Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Are you hungry tonight?

I love the packaging on American foods...

I'm working on the Elvis menu for Friday night 8th January, his 75th birthday if he'd still been alive.
I'm using two books: 'Eating the Elvis Presley Way' by David Adler and 'Fit for a King, The Elvis Presley Cookbook' by Elizabeth McKeon, Ralph Gevirtz and Julie Bandy.
I'm having to figure out some American cooking terms such as broil which is grilling but underneath, to scallop which is to bake food in a casserole dish with sauce, and of course drinks are 'beverages' and measurement are in pounds, cups or sticks. Many American recipes include instant food: for instance you'll often see: to make a cake, take a pack of Betty Crocker cake mix then add Betty Crocker icing.
My parents have a house in Florida. I was making some Margarita cocktails and boiling some sweet corn in a salt and sugar mix for the barbecue and these middle-aged women, wives and mothers, starting whispering to each other "did you see what she is doing? She's making margaritas without a mix! Look how she's doing the sweetcorn". I realised that they simply never cooked, certainly not from scratch. I understood though, it was so hot, you've spent all this money on cooling down your house with air -conditioning, why would you want to heat it up again? Making a barbecue outside in the summer heat of Florida was a mosquito ridden nightmare. Nobody had much of an appetite either.
Elvis's food was southern 'comfort' food, basics like corn and squash deriving from Native American culture. Corn is very important to American cuisine: it's used for liquor (Bourbon), syrup (corn syrup), bread, as a vegetable, as a porridge 'grits' and, was sometimes treated with lime to make it easier to digest.
Southern cooking was a shared heritage between both blacks and whites despite other differences: white southerners living in other parts of the States would often go to black restaurants to eat the cooking of their childhood.
Elvis grew up in poverty, but at Graceland he had a cook. Despite possessing a grand dining room, he usually ate in the 'jungle room' which was furnished with Kon Tiki chairs, rabbit fur throw pillows, fake fur lampshades and a waterfall. He also frequently ate in bed. Hmm I suppose some people could eat in my bed if they wanted...
Graceland dining style included towels rather than napkins, gold plated glasses, and all the food should be cut up into bite-size pieces. The TV was always on during the meal. Elvis loved butter and salt. He preferred his food over-cooked. As David Adler writes:
"Coincidentally, Elvis's favorite word of endorsement was 'burnt'. 'That's burnt, man' he would say, which could indicate either a good steak or a good performance".
You have to remember that this is a guy that died from his distended and blocked intestine splitting open inside of him whilst on the toilet. I think the official inquest called it 'strain'. He lived on fat, sugar, salt and pills (I'm afraid guests will have to provide their own prescription medicines. Elvis took quaaludes, Valium, Valmid, Demerol, Amytal, Nembutal, Elavil, Aventyle, Codeine and Sinutab). While I do hope that no one dies on the loo (we've only got one) this is the effect I'm trying to recreate.
I haven't fixed upon the menu but this is what it's shaping up to be:

Bottle of Bud

Fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Fried dill pickles

Glass of Milk or buttermilk

Candied sweet potatoes
Sweet Corn.
Grits with cheese
Fried collard greens.
Blackened catfish (Vegetarian hot dogs for veggies)
Fried fries.
Home-made Baked beans.
7up salad.
Ketchup (classed as a vegetable for these purposes)
Mustard (ditto)
Relish (quite healthy)

Cherry, apple and pecan pie.
Bourbon and coca cola jelly

Coke and Root Beer £1 a bottle

One of the interesting aspects of Adler's book is the attitude to food in 1950s America. Pre-packaged food was considered more modern, more cutting edge, than traditional, baked from scratch Southern cooking. Many recipes came from the back of packets. The Atomic bomb was also influential: radio- active colours, oversized food, food that was so processed as to look plastic. Elvis was even called 'The nation's first Atomic Powered singer'. In the 50s, the attitude of the American public towards nuclear bombs was not yet coloured by the environmental activism of the 60s; they were convinced by the authorities that this technology had hastened the end of the second world war.
Adler also points out that many of the Elvis sightings since he died were in "food related circumstances - grocery stores or fast food restaurants."


  1. Wish I could come - sounds great. I took a driving tour around the southern states, including Graceland and the shotgun house where Elvis was born, last year. Being veggie I avoided a lot of the traditional southern foods but I did enjoy biscuits and grits (at least when they had a bit of cheese mixed in). Sounds like it's going to be a really fun night. Fingers crossed about the loo!!

  2. Not 75 years old??????????

  3. I've never been grabbed by Elvis (ha ha) but this menu sounds incredible and I wish I was coming, I bet you'll have fabulous night.

  4. Oops you are right...will correct post thanks!

  5. What is it with celebs and all this medication? Someone said to me recently that US meds are much stronger hence the addiction...I don't know...are they more readily available or something?

    Anyway returning to food - I enjoyed this entry. Sounds like you've been reading up on your subject! I'm not sure this meal will go down well with potential January detoxers but oh well! You only live once and diets and detoxes are overated anyway in my opinion.

    I used to live in the US as a child...I sure did like my Betty Crocker! But sugar/salt corn - do tell more, it never occurred to me to add sugar...? xxx

  6. PS On your recommendation I ventured down to Leong's Legend - not bad! I quite enjoyed it compared to the usual chinese fare. We had the aubergine there and it was gooood and the dim sum! Thanks for flagging it up! xxx

  7. PPS We tried those dumplings too and they were very enjoyable though we went for the whole shoving them into your mouth approach and being alarmed and surprised at the bursting hot soup rather than the more delicate approach you mentioned below! Whoops...xxx

  8. Hi CC: yes I boil my sweetcorn in a sugar and salt mixture then barbecue it. It softens and sweetens the corn.
    yes quite fiddly to eat those soup dumplings isn't it?

  9. Glad to know I'm not crazy about how hard it can be to cook American when outside the States. During my three months in London in Fall '08 I realized how non-transferable many of my recipes were because they include something pre-packaged. Have been trying to cook from scratch more now that I'm back in Tennessee (Nashville rather than Memphis). Enjoy your Elvis meal!

  10. Would have loved to come along, but sadly/usefully Elvis' 75th is my 29th, so I will be drinking elsewhere...

  11. Hi Ms ML, and a very, VERY happy, prosperous and downright sparkly new decade to you! One of my resolutions is to make it over to your place SOON! Meanwhile: will you be raising a glass to a certain Mr Bowie on Friday, too? The dear old dame/Thin White Duke will be turning - what, 41 again??? I'm not sure he'd approve of the menu...but I do! Have fun, and be in touch soon xxx

  12. When you broil, the heat comes from above, not below, and in general you put the food just a few inches below the heat source (or most good American recipes would tell you how many inches from the heat the food should be). Mentioned just to keep you from a potential cooking problem.

  13. Anon: are you sure? So basically broiling is grilling?
    I keep getting different stories on broiling.
    Animal Disco: of course! Bowie too. I was a member of his Fan club. And Shirley Bassie was born on that day.
    Palfrey: have a good one!
    Kami rice: one of the best 'ready made' recipe (all very Duchamp) from the states was find pack of onion soup powder add sour cream and you have a dip! Love it.

  14. I thought broiling was just grilling. Americans have funny words. Like grits.

    Keep meaning to try the sweet potato topped with marshmallow.

    Marmite flavour baked beans?

  15. Squeazee Cheez? Key Lime Pie? Ugh I feel sick but it all sounds fab. I think you should wear a little white rhinestone cape whilst cooking. Broiling is basically searing then adding fat at last minute to seal (I think). Bleaurgh.

  16. Rockmother: yes I want a cape!
    James: sweet potatoe pie with marshmallows...brilliant idea...have a link to a recipe?

  17. Anon's right...broiling is the heat from above. Typically in american ovens the broiler is a small space below the oven.

  18. This menu looks great - I also love American packaging. So bright!

  19. Happy New Year, Ms. M. This looks like a challenging menu. I was laughing at the part about the margaritas- very naughty of you to have tried to prepare them without a mix! Best of luck with the dinner, I enjoyed reading this post. (BTW americans still like to use betty crocker mixes with add-ins to make it taste "real"). x

  20. Hahaha! This made me laugh. Love the way you write.

    Good luck with it all, particularly the bathroom - I hope nobody dies on your toilet from 'strain' - YUK!!!

    Happy Birthday Elvis. RIP.

  21. Brilliant! I love kitsch Americana in all its guises :-)

    Hope the night went well and your guests appreciated the HUGE effort you've gone to creating this menu. Elvis himself must be crooning with joy from the grave...

  22. Happy Birthday, Elvis! I love grits, but it's so expensive over here. I put two boxes on my Christmas wish list, and my wish was duly granted. A bit of butter and salt and pepper, spot on.

    If you're ever Memphis bound, can I recommend a few places (Jon's an Elvis fan, so we were there last Jan): Coletta's pizza - deep-pan heart-stoppers: barbecued pork pizza smothered with BBQ sauce. The Arcade Diner (another Elvis favourite) serves up incredible Southern breakfasts. And, for some light digestive relief: a fish "ka-bob" at The Flying Fish.
    Have a great meal tonight.

    I have all my American grandmother's recipes (hundreds: she was a home ec) to try out, so may need your advice on US ingredients/conversions some time soon!

  23. You should make coco-cola cake for dessert for it to be very southern, or a red velvet cake.

    Elvis wasn't exactly a healthnut, and even Southerners think some of what he ate was gross.


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