Witness by Alicia Fitts
God drops the blessings at our feet and all we have to do is pick them up.Monique Cooper
The complexity of curating ingredients for a recipe could have lined up with a class in thermodynamics as far as my fuzzy headed twenty-something self could conceive. Still, I forged ahead with the cliff notes of what my people did when hungry and mimicked accordingly.
One particular day on my way home from work as a law school library cataloger, I pulled a rickety grocery cart from its slot and rattled over the wooden floors of the Jitney Jungle.
Fronted in a Tudor styled motif, the small strip center of which the Jitney was anchor spelled one stop shopping for our Belhaven neighborhood in Jackson, Mississippi. By today’s standards, the tiny aisles were crowded with shelves of limited choices.
The entire scene appeared as if someone had selected each piece to create the stage setting of a cozy small town market. The only caveat was that the actors hitting their marks as manager, butcher, stock boys and check out ladies were all people I knew by name.
I waved around my ragged list which documented the essentials that I had penciled on a deposit slip that morning. Dalton and I had planned a cookout for the evening meal. My parents were arriving via the Natchez Trace after a long jaunt from Tennessee.
We looked forward to the celebration of a meal around our new family table. Carte du jour: D’s specialty – shish kabobs, and I would prepare sides including the family jewel, a potato salad.
As I turned onto the condiment aisle, Eudora Welty came into view. A Belhaven constant, she smiled and we exchanged pleasantries. God knows I’ve since wished that I asked her to weigh in on mayonnaise, but alas, I’m often stumped in the presence of the literary glitterati.
She continued on her way and I turned to the Hellman’s Mayonnaise, a superior label any day, but chose an unknown and inexpensive brand instead. I swelled having never before enacted the thrifty part of myself.
Later during kitchen prep, my Mother held the sub par mayo jar aloft and said, “Cut costs if you must, but never buy the cheaper brand.” How I was to cut costs otherwise remained a mystery. As a parent, she had never been so overtly instructional, so I cherished her word.
This advice has played itself out on a broader scale for me to the point of regaling folks who compliment my food that it’s all about the superior ingredients! My Mother knew nothing of the dramatic turn things would take based on her advice when I subsequently rejected most forms of plastic wrapped convenience and the cheaper brand.
As a result, my devotion to quality and the small and local began to simmer with a trial run to the farmers’ market. Clearly this is what she (a better cook than my friends’ mothers) was talking about – produce, meat, herbs and the hand crafted all deserving of payment for attentive production and resulting flavor.
My reasoning opened up that what sustained our family could also be an investment in the community, a healthy return in things like the support of people who lived next door resulting in a healthier neck of the woods.
Through the years no better example of the value came into play than with the often requested Rosemary Pecans from my kitchen. Granted I’m partial to the southern story when pecans make their stellar appearance. Pecans are a native rock star ingredient in the south. They are a portable snack, heart healthy and they lend themselves to most any dish that I care to make when I want to show off culture.
My grandparents’ home was situated in Tupelo, Mississippi on what was said to have originally been a pecan orchard. As soon as I arrived at their house, Edwina (“Wee” to me), ushered my tiny body to the back door where I was armed with a long handled pecan picker upper and their leashed Toy Manchester, Tigger. Working hard for my living, I shuffled the tedious harvest into giant net bag for my grandparents’ deep freeze in their otherwise creepy hall closet.
The powerfully meaty sustenance of pecan pie and an ice cold Coke etched into my brain and have since enacted the role spurring the worthiest of ingredients. What a way to mark a child with the formative habit of diligence!
Though my town today is without access to a pecan farm, I know a beloved Mississippi orchard and have dedicated myself to the storied family who have made the harvest and sale of pecans their business. https://billiespecans.com
What a thrilling practice to stock my own adult freezer through quarterly mail order via their farm. Why wouldn’t I?
You may say, that you’d rather toss a bag of stale pecans shipped to the big box conglomerate where you like to go for your daily dose of florescent lighting. Later you would question why in the world would you invest in such imposters.
In dishing this ingredient info, I recall the story of a matriarch who I heard tell. She was adored for her traits both zany and practical. Her competent touch with some fabulous pimento cheese was renowned.
Once after pridefully detailing her precious recipe for the spread, an interviewer asked about a shortcut to the way she went about making it. “Oh just never mind,” she said.
Or as my high school teacher would say to all who paid attention: “Viva la difference!”
Honey Roasted Pecans with Rosemary
1 pound raw pecans (find a local grower and stock a few 1 pound bags in your freezer)
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons honey (local honey at your farmers’ markets and sometimes in a few small grocery stores)
2 tablespoons fresh chopped rosemary (approximately 4 three inch branches)
My rosemary bush is faithful, but the winter cold is tough. As an experimental yard farmer, I often find myself with handy blanket to tuck around its woody branches if the temperature approaches single digits. Worth it. Caring for plants that nurture my world is an easy hobby.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Pour raw pecans on to a baking sheet.
Drizzle with butter and salt and toss with your hands.
Drizzle the honey over the butter covered pecans and toss again.
Spread out evenly on a rimmed baking sheet.
Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the baking sheet and stir around.
Return to the oven for another 5 or so minutes until they are slightly browned. Watch out for over toasting.
Remove the nuts from the oven and sprinkle with fresh rosemary.
As the nuts are cooling, give them a break apart with your hands every now and again to keep them from sticking together.
When room temperature, store in an air tight container for salads, cookies, appetizer tray or gifting.