Thinking Outside the Lunch Box: Foods From the Delta
Back-to-school is here; it’s time to plan again for packing lunch boxes!
What are you thinking? Bologna, peanut butter and jelly, or turkey sandwiches? Why not consider instead a creative and inspired sampling of foods representing the Mississippi Delta? These local items will create variety for your child and are all possible for a lunch box.
We know you probably already love cathead biscuits! Who wouldn’t? And what kid wouldn’t? Named for their size, they are roughly as large as a cat’s head. Made with recipes handed down from grandmothers, the biscuits are airy, buttery and old-fashioned.
Make your own by sifting together two cups of self-rising White Lily flour and one-half teaspoon of salt. Mix in two tablespoons of shortening, using a pastry blender. Add one cup of buttermilk and stir until it makes a ball in the bowl. The biscuits are hand formed and placed in an iron skillet prepared with five tablespoons of melted butter. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes, until the pastry is brown on top.
Slice the biscuits and fill them with chunks of ham and cheese – or bacon and tomato with Duke’s or homemade mayonnaise – and you have created the perfect, portable sandwich. The process harms no cats. Meow.
Pimento cheese – also referred to as southern pate or Carolina caviar – is a spread made with cheese, mayonnaise and diced red pimento peppers. It was part of Greenville native Julia Reed’s Delta holy trinity that included fried chicken and ham biscuits. In her book, “Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns and Other Southern Specialties,” she shared three pimento cheese recipes (check it out if you want to make this local specialty yourself). Pimento cheese slathered on white bread is a convenient, delicious sandwich.
Tip: Here’s one of my personal favorite ways to enjoy pimento cheese. Box up lunches with pimento cheese and celery sticks, and include Bugles chips for dipping. Bugles are a great kid-friendly (and…uh…adult-friendly) way to enjoy pimento cheese!
Local sources for pimento cheese:
Bear’s Deli – 1015 Lee Drive (inside Bears Fitness Center), Westgate Shopping Center, Clarksdale. Phone: (662) 627-7965.
Bear’s has been in business for 28 years and is open Mondays through Fridays from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Concocted with nine different cheeses, Bear’s pimento cheese is one of their top sellers. Purchase containers of pimento cheese: small ($8), medium ($13), and large ($20).
The Dutch Oven –100 Blues Alley Lane, Clarksdale. Phone: (662) 621-9766.
The Dutch Oven sells pimento cheese. Consider ordering the pimento cheese sandwich from their menu. It comes on a freshly baked butter horn roll. Wrap the roll tightly in plastic wrap for a lunch box treat.
Johnny Cass’s Houndog Mule’s Street Diner
Keep an eye out on social media for Johnny Cass’s Houndog Mule’s Street Diner (Houndogmules.com). The mobile kitchen diner – named for bluesman, Hound Dog Taylor – “pops up” at Meraki Roasting Company, 282 Sunflower Avenue, Clarksdale. Phone: (662) 351-2233. You’ll find freshly baked baguettes, sourdough sliced bread, and gluten free loaves are available to elevate a pimento cheese sandwich. The diner sells handheld Australian meat pies that just might be the ticket for lunch boxes. Check for hours at Houndog Mule’s Street Diner on Facebook and @houndogmules on Instagram.
A Delta tamale, made with plain white cornmeal, is smaller than its Mexican counterpart. The filling is well-spiced beef or pork, and the tamale is simmered rather than steamed. This process creates a tasty juice that bathes them in their corn shucks and keeps them moist. Match up tamales, guacamole, salsa and chips for a colorful and tasty lunch box treat.
Hicks’ World Famous Tamales and Banquet Hall – 305 South State Street, Clarksdale. Phone: (662) 624-9887.
You may already know about Mr. Eugene Hicks, who has been making hot beef tamales since 1960. This local favorite is a drive-through only restaurant. Purchase one dozen tamales for $18.50 plus tax.
“I have met some beautiful people,” Hicks said, of his years spent as a prominent local tamale expert and fixture of the community. “They know me.”
His renown supposedly extends from Clarksdale to 25 or 30 countries. The restaurant hours are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. It is, however, a good idea to call before visiting.
“You open when you can,” admitted Hicks, who is now eighty years old.
Abe’s BBQ – 616 North State Street, Clarksdale. Phone: (662) 624-9947.
Abe’s is another long-standing pillar of the community; it’s been open since 1924 and sells hot tamales soaked in pork drippings and sauce. Sold by the dozen, they cost $16 per dozen plus tax. The eating place is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. and on Sundays from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.
However you bake it, spread it, or slice it, lunch box meals made with the influence of the Delta will not be boring.
Mary C. Fairley is a wife, mother, grandmother, and pimento cheese purist. She is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi. In addition to Parents & Kids, her work has been featured in Country Woman, DeSoto Magazine | Exploring the South, and Mississippi Magazine.