Storytellin’ …

3925AC4F-F5BD-44B5-AF85-0508EA46C4C7In the South, Storytellin’ is an acceptable art form…for some unknown reason Southern Folks who are Artists of any kind are reluctant to say-

  • ‘I’m a musician or
  • ‘I’m an artist’ and for sure-
  • They won’t own up to saying- ‘I’m a writer’

…Maybe it’s because Southern Folks have always been fiddlin’, piddlin’ or storytellin’ as a Pastime. To us, these art forms don’t sound like an Honest Day’s Work for an Honest Day’s Pay. No, it’s more like ways to earn a little extra money or have a little extra fun. Hard working folks didn’t idle away their time- piddlin’- for a Living. Their folks told them- ‘There ain’t no money in it.’  Of course, if you did make some money at it- that wouldn’t be something you’d want to brag about, unless you could connect it to something God-given- that’s different- it’s inspired. Still, you wouldn’t want to brag on yourself. Now, to be honest, there are some stunning examples of Southerners who’ve made it big in Artistic Pursuits, yet for some reason, even now, we tend to think- apart from the Lord, it’s a little Scandalous. For instance, Hank Williams was probably the most prolific songwriter of his time, maybe ever. It took Hank to an early grave since he needed to be a bit inebriated to get going good. We appreciate his music and sympathize with his brand of inspiration, but it’s sort of scandalous, if you get my drift.

There are so many blends of culture in the South- the Art and Music we’ve brought forth  is astounding and generally born of suffering and hardship.

  • Blues, Jazz,
  • Soul, Country,
  • Blue Grass and Gospel

Seem to rise up like mists from the soil, the sweat and the seawater… All of it intertwines with telling the Story of sin, heartache, love, loneliness and hard times- hopefully with some kind of happy ending. Still. I’ve come to believe Southern Storytellin’ is a way to expound, explain or exaggerate-  a Cry to be Heard or a Way to Entertain, I’m never sure which… so, as I often say- ‘Like All Southern Tales, it’s Part Truth, Part Myth and Part Outright Lies.’

The best Storytellin’ arises from Mildly Bizarre to Tenderhearted on over to Downright Insanity. Exaggerated or not. Storytellin’ has to include ways to get attention, play on the emotions. High minded folks have elevated our Arts to Folk Art. Our Music to the Universal. These are just other terms for the ways of life that we Southerners have lived and become, and we tell it by fiddlin’, piddlin’ or storytellin’.

Take these three Storytellers… they probably cringed a little when they first were called Writers. Now, please understand, these are by no means, ALL of my favorites Authors- there are so many Southern Authors- it’d be hard to choose just a few. Fanny Flagg, Mark Childress and Patti Callahan Henry happen to be from my home state and I’m reading them right now. In their own way these books are Southern Love Letters, Odes to a Way of Life and the Stark Contrasts only a true Southerner can understand.

D8CD34EB-91FC-4601-9F9C-D74E7AB1A4A6Patti Callahan Henry is the relative newcomer to the bunch, but she’s already something else, as we say. She’s a New York Times Bestselling Author who does speaking engagements on the Importance of Storytelling. This little book- is a Holiday Story, a tender love story, called The Perfect Love Song– It’s about thinking you’ve finally gotten everything only to find out,..well I’ll let you read it for yourself. She spins quite a tale- unexpected but really not, if you’ve had your dreams for the big time and you happen to be from the South. Patti Callahan Henry has lived in a part of Alabama I know quite well- yet her range of understanding Southern Folks from different backgrounds makes me believe she knows something about Storytellin’ and I like it.

Then there is the ever zany and brilliant Fannie Flagg– who I consider to be a modern day Folk Hero, because of her most famous work – Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café– which earned her the praise of- none other than two very famous Southern Female Authors, Eudora Welty and Harper Lee and a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize. The screen version- Fried Green Tomatoes- brought even more nominations for the Academy Award and Screenwriters Guild of America. Fried Green Tomatoes is based on a hugely popular down home restaurant- called The Irondale Café which still sits beside an active railroad close to Birmingham, Alabama  I must admit- I love this about Fannie Flagg too… she was a staff writer for the hysterical Television Show- Candid Camera. Flagg is a Southern Storyteller. This little Christmas book- A Redbird Christmas is just as sweet and funny as can be- light reading as we say, set in one of my favorite places on earth in South Alabama…

And, there’s the profoundly outrageous Mark Childress whose novel, Crazy in Alabama also became a movie and found worldwide fame and is totally crazy! Childress has been writing for years, this novel isn’t new- I’d seen the movie so I wanted to read the book too. I had enjoyed his articles in Southern Living and the Birmingham News before I realized he was becoming such an amazing Storyteller. Born in Monroeville, Alabama, the hometown of Harper Lee– famed author of To Kill a Mockingbird and the town where Truman Capote spent many of his boyhood summers- Childress is a distinct Author of quite a different sort than Capote and Harper Lee. He frames himself like most Southern writers- with an unmistakable Inferiority Complex born of being from the eccentric South- though he lived in several states- thankfully he still claims us as his own. Childress tells a story about his fellow Alabamian and acclaimed Author- Winston Groom. After toiling in the humid region of Mobile Bay, just about the time Childress and Fannie Flagg were writing down there too- one day, Winston Groom slapped a manuscript on Mark Childress’ kitchen table and said something like ‘This one’ll never be made into a movie!’ Well… it was made into a movie- that manuscript was none other than Forrest Gump. Sweet Crazy and Funny, still a hit with me- Winston Groom didn’t seem to think much of his storytellin’ at that moment- but look what happened! That’s an Alabama writer for you, a bit eccentric, a bit cynical and definitely not so sure of himself. When you read Mark Childress’ work, it sneaks up on you; you’re reeled in, rolling with laughter one minute- revolted the next…then before you know it- you’re left with profound truths. Sweet, Funny, Crazy- from just a few wonderful folks. A small sample of bonafide Writers- Authors you might call them; somehow I think they’d prefer to be called Storytellers who understand this beautiful place we call our Sweet Home in Alabama.

Love y’all, Camellia

*This is not a sponsored post, just my humble opinion…photographs are obviously mine.

Visit Patti Callahan Henry for a look at her life and wonderful novels at www.patticallahanhenry

Fannie Flagg can be found at  her official site to find out more about her books and movie.

CrazyinAlabama.com for a visit with Mark Childress and a look at his wonderful books!

A Season of Loss…

jeremy-fall-18Holidays are often a source of nostalgia- as the Trees let go of their leaves- we are also letting go… some are even finding themselves in a Season of Loss. It was during just such a Season of Loss- that I began writing a Bible Study, by email of all things! A self professed tech challenged writer, I was studying and teaching from John’s Gospel, chapter 11- the account of two sisters named Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. For a period of Four Years, I wrote; mostly for myself with my sister, then bit by bit a tight circle of trusted friends from Four Denominations within an area of Three Counties. Very few, in the study- even knew the others! I guess you could say- I wrote myself out of the Season of Loss.

Grief comes in many forms not even associated with death

  • the loss of a job, a home, a friendship, a move, a change, a hope that didn’t come through or a dream that didn’t come true. We may not even admit to ourselves that we are experiencing a Season of Loss.

We muddle through, we dawdle or we piddle- I know, I’ve been there. What started as an email Bible Study, became a published book! I still can’t explain it.  I was not only a tech challenged writer, I was terrible at promoting my own book! It was too dear, too close, too everything.. and while I believed every word I wrote- I did not believe in myself, I could not say…‘This book is great, you should read it.‘  With all of the wisdom out there, with folks far more educated than me, amid highly acclaimed writers- well, you could say I talked myself out of Book Promotion. Invariably, folks who knew that I had taught Bible Studies and who had encouraged me to write a book- also said, ‘I was hoping you would write those funny stories!’ Go figure. The book, ‘Four Days- the Lazarus Principle’ was published Four Years ago this month, in 2012. four-days-the-lazarus-principle

I’ve been writing this blog for months now and except for a few excerpts- I have yet to outright promote my own book! My first and only book led me to writing this blog. I enjoy writing the funny or inspiring stories. Yet, it seemed good to me, now- to tell you that the Holidays and just plain old Life will sometimes knock you down. There will be losses, grief and heartache among the funny stories- there will be Seasons of Loss. The strength I found in an intense Bible Study four years ago- with my sister and trusted friends helped me heal. On the back cover of ‘Four Days’- you will read this:

‘There are many lessons in this unconventional Bible study of dis-ease, unanswered prayers, loss, letting go, struggling to believe and wrestling with God. Come with me and learn the lessons from a little green worm, two devastated songwriters, the weavers of Persian carpets, even a baby chick at the county fair. Look with wonder at the last living thing removed from the devastation of the 911 World Trade Center, the ugliest building in Boston, the boat that rescued hundreds of survivors from the flood waters of Katrina and blue glass hands. Within these stories and the lives of two sisters in John 11, I hope you will find the great love of God even when you don’t understand Him.’

I hope Life is treating you kindly and you are in a Thankful, Joyful Season; that you are not in a Season of Loss-but if you are? Well, you see I wrote a book…

Love y’all, Camellia

The opening photograph is one of Jeremy Miniard’s masterpieces! find him at: jeremy-miniard.fineartamerica.com

Four Days the Lazarus Principle- is found through major booksellers, including Amazon.com- read an excerpt by following this link- https://read.amazon.com/kp/embed?asin=B00H1Q6KE6&preview=newtab&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_WWpmybFBFN68M&tag=camescott-20

Storybook Wisdom…

the-velveteen-rabbit-hardcover-1958-by-margery-williams

The most profound wisdom often comes from children’s storybooks…One of my all time favorite lessons for adults is found in The Velveteen Rabbit, written in 1958, by Margery Williams. Read along with me and find the Storybook Wisdom from the Skin Horse to the Velveteen Rabbit, who wanted to know what it meant to be Real-

‘Real isn’t how you are made’ said the Skin Horse, ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’velveteen-rabbit-and-the-skin-horse

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’velveteen-rabbit-and-skin-horse-on-being-real


Storybook Wisdom…on being Real. It doesn’t happen if you break easily, have sharp edges or have to be carefully kept. Hair loved off, eyes falling out, loose in the joints and very shabby, now that’s Real- Shabby Chic if you ask me. Can I get a witness? Have a blessed day!

Love y’all, Camellia

*Image of Margery Williams’ Velveteen Rabbit – hardback edition from Amazon.com, other images are from http://www.commons.wikimedia.org

*As a programming note:) – Cook and Enjoy Recipes honored Camellia’s Cottage allowing us a guest post on their site for ‘Bighearted Casseroles’Bighearted Casseroles – wow what an honor!

Reading List…

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What we’re reading at Camellia’s Cottage right now may surprise you! We love to read cookbooks! Regional Cookbooks from folks who are known and better yet, not well known at all! I have one irreplaceable cookbook written by double first cousins on my grandmother’s side of the family, the stories and tips are delightful! Then there are the Junior League Cookbooks, which never fail to amuse me; not to mention the mouthwatering recipes in each and every one! I also love to read the Lee Brothers Cookbooks and the legendary Pat Conroy’s Cookbook has amazing recipes and stories. There were two fictional books by Southern Authors, The Path of the Child by Sojourner McConnell and All Over but the Shoutin’ by Pulitizer Prize winning- Rick Bragg; both are wonderfully written novels but I found myself drawn to the food in each! Sojourner’s Thanksgiving feast and Rick Bragg’s momma going out in early fall and finding a ‘hardheaded cabbage’ brought about sensory images!  Reading cookbooks as literature is fun! image

The added information is priceless. In Recipe Jubilee, the Junior League of Mobile cookbook-One lady says ‘ Crumble bacon with your fingers until it is pulverized’ What? Another gives the recipe for  Pommes de Terre Souffles, a fancy way of making French Fries- when she says – ‘If they don’t puff up- start over’ – my hearts sinks over that one! Then in the Party Punch section, one lady who undoubtedly is- pre-Cise …submitted a punch recipe with an enormous amount of likker (liquor) which serves 98-100 people! The very next recipe has an enormous amount of spirits as well, yet she ends her recipe by saying ‘It serves…well, I don’t know your guests!’ I love this lady! She is not precise, she shows her humor is a delightful way!silver-punch-bowl

Folks from Mobile are blessed- they can just scoot over to New Orleans in a few hours…so you will find recipes from famous restaurants submitted by – I feel certain-formidable society ladies like Mrs. Frank Webb. Read this Pineapple and Yam concoction-


Arnaud’s Pineapple and Louisiana Yams Flambe a la Germaine

Boil 2 yams and slice. Roll 4 slices of pineapple and sliced yams in flour, then milk, then flour again. Fry pineapple and yams in oil or shortening until golden brown. Place a cherry in center of each pineapple. Place pineapple and yams in oven dish and cover freely with sugar. Bake in moderate oven for five minutes. When ready to serve, pour rum over mixture and light with a match and then, pour sherry wine over all. Serves 4.


Just the name of the recipe is a mouthful! It occurred to me how much trouble this recipe would be just for 4 people! Not to mention the risk in burning down the house!  Mostly I thought this recipe for pineapple and yams from the famous Arnaud’s and other recipes might deliberately be vague since there is not quite enough information to actually make them.I am completely enamored by the names of recipes found in local cookbooks– like-

  • Elegant Spinach, No Peep Stew, Yellow Birds, Oyster Crackers Deluxe
  • Dump Cake, Florida Snowball, Dirt Cake, Mama Dee’s End of Summer Soup
  • ‘Ain’t Mad at Nobody’ Turnip Green Casserole, Elephant Stew
  • Bob’s Firehall Potatoes, Barbi’s Spinach Dip and Bread
  • Wanda’s Cheese and Beef Spread, Baptist Pound Cake, Preacher Cookies
  • Dixie’s Favorite Gingerbread, Christmas Rocks, Pecan Cocoons
  • Chicken Barbequed with a Spanish Flair and Marinate these- quicker than you can say the name- ‘Quick’ Italian Marinated Japanese Mixed Vegetables’

And these recipes just scratch the surface! My mother’s double first cousin even devoted an entire page to ‘Perfect Iced Tea’. You can’t make this stuff up, y’all- it is high drama to me! Imagine the meetings and the tastings and the jockeying for space -whether by a bunch of cousins or society ladies! The Lee Brothers Cookbooks and Pat Conroy’s cookbook- Recipes of My Life- have stories that  capture and hold the imagination! image

Then there are the most highly prized recipes of all– the ones handed down, like my grandmother’s Macaroni and Cheese which is fairly precise in measurement, yet written by a person who truly cooked by taste and feel. This macaroni and cheese is more like a soufflé than the standard recipe made with a white sauce- it is one of the comfort foods of my childhood.


Mimi’s Macaroni and Cheese

Preheat oven to 350. 1 cup of cooked elbow macaroni (yes just one cup) 1 Large Block of fresh grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese ( I use 12 oz.) 4-6 Large eggs, milk? I use about 1/4 cup whole milk-( I use approx. 1/3 cup) melted and cooled butter, salt, cayenne pepper to taste.(Start with a pinch though I use 1/2 teaspoon) Butter a 8 inch wide/3 inch deep round oven proof dish or soufflé bowl. In a bowl, crack eggs and beat. Add milk, salt, cayenne to taste to the eggs. Add 1/2 of grated cheese and cooked elbow macaroni. Pour into buttered baking dish, top with the other half of the cheese. Bake for about 30-40 minutes or until egg mixture is set and cheese is bubbling. Serve hot. *This is very good.


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I think I’ve gained weight just reading these wonderful cookbooks and more! Try reading a local cookbook or one of these! Let me know what cookbooks you’re reading! I hope you’re enjoying them as much as we do here at Camellia’s Cottage!

Love y’all, Camellia

Here are a few to get you started:

Recipe Jubilee is a retired cookbook from The Junior League of Mobile Alabama

Pat Conroy Cookbook Pat Conroy is from South Carolina

The Path of a Child by Sojourner McConnell from Birmingham, Alabama

Lee Brothers Cookbooks – Matt and Ted Lee are from Charleston

All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg from Piedmont, Alabama

AOL image of Silver Punch Bowl may be subject to copyright

Dyin’ in the South…

 

100_year_old_Rusted_Casket_300_rental_146

The late great Pat Conroy, wrote a cookbook that is one of my all time favorites- he has one chapter called ‘Why Dying Down South is More Fun’. In my collection of local, state and regional cookbooks- they don’t come right out and have chapters devoted to funeral food– but if you’re from the South- well…let’s just say we know that the cooks who offer the submissions have gotten a whole lot of compliments on the dishes they took to comfort those who mourn. We also know which ones don’t comfort- they afflict. You don’t take hot spicy foods like Pit Barbeque- which might conjure up the image of ‘hellfire and damnation’-though the grieving family will graciously accept any and all offerings in the spirit in which they are given. Pat Conroy makes note that when anyone dies in the South, ‘the pigs get nervous’– I would add – ‘the chickens get nervous and stop layin’. Fried chicken shows how much you care, stuffed eggs are always welcome and a baked ham feeds a crowd. Stuffed Eggs are the appropriate term for funeral food– no one in his right mind would dare called them ‘Devilled Eggs’. We prize stuffed eggs so much we have plates with little egg shaped indentions passed down from one generation to the next, I have my grandmother’s white egg plate. 2016-03-23 11.07.00Women have Pyrex dishes with their names inked on masking tape for Dinner on the Ground, Memorial Day and holidays but mostly for funeral food. These glass dishes might be ensconced in a silver holder with little legs or just plain glass- but all are filled with concoctions to die for- they’re so divine. You can count on hearing- ‘Has anyone seen my 9×12 Pyrex dish?’ in the days and weeks to follow a funeral.

In the South, when you don’t know what to say- taking comfort food is the very best thing to do. We hope after the funeral, folks will eat as good or better than at Thanksgiving or Christmas- we don’t want anyone to worry about what to eat, when they are struggling.casseroles-campbells

I try to keep a Bereavement Pound Cake in the freezer- my pound cakes freeze very well due to the high fat content and being wrapped tightly. I’ve never kept one frozen for very long-to have a Pound Cake on hand has truly been a lifesaver…well, a life might have been lost but a ham, a casserole or a pound cake- is comforting, goes a long way and can feed the multitudes.2015-12-21 11.08.39

Mostly teetotalers-we don’t talk about it very much, but we do value the medicinal numbing qualities of strong drink– we might nurse it, we just don’t advertise it. The South has produced the finest beverages in the world- Sweet Tea, Co-Cola, Bourbon, Jack Daniels, Muscadine Wine; even Rum, all of which do bring a nip of comfort to afflicted mourners.

We once attended a memorial service for a local Historian whose specialty was the War between the States. This man wanted his service to be authentic-held in a historic home he knew was being restored. The Committee decided unanimously not to restore the bullet-riddled transom over the door from a little skirmish during the war-ah. The house was opened to honor this man. The Honor Guard was in full regalia worn for ‘re-enactments’which to be honest, are exercises in futility since we’re never gonna pull this thing out, but the men seem to enjoy it. The revered Historian wanted to be cremated and his ashes strewn on the closest battlefield- which caused a bit of an rippit from some of the older set, who still think six feet under Alabama Marble is the most dignified way to go.old tombstone- aol images  The Historian’s service was planned down to a tee, the house was spruced up and the wide foyer was set with folding chairs facing a flag draped altar with the urn on top– all ready for the next day. One of the men brought in the big punch bowl to sit on the sideboard- he had obtained the old recipe from 1786 for Chatham Artillery Punch. It has to preserve for two days!  The night before, he offered some of it as solace for the men who had to get things ready for the Historian. The ladies had bought ginger ale to substitute for that whole case of champagne.  It was hot and humid- some of the men thought they would have a toast to their fallen. No one thought the bugle playin’ brother was in such bad shape- he got punch drunk. The day of the service, the ladies like to have died when they found out Brother wasn’t able to playTaps’– some even fumed  they were going to kill the whole regiment! vintage silver punch bowl

One of the revelers brought in a boom box instead of the bugle; the Honor Guard decided that despite the events of the night before- the Historian rightly deserved the whole case of champagne instead of the ginger ale-and unapologetically handed the widow an icy cup of punch to settle her nerves. During the service the widow slowly slid off the horsehair sofa onto the oriental rug. The Chaplin finished up his rather long eulogy. The Honor Guard stood at attention as the static-y ‘Taps’ blared; they filed somberly out of the foyer onto the grounds, while someone discreetly re-seated the grieving widow. Outside, instead of a synchronized 21 gun salute- it sounded like a bunch of firecrackers going off as the antique guns fired away. The mourners were glad they stayed inside and actually lived to die another day.

Now, like all good Southern stories, this one is part myth, part truth and part outright lies– however, to show good faith…If you will be careful when and how you use it- here is the recipe for Chatham Artillery Punch, from the Savannah River House which will no doubt resurface again.ChathamArtilleryPunchRecipe.jpg

However, I would like to make this perfectly clear- Southern Ladies are taught it is coarse and common to drink, chug or slurp. A true lady sips. Coffee, water, tea or something to numb the pain…a lady always holds cups, glasses or plates in a delicate hand with the elbow at  the waistline; and honestly sliding off a sofa is just not done under normal circumstances.

Oh Law, I hope you don’t die laughing, but if you do? Please come South, we’ll take care of you.

Love y’all, Camellia

Find Pat Conroy’s Cookbook on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other major booksellers!

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Casket photo is from http://www.bjwinslow.com Other images are either mine or from AOL images, please advise if any copyright applies.