There is something about the way the words “Friday night” roll off the tongue that evokes a little excitement in most people. For many, it signals the end of the workweek and an excuse to unwind.
Friday night porch parties with the Morgans began deep in the Mississippi Delta in Belzoni, they will tell you. They had so many children that their friends never invited them over, so they invited everyone over to their house. Since moving to Reunion and growing their family, they’ve continued the tradition. Now the bustling yellow house on the corner embraces their friends and neighbors on a wrap-around porch. Fridays are celebrated! And with Jay Morgan’s cooking, there’s always a reason to stop by.
Every Friday night, for about 25 years, Jay has prepared a feast. He and his wife Lou host a weekly get-together that is simply known as the Friday Night Porch Party or FNPP for short. Jay loves cooking for a crowd and crafts a spread meant to be indulged. He fills his kitchen counter with what sometimes seems like an endless number of finger foods piled high on plastic plates. Jay prides himself on the comfort food he serves.
“We aren’t exactly serving steak and lobster,” Jay said.
His prime concern is that everyone has enough. An example: One night in May Jay had set up a load-your-own mashed potatoes bar. Some guests were running late and the mashed potatoes were going fast. When some of the lollygaggers finally showed up, Jay had already solved the problem. He whipped a batch of cheese grits.
The guests were then able to load up their plates with cheese grits, some leftover mashed potatoes and all the fixings one could imagine. A brief list includes sausage, chicken nuggets, roasted garlic, onions, cheese and more.
“I like to see how people make their plate,” Jay said, always the attentive host.
A long-time FNPP veteran Amy Dear said she met the Morgans when she first moved to Reunion in 2005. She said their children met on the playground and they were quickly invited to FNPP that week.
“We do life together,” Dear said.
Dear said she and her family have vacationed with the Morgans and they always tailgate Ole Miss games together. Her family has recently moved back to Madison County from Oxford, where she said they would frequently host FNPP in Oxford.
“Jay is one of a kind,” Dear said. “He loves to serve people and doesn’t expect anything. He loves people, big.”
Jay said the party started while he and his family lived in Belzoni. They had a big family so they did not get invited out much. That would serve as an excuse to have people over. The Morgans continued the tradition when they moved to Reunion just over 15 years ago. Jay said some weeks are as small as six or eight people but with a core group that now includes about a dozen families, Jay regularly feeds 25 people and has seen more than 50 people on his porch before.
Jay said he found a love for cooking when he was young. He got his first job at the Ward’s in Columbia when he was maybe 14 years old.
“Food is my love language,” Jay Morgan said. “If I had gone with my heart I probably would have gone into the food industry somehow.”
(As if a vibrant Instagram account and website and feeding dozens of people every week isn’t “in the industry.”)
Morgan continued his food education at the University of Mississippi. Though he studied business, he spent a lot of his free time taking recipe instructions from his mother over the phone.
After he graduated in 1990 he moved to Belzoni where he started his insurance business and made friends with Lou’s family. He said he got to know her brother Andy and became a frequent dinner guest including one night when Lou was in town.
“I went to dinner with her family and she was there and that was all she wrote,” Jay Morgan said.
Feeding a dozen people can be a lot of work but Morgan said he thinks of it the way someone else might think of golf or fishing.
“It is a hobby for me like people play golf,” Jay said. “I can spend all day in the kitchen on vacation.”
To extend the golf analogy, Jay thinks of a high-end dutch oven he had been eyeing. His mind was jumping to recipes he could make but said the price tag was a little higher than he would like before it hit him that he knew people that would buy a top-of-the-line golf club at the drop of a hat because it brings them pleasure.
“This is going to last me 25 years,” Jay Morgan said.
And he doesn’t mind the preparation either. In his kitchen with his apron on and his favorite playlist, “Cooking Dinner with Bae” on Spotify, Jay said he can really lose himself.
“My wife says chopping is my therapy,” Jay said.
The food bug has spread to the Morgan children as well. Jay said they can hold long conversations on the topic and the family group chat is usually full of pictures of plates.
He has three daughters and a son. Anne Scott, the oldest, is an accountant for the Madison County School District. Lucy recently took a job as a teacher at Oxford Elementary. Ellen is a senior at Ole Miss and “wants a cooking empire.” She is working on getting a baking business started and already has a reputation for her cookies and cakes. The youngest, Jack, is a senior at Madison Central and works as manager at Georgia Blue.
Last June, Ellen told her dad she had made him an Instagram account. Jay began to play with the app on his phone, posting pictures of his food and showing off the groups of friends sitting on his big wrap-around porch.
He now enjoys talking to his friends and fans on Instagram live.
The internet has been a great way for Jay to share ideas and get new ones. Recently he said a fan sent him a recipe for fried avocados he has been wanting to try. Fans cans search for recipes on his website.
At Firdaynightporchparty.com fans can take a whack at Jay’s recipes. A popular one includes his chicken nuggets. He said when his children were growing up they were always asking for Chick-fil-A. He said, “I can master this recipe.” Jay said the results are not an imitation but have become a crowd-pleaser.
“I never got it exactly right, but I did create a recipe that makes my family and my friends very happy,” Jay writes on his website. “I can visibly see joy in the eyes of my Friday Night Porch Party peeps when they see my chicken nuggets on the bar. That makes me happy.”
When asked if he had one tip he would like to pass on that has changed the way he cooks, he thought for a minute and shared a technique for cooking rice. He said he picked it up from Lou’s family’s housekeeper. It is as simple as “boils rice like pasta.” He said cooking rice in a pot with salted water and then drained into a colander is a never-fail trick for perfect rice.
“It is a game-changer,” Jay said. “It is the only way I cook rice now.”
To follow Jay Morgan visit fridaynightporchparty.com or follow him on Instagram @fridaynightporchparty.