I’m happier than a gator in a gumbo swamp to welcome guest blogger Terri Hoover Dunham to Alphabet Soup today. Some of you may know Terri from her delightful picture book illustrated by Laura Knorr, The Legend of Papa Noel: A Cajun Christmas Story (Sleeping Bear Press, 2006), which tells how Santa delivers his presents to all the “childrens” on Christmas Eve down in the deepest, darkest swamps of Southern Louisiana.
As he’s known in Cajun country, Papa Noel rides in a pirogue (canoe) pulled by nine gators named Étienne, Émille, Remmy, Renee, Alcée, Alphonse, François, Fabienne and Nicollette (I love how some of them are named after Terri’s ancestors).
On this particular Christmas Eve, there’s fog “thicker than gravy on rice,” making it really hard for Papa Noel to make all his deliveries — they keep bumping into stumps and logs and the poor gators’ bellies are getting all scratched up. But they push on and get the job done with a little help from the Cajuns. Of course Papa Noel doesn’t forget to nosh on goodies at every stop.
Time went by fast as they went up and down that river and in and outta them houses. Papa Noel was quicker than a frog hopping across a log, putting all them toy pirogues and cypress dollies under them Christmas trees. But he slowed down just long enough at each house to have him a couple of ti gateaux and some of that eggnog them Cajun childrens left for him. And he read all of them letters they wrote, too.
Could very well be that Terri was thinking of her grandmother’s eggnog when she wrote that part of the story. In the spirit of the season, she’s serving up some tasty memories with a short essay and abecedarian (!) listing some of the other amazing things Mammy made. Prepare to drool and lick your big alligator chops. Thanks, Terri, and Joyeux Nöel, Everyone!
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by Terri Hoover Dunham
Mammy shared her many talents with everyone she knew. She crocheted afghans and potholders for every member of our huge family and for auctions at our church fairs. She gave away all kinds of vegetables and fruits her and Paw-Paw grew in their half acre garden. But I’d have to say that Mammy’s best and most shared gift was her cooking. Mammy made tasty pots of gumbo, jambalaya, turtle stew, smothered steak with rice and gravy, baked cushaw, beans of all kinds, biscuits and yummy deserts such as coconut, banana cream, chocolate or pecan pie.
Some of my fondest memories are of Mammy standing over the stove with a big wooden spoon in her hand, stirring the contents of a big pot. With an apron protecting her Christmas dress, she turned milk, eggs, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, a sprinkle of nutmeg, and lots of love into delicious eggnog. For as far back as I can remember, my grandmother made her famous eggnog on Christmas Eve. Her mother, Maw-Maw Thibodeaux, had made the same recipe every Christmas Eve ever since Mammy could remember. That is only one reason Mammy’s eggnog was so special.
I’d like to say that Mammy’s eggnog was always perfect. But several times, even though she tended the pot with care, the eggs somehow didn’t blend into the rich, creamy mixture. Instead, they formed clumps. As usual, we would all ooh and aah over the concoction. And we pretended to drink it. We would sip the eggnog carefully, without swallowing any of the eggy lumps, and then head out into the back yard to dump the rest under a bush or feed it to the dog when nobody was looking.
None of us would have dared tell Mammy her eggnog was flawed. She would have been devastated. It was a small price to pay to spare the feelings of someone who was loved so much and who didn’t usually disappoint with anything she made. Whether it was a delectable pot of gumbo or jambalaya, a simple offering of fresh sliced tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden, a crocheted afghan, or her usually delicious eggnog, everything Mammy made was special. Oh what I would give to have Mammy back, leaning over the stove, stirring the eggnog, lumpy or not.
Mammy’s Eggnog Recipe
Heat one quart of milk until it comes to a boil. Set aside. Meanwhile, mix 2 beaten eggs, 2/3 cup sugar and one tablespoon cornstarch. Beat well then add some hot milk to mixture, stir and add to rest of milk. Stir constantly then add about 1 teaspoon vanilla and a sprinkle of nutmeg.
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Coconut cream pie,
Gumbo with file’,
Ham baked slow,
Rice and gravy,
Void times better,
Watermelon rind preserves,
Xylophones of cardboard and keys,
Yellow baby blankets and
Zillions of memories.
Copyright © 2012 Terri Hoover Dunham. All rights reserved.
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Terri Hoover Dunham is the author of The Legend of Papa Noel: A Cajun Christmas Story, released by Sleeping Bear Press in September of 2006. Her work has appeared in Louisiana Literature, The Louisiana Review, 2006 Jubilee Anthology, 2007 Jubilee Anthology, Whispering Wind, St. Anthony’s Messenger, St. Anne De’Beaupre’, Victoria, Backwood Homes, Mississippi Magazine, Cappers and Grit. In addition, she has written book reviews for the Baton Rouge newspaper, The Advocate for twelve years and is pursuing her degree in Liberal Arts, with a focus on Literature. Terri also worked as a substitute teacher for eight years, before deciding to write full-time.
You can learn more about Terri Hoover Dunham and The Legend of Papa Noel: A Cajun Christmas Story by logging onto her website: www.terrisbooks.com.
Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.