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Shop Mississippi Businesses for Gifts and Food This Christmas

We’re entering the Christmas season, so I’ll try to be nice, not naughty. But I can’t share holiday gift-giving and entertaining ideas without mentioning my wariness about the growing trend of online shopping. With the click of a keyboard, more of us are sending our money out of state to, many times, mammoth businesses who most likely aren't sure where Mississippi is located.

The thought of our retail stores and shops disappearing and our country becoming a sea of delivery trucks and discarded brown boxes is alarming. I enjoy saving money, but is the $5 or $10 I save by ordering from a massive online company worth it? Have I become so lazy that I prefer to sit and wait for a package to be delivered to my door instead of taking a few minutes to drop in to a local store to invest my money right where I can see it? Those are the questions I’ve been asking myself lately.

Many are even purchasing groceries online and while I understand the convenience, as a former grocery chain employee, it's a trend that saddens me. Full disclosure: I really enjoy shopping at actual “brick and mortar” stores. Retail therapy is one of my favorite past times, especially at Christmas. But, I really do feel good knowing I’m supporting businesses that in turn, support Mississippi families and our state.

As shopping season is officially underway, let’s not forget the business owners and in essence, our communities, cities and towns, that depend on our business. I can’t think of a better way to illustrate my point than to highlight the Mississippi businesses represented at the Junior League of Jackson’s recent Mistletoe Marketplace. Besides creating a wonderful event that attracts hundreds of visitors to Jackson, the proceeds from Mistletoe – over $1 million in 2016 and possibly more this year – help thousands of deserving Mississippians, ranging from sick babies at UMMC to underprivileged school children to programs and services for the elderly.

As you begin making your gift and entertaining shopping list, consider patronizing these and other Mississippi businesses. Many are open late for shoppers’ convenience and have websites or 800-numbers for online shopping.

Happy shopping, everyone!

MeMaw’s Cheese Straws – Who doesn’t love homemade cheese straws, especially if they’re made with a special MeMaw’s secret recipe? Headquartered in Yazoo City, MeMaw's ships its signature cheese straws, sugar cookies and “trash” mix to gift shops around the state. To learn about the availability of these crispy, cheesy bites of goodness and MeMaw’s other products, call 662-571-6805 or email

J. Olive Co. –Many physicians tout the benefits of following a Mediterranean diet filled with fruits, vegetables and olive oil. If that’s true, J. Olive can get you started and then some. With convenient locations in Ridgeland, Oxford, and Hattiesburg, J. Olive’s fragrant shops are filled with a variety of flavor-infused olive oils, balsamic and gourmet vinegars, and related specialty items, including dips, spreads, rubs, and salts. One of my favorite items is J. Olive’s Fruit Infusion Flavor Bottle. It makes drinking the recommended daily amount of water much more pleasant. Call 601-850-3860 for more information, or shop online at

Apple Annie’s – A longtime staple at Mistletoe and on my shopping list, Apple Annie’s stocks a multitude of food and Christmas gift items that won’t break anyone’s budget. It’s hard to play favorites, but my must-have item each year is a bag of mulling spices. Combined with apple or cranapple juice, it’s a delicious hot drink that smells like Christmas. Other favorites are cheese ball, crackers, dips, and soup mixes; small ceramic Christmas plates and matching spreaders and colorful Christmas tea towels. With stores in Brandon and Madison, Apple Annie’s has gotten into the online shopping craze. Check out their selection at

Billie’s Pecans and More –When I hear the words, “our homemade peanut brittle won’t break your teeth,” it gets my attention and my business. Besides its delicious candy, Billie’s sells a variety of Mississippi-grown pecans dressed up in the most delightful way. A few favorites are those with cinnamon-sugar, milk chocolate, and amaretto coatings. Pecans are also found in other delicacies like cinnamon pecan coffee cake, pecan sandies, and Southern pecan toffee. Located in Crenshaw, the store offers online ordering at

Ala Carte Alice –Southern Sweet Tea and Apple Pie Moonshine are jelly flavors most have never tried. It’s just one reason to shop at this Louisville business that keeps locals and customers from around the state coming back. Besides its unique jellies, Ala Carte Alice sells brownies and dessert mixes; cheese balls, dips, soups and spreads mixes; meat rubs and other creative food items to spice up your holiday party or serve as a unique gift. For more information, call 662-779-1079 or shop online at

Farmhouse – If you love vintage style décor, Farmhouse in Canton is a must-stop shopping destination. For the foodie on your list or as a treat for yourself, vintage kitchenware and accessories, old-time ceramic mixing bowls and unique serve ware courtesy of Mississippi-made pottery is sure to please. For more information and store hours, call 601-391-3129.

We Will Go Arts – There’s no better time than Christmas to help those in need. Purchasing one of the products produced by We Will Go Ministries, which funds missions and the less fortunate of Jackson, is what the Christmas spirit is all about. Using antique wood from formerly condemned Jackson houses in their hand-crafted products is another goal of this important ministry. Hand-crafted serving trays, wall hangings and trivets are just three of the beautiful items that serve a restorative purpose in more ways than one. To learn more, email Alex McClain at or call 601-398-2410, ext. 3.

Mustard Seed –Another Mistletoe staple anticipated by shoppers each year is The Mustard Seed Gift Shop. A wonderland of handmade ceramic Christmas ornaments, mugs and serving dishes are painstakingly created and painted by adults with developmental disabilities. It’s easy to see the love and care that goes into each item. Even better, all proceeds from gift shop sales are invested back into programs for residents. To check out their shopping hours or to place an order, call the gift shop at 601-992-3556.

Nandy’s Candy – It wouldn’t be Mistletoe or Christmas without the confectionary creations of Jackson’s full-service candy shop. Nandy’s caters to every taste and age group, a goal that's never more evident than during the holidays. It’s the place to go to fill shopping lists for teachers, bosses, and other special people on your list. Homemade candy, fudge of all varieties, and hand-molded chocolate Santas are just a few of the sweet treats at Nandy’s. Shop at the legendary Maywood Mart location in Jackson or online at

Nothing Bundt Cakes – The name says it all. You’ll find nothing but Bundt cakes at this unique shop in Flowood, but you won’t go away mad. Handcrafted Bundt cakes, miniature Bundlets, and bite-sized Bundtinis will deck the halls and the dessert table in the most delicious way. Available in a self-serve container for gift-giving or stuffing a stocking or boxed by the dozen, the unique cakes come in a variety of flavors. Call 769-243-7108 or order online at

Last, everyone knows sweet potatoes are a homegrown product of which Mississippi is justifiably proud. Vardaman is even called the “sweet potato capital of the world.” Besides their value to our state’s agriculture, the humble vegetable morphs into delicious pies. You’ve probably seen singer Patti LaBelle’s boxed sweet potato pies in the supermarket. I was excited to learn she shared the recipe.

If you’re looking for a Thanksgiving dessert or a Christmas gift from the kitchen, you can’t go wrong with Patti’s pie. Made with Mississippi’s finest, of course.

Patti LaBelle’s Sweet Potato Pie

Deep dish pie crust

3 large orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, scrubbed

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs, beaten

1/4 cup half-and-half

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Whipped cream, for serving (optional)

For the filling: Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the sweet potatoes and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the sweet potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, about 30 minutes. Drain and run under cold water until cool enough to handle. Peel the sweet potatoes and place in a medium bowl.

Mash with an electric mixer on medium speed until very smooth. Measure 3 cups mashed sweet potatoes, keeping any extra for another use, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Uncover the pie shell and brush the interior with some of the melted butter. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the brown sugar over the bottom of the pie shell. Bake until the pie dough is set and just beginning to brown, about 15 minutes. If the pie shell puffs, do not prick it.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, using an electric mixer on low speed, mix the mashed sweet potatoes, the remaining melted butter and 1/2 cup brown sugar, the granulated sugar, eggs, half-and-half, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Spread into the partially baked pie shell, smoothing the top.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake until a knife inserted in the center of the filling comes out clean, about an hour and a half. Cool completely on a wire cake rack. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve with whipped cream.

Note: To save time, I used a store-bought deep dish pie crust, which I placed into a deep pie plate, but you can use a favorite homemade recipe, too.

Reprinted from "LaBelle Cuisine." Copyright © 1999 by Patti LaBelle with Laura B. Randolph.

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