All in the Family

Northwestern Creole Cooking

Shari Parker got really good genes. She inherited her ability to cook from both sides of the family. “My mother is a fantastic cook, as were both my grandmothers, ” Parker says. “My maternal grandmother was a baker. She never bought a loaf of bread; it was always homemade. My dad’s mother was a great Creole cook. She made crawfish bisque with stuffed heads, gumbo, chicken stew, ” she says. “I wish I had cooked with her and written a cookbook.”

Parker credits her mother, Sharon Miller, as her main culinary inspiration. Miller grew up on a South Dakota farm with plenty of fresh produce and livestock – and of course, homemade bread. “My dad always says, ‘Why go out to eat when the best food is at home?’” Parker laughs. “I wanted that for my family when I got married. I get a lot of satisfaction from providing well thought-out, balanced, home-cooked meals. It’s a nurturing thing for me and something that I enjoy, ” she adds.

Despite Parker being a fabulous cook in her own right, she says she often calls her mother for advice. “She’s like the Butterball hotline.” Miller says her daughter rarely needs any assistance, that the calls are really more so that the pair can talk about what they are preparing, what goes well with what, and to share recipes. “It is the highest compliment you can be paid, ” Miller says, “when someone wants your recipe.” Here are two of the favorites from each of Parker’s grandmothers.

Celeste’s Stuffed Crabs
Sharon Jorgensen met her future husband, Prescott Miller, in a field hospital in South Vietnam where she was an Army nurse and he was an Army doctor. When he brought his bride-to-be home to meet his family in Louisiana, his mother, Celeste Miller, served stuffed crabs. Sharon says she had never seen or eaten a crab before, but she was quickly “hooked.” She ended up with a groom and a great recipe. The couple has now lived in Mobile for more than 40 years.

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2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onion
1/4 cup minced shallot
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat
1/2 cup crab claw meat
salt and pepper, to taste
2 – 3 tablespoons fine breadcrumbs, extra for sprinkling
1 egg plus 1 egg white, well beaten butter

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Sauté vegetables, garlic and parsley in butter.
3. Add lump crab and claw meat. Turn gently until heated through. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Remove from heat and carefully stir in breadcrumbs, then egg.
5. Stuff mixture into scrubbed crab back shells or ramekins.
6. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over top and dot with butter.
7. Bake for about 20 minutes or until hot. Makes approximately 8 generously stuffed crabs.

Grandmommy Odes’ Brownies
Shari Parker says these are the “best brownies ever.” Parker’s four children agree, although they prefer them without the nuts. The recipe comes from her maternal grandmother, Sharon’s mother, Odes Jorgensen, an accomplished baker.

3 squares unsweetened Baker’s chocolate
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons Crisco shortening
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup flour, sifted
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
confectioners’ sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Melt the chocolate with the butter and shortening.
3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs.
4. Add sugar to the eggs, and beat until blended.
5. Add melted chocolate mixture, vanilla and salt. Beat again. 
6. Add flour, and mix until smooth. 
7. Add nuts, if desired, and combine.
8. Bake in greased 8-by-11-inch dish for 25 minutes. 
9. Allow to cool. Then dust with confectioners’ sugar. Makes approximately 24 brownies.

Confectionary Collections

Life is sweet for Lauren McLemore and her mother, Phyllis Johnson. “We’re all about desserts, ” McLemore says. Both ladies are self-professed “big bakers.” It runs in their family. “My mother would serve dessert every night, ” Johnson says. Even today, she is still amazed at her mother’s ability to work all day and then come home to cook a full meal, followed by dessert.

McLemore remembers that when they would travel to Evergreen to visit her grandmother, Vivian Hutcheson Johnson, there was always a treat awaiting their arrival. “She always had a fresh-baked pound cake on the counter, ” she says. They were her mother’s and grandmother’s specialties. Johnson and McLemore continue the multi-generation tradition and also enjoy adding to the repertoire of sweets. They admit that neither of them eats dessert on a daily basis anymore, but both bake an astonishing array of cakes, cookies and confections, especially during holidays and for family functions. These sugary treats still conjure up delicious recollections for their families.

Butternut Pound Cake
Butternut pound cake has a lovely unique flavor. Johnson says it was her grandmother Hutcheson’s recipe, and she and her three sisters all continue to bake it.

1 cup Crisco
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup self-rising flour
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 – 2 tablespoons butternut flavoring (Johnson uses McCormick Imitation Vanilla Butter & Nut Flavoring.)
Butternut Frosting, see below

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Cream together Crisco, sugar and eggs. Beat on high speed for
5 minutes. 
3. Add milk and flour on low speed until mixed well. 
4. Mix in flavoring.
5. Bake in a tube pan for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
6. Cool. Frost with Butternut Frosting.

Butternut Frosting

1 stick margarine, softened
1 box confectioners’ sugar
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon butternut flavoring
(Johnson uses McCormick Imitation Vanilla Butter & Nut Flavoring.)
1 cup chopped pecans

1. Combine ingredients in a bowl.
2. Mix thoroughly.

Hummingbird Cake
Johnson says her mother made this deliciously different Hummingbird Cake often, but nowadays she and her daughter save it mainly for special occasions because it is a rather involved process.

3 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups chopped bananas
Cream Cheese Frosting, see below

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. 
3. Add eggs and oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. Mix by hand. (Do not use mixer.)   
4. Stir in the vanilla, pineapple, nuts and bananas.
5. Pour into three 9-inch greased and floured cake pans.
6. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until done. Cool and frost with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

12 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup butter, softened
6 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Combine cream cheese and butter. (Do not use margarine.) Cream until smooth. 
2. Add confectioners’ sugar, beating until light and fluffy. 
3. Stir in vanilla.
4. Frost cooled cake.

Country-Style Heirlooms

Lynn West may be the casserole queen, but fried chicken is her forte. The recipe for the fabulous fowl has been a family favorite for four generations and counting. She thinks part of the secret is in the skillet. When her mother, Myrlene “Tiny” Davis, died, she made sure she was the lucky recipient of the well-seasoned, cast-iron heirloom. Fried chicken is often requested for all manner of family occasions. West says her mother’s mother was a Schillinger and that they had a big farm in West Mobile. She remembers the “city cousins” coming out to what was then the country for big Sunday dinners, complete with fried chicken. The tradition continued with the next generation. “Tiny didn’t just set the table, ” says West, “she set a groaning board. It was important to her that everyone had enough to eat. That’s just how she operated, and she got that from her mother.” 

West has now passed that love of cooking and of feeding others onto her daughter, Lesley Langus. “What’s interesting is she never sat me down and taught me to cook, ” Lesley says. “I just spent time with her, watching her, helping her. So, other than handing down recipes, I just sort of absorbed it by being there.”

Shortly after Lesley married Bin Langus, she and her mother decided to start a business doing what they loved, cooking. The mother-daughter duo opened Memories Gourmet Shop on Old Shell Road. The popular shop (2006 until 2009), offered home-cooked lunches and takeout casseroles and side dishes. They closed their doors when West had some health problems. Lesley’s husband then picked up the pans where the ladies left off and began selling his mother-in-law’s recipes as Miss Lynn’s Casseroles. They are locally available at several locations.

“We’re just a cooking family, ” West says. Most of the recipes they continue to use came from her mother’s recipe file. “They’re in her handwriting, so it’s just like her being there. When she died, I claimed that file – and the skillet, of course.”

Creamy Corn Casserole
Lynn West was a teenager when her mother got this recipe from a friend. It immediately became a family favorite that is now a holiday staple. It was one of the side dishes often served at Memories Gourmet Shop.

2 (15-ounce) cans whole kernel corn, drained
1 half stick butter, melted (Do not use margarine.)
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
salt, to taste (use sparingly)
1 cup heavy whipping cream

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Spread corn in casserole dish that has been sprayed well with cooking spray. 
3. Pour melted butter over corn. 
4. Sprinkle flour, sugar and salt evenly over corn. 
5. Pour cream evenly over dish. 
6. Bake in oven for 30 minutes or until thick and creamy. Stir several times while cooking. Serves approximately 6.

Maw Maw’s Fried Chicken
This is good ol’ Southern fried chicken. “We’re purists, nothing fancy, just plain fried chicken from your mother’s cast-iron skillet, ” West says. This originally came from her mother, Tiny, who was also known as Maw Maw.

1 (4-pound) whole chicken, cut into 9 pieces (Cut breast into 3 pieces.)
salt and pepper
vegetable oil

1. Remove excess skin and blot chicken with paper towel. Salt and pepper both sides of chicken.
2. Dredge seasoned chicken heavily in all-purpose flour.
3. Fill a cast-iron skillet halfway with vegetable oil. Put skillet over medium heat, and let it get hot.
4. Carefully put chicken pieces in skillet. (Do not overcrowd.) The grease should be hot enough to make chicken sizzle.
5. Let chicken fry 3 – 4 minutes, then turn. Do not cover. Turn chicken 2 or 3 times.
6. When chicken appears crispy, turn heat up to medium-high. Continue cooking until golden brown.
7. Remove chicken from grease and drain on paper towels. Serves approximately 3 – 4.

text and styling by Sallye Irvine

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