What’s wrong with the last drop?

I grew up on Maxwell House coffee and still use it today. It outsold everyone else until the 1980s and now has become the brand everyone likes to make fun of. When I was a kid, it was made in a percolator. Now I use a drip coffee maker. (A Mr. Coffee, if you must know.)

I won’t touch a French press (too much trouble) and think Keurig coffee tastes awful. As for Starbucks, the prices are absurd and the culture of the whole shebang has elite written all over it. Barista? I think not. Just pour the damn coffee out of a Cory coffee maker rather than making a religion out of it.

Okay, I’m out of sync with the times, coffee-wise, and darned proud of my Maxwell House and Golden Cup (Waffle House) heritage.

My brothers and I always thought Maxwell House had a catchy slogan in “Good to the last drop.” Yet, we perceived a flaw. To us, saying “good to the last drop” implied that the coffee was great UNTIL you got to the last drop. We presumed the last drop was in some way swill. Otherwise, the slogan would have been “Good to and including the last drop.”

Or, maybe cultured people never drank the last drop because doing so looked greedy and needy and was frowned upon. If that was the case, they never had any idea what–if any–evils lurked in the last drop.

Now that Maxwell House is part of the giant Kraft Foods conglomerate, the question of the safety and goodness of the last drop will probablty never be answered and I’m not going to start licking the bottom of my cup to find out. When we were kids, we were told not to lick the bottom of our cup/glass/stein/tankard/Mason jar. Doing so was unseemly, almost as bad as loudly crunching up the ice from a sweet tea glass.

Teddy Roosevelt, who purportedly was the first person in the universe to say Maxwell House is good to the last drop was probably too busy to ever drink that last drop. So, everything else in the cup was all he knew. Well, bully!


Malcolm writes his novels while drinking Maxwell House coffee and certifies that his books are good to the final word.


Rare steak? I’m sending it back

Perfectly cooked? Ha! It hasn’t been cooked.

When I was a kid, everyday people ordered steaks medium to medium well. Now, that’s considered gauche, according to the food network. Just ask the bosses on Masterchef, Hell’s Kitchen, and Chopped. When they check the steak and find it to be nearly raw, they say, “Perfectly cooked.”

In a pig’s eye.

I could tell Chef Ramsay that the USDA says the safe cooking temperature for streak is 145˚. Basically, that computes to medium. Apparently the food network chefs have been brainwashed–but to what end?

I think it’s a “beautiful people” thing. Just look at how the people are dressed who come to a Hell’s Kitchen dinner. Runway ready, I would say. I haven’t seen people dressed like that since the last time I watched the Oscars. And that’s been a while. But they look less attractive with blood dripping from their mouths, pooling on their plates, and spattering across the tablecloths like a crime scene. That’s one hell of a fashion statement.

I feel like I should print out this chart wheneve I go to a steak house:

I doubt it would help. My simple rule of thumb is that if the color of the steak matches the color of my red wine, the steak is undercooked. I’ve had multiple arguments with servers about the doneness of my steaks, but then I didn’t have the chart with me. Usually, couple of thugs with meat cleavers come out of the kitchen and say, “Something wrong with your food, you uncultured oaf.”

“It’s fine,” I say, before putting a hex on the thugs.

Then the chef comes out in full splendour and says he has his standards but the customer is always right. Then, and only then, does my steak come back perfectly cooked. (They probably popped it into a microwave.)

Frankly, it’s easier to order something other than beef and avoid the arguments.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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My characters don’t eat raw meat.

The slow cooker blues

The blues don’t come from how great the pot roast tastes after it simmers for eight hours in a slow cooker. The blues come from the fact that after several hours or so, the entire house smells like supper is ready. This turns into an afternoon of snacking to keep one’s hunger at bay. Then, when it’s really time to eat, you’re no longer hungry.

Our house smells great right now because I peeled carrots and potatoes and quartered onions at the crack of dawn. I added a bunch of secret herbs and spices. I won’t tell you what those are because if you try them and don’t like them, y’all might turn into an angry mob. One tip: the cup of Port wine is what makes it work so well, and that’s odd because I really don’t like Port.

The inventor’s specs

The trick, I think, is to keep your afternoon snacks small–say, one Dorito or one Babybel® Cheese round out of the mesh bag or one chocolate chip cookie. Wash this down with about ten glasses of quality wine (preferably red though certainly not Port or bottom shelf Chianti).

We bought our first real Crock-Pot from Sunbeam (now Rival) in the 1970s when they were suddenly the best thing since fire. After a while, they became pas·sé, and those who still used them never told anybody since they’d be mocked as badly as those who admitted they were still drinking Mateus Rosé wine.

Now that their popularity has returned along with other time-saving devices aimed at families where both spouses have fulltime jobs, I can admit here in my blog that I’m making pot roast in a slow cooker (a real Crock-Pot, by the way).

Unfortunately, writing this post didn’t help with the hunger problem. Somewhere I read that every time you take off the lid to a Crock-Pot to check on what’s happening, you have to add 30 minutes to the cooking time. I have no idea whether that’s true, so I can even pretend to be tasting things (for quality control) the way I do when I make stew in the Dutch oven.

And it’s a bit early to be pouring a glass of wine.


Malcolm R. Campbell’s novel Mountain Song is free on Kindle.


Unexpected comfort

“However, in her honor, it is my goal to help others with sick loved ones. It is my promise to make and deliver a Spoonful of Comfort to your loved ones with as much care as if I were sending it to my own mother. They’ll feel better and so will you. Whether you have an ailing mother, a child away at college with the flu or a grandchild with an ear infection, Spoonful of Comfort can help you show that you care with gourmet soup gift baskets.” – Marti Wymer, CEO/Founder, Spoonful of Comfort

When a person is sick, they often have a caring spouse–as I do–and caring friends–as I do–but when if comes down to the minute-by-minute crawl of days during their illness, they are usually alone with their thoughts and fears.

So any good thing that’s completely unexpected can make a great difference in their mood. In my case, it was the box I found on my front porch when I got home from my 40th cancer radiation treatment. It was a wonderful gift basket containing a quart of soup (kept cold in a special bag), granny’s cookies, granny’s dinner rolls, and a giant label to get the heated-up soup out of the pot.

I’ll respect the privacy of the C______ family, but they will see this post and know that the box on the porch really fired up my mood in a very good way. Thank you so much.

I happen to like chicken noodle soup accompanied by dinner rolls and cookies, so I’m looking forward to diving into this box of goodies.

Meanwhile, I followed the instructions and put the soup in the refrigerator, feeling less alone.


Mama don’t allow no high-high priced coffee around here

I’m astounded by the cost of a cup of coffee at Starbucks and the price of a box of single-serving 24 Keurig K-Cup pods. I’ve tasted both brands of coffee. Not bad, even if I want what comes the closest to a standard, non-fru-fru, non-ramped-up, non-spoilt copy of coffee.

My parents used the same one of these percolators from the time I was a kid until I was in college.

We’ve been using automatic-drip coffee (AKA Mr. Coffee and similar coffee makers) ever since they came out in the 1970s. I was pleasantly surprised at how much better the coffee tasted than the coffee brewed in percolators. Like many appliances from the 1940s and 1950s which seemed to last forever, old-style percolators didn’t break down every few years.

All this comes to mind because automatic-drip coffee makers–from the $20 variety to the $100 variety seem to last a year to 18 months. So, as I did this morning at the nearest Dollar General store, I buy the $25 coffee maker, wash it our, run hot water through it, and I’m good to go.

We tried the more-expensive appliances but, like expensive tennis shoes, they don’t last much longer than the cheap brands. And the coffee, after all these years, I still use Maxwell House. Yeah, I hear you laughing, but I prefer it to everything else, though the original 8 O’Clock coffee that used to come from A&P grocery stores gave it a run for its money.

And it really is good to the last drop. (When I first started drinking coffee, I thought that slogan should have been “Good to and through the last drop” because as it is, one can infer that the last drop isn’t good.) Moving away from that, my 13-ounce package costs less than $4.00 and lasts about a week to ten days. Price-wise, that beats Starbucks and Kueric by a huge margin.

I’m not a connoisseur. Coffee is coffee and I don’t want anyone messing with it so that added ingredients and fad brand names drive the price up into the stratosphere. I guess I’m more or less semi-poor white trash because I won’t pay for a product that’s primarily made for people who like to brag about the fact they’re driving it or drinking it.


Putting sugar in cornbread is like putting raisins in hamburgers

It just isn’t done.

Yes, the Internet is filled with arguments about cornbread with sugar and cornbread without sugar. I conducted an informal poll which showed that those who put sugar in cornbread represent the unwashed, uncultured, and wholly ignorant segment of society. In fact, they don’t even deserve to be considered part of society.

Some clowns add wheat flour to cornbread. This group is descended from a grandmother off in Peoria who got roaring drunk one morning and reached for the wrong flour sack.

Unfortunately, there are heretics everywhere. Shun them. A site called Genius Kitchen provides a recipe for Old Fashioned Southern Cornbread.  Pshaw. They list one teaspoon of sugar. Who are these people?

In my novel Eulalie and Washerwoman, Eulalie says that the people who buy homes in a new subdivision after the African Americans were run out will be the kind of people who put sugar in their cornbread. If you’re not from the South, maybe you didn’t know she was mocking the lah-tee-dah faux culture people who don’t know their butts from a hole in the ground.

You probably know that I’m a white male. What this means among other things is that these days, is that “my kind” is slandered by everybody. Being from the South adds another level of malice to that slander. So, you probably won’t believe me when I tell you that sugar in cornbread is not necessarily a “white thing.” I don’t know any Southern white people who put sugar in their cornbread unless they moved here from the North.

Cat Cora, an Iron Chef from the Food Network lists cornbread’s ingredients as 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan, 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 cup buttermilk (shake before measuring), and 2 large eggs.  Okay, I’ll quibble about the kosher salt, but the main thing we don’t see here is SUGAR.

Most great Southern cooks–and that includes my wife–don’t need a recipe for cornbread any more than they need a recipe for real Southern biscuits. But Cat Cora’s is pretty darn close to what quality people make without a user’s manual when it comes to cornbread. I should mention that you need a cast-iron frying pan, but you can skip that if you don’t know what that is. Unfortunately, young people often need a recipe for cracklin’ bread, corn pone, johnny cakes, and hushpuppies because they weren’t brought up right when it came to kitchen skills.

(Note to my reader in England: When I say we eat hushpuppies with mullet [a tasty fish], we’re not eating baby dogs or Hush Puppies shoes.)

Here’s my advice if you want quality cornbread: The next time you’re served cornbread at a restaurant, see if it tastes sweet. If it does, shout out as loudly as you can: “Who’s the bastard who f_cked up my cornbread with sugar?”

If your parents or spouse serve you sweet cornbread, I suggest leaving our the words “bastard” and “f_cked up” while making the point that you refuse to eat that kind of swill in the future.








Suddenly the blog is like chopped liver.

There are weeks when a hundred or so people show up. And there are weeks when almost nobody shows up. One is tempted to ask, “What am I, chopped liver?”

If you love chopped liver, no offense is intended even though I might wonder if you were brainwashed.

Mother tried to sneak liver into our menu about once a month. Nobody liked it. Maybe she learned about it in Home Ec. Maybe her parents forced her to eat it and she was carrying on the tradition. Even ketchup couldn’t save it.

Chopped Liver with Egg – Wikipedia photo

If you know how search engines work, I have a question for you. When the subject of a post, often one written several years ago, isn’t part of the national debate, what causes people to suddenly click on it, seemingly in groups? It would make more sense if they left comments or posted links to those posts on Twitter or Facebook. But, they aren’t doing that (I don’t think).

This week it’s my Seminole Pumpkin Fry Bread post from March 2015. I grew up in Florida and often made fry bread. So, when I included fry bread in one of my novels, I wrote a post about it. Now, the post is getting more hits. What’s that about? Do clubs have meetings, pick a post, and then go out and look at it in droves to confuse the blogger? If so, those people are eating too much chopped liver. (By the way, if your mother is serving you liver, a half teaspoon of Tabasco sauce will kill the taste.)

Every week, my post The Bare-Bones Structure of a Fairy Tale gets hundreds of hits. I wrote that post in 2013. The number of hits surprises me. Perhaps more people are reading, writing, and studying fairy tales than I suspected. So many people have stopped by that post, that I’ve updated it with more information and links. Maybe I should add a subliminal spell to that post that draws fairies into every reader’s house. All in good fun, of course. What could possibly go wrong?

The answer, of course, is that those fairies bring you steaming plates of chopped liver.  (By the way, Sriracha sauce makes liver even worse. It makes everything worse. I know, I know, I’m in the minority of people who didn’t jump on the big Sriracha sauce bandwagon, opting to stay with Tabasco.)

Okay, let’s agree to disagree if you like chopped liver or Sriracha sauce, don’t send me any recipes, pamphlets, white papers, or how-to books featuring those things. In fact, if you’re a fan of chopped liver or Sriracha sauce, my advice is to become a contestant on the cooking show called Chopped. That show features mystery baskets of hideous ingredients that regular people have never heard of, much less would even eat.

According to The Weirdest Ingredients Ever Used on ‘Chopped’, here are a few of the show’s strange offerings: Dried fermented scallops, Eyeballs, Scrapple, and Caul fat. If you want to know what any of these things are, click on the link. I’ll warn you now that the article includes pictures. The chef contestants on each show must include all of the mandatory ingredients in each appetizer, entree, and dessert. And, as the show’s host Ted Allen tells them something like, “If your food doesn’t cut it, you’ll be chopped.” (Eliminated in that round of the show.)

In general, Mother made good meals. So, I probably would not have voted to chop her from the family kitchen for serving liver. I came close to saying I was going to start having meals on campus (you have to be crazy to do that) when mother–and apparently everyone else in the neighborhood–went on a weird food fad: baby bees, chocolate-covered ants. My brothers and I were told we had to taste everything on our plates. We forced down the liver with Hunt’s Ketchup (we never ate that swill called “catsup”), but we drew the line at the bees and the ants.

So, now I’m curious: Will people who tend to follow this blog see this post as just more chopped liver?


I do most of the cooking in our house. I have never served liver, chopped or otherwise. It goes without saying that I wouldn’t try to “elevate” the meal, as chef contestants would say, with something hideous like dried tarantula powder.



A few suggestions for Wendys

Shirley, who works at the local Wendy’s is used to me walking in and asking for Big Macs and Whoppers and even Scotch when she makes the mistake of saying, “anything else we can get for you?”

She knows by now that I’m there to order two half-size Apple Pecan Chicken Salads. They’re darn tasty and keep me from having to make a tossed salad when I get home.

I asked Shirley if she was passing my menu ideas up the chain of command to “corporate.” She punched me in the arm, indicating (I guess) that she wasn’t. Her punch didn’t hurt because the’s my age and still working a 9-5 gig.

So, since I know Wendys Corporate will see this post, here are a few ideas the local Wendys hasn’t been sending you.

  • Offer Scotch. It’s very tasty with a junior bacon cheeseburger. It’s almost a must with the Baconator. I’d like to see a nice single malt, but if you have to keep prices down by serving a blend, that’s okay.
  • Sell Competing Products. Sometimes people go into a fast food place and forget where they are. You could take care of this by stocking entrees from KFC, Taco Bell, Subway, and Burger King.
  • Real Loaded French Fries. Your chili is pretty good, but I can’t see ordering “loaded French fries” with a ladle of chili on top of them. Shirley promised to tell you that drizzling a dirty martini over an order of fries would be the cat’s pajamas. Very tasty, very savory, as long as you don’t eat them while driving. And, you could certainly claim they were loaded–along with your customers.
  • Marijuana Salad Dressing. Your salad dressings are pretty good. But a new “herbal” dressing that includes pot would not only ramp up the salads but would bring customers back for more. If anyone asks what’s in the dressings, just say “basil, thyme, oregano and other stuff.” Shirley told me the employees would just suck down the dressing straight out of the little packets. My response was you to think of that as medicine and that means fewer sick days. And really, from the advice of experts, a packet of dressing with a little pot in it is probably healthier than a super-sized Coke.

Wendys, if you want more ideas with the same quality and money-making punch as these, leave a comment on my blog. At some point, I might ask for a cut of the profits so I can afford the salad dressing and the loaded French fries.



Florida Legends – All You Can Eat if You Know How to Find It

Zora Neale Hurston’s “tales from the turpentine camps, on the surface, could be seen as silly, promoting these stereotypes. A sweet potato floating through the air with a knife sticking out of it? Pure fantasy. But a closer reading shows a culture of resistance and resilience. In the camp workers’ wildest dreams, all they want is unlimited access to food, a basic need that often locked them into the camp through debt racked up at the company store, or one that they were sometimes flatly denied. Food was hope and optimism.” – Julie Botnick in “Zora Neale Hurston, Diddy-Dah-Widdy, and the WPA Federal Writers’ Project”

The legendary Florida town called Diddy-Wah-Diddy, collected–or perhaps, imagined–by Zora Neale Hurston in 1938, has been celebrated by numerous blues singers and included in anthologies and re-tellings by Mary E. Lyons and others for years.

zoradiddyIn his New York Times review of The Food of a Younger Land, Jonathan Miles writes, “Couched between a selection of black Mississippi recipes transcribed in dialect (‘wrop cakes in a collard leaf, place on dese coals coverin wid some more hot so hot’) and the Christmas dinner menu at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Ky., is a stunning prose poem by Zora Neale Hurston about a mythical place in African-American folklore — a kind of barbecue version of Shangri-La — known as ‘Diddy Wah Diddy.'”

While the WPA Federal Writers project featuring the story was never completed, Hurston’s work lives on, describing her take on the many dreams of food and better times and magical places from Blacks enslaved in the turpentine camps, usually for minor or imaginary offenses.

Unfortunately, Lyons’ book appears to be out of print. Her website description sounds tempting: “During Virginia’s 2008-2009 Big Read for Little Readers, Mary E. Lyons rewrote these same stories for young people. Now children in grades 1-4 can travel with Zora to a magical land where nobody cooks, but the food is always ready. In Diddy Wah Diddy readers meet Chicken, Pie and Moon Man. They wander to Zar and stroll through Bella. They amble across Amen Avenue, then fly down to West Heck with High John.”

bodiddleysingleI came across the mythical town while researching Florida legends for my upcoming novel Eulalie and Washerwoman. I couldn’t resist including a reference to the place, a town nobody knows how to get to, but if they happened to find it, all that had to do was sit and wait and pretty soon the best food they could possibly want appeared, ready to eat, with knife, fork and spoon ready to go.

In her collection, Uncle Monday Monday and Other Florida Tales, Kriston G. Congdon’s version includes the line about a town “way off somewhere” that “Is reached by a road that curves so much that a mule pulling a wagon-load of feed can eat off the back of the wagon as he goes.” Congdon says that most people think the place exists.

Perhaps so.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “The Sun Singer,” and other magical novels. The soon-to-be released “Eulalie and Washerwoman” is a sequel to “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”


Seminole Pumpkin Fry Bread

One of the first things I learned to cook was fry bread. Didn’t take long to get it right because it has very few ingredients and is one of those foods that (like making biscuits) is done by the feel of the dough rather than slavishly measuring ingredients into a mixing bowl.

If you work the hell out of the dough, you’ll ruin it like you can when making pasta. The dough works better if you make it one day, cover it over night with tin foil (AKA aluminum foil) in the ice box (AKA fridge), and make the bread the following day.

Seminole fry bread preparation at the 1983 Florida Folk Festival - State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
Seminole fry bread preparation at the 1983 Florida Folk Festival – State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

There are a lot of variations, but pumpkin tops my list, though you can experiment with butternut squash instead of pumpkin. I like it plain, but some folks add cinnamon or nutmeg or vanilla extract (food Lord!) or even dust the tops with powdered sugar like they’re making Beignets in New Orleans (what the hell?).

If you’re using self-rising flour, then flour (about 3 cups), pumpkin (let’s say 4 cups) and sugar (a cup or less) is all it takes. With all-purpose flower, you’ll need a tablespoon of baking soda as well. And some cooking oil or lard. Pumpkins harvest in the fall, so if you have fresh, chop it up and boil it. If not, canned pumpkin works fine. (If you don’t want the pumpkin in it, use water or milk when mixing the flour. If you don’t want it sweet, leave out the sugar.) You can find traditional recipe variations here.

Let it sit over night. Don’t skip this step.

The next day, roll the dough into balls and then flatten them with your fingertips so they’re thin enough to cook all the way through before they burn on the outside. Taste the dough before you do this to see if it needs more sugar or is too sticky and needs more flour. Put the little cakes in a skillet or pan of hot oil (medium high).

Turn them when the edges get brown. Medium brown is what you’re looking for and that usually happens when the cakes float. Drain on a paper towel. Great for snacks or to go with your dinner.

If you like pictures to go with your recipes, the Seminole Tribune has a series of what-it-ought-to-look-like pictures here.

I don’t normally talk about food on this blog, but I mentioned pumpkin fry bread a fair number of times in my 1950s-era folk magic novella Conjure Woman’s Cat and that was enough to get me addicted to it all over again. Seems like everyone in Florida made fry bread in the 1950s.

In many Indian nations, making and eating fry bread is sacred and deeply linked to the past.


Amazon Kindle cover.

All three of Campbell’s “conjure and crime” novels have been collected into one e-book.