Savor: A Genteel Sufficiency
BY Martha Denny Jeter
My sanctuary is located on South Lumina Avenue. One can find respite from formality on a Wrightsville Beach porch — a great place to do nothing. I relax here nostalgically thinking of genuine comfort communion feasting and fellowship.
My father John Thomas Denny was a veneer and plywood industrialist. He cut the timber and built the Dutch colonial cottage in 1938-1939. Its interior walls are made of bird’s-eye and curly maple veneer. My mother Evlynn designed the interior. The wraparound porch on the south and east with its attendant cross ventilation of prevailing summer winds better enabled my father to entertain his customers family and friends. For 76 years this haven offered pleasure peace food and plenty. Here one could take honest pleasure in simple local food; nobody had to settle for a bad meal.
Certain porch memories lead me to bear tribute to my family’s history of tasteful cooking and my mother’s beach recipes as well as what good food and beach entertaining have been all about since the ’30s. This convivial porch celebrated birthdays promoted marriage proposals consummated business deals and hosted gleeful moon parties — sometimes for as many as 70 guests. We never worried about the porch caving in because of its sturdy cypress underpinnings.
When this house was first built there were no restaurants on the island — mostly boarding houses and few hotels. Therefore the porch was the center of social life.
On Sundays my father and his friends or customers would have fished all day on his boat The Marjak named for my brother and me. I never remember that boat coming back not laden with bluefish and mackerel.
� When it was time for dinner everyone was expected to dress and no one was allowed to come to the table without a shirt.
My mother appointed her table with blue ribbon centerpieces that became blooming waves of color with bold red and yellow zinnias and gladiolas purchased from Roberts Market. She combined her flowers with huckleberry or wax myrtle leaves and native ornamental grasses. Gardenias yucca blossoms ginger lilies and limes would elegantly grace a crystal bowl. For a finishing touch she set places with Mason’s or Johnson’s English red china straw woven mats and matching linen napkins. There was -a correct Cape Cod goblet for any beverage desired. That same china and glassware is still in use today.
Dinner’s first course was either chilled juices fresh fruit or tiny sound shrimp cocktails spilling from iced goblets.
James the seafood man would have driven by that morning in his battered tin-roofed truck. This gentleman brought shrimp clams butterbeans or field peas shelled and weighed out on primitive scales balanced on the back of his truck. James measured out shrimp in a cereal bowl and came into your kitchen to clean them. He called most all the children on South Lumina by name. Wrightsville Beach natives may remember his melodious soft-pitched chant as he drove down the street — “James James the Seafood Man. I got sweet shrimp nice corn and littleneck clams.”
Of course we ate pan-fried or broiled flounder bluefish or mackerel battered to delectability in corn meal buttermilk fresh lemon juice and cracked white pepper. Most everyone enjoyed hunting his own flounder on the edge of the sound or the ocean. At night we fished with lanterns and gigs in hopes of nabbing that flat triangular morsel before he darted away. Childhood memories include being spoiled with fresh deviled crab spooned high in crab shells covered with buttered bread crumbs.
For evening entertainment we watched the tide wading bare legged to dig up large feisty blue crabs. We hunted around ocean jetties and netted crabs into washtubs. Even then we were careful to take no more than three crabs per person. Because hard crabs contain a lot of moisture we steamed them to prevent their becoming soggy. With no elaborate steamer we used a big pot with scrubbed oyster shells in the bottom thus keeping the crabs above the bottom of the pot. Into that pot went one can of beer one cup of vinegar one-half cup of seafood seasoning and one-half cup of salt. Jimmy crabs or male crabs quickly turned red as soon as they were done. In no time with shells small claws and dead man’s fingers discarded everyone ate to capacity on the back porch table covered with newspapers. The evening hour could be a meal in itself with lump crabmeat seasoned with cracked pepper lime juice and homemade mayonnaise on crackers.
Saturday nights proved special with shrimp creole served in an antique ironstone tureen surrounded by a platter of rice fluffed with a fork. Field peas seasoned with fatback (white bacon for some) and hot pepper were adorned with diced tomatoes onions parsley and bell peppers laced with vinegar and sugar. A bright pottery bowl contained tiny butterbeans flecked with country ham or even lady peas a round sort of a field pea. Young corn was pulled close to dinnertime. My mother’s squash souffl? has highlighted many Wilmington dinner parties and was so delicious it was published in the Ministering Circle Cookbook Favorite Recipes of the Lower Cape Fear.�
Casual Sunday night suppers still popular on the beach rated star billing with steamed sweet sound shrimp corn or yellow grits tomatoes and lemon pie. In the fall we looked forward to oysters steamed under crocus sacks. “Don’t hold back there’s more where they came from.” Clam fritters took the place of hush puppies now and then. There may have been homemade honey yeast rolls. Sour cream muffins — better than cake — were piled in hand-woven pine straw baskets. When company came no thought was given to cold sliced bread; no thought was given to fat grams either. We feasted on cornpone slowly baked in an iron skillet as long as we could find the strength to butter it.
“Is there any hereafter?” my father would ask. So a meal concluded with decadent pie or a fruit cobbler topped with home-churned ice cream or perhaps my mother’s utterly deadly scratch cakes. Her secret in stirring up an excellent feather cake was to cream the butter and sugar until it was fluffy light. I can remember her doing that with her hands. She would drop the cake pan full of batter flat on the kitchen countertop knocking the air bubbles to the surface of the batter to make the cake rise better. She tested for doneness with a broom straw. If it came out clean the cake was ready. We children loved sad cake and were known to slam the back door so the cake fell.
Not much has changed on South Lumina. Amazingly 13 cottages built before 1939 survive as do customs of gracious hospitality. Host and hostess vie to create adventuresome bites of coastal cookery coupled with diverse ways of setting a fitting porch table. If there were no other reason to live at Wrightsville Beach all the above would be enough.
A blessing it was to have lived and grown up on Wrightsville Beach. But now future residents and guests deserve the sustenance of that wholesome life passed on to us by our parents and grandparents who truly understood gracious living fine foods and entertaining. I am sure my mother would want me to share her best recipes. I hereby include some. I wish I could share as well the old porch surroundings where they were enjoyed.
Whenever my grandmother had enough to eat she would say “I have had a genteel sufficiency.”
Butter Beans with Ham
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon juice
2 square inches center-cut uncooked ham
In medium saucepan bring 4 cups of water to a boil adding in sugar salt lemon juice meat pepper and Goya ham seasoning. Cook fresh butter beans in this liquid until tender — about 45 minutes. Add more water if necessary and finally butter to taste.
Sour Cream Muffins
2 cups flour
2 Tbsp sugar
3 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups sour cream
Sift together dry ingredients. Stir in half of sour cream. Stir soda in 2 Tbsp sour cream and then add beaten egg. Add rest of sour cream. Bake at 425? for 20 minutes.
2 lbs yellow tender squash
2 raw eggs
1 onion grated
2 cups white sauce (thick)
1/2 lb NY State grated cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 stick of margarine
4 Tbsp flour
pinch of salt
2 cups milk
To make the sauce melt margarine over low heat in a heavy saucepan. Stir in flour and salt and blend so as not to be lumpy. Slowly pour in milk. Cook until desired thickness.
To prepare the casserole cook the squash until tender in as little water as possible. Drain and mash. Add beaten eggs grated cheese and white sauce. Put in casserole dish. Top with bread crumbs and bake at 375? until brown. Serves 6.
1 lb crab meat
1 lb shrimp cleaned and boiled
1 medium bell pepper chopped
2 ribs celery diced
Optional: I small box of seashell pasta cooked. If you add pasta the dressing will need to be doubled.
1/2 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
1/2 cup Kraft Catalina salad dressing
juice of 1 lemon
Combine all ingredients. Add more dressing and freshly ground white pepper to taste. Chill and serve on lettuce. May be combined with cooked seashell pasta for a pasta salad.
Mile High Lemon Pie
1 small can frozen lemonade melted
1 can Eagle Brand condensed milk
1 large container Cool Whip
Mix defrosted lemonade Cool Whip and condensed milk thoroughly. Pile in cooked crust or crumb crust. Freezes well.