Dear Friends of LOFC,
Recently I read an article about Lexington entitled “The One Small Town in Mississippi with More Historic Places than Any Other.” 1 The article noted that “with more than 200 historic sites, which run the gamut from buildings to brick-covered streets, it’s a must-visit for history buffs.” I was pleased that Lexington Odd Fellows Cemetery was one of the sites mentioned and photographed in the article. Although the article focused on the wealth of historic buildings and landscapes in Lexington, reading it caused me to think about the wealth of human capital and talents that has come out of and remains in Lexington, such as its many fine cooks. In fact, there could probably be an article written about the one small town in Mississippi with more good cooks than any other. Therefore, I am excited to begin a new series entitled, “Holmes County Recipes to Die For.”
Fortunate to grow up in a family of very fine cooks, I did not have to look very far for the first cook to feature in this series. Emily Povall Lucas was my father’s sister and thus, my aunt, and although I am obviously biased, she was one of the best cooks in Lexington. Certainly, she was one of its best bakers and even had a cottage industry selling cakes out of her small kitchen. Below is Emily’s story lovingly told by my brother Al Povall. Also included are links to a few of her recipes. Hopefully, this series will pique your interest and encourage you to submit your own family story with recipes by your favorite cook now buried in LOFC. It remains to be seen, but if there is a significant response to this series, it may be the genesis of a forthcoming cookbook. If nothing more, hopefully it will encourage each of us to remember a family member who made a difference in our lives by sharing their love and encouragement in our development as well as their culinary gifts and talents.
Emily Povall Lucas was born on Easter Day, April 26, 1905, when family tradition holds that the ground was covered with a fine white snow. Aunt Emily always said that she was the last of the Povall children born “in the country,” out from town, perhaps on the Sessions “Old Broom (actually “Brougham”) Place.” Then, her family moved to town, to Povall Hill, where, early in her life, people came to watch the shooting stars the nights upon which “the stars fell.” It was a meteor shower, and she never forgot it. Aunt Emily grew up in St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, where Miss Lelia Stansbury was the church matriarch and keeper of the customs of worship. Miss Lelia directed the Altar Guild with an iron hand, and Aunt Emily, like the other ladies of the church, toed the Lelia line. Aunt Emily took voice lessons as a child and sang for the rest of her life in the St. Mary’s choir. Then, upon Miss Lelia’s passing, Aunt Emily became matriarch of St. Mary’s and keeper of the old traditions of the church.
She went to college in Abington, Virginia and, after two years, came home to marry John Featherston Lucas of Ebenezer, where she lived in the Roaring Twenties during Prohibition and watched as John made bathtub beer with a friend. She taught at the Ebenezer School, and during the Depression they paid her in script that Joe Latham at the Chevrolet place would buy at a discount, because the county had a serious cash flow problem based upon the inability of so many taxpayers to pay their taxes. In Ebenezer Emily and John were on an eight-party line, and on Saturdays, Aunt Emily and her mother, Gretchen Oltenburg Povall, would talk for an hour or more, sharing the latest Holmes County gossip. My grandfather, Roland Austin Povall, would complain that “everyone in creation” was listening in, and, as he owned the Advertiser, no one would have any reason to buy his paper to learn what was going on.
Following John’s death, Emily moved to Povall Hill, but when World War II broke out, she joined the American Red Cross and went to Europe. There, she and her Red Cross sisters followed the American Army of General Omar Bradley through eastern France and into Germany. She was there for the surrender on May 8, 1945. There are pictures of her extant today standing with her Red Cross Unit, at Napoleon’s Tomb, and in Germany, which, perhaps because of her Cass Oltenburg genes, she loved dearly.
After returning to Lexington, she worked for a Dodge-Plymouth-Chrysler dealer on Yazoo Street, and then joined the Welfare Department, where she worked until her retirement at age 65 in 1970. She and her sister Sidney Povall Rhyne lived down below the Shaddock house and were there during the 1951 ice storm, when Lexington was without power for two weeks and without water for several days. Emily had a turtleback Dodge, and an enormous limb fell on it. We walked down to her house to see the sorry results of the disaster.
In perhaps 1955, Emily and Sidney built a house next to her brother George’s house -- now the home of Emily’s dear, dear friends, Harold, Jr. and Jackie Hammett -- on Spring Street, and she lived there for the rest of her life, baking cakes, making fudge, and serving the most delicious meals this side of Heaven. Indeed, although I do not know what Heaven is like, I have to believe that in a small heavenly corner there is a kitchen that is always warm and bright, and there is a lady there who gives you unconditional love and makes you feel as though you are the most important soul in Heaven. In my mind’s eye, I can see her cakes now: coconut, with real shredded coconut embedded in creamy white icing; chocolate fudge cake, and the most heavenly of all, her caramel. Those cakes were literally to die for, pun intended.
So yes, Emily Povall Lucas was a ray of golden sunlight. She was also a bright shining star in the dark eastern sky. She was a lone, small cloud, scudding before a gentle wind, and a dogwood in full bloom, set back in the deep woods under the canopy of the great old trees of Holmes County. I think of her when I see these things, and I know that she is here, with me. Always.
I have many of Aunt Emily’s recipes written in her beautiful copperplate handwriting, but as she was best known for her baking, I chose dessert recipes that were always a favourite in our home:
(1) Chocolate Fudge Cake with Chocolate Icing
(2) Black Bottom Pie
(3) Caramel Icing
(4) Devil’s Food Cake with White Icing
Hopefully the above will encourage you to “dig through” that box or book of family recipes that we all have waiting to be organized (and probably never will) and select your favorite ones to share with our ever-growing LOFC readership. If you can also share a story about your favorite family cook to accompany the recipes, that is even better, but not required. Please kitchen test the recipe to ensure that the measurements are correct.
As always, I look forward to hearing from you.
Amanda Povall Tailyour, Editor Email: email@example.com
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