Tag Archives: southern traditions

72. Tea Cakes (Sorry, No Frosting)

18 Feb

Photo by B. Williams
Flickr Creative Commons

My sister has a friend named Shannon, and every time her name comes up in conversation (always in a good way, Shannon!), my dad says, “Ask Shannon when she’s going to bring me those tea cakes.”

I really don’t know when or why Shannon promised to bring my dad tea cakes, but I find it endearing that he’s still holding on to the hope that they will one day be delivered. I would have lost faith decades ago.

What are tea cakes? Well, as I have mentioned, Southerners have a tradition of giving foods names that aren’t even remotely related to their ingredients (salads with no lettuce or nutritional value, casseroles that are actually desserts, etc). Tea cakes are another good example. They are not cakes. They contain no tea.

Caution: Do Not Dip.
Photo by Chad M.
Flickr Creative Commons


“But wait,” you might think. “Perhaps they’re meant to be dunked in tea.” Alas, you would be wrong. No Southerner in his/her right mind is about to dunk any food item into a glass of iced tea.

You might think “What about hot tea?” Oh, no. No, no, no, no. In the South there are only two kinds of tea: sweet or unsweet, both of which are iced.

So what are tea cakes? Most folks would probably call them cookies, seeing as they’re round discs of dough baked on a cookie sheet. But they don’t have the crunchy or chewy texture that’s usually associated with cookies. I guess one could argue that they’re sort of cake-like. More specifically like a sliver of cake that’s been left on the counter to dry out for a few days.

I, myself, think of them as mutated sugar cookies.

I’m doing a terrible job of conveying the deliciousness of tea cakes, but that’s part of my “more for me” tactic.

Apart from Southern bake sales and the occasional lemonade stand, you will probably never happen upon tea cakes for sale. But they’re easy and – dare I say – fun to make at home. If my dad ever gives up on Shannon, I’m sure he could make these himself.

I haven’t made tea cakes in about a hundred years, but I think this recipe from the Bell’s Best Cookbook is the one I usually use, judging by the amount of sugar in the crease. I’ll reproduce it exactly as it appears then add my commentary. It’s on page 328 for those following along at home. The recipe is listed as “Old Fashion Tea Cakes,” not to be confused with “Old Fashioned Tea Cakes,” which precedes it on the page.)

Old Fashion Tea Cakes
2 whole eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup of Wesson oil
2 cups self-rising flour
2 tsp. vanilla

Beat eggs with fork; stir in oil and vanilla. Blend in sugar until mixture thickens. Blend in flour and mix well. Put in refrigerator to chill 3 hours. Drop by teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with greased bottom of glass dipped in sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet immediately and place on paper towel. Keep tightly closed in Tupperware to preserve crispness.

Attributed to: Mrs. M.E. (Annie Bell) Sudduth, Jackson – North Council

My notes:
• I don’t think these will self destruct if you choose a different brand of vegetable oil or even replace the oil with butter as I am usually inclined to do.

• If you don’t have self-rising flour, add 1 tsp baking soda and ¼ tsp salt per cup of all-purpose flour.

• I don’t have the patience for chilling dough. A few minutes in the freezer usually works for me. Results may vary.

• I cover the bottom of the glass with butter, but if you like grease, go for it.

• I don’t know why on earth you’d transfer tea cakes to a paper towel. I’d use a cooling rack or, in a pinch, a plate.

• I don’t have any name-brand Tupperware. I use the cheap-ass kind from Ziplock or Glad. They work just fine.

Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAD! Wish I were there to bake you some tea cakes!!

Do you have a good tea cake recipe? Please share!

71. Two First Names (A Story about Billy Joe and Bobby Sue)

17 Feb

Or Betty Jane...or Bobby Earl...or Linda Sue

Practically all the new parents I know in Seattle have saddled their newborns with two middle names. And not short, easy-to-remember names either. More along the lines of Rasputin Marlowe Fabian Jones (or more likely Jones-Smith) for a boy. Or Josephine Emily Prudence Smith for a girl. I’m not sure how they come up with these, but I suspect the formula goes something like this:

(Literary reference) + (Ancient ancestor) + (Favorite flower)

Or perhaps:
(Seldom-used old-timey name) +
(A virtue) +
(Open a book and point)

Sure, these lofty monikers may look great on the birth announcement, but perhaps parents should consider how many times their child will have to spell these names for call center operators in far off lands.

Southern parents traditionally prefer to keep things simple: two first names, no bonus middle one. Some popular choices include, Billy Ray (for a boy), Peggy Sue (for a girl), or Willie Jean (undetermined).

Yes, this is a stereotypical Southern trait, but it’s one that happens to be true. In case you are wondering, the South also features the largest concentration of folks named “Bubba” in the known word. Many a “Bubba” has passed as “Richard” or “William” for career advancement purposes or when living above the Mason-Dixon. But when he comes home, everybody still calls him “Bubba.” (Sorry, Bubba, we just can’t help it!)

I’m not sure how the two-first-names tradition got started. Maybe way back when there was a Southern couple who had a name they just LOVED and wanted to give it to all their children (as in “This is my brother Darryl. This is my other brother Darryl.”) But they figured it was best to give each kid an extra first name so everybody would know which one was currently being hollered at: Bobby Joe, Billy Joe, or Bubba Joe. Just kidding. Bubbas hardly ever have two first names.

My sister’s best friend is named Mary Bess (though my father – who’s known her for 20 years – always calls her “Mary Beth.” Which is actually pretty good, seeing as he’s liable to address folks named “Frank” as “Johnny” or “David.”)

Anyhoo, Mary Bess fell in love with and married an amazing guy whose last name for the sake of anonymity we’ll call “Tammy.” Before she had kids, she held on to her maiden name and when asked “Why?” (because Southern folks think everything is their business) she’d say, “Who wants to be a girl with three first names?”

One of my other Mississippi friends had the good fortune to meet and marry a girl with the best two-first-name name I’ve ever heard: “Mary Love.”

If y’all take a notion to start calling me that, I won’t mind a bit.

P.S. Please don’t make the mistake of addressing a doubly named person by a single name. A “Lee Ann” will not answer to “Lee” or “Ann.” Or if she does, you might not like what she says.

Does your family tree feature doubly named folks? Feel free to name names…

70. Red Velvet Cake (Accept No Substitutes)

16 Feb

Photo by Sharyn Morrow
Flickr Creative Commons

It might surprise y’all that I’ve EVER met a cake I didn’t like, but it’s true. And before you call me a blasphemer and start extolling the virtues of this traditional Southern delicacy, allow me to explain:

I grew up eating a fair amount of red velvet cake, seeing as it turns up everywhere from church socials to meetings of the Local Heathens Society. (Yes, I just made that up, but it sounds like just the sort of group somebody ought to start.)

Barring the occasional groom’s cake, most red velvets I sampled were homemade, probably using somebody’s grandmother’s hand-me-down recipe. Or in a pinch, consulting the recipe book of the (name of town) First Baptist Church. (Yes, these actually exist. I’ll go into more detail in a future post, so stay tuned.) So for the first 24 years of my life I LOVED red velvet cake. Then I moved to Southern California, and later, Seattle.

I’m here to tell you that there is not one good red velvet cake to be found in either of those places, or anywhere in between. I reckon you probably won’t find decent red velvet cake west of Texas or north of Virginia, but I haven’t conducted scientific research. And don’t intend to.

Yummy? Probably.
Red Velvet? No.
Photo by awhiskandaspoon
Flickr Creative Commons

Some say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. If so, someone ought to sic the folks with the white jacket on me, because I cannot resist trying red velvet cake whenever I encounter it here. And I am ALWAYS at best disappointed, at worst disgusted. Even when I purchase said cake from bakeries/cupcakeries I know and trust. This means you, Cupcake Royale (disappointed) and Macrina Bakery (disgusted. Couldn’t even finish Macrina’s version. And I have NEVER disposed of a half-eaten cupcake. To be fair, I had never before disposed of any half-eaten Macrina item. They make AWESOME cookies, cakes, breads, pastries, etc. Which is why I was so shocked at the quality, or lack thereof, of their red velvet cake.)

So I used my friend Linda’s Golden Globes/craft-making party as an excuse to attempt my own red velvet cupcakes. I spent a fair (ok, indecent) amount of time comparing recipes, trying to determine what might be wrong about Yankee velvet cake, so that I didn’t end up disappointing myself (or–as Southerners say–myOWNself).

After the cupcakes were baked and cooled and properly frosted, I tasted one. Hallelujah! I now know at least one place to get honest-to-goodness Southern red velvet cake in Seattle.

My ought-to-be-patented
recipe filing system

I used this recipe for the cake (But used 3 tablespoons of cocoa instead of the chintzy 1 teaspoon the recipe calls for. Actually, I probably used close to 4 T, adding a bit at a time till the batter tasted right.)

I frosted the cupcakes with:

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. cream cheese (softened)
1 stick butter (softened)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
¼ t salt

Directions: Use the mixing appliance of your choice to cream butter and cream cheese with powdered sugar. (On low at first so you don’t sugar coat the entire kitchen). When sugar is incorporated, switch mixer into high gear. If you are mixing by hand, stop. Go to your nearest mart store and pick up a hand mixer, already.

Add vanilla and beat until the frosting reaches your ideal spreading consistency. If too dry, add a splash of milk. If too wet, add more powdered sugar.

Finally, add salt and beat some more. (See why I told you to get yourself a mixer?) I add additional salt a pinch at a time till the frosting loses that hurt-your-teeth-sweet quality.

Frost and enjoy! Save the beaters and near-empty bowl for someone you love who loves to lick the frosting. You love yourself, right?

Sadly, I didn’t photograph my pretty, delicious cupcakes, as I was running late (shocker!). I guess I’ll have to bake them again…

Everyone enjoyed the cupcakes, and I was most impressed when my friend Julie (who’s from Texas and presumably knows red velvet cake) went for seconds.

Epilogue:
I was picking up a sandwich the other night and noticed a fetching-looking red velvet cake (complete with Valentine’s themed heart on top). I’m happy to report that I was not lured in. Maybe I’m learning from my mistakes, after all.

Also, if you’d like a more in depth analysis on RVC, check out the taste test conducted by The Bake More blogger.

Do you have a go-to recipe for red velvet cake? Or know of a good place to buy a tasty premade one?

69. Gone with the Wind (Frankly, We Give a Damn)

15 Feb

Do Southerners prefer the book or the movie? Yes. We prefer both the book AND the movie to most of the nonsense that passes for entertainment these days. I mean, would you rather witness the catty shenanigans of the True Housewives of Atlanta or ogle Clark Gable? No contest.

I must admit that I hadn’t read Mitchell’s masterpiece until four years ago. Who has time to read a 1,000 page novel? Someone with sciatic nerve pain who’s essentially couch-ridden for a month, that’s who. While I would never choose to be immobilized, it was a great excuse for catching up on my reading. (Alas, I was still unable to make it through Wuthering Heights and Anna Karenina.)

At first glance, Gone with the Wind doesn’t seem like something I’d want to read at all. War + Romance + Melodrama = Gag. But from the first page, I was hooked. Why? Mitchell employs the Dickensian cliff-hanger better than Chuck himself. Sleep? I don’t need no stinkin’ sleep. I need to know WHAT HAPPENED NEXT! (This is the very reason I watched the first five seasons of “Lost” in about a week. And, no, I don’t consider myself obsessive. Thanks for asking.)

Doggone with the Wind
Photo by Carol Vinzant
Flickr Creative Commons

Mitchell populated her novel with cast of deeply flawed characters: Scarlett, the self-centered, calculating belle. Rhett, the unapologetic rogue. Ashley, who is hopelessly wishy-washy. And, yes, even dear, sweet Melanie, who is far too nice for her own good. Some might argue that “wishy-washy” and “too nice” aren’t character flaws. But they would be wrong.

I fear this post is heading into research paper territory, and since I’m not being graded (or paid), I’m jumping off the train before that happens. If you want to know more, you can find a copy of GWTW at your nearest library, book store, or possibly garage sale.

While some of the old ways of the South are not exactly “gone with the wind,” I know of at least two that are:

1. The notion that proper ladies shouldn’t be seen eating in public, which leads to…

2. You’re unlikely to encounter any Southerner with a 17-inch waist. Except maybe a toddler.

Do you prefer the book or the movie? Ashley or Rhett? What’s your favorite Southern novel?

68. Funeral Food: Love in a Casserole Dish

9 Feb

Photo by softestthing
Flickr Creative Commons

Most Southern ladies of a certain age keep at least one casserole in the deep freeze at all times. You never know when somebody will up and die, so it’s best to be prepared. However, if you’re momentarily casserole-less, not to worry: grieving Southerners always welcome fried chicken, even if it’s store-bought. I’d like to put in a plug for one (or more) of those chicken nugget platters from Chick-fil-A (unless somebody dies on Sunday, when all the Chick-fil-As are closed). I’m still grateful to the kind soul who delivered one of those when my mom died.

I should mention that funeral food isn’t actually served at the funeral. You bring it to the home of the deceased, so the grieving family members and the people who drop by to pay their respects have something to eat. When Southerners lose a loved one, they rarely lose their appetite, but almost always lose the desire to cook.

Of course, you needn’t only bring savory sustenance. Sweets are an essential part of a Southern mourner’s diet. And for the love of all that’s holy, do not make funeral sweets with Splenda, people! Grief and dieting go together like…like…ok, they just don’t go together AT ALL.

Photo by Chris and Jenni
Flickr Creative Commons

If you want to bring over some meat-flavored vegetables, that’s great. But a salad probably isn’t your best bet. No, not even a congealed “salad.” Especially if the recently departed had been hospitalized for any length of time before their departure. Nobody wants to be reminded of institutional gelatin, even in the best of times.

In case you’re in a quandary about what to bring, consult this handy guide:

Banana pudding: YES!
Photo by Jason Meredith
Flickr Creative Commons

Great Southern Funeral Food:
Casseroles (anything made with cream of something soup is most welcome)
Fried chicken
Chicken ‘n dumplings
BBQ
Lasagna
Potatoes (preferably mashed or au gratin)
Homemade mac ‘n cheese
Bread
Ham (spiral sliced preferred, but not required)
Chili or hearty soup (Not chicken noodle; no one’s getting better anytime soon…)
Deviled eggs
Deep-fried anything
Homemade sweets of any variety (remember, no Splenda!)

Suitable Southern Funeral Food
Cold cuts and sandwich fixings
Egg/potato/chicken/pasta salad
Store-bought sweets (think Sara Lee, not Little Debbie)
Ice cream

Crudité: NO! P.S. Where's the dip??
Photo by Robyn Lee
Flickr Creative Commons


Ill-advised Southern Funeral Food
Green salad
Crudité platter
Fruit basket
Low-cal frozen entreés
Tofu of any variety
Chewing gum

If you can’t get over to the home of the deceased right away, don’t despair. In fact, I’d recommend avoiding the rush and swinging by with snacks a few days later. Trust me, the bereaved will appreciate a fresh supply of comfort food.

When my mom died, I can’t remember eating much else but cold fried chicken and some kind of cake (caramel, maybe?). But I do remember my relief at not having to think about fixing something to eat.

I don’t know much about funeral customs for non-Southern folks, but I will always be thankful for the ginormous basket of cookies my decidedly non-Southern friend Karen sent over when I got back to Seattle after my mom’s funeral. I reckon everyone knows that while food isn’t a panacea for grief, it does serve as a small island of pleasure in an ocean of pain.

This one goes out to my friend Beth, who just lost her Aunt Sue. Hugs to you…and lots of homemade Dixie delicacies, darling.

What’s your all-time favorite funeral food?

66. (Not to be confused with 666): Deviled Eggs

4 Feb

Photo by Debbie R
Flickr Creative Commons

One day when my sister and I were in an antique store, she picked up a deviled egg plate and said, “Since I’m Southern, I probably should have one of these.” Alas, neither of us purchased one. Fast forward 20 years: I spot a nice glass deviled egg plate at Goodwill for $5. But did I buy it? Oh, no, I did not. Then a couple of weeks later I run across that SAME glass deviled egg plate at an antique store and they wanted $50 for it.

Right now you are probably thinking that I spend far too much time rooting through people’s old stuff. And I haven’t even mentioned my new estate sale obsession…But I digress…

I never actually tried a deviled egg until I was well into my thirties. I grew up Southern Baptist, for whom eating Satanic snack food is a sin almost on par with dancing. Ok, I made that up. Baptists eat heaps of deviled eggs (especially around Easter). But the sinful dancing part is true, in case y’all missed “Footloose.”

Why are these eggs brown around the edges? Because they're actually cookies! Photo by distopiandreamgirl
Flickr Creative Commons

I’ve kind of always had an aversion to yolks, and the only way I would eat eggs was scrambled until… My fellow Southern expats, Chad (Tennessee) and Leah (Georgia) had a brunch one Easter and there was (of course) a tray of deviled eggs. People seemed to be enjoying them immensely, and I started to feel left out – actually, the “left out” feeling began when the conversation turned to triathlons. Anyhow, I tried one. And another. And another. “Deviled eggs!” I thought. “Where have you been all my life?” Deviled eggs: “Duh! Only every gathering you’ve ever been to in the South.”

I was an immediate convert, an evangelist even. I probably went through a whole carton of deviled eggs before the novelty wore off or the cholesterol shot up. These days, I don’t make them at home much, but am always delighted to happen upon them out in the wild.

So far, I haven’t found any that tasted as heavenly as Leah’s. But I’ve used Paula Deen’s recipe, which is a pretty good approximation.

Now if only I could find a suitable deviled egg plate on which to serve them…

Paula Deen’s Traditional Southern Deviled Eggs

Ingredients
7 large eggs, hard boiled and peeled
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 ½ TBSP pickle relish (Paula specifies sweet; I prefer dill.)
1 tsp yellow mustard (French’s style, not fancy pants Gray Poupon)
Salt and pepper to taste
Paprika, sweet gherkin, or pimentos for garnishing (optional)

Directions
Halve 7 eggs lengthwise. Remove yolks and place in a small bowl.
Mash yolks with a fork and stir in mayonnaise, pickle relish, and mustard. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
Fill egg whites evenly with yolk mixture. Garnish with paprika, pickles and pimentos. Store covered in refrigerator.

Do you have a favorite deviled egg recipe? Please share!

65. Crochet–Getting Crafty, Granny Style

3 Feb

Photo by Poppy
Flickr Creative Commons

You can’t throw a sugar packet in a Seattle coffee shop without A. Hitting a knitting group or B. Being chastised for mishandling some of our Earth’s precious resources (sugar, paper). Knitting has gotten quite trendy here in the last decade, thanks mostly – I think – to the catchy moniker “Stitch ‘n Bitch.”

Well, y’all, Southern ladies have been stitchin’ ‘n bitchin’ for centuries. Where do you think all your grandmother’s doilies and afghans came from? Walmart? I think not!

Before I get much further, I must confess that I have never knitted, nor crocheted, and I don’t exactly know how to differentiate between the two. As near as I can figure, knitting is for useful items (sweaters, socks, etc.), crocheting is mostly for decorations.

When I was growing up, crocheting was at an all time high. In the 70s, there wasn’t anything that couldn’t be prettied up with a bit of crochet. Is that an extra roll of toilet paper? No! It’s a lovely doll with a crochet “skirt.” Is that your blender? Goodness, no! Apparently an adorable chicken wandered in and took up residence on the counter. Is your broom wearing a skirt? Don’t be silly. That’s Twiggy. You know, the model? She lives here now. In our closet.

I don’t know where the obsession for turning everyday things into art projects came from. Possibly the same handbook that taught folks how to make the ubiquitous Barbie doll bake sale cake. (Don’t tell me you haven’t seen one.)

I, myself, got caught up in the crochet/knitting craze back in the early 00’s when ponchos were all the rage (remember that exhilarating five minutes?). I hooked up with someone on ebay who knitted custom ponchos (and matching hats!), and went a little overboard, buying poncho/hat combos for my mom and sister and three for myself. It was almost like having a grandmother. Though I don’t imagine most grandmothers are compensated through Pay Pal.

During the height of my own crochet frenzy, I sprang for some beautiful (and none too cheap) Alpaca yarn at the Puyallup fair. It’s around here catching dust somewhere, probably still hoping that it will spontaneously become a scarf one day. Alas.

Over the years, I’ve toyed with the idea of picking up needles and learning how to knit one, purl two. And maybe I will one of these days. Just don’t expect to see me showing up to stitch ‘n bitch night anytime soon. However, if the stitchin’ is optional, count me in!

Do you crochet? If so, could you make me one of those fancy TP covers so I can deck my bathroom out in retro style?

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