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Holding court: members of the Pocahontas Mallet Club put aside their croquet competition for an evening under the stars at a Gluckstadt farm.

WICKETS AND WHITE OUTFITS. IMPECCABLY MANICURED GRASS COURTS. PERHAPS NO SPORT IS QUITE AS PICTURESQUE OR QUITE AS SOCIAL AS CROQUET, THAT GENTLEMAN'S PURSUIT WITH BRITISH ROOTS THAT FIRMLY PLANTED THEMSELVES IN MISSISSIPPI ONLY A FEW DECADES AGO.

Members of the Pocahontas Mallet Club, one of the Magnolia State's thriving croquet organizations, meet regularly at a member's private court to strategize and fraternize. The highlight of each club year is the Memorial Day Weekend Tournament, a two-day affair during which members and their guests battle to successfully strike colorful balls through metal hoops.

"It's a really big deal," says Kay Van Skiver, who along with her husband Wade has been part of the club for about six years. "It's competitive but so much fun."

Before the tournament games begin each year, a member gala takes place, and last year the Van Skivers hosted the celebration at their own Dunhopen Farm in nearby Gluckstadt, along with several other member couples. The country setting inspired the evening's theme--Denim and Diamonds.

"The overall vision, being on the farm, was to have the decorations be as earthy and natural as possible--to come from the land," Van Skiver says. "The food ingredients were to be bought from as many farms as possible, too--we wanted to celebrate our area farmers."

All of the elements chosen to adorn the outdoor setting were "simple and elegant," Van Skiver says. Under a canopy of trees beside a lake, a single 60-foot-long table was built to accommodate all of the dinner guests, with one tablecloth stretching from end to end. Fresh-cut tree trunk circles served as chargers at each place setting and were topped with minimalistic white plates. Old blue jars were filled with sunflowers and Queen Anne's lace to serve as simple centerpieces, alongside wire chicken baskets and egg baskets filled with blue, green and brown eggs laid at a nearby farm. Wired burlap streamers, fairy lights, and iron candelabra completed the dinner table decor, which Van Skiver brought to life along with fellow club members Joy Aden, Susan Hill, and Dottie Donaldson.

Lights were strung from the trees, and an uplight illuminated a backdrop composed of a railing made from fallen tree branches and an old door upon which all of the dinner vendors' names were inscribed. An antique International Harvester truck was parked nearby, tailgate down to serve as a bucolic beverage station.

Members Pat Cothren and Susan Hill arranged flowers around the scene, including moss-covered pots bursting with sunflowers, Queen Anne's lace, and fresh greenery from the farm atop tall tree stumps on the ends of the serving table. The farm-to-table menu was displayed in an assortment of copper, white and McCarty Pottery pieces, plus cast-iron skillets for classic country cornbread. The rest of the menu included heirloom tomatoes from Flora served with cucumbers and basil-herb vinaigrette, pork tenderloin with blueberry barbecue sauce (the blueberries having been picked from a member's bushes), succotash, and two kinds of cobbler--a savory collard green cobbler and a sweet peach cobbler made with Chilton County peaches.

The one hitch in the party planning happened the day before the event, when Van Skiver ran out to stop a dog from chasing her new chickens and in the process broke an ankle. But the camaraderie of the group kept the preparations from coming to a halt. "Everybody stepped in to help," she says.

That same camaraderie was on full display the following evening, when Van Skiver paused to be fully present in the midst of all the merriment.

"I remember looking up from the table and seeing all of the members and their guests laughing and having fun," Van Skiver recalls. "The scene was framed by two American flags flying from the trees at the end of the table. It was really a special moment."
COLLARD GREEN COBBLER

BISCUITS:

    1 cup flour
  1/2 cup coarse yellow cornmeal
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    1 teaspoon sugar
  1/2 teaspoon salt
    3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
  3/4 cup half-and-half

In food processor, place dry ingredients and pulse. Add butter and
pulse until mixture resembles small peas. Add half-and-half and
pulse again until dough comes together. Transfer to a lightly
floured work surface and knead 2 to 3 times. Flatten dough
slightly, roll it out to a 10-inch square, and cut into squares (or
circles). Refrigerate on baking sheet until ready to bake cobbler.

COLLARDS:

1/2 pound slab bacon, cut into Vi-inch sticks
  1 large Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
  2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  4 ounces spicy sausage, halved lengthwise and cut into
    1/4-inch slices
  1 quart chicken stock, divided
  4 pounds collard greens, thick stems and inner ribs removed,
    cut into 1-inch ribbons
  1 cup plus 2 tablespoons half-and-half, divided
  2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in % cup water
  Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large pot, cook bacon over moderate heat until golden and fat
is rendered. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a plate.
Discard all but 1 tablespoon fat. Add onion and garlic and cook
until softened. Add cooked bacon, sausage, and 3 cups stock and
bring to a boil over high heat. Add collards in 3 batches, stirring
so each batch wilts before adding more. Cover and simmer over low
heat until very tender (30 or so minutes).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add 1 cup half-and-half and remaining
1 cup stock to collards and bring back to a boil. Stir in
cornstarch slurry and cook until thickened (2 to 3 minutes).
Transfer collards to a large ceramic baking dish. Top with biscuit
squares, overlapping slightly. Brush with remaining 2 tablespoons
half-and-half. Season biscuits with salt and pepper, and bake for
50 minutes or until greens are bubbling and biscuits are golden.
Let stand for 20 minutes before serving.

Note: To make ahead, prepare collards and biscuits and refrigerate
separately. Assemble and bake as above.


photography by grant gilmore

Caption: CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Dishes like succotash made the most of local farm-to-table ingredients. Kay and Wade Van Skiver in the field. Collard greens and other menu items were served buffet style atop platforms made of tree trunk circles. The meal's main dish, sliced pork tenderloin, was served with a sauce made using a member's homegrown blueberries.
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Title Annotation:FOOD & ENTERTAINING: Southern Soirees
Author:Bozeman, Kelli
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:May 1, 2017
Words:1047
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