26 July 2009

Dinner At Miss Lady's

Luann Landon wrote a lovely book of memories from her childhood visits to her grandmother, Miss Lady. Miss Lady was a part of a dying breed of Southern matriarchs, who ruled their "big houses" with an iron hand, slipped into a lovely white glove. (In the interest of full disclosure, those "big houses" almost always had a competent and wildly creative African-American woman in the kitchen who manged to run the house and keep the white gloves laundered and pressed.) Miss Lady's household was held together by Henretta.

In Dinner at Miss Lady's: Memories and Recipes from a Southern Childhood, Landon points out the marching orders of every Victorian Southern woman,
"They expected me to have good manners, to behave well."
For the women of this era, good manners and good taste were indistinguishable. Miss Lady taught Luann a little salt will bring out the flavor in sweet dishes, young girls do not wear flowers in their hair, some colors go together and some do not, and the importance of setting the table correctly.

Here is the pound cake that often graced Miss Lady's Georgia table.

Georgia Pound Cake

1 box (1 pound) light brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
3 sticks butter
5 large eggs
1 cup milk
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pecans, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 325F.

2. In a large bowl, cream butter and both sugars (you may melt the butter). Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add milk and flour alternately, beating well. Add baking powder, vanilla, and pecans.

3. Butter two large loaf pans. Pour batter into pans and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Allow to cool before unmolding.

I worry that the Miss Lady's of this world are gone. I worry that "ladies" in general and as a historical or imagined concept are gone, lost in morass of botox and reality television. In an attempt to stem such tides, I am going to break out Great-Aunt Lizzie's tiny champagne glasses, pour some bubbly and have my cake... and eat it, too. Later in the evening I'll send my self a thank-you note.

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