Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Point Accent

If you hail from the Point, it doesn’t take long for someone to figure it out. Even if your last name doesn’t end with –ich or –eaux, the second you open your mouth, everyone knows your roots rest somewhere east of downtown.

This distinctive accent, largely native to the Point, but also heard around the Back Bay and other East Biloxi neighborhoods is less common in Central and West Biloxi. You definitely don't hear it in Long Beach, Gulfport or Pascagoula although you do hear something that sounds like it around Bay St. Louis.

It’s hard to describe the Point Cadet accent in print. Think Brooklyn crossed with a Southern drawl and you’re pretty close. A friend of mine from Massachusetts visiting East Biloxi for the first time declared, “I love this place. Everybody sounds like Joe Pesci.”

And, by the way, the true old timers never pronounced their neighborhood’s name as we do now. It was Point Caddy to them.

So how did this Noo Yawk accent wind up in the deepest part of the Deep South? And why did it largely skip over much of the rest of Mississippi’s coastal communities?

It all goes back to early 20th century immigration and its way of creating melting pots within a very short period of time. At the turn of the last century, New Orleans and Biloxi, received large numbers of people from Italy and what later became Yugoslavia, as well as Acadian French descendants from the swamps of South Louisiana. All of them were drawn by the booming seafood industry. New Orleans, more than Biloxi, also received Irish and German immigrants which explains why, in some neighborhoods, their regional accent is similar to, but slightly different than what you hear in some parts of Biloxi.

As the newcomers settled into the same working class neighborhoods, their various accents melded and evolved.

As evocative as these distinctive, if less than dulcet, tones are of our local culture, it’s hard to believe they they may be a short-lived phenomenon. The accent, so strong in my grandparents’ and parents’ generations, has started to fade away. Blame it on our transient society, where people move away from their old neighborhoods, and on the mass media which has affected all regional dialects to some degree.

In another generation or so , those dropped gs, screwy diphthongs and misplaced possessives may be heard only in oral history archives. A relic like the old downtown Biloxi Woolsworth (Woolworth’s to the rest of the world).

Aw, dawlin’, dey won’ know what dey missin’.

Red Bean Salad

The accent is on flavor in this favorite Point summer salad. This recipe does it the old-fashioned way, with red beans cooked from scratch, but today's busy cooks just substitute canned red beans..

1 cup of dried red beans
4 cups of water
(OR SUBSTITUTE 2-3 cans of red beans, rinsed well)
1 chopped onion
1/4 cup of good olive oil
1 T vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse and sort beans. If cooking from scratch, bring beans and water to a boil and cook until tender. Drain well. Add chopped onion, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss to blend. Refrigerate two hours and serve cold. This salad s a good accompaniment to grilled pork chops or sausage.

Friday, June 18, 2010

It Ain't Summer Unless I Have a Green Tongue

How do you know when hot weather has come to South Mississippi (besides the obvious)? When snoball stands start popping up like toadstools after a rain. What coffee stands are to the Pacific Northwest, the snoball stand is to the Deep South.

Whether you call them snow cones or snoballs, whether your preference tends toward the crushed ice or the shaved ice popularized by Hansen's Sno Blitz in New Orleans, there is no more refreshing treat on a hot sticky summer night.

Today's snoball stand menus are a gourmand's delight offering a head-swimming variety of flavors like Bridal Cake, Fuzzy Navel and Strawberry Shortcake. You can get them plain (one flavor), rainbow (multi-flavors) or topped with condensed milk (heaven).

Like my mother, I tend toward simplicity. Nothing beats a nice refreshing spearmint snoball. It is the perfect antidote to humidity.

For years, the most popular snoball stand in Biloxi was Mille's at the foot of the old Back Bay Bridge on Caillavet Street. People would drive from all over town to stand in line (which would often wrap around itself 3 times) and wait nearly an hour just for a snoball.

Yeah they were that good.

I don't have a recipe for this post. And with cheap snoball stands on every street corner this time of year who needs one? Part of the thrill -- dare I say even the majority of it -- comes from the expedition itself.

Assembling the household (or the neighborhood) into a vehicle. The backseat debate over the merits of various flavors. The hum of the well-used commercial ice shaver. Sitting on the sun-warmed car hood letting the cold, cold flavored ice slide down your throat while counting the stars. The sticking out of tongues to compare colors afterward. It all makes the treat taste better (really). You can't replicate that at home.

I must have a spearmint snoball (and green tongue). Now.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Daddy and His Pineapple Plantation Owner's Hat

When my father retired, he gleefully shed the tailored suits, French cuffs, silk ties and wing-tipped brogues my mother had picked out for him during his working life. In retirement, he wallowed in his own questionable taste, a byproduct of his color blindness.

Polyester blue and white checked pants, red and white striped shirts and a canary yellow sports jacket became the foundation of his leisure wardrobe.

The piece de resistance was a straw fishing hat from the fifty-cent table at Rose's discount store.

The hat was a plain straw boater -- the type worn by gondoliers in Venice or aristocratic Southern gentleman sipping juleps on their verandas.

However, it was accented by a tie-dyed band with all the colors of the Sgt. Pepper's album cover in the mix. And two plumey little feathers -- one red, one yellow --like the ones gracing the tips of plastic wands at Pet Smart. My cats, and not a few pimps, would have loved that hat.

My mother dubbed it "The Pineapple Plantation Owner's" hat. It became Daddy's signature accessory, as much a part of him as his horn-rimmed bi-focals.

He wore his new hat to the grocery store, the swimming pool, family picnics, even to Saturday evening Mass. Daddy claimed he wore the hat to protect his middle-aged bald spot from the sun. But I think he liked wearing it because, like Superman's cape, it unleashed his true nature.

Wandering around the New Orleans French Quarter, Downtown Biloxi or Edgewater Mall, while wearing the hat, Daddy could happily warble Christmas songs in July. Or speak pig Latin. Loudly. The prissy teenager in me was horrified and humiliated The other part of me was proud. My friends all thought he was original and cool. And he was.

No doubt encouraged by the hat, Daddy, taught my sister and me the fine art of swearing well. Not blue language that would get us in trouble but colorful original nonsensical phrasings that vented steam and got us giggling.

Goodnessgraciousjalapenopeppersheavenstobetsyhoohoohoo was one of our favorites.

The Pineapple Plantation Owner's Hat made life a little funnier and gave us all permission to act a little sillier. It became a beloved member of our family - rather like our poodle Tejean.

It left our lives as it had entered them-- as a fishing hat. One windy day, near Popp's Ferry bridge, a gust plucked the hat from Daddy's head and sent it skimming over the water. As my sister and I keened and wailed from the shore, it started taking on water, slipping ever further beneath the choppy waves, finally disappearing from view.

It was a noble end. A Viking burial without the funeral pyre.

And that hat deserved no less.

Coca Cola Cake

Daddy often wore the hat on picnics, including our annual Father's Day family picnics at Flint Creek Water Park in Wiggins. My mother usually baked a Coca Cola sheet cake for these occasions. I'm not sure if she got the recipe from Southern Living magazine or from Connie Bea Hope and Estelle Payton on their cooking show on Channel 5 out of Mobile.

They were sure good.

2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon, baking soda
2 cups sugar
1 cup of carbonated cola beverage (I like Coca Cola, but you can use what you like. Just don't use diet cola)
1 cup butter
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (real vanilla, please, not vanilla flavoring)
1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
Cola frosting (see below)
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Combine flour, soda, soda and sugar. Stir well and set aside.

Combine cola, butter and cocoa in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Gradually stir into flour mixture. Stir in buttermilk, eggs, vanilla and marshmallows. Pour into a greased and floured 13x9x2 pan. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Spread cola frosting over the cake while still warm. Sprinkle with pecans. Let cool.

Cola Frosting

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup Coca Cola (or your favorite cola brand -- again, no diet soda)
3 tablespoons cocoa
3 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine butter, cola, and cocoa in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in sugar and vanilla.