Screen Doors and Sweet Tea

I got the Screen Doors and Sweet Tea cookbook a couple of weeks ago and have enjoyed reading the introductions to each recipe just as much as looking over the recipes themselves. The author, Martha Hall Foose, is (or was, I’m not sure if she is still there) the executive chef at the Viking Cooking School in Mississippi, where Viking is based.

The book has seven different sections: mailbox happy hour and pick-up party food; luncheons, salads, and dressings; gumbos, soups, dumplings, and a bisque; dishes from the backyard and kitchen; field peas, greens, sides, and the like; hot from the oven; and the sweetest things.

It’s loaded with lots of traditional Southern dishes (she’s based in the Delta, so…) that most of us Southerners already have our ‘own’ way with, like deviled eggs, pimiento cheese, chicken salad, cheese straws, gumbo, etc. but also things that sound interesting to try – like green chile rice, crumb cauliflower, and her gorgeous lady pea salad (on the cover).

I wish there were more pictures, just because I like to see what something’s going to look like when it’s finished, but really the lovely introductions for each dish make up for it. For instance, at her recipe for “Mother of the Church Ambrosia” she says:

Charlotte Miles came to work for our family one day right after we got home from my father’s medical residency in Ohio, the summer I learned to write cursive. She walked up the driveway in a white nurse’s uniform, and she informed by mother she had taken care of Doc when he was a baby and was here to take care of us now. She lived in a red house on Cherry Street. She was a Mother of the Church. When asked exactly what that meant, she said it meant you were “not compelled”.

Upon further inquiry, it became aparent that it meant you were not compelled to do anything. Not compelled to feed the preacher, not compelled to have folks over after a funeral, not compelled to do pretty much anything you didn’t feel like doing anymore, as you had done enough through the years. And you get to sit in the back row, so you can leave early without everybody seeing, or right up front in the first row. I hope to live long enough and do enough good works to be “not compelled”.

Making proper ambrosia requires a good deal of labor and is offered lovingly by many mothers of the church. This dish gives you a lot of time to think while cutting the oranges and grating the coconut. i think about Miss Charlotte and her little red house on Cherry Street, and her years of kind works.

Now, I have my own banana pudding (‘nana puddin) recipe, but Martha shows hers dished out in Mason jars. I think I’ve seen that in Southern Living too, but I decided after seeing her picture that it’s exactly how I’m going to serve mine this week when everyone comes over for supper – we’re dining al fresco so that will be even more fun. Love that idea!

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