What Southern Folks Eat: Scrumptious springtime in the South

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"The day the Lord created hope was probably the same day He created Spring." ~ Bern Williams

Birds were chirping outside my window when I woke up today, the only indicator I ever need to make me aware that spring has arrived. Those little creatures seemed to be so happy, flying around in the warm sunshine on this March day, not caring that I'd lost an hour of sleep over the weekend due to the time change, and was feeling it when I arose.

Spring, as the saying goes, has sprung.

It really is a gorgeous time of year in the South. While Northern friends are still complaining about cold temperatures as they bundle up the children for school, down here we are preparing to plant tomatoes and zinnias, pulling out our gardening hats and sunscreen.

My family has always enjoyed the ritual of gardening in the spring. I will admit, I did not especially enjoy it when Mom would take my sister and me over to her parents' home on Ponce de Leon Street to dig in Grammy's flower garden, planting petunias or impatiens, hostas or periwinkles. I was too young, I suppose, to enjoy the thrill of watching those things spring up from the sandy soil over the following months, becoming something new and more beautiful. But Mom and Grammy understood.

My parents did the same thing at our house. There were roses in the yard and a camellia bush that, when mom planted it, was small enough for us to use as a hurdle as we ran around the yard. I have a picture of my sister standing next to it years later as a young adult, the camellia by then towering over her and hosting mother birds as they built their nests among its branches in the spring.

When Easter arrived each year in Gulf County, all those flowers and plants were at their prime, exploding with color and scrumptious scent. We would happily take our overflowing Easter baskets over to Granddaddy's house to do an egg hunt in his yard, wearing the Easter dresses mom had sewn for us as we searched under rose bushes, in the crooks of small live oaks, and inside flowerpots filled with petunias. We'd go back home after a delicious family dinner, only to hunt eggs again several times throughout the day in our own yard. The excitement never seems to wear off when you're a 7-year-old.

Those memories come alive for me again each spring when I wake up, as I did today, to sun shining and birds singing and trees flowering in every yard. To celebrate the season of new beginnings, each spring I break out this sweet recipe for bird nest cookies, which I am excited to share with you here this week. They're chewy, delicious, and completely adorable.

If you have children who will be spending time at your house this spring, I especially hope this will help you to create lasting memories with them. They easily lend themselves to discussions of spiritual rebirth, and of caring for the earth. Enjoy that time with someone you love this spring!

Coconut bird nest cookies

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 1/2 cups sweetened coconut
  • 1/2 to 1 cup Nutella or marshmallow fluff
  • M&M Speck-tacular Eggs, malted milk eggs (shown), jellybeans or other small egg-shaped candy

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat.

2. In a large bowl, stir together the sweetened condensed milk, egg white, vanilla extract, and salt. Stir until combined. 

3. Add in the coconut and mix well.

4. With a spoon, scoop up 2 to 3 tablespoons of the dough and place the dough onto the prepared baking sheet. Form the cookies into the shape of a bird nest. Press down the center with your thumb.

5. Bake cookies for 17 to 20 minutes, or until slightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and, while warm, press your thumb down in the center of the nests again. 

6. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets (about 5 minutes) or until they are firm and set. Remove with a spatula onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

7. Place about a tablespoon of Nutella or marshmallow fluff in the center of each nest. Place 2-3 egg candies in the center of the nest.

Makes about 10-15 cookie nests, depending upon size. 

I hope that you will enjoy sharing these with someone this spring! If you do, I would love to see your pictures. Please email them to steph@whatsouthernfolkseat.com

Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph.” She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home. She is married and has three young adult sons who still expect a chocolate Easter bunny every year. You can find more of her recipes at WhatSouthernFolksEat.com

This article originally appeared on The Star: What Southern Folks Eat: Scrumptious springtime in the South

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