We chatted with Alexe van Beuren and Dixie Grimes, authors of The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook, about their new book, the recipes, the store, and the community of Water Valley, Mississippi. Find out a little more about them in this extended cut of our interview that appears in our July/August issue. And don’t forget to try their Peach Icebox Pie.
Dixie Grimes attributes fate and avoidance of an SEC football season for bringing her and Alexe van Beuren together at the B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery Store in Water Valley, Mississippi. Intending to return to Oxford once the football crowd thinned, Dixie, an experience chef, stopped in on a hurried Alexe and couldn’t even get her name out before being put to work at the deli’s meat slicer. Between Alexe’s passion for produce and Dixie’s Southern food know-how, the B.T.C. thrived. At just under 20 miles from Oxford, Water Valley, Mississippi, is a hop, skip, and a world away. Boasting a population of fewer than 3,500, Water Valley has a slower pace, and the community likes it that way. When they were approached to write a cookbook, Alexe and Dixie were eager to showcase Water Valley, and really good, homemade food. The end result is The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook, in which they share a slice of Southern food and culture.
Alexe writes about how people say the B.T.C. revived Water Valley, but in reality, Water Valley revives the people who live and work there. Tell us about this?
Dixie: People want to say that we brought Water Valley back, and that’s not true. Things were already going on here; things were already in motion. It just all came together at the right time, and we live a life here that, quite frankly, most people don’t get to live.
Is the B.T.C. a gathering spot?
Alexe: Saturday mornings at the B.T.C. are breakfast-themed versions of Cheers. Everybody knows everybody, and almost everybody will be here next Saturday. I think it’s a place where most people feel comfortable. It’s not a place to be seen, or a status place at all. Mostly, I just think they’re happy that we’re here and serving a quality of food not often found in small towns.
Is it difficult to satisfy your wide range of customers?
Alexe: We have a really diverse menu, and I can tell there are times when people start reading it and they think, “A $4 ham and Swiss sandwich. Really?” And I think, “You haven’t gotten to the part that’s for you yet!” We’ve got something for our everyday customers for sure—those are always our priority—but visitors can find some things that they are happy about as well.
What is a town favorite that will never leave the menu?
Dixie: I cook the Vegetable Beef Soup with Butter Beans year-round. I use whatever is fresh, so when the vegetables start coming in, I have guys pulling up to our door with a truckload of black-eyed peas or butter beans. I buy vegetables from local farmers, and it’s a badge of honor for them. They love to come in and ask, “How’s the soup?” And have somebody say, “Oh, it’s the best I’ve ever had!” The farmers will respond, “Well, those are my butter beans that I grew down the road!”
What summer dish are you most looking forward to?
Dixie: I cannot wait for watermelon to come in so I can make our Watermelon Salad. It has feta cheese, cucumber, and red onion, and it gets drizzled with a thick and yummy balsamic reduction. But it’s all about the watermelon—local Mississippi watermelon.
How do you infuse Mississippi food traditions into your dishes?
Dixie: My roots are Deep South, obviously, and some of my fondest memories as a child are Sunday dinners. Growing up, everything was home-cooked. Everything. These days, everything comes out of a box, and that kills me. I feel like the love and fellowship that comes with your family sitting down for one meal together has been lost. It’s a way to show love. So, whether I’m cooking in a five-star restaurant or I’m making sandwiches, I always try to make it as Southern and as traditional as possible.
Tell us a little more about the Peach Icebox Pie and Honey Pecan Catfish:
Alexe: Icebox pie is something I had never heard of before I moved to Mississippi, but it makes sense. It’s a pie you can make without turning on the oven. Lemon icebox pie is the classic, but we get some really good peaches in this part of the world during the summer.
Dixie: I was tired of seeing fried catfish on a plate. Don’t get me wrong, I love fried catfish, but this recipe was a way to kick it up a notch. You basically make a marinade, and cook it in the marinade, so the average home cook that may not cook on a regular basis can pull it out and wow everyone at a dinner party.
What was your motivation behind writing this cookbook?
Dixie: Well, it was a way to showcase Mississippi. And it was a way to specifically showcase Water Valley, Mississippi. Mississippi is a beautiful state, and we love it. I love it.
How do you celebrate Mississippi and Southern traditions in the cookbook?
Alexe: I think Mississippi is a little bit of an enigma to the rest of the country. I think in a way, the cookbook reads like a guide on what it’s like to live in a small Mississippi town through the eyes of someone who did not grow up with that.
What sets the B.T.C. cookbook apart from others?
Alexe: I think there is a larger volume of story and a sense of place. Shouldn’t food be about community and place just as much as it is about food? I think it should be.
Dixie: These days, people are more concerned with a fancy plate than with good food. One of the things I pride myself on as the chef here at the B.T.C. is that I make everything from scratch. I don’t open cans. I don’t buy premade soups. I’m giving people recipes that are going to remind them of the elders in their family: their mothers, aunts, or grandparents. I don’t think you get that in your average cookbook.
What do you hope will come from this cookbook?
Dixie: I hope it will allow Water Valley to grow in the direction it needs to grow and that it will encourage people to move here, buy a house, start a family, and maybe start a business. We need local businesses where the money that you spend goes back into the community. We love our community. That’s the bottom line.
Recipe and photos adapted with permission from The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook by Alexe Van Beuren with recipes by Dixie Grimes, (Clarkson Potter, 2014)
Photography Courtesy of Ed Anderson