Biscuits & Jam Episode 3: Wiggy | Southern Living

Biscuits & Jam Episode 3: Wiggy | Southern Living


The last time on Biscuits & Jam, the search for Southern Living’s mysterious recipe submitter continues. All we know about her at this point is the name she submitted the recipe under, Mrs. L H Wiggins. L H probably, most likely being her husband’s name. Right, I went into our card file, and the one recipe card that was not in there was this cake. From Southern Living, this Biscuits & Jam. We’re tracking the origins of the magazine’s most popular and mysterious recipe of all time, the hummingbird cake. I’m Meg Pace. And I’m Nellah McGough. It was just one little recipe in a story called Making the Best of Bananas, and that’s the one that people freaked out over. She’s like an icon around here, but we didn’t know anything about her. We’ve tried to track her down, and we just came up with nothing. So it really was kind of mysterious. After years of fruitless searching for the submitter of the hummingbird cake recipe, Southern Living editor in chief Sid Evans had one more idea. I put something in my letter about it. In his monthly magazine column, Sid wrote about Mrs. Wiggins’ iconic layer cake and the legacy it’s left on this publication and its readers. He mentioned that while the cake has become a celebrity, the woman who sent it here has remained an enigma. Ms. Wiggins as far as we know, this is the one recipe that she submitted. And boy what an impact it had. And then we got our first tip. We got some feedback from the readers from two readers in particular who said they knew her. After years of searching for anyone who knew Mrs. L H Wiggins, it looks like we had finally found not one but two people who knew her. The first email hit Sid’s inbox the Monday after the issue containing his letter hit newsstands. The subject line, information about Mrs. L H Wiggins. We felt like we had struck gold. In the email, Dolores Griffith of Plymouth, North Carolina wrote that she knew Mrs. Wiggins. It was very exciting to get that note. One of the few things we knew about Mrs. Wiggins was that she worked at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro when she sent Southern Living the hummingbird cake recipe. Dolores wrote that she met Mrs. Wiggins as a freshman there. We were skeptical. Yes, we thought, could this have been made up. Is she just playing a game with us? You don’t really know. Ever the journalist, editors at Southern Living were cautious, knowing this email could be too good to be true. We had to be skeptical. We’d been looking for this for so long. So Nellah and I gave Dolores a call. (phone ringing) Hello? Hi, Dolores. This Nellah and Meg. Hi. Hello, how are you? Good, how are you doing? I’m doing great. It’s so good to finally talk to you after all these emails. (laughs) I know, I know. Can you believe all of this, Dolores? Now I have been telling so many people about it because it is such an interesting thing how one little bit of information has just blossomed into all of this story. It’s just, it’s incredible. (laughs) I know. And just as the hummingbird cake seemed destined for the pages of Southern Living, Dolores’ seeing Sid’s note was equally as serendipitous. So glad that I actually late one night, just couldn’t sleep and picked up the Southern Living for this month and started browsing through. And the strange thing is I rarely ever read the editor’s note. I go straight to the recipes. (laughs) Wow. And when I saw it, I don’t know why, something just told me to read that little article. And when I started reading it, and they were talking about how the only thing we know about Mrs. Wiggins is that she was a housemother at University of North Carolina in Greensboro, and I thought to myself, I think I know this woman. So Dolores filled us in on the Mrs. Wiggins she knew. She was just an interesting person, and she was the typical housemother, no doubt about it. She took those freshmen girls under her wing, including me, (laughs) and I didn’t live in the dorm that she was a housemother at, but she really gave me some confidence, and she knew that I think I was a little country girl come to the big city for the first time. And she kind of knew that I was a little bit not ready for the big world. And she did take the time to kind of help to get me into the routine of college. And I am so grateful for her for that because she did treat me like I was her daughter sort of. So it was kind of like a proxy mother when I was aware from home. So I really had a bond with her. But I remember her very well and a lot of good memories. Well that’s great information you just gave us (laughs). (Dolores laughs) That is really, that’s great Dolores. You said that she must have had a hot plate in her room because she always liked to cook. Yes, I was so, it was so strange because she had this little sitting room outside, off the dorm lobby. And many times when I would come in to work, if she would open her door and peak out and not see anyone out there, she’d say, come here just a minute. She’d invite me in. And knowing that I was supposed to be on duty answering the phones and stuff. And yet, she’d still let me come in her little sitting room, and we’d talk about this and that. And one day she just said, are you hungry. Do you want a snack? And she pulled this drawer out of this bureau, and it was loaded down with canned goods and pickles and jars of preserves, all kinds of stuff. And I thought to myself, this is very strange. She must do a lot of cooking and things in her room because why would anybody have all these things in her drawer (laughs). (Nellah laughs) Well, she pulled out a jar of dill pickles, and she said, do you like liverwurst. And I thought to myself, hm, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever had it. And so she said, well, let’s make a liverwurst and dill pickle sandwich. So she got all the ingredients together and whipped out the sandwich, and she offered me half of it. And I thought, hm, that’s pretty good. Do you know I’ve been eating liverwurst and dill pickle sandwiches ever since? (Nellah laughs) And thank you to Mrs. Wiggins for introducing me to that (laughs). (Nellah laughs). A woman who wouldn’t even let the lack of a kitchen stand in her way of making good food. Dolores met Mrs. Wiggins in 1969. We know that she was still working as a housemother when she submitted her recipe to Southern Living, but shortly after, she moved on to a new job, and that’s where the second letter comes in. A day after we heard from Dolores, we got another email. She wrote in out of the blue and said that she knew Ms. Wiggins, called her Wiggy, that she had taken care of her kids, that she was like family. She knew the cake. Hi, my name is Joan Steele, and Mrs. Wiggins was my nanny when my youngest daughter was a baby. Just like Dolores, Joan found out about our search by happenstance. For years, I have seen this hummingbird cake in your publication, and I was with some friends of mine several years ago, and they were talking about this hummingbird cake, and I said, well, you know, the lady that sent that recipe in used to be my nanny, and I told them the story of Wiggy. So when your February issue came out, my friends in Charleston called me, and she said you have got to contact Southern Living. They are asking for anybody who knows anything about this lady to contact them. Joan met Mrs. Wiggins, who she called Wiggy, a year after she submitted the hummingbird cake to Southern Living. We met her in the spring of ’79, and when she baked the cake for us, she did bake the cake for us, and when she brought the cake over, she brought the magazine that had her recipe published in it. She was so proud of that, and she told me. She says, look at this. They even published my recipe. Joan also spoke of Mrs Wiggins’ love of cooking. When Wiggy would come to my house to take care of my kids, she would walk in with bags full of groceries. And she would cook dinner. She loved to cook. And I used to say to her, let me, just tell me what you need, and I’ll get it from the grocery store. And I’ll have it here. No, no, no, no, no, she’d say. I don’t know what I want to make next time. (Meg laughs) And my children remember her as being such a good cook. She made the best fried chicken. Joan and Delores also both remember her for the way she dressed. Here’s Dolores again. But I remember she had a fur coat that she aways wore. It was like a little jacket that she would wear in the winter, just very meticulous about her appearance. And she always wore lipstick. She didn’t want to be seen without that. (Nellah laughs) But she was just a very sophisticated looking woman. She just had this presence about her. She was rather tall. When she walked in a room, you knew she was there. (laughs) (Nellah laughs) If think about her in my mind’s eye, the movie, Mrs. Doubtfire, she didn’t exactly look in the face like Mrs. Doubtfire, but she always wore a skirt and blouse and a sweater or a dress and a sweater. She never wore pants of any kind. She always had that smile on her face and a little giggle. We knew her about two, maybe 2 1/2 years, and we moved to Armonk, New York. My regret is I had a picture of her standing on the front porch, holding the baby and my two older kids beside her. I can see that in my mind now. But unfortunately, I had a fire in my home several years ago and lost everything, and so all my pictures are gone. I don’t have that picture, but I can see it my mind. Through an old yearbook from UNC Greensboro, Nellah was able to track down a photo of Mrs. Wiggins. She’s standing in a group of about half a dozen other housemothers at the university. We sent the photo to both Joan and Dolores to see if they could correctly identify her. It was kind of our version of a line up. And they did, both pointing at the tall woman standing toward the back with a fur stole around her shoulder. (Dolores laughs) She was always dressed to the nines. And then Dolores gave us one more tidbit about Mrs. L H Wiggins, her full name. I think you have the critical piece of the puzzle. (Dolores laughs) We didn’t know her name. We had no idea
Exactly. her name was Eva. Right, right. And her first name is, it looks like Chloe, but it’s pronounced Chlo. Right. And so that was just a huge, though, a huge thing to know that her name was Eva. Exactly. (laughs) Eva Wiggins, we had a name. That was a huge piece of the puzzle. Once Nellah had that, the investigation went into overdrive. So I got my sister-in-law Amanda who is a ancenstry.com Mormon church. She doesn’t belong to the Mormon church, but, you know, the Mormon Church has all these databases of ancestry databases. Oh, I didn’t know that. So Amanda knows all about that. So I called Amanda, and Amanda got on it and quickly, within an hour, I had L H stood for Lewis Henry. I had all these pieces of the puzzle coming together. I found out that she had a daughter. Next time on Biscuits & Jam. This is Mrs. Wiggins’ only child and she’s her daughter. Okay. And she’s 82 now. I started leaving the same goofy message on Friday, and I was a little nervous. I was thinking, they probably think we are crazy, and that’s how I prefaced the voicemail (laughs). I know this sounds nuts, but I work for Southern Living Magazine, and we love Mrs. Wiggins. And all of a sudden, she picks up the phone. Oh my gosh, I am like freaking out. Biscuits & Jam is produced by myself, Meg Pace with Nellah McGough. Executive producer is Mike Grady and Sid Evans. Sound mixing by Jason Keener. For photos, videos and the hummingbird cake recipe, visit our website southernliving.com/culture/podcast. Thanks to our digital editor, Abbi Wilt and fellow Jory McDonald for maintaining that page for us. Our logo and art is by Miles Kane. As always, thanks to our editor in chief Sid and executive editor Krissy Tiglias for giving us this assignment. And special thanks to Dolores Griffith, Joan Steele and Nellah’s sister-in-law, Amanda McGough, for her help with research. Be sure to subscribe to Biscuits & Jam wherever you get your podcasts so you never miss an episode. And if you like what you’re hearing, leave us a review. It helps other folks find our story. And we think everyone should know about Mrs. Wiggins and her decadent hummingbird cake. And here is another helping of Nellah. You know Publishers Clearing House? Mm-hmm. You know, I swear, I’ve kind of gotten wrapped up in that stupid thing recently, and I have bought some, I have bought some dumb from the Publishers Clearing House (Meg laughs) Thinking I’m gonna have that guy come up to my front door (laughs). Oh my Lord, I bought like this mat for the front door. It’s really cute. But I bought a couple of things, and I’m thinking, Nellah, that is so stupid.

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