Mansour family members speak appreciatively of their grandmother’s kitchen as a place to show the importance of family by preparing the dishes of her homeland.
Over a century ago, a young man determined to leave his native Lebanon and follow his brothers to the New World, a world of opportunity. However, he had fallen in love with a neighborhood girl in the “Housh.” Fearing the departure of his barely teen-aged child, the young girl’s father sought to block the marriage. Knowing the value of the young man, her brothers therefore aided her onto a train in following her chosen path.
After marrying in Beirut, the young couple and paternal grandfather made their way to Quito, Ecuador, to join family members. There a son was born. Regrettably, the old man became unhappy and longed for a return to Lebanon.
Because the young man’s future plan required his joining a brother in Atlanta, the young woman, her son, the grandfather, and a young Ecuadorian, Joe Carrasco, completed their mission to the Middle East. Fixed in her purpose, the young woman sought America via New York; because of an illness embargo, she traveled to Mexico and entered the U.S. through El Paso, Texas.
After a reunion in Atlanta, 1906 found Ellis and Effie Mansour putting down roots in Newnan where they eventually reared nine children. Ellis Mansour traveled Coweta County with his peddler’s basket of wares. Kindly customers offered him a bed after a late day, whether inside barn, porch or outbuilding. After establishing his clothing business, he never forgot their generosity and quietly aided them.
Since there was no Roman Catholic Church in Newnan, fellow members met for many years in the Mansour home on Clark Street as travel to an Atlanta church was difficult during wartime. The congregation later established St. George’s parish, helped in their vision for a permanent church by town leaders who gave land and contributions for its construction.
Although Ellis Mansour could use math most successfully, he never learned to read or write acceptably in English. At home, he never allowed his children to speak Arabic. “I love this country, which has been so good to me. You will speak as an American.” He was most proud of his 1930 citizenship as well as his honorary staff appointment by Governor Eugene Talmadge.
If work were important to Ellis Mansour, family held an even loftier position. Presently, Mansour family members speak appreciatively of their grandmother’s kitchen as a place to show the importance of family by preparing the dishes of her homeland.
Even today Mansour women cooks, to include the men as well, find satisfaction in preparation, washing dishes, and cleaning up as a pleasure in simply being together. In the past, when the family readied for serving the meal, a strict order prevailed: men at the dining room table, children in the breakfast room and women at the kitchen table. Even then, the women enjoyed the company of each other. That ritual has given way to more informal seating.
Mansour mothers and wives would put in a full day at the clothing store on Saturdays before coming home to their large families and beginning preparation for the Sunday meal. On Christmas Eve, the day became even more crowded.
The wives would come home after work to start preparations for Christmas dinner. After midnight mass, the Mansour family and friends gathered for breakfast. With only a few hours’ sleep, the women would rise in finalizing the mid-day dinner.
These meals could include a hundred people; however, as one family member recalls, “You had the crème de la crème of Lebanese dishes; each cook had her specialty, which would be recognized and shared for dinner.”
Whenever the family gathers for a traditional meal, kibbee, a raw meat and wheat dish, is prepared. A famed Lebanese staple, the spices may change as well as the choice of beef or lamb; but its pleasure with flatbread as utensil remains constant.
“The National Dish of Lebanon”
2 pounds top round, carefully trimmed
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup bulgur #1 or # 2, soaked for an hour in water
Salt and pepper to taste
2 medium onions, grated or finely diced in the processor
Whole scallions and plain yogurt
Have the butcher grind the meat twice or use a processor or meat grinder at home. Drain all the water from the bulgur and squeeze very dry. Process the bulgur briefly to make it softer. Mix all the ingredients together, having a bowl of ice water on the side to keep hands cool. Mold the kibbee into an oval and make the sign of the cross on top. Enjoy with the scallions and yogurt as topping.
Some diners might balk at the raw variety; kibbee can be baked or pan fried as meatballs. Oil the bottom of a baking dish most generously. Place a layer of half the meat on the bottom, sprinkle with pine nuts or pecans. Add the rest of the meat and smooth with oil. Add pats of butter all over after creating a diamond shaped pattern with a knife on top of the kibbee. Bake at 350 degrees until very brown, about 40 minutes.
When Ellis Mansour II was a little boy, his Giddee (grandfather Ellis) would bring round the DeSoto to take him for a ride that would encompass the countryside. “Son, I’m going to show you God’s people,” the senior Ellis observed as he would pause at homes throughout the county; there he greeted the people he never forgot who had housed and aided him in beginning his career.
Certainly today he would enjoy his family as they still gather to enjoy the dishes of their heritage, kibbee, stuffed grape leaves, tabouleh, meat pies and condiments, reminding them still of the young couple who found the promise they had foreseen. NCM