On the afternoon of August 16, 1977, my dad and I were in his blue Ford Maverick, driving on Loop 340 from our house in Bellmead to Timber Crest Baptist Church. It was a Tuesday, so we were probably going to the church to make sure it was ready for Wednesday night activities. For a couple of years Dad was the part-time janitor at our church, and I was his (sometimes willing) volunteer helper.
That’s when we heard on the radio the news out of Memphis, Tennessee: Elvis had died. I don’t remember Dad’s reaction, but I know it made me pretty sad, even though I was too young to have experienced the height of Elvis’ popularity. The Elvis I knew was the one who wore bejeweled jumpsuits during his concerts as he played sold-out shows. The one concert that sticks out in my mind from that era was from January 1973, “Aloha From Hawaii.”
A concert film that had been released in November of the previous year, “Elvis on Tour,” had been nominated for a Golden Globe. The accompanying soundtrack was selling well, and Elvis lost 25 pounds in preparation for the Hawaii broadcast. He was confident going into the show, which would eventually be seen by nearly 2 billion people around the world.
A tanned, trim Elvis sang 22 songs during the show, which I remember watching with Dad, at his encouragement. He introduced me to Elvis that night, which is why, last summer, I got a little teary-eyed visiting Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi. It wasn’t very crowded on the late Sunday afternoon we arrived. The house and church on the grounds were already closed for the day (we went back on Monday for the full tour), but we walked around and took pictures and read about the Presley family’s time in Mississippi. Bordering the sidewalk on the property are many small in-ground plaques commemorating significant events in Elvis’ life — his birth, starting school, moving to Memphis, things like that. It was when I read the plaque that talked about his death that I became emotional, thinking back to the experience I shared with John T. on that hot August day.
Later this month thousands upon thousands of Elvis fans will make their way to 3734 Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis to celebrate Elvis Week at Graceland, the annual tribute to The King that’s organized by Elvis Presley Enterprises. (The $395 all-access pass is already sold out; tickets to the more than 25 events throughout the week are priced from $10 to $70.) And since we won’t be joining the faithful at Graceland, we can still celebrate by cooking up some of Elvis’ favorite foods. A recent search on Amazon revealed 16 different cookbooks based on that theme.
Of course, when most folks think of Elvis and food, a peanut butter and banana sandwich comes to mind. Both of the Elvis-based cookbooks we own (of course, we own Elvis cookbooks!) contain slightly different versions of the PB&B recipe, and recipes in other books call for the addition of honey and bacon.
In the well-done biography “Elvis and Gladys,” author Elaine Dundy twice talks about Elvis’ appetite for the sandwich, at one point mentioning the occasions when he was “ceaselessly wolfing down the mashed bananas, peanut butter and bacon sandwiches she made him,” and later “at home, sandwich after sandwich of his favorite — peanut butter, sliced bananas and crisp bacon.”
Elvis’ appetite for the sandwich wasn’t that prodigious, according to another source.
“‘He didn’t eat that many,’ grumps Joe Esposito,” in Pamela Clarke Keogh’s book “Elvis Presley: The Man. The Life. The Legend.” Esposito continues, “‘They make it sound like that was all he ever ate! That peanut butter and banana sandwich was a treat for him once in a while. He didn’t eat five or six of them, he ate one — they’re very filling.’”
Of course, Esposito was also Elvis’ road manager and bodyguard, so he may have just been protecting the boss.
Besides the infamous sandwich, Elvis’ tastes — at least in food — were pretty tame.
“He just ate regular home-cooked food,” Mary Jenkins, a longtime cook at Graceland, said in “The Presley Family & Friends Cookbook” by Donna Presley Early. “He liked fresh vegetables for his dinner — creamed potatoes, string beans, mixed vegetables.”
And Elvis was especially fond of Jenkins’ collard greens and cornbread. She went on to say that Elvis’ favorite desserts were banana pudding, caramel cake and lemon icebox pie. We shared our go-to banana pudding recipe in the April 2015 edition of the Wacoan. It’s online if perchance you don’t save every magazine that comes into your house. (We’re not the only ones who do that, right?) Instead of white bread, we gussied up our Elvis sandwich using cinnamon swirl bread, made from the recipe below.
Peanut Butter, Banana and Bacon Sandwich
- 2 slices cinnamon swirl bread (recipe follows)
- Peanut butter
- Crisp bacon
Spread as much peanut butter as you like on one slice of the cinnamon swirl bread. In a small bowl, mash up the banana and spread it on top of the peanut butter. (Or thinly slice the banana instead of mashing.) Add a couple of pieces of bacon and place the other bread slice on top, pressing down gently.
Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add a bit of butter and let it melt. Grill the sandwich until it’s golden on one side, flip it, add more butter if needed and grill until the other side is done to your liking. Makes 1 awesome sandwich, thank ya’ very much.
Cinnamon Swirl Bread
- 1 1/3 cups white sugar, divided
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 cup milk
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
Heat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
In a small bowl, mix together 1/3 cup sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and 1 cup sugar. In a small bowl, combine egg, milk and oil. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and stir until just moistened.
Pour half the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with half the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Repeat with the remaining batter and cinnamon sugar. Draw a knife through the batter to create a marble pattern, if desired.
Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing. Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. Makes 1 loaf.
Down Home Collard Greens
- 1 head collard greens
- 1 ham hock (or 3-4 slices uncooked bacon, cut into large pieces)
- Pepper vinegar
Thoroughly wash the collard greens in a colander. Rinse and chop the greens into 1-inch pieces.
Place the ham hock in a large pot, add water to cover and add a pinch of pepper. Bring to a boil. Add the collard greens and cook until they’re limp. Serve with pepper vinegar on the side. Makes 4-6 servings.
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2-3/4 teaspoon salt, to taste
- 1 1/4 cups milk
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1 large egg
Heat oven to 375 F. Lightly grease a 9-inch square or round pan or a cast-iron skillet or 12 muffin cups.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In another bowl, whisk together the milk, melted butter and egg. Pour the liquid all at once into the flour mixture, stirring quickly and gently until just combined.
Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the edges just begin to pull away from the pan and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before cutting and serve warm. Makes 8-12 servings.
Lemon Icebox Pie
- 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 10-12 whole crackers)
- 1/4 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
- 1/2 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
In a medium bowl, mix together the crust ingredients. Press evenly into an ungreased 9-inch pie plate. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
For the filling, in a large bowl, beat together the filling ingredients until smooth. Spread evenly into the pie crust. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours but no longer than 8 hours. Serve with whipped cream, if desired. Makes 8 servings.