Recipes and Stories

3 December 2015: Ambrosia

December 3, 2015

Tags: Ambrosia, Classic Southern Cooking, Essentials of Southern Cooking, Annabella Hill, Mrs. Hill's New Cook Book

Classic Ambrosia the way Mrs. Hill (and God) meant it to be.
799. Ambrosia—Is made by placing upon a glass stand or other deep vessel, alternate layers of grated cocoanut, oranges peeled and sliced round, and a pineapple sliced thin. Begin with the oranges, and use cocoanut last, spreading between each layer sifted loaf sugar. Sweeten the cocoanut milk, and pour over.

—Annabella Hill, Mrs. Hill’s New Cook Book, 1867.

Ambrosia was the legendary food of the gods, and it’s an especially appropriate epithet for this luscious fruit salad. When well made, it is indeed heavenly. A traditional Christmas dish all over the South at least since the days of Sarah Rutledge’s The Carolina Housewife (1847) (more…)

8 April 2014: Baked, Boiled, and Roasted

April 8, 2014

Tags: Beets, Classical Southern Cooking, Baked Beets, Spring Roots, Annabella Hill, Southern Cooking

Baked Beets, cooked whole and simply split and buttered while still hot
“Beets have a finer flavor baked than boiled; it requires longer time to cook them this way.”

— Annabella Hill, Mrs. Hill’s New Cook Book, 1867

Here’s an odd and suggestive historical puzzle: many nineteenth century American cookbook authors agreed with Mrs. Hill, conceding that beets taste best when they are baked whole rather than boiled. And yet, not one of them, Mrs. Hill included, provided directions for doing it. (more…)

22 October 2012: Roast Chicken

October 23, 2012

Tags: Roast Chicken, High Temperature Roasting, Classical Southern Cooking, Historical Southern Cooking, Mary Randolph, Lettice Bryan, Annabella Hill

A simple roasted chicken is the very essence of autumn's kitchen
For the last two centuries, fried chicken has taken all the attention as the ultimate symbol of Southern cooking. Nothing else, except possibly barbecue, has hogged the limelight nearly so completely—and not without reason. When properly done, it’s one of the loveliest things in any cuisine’s repertory.

But fried chicken is—or, rather, should be—special occasion fare. For me, the simplest, and most satisfying, way of cooking a chicken is roasting, especially at this time of year: the aroma is the very essence of autumn’s kitchen. (more…)

13 October 2012: History on the Egg I--The Big Green Egg as Brick Bread Oven

October 15, 2012

Tags: The Big Green Egg, Historical Cooking, Historical American Cooking, Historical Southern Cooking, Classical Southern Cooking, Mary Randolph, Annabella Hill, Historical Bread Baking

The Bread of our Forefathers, fresh from the Big Green Egg
When Kitchenware Outfitters, the kitchenware store where I have worked for the last six years, became a dealer for Big Green Egg, the ceramic outdoor cooker that was modeled on an ancient Asian technology, the historian in me was fascinated by the realization that these cookers performed much like another ancient technology: the open hearths and brick bread ovens of our ancestors here in the West. (more…)

25 August 2012: Annabella Hill’s Grilled Pork Tenderloin Medallions

August 25, 2012

Tags: Annabella Hill, Mrs. Hill's New Cook Book, Historical Cooking, Historical Southern Cooking, Classical Southern Cooking

Mrs. Hill's Grilled Pork Tenderloins with Sage Butter, 1867
25 August 2012: Annabella Hill’s Grilled Pork Tenderloin Medallions

While working on a story for a Labor Day backyard party, I kept coming across articles that were reaching (or should we say, stretching) for something new and different—and with very little real success. What they generally ended up with was the same old things with a different sauce slathered onto it.
(more…)

28 July 2012: Okra and Tomatoes

July 28, 2012

Tags: Okra, Tomatoes, Okra and Tomatoes, Historical Southern Cooking, Classical Southern Cooking, Mary Randolph, Annabella Hill, Lettice Bryan, Sarah Rutledge

Classical Southern Okra and Tomatoes, with small, whole okra and fresh tomatoes
One of the great flavor combinations of a Southern summer is the masterful pairing of okra and tomatoes. This near perfect mating was not discovered down here, nor is it limited to our corner of the globe, but we’ve certainly laid claim to it and made it peculiarly our own. (more…)

20 July 2012: Yellow Crooknecks

July 20, 2012

Tags: Summer Squash, Classical Southern Cooking, Historical Southern Cooking, Mary Randolph, Lettice Bryan, Annabella Hill, Nancy Carter Crump, Cymling Squash, Yellow Crookneck Squash

A still life of yellow crookneck squash, being made ready for the pan. Photography by John Carrington
Summer squash is in the air (and, where the drought hasn’t struck, overflowing in the garden). When fellow culinary historian Nancy Carter Crump mentioned them in a recent short essay, it inspired a look back to the four doyennes of Southern cookery, and turned up three different ways of getting the similar results from Mary Randolph, Lettice Bryan, and Annabella Hill: (more…)

19 September 2011: Veal Scallops with Oysters and Bacon

September 20, 2011

Tags: Southern Cooking, Historical Southern Cooking, Lowcountry Cooking, Veal, Oysters, Bacon, Annabella Hill

Lowcountry Veal Scallops with Oysters and Bacon, photography by John Carrington
One of the great, sumptuous splurges of autumn in the Carolina/Georgia Lowcountry, as our oysters come into season, is their pairing with veal cutlets. Given the prices that veal fetches these days, it’s hard to imagine that such a thing has not always been a splurge. (more…)

4 September 2011: Southern Scaloppine

September 4, 2011

Tags: Classical Southern Cooking, Southern Cooking, Pork, Pork Tenderloins, Scaloppine, Classic Italian Cooking, Annabella Hill, Savannah Cooking, Madeira

Pork Medallions (a. k. a., Scaloppine) with Sage and Madeira. Photography by John Carrington
For a lot of the country, Labor Day marks the end of summer. This is rarely true for Savannah. However, as August faded into September this past week, there was actually a welcome suggestion of autumn in the air. It was only a suggestion, mind you, but that was still enough to stir my appetite for autumn’s heartier cooking, in particular an old-fashioned seasonal favorite, Southern pork scaloppine.

You’re probably thinking “Southern scaloppine” is an oxymoron, since most Americans believe that scaloppine, Italy’s name for medallions of meat pounded thin, cooked quickly, and finished in gravy made by deglazing the pan with wine or broth, is a concept we’ve only become acquainted with during the last half-century. But that’s only because early American cooks didn’t use the Italian name for the concept. It’s actually quite an old idea that wasn’t confined to the boundaries of Italian kitchens. Early cookbooks that Europeans brought with them to America often gave recipes for it.

The old English name for scaloppine was “collop,” and it was used for any thin slice of meat, just as “escalope” was in French, though it most often referred to thinly sliced veal round. That’s probably because, until dairy practices changed in the 1930s and 40s, veal was actually commonplace and relatively cheap. However, the word was also applied to similar cuts of beef, mutton, or venison. So was the cooking technique.

Pork was rarely mentioned in connection with those recipes until the mid-nineteenth century. While salt pork and ham were ordinary everyday food in the days before refrigeration, fresh pork was seasonal, especially here in the South.

The early recipes for pork scallops were more often called “steaks,” and while they could be cut from the round, they were more often taken from the loin and delicate (some would say bland) tenderloin. While the latter have become quite popular and commonplace today, in the past they were a rare late-autumn treat.

Recipes like this one were as uncommon as they were lovely:

213. Pork Steaks.—The tenderloin makes the best steak. Cut them a quarter of an inch thick; fry in boiling lard, turning constantly; serve hot. Make gravy by pouring in a small quantity of boiling water; let it boil up once, and pour over the steak. Serve with them tomato or onion sauce. Steaks may be cut from the hindquarter or chine.

— Annabella P. Hill, Mrs. Hill’s New Cook Book, 1867

Mrs. Hill was using “fry” very loosely: what she intended was the same light sauté as a scaloppine, the constant turning necessary to keep the thin pieces of meat supple and tender. Though she was silent as to seasonings, most of her pork recipes called for the meat to be rubbed with salt, pepper, and sage, a triad that was practically a given in Georgia from her day until now.

Other cooks used wine in the pan gravy, and in later recipes, the medallions were dredged (sprinkled) with flour before sautéing, then added back to the gravy after browning for a brief finishing simmer—exactly like scaloppine.

The following is one such recipe that has become a personal favorite for fall in Savannah, where at times the climate is autumnal in name only. The key ingredient is Madeira, a wine that was once practically a religion in this town and to this day remains an integral part of its cuisine.

Pork Medallions (or Scaloppine) with Sage and Madeira
From my latest book, The Savannah Cookbook.
Serves 4

1 pork tenderloin, weighing about 1 pound
Salt and whole black pepper in a peppermill
2 teaspoons finely crumbled dried, or a heaped tablespoon of finely minced fresh, sage
2 tablespoons bacon drippings or unsalted butter
¼ cup flour, spread on a plate
½ cup Madeira
½ cup meat broth, preferably homemade

1. Wipe the pork dry with an absorbent cloth or paper towels. Trim away any fat and silver skin and cut it crosswise into 8 equal medallions about 1-inch thick. Lay them on a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper, cover with a second sheet, and gently pound them out to ¼-inch thickness. Season both sides well with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the sage evenly over both sides of the pork, and rub it into the surface.

2. Warm the drippings or butter and oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat until bubbling hot. Raise the heat to medium high, quickly roll the pork in the flour, and slip it into the pan until it is filled without crowding, cooking in batches if necessary. Fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes, turn, and brown the second side, about 2 minutes longer. Remove the scallops to a warm platter.

3. Stir a teaspoon of flour into the fat in the pan. Let it cook for a minute, stirring, and slowly stir in the Madeira. Cook, stirring and scraping the pan, until thickened, then stir in the broth. Bring to a simmer and cook until lightly thickened. Return the scallops to the pan and cook, turning them several times, until they are heated through and the sauce is thick. Turn off the heat, taste and correct the seasonings. Return the pork to the platter, spoon the gravy over it, and serve at once.

20 August 2011 Butterbean Bliss

August 21, 2011

Tags: Historical Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Butterbeans, Southern Vegetables, Annabella Hill, Clara Eschmann, Historical Southern Cooking

Annabella Hill's Buttery Butterbeans
One of the great inventions of the modern world has to be the machine that shells summer’s bounty of beans and peas—as anyone who has ever been subjected to the job as a child will readily tell you. There are few things in this life better than fresh butterbeans from the summer garden, and even fewer that are more tedious than shelling them.

Southern cooks of the past would no doubt turn their noses up at the neat bags of butterbeans that came home with me from the farmers’ market this morning. They’d argue, and rightly, that beans that had been lying bare-naked on ice could not be nearly as good as ones that were kept snugly in their pods until just before they’re cooked.

But those old girls had help in the kitchen—or at the very least, a child they could indenture for the job—and I don’t. The small sacrifice in flavor is well worth the wear and tear it saves on my fingers, not to mention patience.

Besides, the morning was hot and making me a little homesick, and those plump little butterbeans brought back soothing memories not only of home, but of my dear old friend Clara Eschmann, the endearing lady who was for many years food editor of the Macon Telegraph.

A fantastic cook and natural-born storyteller, Clara loved butterbeans almost more than she loved bourbon (which is saying a lot). She steadfastly maintained that no self-respecting Southerner would ever call them lima beans, and relished spinning the tale that their Southern name derived from the fact that they had to be cooked with butter—and plenty of it.

She was in good company. Witness Mrs. Hill’s directive on the subject, put down a good half-century before Clara was born:

360. Lima, or Butter Beans.—When fully formed, and before the hull turns yellow, shell them; wash them well, and put them to boil in hot water, sufficiently salted to season them. When tender, pour off nearly all the water; make the remainder of the broth rich with butter, and serve upon a hot dish. Never pepper them unless with white pepper; the small black particles of the common pepper upon so much white vegetable gives them an untidy appearance.

— Annabella P. Hill, Mrs. Hill’s New Cook Book, 1867.

Mrs. Hill’s reputation as a cook could rest on that recipe alone. Say what you will about what salt-cured pork and pepper bring to other kinds of beans, these delicacies need absolutely nothing but salt, butter, and two hands that don’t mind one another—a stingy one with the salt and a generous one with the butter. Anything else just gets in the way.

To serve 4 people, you’ll need about a pound (shelled weight) of small fresh butterbeans—which works out to about 3 generous cups. You’ll also need a little kosher or sea salt and about 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) of best quality butter. Put the shelled beans in a colander, rinse them well under cold running water, and let them drain.

Bring a quart of water to a boil over medium heat, season it lightly with salt, and add the beans. Bring it back to a boil, skimming off the foam that forms, and reduce the heat. Simmer gently until the beans are tender, which could take anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes, depending on their size and maturity. Drain off most of the liquid and stir in the butter a few lumps at a time, until the liquid is lightly thickened and creamy. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more butter if they’re not creamy enough. Heat a serving bowl by rinsing it with hot water, turn the beans into it, and serve immediately.

You might think that such a recipe could barely be called cooking, but sometimes the mark of a real cook is knowing when to leave well enough alone.