By Lydia Bolen

I grew up in Southwest Mississippi in the 1950s and 60s. What to serve at an afternoon club meeting was always discussed for weeks before my mother or my grandmother were to be a hostess. Memories of tomato aspic, creamed chicken on toast points, cheese wafers, frozen fruit salad, and pecan tassies are some of my most vivid ones.

Today ladies continue to gather for garden club, bridge and various book club luncheons. Menus are still planned ahead and very much anticipated. Lunch menus haven’t changed much since my grandmother’s day—there are just easier ways to reinvent old family favorites.

A refreshing new menu can be tarragon chicken salad, easy tomato salad, and vanilla tarts topped with fresh seasonal fruit. Delicious cheese biscuits are a nice accompaniment to this luncheon. I love the easy Red Lobster biscuit mix found at local groceries.

Enjoy this new twist on older favorites!


Tomato Salad


  • 1 can (16 oz.) stewed or whole tomatoes
  • 1 package sugar-free lemon Jello
  • 3 drops Tabasco sauce
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 /3 cup water
  • 1 /2 cup celery, finely chopped

In a 1-quart saucepan, bring tomatoes to the boil. Reduce heat to low and add Jello. Stir until dissolved.

Remove from heat and stir in Tabasco, lemon juice, water, and celery.

Pour into individual molds that are lightly greased, or an 8 x 8 inch or 9 x 9 inch pan.

Chill several hours or overnight.

To serve, remove from molds or cut into squares from the pan. Place each serving on lettuce and put a dollop of mayonnaise on top.

Serves 6. Can double.

(Adapted from my aunt, Frances Massey Watkins)


Chicken Salad


  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 /4 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 /2 to 1 cup mayonnaise (Add amount according to the desired consistency.)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped or 1 and 1 /2 teaspoons dried
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 4 cups cooked chicken breasts, chopped
  • 1 and 1 /2 cups diced Granny Smith apples
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 1 /4 cup red onion, finely chopped

Melt butter in skillet over medium to low heat. Add pecans, and cook, stirring constantly until toasted and fragrant.

Whisk together mayonnaise, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Stir in chicken and rest of ingredients until blended. Add salt and ground pepper to taste.

Cover and chill 2 to 24 hours. Stir in toasted pecans just before serving.

Sprinkle top of each serving with remaining pecans.

Makes 6 cups


Vanilla Tarts


  • 2 /3 cup sugar
  • 1 /4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 and 1 /2 cups buttermilk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
  • 1 (8 or 10 oz.) package frozen tart shells
  • Toppings: Seasonal fresh fruit

Whisk together sugar and flour in a heavy saucepan. Add buttermilk and eggs; whisk until blended.

Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until a pudding-like thickness. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla bean paste. Cover and chill 4 to 24 hours.

Bake frozen tart shells according to package directions. Cool completely. Spoon custard into tart shells, and top with seasonal fresh fruit before serving.

Makes 8 tarts.