November 08 '97
Golden Eagle [The Pride of Alabama]
Pontotoc, MS is my birthplace, but I lived there only two years before my parents moved our family to Corinth, MS. Over the next nine years, we lived in Iuka, Starkville, and Okolona for varying time periods. I was eleven when my dad bought an interest in the Market Basket retail grocery store in Pontotoc, and our family returned to Pontotoc. Located on Main Street, Market Basket was soon renamed Carter and Austin Grocery to reflect the names of the new owners, Henry Carter and Colonel Austin.
Dad had worked for Kroger during my early childhood years, an era of change for Kroger, Inc. In the Forties, Kroger stores were in many of the rural county seat towns of Mississippi and other southern states. During the Fifties, Kroger began to close large numbers of their small grocery stores and concentrate their marketing efforts in larger metropolitan areas. It was this new marketing strategy that resulted in our moving from Iuka, where a store was being closed, to Starkville. Transferring from Starkville to Okolona and after managing the Kroger store in Okolona for almost three years, Dad found an opportunity to join the ranks of independent retailers.
At some point during our first year back in Pontotoc, we were introduced to a different and delicious table syrup. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to remember the name of the salesman who stopped by Dad's store each week to pickup the grocery order for Malone and Hyde of Tupelo. The name "Willis" sounds like it could have been his last name, but I cannot be certain. I can remember his face and slightly overweight appearance.
I remember that he was the first person I ever heard say, "A good grilled steak doesn't need any steak sauce or ketchup. It just needs eating."
The incident for which I best remember Mr. Willis occurred the year Ole Miss beat Tennessee, thirty-eight to nothing in Memphis after a week of taunts by Tennessee players that Ole Miss players were just a bunch of mules. Mr. Willis was staying in the Peabody Hotel along with a host of other people who were there to see the game.
In the lobby of the Peabody on Friday night before the game, a Tennessee fan, inebriated and loud, kept challenging, "I'll bet a hundred dollars that Ole Miss won't even score."
Most of the crowd present were Tennessee fans. Mr. Willis, a fan of Ole Miss, stepped forward and peeled off a hundred dollars to show his acceptance of the bet. The two men put their money in an envelope and gave it to the clerk at the registration desk. They explained the conditions of the wager and asked the clerk to keep the money in the safe for one of them to claim the next day.
After seeing Ole Miss score their first touchdown, then a second one, Mr. Willis became concerned about the two hundred dollars in the safe at the Peabody. He left the stadium and claimed the money, without returning to the ball game. He claimed he did not trust the other bettor, believing him capable of bribing the desk clerk.
I am reasonably certain that Mr. Willis is responsible for our introduction to Golden Eagle syrup, since he represented the company that supplied our store with grocery products, and I vaguely recall my folks mentioning his name in connection with the syrup. I had eaten Blackburn table syrup for years, along with the rest of our family. My last childhood memory of eating Blackburn syrup was during the time we lived in Okolona. Blackburn was a sweet, but dark syrup with the appearance of thin molasses. The transparent Golden Eagle syrup was quite a visual contrast to the Blackburn brand, and the addition of honey to the other ingredients made it even more appealing to our family. The folks that bottled the syrup also declared it to be "The Pride Of Alabama." Through the years, many a quart of this tasty syrup has been enjoyed by our family members.
After Barbara and I married and began a family, my older brother, who made a career of the Air Force, moved to central Minnesota. Whenever we vacationed there, we were asked to take Fred a supply of Golden Eagle syrup. Minnesota is famous for many things, but Deep-South food is not among them. Grits and Golden Eagle are not found in Minnesota homes that do not have strong ties to the South. Yet, even my brother has discovered that Golden Eagle is not stocked on all grocery shelves in the South. Fred now lives near Orlando, FL, but has to drive to Alabama or Mississippi to find what is also his family's favorite table syrup.
Table syrup is probably less popular today than fifty years ago, primarily because many families do not take the time to prepare homemade biscuits. Table syrup of any variety is enjoyed best when consumed with hot, buttered, hand-made biscuits. Various techniques are employed by members of my family, who eat Golden Eagle syrup, from ladling the syrup over the biscuits to knifing the syrup on the biscuits, one bite at a time. Regardless of the eating method, one rule must be adhered to at the Carter homealways pour the syrup away from the label of the syrup jar. This assures the next person, who uses the jar, a clean, non-sticky surface to grip. It takes a bit of practice to cut off the syrup at the mouth of the jar without it rendering a gooey rim that makes the jar lid hard to remove the next time your family wants to have syrup and biscuits.
Once the syrup is poured onto the plate, I recommend a smidgen of butter (a smidgen is slightly less than a fourth of a pat of butter) be added by stirring it into the syrup. Though not a necessity, this adds a bit of color and flavor, plus the biscuits usually are not buttered edge to edge. I do not recommend using as much butter as Lillie Belle slaps on her syrup, since the end result looks more like whipped honey than Golden Eagle syrup. Neither do I recommend you eat your syrup by cutting up the biscuits in a sea of syrup or drizzling syrup over broken or cut biscuits. Either of these results in a different taste sensation than simply spooning the syrup on the biscuit, one bite at a time. I don't think I have cornered the market on the best technique, I am just sharing my years of experiencing the various ways to eat biscuits and Golden Eagle syrup.
Actually, I do not use a spoon to transfer the syrup from the plate to the biscuit, I use a table knife. Of course I know that proper etiquette states to avoid eating with a knife, but that's the way my dad ate his and his father before him. The knife method has also been passed down to my children both of whom find this to be preferable to other techniques. It's pretty handy when you think about it, especially since you just used the knife to cut off the syrup and maybe the same knife to stir the butter into the syrup. And yes, if I ever have to pour more syrup to make it come out even with the biscuits, I lick the knife blade clean before cutting extra syrup. (Make it come out even is an expression establishing the fact that the proportion of syrup to biscuits exists in a one to one ratioone portion of syrup for each one bite of biscuit.)
It does not matter to me how you enjoy your biscuits and syrup or even whether you ever eat such as this. I do hope that if you have never tried the combination, you will at least try it. And, if I have flung a craving on you for some hot biscuits and syrup, then go and fix yourself some. If you cannot purchase Golden Eagle in you supermarket, let me know, and I will ship some to you.
The last Sunday of October was a time to celebrate the official opening of the holiday season for the Carter Family. For most of the years my mother lived, she would have a craving for some chicken and dressing near the end of October, a time that, coincidentally, occurred near her October 27th birth-date. At some point in our lives we, her children, began to celebrate her birthday on the October Sunday that fell closest to her birthday. Over a period of time, this became a holiday celebration to usher in the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons for our family. Afterall, Thanksgiving was but a month away.
Mom loved to cook and really enjoyed eating chicken and dressing, but she felt it inappropriate to prepare the chicken and dressing during the spring and summer months. For Mom, the dressing tasted better in the cool and cold months of fall and winter. I guess you could say she trained us to feel the same. Once the weather turns warm, my family does not get in the mood for chicken and dressing until the last of October.
Mom passed on eight years ago, two days before her birthday. However, the tradition of eating chicken and dressing to celebrate Mom's birthday and inaugurate the beginning of the holiday season continues in the families of Sarah's and mine. Her family and my family gather at one of our homes, along with any other kin who are willing to attend and feast upon traditional Thanksgiving fare.
Merilese missed out this year, in the first part because she is too young for solid food, and secondly because her parents finished their weekend visit to our home on Saturday. Sarah was present with her brood as was Aunt Jo, Lillie Belle, and Jason. Aunt Jo even brought a plate of fried pies, both peach and apple, along with a bowl of turnip greens and extra cornbread. Other holiday foods included candied sweet potatoes, congealed salad, cranberry sauce, giblet gravy, English peas, and creamed potatoes.
There was more food to eat than we could consume, and it was all lip-smacking good.
It was a country feast that even Frances would have blessed with, "I hope you can eat it."
Beau heard another true "Church" story: This one really happened in a Baptist Church in Greenville, MS. Early in the Sunday morning worship, Pastor Jones (not his real name) asked all the young children to come down to the front of the sanctuary for a brief time called "Children's Church." During such times, the pastor typically shares a Bible story or truth with the children. Often the pastor asks the children questions and encourages their participation. Attempting to make the children feel good about themselves and to put them at ease in front of an audience, Pastor Jones shared how nice they each looked in their Sunday clothes. One little girl's dress was particularly eye-catching.
My, my. What a beautiful dress you have on." Pastor Jones remarked. "It has all this lovely lace...it's just beautiful!"
Instead of a shy thank you, as one might have expected, what followed literally reverberated off every surface, "Uh huh, but my moma says it's a bitch to iron!"
Beau further stated the congregation were unable to get settled after their laughter, so the pastor dismissed the service for the day.