“Mary Virginia’s orange sweet rolls are legendary in my hometown,” writes the Hattiesburg, Mississippi–raised chef Robert St. John of his family friend’s recipe, which she made every Saturday morning for decades and shared with neighbors. “All holidays were occasions on which to receive Mary Virginia’s sweet rolls.” He shares the full story—and many more personal odes and recipes—in his new cookbook, Mississippi Mornings: Deep South Breakfasts, Brunches, and Musings. “In the beginning, Mary Virginia made these with icebox roll dough. After receiving a batch of sourdough starter from a lady at her church, she switched and made only sourdough sweet rolls for the rest of her baking career.
When I opened our Italian concept restaurant Tabella, Mary Virginia gave me some of her starter, and we’ve been feeding it ever since. As we go to press with this book, the same starter has been fed for almost a hundred years. This recipe uses our shaggy-mess roll dough, but if you have some sourdough starter and know how to make bread using it, it adds depth to the finished product. I always make a little extra icing and drizzle it on heavy and thick.”