For a woman in the food business who has a fine reputation as a cook and hostess, June Jackson is remarkably casual about food.
"I've never found a chocolate mousse to compare with a hot fudge sundae," she declares. "That's my favorite dessert in all the world." A three-hour dinner at a fancy restaurant leaves her feeling "too much of the evening has been taken up with food. I'd much rather go to the ballet."
Her own food products the Charge d' Affaires line of six dips and spreads, are sold here at Bloomingdale's, MacArthur Liquors and in three other cities. Making food as a business enterprise is something she undertook only recently though. Most of her life cooking has been part of social interchange, of entertaining people while being entertained herself.
"Food has always meant company to me," she said over a luncheon in her home last week. "Talking and visiting are the most important reasons for coming together, but too many hostesses let food become the guest of honor. I'd rather fix something I'm comfortable with."
When company comes that may be shrimp creole, a dish from her native Louisiana, or a curry with condiments. Chances are the meal will be served buffet-style, which she feels is more "free-flowing and relaxing" than table service.
"The worst dinners in Washington," she observed, "are those based on obligation. The hostess tries to follow the rules,' to have a 'perfect' centerpiece and a 'perfect' rack of lamb. If she's scared of failure, the guests - who aren't really her friends - will sense it and become uncomfortable. "To me, the objective of entertaining is not perfection, but rather conviviality."
There is a good deal of merit to her view that hostesses and hosts, who cook should relax rather than agonize lest the food not carry the event. In her own case, as she readily admits, the way was eased by a childhood interest she was allowed to follow.
"I had lots of freedom to use the kitchen," she said. "Mom hated to cook and I was an only child. It was no fun at Thanksgiving when just the three of us would have a small chicken instead of a turkey, but other times our house was a gathering place. There were lots of people around and we had to feed them, so I would help out.
"As a child I was entranced by corn bread and pound cakes. What made all those ingredients change form and taste so good? It was almost a chemistry sort of thing. Even then, the appeal was almost more working with food than eating it. Colors are so important. To me arranging food on a plate or platter is a thrill.It's most like working with oils on a canvas."
The center piece of Jackson's meal, a still-life, was a composed salad platter which featured whole shrimps, boneless chicken pieces, baby okra, mushrooms, cucumber slices. Underneath there was the green of soft lettuce, while the red of tomato slices, the white and gold of hard cooked egg halves and sprigs of purple basil from the garden contributed to the decorative effect. Its beauty was too good to last and indeed serving spoons, seemingly of their own accord, did considerable damage. The salad was was replaced in time by a fresh peach half topped with a discreet amount of vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce. The strong and savory coffee at meal's end came from Louisiana
Along the way there was an opportunity to taste Jackson's croissants and Le Popeye, one of her products. It is a mild, very tasty spinach-based spread seasoned with scallions and herbs. Hostesses use it as a dip with raw vegetables or as a stuffing for rolled-up finger sandwiches.
The other products she makes are Garlic Galore, cheddar cheese flavored with lots of you-know-what; a basic cheddar spread; Blue Velvet, a blue cheese spread that is formed into a log and covered with nuts; Caviart, lumpfish roe plus cream cheese and sour cream, and - for the holidays - cranberry chutney. Some or all of them have been sold here; in Wilmington, Del.; Stowe, Vt., and New Orleans.
Her cottage industry didn't evolve until recently. After moving to the area, she taught school in Montgomery County for several years, worked for the Arena State Associates' newsletter, raised two children - now 11 and 8 - and appeared on WETA-TV in an interview show called "The Collector's Angle."
Jackson had often helped friends make meals and then taken part as a guest. Two years ago one of them asked her to cook a dinner "for money" instead. Reluctantly, she did. The next day one of the pleased guests phoned with a job offer and she soon found herself catering regularly. "I didn't intend to wind up in food," she said. "But it is such an immediate source of income. The phone would ring and I'd say okay. I spent Christmas day baking for someone else's dinner party. By the summer I'd worked myself into a funk."
Vowing "never to cut another cauliflower or carrot for a vegetable tray," she became a supplier, providing quantities of croissants or a quart of her spinach dressing on order. Jackson's arrangement with Bloomingdale's came about through a chance conversation with the manager of the food department at Tyson's Corner one day last fall. She had gone in search of a Famous Amos cookie and came away with an agreement that the manager would sample her products. By December they were on sale.
As it has turned out, different spreads are popular in different locales. Garlic Galore is the number one seller in New Orleans. Here it is Le Popeye.
At home June Jackson finds inspiration in Louisiana regional cookbooks such as "River Road Recipes" (Baton Rouge Junior League) and "Cotton Country Collection" (Monroe YWCA). One also finds a vivid example of her approach to cooking on the kitchen bookshelf. Standing side-by-side are "The Art of Williamsburg Cookery" and "The New Joys of Jello."
Here are several of her favorities. The oysters Rockefeller and shrimp creole are from "River Road Recipes." The turkey curry is from "Helen Corbett Cooks for Company." CRIMSON CHERRY DESSERT (8 servings) 1 cup sugar 1 tablespoon melted butter 1 egg 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 cup flour 1 teaspoon salt 1 can (16 ounces) sour pitted cherries with juice Sugar in an amount to cherry juice 1/2 cup pecans or walnuts 1 tablespoon cornstarch Whipped or sour cream for topping
Combine 1 cup sugar, butter and egg in a mixing bowl. Sift soda, flour and salt together and add to mixture.
Add drained cherries to mixture reserving the juice; and nuts. Bake in an 8-by-8-inch pan at 350 degrees for 1 hour.
While dessert is baking, combine juice from cherries with an equal amount of sugar, plus cornstarch. Cook in a saucepan over low heat until thick.
To serve, cut dessert into squares, pour sauce over each square and top with whipping cream or sour cream. OYSTERS ROCKEFELLER (4 servings) 4 dozen oysters and shells 1 bunch green onions 1 stalk celery 1 bunch parsley 1/2 teaspoon anise seed 2 packages frozen spinach, cooked 1 1/2 pounds melted butter 1/2 cup bread crumbs (toasted) 2 ounces Worcestershire sauce 1 ounce licorice-flavored liqueur, such as Anisette or Pernod Rock salt Salt and pepper to taste Cayenne pepper to taste
Grind all greens in blender, using melted butter as liquid. Then add bread crumbs, Worcestershire, liqueur, salt, pepper and cayenne. Place oysters in half shells and place in pans filled with rock salt. Place in oven without sauce at 375 degrees. When edges curl (about 5 minutes) remove and pour water from each shell. Then cover each oyster with sauce and put back under broiler and brown slightly. SHRIMP ALA CREOLE (10 to 12 servings) 4 pounds large shrimp 3/4 cup salad oil 3 tablespoons flour 1 bunch green onions or 1 large onion 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste 4 green bell peppers 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste 2 teaspoons black pepper
Clean shrimp and boil 5 minutes, saving stock. Using an iron skillet, make a roux by heating oil and mixing in flour, stirring constantly until well browned. Add onion and brown slightly. Add shrimp, salt and pepper. Stir until shrimp are coated with roux and none of the roux and onion sticks to skillet. Add tomato paste and green peppers. Stir 15 minutes over moderate heat. Pour in 1 cup of hot shrimp stock and cook 15 minutes over moderate heat. Cook 1 hour slowly, and add more salt and pepper if desired. Serve over rice.
Note: Unlike fresh Louisiana shrimp, frozen shrimp may toughen on long cooking. You may want to set them aside after they are boiled and add to the dish at the end only long enough to warm though. CURRY OF SMOKED TURKEY (8 to 12 servings) 1/2 cup butter 1/2 cup minced onion 1 clove garlic, crushed 3 to 4 tablespoons curry powder, heated in a skillet before using 1/2 cup flour 4 cups milk, half and half or chicken consumme 3 to 4 pounds smoked turkey, cut in large dice (unsmoked, cooked turkey will do) Salt and cayenne pepper to taste 1/4 cup dry sherry
Melt butter, add onion and garlic and cook until yellow, but not brown. Add curry powder, cook 2 minutes; add flour, cook until foamy. Remove garlic. Pour in milk, cook and stir with a wire whisk until thickened. Add the turkey, heat and then season with salt and cayenne pepper. (Smoked turkey is salted, so do not salt the sauce before adding the turkey.) Add sherry. Keep hot over hot water or cool and reheat.
Peaches dusted lightly with flour and sauteed in butter until brown make an attractive condiment. TAPANADE (Makes about 2 1/2 cups) 1 can (6 ounces) pitted black olives, drained 1 jar (3 ounces) capers, drained 1 tin (2 ounces) anchovies, drained 1/4 cup olive oil Black pepper to taste 1 clove garlic, peeled Breadcrumbs
Put all ingredients except breadcrumbs in a blender.Puree.
Use as a dip for vegetables or with oysters in the following manner:
Plump 1 quart oysters in 1/2-stick butter and transfer to a 1-quart ramekin, the bottom of which has been generously covered with breadcrumbs. Reduce oyster liqueur by 2/3 and pour over oysters and breadcrumbs. Spread tapanade over oysters and bake in a preheated, 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. Serves 8 as first course. SOMETIMES PERFECT CHOCOLATE CAKE 2 cups granulated sugar 2 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup water 1/2 cup vegetable shortening or oil 1 stick (4 ounces) butter 3 tablespoons (heaping) cocoa 2 eggs, well beaten 1/2 cup buttermilk or soured milk 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
Mix sugar, flour and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
Place water, shortening, butter and cocoa in a saucepan and bring almost to a boil. Combine dried mixture with boiled mixture. Stir soda into buttermilk. Add to batter with beaten eggs and mix well. Add vanilla and coffee granules and mix again. Pour into a greased 11-by-15-inch baking pan or two 8-inch-round cake pans.Bake 25 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
During final 5 minutes of baking prepare icing. As soon as cake comes from oven pour icing evenly over surface. Let cool in pan before slicing. Always Perfect Chocolate Icing 1 stick (4 ounces) butter 3 heaping tablespoons cocoa 6 tablespoons evaporated milk 1 pound confectioners' sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 tablespoon instant coffee granules 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnut or pecan halves
Mix butter, cocoa, coffee and milk in a saucepan. Stir over low flame until butter is melted. Off the heat, add confectioners' sugar, vanilla and nuts. Mix thoroughly. Pour over hot cake as soon as it comes from the oven.