

Devil Squares: Their substantial filling and sort of weirdly textured chocolate coating combine for a unique and delicious culinary experience that made me, as a child, feel slightly more sophisticated than my tomboyish habits generally merited. (more…)

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I still remember the moment I discovered that salad could mean something more than iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, croutons and dressing. I was at a fancy mountainside restaurant in Birmingham, Ala., with my future husband, probably around 1995, when the waiter brought out our small starter salads. They were filled with … leaves. And no hint of the crunchy, flavorless iceberg lettuce my fiance and I had both grown up thinking was the foundation of salad.

I learned that the leaves were baby arugula greens, and suddenly a new culinary world opened for me: Salad was no longer that bland bit of crunch existing only to carry dressing or serve as a low-calorie, tasteless diet option, but a real opportunity for nutritious, delicious creativity in the kitchen. Non-iceberg greens could be sweet or bitter and carry their own weight in a salad without relying on the dressing to make up for lack of flavor.

How did America get so obsessed with iceberg lettuce? Probably the same reason that grocery-store tomatoes and apples taste like mushy cardboard: According to Practically Edible, iceberg lettuce is easy to grow, easy to ship and lasts a long time in the fridge compared to other greens.

Through the early ’90s, it was nearly impossible to find any other kinds of greens in your average suburban grocery store, at least in Mississippi. I only had to remember one lettuce code during my entire six-month stint as a Jitney Jungle cashier in 1990.

I’m working my way through a big batch of Sylvetta Italian arugula mixed with other fresh greens this week, thanks to a winter CSA split with MrsDragon over at Mrs Dragon’s Den.  I even had to wash the dirt and a couple of tiny worms off, since my greens had just been plucked from the ground only two days earlier. Best salad ever.

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I don’t even know what to call this piece of furniture. Spice cabinet? Spice drawers? During its long tenure in my grandmother’s house, it was simply the blue drawers in the hallway; for adults, the holder of telephone books, for kids, the source of puzzles and books, pencils and paper.

I brought it home after my grandmother’s funeral last week, stuffing it into my tiny car along with a few photographs and a handful of handwritten recipes from the bottom kitchen drawer.

I asked for this piece long ago (my grandmother had been assigning artifacts to children and grandchildren alike for nearly three decades), choosing it over the fancier formal china cabinet that resided in the den and didn’t match my personality or decorating style any more than pineapple-topped bedposts.

Seriously, what’s with the pineapple-topped bedposts?

It’s in my office now, slightly cleaner thanks to a brief encounter with Murphy’s Oil Soap, but still bearing evidence of its age. Rather than puzzles and phone books, it holds the essentials of a perpetual graduate student. Mostly, though, it just holds memories, and I’m grateful that my husband maneuvered it into my car with mere inches to spare.

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OK, I know I sound like a shill, but you should totally buy a share in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program this summer.

I had the best time last year with my weekly pickups from Dennison’s Family Farm in Elora, Tenn. It really did turn into my own version of Iron Chef, having to work with whatever ingredients showed up in the box each week. And since there are few things scarier for my husband to hear than the statement “I made something new for dinner,” it’s somewhat of a miracle that he had a blast with it, too.

It’s a lesson in the natural cycle of crops for those who aren’t used to the whims of Mother Nature. For example, last year’s rains made for a very short corn crop, so I didn’t get nearly the amount of corn I had expected, but I got tons of tomatoes, chard and peppers of all varieties. And strawberries. Not those tasteless baby-fist-sized strawberries you get at the grocery store, but juicy, delectable berries, so many that you can’t eat them all and will be forced to make the best ice cream ever with them. Darn the luck.

Some folks tell me that they just prefer to go to the farmer’s market, which is cool if you like rolling out of bed before 9 a.m. on Saturdays. Which, truthfully, I have been known to do. But what I find myself not doing at the farmer’s market is buying something I’m unfamiliar with, or buying so much of something that I have enough to freeze for later. (I’ve got two more servings of zucchini/onion/garlic soup base in the freezer, and I just ran out of frozen bell pepper slices in January.) Even if you’re not going to get into canning, you can still have a little taste of summer when it’s 30 degrees outside.

Seriously, it was the best summer food-wise that I’ve had since that summer in the early 1980s when my grandfather and I grew a huge patch of watermelons and I ate my weight in fresh tomatoes.

Head to Dennison’s page on LocalHarvest for details on its 10-week program, or search for a CSA closer to you.

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I’ve been trying to get my mind around murder since I was 10 years old.

We were at my grandmother’s house, about 2.5 hours from our home in Kiln, Miss. The phone in the hallway — the only phone in the house at the time, the phone that, over the years, continually brought horrific news, news of fatal fires, news of shootings — self-inflicted and not — news of heart attacks and cancer diagnoses — the phone rang while we were having breakfast.

It was the principal of the high school where my dad was band director. One of the members of the band’s flag corps had been brutally murdered, along with her mother and father, the night before.

This was in the early 1980s, a time before parents (at least my parents) felt the need to shield their children from bad news. My brother and I were quiet, inquisitive, analytical kids, and we instinctively knew that if we kept our silence and blended into the background we would eventually learn everything there was to know about any topic.

K’s brother had systematically beaten her and her parents to death with a hammer (a sledgehammer, maybe – this detail escapes me). (I call her K because this case is so old that there is no reference to it on the Internet, and I would hate for this to be the only link that shows up in a search.) Another brother survived; he had spent the night at a friend’s house.

I remember being told that the murdering brother had what we would now call a history of mental problems; the term used back then was likely “crazy.” I remember hearing that he had moments when he claimed to be Jesus.

I have long pondered the effect this had on my young psyche, especially when events occur like last week’s shooting at UAHuntsville. Anytime I see news of a multiple slaying, my mind returns to that breakfast phone call and then starts flipping between two questions: How could anyone do this, and how could no one have seen it coming in time to prevent it?

If the multiple murders at K’s home occurred today, there would have been counselors swarming our tiny school the next week. As it was, we were supposed to simply take it to heart that this was an anomaly, something that could not happen to any of us, so long as we didn’t know any crazy people.

The problem that I recognized then and now is that “crazy” is not as easily defined as everyone would have had us think.

I also learned that the “stranger danger” line fed to us after the Atlanta child murders and the murder of Adam Walsh was not the entirety of things we had to worry about. Not that I suspected my 8-year-old brother of murderous intent, but the realization that someone K knew and loved was capable of such atrocity was a game-changer for a pre-teen.

The idea that you might not ever REALLY know someone, that there might always be some part closed off to you, no matter how close you are, was not that foreign to me, but the idea that the closed-off part might harbor such unpredictable anger and violence was alarming.

The world was a little less safe, and for the past three decades it seems to have become a LOT less safe.

School shootings, workplace shootings, murder-suicides … it seems like our closed-off parts are more dangerous than ever.

I couldn’t make sense of it when I was 10, and I’m no closer to understanding it now. I just have to hope that events like this really are anomalies, and that the hidden parts of strangers, friends, associates, and even family members aren’t as dark and dangerous as others have proven to be.

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