Anyone who lives in Mississippi might not find it unusual to serve cheese straws, oyster dressing or other such dishes during the holidays, but newcomers may be wondering what is so special about them.
We look at five foods that are unique to Mississippi or the Southeast region and what makes them special.
Almost everyone loves a good cheese straw—or maybe a few. The crisp, buttery snack foods are a must-have in the assortment of holiday appetizers. A box or tin of cheese straws also makes a great gift for colleagues and friends.
According to The Nibble, the cheese straw’s origins are unknown, but it was likely developed as a way to make use of leftover biscuit dough by mixing in some cheese and baking them in narrow strips.
You can buy cheese straws from places like the Mississippi Cheese Straw Co., or make your own, using this recipe from restaurateur Robert St. John, published in an earlier edition of the Clarion Ledger.
Mississippi cheese straws
- ½ pound sharp cheddar cheese, shredded, at room temperature
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Place all ingredients in a food processor, and pulse until cheese is finely crumbled. Transfer to a clean surface and knead until it becomes a smooth, dough-like texture. Wrap tightly and let rest at room temperature for one hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Using a cookie press or pastry bag fitted with a large star tip, pipe the mixture onto a lined baking sheet into 6-inch lengths. Bake until the edges just begin to brown, about 10-12 minutes. Carefully transfer to a cooling rack and store in an airtight container once completely cooled.
Oyster dressing is a staple in South Mississippi, where oysters are plentiful along the Gulf Coast. While its origins may have been brought to the New World from England with fish and other meats, the oyster is what makes it especially Southern.
Here is a recipe by OP Hartman, shared by his daughter, Christy Hartman Haas, as published in the Louisville Courier Journal.
Dad’s Thanksgiving oyster dressing
- 1 loaf dry bread
- 1 cup finely chopped celery
- 1 cup finely chopped onion
- 1 finely chopped green pepper
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon sage
- turkey giblets
- 1 pint fresh oysters
- Salt and pepper to taste
Boil turkey giblets in water until tender. Chop up giblets, reserve giblet water to use as needed in the bread mixture.
Tear bread into small pieces. Mix vegetables, bread, beaten eggs and seasoning together. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Squish bread mixture with hands into casserole dish until spongy. Add giblet water as needed. Mix in giblets and oysters with packing juices.
Bake in 350-degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour. Spoon some turkey drippings over the top then return dressing to oven for another 15 to 20 minutes to give the dressing a crusty top. Serve hot. Makes eight to 10 servings.
What’s not to like about an aromatic bowl of gumbo? It may be a dish borrowed from neighboring Louisiana, but it’s a Mississippi favorite, too.
Gumbo is a great dish to serve year-round, but it is especially welcome when the weather turns cold and families gather for a celebratory meal.
Some might say seafood gumbo is what to serve for the holidays, but you’ll have others arguing the chicken and andouille sausage gumbo is better.
Whichever kind you choose, serve it up with some rice or potato salad, another Cajun tradition.
Chicken and andouille sausage gumbo
- ³∕₄ cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 yellow onion, finely diced
- 3 celery ribs, finely diced
- 1 poblano pepper, seeded and finely diced
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 2 cayenne pepper teaspoons
- 3 bay leaves and 3 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together with kitchen twine
- 1 pound okra, cut into 1/2-inch rounds
- 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice (some traditionalists do not use tomatoes in their gumbo, others do)
- 8 cups chicken broth
- 1 pound andouille sausage, sliced ¹∕₄-inch-thick
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- hot sauce
- 1 whole rotisserie chicken, skin removed and meat pulled from the bone
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- cooked white rice, for serving
- sliced scallion, for serving
In a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium heat until hot. Stir in the flour to make a roux. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until very dark, but not burnt, 20 to 30 minutes.
Add the onions, celery and peppers, and cook until the vegetables are softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic, paprika, cayenne, bay leaves and thyme, and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute.
Add the okra and tomatoes and cook until the okra begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth and sausage, bring to a simmer, and cook, skimming off any oil that comes to the surface, until the flavors have melded and the sauce has darkened and slightly thickened, about 45 minutes.
Add the chicken and Worcestershire sauce, return to a simmer, and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and hot sauce. Serve in bowls over white rice, garnished with scallions.
Chicken and dumplings
The origin of chicken and dumplings is debatable, with some camps claiming it was born out of the Depression era and other saying it arose out of lean times during the Civil War.
But dishes with dumplings have been around for centuries, according to the USA TODAY Network’s Southern Kitchen writers. The chicken part came in post-Civil War, when it was mentioned in an 1879 cookbook.
How it became part of the holiday table is unclear, but it is a welcome staple to any family dinner.
Here’s a recipe from the Southern Kitchen.
Traditional chicken and dumplings
For the chicken:
- 1 5-pound chicken, cut into eight pieces, with backbone and giblets reserved
- 1 onion, halved
- 1 carrot, halved
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt, use more as needed
- 1 gallon cold water
For the dumplings:
- 3 cups self-rising flour
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- ⅔ cup milk
- all-purpose flour, for kneading
To cook the chicken: Combine the chicken parts, giblets, onion, carrot, bay leaves and kosher salt in a large stockpot. Cover with the cold water, place over medium-high heat, and bring to a low simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes. Remove the breasts and transfer to a plate.
Continue to simmer the stock, stirring occasionally, until the broth is richly flavored and the remaining chicken is very tender, 50 to 60 more minutes.
Remove the chicken thighs, wings and drumsticks from the plate with the breasts. Let cool to room temperature. Strain into a second large pot through a fine mesh strainer and season to taste with salt. Discard the remaining chicken parts and vegetables.
Remove the skin, bones and any large pieces of fat from the chicken. Shred or cut into bite-sized pieces.
To make the dumplings: Place the self-rising flour in a large bowl and use your hands to create a hole in the center of the flour. Pour the eggs and the milk into the hole and, using your hands, mix the eggs and milk into the flour to form a stiff dough.
Use the all-purpose flour to heavily flour a work surface. Transfer the dough to the floured surface and knead until smooth. Cut the dough in half.
On the heavily-floured counter, roll one half of the dough until it measures between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick. Cut into strips about 1 inch wide and 2 inches long. Transfer to a floured baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough.
Return the strained broth to a rapid simmer over medium-high. Add the dumplings and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until puffed and cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the chicken pieces, reduce the heat to low and cook just until heated through, about 1 minute. Serve hot, with optional garnishes of parsley and freshly ground black pepper.
sweet potato pie
The sweet potato became a Southern staple after it was brought to the US from Peru via West Africa and Europe. It became a Southern staple with roots darkened by slavery.
While its clouded past leaves a bad taste, the sweet potato pie flourished and became a holiday favorite in the South.
Kashia Zollicoffer, owner of Urban Country Kitchen in Walnut Grove, was a competitor in Season 12 of chef Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen.” She shared her recipe for creamy sweet potato pie in an earlier Clarion Ledger story.
creamy sweet potato pie
- 1 1-pound sweet potato
- ½ cup butter, softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 6 ounces evaporated milk
- 3 eggs
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 9-inch unbaked pie crust
Boil sweet potato whole in skin for 40 to 50 minutes or until done. Run cold water over the sweet potato and remove skin.
Break apart sweet potato in a bowl. Add butter and mix well with mixer or whisk. Stir in sugar, milk, eggs, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until mixture is smooth. For filling into an unbaked pie crust.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Pie will puff up like a soufflé, and then will sink down as it cools.
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