Baltimore ladies, is your style more powder pink than Ravens purple? Are you a football widow? Perhaps it’s time to get to your Southern Belle roots for the next few weeks. You can start by having some afternoon tea at one of our fine Baltimore hotel bars. It’s “afternoon tea,” by the way, not “high tea”. High tea is something that was invented by the English manual working class… if it were invented today here in Baltimore, it would have cheesesteak subs or something.
You can also get into the mindset at home — especially if you don’t like “weather” — and make your kitchen and dining room your Southern Belle mansion. I’ve been perusing some of my apropos books on the subject and here are some tips to make you feel more lady-like from some of the most Southern and Belle-ish experts out there.
Martha’s at the Plantation is a cookbook from a restaurant in Nashville that is sadly no longer. I had the opportunity to meet Ms. Martha Phelps Stamps at her restaurant at Belle Meade, the historic plantation. Lunch there was filled with old Tennessee social doyennes, a couple of country music singer-model types, and country club couples dressed in their Lillys and Ralphs. The food was dainty and delectable. I learned that eating like a Southern Belle isn’t the same deal as your diner “meat and 3’s” or heavy, greasy Paula Deen fare. The amuse bouches served were (for a table of two ladies who lunch, including myself) 4 minature biscuits with fresh chives. Could I have eaten like, a hundred of them? Of course. But I learned that the way to keep one’s ladylike figure is to eat like that.
You could get a PhD in being a Southern Belle by Colonel Michael Masters, the Host of Kentucky, author of Hospitality Kentucky Style, my good friend and 6th cousin in-law. There are many lessons to be learned from the Colonel. One of his signature style tips is to memorize a great benediction/toast and recite it before the meal. A memorable, sassy toast makes you the hostess with the mostess. You’ll stand out from all your other friends, for sure. Another lesson that you’ll glean from his book is that certain recipes are so tasty, they’ll inspire some very unlady and ungentleman – like behavor from your guests, so don’t despair. Oh, I don’t mean over-boozing them up. Rather, he refers to pimento cheese and Benedictine finger sandwiches that guests rip the bread tops off and start layering, Dagwood-style. There’s also the pecan chicken salad with sweet pickle juice appetizers that people will pile up, Last Supper style, if they don’t steal with spoons on the way from fridge to table.
Daisy King is a famous caterer in Tennessee and known as “The First Lady of Southern Cooking”. Her book Gracious Entertaining, Southern Style, has some super practical tips for having a Southern Belle- like party. One is to count the silverware after the party… not because you think your lovely friends have made off with your treasures, but rather, so you don’t throw them in the trash bin by accident. Also, she insists that you not leave coffee on the burner — rather, serve it within 20 minutes, so it doesn’t become bitter.
Racing to the Table: A Culinary Tour of Sporting America certainly has a sizeable section on Maryland’s racing history and food. I actually bought it at Churchill Downs at the Kentucky Derby, when I was lunching with the other Kentucky Colonels. It talks about and has recipes for the food served at Baltimore’s Pimlico Racetrack, including their famous chicken noodle soup. RoCK remembers when WBAL used to announce the Soup of the Day at Pimlico. The book also has recipes from a Maryland Southern Belle, Mrs. Allaire C. DuPont. The DuPonts and their famous race horses are well established in Cecil County, Maryland.
You really speak of Southern Belles without mentioning where they love to refresh themselves: The Greenbrier. For over 200 years, the creme de la creme of Southern society have taken the waters there and eaten the gourmet foods. A funny thing about Southern Belles here: I’ve interviewed chefs at The Greenbrier and they say that while people make a big fuss about having light foods available to eat, they…don’t. Can one keep one’s figure just by reading about dietetic cuisine? That’s a new one on me. At any rate, here’s more about the food there plus a recipe you can try at home!
The funniest Southern Belle cookbook I have was one I first spied at the Queen City Airport, on my way to judging a beauty pageant in the South. Dining by Fireflies: Unexpected Pleasures of the New South was put out by the Junior League of Charlotte. One of the recipe sections is called “New Beginnings: First Dinner Date Since the Divorce”. Well . . . shoot. If you are or have ever been a divorcee’, you know I’m right when I tell you, you’d best have an ace up your sleeve. It’s cold out there, baby! Being a great Southern Belle hostess might be an option. They suggest starting out the evening with Campari-Champagne cocktails. More subtle than Jungle Juice Punch with grain, but maybe not as effective? There’s a tasty carrot Vichyssoise recipe that, even if it doesn’t have its intended immediate effect, will probably pack so much Vitamin A per serving, that your skin will be radiant for the next round of singles dances.