A Tribute to the Man Who Made Mango Salsa

I remember it like it was yesterday…

It was one of the few family reunions on my Mom’s side  where we all met at my grandparent’s house on the lake – my Mom, her Mom, her brother Tom  and his family.

It was always fun when Uncle Tom came to the lake. He, without fail, brought fun stuff – jet skis or dirt bikes and a great big trash bag of the best beef jerky you can imagine tasting. He was famous for his line-hung, Texas sun-dried jerky – in a trash bag.

He was also quite the chef. One Thanksgiving, Uncle Tom brought a deep fryer for the turkey…well, it ended up being 3 turkeys – and that’s not counting the one we roasted in the oven. I think we ate one whole turkey as an appetizer.

Uncle Tom and Aunt Kim always brought something unusual and amazingly good to the table. They were the ones who introduced me to mango salsa. I remember thinking how very odd it was to put mango in salsa, but that was before my culinary horizons were broadened by the many amazing cooks I find peppered throughout my life.

Uncle Tom passed away on the 7th of September after a battle with cancer. He’ll never know how much his cooking influenced me. I wish he could. I wish I had spent more time with him in the kitchen and learned some of his tricks.

Growing up, time with my uncle was limited, but I always felt his love for me along with the rest of his nieces and nephews. I’ll always remember his smile and his dry sense of humor. I’ll remember him as strong, tan, and healthy. I’ll remember his beef jerky and mango salsa.

I’ll remember, Uncle Tom.

Mango Salsa

mango

purple onion

jalapeno

cilantro

lime juice

sea salt

cumin

Slice the mango on either side of the seed.

Cut the flesh – without cutting into the skin – diagonally left to right, then right to left to create a diamond pattern.

Invert mango and slide a knife under each piece to remove from skin.

Mince purple onion, jalapeno and cilantro. Sprinkle with sea salt and cumin. Squeeze on some lime juice.

Toss and serve.

This is fabulous with fish or chicken tacos, over grilled meat, or just with chips.

Who were the people in your life that influenced you the most in the kitchen?

Take a Trip Down County Road 98

Photos of War Eagle Mill from StateoftheOzarks.net

We went there several times to that old mill by the stream. It was on our way – in a round about way – to our grandparents house on the other side of Norfork Lake in Elizabeth, Arkansas.

I always dreaded that trip. It only took 7 hours, but they were the longest hours in my life. The first part of the drive wasn’t too bad, but not far into the Natural State…well, I’m convinced those road building Arkies wanted to make themselves a roller coaster. And they succeeded, as far as I’m concerned! I got motion sick more times than I care to remember.

I remember the War Eagle Mill being an oasis from an age long car ride. We’d get out and stretch our tired legs, look over into the river and then head into The Bean Palace for a hearty lunch.

I don’t recall that beans were a favorite meal of mine as a child, but The Bean Palace made the best bowl of beans I’ve ever had and I loved them. Served along side house coleslaw and a hefty slab of cornbread with butter and honey…what more could a kid want?

Well, maybe we were extraordinary kids…

The Mill has an interesting history that began four years before Arkansas became a state. Built by Sylvanus Blackburn in 1832, it was washed away by floods in 1848 and rebuilt only to find itself in the middle of the Civil War. Grist Mills were targeted during the war since they helped provide food for soldiers. Five of Blackburn’s 8 children joined the Confederacy and the family moved to find safety in Texas. Ironically,  the Confederacy burnt the mill to the ground in 1862. Rebuilt in 1873, it lasted 51 years before being burnt down again. Built again in 1973 it stands as the last remaining grist mill in Arkansas and the only working waterwheel in the nation.

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It must have been the pot of pinto beans I put on the stove to soak… Suddenly, I wanted a warm cup of Bean Palace legumes in hand to reminisce the years gone by. Cornbread with that, and a side of coleslaw. Maybe I have some southern blood in me after all.  Just maybe….

The beans simmered in the crock pot – on low – for a day and a half. Slow cooking at it’s best. The last four hours of cooking, I added smoked turkey bacon, salt, pepper, garlic powder and a few bay leaves.

Mmmm…the smell was amazing! I grabbed our wrinkled, falling-apart, War Eagle Mill Cookbook and found their coleslaw recipe on the back page…well, what is now the back page for our book.

It’s a simple recipe, much like the one we traditionally use. Shredded cabbage and carrots, vinegar, oil, organic cane sugar (Or honey…I like honey better.), salt, pepper, and celery seed. Tangy and sweet, just the way we like it.

I decided to do something different with the cornbread and spooned the batter in a buttered waffle maker. We usually make it in cast iron skillets, but there’s never enough of the crunchy edges to go around.

Smothered with organic butter and honey from local hives. Some dreams come true…

I love how food can take you for a trip down memory lane. One taste or smell can bring back little treasures that have been tucked away in the dusty attics of our brain. Brush off the cobwebs and smile.

What meal do you remember most from your childhood?