Saturday, May 19, 2012

Strawberry Cake

Springtime is strawberry time in Tennessee. We have quite  a few cities and towns that celebrate strawberries. Naturally, being from the western part of the state, the first one  that comes to mind is in Humboldt TN. They have an annual Strawberry Festival. They grow some prize winning delicious berries and love to celebrate them. We always looked forward to enjoying Humboldt strawberries growing up.
Now that I live in middle TN, Portland strawberries are the most prominent. There are many farms where you can go and pick your own if you desire. I love fresh local strawberries and this cake is a great way to use some of your berries. Frozen berries can also be used.
Staying with my theme this month, there was usually a Strawberry Cake of some sort at Rose Hill. This cake is not only beautiful, it is simple and delicious. It was made by my sister for my birthday this year, which is also in early May. I am not sure how she colored her frosting, but I suppose you could use food coloring or pureed strawberries. She placed a simple little decoration on top using whole strawberries and a couple of mint leaves. A nice no fuss, yet stunning touch.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1 box white cake mix

3/4 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract

1 cup strawberries, fresh or frozen

1 4 oz package strawberry jello

Mix all ingredients well with a mixer.

Pour into generously greased and floured pans.

Bake until toothpick comes out clean, or sides start to pull away from pan. About 25 to 30 minutes, depending on oven. 
Allow to cool completely.


2 cups (possibly more) confectioner's sugar

8 oz cream cheese softened to room temp

1/4 cup butter or margarine softened

Pureed berries or food coloring for pink color.

Mix butter and cream cheese well with mixer until fluffy.

Add confectioner's sugar and berries, if using, gradually, mixing well after each addition until you have desired consistency.

Frost cake and garnish with fresh berries and mint leaves for a natural and beautiful touch.

Aunt Peggy's Decoration Day Baked Ham

My Aunt Peggy makes the best ham. Her method is very simple and foolproof. It always turns out perfectly. It has been one of her staples at Rose Hill for many years. She is my only surviving relative in my father's immediate family. Some say I look more like her than her own daughter, and I cannot deny the fact that we are a lot alike. Both of us are very colorful and out spoken people who share an interest in preserving the past traditions. Aunt Peggy has been an advocate of keeping up the family traditions for many years. She is a pleasant lady who always appreciates the sparse visits, we do not live close to one another, regardless of how short they may be. I can't do enough to honor her and the impact she has had on my life, but I can share with you her method of cooking the most tender and juicy ham I have ever tasted. She is not a fussy person in the kitchen. Her philosophy has always been keep it simple be thankful for it. She is the kind of lady that will not hesitate to speak her mind, (pot, meet kettle!) but she has mastered the art of doing it with some grace. The mark of a true Southern Lady, which she most definitely is! So why not give her ham a try? I think you will enjoy it. I prefer to eat it without added glaze or decoration, but she fancies hers up a little after it is baked.
Following the recipe I have included pictures of a couple of the old graves at Rose Hill. I am not related to these people, but have always found them to be interesting.

straight from the oven

no time for frills, time to eat!

You need a good size ham, either butt or shank portion. Aunt Peggy prefers shank, I prefer butt, either is fine.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove all wrapping and wash ham, pat dry.

Double wrap the ham in heavy duty aluminum foil.

Place in large roasting pan.

Cook at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes.

Turn down heat to 200 degrees.

Cook overnight or at least six hours, depending on size of ham.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes or so.

Unwrap and if desired, score the skin with a knife and brush with a glaze made of  brown sugar and orange juice.

At this point you can place pineapple rings on it and put a cherry in the center of each.

Place back in the oven and brown the glaze, I would suggest the temperature be around 325 degrees for this. Don't leave it in too long, you want it to remain juicy.
Or, you can just slice it up as it is straight from the oven and eat it, which is my preferred method. 

This memorial was added many years later, replacing an engraved slab of rock. It marks the grave of "Old Black Mammy." She was a freed  slave of the Walker family. She stayed on with the family and became regarded as family. The Walkers placed this stone on her grave so future generations and descendants of  Aunt Phoebe and the Walkers would never forget. This grave was always the first of many that I placed my own little flower on as a child at Rosehill on Decoration Day. I am not a Walker descendant, but the lady resting here has always stirred emotion for me.
I don't know anything about this particular headstone except what you see. Interesting though, at least to me,

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Pimento Cheese Spread (Down Home Style)

Here in the South many of us love our Pimento Cheese Sandwiches! Everybody has their favorite recipe, which can vary greatly, and their choice of vessel in which to devour the creamy concoction. Some prefer crackers, others wheat bread, or perhaps topping a bed of lettuce garnished with pickles. My favorite way is generously spread on a couple of slices of very fresh store bought white bread. You know, the kind most of us were raised on, Wonder, Colonial, that kind. One of the many good things about this stuff is, it lasts a long time in the refrigerator, so you can make up a bunch and snack on it for quite some time. I admit, it isn't very healthy, but it is one of the staples at Rose Hill Cemetery Decoration Day Events from days gone by, and currently. There were always many different varieties of this, some smooth, some chunky, with nuts, pineapple, pickles and a wide array of  types of cheese. Some made it with Velveeta, other cheddar, or a mixture of both. Always mayo or Miracle Whip, sometimes Cheez Whiz. Like I said there is no wrong way to make it.
Considering the many varieties of food offered at these functions, one may wonder why sandwiches? When you have all this other stuff? There were many who had a 'grab a bite and mingle' approach to the day, wanting to catch up with seldom seen relatives and friends. Decoration Day is a very social affair, as well as a time honored tribute to our loved ones resting there.
I am going to share with you my sister, Gale's, version of Pimento Cheese Spread. It is simple, delicious and as southern as it gets!

1 lb. Velveeta (at room temperature)

8 oz grated sharp cheddar

1 large jar pimiento

2 Tbsp bread and butter pickle juice

2 Tbsp chopped bread and butter pickles

3/4 cup salad dressing, I like to use Miracle Whip

Mash room temperature Velveeta with a potato masher and mix with other ingredients. Serve as a sandwich 

or with crackers.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Decoration Day

I would like to share a little hometown history with you today. I grew up in rural Tennessee and Decoration Day was, and still is, a pretty big deal in Bethel Springs TN, let me tell you. That was the day we all went to the cemetery with flowers to adorn the graves and pay our respects.

The above video by The Drive By Truckers, is related to a cemetery in Alabama, but the pictures of the families in it are very much like the ones in my hometown, and most likely any other southern town that celebrates Decoration Day.

Everyone brings plenty of food and we all have a great big feast right out there under a huge shade tree by the church. There is a very long table that was built years ago, that is always overflowing with food every year. Each lady brings her signature dish and we all get to enjoy the best recipes each one has to offer at one time! Only the best for Decoration Day at Rose Hill Cemetery, which is always held on the first Sunday in May. When I mention this to a lot of people now, they have no idea what I am talking about. I now live in the Nashville area, and most people have never heard of such, taking food to cemetery and having a picnic?

Other churches in the area also had Decoration Day. Liberty Cemetery always has theirs on the second Sunday in May. We have some relatives buried there too, as do a lot of folks in Selmer , Purdy and other parts of McNairy County TN. The dates are set that way so you can go to both. I don't have as many memories from Liberty as I do from Rose Hill, however I do remember how beautiful that old church is. 

Both cemeteries have some historically old graves dating back into the 1800's. Some are unmarked, others with a rock slab as a headstone. Some very articulate beautiful monuments dating back into the early 1900's. Both of these cemeteries are beautiful tranquil places. Untouched by modern times, except for the occasional new grave. When you walk the grounds you span many decades and generations of  families and unknown individuals who rest there. It is almost therapeutic, and always stirs emotion. 

Over the next few weeks I am going to be featuring some of the best food memories I have had from Decoration Day over the years. Some will be authentic recipes, others will be my version, or a family members version, of  some of the time honored, blue ribbon quality dishes lovingly prepared by some of the finest cooks in town. There were always the mainstays, like my Mama's Potato Salad, Aunt Peggy's Baked  Ham, and many others that I can almost taste, just can't quite remember who prepared them. This is going to have to be a joint effort among me and my sisters, Aunt Peggy, and some cousins because there are a lot of details I can't remember and I want to get it right. I can't feature such an important fading tradition without making absolute sure it is accurate. There was something for everyone. Several different kinds of one item, like deviled eggs, pimento cheese sandwiches, chocolate pies, coconut cakes, banana pudding. The list goes on and on.

This is not a tradition that is only in Tennessee. Other southern states do this as well. Over the years the details have changed for many churches and cemeteries, but the intent is still the same, to honor our loved ones and pay our respects. This, along with most everything else in the south, is made even more special when you add delicious food! That is something that is in ample supply, along with beautiful flowers, some fresh picked just for the occasion and many prepared by florists, and some just simple little sprays or individual ones stuck in the dirt. By the end of the day, it is a beautiful site. There are always some graves that don't get new flowers, so the kids sometimes place flowers on as many of them as possible, especially the really old ones that aren't traceable to anyone there.

 I know this may sound strange to a lot of you, but it really is a wonderful event. To see the pride in the elderly folks faces, along with a hint of sadness, because each year the crowd gets smaller, and the food table gets a little more sparse. There are buckets of store bought chicken, tubs of deli potato salad and store bought barbecue (although it is the best place to get BBQ in the state) it isn't quite as grand as it used to be. That is due in large part to people being scattered around, generations dying out, or relocating,  moving for jobs and everybody is so busy these days they can't make the event. Our society has, and continues to change. Unfortunately, so do these time honored traditions.

In honor of my family, those still living, and mostly those who are no longer here on earth, I wish to pay tribute to them with my little piece of history here on my blog. I hope you enjoy it. There will be recipes, of course, and pictures of the beautiful history. I hope you enjoy this. It is part of my history and present.I know that one day, Decoration Day will  probably no longer be in existence, but until then, this is what is all about...history, brought to you in a fashion that we in the modern world take for granted, through the internet. Here for generations in the future to see if they so choose. Enjoy!