SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK
Oh my stars and garters: A declaration similar to “Oh for pity’s sake,” this emphatic declaration originated in England as a reference to the star-shaped medals and awards of knighthood — including (since 1344) the most coveted Order of the Garter. During Colonial times, the saying evolved into slang for the trappings of knighthood, and was adopted by genteel Southern ladies as a one-liner expletive. It’s still popular in Mississippi and surrounding Belle-rich states … and as a name for English pubs. (See Pope, Dickens, and Thackeray.)
RED WHITE AND BLUE WEEK
Happy Birthday, America! Let’s hear it for celebrating our 237th Independence Day week at the beach, in the mountains, or in our own back yards.
Everyone needs to celebrate July 4th this year. We have survived a really troubling year, and some folks are barely hanging onto their optimism. The Old Bride highly recommends a palliative dose of good ol’ American patriotism as a cure-all.
I just got my dose in the form of an eight-day road trip to the Capitol City and back with 86 fellow Mississippians. We traveled on two buses to attend the 122nd Continental Congress of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR). NOTE: The 21st Century DAR is a volunteer service organization dedicated to upholding the principles of the U.S. Constitution through historic preservation, education, and promoting good citizenship. Modern DAR membership comprises lineal descendants of individuals who fought or gave aid to the American Revolution, regardless of race, nationality, or religion.
At the conference attended by more than 3,500 women from around the world, I met one Missouri octogenarian who still singlehandedly maintains a 650-acre farm with 250 head of red Angus cattle. And she cuts her own hay… and sings in the choir … and quickly tats up angel and Cross bookmarks to give to new friends … and only recently gave up hosting foreign exchange students. She was the norm rather than the exception in the Hall. No wonder America continues to survive!
All week long, the collective DAR mission was expressed nobly in reports from 50 states and several foreign countries. However, food (like Georgia) was always on my mind. How could it not be? Our Mississippi ladies had primed my taste buds during the two-day cross-country bus ride, exchanging tips on favorite recipes, and dishing up assorted homemade cookies, seasoned oyster crackers, cheese straws, trail mix, chocolate crack(ers), and pralines. We also stopped for a grand breakfast at the Mary Washington Inn in historic Abingdon, VA.
Once in DC, we could choose to attend numerous state-hosted breakfasts, luncheons and teas, amidst the all-day business meetings. Our Mississippi Garden Breakfast fundraiser for historic Rosalie Mansion, by the way, was the hottest ticket of the week. More than 100 Mississippians (including 21 ladies in antebellum costumes) hostessed the breakfast of cheese grits, petite ham biscuits, assorted jellies, and fruit. In typical Southern Belle fashion, our state organizers had added precise biscuit specifications as a deal-breaker to the JW Marriott catering-payment contract. … The bill was paid.
One night, three of us slipped out to dine at a small restaurant called Art & Soul, in the Liaison Capitol Hill Hotel. It was raining. Our feet hurt. The restaurant was close by. (No brainer.) Once seated, we were delighted to learn that the restaurant partners with area farmers, artisans and growers to prepare locally sourced, honest food. Their Southern-flavored menu offers catfish, shrimp and grits, life-altering can-baked bacon cornbread, and a variety of veggies such as smoky, heirloom Sea Island Cape Beans with Tasso (which would be fabulous with a rack of Cue-ribs), fresh greens, and a bubbly mac and cheese that would make QVC’s David Venable do his happy dance.
Hallelujah for rain and sore feet.
We were unaware until AFTER returning home that the restaurant is well known to food insiders for the extraordinary fare produced by its talented chefs — executive chef Wes Morton, a Louisiana native; and executive chef Art Smith, a Jasper, FL, native who is a TV celebrity, cookbook author, James Beard award winner, former advisor to Oprah Winfrey, and founder of Common Threads, the nonprofit dedicated to working with low-income children on food health.
Oh my stars and garters! Ya gotta love America: There’s a surprise around every corner. Some of them are pretty wonderful.
INDEPENDENCE DAY COOLERS
The Old Bride and her family are predictable on July 4. We always rustle up baked beans, potato salad, grilled corn and veggies, and barbecued chicken (pork is included for larger gatherings). Assorted desserts include lemon squares, Sally’s I’m Gonna Die Killer Brownies, watermelon, and homemade ice cream. (Look for some of these recipes in future columns.) This year, we included a variety of beverage coolers. Alcohol may be added. For extra flavor and pizzazz, add star-shaped fruit-juice ice cubes.
Simple syrup should be made ahead and kept tightly sealed in the fridge.
1 c white granulated sugar
1 c water
Fresh herbs such as lemon basil or thyme, OPTIONAL
Make a simple syrup by combining the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Simmer about 5 minutes on medium heat until sugar dissolves. Cool and store tightly covered. For herb-flavored simple syrup, chop the fresh herbs and add about 1 T to the syrup before it cools. Steep about 15 minutes and strain out the herbs.
BASIC LEMONADE OR LIMEADE CONCENTRATE
Make up concentrate and use it all week or freeze until ready to use.
4 large lemons or 8 limes
2 c white granulated sugar
1/2 c water
Lemon or lime slices
Cut lemons into thin slices, place in bowl, and cover with sugar. Mash slices until all juice has been extracted. Add water and let stand 1 hour. Refrigerate, tightly covered until ready to use. To serve, strain and spoon 1 to 2 T of the lemon or lime concentrate over shaved ice in an 8-oz glass. Fill with water and stir. Garnish with a maraschino cherry or a sprig of fresh mint and a slice of lemon.
2 c water
1 c white granulated sugar or simple syrup
Juice of 3 to 4 lemons or juice of 6 to 8 limes
1 lemon or lime, sliced thin
6 sprigs of fresh mint, OPTIONAL
Blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries, OPTIONAL
Combine first four ingredients in a large pitcher. Stir in mint. Serve over ice garnished with mint or a lemon slice and optional berries.
WATERMELON LEMONADE: Stir in 2 c of pureed watermelon, strained.
RASPBERRY LEMONADE: Puree 1/4 c raspberries and strain out seeds. Stir into lemonade. Garnish with a few fresh raspberries.
3 c peeled and diced peaches
2 T fresh lemon juice
5 oz Club Soda
12 fresh mint leaves or sprig of lemon thyme
1 oz pureed raspberries, seeds removed, OPTIONAL
Puree the peaches with the lemon juice. Strain if puree contains threads. Combine simple syrup and peach puree. Add chilled club soda and optional pureed berries . Pour into glasses and add mint, or thyme, and a few whole berries. YIELD: 6 to 8 servings. YIELD: About 8 servings.
ALCOHOLIC PEACH COOLER: Add 1 oz gin or vodka and a dash of peach bitters; raspberries are optional.
PROSECCO PEACH COOLER: Omit the simple syrup and raspberries; Add 2 T lemon juice, 6 T peach liqueur, 2 oz vodka, 2 c Prosecco, and a cucumber spear.
WATERMELON AGUA FRESCA
2 lb seedless watermelon, pureed and strained
1 c cold water
2 T lime juice or limeade concentrate
1/4 to 1/2 c simple syrup or agave nectar
Blend all ingredients, adjusting sweetness to taste. Strain through cheesecloth or mesh strainer if desired. Serve over cubed ice.