Food for the Soul

Come Fourth of July on Prowell Bluff, the peeling begins

Story Jan Swoope | Photographs Luisa Porter

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

On a high bluff overlooking Tibbee Creek, where osprey and eagles nest and occasional gators float lazily by, the Swoope family in Lowndes County gathers every Fourth of July weekend to get serious about seafood. On Prairie land settled in 1832 by their great-grandparents, “the siblings” (there are 13), their children (there are 26), grandchildren (an increasing number, along with a couple of great-grands) convene for what has become the annual “’Round the Fourth Shrimp Boil.” Some of the 100 or so folks hail from just down the road. Others travel in from Louisiana, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado and beyond. Everyone who can makes it “home” for feasting, kayaking, sunset-gazing and a few fireworks.

It’s about food, to be sure. But more than that, it’s about family. I married into this rather remarkable, hardy clan. My husband is one of them, the children of the late Carrie Prowell Swoope and Lafayette Swoope — 10 boys, four girls. Good people. Growing up with that many brothers and sisters, there was always someone to go fishing with, someone to hook the billy goat up to the cart, someone who had your back. They still do. Now ranging in age from 61 to 91, the 13 siblings — they lost brother James Prowell Swoope in 2005 — don’t need a special reason to get together. But a boatload of shrimp sure is a good one.

It started in summer 2002, when baby brother Burton and his wife, Tanya Gollott Swoope, brought up a catch of fresh shrimp from their home in Ocean Springs. That was all it took.

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

“When you put good food and good times together, it’s not hard to start a tradition,” says Burton’s brother, Charles Swoope of Columbus. Charles and his wife, Shirley McLemore Swoope, hosted the shrimp boil on the deck and grounds of their camphouse at Prowell Bluff in west Lowndes County until 2009, when Burton built a camphouse next door. Now tables festooned for the Fourth spread from one to the other.

Shrimp get headline billing, but the menu also boasts succulent crab brought by Swoopes coming up from Louisiana. Grilled sausage and pork might complement the fare, along with savory appetizers and a table groaning with desserts made by family, or neighbors and friends who join the celebration.

You can’t swing a fork without hitting a Swoope who knows something about cooking. So there are several who can pitch in when 60 or so pounds of shrimp (thoroughly rinsed thrice) hit the water, in batches, in a huge pot over a propane flame. Burton keeps close vigil, stirring with a homemade wooden paddle. Timing is everything.

“Cook time is about five minutes. Cook ’em too long and they get tough,” he says from experience. “When the shrimp rise and turn red, they’re ready. Then you get them quickly in ice to stop the cooking.”

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

The succulent shrimp are cooked with corn on the cob and potatoes and primed with a custom blend of seasonings. When it’s all served up in an almost half-scale pirogue — a long, narrow boat from the bayous of Louisiana— “the great peeling” commences.

After nightfall, when the crowd thins, babies doze and the mood is mellow, oft-told stories are brought out for repolishing. There’s the one about the night a sister’s beau came calling, only to be surprised by a mischievous brother on the porch, dressed as a woman. Or the one about Whitey, a pet goat, barreling wildly through the house, taking out the Christmas tree as all the kids gave excited chase.

Most everyone has heard them before, but that’s all right. Sitting back and listening, I long ago recognized the sound of family lore being passed on, of youngsters coming to know their kinfolk better. It’s the collecting of stories, stories they will grow up and retell another day, when the shrimp’s turned red and the sun sinks low into Tibbee waters.


COMEBACK SAUCE

1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup chili sauce
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 small onion, minced (I purée it.)
2 dashes Louisiana hot sauce
1 dash paprika
1 tablespoon water

• Blend all ingredients together. Refrigerate until served. Note: Better if made the day before. Great with shrimp or any raw vegetable.

(Source: Shirley Swoope)


MEXICAN CORN DIP

2 11-ounce cans Mexican corn, drained (I use Green Giant.)
½ cup mayonnaise
1 ½ cups sour cream
2 cups Kraft sharp shredded cheese

• Blend all ingredients together. Refrigerate until served. Note: Better if made the day before.

(Source: Carolyn Swoope)


PATRIOTIC AMERICAN FLAG CAKE

3 cups boiling water, divided
2 4-serving packages Jell-O Berry Blue flavored gelatin
2 cups ice cubes, divided
2 8-ounce packages Philadelphia cream cheese, softened
¼ cup sugar
1 8-ounce tub Cool Whip topping, thawed, divided
2 4-serving packages Jell-O Strawberry flavored gelatin (or any red flavor)
2 cups halved strawberries
½ cup blueberries

• Stir 1 ½ cups of the boiling water into dry blue gelatin in a medium bowl at least two minutes, until completely dissolved. Add 1 cup of the ice cubes; stir until ice is completely melted.
• Pour into a 13-by-9-inch dish. Refrigerate 20 minutes or until gelatin is set but not firm.
• Place cream cheese, sugar and half of the whipped topping in a large bowl; beat until well blended. Spoon over blue gelatin layer in dish; spread carefully to evenly cover gelatin layer.
• Stir remaining 1 ½ cups boiling water into strawberry gelatin in separate bowl at least two minutes, until completely dissolved. Add remaining cup of ice cubes; stir until ice is melted.
• Let stand at room temperature five minutes or until slightly thickened. Spoon over cream cheese layer in dish. Refrigerate three hours or until set.
• Spread remaining whipped topping over dessert just before serving. Decorate with strawberries and blueberries to resemble an American flag. Store leftover dessert in a refrigerator.

(Source: Carolyn Pope/Jell-O)