Next up: the happiest month of the year
By Kara Kimbrough
We’re entering the month I call the “happiest month of the year.” May is just plain "happy," filled with joyous occasions like Mother’s Day, high school and college graduations and spring wedding celebrations. On top of personal events are fun tours, pilgrimages and festivals showcasing the best and most beautiful of our state’s offerings. Recommended websites to check out most of the festivities around the state are: visitmississippi.org, gulfcoast.org and natchezpilgrimage.com.
When it comes to food for our happiest month, a wealth of happy-sounding dishes increase the endorphins of every attendee at a spring celebration. Just a few examples that inspire happiness and are perfect for spring entertaining including biscuits filled with sliced ham or served solo with a side of butter or jam, muffins of any flavor, ranging from berry-filled to cinnamon to my personal favorite, Peabody Hotel vanilla, berry cobblers, cheeseball (one of at least 100 varieties), flavorful dips, cheese straws and pralines.
And that’s not even including the piece de resistance of any happy foods list. I’m referring to cakes that simultaneously sound and taste happy. A few to add to any spring dessert table are Hawaiian sunset, Tres leches, hummingbird and my favorite, strawberry shortcake courtesy of pound cake topped with strawberries and ice cream.
When it comes to spring entertaining, it’s important to remember that special events are all about sharing time and food with the people you love. Make up your mind not to stress out over whether your house is big enough or clean enough to host guests or if the food you plan to serve is fancy enough.
Melba Darras, who served with her late husband, Tommie, for decades as hostess and chef, respectively, of the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion, told me once that guests often expressed how honored they were to be invited to the grand residence. While they complimented Tommie's food, it wasn’t the highlight of their visit. Instead, they were touched by the warm Southern hospitality and being invited to the governor's home.
Even if your home isn’t quite as impressive as the Governor’s Mansion, don’t let that stop you for sharing it with others this spring. Your friends and family won’t be judging your home or food, but instead, will feel special that you included them. That warm feeling is the memory that will linger long after the food has been eaten.
Here are three recipes served by the Darras’ at the Governor’s Mansion and mentioned in their cookbook, A Taste of History. Melba's notes are in italics.
We served Mississippi Cookies to everyone, including The Today Show’s Jane Pauley, who received a box full presented by Gov. Allain when the show was filming in Mississippi.
1/2 cup shortening (half butter)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla and a dash of salt
1- 1/3 cups of flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon milk
Combine shortening, butter, sugar, salt, vanilla and eggs. Add sifted dry ingredients. Chill. Roll as thin as possible. Use any cookie cutter you choose. (The customized cookie cutter is available at the Old Capitol Shop or gourmet and culinary shops in the state.) Bake on a sprayed cookie sheet for 7-10 minutes at 350¡. Makes 3-4 dozen.
TOMMIE'S GREEK SALAD
This salad was often made for meals at the Mansion. Nobody has ever been able to make it like Tommie.
Mix salad greens using iceberg, endive and romaine. Add tomato wedges, thin cucumber slices, green pepper slices (no onions). Lightly pour on virgin olive oil and vinegar that has been aged with garlic, (using ratio of 2 to 1). Add salt and pepper. Heap on Kalamata olives, feta cheese, anchovies and pepperoncini.
Gov. and Mrs. Winter entertained their good friend, Eudora Welty, the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Tommie prepared this special dessert for her.
Slice Mississippi orchard grown peaches and combine with sugar and 1/8 teaspoon almond extract. Place small thin slice of homemade pound cake in the bottom of a dessert goblet. Sprinkle lightly with Amaretto. Spoon peach mixture interspersed with this raspberry sauce before topping with whipped cream.
2 (10 oz) packages of frozen raspberries
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons lemon juice or Amaretto or whatever you prefer
Thaw and press berries through sieve or puree in blender. Strain out the seeds. Put puree in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add cornstarch dissolved in lemon juice. Cook until slightly thickened. Cool and chill.
Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.