The Mayo Caper

If, Gentle Reader, you call North Carolina home, I promise you are familiar with the subject of this week’s essay. 

I guarantee it.

You might not know her name (although you probably do), but I’m absolutely certain you know her face.  She is the woman who never fails to lift you up.  But, as she will confess, she also lets you down.

Her name is Cherie Berry, and she is the friendly face you see in every public elevator in the state.

After seven years serving the 45th district in the North Carolina House of Representatives, in 2001 she became the first female Commissioner of Labor.  The department is responsible for safety inspections of public elevators.

Each one has to display its Certification of Operation.  And since her second term, the photo of Ms. Berry AKA, the “Elevator Queen” has been on every one of them.

It has made her something of a state mascot; the sweet Southern aunt that looks out for the safety of every one of us.

Two years ago I asked her to participate in an annual holiday article that I write for another publication.  She agreed, and I discovered something.

 The woman is a certified, card-carrying hoot. 

The hoot herself, Cherie Berry.

Last year while speaking about mashed potatoes, she told me that she puts mayonnaise in them (actually not as strange as it may sound, it makes them creamy and rich.  Many restaurants do the same.).

Like many Southern folk, her mayo of choice is Duke’s (even though all sensible people are team Hellmann’s).

Them Duke’s folks ain’t right.

This led to her recounting of a hilarious story about the depth of her Duke’s devotion.

Ms. Berry and her sister used to have a little holiday place in Mexico.  When they visited, they would cook.  Like me, she loves potato salad.  But Duke’s in not sold south of the border, and the mayo that was available just didn’t taste right in her dishes.

So, one year, she decided to purchase some Duke’s to take with her.

She wanted it near her to keep it safe during the trip.  But this was post-9/11 and even the NC Commissioner of Labor can’t carry a big old jar of mayonnaise onto an airplane.

So, the determined woman contacted the Duke’s parent company, Sauer Brands in Richmond.  She purchased a box of 200 individual packets, like the kind you get at a drive-through when you ask for “Extra mayo.”

They were small, but even small, 200 packets take up space.

She had a brilliant idea.  For the flight, she’d wear her late husband’s fishing vest and divide the packets up into its many, many pockets.

Picture it, if you will: a genteel Southern lady dressed for traveling with not a hair out of place, and probably a string of pearls, sporting an old-school fishing vest with pockets full of packets full of Duke’s.

Security gave her the furry eyeball, but she wasn’t breaking any rules, so they let her board.  Ms. Berry thought she was home free.

Until the plane took off.

Then, when the pilot pressurized the cabin, the sealed packs reacted and began to swell. 

And swell.

And swell.

The NC Commissioner of Labor sat, looking like the Michelin man on summer vacation, with the vest pockets getting tighter and tighter.  She waited for the explosion while imagining the humiliating headlines that would be generated by this mortifying experience (“NC official tries to hijack plane with condiment”, “Mayonnaise Mishap at 20,000 feet”, “Airplane forced to make extremely greasy landing”…).  She wondered what airplane jail would be like.

Luckily, the blast never occurred.  The cabin pressurization ended just in time, and Ms. Berry spent her Mexican vacation opening packet after packet of Duke’s to make her NC-style tater salad and other tasty mayo-based treats.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at

I’ll get you, my praline


kateys walk 2

The view near The Kid’s house in Woodstock.


After The Kid finished freshman year of college up in Vermont, an internship was landed in Woodstock, NY.  Petey and I flew up, and would rent a car to lug child and possessions to a Craigslist-rented apartment in the Empire state.

*Here’s a piece of interesting trivia that I learned up there: the famous “Summer of Love” festival was not actually in Woodstock NY, but 60 miles southwest, in Bethel NY.  And if every baby boomer that claims to have been there really was, no human under the age of thirty would have been present anywhere else on the planet that weekend.  (Actually, I did go to school with a girl who was one of those naked toddlers in attendance, but she has no memory of it; coincidentally neither do many of the adult concert-goers.)

Anyway, back to the airport…Petey uses a walking stick, and I was concerned that it would be confiscated by the TSA.  I’d done bounteous research, but the rules as written were vague, and open to wide interpretation.  I was a little nervous that a grouchy agent with a toothache or one who’d gotten a call from the IRS would nix the cane, and my husband would be physically penalized for the duration.

I’d planned to make some treats to take up for The Kid to share with friends.  So, I decided to put together goody bags full of my homemade cheese wafers and my creamy, delicious pecan pralines to hand out at security. I was hoping this good will gesture would facilitate smooth sailing through the line.

It worked.

By the time Petey, his cane, and I got through security, we were on a first-name basis with the agents.  We’d reduced one sweet woman to tears because the pralines reminded her so much of the ones her dearly departed granny used to make for holidays and special occasions.

Vanilla Bean Pecan Pralines

pralines3 cups broken pecans

2 cups light brown sugar, packed

1 cup granulated sugar

 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

 1/3 cup whole milk

 6 tablespoons butter, salted

 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 vanilla bean, scraped

Toast pecans:

Place pecan pieces in a dry skillet on medium.  Stirring constantly, cook until color deepens and they’re aromatic.  Remove from heat, and let cool.

In medium saucepan, combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, cream, milk, butter, empty vanilla pod, and salt. Cook over medium, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches 230°. Discard pod, lower heat slightly, add toasted pecans and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until it gets to 236°. Remove from heat; let stand for 5 minutes. Add vanilla bean scrapings and stir with wooden spoon until mixture is thickened and slightly creamy, about 1-2 minutes. Using a small cookie scoop, spoon the pralines onto a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper. If the mixture becomes stiff or grainy, return to burner and stir over medium heat until it can be easily scooped and dropped.

Makes 4 dozen.They were a hit in Montpelier, too.

Our first night in Vermont we were in a hotel, but The Kid was staying at the dorm to finish packing.  A school friend, Chase (Northerner and praline neophyte), came over to hang out with our child.  Despite dire warnings of the richness of the candy, and to his everlasting regret, he polished off the remaining 30 pralines in the time it took to watch Hot Tub Tome Machine.

You ever seen a praline hangover?

It ain’t pretty.

Representation–not The Kid’s school friend.

Thanks for your time.