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Helpings of Holiday Cheer

Southern food traditions have the menu covered from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day.

Celebrating the holidays in the South always will involve gathering friends and family around tables laden with wonderful food. In time for the holidays, I visited with a home-taught cook, a trained chef/instructor, and a New Orleans radio talk show host to dish about Southern food traditions. You might want to grab a napkin; your mouth is watering.

Eats and Sweets

Above: Charlotte Bowls of Charlotte's Eats and Sweets in Keo, Ark., bakes as many as 150 pies in a day during the holidays. Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism photo

Below: More than 40 restaurants in New Orleans offer Réveillon dinners like this one during the holidays. Nijme Rinaldi Nun/New Orleans CVB photo


Pie, oh my

Like most good cooks, Charlotte Bowls learned from other good cooks. For 22 years, Bowls has owned and operated Charlotte's Eats and Sweets, 290 Main St., in Keo, a tiny town of about 200 people whose history is steeped in cotton plantations. The little café is inside a former apothecary shop.

Central Arkansas folk know Charlotte's Eats and Sweets offers tasty home-cooked meals, but the cakes and pies are the real draw here.

She opens the kitchen each day at 6 a.m. to start baking and preparing the luncheon items. On any Saturday, she will bake at least 30 pies, including seasonal fruit, caramel, or her signature coconut cream that's crowned with a tall, golden meringue. Bowls said she has two ovens that bake up to five pies at a time.

She learned all about pies from Norma Morris of England, Ark., whom Bowls calls “a wonderful pie maker.”

During the holidays, Bowls' pie-making routine really ramps up to keep up with preorder demand. She'll bake 150 pies in a day to fill orders. In addition to the coconut cream, she'll offer favorites like pumpkin, sweet potato, and pecan.

“I do a lot of pecan,” Bowls said.

Her grove of about 700 trees is the source of pecans, which go into Bowls' pies, cakes, and homemade chicken salad. Keo and nearby Scott in central Arkansas are noted for pecan groves.

Her recipe for pecan pie is pretty simple, according to Bowls.

“I just follow the Karo® recipe,” she said with a light laugh. “My customers love it. I love it. I do brown my butter a little to make it taste even nuttier.”

As expected, Bowls also makes all her piecrusts from scratch, following the Crisco® shortening recipe.

“But do not add another speck of flour to it,” she said. “It'll make it tough. Roll the crusts between plastic wrap. And don't stretch it too much.”

For diners who plan to visit Charlotte's Eats and Sweets, hours are from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday–Friday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. The restaurant is closed Sunday and Monday. If you want to end your lunch with a piece of pie, get to Charlotte's early because when the sweets are gone, they're gone. It's a good idea to put the pie order in with your lunch order.

And before you leave Keo, stop by The Nut House near the end of Main Street, which cracks, packages, and ships Arkansas pecans all over the United States. Cracked pecans are available to purchase.


Nowhere but in New Orleans, La., would families come home in the wee hours of the morning following midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and sit down to a lavish meal; I'd reach for a bowl of cold cereal and plop into bed.

But in the early days of New Orleans–we're talking 18th century–when most of the city was Roman Catholic and the tradition required a 24-hour fast prior to taking communion on Christmas Eve, famished families celebrated afterward with a feast that closely resembled a brunch–eggs, breads, pudding, turtle soup, oysters, and veal. The custom, known as Réveillon (REH-vee-on), is derived from a French word for awakening. However, the food tradition had become extinct by the 1940s.

Thankfully, this great food city reawakened the Réveillon dinners in the late 1980s when the French Quarter Festivals organization approached downtown restaurants with an idea to offer these festive dinners at reduced prices to attract tourists. Now, almost 30 years later, the tradition is flourishing, as more than 40 restaurants in the Quarter–as well as other districts in the city–offer Réveillon dinners from Dec. 1–31.

Tom Fitzmorris, longtime host of “The Food Show” on New Orleans radio 1350 AM and 105.3 FM, said dishes served for Réveillon often are traditional with that special New Orleans twist. Fitzmorris–who may have the best job in the world–said a popular dish for Réveillon is daube glacé, which he described as “beef's answer to hog head cheese” with a bit of a spicy kick. It's served cold with crackers, and you'll find it in homes as well as restaurants.

Other favorites on menus for Réveillon include roast goose, pâtés, pastries, and eggnog.

“And somebody or another will do a Yule log,” he said.

One of Fitzmorris' favorite restaurants for holiday Réveillon is the Pelican Club.

“It's one real standout. They have the best variety, offering eight or nine different entrées and appetizers,” he said. “But the seafood martini–lobster, lump crabmeat and Gulf shrimp served in a martini glass–is irresistible.”

Lavish holiday decorations and reduced prices for three- and four-course dinners make Réveillon a wonderful food tradition.


Mississippians celebrate New Year's Eve in many ways; some may choose to have small gatherings of friends and family at home, while others go to hotels for dinner and dancing. Many will welcome New Year's Day with these foods on their tables: cornbread, greens, and Hoppin' John.

Hoppin' John is a dish of black-eyed peas and rice with origins in West Africa, particularly Senegal. Initially served in South Carolina and Georgia, the recipe–and tradition behind it–spread throughout the South. Said to resemble coins, the black-eyed peas symbolize good fortune. Some tradition holds that each person should leave three peas on the plate to ensure luck, fortune, and romance. Other practices involve putting a real coin under the plate.

Greens (the color of money) and cornbread (the golden color representing wealth) are usually added to the New Year's Day menu.

Loren Leflore, kitchen manager and chef/instructor at the Viking Cooking School in Greenwood, Miss., said classes are offered for greens and cornbread. Leflore said she mixes turnip and collard greens to cut down any bitter flavors. She buys greens from the local farmer's market when she can, and always cleans it herself. She soaks the greens in the sink and then rinses with running water after trimming. Leflore renders bacon and then sautés onion and her other vegetables in the fat before setting the greens on the stove to simmer two hours. She stirs in the crisped bacon when serving.

For cornbread–made from scratch–she pours the batter into a hot cast iron skillet. That's what makes the edges brown and crispy.

“It's how my grandmother and great-grandmother did it. I will never make it any other way,” said Leflore.

For Hoppin' John, Leflore uses frozen black-eyed peas to cut down on preparation. She renders bacon and sautés onion and bell pepper. She cooks the peas and rice and tosses in the vegetables, topping the dish with crisped bacon.

A native Mississippian, Leflore has been at Viking Cooking School for six years. She said the popular New Year's Eve dinner class offers a new menu every year. The hands-on class is designed for up to 12 people, and at the end of their work, they have a marvelous meal. The class is available Dec. 26–30, but reservations do fill up quickly.

For those who want to celebrate without the work, The Alluvian Hotel in Greenwood (AAA Four Diamonds) offers a regionally popular New Year's package that combines drinks, dinner, and dancing. Partygoers also can reserve a hotel room for the night.

However you choose to celebrate the holidays this year, may you enjoy great food with family and friends gathered around your table.

Deborah Reinhardt is managing editor of AAA Southern Traveler magazine.

November/December 2015 Issue


For more information, contact:

City of Keo, (501) 842-0100

French Quarter Festivals

Viking Cooking School

For more recipes, including slow-cooked Southern greens by the Viking Cooking School, visit here.

To visit these cities, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Louisiana through the Free Travel Information Card found online.


Hoppin' John

With origins in West Africa, Hoppin' John is often served on New Year's Day. The black-eyed peas, said to resemble coins, symbolize good fortune. Some leave three peas on the plate to ensure luck, fortune, and romance.

  • 1 package (1 pound) frozen black-eyed peas
  • 3 pints cold water
  • 1/2 pound sliced salt pork or bacon or smoked ham hock
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco®
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 pieces bacon, diced
  • 2 tablespoons bacon drippings
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 cup long grained rice, cooked according to package directions
  1. Cover peas with cold water in a large pan. Add pork, bacon, or ham hock; Tabasco; and salt. Cover and cook over low heat about 30 minutes. Drain.

  2. In a sauté pan, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon from pan and reserve drippings. Cook onions and bell peppers in bacon drippings until soft. Add to drained peas and rice. Cook 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Place pea and rice mixture on serving platter. Sprinkle with bacon.

– Viking Cooking School

hoppin' john


Skillet Cornbread

A cake of cornbread that emerges from a well-seasoned, searing hot skillet has a crust that no baking pan can produce. For best results, use Southern-style cornmeal and flour, such as Martha White or White Lily.

  • 5 tablespoons canola oil (or bacon drippings)
  • 1 cup buttermilk (preferably not low-fat)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 cup self-rising cornmeal (such as White Lily or Martha White) plus extra for sprinkling in pan
  • 1/4 cup self-rising flour (such as White Lily or Martha White)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt

Special equipment

  • Well-seasoned (8-inch) cast-iron skillet
  1. Preheat the oven to 4250F. Pour the oil (or bacon drippings) into an 8-inch cast-iron skillet, and place in the oven. Heat until almost smoking hot, about 5 minutes.

  2. Whisk together the buttermilk and egg in a large mixing bowl; set aside until needed.

  3. Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, and salt; set aside until needed.

  4. Add the cornmeal mixture to the buttermilk mixture, stirring with a large spoon just until the dry ingredients are moistened. (Note: Some lumps will remain. Do not keep stirring or your cornbread will be tough. Accordingly, never use an electric mixer for making cornbread, as it will over-mix the batter and toughen the bread.)

  5. Carefully remove the smoking hot skillet from the oven and pour all but about 2 tablespoonfuls of the sizzling oil into the batter, stirring once just to combine. (Note: Do not attempt to measure out 2 tablespoons of oil, as this would be highly dangerous. Just approximate.) Sprinkle a little cornmeal in the hot pan before adding the batter; it will brown and add a crisp texture.

  6. Carefully pour the batter into the smoking hot skillet; it will immediately begin to sizzle. Place the skillet in the oven and cook until no longer jiggly, about 15 to 20 minutes.

  7. Remove cornbread from the oven and flip the pan. The crunchy bottom will now be on the top. Allow to cool for 2 to 3 minutes before sliding out of the pan and slicing into 8 wedges. For best results, serve immediately.

– Viking Cooking School

skillet cornbread


Slow-Cooked Southern Greens
Viking Cooking School recipe

Some vegetables should be cooked until they are crisp-tender. Greens are not among them. Good greens must be simmered in flavorful liquid until they are melt-in-your-mouth tender. That will yield perfect, silky greens and plenty of delicious pot likker, the juices from the greens. Many Southerners finish their greens with a generous splash of vinegar, particularly the vinegar that’s spiked with hot peppers.

  • 2 pounds collard greens*
  • 6 slices smoked bacon, cut crosswise into think strips
  • 1 medium white or yellow onion, finely diced
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 2 cups water (or chicken stock/broth)
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar, or to taste
  1. Vigorously plunge the heads of greens four or five times into a sink filled with lukewarm water. Pull the greens out of the water. Drain the water, and clean the grit out of the sink. Remove and discard the tough center ribs from the greens; stack the leaves one on top of the other and roll into a cylinder. Using a very sharp chef’s knife, cross-cut the cylinder into thin strips.

  2. Refill the sink with clean, lukewarm water; place the chopped greens in the water and swish around. Soak the chopped greens in the water, letting the dirt and grit settle to the bottom of the sink. Lift the greens out of the sink, leaving the sand and grit behind; repeat if necessary, then drain in a colander. (Note: Pre-washed greens do not have to be washed twice, but it is a good idea to wash at least once.)

  3. Heat a large sauce pot (or Dutch oven) over medium-high heat; add the bacon and cook, stirring frequently until crisp, about 5 minutes. Stir in the onion and season with salt and pepper; cook until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes, and cook 1 minute more.

  4. Add the water to the pan, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan (deglazing). Add the greens in batches, stirring each batch to wilt slightly before adding more. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens are melt-in-your mouth tender, about 20 to 30 minutes.

  5. Sprinkle in the vinegar and sugar; cook until the sugar has dissolved, about 2 to 3 minutes more. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed with salt, pepper, sugar and vinegar. Serve hot with cornbread. (Note: Southerners like to either dip their cornbread in the pot likker, which is the juice from the greens, or crumble their cornbread over their greens. Many like a little extra kick from sprinkling vinegar pepper sauce over their greens.**)

*If collard greens are unavailable, substitute mustard greens, turnip greens or kale.
**Vinegar pepper sauce (such as Louisiana Brand® Tabasco Peppers in Vinegar) may be found in the condiment section of most grocery stores or online at

Variation: If you wish to substitute ham hocks for the bacon, score 2 smoked ham hocks all over with a small knife. Complete the recipe through Step 3, then place the pot over medium-high heat. Increase the water to 4 cups, and add to the pot along with the scored ham hocks. Simmer until the ham hocks are very tender and falling off the bone, about 2 hours. Continue with Step 4 of the recipe, beginning with “Add the greens in batches…” Before serving, remove the ham hocks from the pot and cut the meat off the bone; dice the meat and add back to the pot of greens. Discard the bones. Smoked turkey necks are another popular choice in the South for imparting flavor to greens; they should be handled in the same manner as the ham hocks but will only take half the amount of time to cook.

Make it ahead: Make the greens up to two days in advance; reheat over medium heat until hot throughout. Make sure you save the pot likker for dipping your cornbread.

Make it light: Omit the bacon and cook the onions in 2 tablespoons of olive or canola oil. Add a teaspoon of liquid smoke for flavor. You may also omit the sugar, if you desire.



Yule Log Cake
Betty Crocker recipe

Ingredients for cake
6 eggs
1 box Betty CrockerTM SuperMoistTM devil’s food cake mix
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon powdered sugar

Ingredients for rich chocolate frosting
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (6 ounces)
1 Tablespoon corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1 container Betty CrockerTM whipped vanilla frosting


  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit (350 degrees for dark or nonstick pan). Line bottom only of 15x10x1-inch pan with foil or waxed paper. Spray with flour baking spray. To make use of leftover cake batter, line 8 regular-sized muffin/cupcake cups with paper baking cups.

  2. In large bowl, beat eggs with electric mixer on high speed for about 5 minutes or until thick and lemon colored. Add cake mix, water and oil. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then on medium speed for 1 minute, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour 3 1/2 cups of batter into your pan. Divide the remaining batter between the lined muffin/cupcake cups.

  3. Bake 14 to 16 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched in center and cupcakes test done when toothpick is inserted in center (toothpick will come out clean). If necessary, run knife around edges of pan to loosen cake. Turn cake upside down onto a clean kitchen towel sprinkled with 1 Tablespoon powedered sugar. Carefully remove foil or waxed paper from cake. While hot, carefully roll up cake and towel from narrow end. Cool completely – about an hour – on a wire rack. Cool cupcakes for 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pan and cool completely – about 30 minutes – before storing for another use.

  4. Meanwhile, in medium microwavable bowl, microwave whipping cream uncovered on high for 1 minute and 30 seconds or until it just starts to boil. Stir in chocolate chips and corn syrup. Let stand 3 minutes. Beat gently with a wire whisk until smooth. Beat in vanilla. Refrigerate about 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes, until the consistency of frosting is achieved.

  5. Unroll cake carefully and remove towel. Spread filling evenly over cake. Roll up cake. Place cooling rack on a sheet of waxed paper or a towel. Place cake on the rack and frost cake. Then, using a fork, drag lines through frosting to look like a log. Let stand 15 minutes. Transfer cake to a serving platter. Store loosely covered in refrigerator. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Yule Log

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