The Book: Dinner at Miss Lady’s: Memories and Recipes From a Southern Childhood (1999, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)
The chapter pulled from this cookbook/memoir, titled, “Divinity,” relates author Luann Landon’s tale of being fed the super-sweet, meringue-like candy, with a side of Coca-Cola, on a visit to new neighbor. Yes, Southerners have a serious sweet tooth, and Southern cookbooks are often a treasure trove of marvelous old-fashioned desserts. It’s the main reason I picked up Dinner at Miss Lady’s at a local book sale. Landon intersperses menus with episodes from childhood summers spent in Greensboro, Georgia at the home of her grandparents, Judge and Miss Lady. Her stories date from the late 1940s, when the town’s families defined their wealth according to circumstances of the war—the Civil War, that is. Many seem to exist in a suspended state of genteel poverty I’ve always associated with post-war Tara. Except for Miss Lady, a fluttering soul given to nervous spells cured by sugar pills, who was chauffeured around town along the same route every afternoon after nap time, and who rang the bell for mid-day dinner service in the fully appointed dining room.
A note card fell out of the book when I first picked it up, and I guessed it might have been a wedding gift. Only while reading Landon’s wonderfully rich stories did I open it to discover a handwritten note from the author herself, addressed to “Michael and Betty,” and thanking them for all they’d done for her. Who knows whatever happened to Michael and Betty, but that card, in all its proper etiquette, was icing on the cake for these tales of Southern hospitality.
Funny, though, that “Divinity” does not include a recipe for divinity candy, but rather a menu served by Miss Lady’s long-time cook, Henrietta, after the callers returned home: Chicken with Tomatoes and Avocadoes, with Elizabeth’s Green Beans Charleston. Henrietta, who served as the requisite confidante, teacher, and mother figure for young Luann, would have served it with cheese biscuits. But goodness gracious, it’s been too hot up North for this Yankee to turn on the oven.