Most brides say they couldn’t eat a thing at their wedding reception, but I was not one of them—in fact, the food was so delicious, so absolutely right, it was one of the things I remember most clearly about the day. Sam does, too.
We were married 16 years ago at my stepmother’s low, rambling house in Savannah. The ceremony took place in the early evening and outside, overlooking the salt marsh, which was as magical as it sounds.
My stepmother, Ann Marshall, and I first bonded over the fact that we had both lost our mothers at a young age. That was one of many things we had in common, and it was a huge relief to have her help in planning such a life-changing event. A month or so earlier, we’d met with the caterers—four women who, as Convention Consultants, graciously welcomed hundreds of visitors to Savannah every year. We wanted them to see the size of the kitchen (small, narrow, and open to the dining room) and get the lay of the land. This wasn’t to be a society wedding, we stressed, but an intimate one in a charming, rustic setting. Rather than a formal reception afterward, Sam and I wanted a cocktail hour that would segue easily into a buffet supper. The Unflappable Four—Mary Ann Smith, Jane Mayo, Laura Wimbish, and Mary Burnett—mentally recalibrated the number of silver trays they would need, and were off and running. The conversation ebbed and flowed, and with all the moonlight-and-magnolia accents, it was difficult to tell who was speaking.
“What about some wonderful garden roses?”
“What we need to hide the kitchen is a screen. Who’s got one?”
“We know someone who can bake the wedding cake. She not only comes highly recommended, but she’s a lifelong friend of your stepsister Ruthie! They went to Country Day together.”
“What about some heirloom peaches, from upcountry?”
“That’s a great idea. We’ll serve them alongside the cake, in a cut-glass bowl. I’ll bring the syllabub spoon.”
“You’ll want rosemary in your bouquet, for remembrance.”
The menu included country-ham biscuits and the little tomato sandwiches, cut into half moons, that in Savannah grace almost every summer reception or party. There was salmon, beef tenderloin with soft rolls and various sauces, hot Georgia pecan spread, Vidalia onion cheese puffs, and lots and lots of Champagne and rosé. The cake, a sour cream pound cake, was shot through with orange and almond and frosted with almond buttercream. The peaches were so juicy and had such a deep, resonant sweetness that the last-minute idea of “bourbonating” them was scratched. Why mess with perfection?
The cocktail nibble that Sam especially loved was the shrimp butter, a variation on shrimp paste, a smooth, suave potted meat traditionally made with the small inlet shrimp of the Lowcountry. This sort of thing makes a delicious filling for tea sandwiches, and as Damon Lee Fowler wrote in Classical Southern Cooking, its richness translates nicely to a modern cocktail hour. And, I might add, to a honeymoon breakfast the next morning.
Every so often, Sam gets wistful about shrimp butter, but I’m sorry to say that it never occurred to me that I could make some until just the other day. I don’t have access to those delicate inlet shrimp, but still … what a fun, unexpected anniversary treat. In no time, I found myself on the phone, first with Jane Mayo and then with Mary Ann Smith. They’ve been serving shrimp butter now for 25 years, Mary Ann wrote in a follow-up email. “Happy Anniversary to you and Sam!!!” Maybe next year, we’ll celebrate in Savannah.
Adapted from Jane Mayo, Savannah, Georgia
I’ve added nothing to this recipe, but I did tweak it a bit: I used shallot instead of onion, because that is what I had on hand, and I like its subtle yet intense sweetness. I also bumped up the amount of shrimp, but didn’t go overboard with the garlic or Worcestershire sauce; those seasonings should amplify the other flavors without imposing their own. I’d forgotten that hard-boiled eggs, chopped very fine, were an ingredient, but that makes sense if you think about what a mimosa topping does for a salad dressing—the egg absorbs it and gives it a velvety body. As far as the shrimp go, I buy certified wild American shrimp unless I’m in a place where I know they’re local; you can read about how I like to cook them here, but forgo any Old Bay seasoning. If you chop the cooked shrimp in a food processor, take care not to overprocess them into a smooth paste; you want a more nubbly texture. And although the recipe can easily be halved, I decided against it: The leftovers will be a great excuse for a party.
½ cup mayonnaise
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 shakes Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons finely minced shallot or onion
2 hard-boiled eggs, very finely chopped or pushed through a sieve
A generous ¾ pound small to medium shrimp, cooked, peeled, deveined, and finely chopped (see above note)
Water crackers, Melba toast rounds, or toast points, for serving
1. Beat together the mayonnaise, butter, cream cheese, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, garlic, and shallot in a bowl with an electric mixer.
2. Stir in the eggs and shrimp. Transfer to a serving bowl or crock, cover, and refrigerate until cold. Serve with crackers or toasts. Shrimp butter can be made up to a day ahead; before serving, remove from the fridge and let soften until spreadable.