My Favorite Holiday Gifts 2018: Part 8, Southern Gifts

For our friends who live in other parts of the country, or even other parts of the world, it’s fun to send regional gifts. For me, that means sending something that represents the flavor and culture of THE SOUTH. I’ve written about some of these before, but they’re worth mentioning again. You might even want to “gift” some to yourself!  Here are my selections:

Hi Y’all. Holy moly…this is one of my new favorite sites. Based in Starkville, Mississippi, this fun company started in 2012, according to their website. A friend whose daughter is a student at nearby Mississippi State University told me about this company, and I can’t stop perusing the website. They produce handprinted pillows, apparel, prints, and custom paintings…and I love them all! Of course, they have a southern theme, and anything they have would make a great gift for a fellow southerner or someone who has never visited the south. See the website here.

 

Pepperoni Rolls. Country Club Bakery, Fairmont, West Virginia. I’ve just placed an order. I saw a story about these on CBS Sunday Morning (you can see it here), and I can hardly wait to receive them. This was one I hesitated to share, because I want them to be my secret. Alas, I couldn’t resist telling y’all about them too. Y’all are going to wish you lived in West Virginia. Pepperoni rolls were introduced in WV when Italian immigrants went there to work in the mines, and pepperoni rolls were the perfect hand-held snack that wouldn’t spoil in their lunches. You can order yours here.

Olde Colony Bakery Benne Wafers. Based the Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, Olde Colony offers Benne Wafers, which are basically Sesame seed cookies. They’ve been a part of the culture of Charleston for hundreds of years, and Olde Colony has been making them since 1940. Representing a taste of the history of the Charleston area, send these to some friends in other parts of the country, or get some for yourself. Shop here.

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GooGoo Cluster. I don’t know if GooGoo Clusters are sold everywhere, but even if they are, they are fun to send! Made in Nashville, Tennessee, these treats containing marshmallow nougat, caramel, peanuts, and covered in chocolate have been around since 1912, and they’ve survived for a good reason: they’re yummy! Standard Candy, the makers of the clusters, was an early sponsor of the Grand Ole Opry, selling the candy at shows there in the 1920s. They are definitely a taste of the south! Send a box to someone in another part of the country as a Christmas treat! See their website here.

Aunt Sally’s Pralines. Straight out of New Orleans, these sweet treats are definitely a taste of the deep, Deep South. They are described on the website as “creamy and sugary, with hints of vanilla and delicate, melt in your mouth texture.” Pralines are definitely sweet and creamy with just the right number of pecans. They know what they’re doing at Aunt Sally’s. There are lots of great pralines throughout the south, but I went with one from New Orleans, since that’s where they originated in the US. With prices starting at $14.95 for a box of the treats, this is a great gift to send. See the website here.

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King Cakes. Since we’re talking about New Orleans, I should mention King Cakes. Traditionally a Mardi Gras treat, Haydel’s Bakery makes a Christmas version and a candy cane version. If you’ve never experienced a King Cake, the holidays might be the perfect time. And anyone anywhere would love to receive one, because they are fun and delicious. They’re not cheap, though. Priced at $53, they include some beads and a pack of French Market Coffee. You can get their Cajun Kringle starting at $43.95, or as a package with French Market Coffee and a Christmas towel for $55. See Haydel’s here. .

 

Videri Chocolate. This company in Raleigh, North Carolina, makes an assortment of delicious chocolate products…hot chocolate, bonbons, chocolate bars, and even teabags. And they’re not only delicious, they’re beautiful too! And the packaging! I’m sending some friends some of their Jingle Bell Caramels ($21) this Christmas. I’ll be sending myself some too! You know…one for you, one for me. Prices start at $6 for bars. See Videri Chocolate Factory here.

South Georgia Pecan Company. I was introduced to this company, located in Valdosta, Georgia, by a friend who used to live there. She gave me a bag of their Chocolate Amaretto Pecans, and it was love at first bite. She also told me a secret to making them even better…store them in the freezer! Since then, I’ve ordered them for friends and myself too! Check out their website here. 

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The Alabama Sweet Tea Company. A friend recently told me about this company that’s based in Montgomery, Alabama. She loves their full-flavored tea, which you can purchase by the box, and she loves their other products too! Fun fact: their tea is served at Magnolia Table in Waco, Texas…maybe you’ve heard of it on HGTV? You can purchase their tea on their website, but their gear is fun too! Their t-shirts, tumblers, and hats are pure southern. I think my friends at Front Porch Football (see them here) will like these shirts! See the website here. 

Loveless Cafe, Nashville. Opened in 1951, this “down home” establishment is known around the world for its southern-style biscuits and pies. Back in the day, there was an adjacent 14-room motel, but it closed in 1985, and the rooms were converted into shops and office space. The cafe is going strong in 2018, and you can order jams, bacon, hams, a cookbook, mixes, and all sorts of Loveless paraphernalia. It definitely represents the south. I may send the cookbook to a friend who writes her own cookbooks of healthy recipes…she might enjoy trying to decrease the calories and fat in some of the down home recipes. Shop Loveless Cafe here.

Holy Spirit Monastery Gifts. Located in Conyers, GA, the Holy Spirit Monastery has a gift shop that helps support the monks. They sell honey, biscotti, and more, but the most southern gift they make is their fudge. The monks make the fudge by hand on premises, and a friend tells me it’s delicious. Plus, they have one flavor called Southern Touch that contains peach morsels, pecans, and a touch of brandy. Wow! Boxes containing 12 ounces of fudge are $12.95. Shop it here.

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30a Gear. Nothing says “Florida panhandle” like 30a Gear. If you’re thinking “Florida doesn’t have the flavor of the south,” you’ve never visited the very southern panhandle. 30a is a beach lifestyle brand that was created by a man from Birmingham, Alabama, when he moved to Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. With the panhandle being in disrepair after Hurricane Michael, I needed to include a business from there. You’ve likely seen 30a gear, and some of you likely had no idea what it meant. Well, Hwy 30A is a beach road through the panhandle of Florida. I could get more specific, but that’s the gist. It’s a beautiful stretch of beach, and it’s very popular. Shop here.

 

Edgar’s Bakery Cheese Straws. It’s no secret to my friends and family that I love anything Edgar’s Bakery makes. Based in Birmingham, Alabama, but with several locations, this bakery makes my very favorite strawberry cake. Alas, it cannot be shipped. But they can ship their gift tins. With prices starting at $16.50, you can ship a tin of their housemade cheese straws (also my favorite) or wedding cookies. The cheese straws will make you want a tall glass of sweet tea! Shop here.

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Sweet Potato Sweets. Straight from the Sweet Potato Capital of the World, Vardaman, Mississippi, Sweet Potato Sweets offers lots of goodies made from…you guessed it, sweet potatoes. Bread and pies and cakes, oh my! Personally, I never met a sweet potato I didn’t like, especially when a little sugar is added. Representing the true south, anything you send from Sweet Potato Sweets will be welcomed with open arms. I’ll be ordering some of their breads. Shop here.

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There you have it! Wanna share a little bit of the south with someone who doesn’t live here? Send them any one of these items, and they will feel the southern love! Or order some for yourself. I’m placing some orders right now.

 

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Alabama Theatre and Faye Dunaway

My daddy had a great sense of humor. He also loved wordplay. He was a great storyteller. He had vivid memories of his childhood, and we loved hearing his stories.

When I was a teenager, something came up in a family conversation about Faye Dunaway, the Academy Award-winning actress. Daddy said, “Faye Dunaway went to my school.” I must have looked at him like he had fourteen eyes, because he reiterated that she had gone to his elementary school in Florida.

Because he was a jokester, I thought, “Oh, I get it. He went to school with someone named Faye Dunaway, but not the real Faye Dunaway.” For YEARS, I thought it was a joke. I don’t remember talking about it a lot…just that once or maybe twice.

Years later, when I was in my late 20s, I was reading People Magazine one evening after work, and there was an article about Faye Dunaway. I started reading it, and there, in the second paragraph, it said she went to school in Bascom, Florida. That’s where Daddy went to elementary school! I picked up the phone and called him.

I said to him, “I’m reading an article about Faye Dunaway, and she really did go to school in Bascom!” He responded, “I’ve been saying that for years.” “Well, I know, Daddy, but I always thought you were kidding, saying someone NAMED Faye Dunaway went to your school.” We shared a good laugh at the confusion.

By the same token, I had some confusion with something Mother said for years too.

Mother grew up in the Birmingham, Alabama, area. When I was a little girl, she told me she used to go to the Alabama Theatre in downtown Birmingham for the Mickey Mouse Club on Saturdays. She made a big deal in telling me about the giant organ that would rise up out of the floor of the theatre.

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Interior of Alabama Theatre. Photo from Alabamatheatre.com. The theatre was home to the country’s largest Saturday morning Mickey Mouse Club at one time. It was also the first air-conditioned public building in Birmingham.

I didn’t tell Mother at the time, but when she said that about the organ rising from the floor, I thought she must have been mistaken. I honestly thought her memory must have been playing tricks on her, because who ever heard of an organ rising up out of the floor?

It just didn’t make sense to me, but I didn’t argue with her. I just thought her little girl brain had been tricked into thinking the organ came out of the floor…some sort of optical illusion or something.

Then, in my late 20s, I read Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe. Well, since Fannie Flagg is from Alabama, I’m guessing she must have visited the Alabama Theatre, because in the book, she mentions the organ. She mentions how the organ rises up from the floor!

So Mother’s memory wasn’t playing tricks on her, after all! I promptly called her to tell her what I’d read. She said, “I’ve been telling you about that organ for years!” I confessed, “Well, I know, Mother, but I thought your memory was playing tricks on you!” We had a good laugh over it.

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Photo of Big Bertha, The Mighty Wurlitzer, from Alabamatheatre.com

To see more about the Alabama Theatre and the organ they call Big Bertha, The Mighty Wurlitzer, click here. The theatre has an interesting history, and the organ was one of only 25 of its type ever built.

It makes me wonder what I’ve told my daughter that she questions. Maybe she keeps it to herself that she thinks I’m talking out of my mind when I talk about a childhood memory.

Let’s take, for example, the time I caught a really big catfish in the neighborhood lake. When I was a little girl, we would go cane-pole fishing down at the lake at the bottom of the hill in our neighborhood. Sometimes we would catch catfish and take them home for Mother to clean them and fry them up, and sometimes, we had no luck at all. One time, I caught the record catfish…a record for us, anyway. It might have been five pounds. As soon as I caught it, we took it home. My brother and I had catfish for dinner that night.

Maybe my daughter thinks I was confused about how big that fish was.

Maybe she thinks I’m crazy when I tell her otters lived in that neighborhood pond. They did. I saw them from the school bus window one morning. Everybody had been talking about them for weeks, and finally, I saw them surface.

Maybe my daughter thinks I saw a dog swimming through the pond and thought it was an otter.

I didn’t go to school with anybody famous. None of my friends have become famous (yet), so I don’t have any stories to tell my child about “I knew him when.” I don’t remember anything like The Mighty Wurlitzer from my childhood, so all I have is the pond with the catfish and the otter.

I haven’t even been to see The Mighty Wurlitzer rise up out of the floor at the Alabama Theater. But in December, I plan to make a trip to Birmingham. Every year, the Alabama Theater shows classic holiday movies on the big screen. I’ll go, and when I see The Mighty Wurlitzer come up out of the floor, I’ll think of my mother and laugh about how I thought she was confused…just like I think of my daddy every time I think of that famous photo of Faye Dunaway (click here to see the iconic photo taken the morning after she won the Academy Award) at the Beverly Hills Hotel.