08 October 2009

Side Orders


John Egerton has been writing about Southern food forever. He was in the forefront of writers who gave a voice to the foodways of the South. More importantly, Egerton gave voice to the history of the food of the South. He never simply ate people’s food he asked them about their history. This detail makes Egerton that rare combination of cookbook author and anthropologist, a storyteller who spends as much time telling you a story as he does cooking the food.

Side Orders is Egerton’s second book and it is filled with the tall tales and hard facts that comprise Southern culinary heritage. He waxes poetic on the joys and revelations of sweet tea, concerned that the “inventor” of sweet tea has been lost to history and therefore has no gigantic bronze statue marking their contribution.
“It’s the South’s gift to a thirsty world, and it may prove to be the region’s most important contribution to peace and harmony among nations.”

“The wonder is not that Southerners drink so much of it, but rather that the rest of the world drinks so little.”
Next to sweet tea, Southerners love their soft drinks and Egerton walks us through the vast history of sugary concoctions produced as curatives by drugstore pharmacists. Here’s a list.

Dr. Pepper -- Rural Retreat, Virginia
Coco-Cola -- Atlanta, Georgia
Pepsi Cola – New Bern, North Carolina
Barq’s Root Beer – Biloxi, Mississippi
Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale -- Birmingham, Alabama
RC Cola – Columbus, Georgia
Blenheim Ginger Ale – Blenheim, South Carolina
Double Cola --- Chattanooga, Tennessee
Gatorade – Gainesville, Florida

Egerton fails to mention my particular favorite, Cheerwine, which began as Mint Cola in Maysville, Kentucky.

In Southern households, fall ushers in the season of holiday candy making. This is a good place point out that, in the South, if we find something that works, we just grab it and claim it!

Million Dollar Fudge is one of those recipes. You will be hard pressed to find a family in the South that doesn’t have one member who makes fudge for every holiday.

Edgerton attributes the first printing of a recipe for “Million Dollar Fudge” to the Women’s National Press Club in Washington, D.C., whose fundraising cookbook featured a recipe by then First Lady, Mamie Eisenhower. She included a fudge recipe she made for her future husband when they were courting. Ike called it her “Million Dollar Fudge” and the name stuck.

Mr. and Mrs. Eisenhower on their wedding day

Million Dollar Fudge

Into a large, heavy cooking pot, put 4-1/2 cups of sugar, a 12-ounce can of evaporated milk, 1 stick of butter, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil and cook it for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then turn off the heat and add the followings: 1 12-ounce package of semi-sweet chocolate drops, 1 8-ounce bar of milk chocolate, 4 4-ounce bars of German’s sweet chocolate, and 1 large jar of marshmallow creme. Stir until all the chocolate is melted and well mixed, then add 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and 4 cups of pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped. When all the ingredients are thoroughly combined, pour the fudge onto a buttered cookie sheet and spread it out to a thickness of about 1 inch. Cut it in squares when it cools and store it in tins.

Well, Mamie Eisenhower may not have been a Southerner, but in the broadest sense, Washington, D.C. is considered by some to be “Southern” so we get custody of Million Dollar Fudge, and no one could take better care of it.

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