Two years ago my family and I were sitting next to two brothers in a small trattoria in Florence, Italy. One of the brothers owned a small clothing shop down the street and I struck up a conversation with him. He had once lived in the United States for 10 years and spoke English very well.
We discussed Florence, Tuscany, Italy, and food. He seemed like a nice guy. I asked if he had grown up in Florence and he said that he had. Then he asked me where in the States I was from. “Mississippi,” I replied.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Excuse me?” I said. At first I wasn’t sure if I understood his response. His English was very good, but he still spoke with an Italian accent.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
He was dissing Mississippi.
Years ago this would have made me furious. When one is doing business with associates in New York or California, and has a southern accent like mine, he instantly becomes Jethro Bodine or Gomer Pyle. People tend to pick the low-hanging stereotypical fruit and go for the seemingly easy target. Southerner = uneducated, barefooted, tobacco-chewing racist redneck. For years, whenever I encountered this, I would begin to reel off a litany of facts about the south, and specifically Mississippi, and why it was the best-kept secret in the country to try and win a person over.
I would throw dozens of details, statistics and personalities at them like I was playing a precise game of darts. Muddy Waters, Elvis Presley, B. B. King— score. Mississippi has more African American elected officials per capita— score. Mississippians are more charitable— score. Eudora Welty, William Falkner— bullseye.
One day I had an epiphany and decided not to try and win over the uniformed jerks for fear they might move down here. Though this guy in Florence was different. I was on foreign soil and he was obviously misinformed about my home state. “Have you ever been to Mississippi?” I asked.
“Well let me tell you about my home state,” I said, as I dusted off the old game of darts. By the time I was finished, he was ready to come over for a visit.
I love Mississippi.
Sure we’ve got warts, but no state is without a few blemishes. I will admit, however, that on hot, humid July days, even my adoration is tested. But as soon as I start thinking about how it might be nicer to live in a place that is a little more temperate, I begin to dream about all of the great things that Mississippi summers bring:
Peaches. I could probably stop right here. Peaches taste like summer, and whether you are eating a bowl of freshly sliced Jones County peaches or adding them to homemade vanilla ice cream, it is one of the simple joys of summer that many of us take for granted. Personally, I don’t add sliced peaches to ice cream. They are perfect in a bowl, unadorned, just as God intended.
Sweet corn. There are many states that grow corn, but to me the corn is always sweeter on the Mississippi side of the fence. I can stand in a South Mississippi cornfield and eat corn straight from the cob. Maybe it’s the heat, maybe the humidity, I don’t know. I really don’t care. As long as the corn is fresh and sweet, I’m happy.
Blueberries. Northern California has a perfect climate for grapes. Florida had the perfect environment for oranges. Hawaii has pineapple. We grow blueberries. One of the foods that consistently make healthiest-food lists is blueberries. Take that Hawaii.
Shrimp. This is something I know a lot about. Not because I trolled for shrimp as a kid, and cooked them straight out of the Gulf. I did. No, because I purchase and serve over 16 tons of Mississippi Gulf shrimp every year. Mississippi shrimp are best. End of discussion.
Crabmeat. People in Maryland brag about having great crabmeat. What they don’t tell you is that for one third of the year— starting in the fall— a large amount of the crabmeat served in Maryland is shipped from Mississippi.
Oysters. Say what you want about Bluepoint and Kumamoto, but Gulf oysters are the best. Period. End of discussion. If one wants to get more specific, then oysters that come from beds between Mississippi and Texas are the saltiest and the finest.
And those are just food items. I could go on ad nauseum about music.
Sure it’s hot down here. But we have great food, great music, and the nicest people on the planet. We are blessed and for that I am truly grateful.
3 cups Silverqueen corn (four to five ears)
2 cups Heavy cream
1 cup Half and Half
1 1 /2 Tbl Sugar
2 tsp Salt
3 Eggs + 3 yolks
1 1 /2 tsp Black pepper, freshly ground
1 tsp Hot Sauce
2 tsp Onion, minced
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Place in two-quart baking dish. Place two-quart dish into a larger dish and place in oven. Pour hot water into the larger dish so water comes up halfway on the sides of the corn pudding dish. Bake 40 minutes. Remove from oven and allow pudding to cool 10-15 minutes before serving. Yield: 10-12 servings