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.