a sweet memory with children’s author terri hoover dunham


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.

Terri’s mammy

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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Mammy Made

Amazing things;
Bread pudding,
Coconut cream pie,
Dogwood bouquets,
Fig preserves,
Gumbo with file’,
Ham baked slow,
Killer fudge,
Lemon cake,
Muscadine jelly,
Okra pickles,
Peanut brittle,
Quiet time,
Rice and gravy,
Sassafras tea,
Turtle stew,
Unbeatable cobbler,
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.

22 thoughts on “a sweet memory with children’s author terri hoover dunham

  1. Such lovely memories. I love how Terri’s family spared hurting their Mammy’s feelings if the egg nog had lumps. It reminds me of James Marshall’s George and Martha story in which Martha makes peas soup. George doesn’t like it but doesn’t want to hurt her feelings either, so when she’s not looking, he pours the pea soup into his shoe!
    The book looks great, and the poem is a delight too. What a loving tribute to a great Mammy and cook!


    1. Oh, pea soup? I love George and Martha but don’t remember that particular story. Must see it :).

      Terri’s story is a fun, flavorful look at another of Santa’s incarnations. Forgot to mention that there’s also a pronunciation guide for the French words used in the book. 🙂


  2. I think I have another title to add to my Christmas collection–The Legend of Papa Noel. The well-told story of Mammy brings her right into our own rooms. Thanks for sharing the memories, recipes and love.


  3. Terri’s book looks wonderful-love the way Santa works his way into all our hearts no matter where we live. And the story about Mammy is special, reminds me of my own grandmothers, cooked up a storm didn’t they? My grandmother made a kind of custard to drink on New Year’s Eve. Terri’s story brought back that memory, but sadly, I don’t have the recipe. Beautiful post, Jama, & thank you Terri!


    1. Thanks for dropping by to read, Linda. Your grandmother’s custard sounds yummy, even though I’ve never drunk custard before :). Those grandmothers sure have a way of permanently cooking their ways into our hearts.


  4. Hey y’all! Thanks so much for all of your kind comments. And yes, you would have all loved Mammy, and her yummy cooking. — When writing the poem, it was difficult to narrow the things she made down to just that many — she made so many yummy dishes and I never ate or drank anything she made that wasn’t delicious, well, except for the lumps in the eggnog.


    1. The lumps in the eggnog make her more human and lovable somehow. I’m craving her coconut cream pie . . .

      Thanks again for sharing your wonderful essay and poem with us today!!


  5. Oh that is my favorite christmas picture book, how lovely to *meet* the author!
    What a fabulous Mammy doing all those things, I couldn’t do half of them! We don’t drink eggnog so we’d think she was perfect 🙂 Thank you both for a wonderful interview!


    1. Glad you enjoyed Terri’s visit, Catherine. We’re all jealous of the delicious things Terri got to eat growing up with Mammy. She’s made me want to try more Cajun dishes!


  6. What a beautiful memory!! I think I’ll try my hand at making a pitcher of egg nog for Christmas this year. Maybe it will be an added memory for my grandchildren. Maybe not if it lumps…but Terri – beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it.


  7. I forgot to say — I have your book and have read it to my grandchildren for the past few years. They are getting older, but they love the way it sounds like Granny (me) speaking in a Cajun dialect…which of course I can’t speak one iotta. Thanks for The Legend of Papa Noel also!!


  8. My grandmother made me eggnog in the yellow striped ceramic bowl and a rotary hand blender. She’d always ask me “Would you like it frothy?” as she beat in a dash of nutmeg. For years I believed that the purpose of nutmeg was to make things froth!


  9. I’m way way late to this eggnog party, but wanted to pop in and thank you both, Terri and Jama, for a festive bayou holiday feast. Wishing you both a wonderful 2013, with lots of joy to smooth out any lumps.


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