Shhh! Don’t tell Charlie
Last week Congressman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “Mississippi gets more than their fair share back in federal money, but who the hell wants to live in Mississippi?”
The answer to the congressman’s question as to who wants to live in Mississippi is: me and 2,844,657 of my friends and neighbors, not to mention a few hundred thousand expatriated Mississippians stuck in New York, California, and all points in between.
After reading the Times article, my first reaction was to fire off a letter to the congressman’s office and various editors of national newspapers extolling the benefits of living in Mississippi: the friendly people, the stunning natural resources, the music, the art, the literature, the low cost of living, the beautiful women, the moderate climate (sans August), and the food— especially the food.
New York has its fair share of great cooking, but with all due respect to Mr. Rangel, I am talking about food with soul. Not soul food, although we certainly have plenty of that— and surely the best of that genre is served here in my home state— but food with soul. Food that was prepared with love as my grandmother did, as my wife does for our children. Food with soul infers a love, respect, and dedication to the preparation and dining process. It’s food of love, with love, and for love.
It’s the food, Charlie. On a 2005 nationally televised special for Hurricane Katrina relief, Morgan Freeman, the Academy Award winning actor, said of his home state, “I’d live here for the food alone.” Freeman knows what we know; Rangel knows not.
We know the joy of eating broiled speckled trout, salty oysters, and fresh shrimp from the warm Gulf waters, soft-shell crab and jumbo-lump crabmeat from Ocean Springs and Bay St. Louis. We know of the bliss that overcomes one in the middle of biting into a slab of sweet, smoky ribs from Leatha’s in Hattiesburg, or a filet of crispy-fried catfish dotted with hot sauce at any one of the hundreds of quaint fish houses hidden away on lightly traveled country roads.
The rolls served at the Elite on Capitol Street in Jackson, and the comeback dressing at the Mayflower, are both worthy of anyone’s citizenship, as is the gumbo at Hal and Mal’s. We know tamales from Doe’s in Greenville, cheesecakes from Jubilations in Columbus, and fried chicken at the hundreds of small diners and cafes located on town squares and roadside joints not discounting the chicken served on your grandmother’s dinner table— the true food of love.
We’ve know fine dining from the City Grocery in Oxford, to Nick’s in Jackson, and The Purple Parrot Café in Hattiesburg. From organic beef and free-range poultry in Meridian to a world-class creamery South of Tylertown, we’ve got the resources to eat like royalty. From the Sweet Potato Capital of Vardaman to Tomato Capital of Crystal Springs, down here the vegetables are fresher, the conversation is friendlier, and the politicians are more polite.
Life moves slower in Mississippi, but we’ll not apologize for taking time to visit, to listen, and to help one another. After reading Congressman Rangel’s statement I was reminded of another Morgan Freeman statement. When asked by a reporter why he lives in Mississippi when he could live anywhere in the world, Freeman replied, “I live in Mississippi because I can live anywhere in the world.”
So in the end, I will not fire off a letter to Mr. Rangel explaining why we enjoy living in Mississippi for fear that the correspondence might sway his ill-informed opinion, subsequently changing his mind and enticing him to move down here— an act that would consequently put at risk our long-standing and hard-earned reputation for hospitality.
If you love crabmeat, you’ll love this dish. If you don’t love crabmeat this dish will win you over. Perfect when paired with champagne. Serve with toasted French bread croutons or a buttery cracker.
1 Tbl butter
1 /4 cup small dice yellow onions
1 /4 cup minced shallots
1 /2 cup small dice red peppers
1 /4 cup small dice green peppers
1 /4 cup small dice celery
1 /4 teaspoon salt
1 /8 teaspoon cayenne
1 Tbl minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 /2 cup chopped green onions
1 1 /2 cup homemade or prepared mayonnaise
3 tablespoons Creole Mustard
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 /4 teaspoon hot sauce
2 pound lump crab meat
1 /4 cup dried Japanese bread crumbs
3 Tbl sour cream
2 tsp lemon juice
2 teaspoons creole seasoning
2 tablespoons chopped chives, garnish
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil. When the pan is hot, add onions, shallots, peppers, celery, salt and cayenne. Sauté for 5 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and translucent. Add garlic, parsley and green onions, sauté for one or two minutes. Remove from the heat and cool 30 minutes.
In a mixing bowl, combine one cup of the mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar and hot sauce. Mix until thoroughly incorporated. Gently fold in the crabmeat. Spoon the mixture into an 8”x 8”baking dish.
In a separate bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, the remaining 1 /2 cup of mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice and the Creole seasoning together. Spread the bread crumb mixture on top of the crab mixture.
Bake 20 minutes, or until bubbly and brown. Garnish with chopped chives.
From the Hyperion cookbook Deep South Parties by Robert St.John