Homemade Desserts Are a Dying Art; Here Are a Few Relics
Receiving emails from readers asking for restaurant recommendations is a regular occurrence. Requests with questions like, “What are the best seafood restaurants on the Gulf Coast,” or “While visiting the Jackson area, where should I go for steak?” I’m happy to oblige these requests but one particular request is not so easily answered: “Which restaurants serve the best homemade desserts?” There’s a simple reason I consider this request more challenging: the number of restaurants making desserts from scratch is quickly dwindling. In my opinion, that’s a sad fact.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t consider a restaurant’s dessert menu to be the determining factor in whether or not I consider it worthy of a visit - or a recommendation. But it’s disappointing to realize many restaurants rely on food service companies to supply pre-fabricated pies, cakes, cobblers and other desserts. A few decades ago, this practice was unheard of, but today it’s become the norm. However, don’t get the idea that homemade desserts are extinct in Mississippi restaurants. Some continue to make their own sweet treats; a few that come to mind include:
1. Mary Ma-honey’s Bread Pudding - I’m not usually a fan of this dessert, but was a quick convert after trying the famous Biloxi eatery’s equally notable bread pudding. Filled with delicious flavors, the top is browned to give the dish a slightly crunchy coating instead of the mushy texture of so many versions.
2. Crystal Grill’s Lemon Icebox Pie - Named People Magazine’s “Best Pie of Mississippi,” I first heard about the famous dessert while interviewing Mississippi native and Iron Chef champion Cat Cora. According to Cora, one of her first stops when visiting her home state is Greenwood to sample a large piece of the mile-high pie. I haven’t tried it yet, but it’s on my culinary bucket list.
3. Mammy’s Cupboard Coconut Pie - A delicious Southern meal at this iconic Natchez restaurant was highlighted by a huge slice of coconut pie topped with what seemed to be several inches of fluffy meringue. To say it was one of the best slices of pie of my life wouldn’t be an exaggeration.
4. Weidmann’s Black Bottom Pie - It’s been a few years since I visited the state’s oldest restaurant in Meridian, but I have no doubts that slices of its self-proclaimed “world famous black bottom pie” is still selling like hotcakes. For obvious reasons, the recipe is a top secret, but a vintage recipe calls for a crust of crushed gingersnaps, layers of creamy custard and chocolate and a crown of meringue topped with chocolate shavings. The modern-day version looks similar to the description and tastes even better than you can imagine.
5. 10 South Rooftop’s Vanilla Creme Brulee - Without question, the view of the Mighty Mississippi is amazing from this Vicksburg eatery’s outside deck, especially at sunset. But once the sun goes down, order dinner topped off by this equally outstanding dessert. One of my favorite custard desserts is taken to a new level with the infusion of vanilla topped with the familiar crispy sugar top.
So yes, there are a respectful number of restaurant desserts scattered throughout Mississippi. And no, I didn’t name them all above. If you’d like a more complete list, drop me an email and I’ll send you additional picks. Restaurants aside, there’s nothing better than a homemade dessert made by your loving hands in your own kitchen.
To get you started, I’m including Mary Mahoney’s famous recipe as well as one of my grandmother’s favorite “Sunday lunch” pies. Keeping a fresh pound cake under the silver dome was one of her life goals, but she was equally fond of pies. This recipe for “Million Dollar Pie,” which she always called “Fruit Cocktail Pie,” was one of her go-tos when time was short, but a delicious dessert was the only way to top off a bountiful meal.
Mary Mahoney’s Bread Pudding
6 slices day-old bread
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons, plus 1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup seedless raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Break bread in small pieces in baking dish. Sprinkle cinnamon over bread and add raisins and melted butter. Toast lightly the bread mixture in a 350-degree oven. Then add mixture of eggs, sugar, milk and vanilla extract, after mixing well. Bake about 30 minutes or until solid. Traditionally served with rum sauce. Serves about 8.
Emma Lee’s Fruit Cocktail Pie
1 can sweetened condensed milk
8-ounce cream cheese
8-ounce carton Cool Whip
1 cup coconut flakes
1 15-ounce can fruit cocktail, drained
1 cup chopped pecans
Small can crushed pineapple, drained
2 pie shells, baked according to package directions
Mix all ingredients with a hand mixer until blended. Pour into baked pie shells and refrigerate at least 3 hours before serving. Pies freeze well.