Gorton, the talented New York Times photographer who had grown up in my hometown of Greenville, Mississippi; two of my roommates; and Joe Hemingway, a flamboyant character and transplanted Mississippi Delta fixture who originally hailed from the boot heel of Missouri. There were about five hundred folks in attendance that first year, but we spread out in the shade and generally kept to ourselves. Our former senator Trent Lott, who was born in the hills and raised on the coast and who, in later years, attended the picnic , once described my fellow tribe members as people who read the New Yorker.
Now, I happen to be crazy about Trent and he knows it, and when he uttered that line, in a British accent no less, I got his point. Still, I have to say that in all my years growing up in the Delta I never, ever saw anyone engage in a watermelon-seed-spitting contest, one of the activities featured at the picnic. Was this an actual pastime in the rest of the Magnolia State?
Yet here was Mayor Ed Koch being cheered on as he engaged in an enterprise that became an annual fixture at the event. We did not participate in the contest, nor did we accept the glasses of sweet tea on offer let the record forever show that I cannot abide the taste of sweet tea. Instead, we piled in the car with D. Let me say first that they regarded our now fairly sodden appearance with the same wariness and not just a little disdain with which we had regarded the seed spitters. In retrospect, she might well have been my first experience with performance art.
The law, recently upheld by the Fifth U. Circuit Court of Appeals, effectively killed the Mississippi Picnic, which the founders canceled in , the year the bill passed.
I used to smoke, but I draw the line at chewing or spitting tobacco and cannot for the life of me play the spoons. A true cheese straw is an ineffable combination of butter and cheese and flour that melts in your mouth and is a de rigueur addition to every Southern cocktail hour. The only thing better might be a hot cheese olive, made with the same dough. They are the perfect briny, cheesy bites otherwise known as a salt-and-fat delivery system , as well as my tiny but successful attempt to redeem the reputation of my home state.
The New Yorkers I served them to never failed to chase the trays around. Add the cheeses and blend well. Add flour, cayenne, and salt, and mix until smooth. In a separate bowl, beat the egg with 2 tbsp. Add to the dough and mix until just incorporated. Take a piece of dough about the size of a walnut and flatten.
Place an olive in the center and shape the dough around the olive, rolling it in your hand until smooth and pinching to repair any breaks. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and olives. Bake for about 15 minutes.
Let rest for a couple of minutes and remove to a serving tray to pass at once.