Let the Herbs speak…

BA1C7C01-836D-4FF1-BF9D-5E5F64E22C8DIt’s a language as old as the hills, if we’d only listen…the Language of Herbs and Flowers. As the festive seasons approach… my mind turns to comfort foods and gifts. There is no more wonderful Gift of the Earth for cooking than Herbs. Fresh or dried herbs can make a lowly Chicken sing instead of squawk… an humble bowl of Vegetable Soup will fill the house with a more exquisite aroma. Who can imagine Cornbread Dressing without the scent of Sage? A Steak is fragrant encrusted with Rosemary. Herbs and Flowers have been speaking to Folks for hundreds of years. Bundled and hung to dry, herbs are gifts that keep giving long after harvest. No one really knows just when Herbs and Flowers uplifted folks with their Fragrant Whispers…and were often thought to ward off evil spirits. Historically, the color of flowers gave way to romantic notions.

  • Red Roses meant romantic love- therefore florists deliver their message often.
  • Did you know that purple flowers speak of love at first sight?
  • Orange tones practically shout of enthusiasm and fascination…
  • Yellow Roses tell of joy and friendship
  • Green for young love or peace
  •  White is reserved for reverence, purity and sympathy.

Herbs speak a similar language with potent hidden meanings and messages. As long as anyone can recall- as far back as early 1000 A.D. huge Yule logs began warming folks when the nights grew short and dark…ghost stories were told around the fire that must not be allowed to go out..even a chunk of the Yule Log was saved to start the New Year’s Fires but not before a Green Leaf was brought into the house, most believe it was an evergreen herb of some sort!F58B9363-33C5-4FED-ADBE-1AA2A0DE3C0C

If you’ve ever grown Rosemary, Lavender, Sage, Oregano or Thyme… these Mediterranean beauties have an intense aroma which actually softens with age as they hang to dry.  I’m not sure when I first heard of the tradition of drying a meaningful bundle of herbs which were tied to a Yule Log or given fresh then dried to throw on the New Year’s Eve fire.  The bundle of herbs had meaning, some said warded off illnesses and misfortune; brought all kinds of good gifts to the home when folks threw the fragrant bunch on a hot fire. If you’re blessed with an herb garden of any sort- it’s easy to collect the herbs now, tie them off and hang to dry for the holiday’s good wishes! Or you can have some early fun- throw them on your Autumn fires and listen to what they say…

  • Rosemary for Remembrance,
  • Lavender for Love and Devotion,
  • Oregano for Joy and Happiness,
  • Thyme for Affection and Friendship which does take some thyme to foster…excuse me- Time.
  • And don’t forget old gray Sage… he’s always good for some Sage Advice or Wisdom! I particularly love the custom in other cultures to bundle Mexican Sage into smudge sticks… when it’s almost dry…the end is lighted to cleanse the house with it’s fragrant incense.

The Greenery I harvested include regional favorites- Magnolia whose glossy leaves remind me of a sweet wedding with her huge lemon-y jasmine scented blooms- for me, Magnolia represents- Home. The gray Spanish Moss hangs in profusion from Live Oaks along the Coastal Region- representing this strange, everlastingly wonderful region where I’ve spent most of my life-called the South.4055B045-7D4B-44D4-8E1C-15B9FE7E28D1

I’ve added Holly, often used for a Hedge of Evergreen Protection. The wooly Lamb’s Ear with her fuzzy leaves, which for truth- can stop the bleeding; I’ve used that Old Wives’ Wisdom of wrapping a Gardener’s nicked or scraped finger with an herbal bandage, Lamb’s Ear to stop the bleeding! So, adding Lamb’s Ears represent the Healing of Wounds suffered in the course of Living in this old world…

Quite often I add other fragrant natural aromatics, such as cinnamon sticks or pinecones to my offerings-  representing the Spice of Life and Life Eternal. Attached to bundles of Kindling or a small Yule Log- Keep the evil spirits away and Send a Message in a way nothing else can- Let the Herbs speak for themselves…

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine  *No claims of Lamb’s Ear’s healing properties are offered by me, I can attest wrapping a small wound from a thorn or scrape while gardening is temporarily effective. Lamb’s Ear was used to staunch blood flow and dress wounds on battlefields for centuries. Herbalists note the natural bandage has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and antiseptic properties. Please use caution- as soon as possible, wash and dress any wound properly. For the purposes of a Lamb’s Ear’s addition to a bundle of herbs- the symbolism is a wonderful thought- ‘to heal wounds’.  *Herbs added to a small fire log or bundle of kindling along with a written explanation of the meanings is so nice- be sure to add instructions to remove the ribbon. Carefully toss the bundle of herbs on a fire for fragrant sentiments. What a nice way to send good wishes any time of the year!

SEC tips…

IMG_3370You know summer has taken it’s last gasp, not by the Heat Index but by the First Kickoff of the SEC…Southeastern Conference Football is major in the South! In fact football season is so important to us, it considered the height of poor taste to plan a wedding during football season! No, I. Am. Not. Kidding… There are rules for what we wear on Game Day- here at Camellia’s Cottage, of course we wear Officially Licensed SEC garments, team colors and particular to the ladies, there is a lucky Elephant Necklace, that must be worn with the elephant facing left- do not ask me why- it has just proved lucky! IMG_3410

All over the SEC region, there are certain foods which are considered ‘team foods’ – here in Alabama for Bama fans- Do I hear a Roll Tide? Since the days of Bear Bryant- our lucky foods are: Golden Flake Potato Chips Barber’s Onion Dip and Co-cola otherwise known as Coca Cola™! All are made or bottled right here in Alabama!

On game days, all over the SEC- Tailgate Food is served from the tailgate of an humble pickup truck, from RV’s, all the way to an Upscale Campus Affair- with food served on a sorority’s mahogany table draped with antique lace tablecloths, complete with a Chandelier hanging from a Live Oak tree! On some campuses, you might find a crazy fraternity serving …uh, cold drinks from a casket! It’s true. The food can be elaborate or simple- but always delicious and appropriate to the home team! When we watch games at home, there’s always popcorn, parched peanuts, cream cheese, party crackers and pepper jelly, chips with dip or celery sticks and…last week we had pit BBQ baby back ribs! Now, if you’re looking for actual football tips- you might be barking up the wrong tree here! I do, however, scream and holler during the games, it’s just more fun!

SEC stands for other lesser things too! For instance, the South Eastern Corner of the United States is:

  • The only region to be occupied by the Federal Government, where handsome men have worn military uniforms for years and to this day, the South Eastern Corner of the U.S.A. can proudly boast that our folks arguably sign up more often for military duty than any other region! We love our soldiers!
  • We have a history of courageous women who opened their doors to bears, raids and standing armies, faced tornadoes and hurricanes and they helped settle farms, homesteads, taught school, kept their families strong, yet are smart and beautiful all at the same time, with possibly more beauty queens than any other part of America… though it could be that we have more opportunities to serve as Peach Queens, Cotton Queens, Mardi Gras Queens and more… is there a Bo Weevil Queen? Anyway, we think we’re prettier for sure!
  • The South Eastern Corner is where children played in the dirt with silver spoons or found arrowheads in the backyard, learned how to fish before they were knee high to a grasshopper, little girls still wear Big Hair Bows, monograms abound, sandcastle building is second nature and all of them can charm the horns off a Billy Goat any day of the week!IMG_3408
  • The South Eastern Corner had more Dry Counties than any other part of the country, but still make the best Bourbon in the world. In fact we lay claim to the best Iced Tea and the best Soft Drinks (which we never call them!) Anyone who loves Coca Cola, Royal Crown and Pepsi would agree!
  • The South Eastern Corner is the only place in America where folks actually pull off on the side of the road near a homemade sign that touts ‘Boiled Peanuts’ and are excited about it! …Okay- it’s an ah-quih-ed taste! If you aren’t from here, let’s just say you probably won’t acquire a taste for ’em.
  • In fact, put a Barbed Wire Fence around the entire South Eastern Corner and eventually it will turn into a literal Nut House….peanuts, pecans, hickory nuts so hard you’d have to run an 18 wheeler over ’em to crack the shells… But where else but the South could George Washington Carver figure out how to enrich the soil and feed the masses with peanuts in this land flowing with Milk and Peanut Butter sandwiches?IMG_3411
  • The South Eastern Corner of the U.S.A. is where Church Choirs still sing with a Twang or fill the rafters with Soul; and where Gospel, Country, Beach Music and Motown are loved in equal measure.

I wouldn’t take anything for living in the SEC, for the football, the people and the good food! I have to admit – my personal favorite SEC stands for- South Eastern Cooking Tips! Here’s to Butter Balls and Spicy Shrimp and Shells!

Butter Balls are an old French method of food preparation for enriching sauces and gravy- keep these in the freezer and grab a few – you will be surprised what this simple little ball of flour and butter will do to make pan juices silky or definitely enrich the sauce for Spicy Shrimp and Shells! (Yes! the South Eastern Corner’s Food has a strong French Influence!) I made the Butter Balls recently, while I was cooking some bacon wrapped steaks to enrich the sauce. Let me show you…

Camellia’s Cottage Butterballs Soften 2 sticks of salted butter (if using unsalted butter add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt) lightly mix Butter into 1/2 cup of All Purpose Flour, do not use more flour! With a teaspoon or your clean hands, scoop up a small bit of the butter/flour mixture and shape into rough butter balls no larger than a teaspoon, placing on a parchment lined pan. Butter Balls take no time to make, but make a world of difference in your cooking! Freeze at least 4 hours. Carefully store in a freezer safe container. Use to enrich sauces, pan juices and gravies.IMG_3271

Spicy Shrimp and Shells is a quick and easy recipe, full of flavor. This dish can be elevated to Party Status, can be stretched to serve a crowd, is wonderful served for Sunday Supper or eaten cold as a most delicious and different Pasta Salad! Add garlic bread and sliced Summer tomatoes and you have a complete meal! Most of the ingredients are pantry staples and here, we keep shrimp in the freezer all the time!IMG_3401

Camellia’s Cottage Spicy Shrimp and Shells

  • Prepare 12 ounces of Seashell Pasta according to directions.
  • Steam 1 cup of chopped Broccoli, drain and set aside
  • Drain 3/4 -1 pound of  uncooked Gumbo Shrimp (approx. 65-70 per pound) peeled, tails removed if desired
  • On low heat, combine 3 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet
  • Add 2-3 tablespoons of chopped garlic, zest of a whole lemon, 2-3 teaspoons of red pepper flakes, a good amount of freshly ground black pepper, add salt as desired.
  • Stir until butter has melted and spices are combined IMG_3395
  • Saute Shrimp in batches until pink- Do not over crowd shrimp.
  • Place all shrimp back in warm skillet add 1-1/2 cups of pasta water, steamed chopped broccoli and 3-4 Butter Balls-
  • Cook on low until Butter Balls have been absorbed. No more than a minute or two. (If you have not made Butter Balls, add 2-3 teaspoons of butter)
  • Squeeze the juice of zested large lemon over pan straining seeds.  (Caution- do not add lemon juice utntil the end otherwise shrimp will become tough) I often make thin slices of the squeezed lemon and add to the Spicy Shrimp Mixture, for extra lemon-y flavor.


  • Drain Seashell Pasta. Put in large serving bowl, add Spicy Shrimp Mixture.
  • Sprinkle liberally with Parmesan Cheese, believe it or not- using the cheap type blends in best! Toss Spicy Shrimp and Seashells. Top with 1/2 cup of chopped green onion tops.
  • Wonderful with crusty garlic bread. Serves 4-6 depending on how hungry you are!IMG_3401

No matter what your favorite SEC team is, no matter where your favorite place to be in the South Eastern Corner, I know you’ll enjoy South Eastern Cooking Tips. Come back often to the Cottage for more! And always, I hope your SEC team wins unless they’re playin’ mine!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine. Parched Peanuts are a southern term for roasted peanuts! Continued prayers for victims of Hurricane Harvey and for those in the path of Hurricane Irma.

Southern Sweet Potato Salad…


Recently I attended a Barbeque, most of the side dishes were picnic style- Coleslaw and Classic Potato Salad with Desserts to die for, however one lady who knows how much Southerners love to eat Barbeque with Spicy Greens, Cornbread, Fried Okra, Baby Limas and Sweet Potatoes; brought a wonderful Classic Sweet Potato Casserole with brown sugar, butter and pecans as a thick crunchy topping, oh my! It was wonderful! I started thinking about how good sweet potatoes are with barbeque but also how I had never seen a recipe for Southern Sweet Potato Salad– now, I know recipes are out there but not with completely Southern ingredients! So what you see is rare, here at Camellia’s Cottage, we don’t mess with perfection- we love our classic recipes, we want to preserve the traditions! Yet, I could not stop thinking that a chilled Sweet Potato Salad could be Devised, Concocted or Dreamed Up.  The Pecan Topped Sweet Potato Casserole was my inspiration. (please don’t say – pee-can, we say Pa-cahn)  I began a list of ingredients that are often paired with Sweet Potatoes.

  • My grandmother loved to squeeze fresh Orange juice and a bit of pulp into hot buttered mashed Sweet Potatoes. Then she scooped out and filled the Orange Shells with the Sweet potatoes for a wonderfully fragrant side dish. Citrus is a very Southern ingredient!
  • Of course, Pecans are as Southern as can be.
  • Celery is added to so many Southern Salads, and often include the Tops for crisp crunchy texture.
  • And finally because of our proximity to the Caribbean, Pineapple is often used in Southern  cooking, particularly salads and desserts. in fact it is not unusual to find Pineapple incorporated into a Sweet Potato Casserole.

An idea for a Southern Sweet Potato Salad was Dreamed up, Devised and Concocted.. Southern Sweet Potato Salad

  • Preheat oven to 375º
  • Partially bake or boil one large Sweet Potato. Cut in Cubes, do not peel.
  • Rough chop 1 cup of Pecans.
  • On a parchment lined baking pan, mix cubed Sweet Potato and Pecans.
  • In a small bowl, combine 3 tbs. of Sugar, 1/3 cup of Brown Sugar, a pinch of salt, 1 teaspoons of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Toss sweet potato and pecans with the sugar mixture.
  • Pour 3/4 cup of melted butter over all and spread in a single layer on parchment- Roast this until sugar mixture has caramelized. About 12 minutes. IMG_2986

While the sweet potatoes are roasting, make the Salad Dressing.

  • Combine the zest and juice of one Lime, 1/3 cup of Orange Marmalade, 1 tablespoon of local Honey, 1/4 teaspoon of Cinnamon, pinch of Cayenne Pepper and 1 teaspoon of Apple Cider Vinegar. * This is my all purpose Fruit Salad Dressing and is equally good drizzled over seasonal fruits like strawberries, blackberries and blueberries.

Now, chop one stalk of Celery including Tops. Cut up 3/4 cup or more of fresh Pineapple and 3/4 cup of diced unpeeled Tart Apple. Put Salad Dressing in a large bowl, toss to coat- Celery, Pineapple and Tart Apple. When the Sweet Potatoes and Pecans have roasted, carefully incorporate into the Salad Dressing, Celery, Pineapple. Be sure to include the buttery juices. Southern Sweet Potato Salad is good room temperature or chilled. IMG_2987

Okay y’all, I am going to tell you that my picky Test Taster loved this Southern Sweet Potato Salad with Fried Pork Chops! Now, I will admit this Salad will never reach the heights of glory our Southern Potato Salad has with old and classic recipes. Southern Sweet Potato Salad is certainly unconventional, though it is dependent entirely on Southern Soul Food ingredients, so… it might just end up becoming a new favorite here at Camellia’s Cottage! Let me know if you try it!

Love y’all, Camellia

*The results of our Biscuit Research is forthcoming soon! Stay tuned…

Welcome Spring!

Spring is surely my favorite season…In February, we had early blooming Bulbs and Branches- then a cold snap in the last week or so. In the South, we always expect fickle weather, some downpours, a late frost or two and outright craziness. It’s been beautiful here for a few days, so what could be a better time than the first of Spring to get out and poke around, make some observations, snip some herbs, look for the bare spots and make some lightweight decisions? Here’s what I found… IMG_2402

It’s fun to make a Bouquet of Herbs, spread Clippings out, round up some errant Seed Packets and gather up some Passalong Plants.  I found sweet faced Wood Violets, Pansies and Johnny Jump Ups- all edible flowers, they would be so pretty decorating a Cake or even a Spring Salad. The Mint is looking good, the Sage didn’t do so well and one of the new Rosemary plants may need to be moved. I sketched out a new place to grow hardy herbs- and moist or sunny places to put Basil, Mint and tender Lettuces depending on what they like best! The Dandelion’s flowers are bright but it’s the leaves that add a peppery flavor to Salads. The Red Camellia is still holding forth but the new Pink Camellias struggled with the drought last year.  The Flowering Quince has just about had it for this spring and is beginning to leaf out, there are Bearded Iris Rhizomes we divided last fall- so many in fact- I know I’ll need to pass some of those along! IMG_2408

The tiny blades of Yard Chives- are fun to wrap up Tea Sandwiches like a little package or snip across a bowl of Potato Soup. The Mixed Lettuce and Spinach Seeds are up a few inches, time to plant some more and get a few pots of Basil Seeds started. I even found a few faux eggs hanging around! Wonder where they came from?? Of course nothing’s better than to sit down with a cup of Coffee with Pen and Paper to make a few notes for what the Cottage Garden’s been doing- it’s like welcoming back old friends and greeting new ones . Before the Garden Centers are a riot of color, see what you already have… I hope you’ll get out and Forage for Spring’s  Facts and Fun in your yard. Let me know what your Garden’s been up to!

Love y’all, Camellia

*photographs are obviously mine!

Southern Pound Cakes…

Deke’s Decadent Chocolate Pound Cake


Southern Pound Cakes are the standard bearer of civilized Southern Society. You can hold your head up high if there is a pound cake in the house, especially if you have perfected pound cakes made by your ancestors. It is considered treasonous to proclaim another person’s pound cake is better than your momma’s. The Southern obsession with good manners, genteel living and our thinly disguised ancestor worship may be summed up in the humble Southern Pound Cake. ‘This pound cake was mah momma’s recipe and her muhtha before her- why mah family’s been making pound cakes for at least 7 generations. If ah’m not badly mistaken it was one of her ancestors who brought the first pound cake over on the Mayflower or they surely would’ve starved to death!’  We can say that without shame or the benefit of DNA testing – because we know who we think we are!  We know our pound cakes are the best if our mommas made it- the crumb must be microscopically fine, the texture must be moist, tender, baked to perfection and long lasting, just look at the texture-IMG_2291

Southern Pound Cakes are high in fat content- the term ‘livin’ high on the hog’– means you have an all butter Southern Pound Cake in the house! The Southern standard of excellence in pound cake baking is to carry on the all-important tradition of being able to entertain at a moment’s notice. To have a pound cake in the freezer or to send a pound cake to any and all joyous occasions and a Southern Pound Cake for uplifting sustenance during bereavement is an inherited skill. Bake a pound cake and you’re ready for anything life throws your way.  IMG_1581

Bake a pound cake and you will hear– ‘Mah ancestral muh-thas were known to have beaus swarming from all the surroundin’ counties just to get one taste of those delectable pound cakes! Make a pound cake and men will flock around like a murder of crows!’ So, one of our closely guarded secrets is out– Men love pound cakes and will worship the women who bake them. Southern Pound Cake bakers don’t need dating advice or ancestry sites- we just need to have a third or fourth generation recipe for a Southern Pound cake! And…if you have several variations of that recipe- let’s just say…it’s very effective. Well before a Southern lady was rulin’ the world rockin’ the cradle, she was wielding a silver handled cake knife over an array of pound cakes!

We also know this to be a fact, if a Southern Belle is incapable of outrageous flirting or holding up her end of the conversation, when she sweetly says-‘Would anyone like a sl-eye-ce of pound cake?’ – all eyes will rivet toward the Belle with the silver cake server shining like new money. We southern girls invented the concept of the way to get to a man is through his stomach. My own grandmother’s pound cake recipe was delicious plain but- she had at least four killer variations!  Recently we had a birthday at Camellia’s Cottage- the birthday boy wanted a Chocolate Pound Cake with Chocolate Glaze. Months before his actual birthday, he ventured very carefully into the sensitive subject of pound cakes-

‘Now you know I think your pound cake is the best in the world but I was just wondering if you evah make a chocolate pound cake? I was actually dreamin’ of one that had a chocolate glaze on top!’ The answer was quick and sure, ‘Why yes, GiGi made chocolate pound cakes for special occasions and always gilded the lily with a chocolate glaze!’  Because of his sincerity and genteel request, Ah’ve re-named this one- Deke’s Decadent Pound Cake– that boy was proud as punch of the chocolate pound cake of his dreams!IMG_2304

Chocolate Pound Cake is one of my grandmother’s variations- another variation was:

  • GiGi’s  Coconut Pound cake. Grated Coconut was added to the batter- and always flavored with Almond Extract. After the tube pan was greased, instead of flouring the pan- the tube pan was coated heavily with finely grated coconut. This outstanding version came out of the oven with Toasty Coconut on the sides and bottom.  GiGi’s Coconut Pound cake was wonderful during the Holidays alongside Southern Orange Ambrosia.
  • Another variation to the plain Southern Pound Cake is the substitution of Lemon Extract, then finished with a Thick White Lemon Glaze; sip a glass of lemonade or a long tall iced tea with Heavenly Lemon Glazed Pound Cake
  • Still another variation was a family favorite that I’ve never found in any Southern cookbook. The batter is GiGi’s plain pound cake- along with vanilla extract, then for the killer variation- Bourbon is added to flavor the batter. Grease and flour as usual except for the bottom of the tube pan- at least a half stick of melted Salted Butter is p0ured in along with 2 cups of pecans. Don’t get any ideas that this variation is like those Yankee Sticky Buns- this is a Southern Salted Pecan Pound Cake.  A man will lay down his life for just one slice of the Salted Pecan, so ladies please don’t trifle with a man’s affections if you aren’t serious.IMG_2293

I must tell you that in civilized gatherings Strawberry Shortcake is made with Plain Southern Pound Cake, topped with lightly sugared fresh strawberries and fresh whipped cream, that’s the right way to make it. Do not use those dried out grocery store shells or  Cat Head biscuits. To use a Cat Head biscuit with sugar on top for Strawberry Shortcake is just plain laziness.

Gigi’s Plain Pound Cake has 3 sticks of salted butter creamed with 3 cups of sugar, 8 large eggs added one at a time, 1 teaspoon of vanilla and at least ½ teaspoon of almond extract. Sift together at least three times- 1 ½ cups of all purpose flour and 1 ½ cups of cake flour, then fold the flour into the butter, sugar and egg mixture- do this as lightly as you can. Do not use a mixer to do this step.The batter will be thick. Prepare a tube pan with parchment paper on the bottom, then the sides and bottom are greased with butter, then floured. Scoop the thick batter in, smooth the batter out lightly and evenly before baking  in a 325ºoven.Bake for one hour, test with a toothpick, just know that the pound cake will most likely need to be baked another 15 minutes. Let cool until cake pulls away from the sides on it’s own. Do not force the pound cake from the pan. Run a knife carefully around the tube. Remove the pound cake with the top side up. Cool completely on a wire rack.IMG_2288

It is tempting to eat a piece of hot pound cake- please note this is uncivilized, even uncouth; though eating a slice of pound cake for breakfast is an exceptional luxury. Now, you may have noticed that there is not one drop of Milk in GiGi’s recipe- butter is the only dairy product included.  My grandmother collected recipes for Sour Cream Pound Cake and Cream Cheese Pound Cake but she never veered from her own perfect Southern Pound Cake. She believed that milk or cream in any form- made a pound cake tough which tended to make the cake dry out quicker. Also, I know she suspected that a Cream Cheese Pound Cake was made by some woman who had made an unholy alliance sometime during or after that unpleasant conflict with the Yankees. Since it is a well known fact that Philadelphia is the home of American Cream Cheese…do I have to spell it out for you? Though some women insisted that their Cream Cheese came from Philadelphia Mississippi, still we aren’t going to mess with GiGi’s ancestral pound cake recipe! Though I do have to admit that I have had cream cheese and sour cream pound cakes that are exceptionally good! By now, I am sure you are completely convinced that we are crazy in Alabama- well we are crazy, we’re crazy ’bout Southern Pound Cakes in all of their glory and variations!

Now you know those are some beautiful Southern Pound Cakes!

Love y’all, Camellia

*photographs are obviously mine! A big thank you to Deke for letting me photograph a slice of Deke’s Decadent Chocolate Pound Cake!