Sunday, October 23, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Mississippi I - Thick like Mississippi mud...

Heading down the length of the Mississippi River from Minnesota, we slog through the Mississippi mud to hit the Gulf Coast at the other end.  Food wise, it doesn't really get much more Southern than this.

Official Name: State of Mississippi
State Nicknames: The Magnolia State; The Hospitality State
Admission to the US: December 10, 1817 (#20)
Capital: Jackson (largest)
Other Important Cities: Gulfport (2nd largest); Biloxi (5th largest), Tupelo (7th largest)
 South, Deep South, Gulf Coast; East South Central (US Census)
RAFT NationsCorn Bread & BBQGumbo
Bordered by:
 Tennessee (north); Alabama (east); Gulf Coast (south); Louisiana (southwest); Arkansas (northwest); the Mississippi River (west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: white-tailed deer (land mammal); wood duck (waterfowl); largemouth/black bass (fish); honeybee (insect - the honey is what you eat, of course); oyster (shell - again, you eat what lives inside it)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: typical Southern foods, with Cajun foods (gumbo, étouffée, etc) in the southern part of the state; seafood along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast (especially crawfish, shrimp, oyster and blue crab)

Foodwise, Mississippi has a lot to claim on the culinary landscape.  Like much of the Deep South, its influences are both standard Southern foods and, in the southern part of the state, Cajun foods.  Seafood is also important here, as is seen in the many fish and shellfish dishes from the state.  It is also important to note that Mississippi is home to some of the South's most notable chefs and food writers: Iron Chef Cat Cora (Jackson), cookbook author and sometimes Atlantic food blogger Regina Charbonneau (Natchez), the late Craig Claiborne (Sunflower) and John T. Edge (Oxford), food writer, scholar and member of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

Edge is notable for his many writings on food around the country, including many books, among them compendia on various American classics: fried chicken, apple pie, donuts and hamburgers.  He is also author of the authoritative Southern cookbook A Gracious Plenty.  This book collects typically Southern recipes from all over the proper South.  The book tackles exactly what the South and its foods are, and notes the varieties of definitions, opinions and experiences, as Charles Reagan Wilson notes in his Introduction to Edge's A Gracious Plenty:
...[C]elebrating the [South's] foodways became a way to express Southern pride.  Woe to the non-Southerner who would disparage grits or collards.  Not everyone who lives in the South today, though, has a self-identity as a Southerner.  American homogenization has blurred regional boundaries, through national networks of communication, transportation, and consumer marketing... [Yet] Southerners continue to nurture their sense of Southernness through festivals, sporting events, popular culture, and even political attitudes. [Wilson, in Edge 2000: xvi]
Edge's compendium is a collection of recipes from various Southern community cookbooks.  Edge is a champion of the genre.  While community cookbooks are hardly confined below the Mason-Dixon Line, Edge suggests they are
as Southern as sweet tea.  They may get comparatively little critical respect, but they are much relied upon in Southern kitchens... 
...[W]e believe that the collected recipes reflect a greater Southern community, one that is neither black nor white, rich nor poor, but united in the love of good food and fellowship.  [Edge 2000: 3]
One classic Southern dessert, Mississippi mud pie/cake, comes more from the Mississippi River than Mississippi the state.  Still this recipe, originally from The Pastors Wives Cookbook from out of Memphis (and reprinted on pages 272 and 273 of Edge's A Gracious Plenty), certainly merits inclusion here.  If you do it right, as another famous Southern chef Nathalie Dupree once noted, "this cake should be cracked and dry-looking, like Mississippi mud in the hot, dry summer" (Edge 2000: 272).  Or at least Mississippi mud when it's covered in melted marshmallows.

The recipe: Mississippi Mud Cake

For this recipe - easier than the pie version since you don't need a crust - you will need:

For the cake part:
* butter (the recipe calls for margarine, but I don't have that and I've got a whole lot of butter laying around, so there's that.  Plus, why spend money when you don't need to?)
* eggs (a dozen for less than $2)
* cocoa (had it)
* granulated sugar (same)
* flour (Had it.  Use the soft kind if possible - here, White Lily)
* salt and vanilla (had them)
* mini marshmallows (about $2 at Harris Teeter.  I didn't realize they were so pricey)

For the frosting:
* more butter (again, the recipe calls for margarine)
* confectioner's sugar (a whole box)
* milk
* more cocoa powder

First make the cake.  You will cook together the butter, cocoa and sugar in a saucepan until melted together.

Add to this the flour and salt.

In a separate bowl, mix the eggs and vanilla, and then add to the saucepan.

Stir together everything over heat until mixed.

Pour the batter into a greased pan and bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes.

While the cake is baking, prepare the frosting by mixing the milk, melted butter, cocoa and granulated sugar.  No need to heat it.  Just mix it all up.

Keep mixing it.  You should do this about 10 minutes before you pull out the cake.

Once the cake is finished, start by spreading mini marshmallows on the top of the cake.

Follow the marshmallows up with the frosting.

Edge's source suggests that this dessert should look like the hot parched mud by the banks of the Mississippi. It certainly looks muddy (hence the name), but it doesn't taste it.  This is one of the easiest, messiest, gooiest cakes I have made in a long time.  Almost as sweet as the whoopie pies from Maine, and far more of a mess, I had to share this with people.  Thank God they ate most of it because I would've developed diabetes had I eaten the whole beautiful pan's worth of cake.


Civil War Interactive & Blue Gray Daily.  "Welcome to the Civil War Interactive Cookbook: Articles and Recipes for your 19th Century Cooking", date of publication unknown.  Copyright 2011 Civil War Interactive.

Edge, John T. A Gracious Plenty: Recipes and Recollections from the American South. An Ellen Rolfes Book. For the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. G. P. Putnam's Sons: New York, 1999.

Jackson, Irvin.  "Biloxi Bay Potato Salad".  Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (recipe card) copyright Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, 2011.  Also published in Mississippi Seafood Recipes by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, copyright Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, 2003.

Wilson, Charles Reagan. "Introduction: The South: Who, Where, and What's for Dinner".  In A Gracious Plenty: Recipes and Recollections from the American South by John T. Edge. An Ellen Rolfes Book. For the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. G. P. Putnam's Sons: New York, 1999.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Mississippi" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Mississippi".