President 39: Jimmy Carter
January 20, 1977 – January 20, 1981
Nothing is as humble or as versatile as the peanut. Well, except maybe Jimmy Carter. From a child on a goober farm in Plains, Georgia to President during a difficult time, President Carter continues to amaze us with his resolve to make the world a better and more respectful place. His connection with the humble peanut sprung up along the campaign trail, showing folks that he was used to hard honest work. His campaign plane was even called “Peanut One”. When he made it to the White House, Rosalynn decorated the Christmas tree with peanut shell ornaments she had made so they ever forget where they came from.
There is a great Southern saying, “kissin don’t last, good cookin do.” While many of us can relate, Jimmy and Rosalynn’s love story has been nothing short of the opposite. They met in high school and from the time they were first married, the couple has continued to cook up magic in and out of the kitchen. Throughout the last seventy (yes, seventy) years, they have piloted countless humanitarian efforts, opened the Jimmy Carter Foundation, won a Nobel Peace Prize, and inspired the country with their unwavering faith and commitment to each other. They have remained humble and welcoming to guests, no matter their address.
Mrs. Carter took cooking lessons when the President was Governor of Georgia and enjoyed making her own meals and when time no longer allowed, she helped plan the menus in the White House. For weekday breakfasts, it was fruit, eggs, and biscuits. After church on Sundays, Chef Henry Haller would make country ham and redeye gravy, which is made with the ham drippings and coffee. The leftovers were used for “red and white” Monday, red beans and rice made with the extra ham. There was little waste. Fried chicken was also a favorite, but served with vegetables. They ate well but not in big portions. While at the White House, they rarely served hard booze to guests. President Carter once jokingly said, “I have often wanted to drown my troubles but I can't get my wife to go swimming.” Instead, it was sweet tea and the lemonade that their daughter, Amy, sold street side in Plains, Georgia when her dad was on the campaign trail.
Other than peanuts as a staple, the other big addition to menus was grits. People who aren’t Southern just can’t seem to swallow how amazing grits are (and I am not talking “Girls Raised In The South”, though that is also quite true). At the beginning of Carter’s term, guests began to worry that they would be served some unpalatable grits goo at every event. They were right about the presence grits would have; however, the Southern staple crept into the hearts of visitors and the grits revolution began. Dressed up with sugar and cinnamon or baked with cheese, grits made the perfect companion on the plate, no matter the time of day.
There will always be one grits dish that reigns supreme; shrimp and grits. If it is on a menu, I don’t bother looking at the rest. These baked cheese grits were a Carter family favorite and I have added a sweet onion and bacon for depth of flavor (optional). The shrimp and gravy is a recipe from the home of one of my nearest and dearest sorority sisters from the University of Georgia, Joanna. Joanna comes from one of those South Georgia families who live in the kitchen. Her mom, Miss Gina, and her grandma could easily make all the classics in their sleep and they made sure that we were well-fed in college. In those days, we ate a lot. Though much of this activity took place while tailgating or under the cover of darkness at 3 am, we did cook the occasional family meal or just asked Joanna to bring back food from home. This dish has a few of those pesky calories but thankfully we are at the end of the summer and the beginning of football season when all bets are off.
Baked Cheese grits
The White House Family Cookbook, by Henry Haller
By changes are in italics
4 cups chicken bouillon
1 cup enriched white hominy grits
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 small Vidalia onion, chopped
3 slices of thick cut bacon, chopped
Sprinkle of cayenne
4 egg yolks
¼ to ½ cup cold milk
4 egg whites, at room temperature
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease inside of a 2-quart casserole dish.
In a small frying fan, fry chopped bacon and onions until lightly brown. Set aside.
Bring bouillon to a coil in a 2-quart saucepan; add grits gradually, stirring with a wire whisk
Reduce heat and continue cooking, stirring vigorously, until mixture thickens
Cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring often
Remove from heat and add Worcestershire sauce, butter, and 1 ½ cups of cheese, stirring until well blended.
In a small bowl, blend egg yolks with ¼ cup milk. Pour into grits and mix thoroughly; add more milk if necessary, thinning to consistency of cream of wheat.
In a clean, dry bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Fold into grits. Fold in bacon and onions.
Pour into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining ½ cups of cheese and sprinkle on a dash of cayenne.
Bake on middle shelf of preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until fluffy and brown. Serve at once.
Miss Gina’s UGA Shrimp
1 ½ lbs of shrimp – remove tails
2 TBS Cajun seasoning
1 tsp Paprika
1 TBS dried Italian Seasoning
2 TBS butter or margarine
1 TBS minced garlic
3 TBS all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp hot sauce
1 small can petite diced tomatoes (or rotel for a little heat)
Mix raw shrimp with Cajun seasoning, paprika, and Italian seasoning. Melt 2 tbs of butter. Sauté the shrimp in a large sauté pan. Add minced garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add the spice coated shrimp and cook only until they’re done and tender. Don’t overcook. Remove the shrimp from the sauté pan and set aside.
The roux is next. With all the drippings from the shrimp, add 3 tbs of all purpose flour and stir to make roux. Cook for 10 minutes until roux reaches a medium tan color. Slowly add the chicken stock, heavy whipping cream. Whisk together and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes then whisk in the Worcestershire and hot sauce. Cook until sauce is bubbly. Add the shrimp and cook for another couple of minutes. Serve over grits.
Of course, top with chopped peanuts and green onion. Sprinkle over some balsamic reduction to cut the cream.