Today’s Community Cookbook: Giant Houseparty Cookbook (Copyright 1981 by the Philadelphia-Neshoba County Chamber of Commerce; Printed by Wimmer Brothers Fine Printing and Lithography, Memphis)
This week, just about the only thing on anyone’s mind in east central Mississippi is The Fair, which wraps up on Saturday. As a native of Philadelphia, Mississippi, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to explain the wonder that is the Neshoba County Fair. A few years ago, I even wrote something about it for this magazine.
As a child, The Fair meant feet stained red from the Neshoba County clay, deep-fried corndogs from Lindsey’s Lemonade Stand, water fights in Happy Hollow, relaxed curfews, first boyfriends, and a general laissez-faire attitude from my parents, demonstrated by a resigned sigh of, “Well, it’s The Fair.”
As an adult, the Neshoba County Fair, also known as Mississippi’s Giant Houseparty, is more of a reunion with family and childhood friends—and a celebration of food. In fact, some folks might argue that it’s all about the food. I just got back from a long weekend at The Fair, where timeslots for preparing meals are doled out weeks in advance. Each year, I know I’ll find stacks of casserole dishes and icebox cakes tucked in the freezer. Late nights, everyone dive bombs the fridge looking for leftover fried chicken and Momma’s pimiento cheese. And friends are routinely greeted with sweaty glasses of ice tea and slices of 10-layer lemon cake, a specialty of my Mamaw.
The Fair is so much about the food that in 1981, a committee of dedicated Fair eaters got together to create the Giant Houseparty Cookbook. (Full disclosure: both Momma and Daddy were on the committee.) And one of the recipes comes from none other than Nancy Reagan—listed in the cookbook as Mrs. Ronald Reagan (Nancy). You see, The Fair is also full of old-fashioned tree-stump politicking. On election years, politicians show up to kiss babies and press the flesh. Even off years draw the state’s elected officials. And Thursdays are always the pinnacle of the political week, when the state’s highest ranking officials, governor included, stand under the pavilion on Founders’ Square, roll up their sleeves, and deliver speeches in sweltering heat to an audience partially masked by paddle fans.
The year prior to the cookbook’s release, Reagan had announced his bid for the presidency from the grandstand at the Neshoba County Fair. Naturally the committee thought it only proper to include a recipe from Nancy, who, by the time of publication, listed The White House as her residence.
Today, on the Thursday of the 2013 Fair, we’re sharing with you Nancy Reagan’s recipe for Vienna Chocolate Bars from the Giant Houseparty Cookbook. I recommend turning the air conditioning off, opening your windows, and drinking gallons of ice tea to achieve the full effect.
Nancy Reagan’s Vienna Chocolate Bars
The occasional celebrity recipe added a certain cachet to community cookbooks. After visiting the Neshoba County Fair during Ronald Reagan’s 1980 bid for the presidency, Nancy shared this recipe. The buttery layers of shortbread and fruit topped with crisp meringue definitely get our vote. From Giant Houseparty Cookbook by The Philadelphia-Neshoba County Chamber of Commerce.
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
2 large egg yolks
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 (10-oz.) jar seedless raspberry preserves
1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 cups finely chopped pecans, lightly toasted
- Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 15- x 10-inch jelly-roll pan with aluminum foil; lightly grease foil. Beat butter and 1/2 cup sugar at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until well blended. Add egg yolks, and beat until combined. Gradually add flour, beating at low speed 1 to 2 minutes or just until combined. Press mixture onto bottom of prepared pan.
- Bake at 350° for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven, and spread preserves over crust. Sprinkle with chocolate morsels.
- Beat egg whites and salt at high speed, using whisk attachment, until foamy. Gradually add remaining 1 cup sugar, 1 Tbsp. at a time, beating until glossy and stiff peaks form. Fold in pecans. Gently spread egg white mixture over chocolate mixture.
- Bake at 350° for 30 to 35 minutes or until meringue is browned and crispy. Cool completely on a wire rack (1 hour). Cut into bars.
- Note: We tested with Dickinson’s Pure Seedless Cascade Mountain Red Raspberry Preserves.