State honoree Jay Lamar shares culinary heritage, favorite recipes

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Jay Lamar, named one of the “Women Who Shape the State” was the executive director of the Alabama Bicentennial Commission. She is sharing her family’s love of cooking and favorite recipes over the years.

By Ann Cipperly

Recently named one of the “Women Who Shape the State,” Jay Lamar served as the executive director of the Alabama Bicentennial Commission to plan the 200th anniversary of Alabama’s statehood. Telling Alabama’s history involved many projects and initiatives. For one special project, Jay worked with the Legislature Spouses Club for a cookbook about the state’s culinary heritage. Good food has always been a part of Jay’s family history as well.

Both of Jay’s grandmothers were good cooks. Her father’s mother, who lived in Tuskegee, was a wonderful Southern cook who had a big garden every year. At her home, they enjoyed fresh peas, tomatoes, corn, watermelon and a delicious pound cake as favorites.

Her other grandmother lived in Andalusia and enjoyed pickling and preserving fresh fruits and vegetables. She would give these homemade items as gifts to her family.

Jay’s father was in the military, and they lived in several places after she was born in Tuskegee. By the time she was in kindergarten, her father had completed his military service, and the family had settled in Auburn where she grew up.   

After graduating from Auburn University, she moved to Knoxville, Tennessee and did graduate work in English at the University of Tennessee. She worked for a publishing company and met her husband, Bill Turner.

“When I graduated from Auburn, I couldn’t wait to leave Auburn,” Jay remembers. “Then I could hardly wait to get back.”

When her great aunt died in Tuskegee, her lovely home was available. Jay felt a strong family connection and nostalgia for the place, with memories of visiting her grandparents. She purchased the house and moved back to Auburn.

She began working for Leah Atkins at Pebble Hill, the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center of the Arts and Humanities. “There was a vegetable garden, and we would pick tomatoes and cucumbers for making sandwiches for lunch,” Jay said. “Working at a historic house with tomatoes growing in the yard and talking about southern literature and history, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.” She worked there for 23 years.

Jay then worked as director of special programs for the provost office for undergraduate studies and was the managing editor of Auburn Speaks, an annual publication of the office of the vice president for research. 

In 2014, she was appointed the executive director of the Alabama Bicentennial Commission to plan and coordinate events and activities for celebrating the 200th anniversary of Alabama’s statehood. It was the longest state bicentennial celebration in the nation, beginning in the spring of 2017 and ending in December 2020.

There was a great deal of teacher training, projects and committees in every one of the state’s 67 counties. Many committees had 40 or 50 people on each one.

“We had almost three years to celebrate around the state,” Jay said. “It was a wonderful example of collaboration and people coming together to do things that were fun and entertaining, but also significant projects that would last beyond the Bicentennial celebration.”

One of the projects Jay worked on was with the Legislative Spouses Club for a commemorative cookbook, “Around the Spiral Staircase, Vol. 2.” The book is a collection of recipes contributed by members of the club, but it also includes recipes from “Around the Spiral Staircase, Vol. 1,” which was created in 1975 for America’s bicentennial.

Jay has had a love of cookbooks since she was a child. She remembers that her mother had a lot of cookbooks and that she enjoyed reading them. “I think I have read more recipes lately than prepared them,” she said. “We have been fortunate to have our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, here this last year to do all the cooking.”

Elizabeth has been cooking professionally for almost 10 years, including in Miami, New York and Nashville. She recently moved to Birmingham to work in recipe development as a test kitchen chef for Hoffman Media.

Jay and Bill’s other daughter, Anne Herbert, is married with a daughter, Clara, and teaches at the School of Fine Arts in Birmingham. Their son, Will, is married and lives in Maryland. They are planning to move back to this area.

Bill is an archaeologist for the state highway department, while Jay is currently a consultant for Alabama Public Television working on virtual field trips for fourth graders. She is also working on a grant project for the Alabama Historical Commission.

Recently, she was named one of 25 “Women Who Shape the State” presented by This is Alabama. The 2020 honorees include women in various fields who have an impact on the state.

“I love this state,” Jay said. “For the bicentennial, we looked back on our history, but our sights were set on the future. We wanted people, especially young people, to feel that the sky is the limit for them and for Alabama. I feel that way! Bill and I love the state and this community. It has been gift to raise our family here.” 

Mama’s Lemon Curd

4 eggs

Pinch of salt

2 cups sugar

¼ cup butter, room temperature

½ cup lemon juice

1 to 2 Tbsp. lemon zest

Beat eggs; add salt, sugar, lemon juice, butter, and zest. Cook in the top of a double boiler over hot, but not boiling, water for about 30 minutes until thick and smooth. Let cool.

Pour into jars and refrigerate. Good over pound cake, in small crusts with whipped cream, and with fresh berries.

Lemon Meringue Pie

Recipe from Grandmother Elma Jane Roberts Lamar.

¼ cup cornstarch

2 Tbsp. flour

1 cup sugar

¼ tsp. salt

2 cups boiling water

3 egg yolks, beaten

2 Tbsp. butter

1 Tbsp. grated lemon rind

6 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 baked and cooled 9-inch pastry shell

3 egg whites

6 Tbsp. sugar

Combine cornstarch, flour, cup of sugar and salt in top of double boiler. Gradually add boiling water, stirring constantly. Slowly stir in beaten egg yolks.

Cook over boiling water, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Cook 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Remove from boiling water. Stir in butter, lemon rind, and lemon juice. Cover and cook. Pour into shell.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Whip egg whites in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Add 6 Tbsp. of sugar, 1 Tbsp. at a time, whipping well after each addition. Continue to whip until stiff peaks form.

Spoon meringue onto the filling. Spread evenly to the edges, making sure meringue touches the crust. Make deep swirls on top with a spatula. Bake 3 to 5 minutes or until golden brown. Cool away from drafts.

NY Strip Steak with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Bacon

½ lb. thick-cut bacon, sliced in ¼ inch. pieces

1 Tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 NY strip steak (at least 1 ¾ inch thick)

Salt and pepper

1 lb. fingerling potatoes, cut in quarters lengthwise

1 garlic clove, crushed

½ Tbsp. fresh thyme, picked

½ Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped

1 Tbsp. chives, thinly sliced

1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Heat cast iron skillet on medium heat.

Add sliced bacon and ½ Tbsp. olive oil to cast iron, keep to one half of pan.

Coat steak with ½ Tbsp. of olive oil, salt, and pepper.

When bacon begins to crisp, add steak to the opposite side of pan.

Increase pan heat to medium high and add potatoes and garlic, tossing them with the bacon.

Flip steak and sear second side for 1 minute.

Toss potatoes again and move to oven for 10 minutes or until desired steak temperature is reached.

Take steak out to rest and increase oven temperature to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Toss in thyme and rosemary and spread potatoes out to a thin layer and return to the oven for another 10 minutes, or until potatoes are golden and begin to crisp. Remove pan from oven and drain any excess fat that has collected.

Slice steak and return to pan, sprinkle with parsley and chives.

Oatmeal Toffee Cookies

1 cup butter, softened

2 eggs

2 cups brown sugar, packed

2 tsp. vanilla

1 ¾ cup flour

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

3 cups oats

10 oz. pkg. Heath Toffee Bits

Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs and vanilla, beating well. Add dry ingredients. Stir in toffee bits. Chill dough for at least 20 minutes.

Place teaspoonful sized scoops on a lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.

Crispy Salmon and Wilted Chard

2 Tbsp. Champagne vinegar

2 Tbsp. finely chopped tarragon, plus leaves for garnish

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. honey

½ cup plus 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1 lb. rainbow Swiss chard, stems cut into 2-inch pieces and leaves coarsely torn

1 large shallot, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

Four 5 to 6 oz. salmon filets

Whisk vinegar with tarragon, mustard, honey and ¼ cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saucepan, and add Swiss chard stems, shallot and garlic. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the chard leaves in large handfuls and cook until just wilted, about 5 minutes. Stir in half the vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper.

Season salmon with salt and pepper. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil until shimmering. Add salmon, skin side down, and cook over moderately high heat, pressing gently with spatula to flatten, until the skin is browned and crisp, about 3 minutes. Flip the filets and cook until medium within, about 3 more minutes.

Transfer salmon and chard to plates, and garnish with tarragon leaves. Serve with remaining vinaigrette.

Spice Cake with Apple Honey

Apple Honey:

1 cup apples, peeled, cored and small diced

1 cup honey

¼ tsp. kosher salt

1/8 tsp. cinnamon

Cream Cheese Butter Cream:

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

16 oz. cream cheese, room temperature

4 tsp. vanilla extract

8 cups powdered sugar

½ tsp. kosher salt

2 ½ tsp. cinnamon

Cake:

4 ½ cups cake flour

2 Tbsp. baking powder

3 tsp. kosher Salt

3 cups sugar

1 ½ cups unsalted butter, room temperature

6 eggs, room temperature

3 cups sour cream, room temperature

1 ½ Tbsp. vanilla

½ tsp. allspice

½ tsp. clove

½ tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. ginger powder

1 ½ tsp. turmeric powder

1 ½ Tbsp. cinnamon

Apple Honey:

Combine all ingredients in small saucepan on medium well heat and bring to a simmer.

Cook until apples are translucent and liquid coats the spoon.

Cool down.

Cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine dry ingredients.

Add butter to a stand mixer with paddle attachment on medium speed; beat until creamy and smooth.

Add sugar and cream.

Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating before adding the next one.

Decrease speed and add vanilla and sour cream.

Add dry ingredients half a cup at a time until fully incorporated.

Grease three 9-inch cake pans and line with parchment.

Distribute batter evenly between pans.

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating midway through.

Cool on baking rack.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

Add cream cheese and butter to a stand mixer with paddle attachment.

Cream on medium speed until combined and smooth.

Add powdered sugar half a cup at a time until fully combined.

Add vanilla, salt, and cinnamon; mix until combined.

Set aside while preparing cake for frosting.

Assemble:

Trim cake of all crust.

Place one cake on cake stand or platter.

Top with a layer of icing and half the apple honey.

Add next layer and repeat.

Add final layer and frost with remaining icing.

Dust with cinnamon.

Pickled Okra

2 lbs. small, fresh okra, washed

5 hot red or green peppers

5 cloves garlic, peeled

1-quart white vinegar

6 Tbsp. salt

1 Tbsp. celery or mustard seed

Pack okra upright into five hot, sterilized pint jars. Add a pepper and a garlic clove to each. Set aside.

Combine vinegar, ½ cup water, salt and celery or mustard seed in a stainless plan. Bring to a boil. Remove pan from heat and pour liquid over okra, filling jars to within ½ inch of the rim. Seal with lids and rings.

Process in a bath of boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove and cool before storing.

MIMI’S CRANBERRY SAUCE

Recipe from Grandmother Mary Turk Walters Renfroe Scherf.

Pick over 4 cups of fresh berries. Wash. Pour into a shallow baking pan so they lie in one layer. Sprinkle with 2 cups of sugar and cover tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake at 325 degrees for an hour. Cool. Toss with 4 Tbsp. of brandy or cognac and sprinkle with sugar to sparkle.

Sally Lunn Bread

From my mother-in-law, Nancy Langhorne Turner, Virginia born and raised.

4 cups all-purpose flour, not sifted

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 pkg. dry yeast

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup softened butter

3 eggs, room temperature

Mix 1 1/4 cups flour, the sugar, salt, and undissolved yeast in a large bowl. Combine milk, water, and butter in a saucepan. Heat on low until liquids are warm. Add to dry ingredients and beat 2 minutes (medium speed) with electric mixer or stand mixer. Add eggs and 1 cup flour to make a thick batter. Beat at high speed for 2 minutes, then stir in remaining flour to make a stiff batter. Cover bowl with a damp cloth and allow to proof for one hour. Punch down the batter and beat well again for 2 minutes. Place batter in a greased 9-inch tube pan or large Bundt pan. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to proof again for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and bake bread for 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool on a wire rack. Serve big slices with lots of butter and damson plum preserves. Good toasted too.

Lebanese Salad

Vegetables and Herbs:

Romaine

Cucumbers, thinly sliced

Onions, thinly sliced

Tomatoes, quartered or cut into small wedges

Parsley

Mint

Dressing:

½ cup fresh lemon juice

½ cup oil (extra-virgin olive, canola, or mixture of both)

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 to 2 Tbsp. fresh mint

Salt and pepper to taste

Crush garlic and salt. Bruise mint leaves. Blend together lemon juice and oil, salt, and pepper. Add garlic and mint. Shake well and drizzle over vegetables and herbs.

Parker House Rolls with Honey Butter

Rolls:

2 ¼ tsp. active yeast

½ cup water, 100 to 110 degrees

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

2 Tbsp. sugar

¼ cup honey

2 1/2 tsp. salt

1.5 cup whole milk

3 eggs, large

6 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. flaky sea salt

1 can non-stick spray

Honey Butter:

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/3 cup honey

¼ tsp. kosher salt

Honey Butter:

Add butter to stand mixer with whisk attachment; whisk until fluffy.

Add honey and salt and whisk until combined.

Rolls:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine yeast and water and let sit until frothy.

In a small saucepan heat milk to a simmer; remove pan from the heat and stir in butter, sugar, and honey to dissolve.

Add eggs, salt, yeast mixture and milk mixture to a stand mixer with hook attachment.

Turn mixer to medium speed and add flour ½ cup at a time until completely combined.

Increase mixer speed to high and mix until your dough begins to pull away from the bowl and becomes smooth and shiny (about 8 to 10 minutes).

With wet or oiled hands grab a handful of dough and stretch; if the dough begins to tear, continue mixing and try again; when the dough stretches thin enough to see through it and does not tear, stop mixing.

Transfer dough into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let rise until the dough has doubled in size (about 1 to 1 ½ hours).

Oil or spray two 9-inch round pans or one 10 x 15 rectangle pan with canola oil or cooking spray.

When dough has doubled in size, use scissors to cut the dough into 2-oz. pieces.

Roll the dough pieces into little balls and place them into greased pan(s) touching.

Cover with plastic and let rise again but not quite double in size (about 30 to 45 minutes).

Bake rolls for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

Melt 2 Tbsp. of the honey butter and brush the tops of the rolls.

Bake the rolls another 5 to 7 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and serve with remaining honey butter.

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