Appreciating the Past While Focusing on the Future
With the holidays behind us, it’s always refreshing to reflect on the wonders of a new year. It will be a definitive year for the city of Canton in 2019, with the opening of the first phase of The Mill at Etowah, new tenants in the newly restored historic buildings in the Academy on Main development, major updates to our water and sewer system downtown and throughout the city, expansion of the trail system at Etowah Park, the opening of our expanded Canton Police Department headquarters in the former City Hall building, continued paving projects and road improvements throughout the city, completion of the sidewalk system connecting East Main Street to Etowah Park along Brown Industrial Boulevard, and so much more.
At the end of January, the mayor and council held their annual retreat to reflect on the progress made last year, and to refine the focus for 2019 and beyond. We will announce our goals and tactics from the retreat in the days ahead. I look forward to working with my fellow city leaders, staff and, most of all, our citizens, as we continue to take inventory and work together to fulfill Canton’s potential as one of the best small towns to live, work and play in the South.
I am a true believer that the past can enlighten and inform our future. Traveling last fall through Italy, I found myself in awe of the architecture, art and culinary traditions. While I’ve been to Italy before, it was my first time in Florence.
Undoubtedly, one of the most moving experiences in my life was approaching Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the statue of David, at the Accademia Gallery. The 20-foot marble sculpture towers above the crowds of art enthusiasts, and you can feel its power, the closer you get. Standing at the base and looking up at the biblical hero, I was essentially paralyzed by its magnificence. The intricate, graceful details carved out of stone seemed otherworldly. Later, visiting the Sistine Chapel and viewing Michelangelo’s ceiling and famous fresco, “The Last Judgement,” only added to the mind-blow. How could one man be so talented, and is this level of creative genius even possible today? His work, as well as the numerous masterpieces of his peers, spawned so many questions and emotions, and I found it difficult simply to be still and enjoy the moment. However, even with the frantic enthusiasm and selfie-stick chaos of fellow tourists, I stood still and tried to absorb the wonder.
Of course, museum hopping and sightseeing works up an appetite, and I equally was enthralled with the culinary traditions of Italy. Pizza and pasta and gelato, oh my! The divinity of food was almost as overwhelming as the art and architecture. Enjoying the splendor of perfectly cooked, handmade pasta in a simple sauce enlivens the soul. Better yet, our trip to Italy coincided with truffle season, one of my most decadent indulgences.
Taking the time to appreciate such simple pleasures is difficult these days, but, as the aroma and earthiness of fresh-shaved truffles transformed me, I found myself pondering another age-old question. Who in the world was the first person to dig this subterranean fungus from the earth, and say, “I wonder how this would taste?” Did they wonder if it was poisonous, or were they simply too curious to care? Like Michelangelo, this culinary adventurer’s vision and talented taste buds were inspiring to mankind, or, at least, the questionably evolved race known as “foodies.”
Fast-forward to Christmas, when I was searching for a unique culinary creation to make for family gifts and holiday meals. I wanted something different and quintessentially Southern, but the usual suspects seemed somewhat boring. In searching for an annual cookbook gift for one of my best friends in Kansas City, I happened upon an old recipe for Jezebel Sauce, and knew that was the answer.
I first learned about Jezebel Sauce several years ago, when my friends, Nell and Bill Magruder, hosted a campaign gathering at their beautiful historic home in downtown Canton. Nell was delighted to introduce me to this Southern concoction as a perfect accompaniment to ham biscuits. I had forgotten all about it, until I saw the recipe listed in the book I gifted to my friend.
Delighted with my originality, I became obsessed with the sauce’s origin, wondering, once again, who in their right mind would have thought to blend these seemingly random ingredients. Of course, a Southerner would have been the only one eccentric enough. No one seems to know the recipe’s creator, but it predates some old Southern recipes from the 1950s, becoming a staple at church picnics and sinners’ cocktail parties.
The sauce gets its name from the biblical temptress Jezebel, due to its blend of wicked heat and intoxicating sweetness. My research revealed several variations, but all of them included a few eclectic ingredients, such as apple jelly, pineapple preserves, horseradish and dry mustard. According to folklore, many Southern belles added their own secret mystery ingredients, never revealing them — or their age.
The relish is delicious with ham, pork, shrimp or chicken as a marinade, glaze or dipping sauce. Try it on your chicken nuggets, and thank me later! One of the most basic, yet delicious, ways to serve it is merely spread over cream cheese and served with crackers. I served it this way several times over the holidays, along with using it as an accompaniment to baked ham and even a standing rib roast. I also made some marinated pork tenderloins and served them with the sauce on the side, to rave reviews. Everyone comments on how unusual, but wonderful, it tastes.
So, straying from a longstanding tradition, I am sharing my recipe for Southern Jezebel Sauce with hopes you will be the first to create a new way to serve it. It is very easy to prepare, and will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks. This flavorful combination of naughty and nice will kick your culinary year off with a bang. Enjoy the adventure and wonder, y’all!
-Bill Grant, a Canton city councilman and mayor pro tem. He is also president and chief creative officer of Grant Design Collaborative in downtown Canton.
Southern Jezebel Sauce
• 1/4 cup good quality prepared horseradish, drained well
• 3 tablespoons dry mustard
• 3⁄4 cup pineapple preserves
• 3⁄4 cup apple jelly
• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
Using a standing or hand mixer, combine horseradish and mustard in a bowl. Then add preserves, jelly, lemon juice and pepper. Mix until thoroughly combined. Serve at room temperature or store in a container, refrigerated, for up to three or four weeks.