Food and family traditions go hand in hand – Mississippi’s best community newspaper

By Jennie Guido

As my friend John Taylor likes to remind me, “Mississippi is not a state. It’s just a small town. In the small town of Natchez, everyone knows each other and remembers each other’s family traditions for generations to come.

After receiving a note from a reader a few weeks ago on family chili recipes, we began to swap memories of old Natchez favorites, including his family’s Italian cuisine and my great-back’s home bakery. Grandmother. It reminded me of all those downtown restaurants from years gone by that you hear so much about.

The original Italian cuisine belonged to Elbert Butler Sr. His granddaughter, Mary Shea, reached out; and after several emails about chili, we found out how small Natchez is. Mary remembers going to Home Bakery when she was in town visiting her grandparents and was curious for us to share any recipes.

It wasn’t long before she phoned her family members and shared with me the history of Italian cuisine. “It was a real family restaurant run by Elbert Butler, Sr. in the 1940s. He and his then teenage daughters helped run the place while his wife Margaret stayed at home with their youngest children,” he said. said Mary. Butlers cooked and served hundreds of hungry customers, including many soldiers on weekends from a nearby military base looking for a good home-cooked meal from the South.

Mary’s mother, Marion Rose Peters, shared many of her memories of Italian cuisine before her death. “Mom told me that she was cooking hamburgers on a grill that faced a window and that she would be embarrassed when people stood outside watching her cook, especially the young and handsome soldiers,” said to me. Mary.

John Allen Butler, Mary’s uncle, told her he was too young to work in the restaurant, but was determined to be part of the family business. “When he was about 5 or 6 years old, he insisted on carrying 2 plates of spaghetti and meatballs on each of his arms like his sisters. He said it was the one and only time he served customers there, ”added Mary. “He laughed and said” one of the plates slipped off my arm with the whole plate of spaghetti and made a big mess in the middle of the table. “”

Mary’s uncle Dickie Butler told her about the long hours her father spends at work, except Sundays. After going to mass together, “her older sisters would take out fine china for their traditional Sunday dinner, which was usually a beautiful baked roast that would turn into soup later in the week to feed their family of 10,” explained Mary. Dickie’s wife Gloria still cooks the traditional Sunday dinner with fine china.

Luckily, they shared their family’s spaghetti and meatball recipe with me.

Another of those Natchez legends is none other than Tops Restaurant and Cafeteria owned and operated by Noland Biglane and his family. “In 1953 my father, Noland E. Biglane, and his brother-in-law, Joe Francis, bought an existing restaurant from my uncle DA Biglane – Tops Grill,” Pat Biglane explained. “Tops was located in the 400 block of Main Street, and it was moved across the street to a larger location and renamed Tops Restaurant & Cafeteria.”

A few years after starting the business, Papa Noland became the sole owner and, Pat added, “My mom and dad ran the restaurant for the next 20 years with eight children who all worked at some point. in the restaurant.”

Working after church on Sundays and after school, Biglane’s children learned many lessons about customer service and what it means to work hard. “A restaurant is a great place to learn how to take care of the customer. Whatever field of work we went into, catering was a good training ground for learning to work with people, ”he said. “I occupied the tables quite a bit, but I must not have done a very good job because I only received a total of $ 1.10 in tips to clean the tables.”

After businesses started to move out of downtown and Tops closed, Noland Biglane went into the oil business to continue supporting his family. “Dad was proud of the fact that all eight kids graduated from college,” Pat explained. “My father had a high school diploma, military service and several years of restaurant experience that allowed him to open his own restaurant. I miss Tops and will cherish the memories we had from working there.

Personally, our family has worked in the restaurant business a few times here in town. My great-grandmother, Bena Guido, owned and operated the first home bakery on Commerce Street in what is now the Home Bank drive. She was known for her bread (which my grandfather, TJ Guido, delivered to locals before school every morning), petit fours and those burgers. My mom remembers going there when she was growing up long before she became Guido to buy jelly roll cakes. “There was always a ham cooking in the kitchen,” she told me. “He would later be chipped for those burgers.”

We don’t have a lot of Home Bakery recipes, only one actually. My nanny, Doris Guido, continued to prepare the potato salad that Bena would serve to the customers. What I use every time I’m baking a chocolate pie for my neighbors at Christmas or making a Pinterest recipe to try on someone is a Yellow Pyrex Mixing Bowl from Home Bakery. Perhaps Bena’s cooking skills can be imparted through cooking utensils rather than recipes.

My parents later owned the Bellemont Shake Shop for a dozen years while my sister and I were in high school and college. They love to remind us of how many burgers they flipped and shakes they made to take us through Delta State. When the hours were tough and the work sometimes endless, none of us would trade those summers spent behind the counter perfecting Oreo milkshakes and fried dill pickles.

These were the good days.

Butler Family Spaghetti and Meatballs

Trinity:

2 stalks of celery, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

2 stalks of green onion, chopped

1 white onion, chopped

Sauté in olive oil for about 15 minutes over medium-low heat in a large saucepan.

Sauce:

2 cans of diced tomatoes

5 cans of Contadina tomato sauce

1 tablespoon of garlic powder

1 tbsp Cavender Greek seasoning

1/2 tablespoon of oregano

1/2 tablespoon Italian seasoning

Mushrooms in a small pot

Sprinkle with parsley flakes

Add the ingredients to the trinity and simmer over low heat for 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally every 20 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar after the first hour and a half.

Meatballs:

2 1/2 pounds of ground beef

1 small white onion, diced

1 tablespoon of parsley flakes

1 tbsp Cavender Greek seasoning

1 tbsp Season All

1 tablespoon of garlic powder

1 1/2 cups Progresso Italian breadcrumbs

2 eggs

Mix with your hands in a large bowl until well blended, but do not over mix or the meat will be tough. Form balls a little larger than a golf ball. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Drain on paper towels and add to the sauce.

Serve with cooked spaghetti noodles of your choice, Parmesan, French bread and a salad. Makes 15 servings.

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