Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Robert St. John: Endure

 It’s February in the Pine Belt of South Mississippi. It’s 82 degrees outside, the azaleas are blooming, and the crawfish are in season. I’m not stupid enough to think that spring is already here, but it sure feels like it today. 

This is what I call Mississippi fake spring. It happens every year. The weather gets nice and mild. Trees start to green up, flowers start to bloom, but there’s another cold spell, or two, maybe even a freeze in store overt the course of the next eight weeks.

The same thing happens in September. We experience Mississippi fake fall. It gets us every time. After a brutal summer with scorching heat and intense humidity, Mother Nature coughs up a cool snap in the middle of the month and everyone pulls out their sweaters and jackets. A week later we’re back in the low 90s, and it’s eventually 72 degrees and raining on Christmas day.


We wish for seasons down here and I’m ok with that. It just shows that we Mississippians are full of hope. Nevertheless, I’ll enjoy this fake spring day and try to wade my way through the clouds of pollen that are flying across the roads and lawns. 


March in Mississippi is a beautiful thing. For a week or so we get to experience the cool evenings San Diegans live with year-round. But that, too, is what makes Mississippians special. It’s easy to live in San Diego where the average temperatures are in the mid 70s during the day and mid 50s in the evenings. We endure down here, and it’s my belief that people who endure are stronger and sturdier. We’ve been enduring for generations.


We South Mississippians are troopers. We have chosen to live on the last patch of American soil that was settled east of the Mississippi River. My forefathers came to this pine-clotted area— hatchet in hand— and fought panthers, rabid racoons, malaria, encephalitis, Lyme disease, and a few other insect-borne illnesses. Unlike the wise and resourceful Native Americans who set up camp near rivers and creeks, or the French and Spanish settlers who pitched tents on the Gulf beaches and along the Natchez trace, my geographically challenged ancestors staked their claim among the tall stands of sap-oozing, pollen-spreading virgin pines.


Fake spring, or not, I am going to enjoy this weather while I can. I don't have access to any exact research on memories and our senses, but I know certain songs take me back to a specific place and time in my childhood. I also know that certain smells remind me of things from my past as well. I was walking across the parking lot from my office to one of the restaurants yesterday. The prep cooks in the kitchen were making a roux. The exhaust fan was wafting the aroma of toasted flour all through the parking lot. It took me back to my childhood, instantly.


My paternal grandmother was an excellent hostess and a great cook. We ate lunch at her house almost every Sunday after church. She had a set rotation of roast beef one Sunday, turkey and dressing the next Sunday, and the leg of lamb on the 3rd Sunday. On the 4th Sunday we would typically eat out.


Leg of lamb day was my favorite. Especially my grandmother's leg of lamb. It was probably the most exotic food item I ate as a child. That’s about as out of the ordinary as foods got for me in the South Mississippi of the 1960s.


My grandmother set a very formal table with crystal, silver sterling silver, china, and linen. The full menu was almost always the same. Some type of congealed salad, which I never ate. Tomato aspic is a cruel trick to play on a child. It looked like Jell-O. It shook like Jell-O, but it tasted like V8 juice.


I can't remember most of the vegetables during those formal launches. It seems like asparagus always made an appearance. I love asparagus today but as an eight-year-old, I was not a fan. At her more casual lunches she served mashed potatoes with English peas. I always made a nest of peas in my mashed potatoes. It was one of my favorite dishes as a child. It's still one of my favorite dishes today. There was always rice and gravy. But the star of the show was leg of lamb with gravy


It's the gravy that took me back as I was walking across the parking lot the other day. The aroma of toasted flour while a roux is being made always takes me back to her house on 4th Avenue. Sometimes I sat on a stool in the kitchen and watched her cook the entire lunch. Other times, usually in the spring, I was outside, wandering among the giant azaleas in her yard catching bees in old mayonnaise jars. Whenever the aroma of toasted flour came wafting from the kitchen’s window unit air conditioner and into the backyard, I knew the gravy was being made, and gravy was always the last item in the preparation process. 


It was time to eat.


Occasionally in interviews I get the question, “what would you choose as your last meal?” It's an easy one for me. I've been blessed to have eaten in a lot of fine restaurants over the years, but if I were able to choose a last meal it would be— without a doubt— my grandmother's leg of lamb with the pan gravy she made from the pan drippings, rice and gravy, and her biscuits. She made amazing biscuits. I've never been able to replicate them.


I hope I'm never in a situation where I will have to choose a last meal. But if I am, the choice will be a no-brainer. Childhood food memories always motivate me. But they also make me question myself. Am I creating the same food memories for my children that my family did for me? I sure hope so.


Keep enduring.



Leg of Lamb with Raspberry Mint Chutney


Preheat oven to 375


1 Leg of Lamb, bone in, about 6-7 pounds

12 cloves fresh garlic

1/4 cup olive oil

1 Tbl fresh chopped rosemary

1 Tbl fresh chopped thyme

3 Tbl kosher salt

1 Tbl fresh ground black pepper


Using a paring knife, cut 12 small pockets, spread out in the lamb leg.

Insert one clove of garlic into each pocket.

Rub the leg with the olive oil, the rub the herbs, salt and pepper over the leg.

Place the lamb in a large roasting pan, and place it in the preheated oven.

Roast for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 and continue to bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes to achieve a medium rare temperature. If using a thermometer, it should register 145 degrees. 

Remove from the oven and allow the lamb to rest for 10 minutes. Slice thinly around the bone and serve.



Raspberry Mint Chutney


1 Tbl olive oil

1 /2 cup shallots, minced

1 Tbl garlic, minced

1 Tbl fresh ginger, minced fine

2 tsp curry powder

1 /4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground


1 /2 cup sherry

3 cups raspberries, fresh or frozen

1 cinnamon stick

2 cups chicken broth

1 bay leaf


1 cup mint jelly

1 tsp cornstarch

2 tsp water

1 /2 tsp balsamic vinegar

1 Tbl fresh mint, chopped


In a small sauce pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat and cook shallots 3-4 minutes. Stir in garlic, ginger and seasonings, and cook 3-4 more minutes, stirring often. Do not let garlic brown. Deglaze with sherry and reduce by half.


Stir in 2 cups of the raspberries, chicken broth and bay leaf and simmer 15-20 minutes, until reduced by half. Stir in mint jelly and cook three minutes more, stirring constantly. Dissolve the cornstarch with the 2 teaspoons of water and stir it into the simmering sauce. Allow the sauce to thicken then remove from the heat and strain. Stir in the vinegar, fresh mint and remaining cup of raspberries.


Serve at room temperature.



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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS