Arab American Foodways via the Southern Foodways Alliance

The Southern Foodways Alliance has some excellent oral history interviews with several descents of Arab immigrants to the U.S. within their collection. Here is a sampling:

Mary Louise Nosser

Mary Louise Nosser is a native of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Her parents, John and Effie Nosser, immigrated to Vicksburg from the Mount Lebanon region of Syria (now Lebanon) just after World War I. In 1924 John opened a small grocery store on Washington Street. A year later, he married Effie, and they started a family. Mary Louise remembers growing up in a vibrant Lebanese community, with mom-and-pop grocery stores on every corner and traditional Lebanese feasts every Sunday.

Chafik Chamoun

Chafik worked a variety of jobs to make ends meet, but, like many Lebanese immigrants before him, including his grandfather, he spent years peddling dry goods to tenant families. He eventually earned enough to open a small grocery store out on Friars Point Road in Clarksdale, where Louise often made him lunch: a kibbe patty wrapped in homemade Lebanese bread. Customers began asking about Louise’s “kibbe sandwich,” and soon, picnic tables dotted the parking lot, and Louise was serving traditional Lebanese foods to the people of Clarksdale.

Elaine Daho

At first, life in Clarksdale was difficult. Not only was Elaine a recent immigrant, she was the lone Syrian among a great community of Lebanese. As Elaine puts it, she was the outsider of outsiders. But she managed to get a foothold in the Lebanese community and became a member of the Clarksdale Cedars Club, a Lebanese Social Club. Today, Elaine is the club’s president.

Pat Davis, Sr.

In 1960 Pat took over his father’s cafe. Today, Abe’s Bar-B-Q is landmark restaurant situated at the busy intersection of Highways 61 and 49. Regulars stop in for a Big Abe (a two-layer pulled-pork sandwich with Abe’s signature barbecue sauce), Blues pilgrims grab a plate of hot tamales (an ironic but iconic Delta food), and those in the know ask for the stuffed grape leaves.

Abe’s Bar-B-Q

Abe’s Bar-B-Q has been in business in the same location since 1937. Pat Davis, Sr. remembers Mexican vendors peddling hot tamales in downtown Clarksdale when he was a kid. At the same time, Pat was helping his father, Lebanese-born Abraham “Abe” Davis, make his own pork-filled tamales by hand in the kitchen of the family’s restaurant.

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Classic Cocktail: Sidecar

The cocktail for the month of December is the Sidecar. Eric Felten, writing in the Wall Street Journal (A Drink’s French Connection), states: “The Sidecar — cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice — was born in Paris; and though the drink entered the American repertoire, it has never lost its Continental panache.” Here’s the recipe for this classic cocktail:

  • 2 oz cognac
  • ½ oz Cointreau
  • ½ oz fresh lemon juice

Shake with ice and strain into a stemmed cocktail glass, the rim of which has been dusted with superfine sugar.

A picture of a Sidecar cocktail
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European Baked Goods for Christmas

This year we baked three traditional European treats for Christmas: Bûche de Noël (France), Stollen (German), and Panettone (Italy). Here are the recipes and some pictures. Yeah, I’m already planning some long runs to help offset the ill effects of the butter and sugar!

  • Bûche de Noël. Bûche de Noël is a traditional dessert served near Christmas in France and several other francophone countries and former French colonies. It can be considered a type of sweet roulade.
  • Panettone. Panettone is a type of sweet bread loaf originally from Milan. It is usually prepared and enjoyed for Christmas and New Year in Italy, southeastern France, Brazil, Peru, Malta, Germany and Switzerland, and is one of the symbols of the city of Milan. In South America, especially in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru and Chile, it is a Christmas dinner staple and in some places replaces roscón de reyes/bolo rei (King cake).
  • Stollen. A Stollen is a fruit cake containing dried fruit and often marzipan and covered with sugar, powdered sugar or icing sugar. The cake is usually made with chopped candied fruit and/or dried fruit, nuts and spices. Stollen is a traditional German cake, usually eaten during the Christmas season, when called Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen.
A picture of a Bûche de Noël
Bûche de Noël
A picture of Panettone
A picture of Stollen
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Bread Baker’s Apprentice

I recently checked out Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice from the public library. I’m re-kindling an old interest in bread making that goes back to my days of working as a baker during a summer break from college. Since then, the majority of my baking has focused on making sweets or quick breads. No complaints, I just finally felt it was time to begin exploring bread making more seriously.

This past week I’ve baked two loaves of ciabatta and “Italian” bread. Each bread took upwards of six hours to make, and that was a day or two after starting the poolish and biga. However, it was well worth the time and energy. Both breads turned out well.

I just noticed this morning that another patron has placed a hold on the book (grumble, grumble). Looks like I’ll be ordering my own copy today.

Ciabatta Bread
Ciabatta Bread
Italian Bread
Italian Bread
The Bread Baker's Apprentice
The Bread Baker's Apprentice
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