Of all the strange things for a kid to remember, the childhood taste that Jay Carter still craves is Peetie Davant’s mayonnaise.
He didn’t even like store-bought mayonnaise as a kid.
“But I loved Peetie’s. Her mayonnaise was my original comfort food. I remember having to sneak a mayonnaise sandwich, before dinner.”
Fifty years ago, the Carters and the Davants were neighbors on Sharon Avenue. The kids were all about the same age, so they ran back and forth through the woods between the houses, getting underfoot in each other’s kitchens.
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Peetie is Ann Wescott Woodall Davant. But she’s been called Peetie by everyone since she was a baby. She’s 86 now, and lives in Aldersgate.
She was a well-known cook in her day: Her recipes are all over the 1974 “Nature Museum Cookbook,” a dog-earred relic that’s still in her daughter Ann Crehore’s kitchen on Clarice Avenue in Elizabeth. Chicken bog, spaghetti sauce, caramel icing.
But mayonnaise was Peetie’s thing. When she was growing up in Warrenton, about 60 miles northeast of Raleigh, making mayonnaise was something her family always did.
“I just watched Mama do it,” she remembers. “When you made mayonnaise, you didn’t have electric mixers, you had the old hand-crank beaters. So it took two people, one to crank the beater and one to drip the oil in.”
When she moved to Charlotte in 1956 to be a schoolteacher, her mother sent her off with a little one-beater electric mixer, so she could still make mayonnaise.
After she got married and started raising three kids, she never bought mayonnaise in a jar. She made it, always with an electric hand mixer. The kids would lick the beaters the way other kids licked the beaters for cake.
Carter is 56 now, an investment banker in Charlotte. But he still misses Peetie’s mayonnaise. So on a Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, everybody got together at Crehore’s house for a mayonnaise lesson.
They set up Peetie in the breakfast nook with Jay and his notebook across the table. All the ingredients were ready – olive oil, eggs, a bowl of lemons, yellow mustard, Tabasco, a round box of Morton’s salt. And an electric mixer, of course.
Carter showed Peetie’s granddaughter, Ella McLeod Davant, 6 1/2, how to juice a lemon. Peetie carefully cracked and separated two eggs, putting the yolks in a 2-cup Pyrex mixer with a little salt and lemon juice. Sitting down, it was hard to handle the oil and the mixer, so Peetie’s son Wescott held the mixer while she slowly dripped in a cup of oil.
She beat in a teaspoon of mustard, several healthy shakes of Tabasco, a little more lemon juice and one of the egg whites, watching and fretting while it all came together in a thick, yellow spread.
After Peetie tasted it, smacking her lips and declaring it ready, Jay Carter got a beater to lick. And he got to slather a slice of bread with mayonnaise, fold it half and eat it in a couple of hearty bites.
“Now I understand why Peetie would get upset when we ate all her mayonnaise,” he said. “This is a lot of work.”