GRACELAND WAS A castle, built for the King of Rock 'n' Roll. But the King did not dine on caviar, champagne or truffles.
Elvis Presley ate the food of common folk -- hamburgers, creamed potatoes and collard greens.
Elvis was born on January 8 and would have been 56 years old.
Presley "was just a regular down-home boy," from Mississippi who kept his taste for down-home food even after he went Hollywood, said Mary Jenkins, one of Presley's cooks at the Graceland mansion in Memphis, from 1963 to 1977.
Jenkins has recorded her memories -- and 33 recipes -- in "Memories Beyond Graceland Gates," a hardcover book just published by West Coast Publishing of Buena Park. The $24.95 book is available at Memphis souvenir shops and through mail order. (To order, send a check or money order for $27.95 (includes mailing cost) to P.O. Box 6976, Buena Park, Calif. 90622. Delivery takes four to six weeks.)
"He would wake up in the morning and order collard greens," recalled Jenkins, 66, from her Memphis home. "If he'd wake up in the morning and want a peanut butter and banana sandwich, he would order that."
Presley's beloved string beans and greens were flavored with salt pork, pepper and a half-teaspoon of sugar. Roasts were browned in a pan of grease and cooked in tin foil for three hours, with cloves of garlic punched deep into the beef. (He liked his meat well-done.) Banana pudding, made with bananas, milk, flour and butter, was topped with creamy meringue.
Elvis had an open-door policy at Graceland for his crew and singers, said Kathy Westmoreland of Norco, who sang with Elvis from 1970 to 1977 and is the author of "Elvis and Kathy" (Glendale House Publishing, 1987).
No tortellini or orange roughy at these formal Southern dinners.
"Always biscuits and gravy. Always greens," Westmoreland said.
Everyone knows the jokes about Elvis in his later years, when he ballooned to 255 pounds. But Alvena Roy, Presley's cook from 1964 to 1969, said Elvis had his healthier tastes, too.
"He liked salads," said Roy, 75, who lives in Los Angeles. Elvis liked tomatoes but not their skins. So Roy bought juicy beefsteak tomatoes and peeled them by hand. Iceberg lettuce had to be shredded. On the side of his tray would stand a little pitcher of dressing, made of vinegar or lemon juice, sunflower oil, salt, pepper and paprika.
Roy was one of Elvis' three round-the-clock cooks when he stayed in Beverly Hills or Bel Air while making movies.
Feeding the Beatles was one of Roy's biggest moments. She was about to leave for the night when she heard the Fab Four were coming to visit Elvis at his Bel Air house on Perugia Way. Plans were to order in pizza.
"I said, 'Why go out and get pizza for people as big as they are?' "
With John, Paul, George and Ringo due any moment, she rolled Danish ham, wrapped bacon around olives, cut radishes into flower shapes and laid out sweet and kosher dill pickles. "Everything I could think of on very short notice," she said.
Music historians remember the Beatles' 1965 visit with Elvis as great rock 'n' roll history, but Roy savors another memory.
"The Beatles went crazy over my deviled eggs," Roy said. "Paul McCartney was in the kitchen helping me make them."
(Her secret: a little bit of canned, deviled ham mixed in with egg yolks and mayonnaise.)
Depending on her shift, Roy would make Elvis breakfast or dinner. Elvis had his own ideas about breakfast.
"You couldn't give him the white of the egg," Roy recalls. "You had to give him the yolk of the egg and make it look like a pancake."
To be exact, you had to break four eggs. Discard the hateful whites. Beat the egg yolks with cream. Then, drop the yellow mixture in a hot pan of butter or margarine.
"He called it a pancake," Roy said. "He told me how he wanted it done."
The eggs came on a tray with crispy bacon cooked in the oven -- half a pound to a full pound for each sitting.
Roy prides herself on the extra care she took with the King's breakfast tray.
"I always made the grapefruit fancy by scalloping it and putting a cherry in the middle," Roy said. On the side would always be a rose in a bud vase.
Elvis would ask her, "Where do you get your fancy ideas?"
"Well, I worked in other places before I worked here," Roy would reply.
"Oh, I seeeee," Roy imitated Elvis' amused response.
In Memphis, dinner could be roast beef, hamburger, ham steak or T-bone steaks. On the West Coast, Elvis almost always ate meat loaf, mashed potatoes and string beans, Roy said.
Roy said she had to be inventive for Elvis, who liked his food chopped in pieces small enough to pick up with his fingers. Elvis often eschewed the conventional knife and fork.
For instance, mashed potatoes are hardly a finger food -- except for Elvis Presley.
HTC "I made a potato cake for him," Roy said. First, she would cook and mash potatoes. Then she'd finely grate in onion. She would form small handfuls of the white mush into little patty cakes, which she would dip in flour and fry in butter.
"He loved that," Roy said.
Elvis always went home to Graceland for the holidays.
"The only times he'd have parties would be on his birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year's," Jenkins said. "Mostly just friends and the fellows who worked with him."
On holidays, Jenkins basted and stuffed turkeys for the crowd, but her boss wouldn't touch the stuff.
"He didn't like the turkey, period," Jenkins said. "He'd have ham steaks."
If he didn't like turkey, he detested fish -- tuna, shrimp, even catfish, which his wife at the time, Priscilla, loved.
Presley knew what he liked but he didn't know how to cook it, Jenkins said.
"I never did see him fix anything," she said.
The closest he came to an oven was one New Year's morning. Instead of phoning downstairs for his breakfast, Presley came down for a rare appearance in Graceland's white formica kitchen, where bacon was sizzling on the stove.
"He was so hungry," Jenkins recalled. "He just went right over to that hot stove and stuck his hand in the grease to pick up a piece of bacon."
In later years, Presley would diet for two weeks before going out on tour.
"Mostly he wouldn't eat nothing at all," Jenkins said. "He would drink milk and Gatorade and eat crackers."
In the '70s, Jenkins says Presley would disobey doctor's orders to cut his calories.
"The older he got, the more weight he put on," Jenkins said. "I think he enjoyed his food better than anyone I've ever seen."
Here are some recipes from the book:
The get-together at Graceland after Presley's funeral in August 1977 drew 500 people, but Jenkins was afraid that the caterer hadn't made enough to feed them. She stayed home from the funeral procession and prepared a dishpan full of this macaroni and egg salad, the way Elvis liked it:
Macaroni and Egg Salad
1-pound package macaroni
1/2 cup sweet pickles
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup bell peppers
1 dozen boiled eggs
4 tablespoons sugar
2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
Preparation: Boil macaroni for about 15 minutes; remove from the heat and drain. Mix all other ingredients together well. Pour over macaroni. Add sliced boiled eggs and mix well.
Homemade vegetable soup with cornbread was one of Elvis' favorite snacks, Jenkins said. "He'd have them call and tell me to put on a pot of vegetable soup, because he was on his way home."
Soup and Cornbread
1 can whole tomatoes or 2 fresh tomatoes
2 pounds fresh stew meat
1 cup chopped bell pepper
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
5 pieces garlic, finely chopped
2 boxes frozen, mixed vegetables
2 cups diced white potatoes
1 can cream-style corn
1 1/2 cup okra
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons black pepper
Preparation: Cook together meat, onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic and tomatoes for 1 1/2 hours in 4 quarts of water. Add mixed vegetables for hour. Then mix in corn, potatoes, okra, salt and pepper. Cook for 25 minutes longer.
Yield: Makes 10 to 12 servings.
This famous sandwich was Elvis' own idea. "He invented that peanut butter and banana sandwich," Jenkins said. Elvis told Jenkins what he wanted and rejected her first few attempts, but finally, with the help of dad Vernon Presley, Jenkins got the combination right.
"From then on, I got it perfect for him," Jenkins recalls, serving him the sticky snack almost every day. For this recipe, she added, "I just say one stick of butter. He would (prefer) two sticks."
Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich
2 large bananas
6 slices white bread
1 stick butter
1 cup peanut butter
Preparations: Peel and mash bananas. Mix peanut butter with bananas thoroughly. Toast bread lightly and spread mix on bread. Melt butter in skillet and brown sandwiches on each side slowly until golden brown.