Fighting for the Family Farm

December January 2015eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
December 2014/January 2015

If you were to strike up a conversation with Ben Burkett in the supermarket, knowing nothing about him, you might assume at first with his Southern drawl and hands that look like they’ve put in a hard day’s work out in the field, that he was your typical, down home Mississippi farmer.

If you stopped there, Ben Burkett would probably just have you believe that he is nothing more than that – a farmer. You would never know that Ben Burkett has traveled around the world. That he’s a fourth generation farmer growing crops on a piece of land that has been in his family since the late 1800’s. Or that Mr. Burkett, in his faded overalls and salt and pepper hair, has a James Beard Award at home. He’s not just any farmer. He’s one heck of a farmer.

Burkett grew up outside of Petal on land that his great grandfather homesteaded shortly after the Civil War came to an end. Coming from a farm family, it’s probably no surprise that as a boy he was active in 4-H and grew his first successful crop at the age of 12. After earning a degree in agriculture from Alcorn, his plans were to leave Mississippi far behind.

“In 1973, everyone was going to Chicago. That’s where I was heading too,” Burkett explains. “But my father got sick and my mother asked me to come back and help with the crops.”

It was only supposed to be for one season. But yield was good that year and prices were even better. The lure of money enticed him to stay one more year, then another, then another. One more year turned into over 40 forty.

In the late 1970’s, the price of crops fell and many farmers began losing their land. It was around this time that Burkett and seven other farmers decided to pool their resources to form what would later become the Indian Springs Farmers Association. In the 1980’s, Burkett took a position with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives (FSC) and through his connections, helped his small rural farmer’s association become a full-fledged cooperative.

Today, the cooperative is 34 members strong. It’s one of ten groups that make up the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives (MAC), the local extension of the FSC and where Burkett currently serves as state coordinator. Like the local cooperatives, MAC provides its members with the support and security they need to improve their lives and communities, including a state-of-the-art packing facility where farmers can bring their produce for shipment.

As a young 21-year-old fresh out of college, Burkett probably never imagined that farming would take him to places much farther than Chicago. Burkett became involved in the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), a non-profit that works with local coops to bring sustainable, economically just, healthy, safe and secure food to consumers on a national level. He currently serves as president of the NFFC executive committee, representing the organization internationally during his travels to Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. The trips afford him the opportunity to share his knowledge of farming while bringing home new techniques that he is able to introduce to his fellow farmers back home. Had Ben Burkett decided to stay in Chicago and not come home to become a farmer, it’s likely the landscape of farming in Mississippi would be completely different.

“My main goal has been to keep the family farm in business,” he says. “Ninety-five percent of the farms in Mississippi are family farms. I hope they will always be around.”

In March 2014, Burkett’s contributions to agriculture were recognized in a way that he could never have imagined. He received a call from Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation.  Based in New York City, the non-profit seeks to celebrate, nurture, and honor America’s diverse culinary heritage through programs that educate and inspire. Their highly coveted restaurant and chef awards have long been considered “The Oscars” of the food industry.

Ungaro informed Burkett that he was one of five individuals slated to receive a James Beard Foundation Leadership Award, which recognizes visionaries across a broad range of backgrounds who influence how, why, and what we eat. Honorees are chosen by past Leadership Award recipients. Among them include chef, author and restaurateur Alice Waters and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Burkett received his award on October 27, 2014, at a dinner ceremony co-hosted by Good Housekeeping at the Hearst Tower in New York City. His fellow recipients included New York Times journalist Mark Bittman; food justice activist Navina Khanna; writer, journalist, and University of California, Berkeley professor Michael Pollan; and urban farmer and community activist Karen Washington.

“There are probably 100 more people more deserving of this award than me, but I am honored that I was chosen,” Burkett adds. “This is a highly respected award and I’m blessed to be one of the recipients.”

Adds Ungaro, “The James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards honor innovators who are making a difference and shedding light on the important issues that our food world faces, from fighting hunger to public health. We recognized Ben Burkett, a life-long family farmer, for his support of the American family farm and advocacy for the rights of every individual to wholesome food, clean water, air, and land.”

Back home, it’s business as usual. It’s harvesting time and Burkett has several members of his family out in his fields helping him bring in the crops. He’s pleased that his daughter Darnella has decided to join him as the fifth generation on the family farm.

“Farming is all I have ever done, but I can’t say anything bad about it. There are good years and there are bad years, but that’s part of it,” he reflects. “It has been a good life.”

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The Cake of Christmas Past

December January 2015

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
December 2014/January 2015
Article, recipe and photos

When I was asked to write an article about the Amalgamation Cake, I had no idea that this grand dame of Southern desserts would prove to be so elusive and mysterious. Here in the South, a family recipe is almost as treasured as the family Bible. Often, there is no recipe. Just a technique passed down generation to generation. If a recipe does exist, sometimes it is nothing more than a hastily written list of ingredients and vague instructions. Many recipes are closely-guarded secrets that certain members of the family are sworn by blood to protect.

The Amalgamation Cake is one such recipe. I began my investigation by asking friends, family members, and even perfect strangers if they knew our cake in question. Half of those I polled had never heard of the dessert. The other half all told similar stories. Each had a family member – father, brother, uncle, grandfather – who considered Amalgamation Cake to be their favorite dessert. And each had a mother, sister, aunt, grandmother who made it every year – usually around the holidays. The origin is unknown. States all across the Southeast each claim her as their own.

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However, when I began my research for a tried-and-true Amalgamation Cake recipe, I discovered dozens and dozens of recipes, each one varying widely. Ingredients ranged from 5 eggs to ten. Jam or no jam for the filling. Some recipes included detailed instructions while others were so vague they didn’t even list a baking time or temperature. One thing they all agree on – freshly grated coconut was best.

I finally settled on this recipe. It seemed to have all the necessary ingredients and step-by-step instructions. The more involved I got in the process, the more I understood why this decadent dessert only makes an appearance once a year. It is a labor of love to create, requiring many steps and just as many mixing bowls. Merriam-Webster defines amalgamation as, “to unite two or more things into one thing.” I can only assume the cake got its name from the process required to combine raisins, coconut, and a whole lotta butter and eggs.

I have to admit, once my creation was complete, it’s an impressive dessert. Tall, regal, sugary sweet and flanked by sweet potato casserole or your Grandmother’s recipe for cornbread dressing, this lady would look right at home on a Christmas dinner table.

Amalgamation Cake

For the cake:

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole milk, room temperature
  • 5 egg whites, room temperature

For the fruit filling:

  • 5 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup sweetened grated coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

For the boiled white frosting:

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 egg whites, room temperature

For the cake:

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 9-by-2-inch round cake pans. Set aside.

Place butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Cream on medium-low speed and gradually add the sugar. Continue mixing until pale yellow.

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together 3 cups flour, baking powder and salt.   With the mixer on low, add about a third of the dry ingredients. Follow with half of the milk. Repeat the steps, ending with the remaining dry ingredients. Continue to mix, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until ingredients are thoroughly combined.

In another clean mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, about 3 to 5 minutes. Take a cup of the beaten whites and whisk it into the batter. Then gently fold the remaining whites into the batter. Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake until the tops are pale golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly. Invert the cake layers onto a rack to cool completely.

For the filling:

Combine the egg yolks, sugar and butter in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is thick, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the raisins, coconut and pecans. Set mixture aside and keep warm.

For the frosting:

In a small, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water and cream of tartar. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved. Increase heat to a boil. Do not stir anymore. Boil, washing down sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water from time to time to prevent the sugar from crystallizing, until a candy thermometer registers 240 degrees, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 2 1/2 minutes.

Remove the sugar syrup from the heat when the temperature reaches 240 degrees. Pour the syrup in a steady stream down the side (to avoid splattering) of the bowl containing the egg white mixture, with the mixer on medium-low speed. Beat frosting on medium speed until cool, 5 to 10 minutes. The frosting should be thick and shiny.

To assemble the cake, place one of the cooled cake layers on plate. Spread the top with half the fruit filling. Top with the second layer, bottom side up, You may have to trim little of the rounded part off the top of the cake to ensure it sits flat and secure.  Spread the remaining fruit filling over the top of the cake only. Ice the sides of the cake with the reserved boiled icing.

Serves 14

St. Jude, How Does Your Garden Grow?

eat.drink.MISSEDM August 2014ISSIPPI
August / September 2014

If hindsight is 20/20, it would appear all roads led Chef Miles McMath to St. Jude. McMath grew up in the Goodsprings community of Alabama, in what he describes as a “little, tiny, small town outside of Jasper.” He enjoyed a childhood that today would seem foreign to many younger generations. Before supermarkets could be found on just about every street corner, friends and families gathered together in kitchens or on front porches to shell peas or hull corn. Home gardens and canning fruits and vegetables were the norm rather than a novelty.

“I have memories of eating poke sallet in the spring and canning everything. Everyone had storm shelters that were filled with canned goods that we grew and canned ourselves,” McMath recalls. “We hunted rabbit, deer, squirrel, and turtle. But when fast food came in the 80’s, everything changed. People stopped doing those things. Maybe I was destined to become a chef. As you get older, you start to look for ways to get those memories back.”

McMath attended Sullivan College in Louisville, KY, before launching his culinary career under Chef John Castro at Hasenour’s Restaurant in Louisville. He left Louisville to accept the position of chef de cuisine at the Grand Casino in Gulfport, working his way to corporate research and development for all seven establishments owned by Grand Casino, Inc.

Eventually, McMath found his way to Hernando where he opened Timbeaux’s, his first of three restaurants in the area. He currently lives in a small community in Hernando where he says many of his neighbors share his love of home grown food. McMath and his family maintain a full garden and at one point raised their own pigs on the property.

Anyone who works in the restaurant indsutry can attest that the hours are long and they don’t fit into the traditional 8-5 workday. By 2008, McMath was married with children and wasn’t keen on spending nights away from his family. He was just about to sign a contract for another job when a friend told him about a huge $16 million cafeteria renovation at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis. The Kay Kafe, which was funded by Sterling Jewelers Inc., parent company of Kay Jewelers and Jared The Galleria of Jewelry, was designed to accommodate up to 1,000 diners. It features numerous food stations, each featuring a different food variety. In addition to McMath, the hospital employs four certified executive chefs, each with different backgrounds who are able to bring different cooking techniques and experiences to the kitchen.

Upon accepting the job as Director of Culinary operations for St. Jude, McMath knew, “a beautiful place like that had to have good food.” That’s when the idea was “planted” in McMath’s head to draw from his childhood experiences in rural Alabama and establish a garden on the St. Jude campus.

Through the help of employees and volunteers, the garden slowly began to grow. An unused adjacent lot owned by the hospital was reallocated for the space. What started as a small herb garden has now grown into almost sixty raised beds that contain everything from vegetables to herbs, in addition to a greenhouse and hoop houses for growing lettuce and tomatoes year round. The garden is tended by volunteers, many of whom are hospital employees.

Everything harvested from the garden is used in the 2,500 meals the Kay Kafe puts out each day.  Not only does the garden save donor dollars, but the nutritional value is unsurpassed. Fruits and vegetables begin to lose their nutrients shortly after they are picked. Everything harvested from the St. Jude garden is typically used within 12 hours. Those added nutrients can go a long way when it comes to the health of a sick child.

McMath has even taken his unique approach to the “farm-to-table” movement one step further. What they are not able to produce on the grounds, they source from farmers within 150 miles of the hospital. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but farm-raised meat.

“This is the best job I’ve ever had, but it’s not really even a job to me,” McMath admits. “St. Jude has allowed me to bring everything together – all these experiences I’ve had. It’s my way of giving back.”

McMath’s contributions haven’t gone unnoticed. Earlier this year he was invited to cook at the James Beard House in New York City. An invitation to cook at the James Beard House is highly coveted and has been extended to other noteworthy chefs such Emeril Lagasse, Daniel Boulud, Nobu Matsuhisa, Jacques Pépin, and Charlie Trotter. Currently, McMath is the only documented chef from an institution to have been extended this honor.

Says McMath, “It’s hard not to get excited about this program. We’re just people taking care of these children. They deserve the best.”

Faith through Food: French Camp Academy Shares its Mission through Tasty Treats

EDM August 2014eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
August / September 2014
Article and photos

A leisurely drive along the Natchez Trace never fails to provide some of the most scenic views of Mississippi. It’s best to travel along this historic route when you’re not in a hurry and have no real place to go so you can stop and take in a few of the historic markers along the way. Just 20 miles up the trace from Kosciusko lies French Camp, a tiny little town in Choctaw County with a whole lot of history.

French Camp was founded in 1810 as a trading post by Frenchman Louis LeFleur, who is also credited with founding the settlement that would later become Jackson. Today, French Camp is more widely known among Mississippians as the home of French Camp Academy, a Christian boarding school established in 1885. Situated on the school’s 900 acres is the French Camp Historic Village, which not only provides a glimpse into early American life, but hungry local foodies will find several unique treats at the town’s bakery, gift shop, and Council House Café.

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If your travels along the Trace should find you in the vicinity of French Camp in the fall, make sure you pay them a visit during Sorghum Saturdays. Every Saturday in October, sorghum syrup is made the old fashioned way, by pressing the sugar via a horse drawn mill right in front of the gift shop and then boiling the sugar over an open fire pit to make sorghum syrup.

The homemade sorghum syrup has become a staple ingredient for many of the loaves produced in the FCA bakery. Bread baking has been a French Camp tradition for more than 50 years. Loaves of homemade bread, originally baked with the help of students, were used as “thank you” gifts to supporters. Today, the operation is housed in its own commercial kitchen and “turns out” over 17,000 loaves of bread a year.

Like many of FCA’s employees, head baker Kevin O’Brien has a special connection to the ministry and the school. Not only did his family actively support the school while O’Brien was growing up, but he also worked as an intern for six months before being deployed with the U.S. Navy. During that time, O’Brien hoped he would be able to return to French Camp one day to work. After operating a submarine for the Navy for 24 years, O’Brien and his wife returned to French Camp to be dorm parents. Three years ago, he was approached about taking over the bread baking operation after long-time baker, Ms. Annie, retired after 17 years at the helm.

O’Brien admits he accepted the position without knowing a thing about baking

“I grew up in the kitchen helping my mom,” O’Brien says. “Cooking wasn’t foreign to me, but I had never baked and certainly never commercially.”

Under Ms. Annie’s guidance, O’Brien learned the ropes of bread baking. At the time, French Camp was only producing white bread. As O’Brien became a more confident baker, he began experimenting with other recipes. His first attempt at branching out began with the Sorghum Wheat, which uses sorghum as the sweetening agent instead of sugar. O’Brien admits the first few loaves were more like “bricks,” but after much research and a little more trial and error, he finally developed the recipe produced today.  Since then, the product line has grown to include a variety of sourdough breads, sauces, and giant homemade cookies. His sorghum cookies, named after his grandmother Sadie, are baked using her very own recipe. Often students will volunteer to help out in the kitchen and he admits that many of the younger students refer to him as “The Cookie Man.”

Much of the bread produced by the bakery is still shipped out all over the country as gifts, with the profits fund FCA and its ministries.

“I pray over every single loaf before it ships out,” O’Brien adds. “The people who buy these loaves are supporting this ministry and it’s still our way of saying ‘thanks.’”

Located just a short walk from the bakery is The Council House Café, which serves all of its sandwiches on O’Brien’s homemade bread. The café is housed a nearly 200-year old log cabin that originally served as the meeting house for Greenwood LeFlore, son of Louis and the last chief of the Choctaw Indian Nation east of the Mississippi.

The Council House Café provides the perfect respite for hungry travelers. However, it also provides training opportunities for the students in addition to providing scholarships for the academy. The menu consists of a variety of sandwiches, served on homemade white or sorghum wheat bread, homemade soups, fresh salads, seasonal specials. No meal would be complete without a helping of Mississippi Mud Cake or bread pudding for dessert. On the second Friday of every month, the Council House Café also hosts Steak Night. Guests can enjoy a 12 oz. choice ribeye, salad, and a baked potato.

Café manager Sunny McMillan took over the café three years ago after retiring from a long career with Piccadilly Cafeterias. McMillan knew retirement wouldn’t mean he would quit working for good. When an opportunity became available to manage the café, he jumped at the chance.

“This job doesn’t have the same kind of pressure that I was used to,” McMillan explains. “I love being around the people, both the employees and the guests,”

For newcomers, McMillan recommends the “Big Willie” BLT. It’s a BLT like no other, made with a whopping ten pieces of crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato, and topped with Council House spicy garlic mayonnaise.

“It’s not just about serving food, but also being a part of the Christian-centered ministry we have here.” McMillan adds. “We’re shining a light on the culture.”

For more information on the French Camp and the Historic Village, visit their website at http://www.frenchcamp.org.

The Delicious Legacy of Heirloom Tomatoes

eaEDM June 2014t.drink.MISSISSIPPI
June /July 2014
Recipes, photos, and cover

An heirloom tomato is any tomato variety that has been passed down from generation to generation. The flavor of an heirloom tomato is thought to be far superior than that of its hybrid cousins. Slice into one and you’ll soon see why. Heirloom tomatoes come in a variety of colors, patterns, shades and flavors. If you are looking to take full advantage of the summer tomato season, heirloom varieties are the way to go.

Heirloom Tomato Pie

  • ¼ cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 recipe buttermilk biscuit dough (see below)
  • 2-3 ripe heirloom tomatoes, sliced ¼-inch thick
  • 2 ounces (2/3 cup) shredded Swiss cheese
  • ⅓ cup mayonnaise
  • ⅓ cup finely chopped herbs such as basil, parsley, and oregano

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Position rack in the middle of the oven. If using a pizza stone, place stone in the oven to begin preheating.

Sprinkle cornmeal over a clean work surface that can be used later to transfer the crust to the oven, such a pizza peel or parchment paper. Pat the dough into a 5-inch round. Then roll dough out into a 13-inch round using a floured rolling pin.

Arrange the tomato slices over the crust, leaving a 1-1/2 inch border.

Combine the cheese, mayonnaise, herbs, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Place dollops of the cheese mixture over the tomatoes.

Fold the border over the tomatoes to form a crust. Transfer the pie to your preheated pizza stone or a baking sheet. Bake pie for 20-25 minutes until the crust is golden and the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Remove pie from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before cutting.

Serves: 4

Buttermilk Biscuit Dough

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup chilled unsalted butter or shortening
  • ¾ to 1 cup cold buttermilk
  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Cut butter into mixture until it resembles course crumbs. Add three-quarters cup of buttermilk, and stir until dough comes together and begins to leave the side of the bowl, adding additional milk if necessary.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Lightly knead 10 times.

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Fennel and Heirloom Tomatoes

  • 8 skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoons Olive oil
  • 4 medium heirloom tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, cut into wedges
  • 4 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil (1 ½ teaspoons dried)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano (1 teaspoon dried)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Working in batches if needed, add the chicken skin side down to the pan. Sauté until the skin is browned, about 5 – 7 minutes. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.

Add the fennel to the pan and sauté until browned on all sides, about five minutes. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds to one minute.

Add the chicken broth and the tomato paste to the pan. Stir tomato paste is completely dissolved. Add the tomatoes and and herbs cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Spread tomato sauce into the bottom of a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking dish. Nestle the chicken thighs in the sauce. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the meat’s internal temperature reaches 170 degrees. Allow chicken to rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Serve with tomato sauce drizzled over the top.

Serves 6-8

Heirloom Tomato Salsa

  • 1/2 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 pounds mixed heirloom tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1 Serrano chili, seeded and minced

Combine first 8 ingredients in a large airtight container. If not serving immediately, store leftover in the refriderator.

Makes about 2 cups salsa

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From Chief to Chef: Home cook Dave Bowman never fails to impress family and friends

EDM June 2014eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
June / July 2014

When Alana Bowman nominated her father to be eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI’s first home cook feature, she said, “He should have his own restaurant. Seriously, this man can cook!”

However, Dave Bowman of Pelahatchie says that growing up, the occasional pan of cornbread was the extent of his cooking experience. The father of two daughters, he started cooking after he got married out of necessity. Bowman, who enjoyed a 30 year career with the Air National Guard, and his wife at the time both worked long hours. Often he arrived home first and found himself with two hungry girls on his hands.

“I started out just throwing something together for the kids to eat for dinner,” he says. “But soon I discovered that it was relaxing. Cooking gave me an outlet to relax and forget about the stress at work.”

He knew he had arrived as a cook when his wife wasn’t feeling well and asked him to make a pecan pie for her to take to work.

“I had never made a pie. My wife tells me, ‘You just follow the recipe.’ So I did and it turned out great! That’s when I realized I can make something other than French fries and cornbread. I can do this.”

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Today, Bowman has quite a collection of recipes he keeps tucked away in a large three ring binder titled, “The Chief’s Recipes.” The title refers to Bowman’s title of Chief Master Sergeant, the rank he held before retiring from the guard 11 years ago. Now with five grandchildren ranging in age from twenty to nine years old, he cooks out of enjoyment for his family and friends instead of out of necessity. Bowman spends much of his time honing his cooking skills and trying new techniques, like making his own jams and jellies. He is also an avid gardener, growing numerous herbs and vegetables on his land in Pelahatchie, located just a few miles from where he grew up.  What he doesn’t eat right away, he cans so he can continue to enjoy his harvest when fresh fruits and vegetables are no longer in season.

Bowman enjoys preparing Cajun and Creole dishes such as jambalaya and gumbo in addition to traditional home cooking like meatloaf and fresh baked bread. He also cooks a lot of Italian food and says, “If my kitchen doesn’t smell like garlic and oregano, I’ve failed.” Lately, he has been experimenting with Mexican flavors, using fresh onions, tomatoes, and cilantro from his garden to prepare salsas and enchiladas.

Other family favorites include shrimp and pasta, sausage stuffed pork loin, cheesecake, and the recipe that started it all – coconut pecan pie. Bowman even makes his own seasoning blend, a mixture of herbs and spices he calls Dave’s Stuff.

On the other hand, Bowman says if you ask his grandchildren – who all love their Papaw’s cooking – what his best dish is, they’ll tell you he makes the best pancakes.

 

Photo captions

Grilled okra: Bowman grows much of his own produce, including okra that he likes to skewer, season with olive oil and his own herb blend, and throw on the grill.

Pork loin and okra: One of Bowman’s signature dishes is his grilled pork loin stuffed with sausage.

Roasted potatoes and cole slaw: These yummy roasted potatoes and homemade cole slaw are seasoned with herbs from Bowman’s own garden.

Apple pie: Bowman didn’t think he was a true cook until he learned to make his own pie crust. From the looks of this beautiful apple pie, we would say he nailed it.

Recipes

Dave’s Stuff

  • 3 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons thyme
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons basil
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons oregano
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Mix thoroughly and store in an airtight container.   Use liberally on pork or other meats before bar-b-que or roasting.

Canned String Beans

“My children’s great-grandmother, Florence Allen, taught this canning process to me.  She raised a family during the great depression and never wasted any food.  I’ll always think of “Mimmie” every time I can string beans!”

  • 1 Gallon String Beans
  • 3 TBsp Salt (Plain)
  • 1/2 Cup White Vinegar
  • Water
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar

Prepare beans using a large dishpan or similar pan.

Add sugar, vinegar, and salt.  Cover with water.  Bring to boil and cook until all beans change color.

Tap down jar lids and place in boiling water.  Keep lids hot.

Wash jars and scald with boiling water.  Place upside down on a clean white towel until ready to use.

Pack beans (while boiling) in jars and fill with liquid.  Screw on lids tight as possible and set aside.  They will pop when sealed.  Store in the pantry until ready to use.  They will keep for 2 to 3 years.

The Anatomy of a Southern-style Crawfish Boil

EDM June 2014

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
June / July 2014

For many Southerners, the arrival of spring is not signified by warmer temperatures or buds on the trees. It’s a heaping, steaming pile of crawfish spread out across a newspaper, the shells that tell-tale fire engine red hue and still dripping with crab boil.

After the long, dreary months of winter finally come to an end, what better way to celebrate spring than with a crawfish boil surrounded by 100 or so of your closest friends? It’s a time honored tradition that Mississippians have enjoyed for generations. The table manners your mother spent so much time coaching you on as a child don’t apply here. Seating is optional, but several rolls of paper towels nearby are required. Most people belly up to the table and begin pinching tails. If you’re a tried and true boiled crawfish aficionado, you’ll likely suck the head before casting the empty carcass aside and reaching for another.

For almost 15 years, the home of Edward and Cleta Ellington of Jackson has been the setting of such an event. It began in 1998 as a way for the Ellington children, who all attended college out-of-state, to get together with friends during Easter break.  Fifteen years later, it would grow into a neighborhood block party attended by nearly 200 people. Two traditions have always remained the same: crawfish are always served and it’s always held on the Saturday before Easter.

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“Holy Saturday,” Cleta Ellington calls it.

“All of us who raised children in our neighborhood were very close,” she goes on to explain. “The kids always considered everybody’s house their own. It became a wonderful opportunity for all the kids to come with their parents and visit.”

Ellington describes the boil as multi-generational. Her children, who are now in their 30’s, have children of their own. A crowd that was once predominantly college kids and young professionals has morphed to encomapss young families. Two years ago the Ellingtons passed the torch on to the next generation, handing the responsibility over to Barry and Mary Margaret White.

As with most crawfish boils, there is no set agenda. Word of mouth dictates that the food is usually ready by three o’clock and if you want crawfish, you’d better get there early. Turn onto the White’s street located in Jackson’s Fondren neighborhood, and it’s apparent there is a shindig going on. Cars begin to line the street on either side and people are seen carrying everything from coolers full of beer to babies and strollers.

Friendly conversation mixes with the sound of a propane flame as a huge stainless steel pot full of water and spices comes to a boil for the next batch. The ratio of water and spices is important. You want them spicy and if they’re not, someone will let you know. There the clinking of a lid as the designated “cook” checks the pot and stirs its contents with a large paddle to see if the crawfish are “done.” Periodically, two men will hoist a cooler towards the large folding table set up in the middle of the White’s driveway and dump a load of cooked crawfish, corn on the cob, and red potatoes in the middle of the table. Hungry party-goers step up to eat and if you want a spot at the table, be prepared to push a few folks out of the way.

If for some reason crawfish just aren’t your thing, there are chicken wings, grilled boudin sausage, and an entire spread of chips, dips, appetizers, and snacks. One thing is for sure, you won’t go hungry at a crawfish boil.

As the crawfish begins to wind down, there’s talk of oysters being driven in from New Orleans. Red potatoes and corn give way to saltines and hot sauce as a few lucky volunteers are tasked with donning gloves, wielding knives, and shucking the oysters, which are snapped up just as quickly as they can lay one down.

If it rains on crawfish boil day, most people will find a way for the party to go on. “Last year on Easter, the weather was terrible,” says Mary Margaret White, as she recalls their first year hosting the Holy Saturday boil. “It rained, but people still came. Everyone just huddled under the carport.”

Even though Ellington and her husband aren’t hosting Holy Saturday anymore, she looks back on those years fondly. “I feel so lucky that we’ve gotten to do it and were able to keep it up. I’ll never forget looking out across my yard one year and seeing mamas sitting on quilts with their babies and bigger kids chasing each other across the yard.”