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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Christmas 2016

December 20, 2016

Someone once said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” I don’t necessarily agree with that. I have always believed: The more things change, the more opportunities I have to accept the fact that things are always going to keep changing.

Change is inevitable. One better accept it, because nothing can be done to stop it.

2016 was a tough year for my old neighborhood. I lost one of my oldest and dearest friends, Stan Hall. He passed away unexpectedly in his sleep. He was only 55-years old. I had known Stan longer than anyone except my mother, brother, and my close friend and across-the-street neighbor, Laura Foote.

We also lost Laura’s dad, and one of my surrogate fathers, Larry Foote, too.

My old neighborhood was a magical place during the Christmas season. I catch myself thinking back to those days and that place often during the holidays. In the 1960s and 1970s in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, it was hard not to get into the Christmas spirit within a six-block radius of my home.

The December air was cool and crisp, school was out, front yards were filled with kids playing outside, and our kitchen was always loaded with gifted foods. Neighbors didn’t give each other wrapped presents back then, they brought over edible gifts, and each of my neighbors had a specialty.

I have written often of my neighbor Mary Virginia McKenzie’s orange sweet rolls. I was blessed with two across the street neighbors who made sweet rolls, as Barbara Jane Foote, another of the greatest home cooks I have ever known, makes excellent sweet rolls as well.

The Webb sisters, three old maids who were all retired schoolteachers, lived next door to us. They made some kind of fruitcake cookies and gingerbread for Christmas. I have never liked fruitcake, but those cookies were good. I love gingerbread, but it’s one of those things that I never cook, and no one seems to serve any more.

My first job was as a disc jockey at a local radio station. I began working in September of my 15th year. It was a blast. I made minimum wage— $2.30 per hour—but what the owners of the station didn’t know is that I would have worked for free I enjoyed it so much.

Growing up watching Darren Stevens at his job on the television show, Bewitched, I knew what a Christmas bonus was, and remember looking forward to that fist Christmas at my new job when I would receive the first Christmas bonus of my professional career. I received that first bonus two weeks before Christmas. It was a fruitcake. I hate fruitcake. I am not sure what the owners were thinking giving a 15-year old a fruitcake for a Christmas bonus, but I chunked it out of the window of my car off of the Leaf River Bridge. The fish ate well that holiday season.

The aforementioned Larry Foote made salted pecans every Christmas. That was his specialty. Our house was always filled with salted pecans during the holidays. So much so, that if I had to name one single item that “tastes” like Christmas, it would be salted pecans.

You can have your fruitcake, sweet potatoes, and eggnog. Give me salted pecans every year and I will be a happy man.

In a 2004 column I wrote, “Meticulous, thorough and painstakingly particular, the mere roasting of pecans is a complicated but wonderfully fun procedure left in the hands of Larry Foote. As with most great recipes, simplicity is the key. The ingredient list is short, only three items, once again, attention to detail is the key. Larry watches the oven like a hawk. Sixty-three minutes to the second after Larry has put the pecans in the oven they are ready for consumption.”

A few days before Larry passed away, he took his grandson John into the kitchen and taught him how to make his salted pecan recipe. I love that. It is what I wish I would have done with both of my grandmothers before they were gone. It is what I hope you do with your grandmothers and/or mother while you have the time.

If you are a grandmother or grandfather, then invite one or two of your grandchildren over the next time you prepare one of your specialties. Walk them through it. Sit down and eat the results together afterwards. You’ll be creating a memory for the ages.

It’s all about the legacy we leave. Stuff doesn’t matter. What truly counts is lives impacted and experiences shared with friends and family.

Have a blessed Christmas, and may the New Year bring you everything you need.


Larry Foote’s Salty Cocktail Pecans

1 1 /2 lbs Pecans, whole
Unsalted butter, to taste (cut into 1 Tbl pats)
Salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 320 degrees. Place pecans in a 9×13” aluminum baking pan with 2” sides. Dot with five pats of butter and lightly salt the pecans. Place in oven for 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven and gently fold (stir) pecans with a wooden spoon, adding three pats of butter and a light sprinkling of salt. Repeat this cooking procedure every 10 minutes, slightly increasing the amount of salt each time, while lightly decreasing the amount of butter. Never add more butter than the pecans can absorb in a 10 minute period and be very gentle when stirring the pecans. The entire process takes 60 – 65 minutes. When done, spread on a layer of wax paper and dig in.


Mary Virginia’s Orange Sweet Rolls
1 batch Icebox Roll Dough
1 stick Margarine
1 1/ 4 cup Granulated Sugar
1 1 /2 Tbl China Cassia Cinnamon
1 lb. Confectioner’s Sugar
Grated rind of two Navel Oranges
Enough Orange Juice to make a glaze

Melt one stick of margarine and grease six aluminum foil lined 9-inch cake pans. Roll out Icebox Roll dough into a large rectangle (1 foot by 3 feet). Sprinkle with granulated sugar and cinnamon. Roll up, jellyroll style, from the long side. Cut and place into prepared cake pans. Let rise until doubled in size (about 1 hour). Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Make a glaze using the Confectioners Sugar, rind and Orange Juice and ice the rolls while they are hot. Mary Virginia says Navel Oranges have the best rind. These rolls freeze well in Zip-loc bags, but if you are like me, they won’t last long enough to make it to the freezer.


Icebox Roll Dough

1 cup Boiling Water
1 cup Shortening (or 2 sticks of margarine)
1 cup Sugar
1 one-half tsp. Salt
2 Eggs (large)
2 Tbl Yeast (2 packages)
1 cup Water
6 cups Flour

Pour water over shortening, sugar & salt. Blend and let cool. Add eggs and beat well.

Let yeast stand in water with a dash of sugar until bubbly. Add yeast mixture to shortening mixture when it is absolutely cool. Then beat in the flour. Cover and refrigerate three or four hours. Take out of the refrigerator and knead with any extra flour you may need. Roll out, form or cut. Let rise until doubled and then bake at 350 until done and nicely browned. The dough can be held in the refrigerator – before the kneading/proof stage – for two or three days, the dough must be wrapped tightly with plastic wrap to keep any air from reaching the dough. When you are ready to bake just pull out the desired amount, then knead, proof and bake.

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