Recipes and Stories

19 August 2018: MaMa’s Vegetable Soup

August 18, 2018

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Classical Southern Cooking, Vegetable Soup, Southern Vegetable Soup, MaMa, MaMa's Vegetable Soup, Classic Italian Cooking, Minestrone alla Romana

MaMa's Vegetable Soup, photographed for my first book, Classical Southern Cooking, by the incomparable John Carrington.
If my entire life as a cook could be summed in one thing, it would be a lifelong—and so far—failed quest to reproduce my maternal grandmother’s summer vegetable soup. Her kitchen was where I first cooked, and we made many a pot of vegetable soup together during my summer visits. The memory of its taste remains vivid more than half a century later. But somehow, I’ve never been able to get my own to taste and look exactly like hers.

When I was trying to construct a recipe for my first cookbook, in her typical way, MaMa said, “I never measured anything for soup, so just guess.” Well, of course, she measured— (more…)

11 August 2018: Stuffed Eggplant

August 11, 2018

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Seafood, Shrimp, Crab, Eggplant, Stuffed Eggplant, Seafood Stuffed Eggplant

Classic Seafood-Stuffed Eggplant
Eggplant, one of the great defining elements of the cuisines of the Mediterranean basin, has also been a staple in Southern kitchens at least since the late eighteenth century. Believed to be native to the Far East, this exotic vegetable with the odd-sounding name found its way to the Mediterranean and Africa long before the Americas were colonized, but its exact migration has been lost to time. Likewise, no one is sure how it found its way into the South.

In some parts of our region, it used to be known as “Guinea melons” or “Guinea squash,” after the West African nation, which, while by no means proof of the route it took getting to our shores, is certainly suggestive.

At any rate, for at least a generation before Mary Randolph’s landmark work The Virginia House-Wife was published in 1824, Southerners have been loving eggplant. (more…)

1 August 2018: The Joys of Summer Minestrone

August 1, 2018

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Classic Italian Cooking, Minestrone, Summer Vegetable Soup, Minestrone alla Romana

Classic Minestrone alla Romana. Summer in a bowl.
In all of cooking, nothing satisfies me in the summer, both in the making and the eating of it, quite the way that a pot of vegetable soup always does. Whether it’s my best shot at reproducing my grandmother’s soup (something I have never quite succeeded in doing) or a classic minestrone alla romana, it’s my idea of the ultimate summer comfort food.

Whenever I manage to get home for a visit, it’s the first thing Mama and I make together. It’s never exactly the same: The base is always tomatoes, onions, and okra, but while she was still gardening, we’d add whatever was ready to be harvested supplemented by the stash from two enormous chest freezers in the garage. (more…)

28 July 2018: Old-Fashioned Shrimp Salad

July 28, 2018

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Savannah Cooking, Lowcountry Cooking, Shrimp Salad, Shrimp, Old-Fashioned Shrimp Salad, Shrimp Salad Sandwiches, Summer Cooking

Old-Fashioned Shrimp Salad, here tucked into Parker House rolls and enjoyed with tea.

Before July slips completely away, here’s one last word on those old-fashioned chopped meat salads, specifically, one that’s quintessential to a Lowcountry summer: shrimp salad.

No one would argue that tomato sandwiches are the primary hallmark of summer for most of us. We eagerly anticipate that first really vine-ripened tomato so we can thickly slice it, tuck it into soft white bread slathered with mayonnaise, and relish it wearing an old shirt (or no shirt) while standing over the sink, because it’s going to drip all over us when we bite into it.

But here in the Lowcountry, the hallmark sandwich of summer is shrimp salad. (more…)

8 July 2018: Summer Comfort and Blueberry Crumble

July 8, 2018

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Classic American Cooking, Summer Cooking, Summer Comfort Food, Blueberry Crumble, Fruit Crumble

Blueberry Crumble is summer comfort food at its very best.
It’s funny how, when we talk about “comfort food,” we almost always mean something that will provide comfort in the cold season, that keeps us warm and cozy inside when it’s cold and bleak outside: a hearty stew, a big bowl of chili or chicken and dumplings, a savory pot pie or pot roast.

But in the heat of summer, we often need comfort just as much as we do in cold weather, and while we may welcome a warm dish in the midst of a steady string of salads, cold soups, and sandwiches, the things that are so comfortable in the cold season are usually not all that appealing when the heat index soars. (more…)

16 June 2018: Summer Comfort Food and Ham Salad

June 16, 2018

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Summer Cooking, Summer Comfort Food, Ham Salad, Old-fashioned Ham Salad, Aging Palates, American Cooking

Old-Fashioned Ham Salad slathered thickly onto hearty bread
I’ve never been very interested in clever cooking. And the older I get, the less interested in it I become. I’m not talking about being genuinely and intelligently creative or inventive in the kitchen, but about the kind of cooking that’s more about being clever for the sake of novelty, and all too often at the expense of flavor.

If, when one sits down at the table, one is obliged to be cerebral and analytical about what’s in one’s mouth, or wade through a thicket of startling and even conflicting aromas and flavors that crowd one another out, quite frankly it gets completely in the way of any real pleasure.

In short, if I have to think over what’s in my mouth before I can decide whether I like it, in my opinion, the cook has failed at his job. (more…)

8 June 2018: Old-Fashioned Chicken Salad

June 8, 2018

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Chicken Salad, Old-Fashioned Chicken Salad, Historical Southern Cooking

Old Fashioned Southern-Style Chicken Salad, yes, with saltine crackers
We were just home from a quick trip to Charleston to catch up with my friend and mentor Nathalie Dupree and get in a couple of Spoleto concerts. It was midafternoon and we were tired and hungry. The refrigerator gave up a bit of leftover poached chicken and, because I’m Southern, there’s always mayonnaise and what the old cooks called “made mustard.” A quick survey turned up a nearly empty jar of bread-and-butter pickles that needed to be finished off, and while the celery was old and not very promising, there’s always onions in the pantry.

Sometimes, knowing when to leave well enough alone is a cook’s best asset. (more…)

21 May 2018: The Case of the Corrupted Collop

May 21, 2018

Tags: Historical Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Historical Southern Cooking, Historical English Cooking, Collops, Scotch Collops, Minced Scotch Collops, Mary Randolph, Harriott Pinckney Horry, Eliza Acton, Beeton's Book of Household Management, The Savannah Cook Book, Harriet Ross Colquitt

Classic Scotch Collops, here made with pork tenderloin.
Oh, the convolutions of an historian’s mind. While researching a story for my regular newspaper column, I was reminded of a curious old recipe from Harriet Ross Colquitt’s timeless classic, The Savannah Cook Book, published in 1932. The recipe was for Scotch Collops.

Now, collop is an old English word for a thin slice of meat. It could be used for anything from veal to bacon, though it most commonly described thin slices of veal or beef round. They were usually fried in butter or lard and sauced with a rich gravy made from the deglazed pan juices—essentially the same as Italian scaloppine. (more…)

26 April 2018: Asparagus, Leeks, and New Potatoes

April 26, 2018

Tags: Asparagus, Stir-fried Asparagus, Classic Southern Cooking, Stir-frying, New Potatoes, Spring Leeks, Spring Cooking

Stir-Fried Asparagus with Leeks and New Potatoes
Before the season for asparagus passes completely, here’s another great stir-fry that brings it together with two other favorite spring flavors, young leeks and little red new potatoes.

This is the kind of thing my mother would make when I was growing up, since Stir-frying is one of her favorite cooking techniques. Not only is the technique quick, it does wonderful things for the fresh produce that is no further than her back yard. (more…)

21 April 2018: Spring Peas and Onions

April 21, 2018

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, My Father's Rare Cooking, Sweet Peas, Green Peas, English Peas, Spring Peas and Onions

My Father's Sweet Spring Peas with Spring Onions
While we’re on sweet peas, a favorite way to dress them in my kitchen is with bright, herby spring scallions and butter (and lots of it). It’s not only delicious, the mere aroma of it always brings with it warm memories of my father.

Contrary to the notion that ministers do nothing from Sunday to Sunday but write long, tedious sermons, my father was a very busy man. Aside from three services a week (more, if someone got married or died), Bible study groups, and not one, but three sermons to compose, there were visits to the sick, shut-in, worried, and grief-stricken, counseling sessions for troubled marriages and spirits, and patience to be found for irritating parishioners who were ever eager to find fault with him, his family (that would be my brothers and me), and the church in general. (more…)