Saturday, October 24, 2009


I found this rambly piece way back over in WORD, though I thought I'd posted it before, but can't seem to find it in the archives.

A family recipe using Myonnase dates from the 1880's, and it's hard to imagine how that recipe made its way from Careme to the hills and hollers and Delta of Mississippi in such a relatively short time. But the long trek was worthwhile, if for no other reason than ONE Tomato Sandwich---thick slices of home-grown tomato, vine-ripened and brought in warm from the garden, scattered with a few grinds of salt and laid between two soft-as-soft slices of Wonder Bread slathered with rich egg-yellow homemade mayonnaise with its kiss of vinegar and mustard---I cannot imagine that a table in Heaven would hold a lovelier dish.

Our choice from the grocery shelves is as close to home-made as you can get---Blue Plate or Duke's---both Southern born and bred. Blue Plate is made by Reilly Foods in New Orleans, and if you got any more Southern, you'd need a snorkel to keep from drowning in the Gulf.

I'd also forgotten to mention that I did learn, years ago, to make "dinnerplate" mayo, with a fork. It was my own Mammaw's recipe, with an egg yolk, dry mustard, some white or tarragon vinegar, a dash of salt, beaten with plain old "Wesson Oil"---which is, of course, one word where I come from. "Wessinoahl"---the frying, mayo-making, poppyseed dressing whirling, be-all, end-all of the gourmet market of the 60's and 70's South.

You just tilt that plate, throw in the yolk and a little sift of the Coleman's dry mustard (somehow that's been a standby in kitchens all across the South---kitchens which otherwise boasted no more daring a seasoning than ground cinnamon for the sweet tater pie---and the bright-yellow little can of grocery-store Coleman’s was in our shelves, though the Watkins man made his weekly route). Dash of salt, slurp of vinegar---tarragon (tare'-gun) especially prized for its exotic nature all around.

It's nice to have a friend to help; otherwise you have to prop the plate on a high-folded towel to have one hand free for pouring the oil, which is rightfully poured from the one-cup Pyrex with the red lettering, part of a three-piece set native to every Southern woman's dowry, along with three dozen embroidered pillowslips and the nesting bowls.

Drip, drip, drip, then thread; then, as it thickens, more volume, more vigorous beating, clanging that fork onto the china like a roundup dinnerbell. And some kind of magic happens; it begins with the first stirring, using the unknown principles of cling and surface tension and centrifugal force or some such, and somehow, nothing escapes that plate; not a drop is lost. When it's at its perfect fluffiness, with all or most of the oil absorbed---don't be persnickety about getting in the last drop; whole makings have been lost trying to even up the damage done by over-oiling an already-perfect mixture. You just KNOW when.

THEN. Lay the plate down flat and pick up that nice halved sweet onion you've got waiting. Hold it sorta diagonal up several inches from the plate of mayo, and scrape a sharp little knife across the cut surface, counting the drops as they fall from the edge. Exactly ten. No more, no less. Stir them in thoroughly, pinky-tip a teensy blob into your mouth, and check for seasoning. Perfect.

Scrape it into a pretty little bowl and serve alongside some thick, perfect tomato slices, or a nice wedge of tangy aspic (especially a Bloody Mary one), or on a cold crisp Waldorf. Spread it onto crust-cut bread, lay on some watercress or thin pink curls of Co-Cola baked ham or smoked salmon and roll into little cigarettes to serve to be-hatted matrons going about the business of Civic Duty. Make a still-warm 'mater sandwich with a big red round one, right off the vine. Set that bowl out on a lace tablecloth and call it good.

Almost every fork in my Mammaw's silverware drawer was like a four-fingered hand---the pinky-tine on one side beaten half-an-inch-shorter than the other three by constant banging against a plate, whipping up that Sunday mayonnaise.

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