Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie

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“I have nibbled at the Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie, and have served it to those in whose welfare I took no interest, but being inclined to plumpness, and having as well a desire to see out my days on earth, I have never eaten a full portion.” Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, “Cross Creek Cookery”

This is a pecan pie for people who don’t really care for pecan pie.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ “Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie” is a transformational recipe that lacks the bitter, burnt flavored top crust that other pecan pies seem to have. It is more like praline candy than pie and according to Rawlings “fat men are particularly addicted to it.” So you know it’s good!

For 30 years, I have made this pie for Thanksgiving, sharing it with people I very much care about, not just the “fat men” who clamor for it.

Enjoy!

Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie

“True Southern pecan pie is one of the richest, most deadly deserts of my knowledge. It is more overpowering than English treacle pie, which it resembles in texture, for to the insult of the cooked-down syrup is added the injury of the rich pecan meat. It is a favorite with folk who have a sweet tooth, and fat men in particular are addicted to it.”

Preheat oven to 375

4 eggs
1 ¼ cups Southern cane syrup (if you can’t find cane syrup Karo light corn syrup works just fine)
1 ½ cups broken pecan meats
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Boil sugar and syrup together for two or three minutes. Beat eggs until not too stiff, slowly pour in the hot syrup (I let the syrup cool a few minutes first as to not curdle the eggs), add the butter, vanilla and pecan meats. Turn into a raw pie shell and bake about 45 minutes, or until set.

*For the pie crust I use the Barefoot Contessa’s basic and foolproof recipe which holds up well to the heavy confection of the filling.

“Happy Landings”

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Today it lives amongst the marriage license, birth certificates and passports in a special container.

The Plant City Courier envelope is addressed “Happy Landings” to me. Inside is a three-page typed letter on thin, yellowed paper, dated September 6, 1977. It was my going away gift from my first boss and editor, Kathryn Cooke, as I left to study journalism at the University of Florida.

Kathryn Cooke was a legendary columnist and Florida writer from the 1930s until her death in 1985. Her newspaperman husband, A.P. Cooke, purchased the paper during World War II.  He ran the Courier until his death and then Kathryn kept it going.

She sat across from me in the Courier’s one-room newsroom, chain smoking, pounding away on her old manual typewriter and frequently reapplying her bright lipstick. Although she couldn’t have weighed more than 90 pounds, she dominated political and social life in town for years with her barbed weekly columns, great laugh and her preference for gold lame.

She hired me to work at the paper in the afternoons after school and then full-time during the summer writing the obligatory wedding announcements, obituaries and eventually some news and feature stories.

On my last day, she called me over to her desk, handed me the letter and left for her daily lunch ritual. It remains one of the best gifts—and best advice on writing—I have ever received.

Here is the letter:

Dear Becky,

I’ve been trying to find a little ‘going away’ gift for you. And finally I found one I could afford—a bit of advice that might help you in your writing career.

You will hear a lot of high-falluting talk from journalism profs about how to write. Take it with a grain of salt because half of them have never been within smelling distance of a sure-enough newspaper office.

The only way to learn to write well is by writing and re-writing, and writing some more. Aim for perfection. Get your facts and present them in a way that readers will understand—even those readers who haven’t gone beyond the ninth grade.

Write leanly. After you’ve done a news story, read it over, cut out unnecessary words. Say what you have to say—and get off the soap box.

You must learn to use words as an organist does with the keys of his mighty instrument. If it’s a funny tale, use light, airy phrases. If it’s a tragedy, set the mood with grim, tear-jerking phrases.

Make your readers SEE what you’re writing about. Don’t say “He walked down the street.” Describe exactly how he walked with action verbs—“He scurried” or “He ambled” or “He dashed.” Go easy on the adjectives, such as “lovely”, “pretty”, “ugly.” Use verbs instead to make your story come alive.

You will be required to write a variety of stories—straight, news, features, maybe even a column.

When writing a news story, put your lead on the most important fact. Sift your facts carefully; present them succinctly in the order of their importance. Beat your rival newspaper by finding a new twist to a situation.

In a news story, you can jump into the “meat” of the story immediately. Don’t beat around the bush. A feature story permits more lee-way. First, whet the appetite of your readers with a picturesque lead or a provocative lead.

You can back into a feature story; but a news story you should dive in head first.

Try and cover every conceivable question your readers may ask. Be curious; ask a lot of questions when interviewing. Be thorough.

Example: that feature you did on J.Y. Blake retiring. Several questions were left unanswered. For instance, what happens to his drug store? Is he closing or selling? If selling, to whom?

In writing news or featured, remember to keep yourself out. Do not interject your feelings or opinions. Write straight down the middle without bias.

Only in a personal column are you permitted to express your views.

You have chosen one of the most demanding, the most frustrating, the most exasperating careers of all. None of us newspaper people ever get wealthy, if you count wealth by money.

But the true rewards are many—newspapering is fun, satisfying, challenging. There’s something new every day—nothing ho-hum or routine about it.

Perhaps the most interesting facet is the people you will meet—people from all walks of life. You’ll learn to spot the phonies, but don’t ever become bitter. Above all, keep your sense of humor. It will show through your writing and become a delight to your readers.

Finally, keep writing a little each day. Writing is like tennis—it takes practice to keep in shape. Even if you marry and give up a career, keep a diary. Who knows? It may become a best seller?

I’ve really enjoyed working with you this summer, Becky. You’re a great gal and will make a doggone good newspaperwoman. My best wishes go with you in your future and if I can ever be of help, let me know.

Sincerely,
Kathryn Cooke

Deep Freeze

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“We hurry about in inadequate clothing…We bring out our newspapers and old quilts and sheets and drape them over our favorite shrubs,” Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote in her 1942 book, Cross Creek.

Nothing has really changed.

As I write this, it is 51 degrees at my central Florida home; we have the heater on and we are freezing.

Our Old House, built out of brick in 1926, was designed to handle every Florida weather phenomenon from 95 degree heat waves to whipping hurricane winds, but not the cold damp air that’s currently seeping through the walls.

Admittedly, we might not be dressed appropriately or fully prepared for anything colder than 60. But there is no time to root around for jackets in a rarely used closet; there are plants to bring inside.

This little snap should not result in a “hard” freeze, a phrase that launches the local strawberry growers into action: they turn on sprinklers to create an ice barrier that protects mature plants. Instead, this chill will surprisingly do us a favor and make the fruit just a little bit sweeter. I have always believed that the best oranges and strawberries are the ones with a bit of chill to them.

So as the thermometer drops this afternoon a bizarre abstract of old linens will appear strewn on lawns across town in an effort to protect delicate plants. Some plants, like my camellias which are heavy with buds and preparing for their annual Christmas show, will be fine. I’m still debating whether to cover others, including my ever expanding peace lily garden, or just give them some extra water tomorrow morning in an effort to keep them from dehydrating after a cold night.

I subscribe to the theory that our blood has “thinned” since our time living in real winters. Once, I thought it a joke when an old Floridian friend told me that water at his house freezes at 50 degrees.

Today, I agree.

Any Grove: For This Is An Enchanted Land

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I believe that no writer has more accurately described Florida better than Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Writing from her little Cracker house near an orange grove over 70 years ago, Rawlings was able to perfectly capture this sometimes wacky but always special place:

“Any grove of any wood is a fine thing to see. But the magic here, strangely, is not apparent from the road. It is necessary to leave the impersonal highway, to step inside the rusty gate and close it behind. By this, an act of faith is committed, through which one accepts blindly the communion cup of beauty. One is now inside the grove, out of the world and in the mysterious heart of another. Enchantment lies in different things for each of us. For me, it is in this: to step out of the bright sunlight into the shade of orange tree; to walk under the arched canopy of their jade like leaves; to see the long aisle of lichened trunks stretch ahead in geometric rhythm; to feel the mystery of a seclusion that yet has shafts of light striking through it. This is the essence of an ancient and secret magic. It goes back, perhaps to the fairy tales of childhood, to Hansel and Gretel, to Babes in the Wood, to Alice in Wonderland, to all half-luminous places that pleased the imagination as a child. It may go back still farther, to racial Druid memories, to an atavistic sense of safety and delight in an open forest. And after long years of spiritual homelessness, of nostalgia, here is that mystic loveliness of childhood again. Here is home. An old thread, long tangled, comes straight again.

From Rawlings autobiographic work, Cross Creek, published in 1942 and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

If you’ve never read Cross Creek, or haven’t thought of Rawlings since you read The Yearling in middle school… check it out. The recipes in Cross Creek and subsequent book, Cross Creek Cookery are as outstanding as her prose.

An Unexpected Adventure

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By Saunro

It was a magical trip.

The mid-October drive through Virginia and Tennessee gave us a view of the vivid red and yellow autumn colors, valleys and vintage farm houses. The Fall harvest readied in the Blue Ridge Mountain apple orchards and corn fields as we passed.

The trip was unplanned, as was the urn in the backseat. My mother-in-law, Mary Rose, passed nine days before her 93rd birthday and we were on our way from her home in Maryland to take her to her second memorial and burial service in Miami.

It was a fitting last adventure for Mary Rose.  Her life was full of commitment to her country and to humanitarian causes, as well as some unique connections to history. For the first few years of her life she lived across the street from the United State Capitol, on the current site of the United States Supreme Court. She was a child of the Great Depression and during World War II she served the nation as an aircraft plotter in secret locations around the D.C. area. Along with her mother and sisters, Mary Rose assisted with the USO where she once met Eleanor Roosevelt.

She married and moved to Miami and was a public servant for the Miami-Dade County for 30 years. The County Commission honored her dedication by proclaiming January 31, 1991 as “Mary R. Turner Day.”

Even after retirement, she never stopped having adventures. She and her sister Louise drove cross-country when she was in her 70s. When she was in her 80s and widowed with grand-kids, she reconnected with and married her high school sweetheart, Bill.

During the trip, I spoke to Mary Rose in her beautiful rose colored urn, pointing out some of the sites in Virginia’s Jefferson country. We took her to visit her granddaughter and twin great granddaughters at our Georgia mountain home before the making the final processional to Miami.

I know that she enjoyed the last adventure. It was one that I’ll never forget.

My Veteran

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It is still hard for me to believe that our son is a Veteran.  Veterans are supposed to be fathers or grandfathers or mothers. Never our kids.

But he is, proudly serving and thankfully safe and sound after three years, one deployment and too many miles away from home.

The U.S. Air Force is lucky to have him and also two of his great friends from childhood. These three boys—they’re men now I suppose but will always be boys to me—who in high school staged strategic toilet paper attacks with military precision the likes of which our small town had never seen.  With their own special redneck ingenuity, they engineered a giant slingshot in the back of one’s pickup truck to shoot grapefruit and soda cans across empty fields.  It worked well until they learned about backdraft the hard way, shooting out the truck’s rear window.

Now they have each sworn an oath and volunteered to go into harm’s way.  They’ve dealt with separation from home and family but also the thrill of the adventure.  These hometown boys have even run into each other overseas at “undisclosed locations” and two thankfully have home bases only a few hours away from each other.

This Veteran’s Day we have a new member of the family serving: our wonderful daughter-in-law who is currently away from their home, leading a Army platoon in training.

A lot has happened in the three years since our boy has been on active duty. He married a great girl and created a real home albeit in a place neither of them ever dreamed of living. They have endured months apart with conviction and courage and in that they have become a true military family.

One that, especially on this Veteran’s Day, I could not be more proud of.

They’re Good People

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By Pookie

“They’re good people, babe!” Those are the immortal words of my uncle whenever he encounters good cooks. His logic is simple and sound: good people make good food.

I know it’s basic but cooking for someone is the best way to show that you care—even if it’s something as simple as a thrown together casserole.

Although we’ve all experienced this through dinners with family or friends, my favorite local rib joint demonstrates the “good people rule” daily. Its run by a wonderful couple who take the time to get to know their patrons: they remember that I can’t have butter on my hamburger bun, that my neighbor always drinks diet Coke with her chicken and waffles, and that my Mamaw wants sausage gravy for both her biscuits and grits.

John Currence, the James Beard award-winning chef of Oxford, Mississippi’s famous City Grocery, is a proponent of just taking the time to think about what you’re doing in the kitchen and who you’re doing it for.

“Make a drink or pour a glass of wine before you start cooking,” Currence writes in his 2013 cookbook Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey. “Create a joyful working environment. Cooking is work, no question about it, but it doesn’t have to be drudgery. Make it fun.” He also suggests listening to specific music while cooking and there’s even a great Spotify playlist to go with his recipes.

A simple home dish that I love making is an extraordinarily basic but tasty hamburger casserole. It’s far from healthy so it’s a rare treat, but always worth the calories and preservatives.

Share this with some good people, babe.They’ll know you care.

Hamburger Casserole
Listen to: Tall, Tall, Trees by Alan Jackson

• One can of Grands biscuits
• One pound of hamburger
• One can of cream of mushroom soup, or your favorite dairy-free alternative
• One quarter cup of sour cream, again you can use your favorite dairy-free alternative
• As many Frenches fried onions as you want…yes, the ones in the jar.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Brown the hamburger and drain it on a paper towel. Then transfer the meat to a cast iron skillet or 9 inch square pan, stir in the cream of mushroom soup, the sour cream, and the onions. Once that is thoroughly mixed place the uncooked biscuits on top. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until the meat mixture is bubbly and the biscuits are golden brown on top.

Saturday Traditions

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Game day is an early day for this Old House.  This season Pookie’s Ole Miss Rebels have finally broken through to the next level of college football rankings. The Old Man’s Wisconsin Badgers are giving him the dreaded “Badger Pain”, something that he loudly proclaims as the worst football fandom pain.  Although this season even he concedes that my Florida Gators have given me the most painful season in a very long time.

Our Saturday morning chores are done around ESPN’s College Game Day. Then we text our Florida State son to tease him about his unbeaten team sitting at #2, behind Mississippi State;  eat a light lunch while watching the early afternoon Badger games; hope to be pleasantly surprised by the Gators; and always take the time to cheer against Auburn and Michigan.

Then it’s time to get ready for the Rebel’s game that night.  Although Ole Miss has never won the Southeastern Conference in football, their tailgating traditions translate beautifully even hundreds of miles away.  As the Ole Miss adage goes: we might lose a game but we ain’t never lost a party.

In keeping with that Rebel charm, we break out the good china and silver for some take-out ribs from Tony’s, heat up okra and tomatoes from an old Mississippi recipe, and follow it all with a little Blanton’s bourbon and my grandmother’s easy and delicious blackberry cobbler.

Don’t think that Southern football is all about men watching games while the ladies cook. Early one Fall Friday morning a few years ago, I sat in a Tallahassee hotel restaurant across an aisle from ESPN football analyst Kirk Herbstreit who was in town with College Game Day at Florida State University.

As I sat drinking coffee and waiting for The Old Man to return to the hotel after his business meeting, I watched the parade of people walk over to Herbstreit’s table to shake his hand. The men were pleasant and polite, but the women wanted to talk. Not about being on television or tailgating rituals and recipes. No, they wanted to talk football!

They discussed specifics about college quarterbacks and their NFL potential from schools across the nation.  Even our waitress, a tiny, middle-aged woman, asked Herbstreit a slew of questions like why the New England Patriots were so enamored with drafting Florida Gator players, if running quarterbacks could really make it in the NFL and did he agree that Florida State was just a few years away from a national title? (She was right on the money with that.)

As she poured another round of coffee, Herbstreit told her “Women in the South know more about college football than anyone male or female anywhere else in the country. We should have a feature on that.”

Yes, you should. And we’ll be watching!

My Grandmother’s Blackberry Cobbler

1 unbaked pie crust
1 quart blackberries
1 cup flour
2 cups sugar
1 cup milk

Pre-heat oven to 350. Place pie crust in either round pie plate or preferably a cast iron skillet and top with blackberries. Then mix the flour, sugar and milk in a bowl and pour it over the blackberries. Bake for about 50 minutes, checking at the end to make sure custard of the cobbler is set but not browned.

Enjoy with some good vanilla ice cream and a winning team! It is also exceptionally good the following day cold.

The Old Man’s Car

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It was hardly more than a flash of red steel parked on the street in front of a shop that restores antique cars, but it was enough. I recognized the bug-eye headlamps and black convertible top immediately. A ghost from my youth had stalked me to this small town in Central Florida. I was with two friends coming back from a long business trip, so I just made a note of the restoration shop’s name, and knew I would be back.

When I did come back, the shop owner knew there was no hope for me. I wasn’t there to buy a car; I had come to reclaim a memory.

When I was a sophomore in college, I had seen a sports car advertised in the paper: a ten-year-old Triumph Spitfire. It was rusty and a previous owner had it painted purple. But it was a Spitfire, a little British two-seater with curvy fenders, wire wheels and a throaty exhaust. When the student who owned it showed it to me, I knew more about than she did – I had been obsessing over sports cars in general and British cars in particular in a way that may be unique to nerdy boys of a certain age. My imagination had filled Triumphs, MGs, and Jaguars with dreams and fantasies of long back-road adventures, rally races, and the simple joy of design quirks imported from the other side of the Atlantic. Long before I was licensed to drive, I had memorized articles from magazines like MotorTrend and Car & Driver, and even wrote to automaker British Leyland for specification sheets.

I had to loan the $700 to buy it, but I was determined. I had that Spitfire for most of my college years, only selling it when the rust and repairs were more than I could afford. Thirty years later, here I was standing next to a sibling of that Spitfire. This one was red with a lot less rust and a substantially higher price tag, but when I sat inside it the smells were eerily similar, and so was the growl coming out of the exhaust pipes.

On a brief test drive, during which he discovered what the lack of four-wheel power disc brakes meant, my son pronounced it a “screaming metal death trap.” My wife was a pillar of patience and good humor as I folded down the top, zipped up my jacket, and asked her to honk if she saw any parts fly off. Grinning like a fiend I roared onto Highway 27, the smell of high octane and old canvas in the air.

If you are approaching Oldmandom – or know someone who is – I can tell you that even if you haven’t thought about those old dreams in decades, you’ll remember them easily enough. All it takes is a slight twist of fate, like a turn through a small town, and a flash of something red on the periphery.

Mama-thon

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Four years ago, I made a video to show at my mother’s 90th birthday celebration in which I interviewed her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren about her. During the interviews I asked the family to look into the camera and thank her for something she had done that meant a lot to them and then to describe her in one word. Even though I interviewed dozens of relatives, interestingly they all said something different about our matriarch. While she has different names including Mama, Mammy, Mamaw, and Old Mamaw, the family has a thousand more reasons to be thankful for her.

Today we celebrate her 94th birthday with more even more reasons and several new family members to embrace and thank her.

My mother was born the same year that women got the right to vote in America. She graduated from high school at 16 and was awarded a church scholarship to Rio Grande College in southern Ohio. It was 1936 and times then were still tough. Although the scholarship was generous, it didn’t cover everything. Her father sold the family cow to send my mother to school; a selfless act that enabled her to become the first member of her family to graduate from college.

After she graduated, she met and married my handsome blue-eyed and dark-haired father. She lived in a cabin with two babies (my much older brothers) on Daddy’s parents farm while he was overseas during World War II fighting with the Navy. Mama raised three of us, taught elementary school for 50 years, built one house, renovated a farmhouse, mastered bridge and many other card games and became a Kappa Alpha house mother after she retired from teaching at age 70.

She wasn’t your average teacher. Last year a group of former fourth grade students tracked her down to let her know the impact she had on their lives, even though these students are now in their 70s. It’s no accident that many of us followed her into education and that today one granddaughter is an elementary school principal and another is a state-wide teacher of the year.

What started as a baby-boomer family of two parents and three children has grown to 54 people with two new great-great grandchildren arriving soon. She has spent years watching grandsons progress through little league to college baseball then sometimes on to the minor and major leagues with nothing other than full encouragement and pride. Mama supported with full enthusiasm my short-lived fascination with barrel racing in middle school the same way she is thrilled to hear about my grandniece’s first year on the pro rodeo circuit. She is proud of all of us and when times get tough she is there to both help pick up the pieces or provide a swift kick.

Despite my mother’s still busy daily life she takes time to check up on her friends and read about her grand and great-grandchildren on facebook. What some may call her “snoopy-ness” once led to my biggest scoop as a political reporter in D.C. When my boss asked me how I figured out the pattern of behaviors from a series of leaked political documents, I was forced to admit that it wasn’t all my reporting skills but rather an insight from my mother who had picked up the papers and immediately deciphered the deception.

Mama’s interest and investment in her family’s lives showed through each relative in the birthday video. Many grandchildren thanked her for attended every sporting event, every dance recital, and never failing to remember their birthdays. Pookie thanked her for sharing her love of words. My niece thanked her for being an example of grace when my father died suddenly at 57. A nephew thanked her for their shared sense of fierce competitiveness. In-laws, including my husband, thanked her for raising her children to be original people. My son bluntly thanked her for teaching him not to take crap from anyone.

The best description came from her then-nine-year-old great grandson. When I asked him to describe his Old Mamaw in one word, he paused for a moment, looked right into the camera, and said the one perfect word: “Love.”

Happy Birthday, Mama! We love you!