Gardenia Elixir …

Just the thought of Iconic Southern Scents and my mind drifts to sweet honeysuckle, exotic jasmine, the faint lemony magnolia and deeply fragrant gardenias. To me, Gardenias are the glamor girls of southern flowers, they don’t wear out their welcome and we remember them long after they’re gone. There may be no greater mood lifter than floating a few blooms of camellias, a big magnolia or several gardenias on water in a cut glass bowl or better yet- floating on top of the warm water of a bath, which is unbelievably soothing.

Honestly, just those thoughts can fling on me a full blown case of a Magnolia Fever. And, the cure might be as simple as a Gardenia Elixir. Southern ladies, like many other cultures tended toward using what they had to make amazing extracts for use in all manner of ways, especially when more expensive extracts weren’t readily available, much like Rose Or Orange Blossom Water. Gardenia Extract is similar to those and must be made when gardenias are in bloom. Recently my friend, Rebecca from the great state of Louisiana, posted two ways to use gardenia blooms- one is an infusion of the blooms into heavy cream for her No churn Ice Cream . Rebecca’s blog is called Why I Baked a Cake, a must read. And if you’re on Instagram- follow her making gorgeous cakes! @Whyibakedacake

Another recipe in her post, is an infusion for steeping gardenia petals in a simple syrup- which I’ve dubbed Gardenia Elixir. Here’s how you make it:

  • Mix 1 cup pure cane sugar to one cup of water in a saucepan, heat until sugar is completely dissolved.
  • Add the petals only of 4-5 gardenias.
  • Allow to steep at least 4-5 hours (I steeped mine over night)
  • Strain flower petals. Pour into airtight containers.
  • I keep any extra elixir chilled. When used, the fragrance is amazing. And, I made several batches to offer as gifts.
  • Rebecca told me she loves Gardenia Elixir in Tea, Lemonade and her favorite is to add the elixir to Prosecco. I also love it in Limeade. I found having this unusual fragrant elixir on hand, certainly makes any occasion a very civilized event.
  • Gardenias bloom in June, the season of love. Often a suitor would give his sweetheart a corsage of gardenias. Brides have requested gardenias in their wedding bouquets, a gardenia was pinned to the pillowcase of new mother or near bedsides of infirm dowagers; and it was not uncommon for gardenias to grace blankets or wreaths of a beloved’s casket or to discover large evergreen shrubs planted in cemeteries. From the cradle to the grave, southern ladies do love their gardenias. Gardenia Elixir is just one more layer to add on the sweet gardenia’s history.
  • Love y’all, Camellia

    *All photographs are obviously mine.

    Caramel Corn and a Movie…


    Now that Christmas is over, it’s time to snuggle in and have some down time. Most of us love to eat popcorn and watch a Movie at Home…you can elevate that experience with just a bit of sugar and butter to something truly delightful… with Camellia’s Caramel Popcorn

    Preheat the oven to 250º – yes a low temperature! You will need a very large bowl and three metal 9×13 baking pans, I line mine with parchment paper for easy cleanup.

    • 16-18 cups of freshly popped or 2 large bags of microwave butter flavored popcorn (measure this out, you might need to pop more) If you like nuts add 2 cups of dry roasted nuts, I prefer it without.
    • Divide the popcorn evenly between two of the pans and set aside.
    • In a medium sized saucepan, combine ¾cup of butter , ¾cup of dark corn syrup, 1 ½ cups of granulated sugar and 2 teaspoons of good vanilla extract.-
    • Bring to a boil over medium heat until the mixture reaches 260º on a candy thermometer.
    • Pour one pan of popcorn in a large bowl and pour half of the hot sugar mixture over that- give a quick stir and pour onto one of the 9×13 pans, then repeat in the same bowl the same procedure with the other pan.
    •  With racks evenly spaced in the preheated oven- run two pans in the oven. Keep the empty third 9×13 pan ready.
    • Bake for ½ hour, halfway through the baking time, dump one pan of caramel corn in over onto another the empty 9×13 pan, repeat with the over pan onto the pan you just emptied.
    • Switch pans from original position- so the bottom pan doesn’t scorch. Bake for another ½ hour.
    • Pull pans out of the oven and allow to cool.

    Break apart and enjoy! This may seem like a difficult recipe but believe me, it is almost foolproof! img_1848

    As for movies I will be watching-my all time favorite fun and romantic Holiday Movies are:

    1. ‘The Holiday’ with Cameron Diaz
    2. ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ with Southern girl, Julia Roberts
    3. ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ with another sweet southern girl, Reese Witherspoon-
    4. And finally, Sandra Bullock’s award winning ‘The Blind Side’ based on a true story. Sandra Bullock has family right here in Alabama!

    I hope whatever movie you choose- you will relax and enjoy the holidays! Let me know how you like my Caramel Corn…

    Love y’all, Camellia

    *photographs are mine


    Reading List…


    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.


    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

    Cornbread Rules Sugah!

    2016-03-23 13.50.11Alabama has thrived on cornbread for generations, all of us, not just some of us. We all love it, eat it- crave it, need it. I learned the cornbread rules at an early age from my grandmother. I have her iron skillet and it still makes the best cornbread, though I do love corn muffins too!2016-03-23 11.24.20 And oh my! corn sticks! I have an iron corn stick pan too! But the rules never change. You are the first to know my grandmother’s rules. Use your own cornbread recipe, with one exception…which we will cover first.

    • Never, ever use sugar! I don’t even store sugar in the vicinity of my cornmeal.
    • Use self rising cornmeal- yes you read that right! If you buy it in small bags it will be fresh and to be honest, I make it so often that my ‘meal’ always rises just right! I prefer white cornmeal, yellow seems heavy to me but whatever…
    • Get the oil hot in the iron skillet, in the oven not on top of the stove! Putting yourself at considerable risk to pour the oil is worth it! Get that oil or shortening hot! I put it in the oven until it is preheated. when it gets hot, don’t  measure it, just pour most of it into the cornbread mixture, stir a bit ~then pour that back in the hot pan.Okay now, you are about to get the ‘held- in- the- vault’ secrets of cornbread, if you follow these? Your cornbread will always pair up perfectly with whatever you are making to go with the cornbread.
    • ‘Egg’ cornbread- that’s the recipe that has SR Cornmeal, eggs and sweet milk and no sugar, sugah! Egg cornbread pairs with anything that ‘lays an egg’…that means chicken, turkey and fish! Write that down and memorize it. Poultry and Fish! Egg cornbread is lighter, rises higher and has a milder flavor than…
    • Buttermilk cornbread- this recipe calls for SR Cornmeal and buttermilk. Timing is important to this mix ~ you must darlin’- you must stir in that buttermilk at almost the exact moment that your hot oil is ready to come out of the oven! Buttermilk cornbread has sharper tangier flavor than ‘egg bread’ – therefore, to quote my grandmother- ‘Buttermilk cornbread can stand up to heavier meat!’ Pair it with beef, pork, ham…the heavier meats!

    Are you getting a picture here? Commit these rules to memory, learn to recite them in your sleep. Now, a little test to see if you got it…I will list some foods and meats, see if you can answer the correct type of cornbread to go with each. I’m watching so don’t cheat! the answers will be at the bottom of the page.

    • Chicken and Dumplings
    • Beef Stew
    • Dried Butterbeans with Ham
    • Fried Fish
    • Turkey and Dressing (which type of cornbread for the dressing?)
    • Barbeque Pork
    • Vegetable Soup with Chicken
    • Chili

    2016-03-23 12.03.02Chicken and Dumplings

    I made some the other day! Yum! and what kind of cornbread do you think I made? Ok, here are the answers-

    1. Chicken and Dumplings- egg
    2. Beef Stew- buttermilk
    3. Butterbeans with Ham – buttermilk
    4. Fried Fish- make those hushpuppies with eggs!
    5. Turkey and Dressing- dressing is made with egg cornbread
    6. Barbeque Pork – buttermilk
    7. Vegetable Soup with Chicken – egg
    8. Chili – buttermilk

    Here’s a trick question…What if you just have a vegetable plate? We do love our vegetable plates here in Alabama…the answer is… it depends…my rule of thumb is that if you have something with ‘dairy’ in it like macaroni and cheese- go with the buttermilk cornbread, that’s the ‘heavier’ meat rule.  If you have a ‘mixed’ vegetable plate, egg cornbread will always be good, and if turnip greens are anywhere on any plate? cornbread is a must!  If you have any questions or comments- would love to hear from you!

    Here is my basic Egg Cornbread recipe:

    Heat oven to 375 degrees, pour 1/3-1/2 cup of oil or shortening into cast iron skillet, get scalding hot in the oven, meanwhile mix 1 1/3 -1 2/3 cups of self rising cornmeal, 2-3 eggs, 1 cup- 1 1/3 cup of milk-(you will know by the texture, not too thick) stir until just mixed then add hot oil, about 1/3 cup…quickly stir and pour into hot pan and bake for about 25-30 minutes until it has risen beautifully to golden brown.

    For Buttermilk Cornbread: Heat oven to 375, pour 1/3-1/2 cup of oil, shortening or lard (yes, lard) into cast iron skillet as above, quickly mix 1 2/3 cup of self rising cornmeal with 1 – 1/3 cup of buttermilk until just mixed and not too thick- you can add more of either – mix should look thicker than pancake batter. Stir in very quickly about 1/3 cup of hot oil and then pour batter back into the pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown- this cornbread will be thinner, crisp on the outside but very moist on the inside.

    Make some cornbread! Mine’s about to come out of the oven!  Love y’all, Camellia