Recipes and Stories

21 August 2017: More Simple Summer Cooking—Fresh Peach and Blueberry Compote

August 21, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Summer Cooking, Fruit, Blueberries, Peaches, Sourwood Honey, Fruit Compote

Fresh Peach and Blueberry Compote with Sourwood Honey
Toward the end of the summer of 1979, while I was in graduate school at Clemson University, my mother came for a short visit. As usual, she left me with a cache of produce from her garden, supplemented by baskets of fragrant late peaches and blueberries from local orchards.

It was my first apartment, and therefore the first kitchen that was wholly my own: usually, such gifts led to a day of curious cooking, but a project deadline loomed and my un-airconditioned apartment was too hot to consider turning on the monstrous avocado-green electric stove that dominated my little kitchen. (more…)

29 July 2017: Classic Shrimp Salad

July 29, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Savannah Cooking, Shrimp, Shrimp Salad, Coastal Southern Cooking, Historical Southern Cooking

Classic, Old-Fashioned Shrimp Salad, a simple quartet of fresh local shrimp, homemade mayonnaise, diced celery, and thinly-sliced scallions. It's comfort food for a steamy Lowcountry summer evening.
One of the great seaside dishes of summer in the Coastal South, whether that coast abuts the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico, is shrimp salad. It’s been commonplace in the South since the beginning of the twentieth century, but I’ve not found printed recipes for it that date back much further than the latter part of the nineteenth century. That said, the same basic recipe was used for fish and lobster salads as early as the 1830s and 40s, and along the coast, shrimp would almost certainly have been made into salad in the same way.

Those historical recipes were a simple triad of cooked shrimp, chopped celery, and homemade mayonnaise. That was it. And the basic recipe has changed very little: The most that sensible modern cooks add is a little onion. (more…)

6 July 2017: For National Fried Chicken Day—Granny Fowler’s Sunday Fried Chicken

July 6, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Granny Fowler, Chicken, Fried Chicken, National Fried Chicken Day

Granny's Fried Chicken was never this elegantly served, and this isn't perfect, but it's as close as I could get. Photograph by John Carrington Photography
Whenever I think of my Dad’s mother, known to us all as Granny Fowler, I inevitably start to crave fried chicken. My mother and maternal grandmother also made fried chicken that was very fine in its own way, but the one that we all (even Mama and MaMa) agreed was the best was Granny’s. (more…)

3 July 2017: Shrimp and Corn Pie, or Pudding

July 3, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Lowcountry Cooking, Historical Southern Cooking, Corn, Shrimp

A Lowcountry Shrimp and Corn Pie is a perfect supper dish for a warm summer evening, whether you're having company or just family around your table.
One of the loveliest mid-summer supper dishes of the Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry is a simple casserole known in these parts as shrimp and corn pie. Traditionally, almost any custard-based dish cooked in a shallow casserole is called a “pie” in Carolina and Georgia, just as our version of macaroni and cheese is known as macaroni pie, although a similar dish would be called a “pudding” in Virginia or other parts of the South.

Well, no matter what you call it, it’s one of the happiest pairings of two of our best summer staples: (more…)

30 June 2017: More Summer Salads

June 30, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Savannah Cooking, Chicken Salad, Chicken, Grapes, Almonds, St. Andrews Academy Cookbook, First Come, First Served . . . In Savannah, Jeannie Knight

Chicken Salad with Green Grapes and Almonds (because the pecans were in the freezer and the almonds were already toasted and ready to use)
About two-thirds of a left over roasted chicken, half a bag of green grapes languishing in the vegetable bin, and a new bundle of scallions. Add in a steaming afternoon in which cooking is out of the question. For most people, the logical sum of all that would’ve been chicken salad with grapes, a modern standard that has been enjoyed all over our country for more than thirty years.

Most people, that is, except for me. (more…)

29 June 2017: Classic Crab Salad

June 29, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Classic Savannah Cooking, Crab, Crab Salad, Summer Cooking, Historical Southern Cooking

Classic Crab Salad Served the the back shells. Photographed by John Carrington Photography
While lingering with friends at our table after dinner recently, the discussion turned (as it often does here in the South) to food. And as we began to share some Lowcountry specialties with a member of the party who’d recently moved to the South from New England, I was given a sharp reminder of how singular our experiences with food can be. (more…)

23 June 2017: Seafood Stuffed Tomatoes

June 22, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Savannah Cooking, Savannah, Classic Lowcountry Cooking, Stuffed Vegetables, Stuffed Tomatoes, Tomatoes, Shrimp, Crab, Seafood, Historical Cooking

Seafood-Stuffed Tomatoes, Photographed by John Carrington Photography
One of the many things that Southern cooks share with Italians, especially those along the Ligurian coast that’s known as the Italian Riviera, is a love for filling hollowed-out vegetables with a blend of their chopped pulp, stale bread crumbs, herbs and seasonings, and often some kind of chopped meat, poultry, or seafood.

Here in the Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry, stuffed vegetables have long been a beloved part of our summer tables. Recipes for them date back well into the nineteenth century. (more…)

8 June 2017: Summer in a Bowl

June 8, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Classic Italian Cooking, Genovese Cooking, Ilda, Fruit Salad

Macedonia di Frutta all' Ilda, a lovely blend of summer fruit enhanced with Maraschino liqueur and a splash of rum.
One of the great compensations for (and means of relief from) summer’s heat is a fresh mixed fruit salad. It’s also one of the most versatile dishes of the season. Call it “cocktail” and open the meal with it; call it “salad” and serve it as the meal’s side dish or even centerpiece (all on its own or blended with cold seafood, poultry, or meat); call it “Macedonia,” “fruit cup,” or “compote” and it brings the meal to a delightful close.

Whatever we call it, and however we serve it, a fragrant bowl of well-mixed and chilled fruit is perfect warm-weather fare: it stimulates, satiates, and cools as nothing else can. It brings a ray of sunshine to a rainy day and soothing coolness to days when the sun’s rays become relentless. (more…)

30 May 2017: An Aging Palate, Wild Greens, and the Flavors of Youth

May 30, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Classic Italian Cooking, Genovese Cooking, M. F. K. Fisher, Aging Palates, Poke Sallet, Green Onions, Pasta

Fusilli (also called Rotini) with Wild Greens, Scallions, and Pine Nuts
In her later years, M. F. K. Fisher, the prominent mid-twentieth-century American essayist and food writer, once wrote poignantly of missing the ravenous, almost insatiable hunger of youth. Charmingly romantic to read in one’s twenties, it wasn’t so charming to reread years later, when that youthful hunger lingered and fought with a suddenly slowing metabolism of middle age. But there’s nothing charming or romantic about it when old age is staring one square in the face.

The problem is that, while our appetite and capacity may slow down with age, the curious cook’s palate doesn’t slow down with it. (more…)

11 April 2017: Parsley

April 11, 2017

Tags: Parsley, Potato Salad, Classic Southern Cooking, Classic American Cooking, Beans Greens & Sweet Georgia Peaches

My culinary security blanket: a bouquet of fresh flat-leaved Italian parsley
Now, here’s a curious thing that I can’t explain. For reasons that are a complete mystery to me, having a bouquet of fresh parsley in my kitchen is a kind of culinary security blanket. It reassures and comforts me, even when I end up using very little of it in the pots.

Unfortunately, that’s more often the case than not. Despite the truth in the old Italian proverb “essere come il prezzemolo” (literally “to be like parsley,” that is, everywhere), I can rarely use it all up before it starts to fade. (more…)

9 February 2017: The Art of Broth and the Comforts of Chicken Soup

February 9, 2017

Tags: Chicken Soup, Classic Southern Cooking, Classic American Cooking, Jewish Penicillin

My Chicken Noodle Soup
The deep belief in the healing power of chicken soup may well be one of the most universal concepts in the world’s cuisines.
No matter where on this globe one happens to be, if there are chickens in the barnyard and sick people in the house, there will be chicken soup in the pot. The details and flavorings that go into that pot will vary, depending on the culture and the cook, as will the age and size of the bird. It’s often called “Jewish Penicillin” in our country, but the faith in it as a curative really has no territorial or cultural boundaries. (more…)

28 January 2017: A Lowcountry Winter Stew

January 28, 2017

Tags: Lowcountry Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Veal, Pork, Veal Stew, Pork Stew, Ragout, Sarah Rutledge

A Lowcountry Ragout, inspired by Sarah Rutledge's timeless classic, The Carolina Housewife, published in 1847
Winter in the Carolina and Georgia lowcountry is rarely what one could call harsh, but the last week or so has been unusually mild even for us—more like late spring than the dead heart of winter. But we know that those balmy whispers of spring are fleeting and can never be trusted. And, sure enough, this weekend the temperatures have once again dropped.

It’s still not what a New Englander would call cold, but it’s blustery enough to make us crave heartier fare, something that will not only warm us in the moment, but stick with us for a long time. And when that kind of craving comes calling, nothing answers it better than a good stew. (more…)

5 November 2016: Pasta with Short Ribs

November 5, 2016

Tags: Beef Short Ribs, Short Rib Ragù, Braising, Classic Southern Cooking, Classic Italian Cooking, Pasta

Pasta with Short Rib Ragù
This morning, after days of midday temperatures that felt more June than November, Savannah finally awoke to clear, crisp air that had an actual a nip in it. Okay, it wasn’t exactly frosty, but it was cool enough to finally feel as if it was really fall—and to make the idea of cooking hearty things like pot roasts, thick stews, chili, and short ribs a welcome thing. (more…)

1 November 2016: Broiled Oysters

November 1, 2016

Tags: Oysters, Classic Southern Cooking, Classic Savannah Cooking

Broiled Oysters, Savannah Style, with Bacon and Green Onions
You’d not think so if you were in Savannah today, where temperatures climbed into the eighties, but we’re now into the traditional oyster season, the “cold weather” months (or, around here, just the months with an R in them).

That season’s not as strenuously observed these days, since refrigeration has made it possible to safely harvest, store, and ship oysters in warmer weather. But Savannahians tend to wait for it anyway, since oysters (especially our local cluster variety) tend to be flabby and murky-tasting while spawning, which happens mostly during the summer months, when the waters in which they live are warm. (more…)

14 October 2016: Baked Ham Steak with Pineapple and Sweet Potatoes

October 14, 2016

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Ham, Sweet Potatoes, Pineapple

Baked Ham Steak with Pineapple and Sweet Potatoes
When canned pineapple was first introduced more than a century ago, cooks in places where the fruit had always been an imported and therefore rare and expensive luxury probably went a bit overboard with it. Not only had it suddenly become affordable, it was trimmed of its spike-leaved top knot, its prickly skin and tough core were removed, and it had been neatly cut into conveniently attractive rings.

Not surprisingly, during the early part of the twentieth century, those canned pineapple rings began turning up in all kinds of “fancy” dishes (more…)

11 July 2016: Butterbeans and Okra

July 11, 2016

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Butterbeans, Okra, Butterbeans and Okra

Butterbeans and Okra
One of the loveliest concepts in all of the South’s summer cooking is the practice of spreading small, baby vegetables on top of a pot of slow-cooked pole beans so that they steam during the last few minutes that the beans are cooking. Most of us have had tiny little new potatoes cooked in this way without knowing that the concept has never been limited to that one thing. (more…)

8 July 2016: Old-Fashioned Hambone Soup

July 8, 2016

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Hambone Soup, Southern Vegetable Soup

Old-Fashioned Hambone Soup
We just never know where a simple pot of soup might take us—or when it will suddenly bring us back.

It’s a funny thing about our tastes (and by that, I don’t mean our perceptions of flavor but our preferences for it): they’re an odd mix of innate likes and dislikes and cultural conditioning. (more…)

20 June 2016: Fresh Blueberry Compote for the First Day of Summer

June 20, 2016

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Blueberries, Bourbon, Blueberry Compote

Fresh Blueberry Compote with Bourbon and Cinnamon
Today’s the summer solstice, the longest day in the year (or rather, the longest stretch of daylight), marking the official beginning of summer. Our ancestors made a bigger thing of the solstice than we do nowadays, but its a good excuse to turn a regular back-to-the-grind Monday into something a little more special.

It needn’t be any more involved than taking a little more care with tonight’s supper, say, finishing it off with one of the quintessential fruits of early summer’s table: fresh blueberries. (more…)

27 May 2016: Mama's Breakfast Shrimp

May 27, 2016

Tags: Shrimp, Classical Southern Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Lowcountry Cooking, Mama's Breakfast Shrimp

Mama's Breakfast Shrimp, the near perfect union of fresh-caught shrimp and butter.
When shrimp season rolls around each May, it always takes me back to some of the best days of my childhood. That may seem odd, since I didn’t grow up on the coast where the opening of shrimp season marks the real beginning of summer. But a small part of most of my childhood summers was actually spent on the Isle of Palms, a barrier island just north of Charleston.

While we were in shrimp territory, we ate as many of them as we could manage. Most of the shrimp we ate were bought from the many local fishermen who sold them roadside from the tailgates of their battered pickups, (more…)

3 May 2016: Shrimp and Ham Jambalaya

May 3, 2016

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Creole Cooking, Lowcountry Cooking, Jambalaya, Lowcountry Pilau, Shrimp, Ham

Shrimp and Ham Jambalaya
3 May 2016: Shrimp and Ham Jambalaya

Whether you call it pilau, pilaf, perlow, paella, or jambalaya, in the end, it all amounts to the same thing.

The techniques used vary slightly from dish to dish and the type of rice may differ—a paella, for example, is made with a short-grained rice whereas a pilau is made with long-grain rice. (more…)

29 March 2016: Macaroni and Ham Pie or Casserole

March 29, 2016

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Macaroni Pie, Ham, Ham and Macaroni Casserole

Ham and Macaroni Casserole, or, as it's often known in the South, "Macaroni Pie with Ham" is classic Southern Comfort food and a perfect way to refresh the leftover Easter ham.
One of the all-time great Southern comfort foods is a simple, homey casserole of elbow macaroni laced with grated sharp cheddar cheese and set in egg custard. Known both as “macaroni and cheese” and “macaroni pie,” they’re found all over the South, in some places topped with cracker or breadcrumbs, and in others simply with a sprinkling of grated cheese or a dusting of black pepper.

Sometimes, particularly after a holiday when the cook has a surplus of leftover ham, macaroni pie is studded with a cup or so of diced cooked ham. (more…)

4 March 2016: Silence is Golden

March 4, 2016

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Simplicity in the kitchen, culinary noise, Classical Southern Cooking, Levis Holmes, Marcella Hazan

My grandfather's pot roast with onions: the rosemary here is merely a garnish for the platter. I learned the hard way that it didn't hurt the roast, but it didn't add a thing that was worth remembering.
We Americans seem to have become terrified of silence. We’ve deliberately surrounded ourselves with noise: whether it’s our own radios, sound systems, and televisions, or the ones in our stores, waiting rooms, and offices, there’s an unending soundtrack to our lives, numbingly underscored by a monotonous rhythmic thump.

Even when those other noises are missing (and, all too often, even when they’re not), we’re talking. Non-stop. Count on it: in any moment where complete silence is the order—a religious service, a funeral, the quiet contemplation of nature or art, that silence is always, always interrupted by the sharp hiss of a whisper.

Our need to fill the void permeates nearly everything we do, but it’s most troubling manifestation is in our kitchens. (more…)

29 January 2016: Pompano à la Palm Beach

January 29, 2016

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Florida Cooking, Florida Citrus, grapefruit, oranges, pompano, fish fillets

Pompano à la Palm Beach reflects the simple elegance of the old resort town's glory days
One of the great hallmarks of classic Florida cookery is the pairing of its celebrated citrus and abundant local fish. This was especially true in the old resort towns of the east coast, where the fruit began to come into season just as the wealthy snowbirds arrived to escape the harsh winters of the Northeast and play in the sunshine.

An especially lovely example is Sautéed Fish Fillets Palm Beach, which is really nothing more than an adaptation of a French classic, sole à la meunière (whole or filleted sole sautéed in clarified butter). (more…)

12 January 2016: Sherried Grapefruit

January 12, 2016

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Florida Citrus, Grapefruit, Sherried Grapefruit, Winter Cooking

Sherried Grapefruit is old-fashioned elegance in a cup
For those of us who are a certain age, one of the most fragrant memories of Christmas during our childhood was the fat orange that bulged the toe of our Christmas stocking. To this day, the bright, pungent aroma that’s released when an orange is peeled whispers of all the good things about my Christmases past.

Frozen juice and year-round imports have dulled our appreciation for the seasonality of citrus fruit, and today’s children would probably feel cheated to find an orange in their stockings. (more…)

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…)

17 November 2015: Finding Home by the Recipe

November 17, 2015

Tags: Finding Home, Recipes as Stories, Chocolate Pound Cake, Classic Southern Cooking, Introducing Finding Home

Finding Home is set in Maple Grove, a sleepy little village in the hills of Carolina that in my imagination looks a lot like this.
Most of you probably don’t know, but cookbooks and culinary journalism are not my only forays into story-telling. Like most Southerners, I’ve been telling stories my whole life and have been writing them down for most of it. None of it has ever felt mature enough to publish, but for the last few years, I’ve been working on a novel that feels ready, and am now looking for a home for it with a publishing house.

Called Finding Home, it’s the story of award-winning children’s book author C. F. (Charlie) Bedford, who turned a childhood pet rabbit into the hero of a best-selling storybook series and rode its success right out of his small-town childhood into the kind of charmed life that every writer dreams about but that most never achieve. At thirty-eight, he’d conquered the world of children’s literature with eight bestsellers and had been living the good life in New York City.

But then he came home one afternoon to a note, an abandoned ring, and a half-empty apartment, and his charmed life began to unravel. Before he knew what was happening, he found himself right back where he’d started, in his run-down childhood home in Maple Grove, a sleepy little village in the hills of upstate South Carolina. (more…)

9 November 2015: Roasted Pecans

November 9, 2015

Tags: Pecans, Southern Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Roasted Pecans, Southern Baking

Slow-roasted pecans make an ideal savory nibble for fall and holiday entertaining: they're simple to make, keep well, and are pretty much irresistible. Photography by John Carrington
One of the best features of the house where we live is an enormous old pecan tree that canopies our entire back yard. Despite its age, that tree is still prolific, although we’re lucky to get more than a few handfuls of its nuts. Mostly that tree just shades the yard and helps me mark the seasons from my office window.

The problem is that the yard it shades is also a playground and free cafeteria for a motley assortment of spoiled, fat, urban squirrels. (more…)

25 September 2015: Bonnie Gaster’s Perfect Fried Oysters

September 25, 2015

Tags: Oysters, Fried Oysters, Classic Southern Cooking, Bonnie Gaster, Tybee Island

Bonnie's Perfect Fried Oysters
Whenever I get the chance to spend time in good friend Bonnie Gaster’s Tybee Island kitchen (which isn’t often enough) I know that whatever we do will be a lot of fun and the results will taste fabulous. She’s a fabulous cook who does it with the kind of abandon that Julia Child admired and a keen natural palate that always keeps that abandon in good order. (more…)

29 August 2015: Mary Randolph’s French Beans

August 29, 2015

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Mary Randolph, French Beans, Haricots Verts, Green Beans, Classic French Cooking, Monticello

Mary Randolph's French Beans, here finished with a little of her Melted Butter.
A couple of weeks ago, I revisited one of the loveliest and most misunderstood dishes in all of Southern cooking: pole beans slow-simmered with salt pork. With small new potatoes laid on top to steam during the last part of the simmer, it remains one of my all-time favorite ways of cooking these sturdy beans.

But pole beans are not the only ones that I, and many other Southern cooks, bring to the table. While researching for a lecture on the indomitable Mary Randolph, whose 1824 cookbook was one of the earliest printed records of Southern cooking, I was once again taken by her lucid and careful directions for French beans. (more…)

11 August 2015: Southern Slow-Cooked Pole Beans

August 11, 2015

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Green Beans, Pole Beans, Slow-Cooked Green Beans, Historical Southern Cooking

One of the most misunderstood and unjustly maligned dishes in all of Southern cooking: slow-simmered green beans, here with new potatoes that have been halved and laid on top of the beans to steam during the last few minutes of cooking
One of the most misunderstood dishes in all of Southern cooking is green beans slow-simmered with salt pork or ham until they’re tender and deeply infused with the salt-pork flavor. It’s easy to understand why it has been misunderstood when one sees the misguided mess that all too often passes for this dish in “Southern” style diners and cafeterias: canned beans or the generic hybrid green beans that inhabit most supermarket produce bins, indifferently boiled to Hell and back with a chunk of artificially smoke-flavored ham or half a dozen slices of smoked bacon until they’re the color of army fatigues and have surrendered what little flavor they had left in them.

There’s nothing wrong with the idea. When properly done, it’s one of the loveliest vegetable dishes in all of Southern cooking. The problem lies not in the concept, but in its misguided application. (more…)

10 August 2015: Pepper Vinegar

August 10, 2015

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Pepper Vinegar, Pickled Peppers, Hot Peppers

In the foreground, traditional Pepper Vinegar (Pickled Peppers), made with cayenne and cider vinegar, in the center, Pepper Vinegar made with Bird Peppers and wine vinegar, and at the back in the stately cruet is Pepper Sherry. Photography by John Carrington from my Savannah Cookbook
Pickled peppers and the vinegar in which they are cured are important fixtures in a Southern kitchen, both in cooking, where they are used as a flavoring in countless vegetable and meat dishes, and at the table, where they are a condiment that accompanies everything from turnip greens to baked chicken. When a recipe calls for pepper vinegar, it means the vinegar from this, and not hot sauce, so don’t substitute the latter for it, but use a few drops of hot sauce diluted in cider or wine vinegar. (more…)

10 August 2015: Bird Peppers and Pepper Sherry

August 10, 2015

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Savannah Cooking, Savannah, Pepper Sherry, Bird Peppers

Pepper sherry and a crystal bowl of the fresh peppers, both of which were once essential condiments on Savannah tables. Photography by John Carrington, from my Savannah Cookbook, published in 2008
Once upon a time, a pot containing a pepper plant that produced tiny, innocent-looking peppers no bigger than small peas could be found in almost every Savannah courtyard. Known as “bird peppers,” they only looked innocent: they’re among the fieriest of all the hot pepper clan. Everyone grew them because they were a fixture in Savannah dining rooms. The fresh peppers were passed in a small bowl to be used as a condiment for soup.

But they were also used in an infusion with sherry to create a lovely condiment known simply as Pepper Sherry. Whether it was in an elegant crystal cruet or just a re-used soda or condiment bottle, this fiery, amber liquid graced almost every sideboard in town, from the humblest creek-side dwellings to the most elegant of townhouses downtown. (more…)

2 August 2015: Fresh Okra and Tomato Salad

August 2, 2015

Tags: Okra, Tomatoes, Okra and Tomatoes, Raw Okra, Salad, Classic Southern Cooking

Southern cooking that you may not know about: raw okra and tomatoes weaving their combined magic in the salad bowl.
The union of okra and tomatoes in the pot is an inspired marriages that happens to be one of the great foundations of Southern cooking. From vegetable soup and gumbo to that soul-comforting triad of okra, onion, and tomato simmered together into a thick stew that can be served forth as a side dish, or over rice as a vegetarian main dish, or as the base for heartier main dishes with meat, poultry, and fish or shellfish stirred into the pot. (more…)

30 July 2015: Tomato Aspic

July 30, 2015

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Tomato Aspic, Beans Greens & Sweet Georgia Peaches, Marcie Ferris, Tomatoes

Tomato Aspic is a perfect beginning for summer luncheons and formal dinners
One of the half-forgotten and much misunderstood delights of summer’s table in the South is tomato aspic, a cooling, velvety concoction usually made with canned tomatoes or tomato juice, even at the height of tomato season. In my youth, it was considered the quintessential first course for formal summer luncheons and company dinners, especially when that dinner, following a long-gone Southern custom, was served early in the afternoon.

Yet, as little as twenty years ago, when my first cookbook Classical Southern Cooking was published, tomato aspic was a long way from being forgotten. (more…)

24 July 2015: Chicken and Corn Chowder

July 24, 2015

Tags: Corn, Corn Chowder, Chicken and Corn Chowder, Seafood Chowder, Classic Southern Cooking, Savannah Cookery, The Savannah Cookbook

Savannah Chicken and Corn Chowder, photographed in the dining room of the Historic Green-Meldrim House by John Carrington Photography
25 July 2015 Chicken and Corn Chowder

A lovely compensations for the intense, wet heat that settles over Savannah each summer like a warm wet blanket, is fresh sweet corn. And a popular, if a bit ironic, way of having that corn is in chowder, a rich yet simple soup that has been a fixture in Savannah for at least a century.

Recipes for it have been turning up in community cookbooks since the end of the nineteenth century, (more…)

13 July 2015: Vidalia Sweet Onion Season

July 13, 2015

Tags: Onions, Stuffed Onions, Vidalia Sweet Onions, Classic Southern Cooking, The Savannah Cookbook, Elizabeth Terry

Vidalia Sweet Onion stuffed with sausage and pecans. Photography by John Carrington Photography
No one who has spent more than five minutes in an American kitchen needs to be retold the story of Vidalia Sweet Onions. Most of us know how a low sulfur content in the soil and warm, damp growing season conspired to produce an unusually sweet, moisture-rich bulb that became one of the earliest regional American food products to be protected by law.

What you may not know is that because they’re so juicy, they mold and rot more easily than other onions and therefore don’t keep as well. (more…)

21 June 2015: My Father’s Palate

June 21, 2015

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Chili Dogs, My Father's Palate, Meat-and-Three Diners, The Dixie Restaurant

My father's favorite meal, a "good hotdog" and sweet tea, at The Dixie in Petersburg, VA, the kind of Mom-and-Pop joint that he taught me to love.
On this Father’s Day, it occurs to me that while I frequently write about my mother, grandmother, and occasionally my maternal grandfather and their influence on my career as a writing cook, I rarely mention my father. And yet, his integrity, his strong ethics, his wry sense of humor, and his unique way with words are all an indelible part of my own voice as a writer and teacher.

But lately I’ve begun to realize that his influence hasn’t stopped at words. (more…)

15 June 2015: Soft Shell Crabs

June 15, 2015

Tags: Soft-shell Crab, Crab, Lowcountry Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Savannah

Fried Soft-Shell Crabs, with lemon and Herb Mayonnaise, from The Savannah Cookbook (2008). Photography by the talented John Carrington
One of the lovely things about early summer on the coast in the South is the brief window when soft-shell crabs are in season.

Like most crustaceans, as blue crabs outgrow their hard outer shells, they shed them and begin growing a new one. For a few fleeting hours before it hardens, the new shell is soft, delicate, and completely edible. They’re a much-anticipated seasonal delicacy here in the Lowcountry. That season is already waning here, but we still have a little bit longer to enjoy them. (more…)

29 May 2015: Smothered Pork Chops at The Dixie

May 29, 2015

Tags: The Dixie Restaurant Petersburg VA, Classic Southern Cooking, Smothered Pork Chops, Meat-and-Three Diners

The Dixie’s Smothered Pork Chops, with sides of spoonbread and slow-cooked string beans.
29 May 2015: Smothered Pork Chops at The Dixie

When we’re visiting family in Petersburg, Virginia, we always pay at least one visit to the Dixie Restaurant on Sycamore Street. Known to locals simply as The Dixie, it’s been around since the 1940s. Though over the course of those years this family-owned institution has known several incarnations, today it has returned to its roots as an old-fashioned neighborhood diner. (more…)

21 May 2015: Mama’s Hushpuppies

May 21, 2015

Tags: Hushpuppies, Classic Southern Cooking, New Southern Baking, King's Barbecue

Hushpuppies at King's Barbecue in Petersburg, Virginia: not as light and delicate as my mother's, but does anything measure up to a Southerner's memories of Mama's cooking?
You know you’re south of the Mason Dixon line when there are hushpuppies in the bread basket—even when that basket is on the table of a barbecue joint.

Not that hushpuppies are common fare in barbecue joints: These addictive little morsels of fried cornbread are more usually paired with fried fish. But at King’s Barbecue in Petersburg, Virginia, hushpuppies are served right along with the biscuits. (more…)

8 May 2015: The Glory of Pan Gravy II – Pan Gravy for Pan-Fried or Sautéed Meat and Poultry

May 8, 2015

Tags: Pan Gravy, Classic Southern Cooking, Classic French Cooking, Classical Southern Cooking

Pan-fried Quail with Onion Pan Gravy as photographed by the great John Carrington for The Savannah Cookbook
When “la nouvelle cuisine” swept the culinary world in the latter part of the last century, roux-thickened pan gravy got shoved aside for sauces whose body was derived from reductions, purees, and butter liaisons. (They were really, by the way, nothing more than “la cuisine ancienne” rediscovered, but never mind.)

There was nothing wrong with those sauces—when we have the time to properly execute them and can serve them immediately, but there’s also nothing wrong with well-made pan gravy, especially for home cooks. (more…)

6 May 2015: The Glory of Pan Gravy, Part I

May 6, 2015

Tags: Pan Gravy, Cream Gravy, Classic Southern Cooking, Classical Southern Cooking, Classic French Cooking

Cream Pan Gravy, the quintessential accompaniment for Southern fried chicken. Photography by John Carrington Photography.
The acquisition of a handsome antique gravy ladle has made my mind wander to one of the world’s oldest and greatest culinary inventions: pan gravy.

One of the most under-appreciated elements of any cuisine, but of Southern cooking especially, when well-made and carefully seasoned, pan gravy is also the best sauce imaginable. Rich with the browned essence of the food it will accompany, it enhances without smothering, and can partly redeem indifferent or accidentally over-done food. (more…)

5 May 2015: A Fool for Strawberries

May 5, 2015

Tags: Strawberries, Strawberry Fool, Fruit Fool, Classic Southern Cooking, English Cooking

A fruit fool is a simple but luscious way to take advantage of the season's berries
5 May 2015: A Fool for Strawberries

Strawberries, that fragrant, luscious herald of springtime, have always figured prominently on Southern tables—and earlier in the year than for most of the rest of the country. But by May, the season in Florida, which produces most of the country’s early fruit, is over, and while it will linger a few weeks longer in Northern Georgia, Carolina, and Virginia, it’s beginning to wind down across the South. (more…)

14 April 2015: Braised Artichokes with Onions

April 14, 2015

Tags: Artichokes, Burr Artichokes, Classical Southern Cooking, Beans Greens and Sweet Georgia Peaches, Classic Creole Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking

Braised Artichokes à la Creole
If most people were asked to make a list of typically Southern vegetables, artichokes would probably not even come to mind, let alone make it to the list. And yet, they’ve been growing in the South at least since the beginning of the eighteenth century, and recipes for them were given in a very off-hand way in all the early cookbooks from Mary Randolph through to Annabella Hill. Even Mrs. Dull included a recipe, with detailed directions for eating them, in her definitive 1928 book. (more…)

4 April 2015: Mastering the Make-Ahead Easter V

April 4, 2015

Tags: Easter Potato Gratin, Make-Ahead Easter, Dinner Party Planning, Classic French Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking

This Classic French Potato Gratin can not only be made ahead, it's even better warmed over, and can be dressed up with herbs or bits of country ham or prosciutto
This classic, easy-to-assemble French gratin has been the potato dish for my household’s Easter for years. The ingredients are simple, its preparation requires almost no real skill on the part of the cook, and yet nothing is elegant nor satisfying to eat.

Best of all, it can be made today, and reheats beautifully. (more…)

4 April 2015 Mastering the Make-Ahead Easter Dinner IV

April 4, 2015

Tags: Make-Ahead Easter, Dinner Party Planning, Classic Southern Cooking, Classic French Cooking

Boning and butterflying makes it possible to roast a leg lamb more quickly and evenly without the tending required of a bone-in joint
For the last couple of days, I’ve been looking longingly at this beautiful whole leg of lamb that I bought and wishing it could be left that way. I kept rehearsing the impossible: Surely there was some way I could miraculously roast it whole and still have Easter Dinner done shortly after we got home from church. Well, there really isn’t.

This morning, I finally took the thing out, took one last longing look at it, and said “Get over yourself and get this job done.” (more…)

2 April 2015: Mastering the Make-Ahead Easter Dinner III

April 2, 2015

Tags: Make-Ahead Easter, Dinner Party Planning, Classic Southern Cooking, Chocolate Pots de Creme, Dean Owens

Dean’s Blender Pots De Crème, here garnished with whipped cream, mint, and, because it was flavored with Grand Marnier, candied orange peel
If you’ve planned out your menu with some forethought for things that not only can but should be made in advance, and have stocked your refrigerator and pantry with all the ingredients except the really fragile perishables (that is, asparagus and herbs), you’re almost home free. (more…)

1 April 2015 Mastering the Make-Ahead Easter Dinner II (No Fooling)

April 1, 2015

Tags: Spring Purees, Carrot Soup, Make-Ahead Easter, Dinner Party Planning, Classic French Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking

Spring Carrot Puree is a perfect make-ahead first course for Easter Dinner.
Once you have the menu fixed, today or tomorrow shop for the things that will keep: pantry staples, dairy products, the meat, potatoes, onions, and anything that you’ll need for the next make-ahead—in this case the soup.

My own menu: Puree of Spring Carrots, Butterflied Roast Leg of Lamb, Potato Gratin, Asparagus (the jury is still out on the sauce for this), and chocolate pots-de-crème. (more…)

31 March 2015: Mastering the Make-Ahead Easter Dinner I

March 31, 2015

Tags: Make-Ahead Easter, Dinner Party Planning, Classic Southern Cooking

It's not too early to set the table. Our Easter centerpiece for years has been a crystal bowl filled with alabaster eggs: They're always festive, and there's no worry that the flowers won't last or that they'll shed pollen all over the tablecloth.
If you haven’t already planned the menu, do it today. Think about things that not only stand up to being cooked ahead, but actually benefit from it.
(more…)

26 March 2015: Asparagus with Lemon-Pecan Brown Butter

March 26, 2015

Tags: Asparagus, Pecans, Lemons, Lemon-Pecan Brown Butter, Classic Southern Cooking, Essentials of Southern Cooking

The text you type here will appear directly below the image
Fresh-cut asparagus is spring’s best compensations for hay fever.

Flowers are lovely and all very well, but they satisfy only two of our senses. Asparagus gets all five—even sound, if it’s not overcooked. And when it’s freshly cut (that is, only minutes from the bed), it needs absolutely nothing, not even butter. Strong flavors like ham, leeks, garlic, and even lemon can be paired with it only with care and restraint. (more…)

19 March 2015: Strawberry Soup

March 19, 2015

Tags: Strawberries, Strawberry Soup, Classic American Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Fruit Soup

Chilled Strawberry Soup with Orange and just a touch of whipped cream for garnish
Now that strawberries are in season again, we’re constantly making use of them in the dessert bowl at the end the meal. But while they turn up all through the season in our cereal, salad, and snack bowls, we don’t often think of beginning the meal with them.

And yet, a cool, refreshing strawberry soup is a lovely and novel way to tease palates at the beginning of dinner, luncheon, or even brunch. (more…)

24 February 2015: Pineapple Charlotte

February 24, 2015

Tags: Pineapples, Pineapple Charlotte, Harriet Ross Colquitt, Historical Southern Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking

A Savannah Pineapple Charlotte, photographed by John Carrington for The Savannah Cookbook
My mother got a pineapple for Christmas. Even though canned pineapple and refrigerated shipping have made this fruit fairly commonplace these days, for Mama—and for us—that pineapple, with its prickly, tufted skin and vibrant crown of sword-like leaves still had an air of the exotic about it.

There was a time in my mother’s living memory when a fresh pineapple was a special treat and she has never let us take them for granted. (more…)

20 February 2015: Broccoli in the Cold Season

February 20, 2015

Tags: Broccoli, Classical Southern Cooking, Beans Greens & Sweet Georgia Peaches, Classic Southern Cooking, Camille Glenn

Broccoli Gratin, broccoli casserole as it was meant to be.
When I began working on my first book, Classical Southern Cooking, broccoli wasn’t thought of as an especially Southern vegetable. But what I found as I delved into the kitchens of our past was a different story. Broccoli had been growing in the South at least since the eighteenth century, and was included in all the old Southern cookbooks, beginning as early as Mary Randolph’s iconic Virginia House-wife in 1824 right through to Mrs. Dull in the twentieth century. (more…)

10 February 2015: The Universal Cutlet

February 10, 2015

Tags: Cutlets, Breaded Cutlets, Classic Southern Cooking, Classic Italian Cooking, Pork Tenderloin Cutlets

Breaded Cutlets made with Pork Tenderloin. Photography by John Carrington Photography
One of the great universal concepts in Western cookery is the breaded cutlet: a thin slice of meat, beaten thin both to make it uniform and to tenderize it, coated with dry bread crumbs, and fried to a delicate brown. Crackling crisp on the outside, tender and juicy inside, it’s arguably one of the most satisfying ways of giving flavor and panache to cheap and bland cuts of meat or poultry. (more…)

30 January 2015: Simplicity in the Cold Season

January 30, 2015

Tags: Penne with Broccoli and Scallions, Broccoli, Braised Broccoli, Classic Southern Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Marcella Hazan, Simplicity in Cooking

Penne with Broccoli and Scallions
30 January 2015: Simplicity in the Cold Season

A few days ago, I reflected on how the simple act of peeling and eating a perfectly ripe Clementine orange recalled the fact that the principles of good cooking and satisfying eating are founded less on creativity than on the virtues of balance, simplicity, and restraint.

That wasn’t to suggest that there’s no room for creativity in the kitchen; (more…)

17 January 2015: Mama’s Sunday Pot Roast with Onions

January 17, 2015

Tags: Pot Roast, Braising, Sunday Pot Roast, Southern Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Mama's Pot Roast

My Mother's Sunday Pot Roast with Onions
Nothing recalls the Sunday mornings of my childhood quite like the aroma of onions and beef baking slowly in a pot roast. (more…)

20 December 2015: Sour Cream Cheddar Drop Biscuits

December 20, 2014

Tags: Biscuits, Drop Biscuits, Sour Cream Cheddar Drop Biscuits, Classic Southern Cooking, Southern Baking, Classic American Baking

Sour Cream Cheddar Drop Biscuits. Photography by Richard Burkhart
A simple way to dress up and stretch a family meal for unexpected company during the holidays, or just make it seem a little more special for the home folks, is a bread basket filled with piping hot, freshly baked biscuits. They never fail to impress, and make everyone think you’ve gone to a lot more trouble than you really have. (more…)

26 November 2014 Mastering Thanksgiving XI—Turkey and Dressing

November 26, 2014

Tags: Thanksgiving Dinner, Cornbread, Cornbread Dressing, Classic Southern Cooking, Classic American Cooking

The cornbread, biscuits, and seasonings all tossed toghether for the dressing, awaiting its moistening dose of rich broth
If all has gone well and you’ve done enough basic prep by tomorrow, your only really big job will be the turkey and dressing. If you haven’t tried to roast a turkey in a year (or have never done it), relax: a turkey roasts just like a chicken – it just takes longer. Allow plenty of time and remember that it doesn’t have to look like those magazine covers. (more…)

26 November 2014: Mastering Thanksgiving X—The Art of the Biscuit

November 26, 2014

Tags: Thanksgiving 2014, Thanksgiving Dinner, Biscuits, Dressing, Classic Southern Cooking

The secret to perfect biscuits is just like getting to Carnegie Hall: Practice, practice, practice, and making them for dressing is the perfect time to do it.
The other key ingredient in my family’s cornbread dressing is actually another kind of bread altogether: biscuits. They give the dressing body and help bind it together without having to add eggs, which can sometimes make dressing a bit heavy.

Unfortunately, few home cooks seem to make biscuits very often, which is too bad. Because once one gets the knack, they’re drop-dead easy, and serving forth a basket of delicate, piping hot biscuits never fails to impress company. They always think you’ve gone to a lot more trouble than you actually have. (more…)

26 November 2014: Mastering Thanksgiving IX—Cornbread for Dressing and Stuffing

November 26, 2014

Tags: Thanksgiving 2014, Thanksgiving Dinner, Cornbread, Cornbread Dressing, Classic Southern Cooking

Skillet Cornbread for dressing: the hardest part will be restraining yourself from eating it all before you can make the dressing!
Before tackling the stuffing or dressing, a quick word about tradition, with a word (and recipe) for one of the ingredients from my own tradition.

The wonderful thing about what you put into that savory bread pudding that accompanies your turkey, no matter what you put in it and whether you bake it in the bird or out of it, is that it’s one time that sticking to tradition will win for you every time. You really don’t have to think about it, analyze it, or reinvent it—you just make it and sit back and bask in the praise. (more…)

25 November 2014: Mastering Thanksgiving VII—The Oysters

November 25, 2014

Tags: Thanksgiving 2014, Thanksgiving Dinner, Scalloped Oysters, Classic Southern Cooking, Ruth Adams Bronz, Ramona Bernard

Lucy-Mama's Oysters, finished as Ruth does them in individual scallop shells.
One of the lovely things about Thanksgiving dinner is the way family traditions are perpetuated from generation to generation as we gather around that common table. Even lovelier is the way other traditions get adopted and shared as people come into our family and as we get absorbed into theirs, sometimes through legal ties but more often just because we love one another. (more…)

24 November 2014: Mastering Thanksgiving V—MaMa’s Sweet Potato Custard Pies

November 24, 2014

Tags: Thanksgiving 2014, Thanksgiving Dinner, Sweet Potato Custard, Classic Southern Cooking, Essentials of Southern Cooking.

My grandmother's Sweet Potato Custard, a holiday essential in our family for at least four generations
I am not entering into the argument over whether pumpkin pie is a Yankee thing and sweet potato is a Southern one. My grandmother always served both at Thanksgiving, and both sweet potato and pumpkin pie (they were sometimes just called “custard”) were included in one of our earliest published records of Southern Cooking, Mary Randolph’s classic The Virginia House-Wife (1824), and both were included in most every antebellum Southern cookbook that followed, from Lettice Bryan’s Kentucky Housewife (1839) through Mrs. Hill’s New Cook Book (1867). (more…)

23 November 2014 Mastering Thanksgiving IV—The Pastry Cook

November 23, 2014

Tags: Thanksgiving 2014, Thanksgiving Dinner, Pastry, Pie Crust, Classic American Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Classic French Pastry

More than half the battle in perfecting the Thanksgiving pies, whether they are sweet potato (shown here), pumpkin or pecan, is a flaky, made-from-scratch pastry
Never mind the arguments over whether the pie should be pumpkin, sweet potato, pecan or not pie at all, but cheesecake: the easiest way to deal with whatever you’ve planned for the grand finale is to sweet talk someone else into doing it. However, if you’ve not done that (or you’re the person who got sweet-talked), and are contemplating a ready-made pastry, know that the difference between a memorable pie and a merely good one is the crust. (more…)

11 November 2014: Poached Eggs and Entertaining Without a Turkey

November 11, 2014

Tags: November Entertaining, Classic Southern Cooking, Poached Eggs, Hoecakes, Eggs Savannah

Eggs Savannah don't have to be confined to the brunch table
Before we launch into preparation for that all-consuming late-November cooks’ holiday (you know the one with the big bird in the middle of the table), here’s a gentle reminder that you don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving Day to entertain in November.

Even if the only entertaining you are, excuse the expression, entertaining is that weekend, say you’re having friends and family staying over during the holiday, you’re going to need something other than an oversized bird to keep them happy. (more…)

1 November 2014 Stuffed Zucchini in Autumn

November 1, 2014

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Autumnal Cooking, Zucchini, Stuffed Zucchini, Stuffed Vegetables

Mama's Stuffed Zucchini with Ham, photography by John Carrington
This All-Hallows Day blew into Savannah on wintry winds, bringing with it temperatures in the thirties that have put the final cap onto our lingering post-summer summer.

For those who live in more moderate climates, the Deep South’s summer, especially in our sub-tropical corner, always lingers past September and sometimes even October. That means that while other parts of the country have long since gathered the last of summer’s harvest and prepared the garden for winter, ours are often still producing tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and even eggplants. (more…)

24 October 2014: Broiled Oysters on the Half Shell

October 24, 2014

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Broiled Oysters, Broiled Oysters Savannah, Oysters, Oyster Roasts, Essentials of Southern Cooking

Broiled Oysters Savannah
One of the best things about autumn on the Georgia and Carolina coast is that our briny-sweet oysters come into season. Though the old maxim about harvesting them only in months with an R is no longer really observed, savvy locals know that local oysters are at their best when the weather cools and they're past their summer spawning. (more…)

23 October 2014: Boiled Peanuts

October 23, 2014

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Peanuts, Boiled Peanuts

Perfectly boiled peanuts, photographed handsomely by John Carrington
Boiled peanuts: for most Southerners, those words conjure memories of running barefoot through freshly mown grass on a warm summer evening, or of cheering on the home team from rough, weather-worn bleachers. But for the uninitiated outside our region, who have never seen peanuts any way but toasted and served forth in a bowl on the top of a bar or ground and slathered between two slices of white bread, it probably sounds like a culinary train wreck. (more…)

17 October 2014: Mushrooms with Sausage-Bourbon Filling

October 17, 2014

Tags: Stuffed Mushrooms, Mushrooms, Classic Southern Cooking, Sausage

Small Brown (also called crimini, "baby bella" and golden Italian) mushrooms are ideal candidates for stuffing with savory fillings, so long as the cook doesn't get carried away with the idea of being "interesting" with the filling.
Stuffed mushrooms come and go in popularity, but never seem to go out of style in Savannah. Anytime they appear on the cocktail buffet table, they disappear quickly. They’re so popular, in fact that I’ve always wished I could be more enthusiastic about them, especially since mushrooms are one of my favorite things. But while stuffing mushrooms with savory fillings is a great idea for a finger-food spread, most of the time the execution is a disappointment. They’re either too bland to be interesting or too interesting to be good. (more…)

15 October 2014: Cheese Straws and Leaves

October 15, 2014

Tags: Southern Cheese Straws, Cheese Leaves, Classic Southern Cooking, Essentials of Southern Cooking

Cheese Straws don't have to be extruded from a cookie press. Here they're cut with small seasonal cookie cutters into fall leaves.
Cheese straws and toasted pecans are to a Southern party what cards are to poker, a standard for any Southern hostess worth her iced tea. And yet, these crisp morsels often intimidate novices. They needn’t: once you grasp that they’re just a savory butter shortbread—one of the simplest of all cookies—they’re a snap to make. (more…)

13 October 2014: American Chili, Southern Style

October 13, 2014

Tags: American Chili, Classic American Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Autumnal Cooking

My Southern-style chili, gussied up just a little with sliced chilies, sour cream, and grated cheddar. Photography by the incomparable John Carrington
Last week Savannah had its first real taste of autumn weather with about three days of cool temperatures, low humidity, and clear skies. It was finally, magically, chili weather, an opportunity not to be missed: my first batch of the season was soon simmering away in my well-used Le Creuset enameled iron round oven. (more…)

6 October 2014: Remembering Daisy Redman and Chicken Madeira

October 6, 2014

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Savannah Cooking, Daisy Redman, Chicken, Madeira, Autumnal Cooking

Daisy Redman's famous Chicken Madeira, photographed by John Carrington in the dining room of Savannah's historic Battersby-Hartridge House, where Mrs. Redman's cooking frequently graced the table.
At the end of the 1970s, DuBose Publishing Company of Atlanta released a slim little volume called Four Great Southern Cooks. Despite its unassuming appearance, this book was destined to become one of the great treasures of traditional Southern cooks and food historians. Tattered copies that survive are fiercely guarded as family heirlooms, especially here in Savannah. (more…)

23 September 2014: Welcoming Autumn

September 23, 2014

Tags: Autumnal Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Essentials of Southern Cooking, Bacon, Shrimp, Shrimp Stew

Shrimp Stew with Bacon and Tomatoes, the perfect warm-up for welcoming Autumn in Savannah. Photography by Rich Burkhart
It doesn’t often happen, but the first day of autumn was met here in Savannah with a hint of genuine coolness in the air. It’s not quite chili, pot roast, and hearty stew weather, but the suggestion that it is on the way is an unexpected gift that’s not to be ignored. (more…)

10 September 2014: Fresh Black-Eyed Pea Ragout

September 10, 2014

Tags: Late Summer Cooking, Fresh Field Peas, Field Peas, Ragout, Classic Southern Cooking, Essentials of Southern Cooking

Fresh Black-Eyed Pea Ragout over Rice: hearty enough to satisfy that early craving for heartier fare, but light enough for late summer's lingering heat
Every year by mid-August, the ancient pecan tree that canopies our back yard and dominates the view from my office window decides “okay, I’m over this” and starts shedding its leaves. By September, more than two thirds of its foliage has abandoned its branches and become a brown, crackling carpet underneath, creating a mocking illusion of autumn amid the stubbornly lingering heat and humidity of a Lowcountry late summer. (more…)

30 August 2014: Seafood Cocktails

August 30, 2014

Tags: Seafood, Crab, Shrimp, Seafood Cocktails, Shrimp Cocktails, Classic American Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Bonnie Gaster, Tybee Island, Mrs. Dull

A Timeless summer classic: Tybee Shrimp and Crab Cocktail
Labor Day weekend is traditionally summer’s last hurrah for most Americans, even though the season won’t officially end until the autumnal equinox later in September, and, in the Deep South, won’t be effectively over until well into October. But never mind about the calendar and heat index: Summer’s waning, whether actual or merely symbolic, is as good an excuse as any for one more outdoor party. (more…)

29 July 2014: Really Fresh Okra and Tomatoes—Okra and Tomato Salad

July 29, 2014

Tags: Okra, Raw Okra, Tomatoes, Tomatoes and Okra, Classic Southern Cooking

Fresh Okra and Tomato Salad
One of my favorite summer snacks is a handful of small, raw okra pods — eaten as is, without so much as a speck of salt or pepper. When very young, small, and tender, okra has a delicate flavor that knows no equal. And contrary to what you might expect if you’ve ever chopped or sliced it for a gumbo, or tried to eat it when it was overcooked, the raw pods are not in the least gooey or sticky, but are as crisp and refreshing as a chilled cucumber. (more…)

8 July 2014: Sautéed Summer Squash with Onions

July 8, 2014

Tags: Yellow Crookneck Squash, Summer Squash, Classic Southern Cooking, Beans Greens & Sweet Georgia Peaches

Sauteed yellow crookneck squash is the very essence of a Southern summer
When we were home a couple of weeks ago, the summer squash vines in my mother’s garden were bright with yellow blossoms and the most precocious vine was sporting a single fat, sun-yellow crookneck. By the time we got back to Savannah, a bumper crop of yellow crooknecks was already coming in from local farmers. The sunny color and graceful swan necks of this vegetable are, for me, the very essence of summer. (more…)

20 June 2014 For the First Day of Summer—Buttermilk Fried Chicken

June 20, 2014

Tags: Southern Fried Chicken, Essentials of Southern Cooking, Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Cream Gravy, How to Cut Up a Chicken for Frying, Classic Southern Cooking, Chicken, Fried Chicken

Buttermilk Fried Chicken, photograph by John Carrington Photography
Since tomorrow (21 June) is the first day of summer, it seems like a good idea to visit one of the great icons of the Southern table—fried chicken. Surely no one would argue with that. But it has become so commonplace and universal that most of us, Southerners included, have completely forgotten that it was once a seasonal delicacy, something that could only be had in the spring and summer, the only time of year when very young, tender chickens could be found in the barnyard. (more…)

14 April 2014: Easter II Spring Purees

April 14, 2014

Tags: Easter Dinner, Classic French Cooking, Purees, Spring Purees, Classic Southern Cooking

Spring Puree, in this case made with fresh young carrots.
One of the nicest ways of beginning an Easter dinner (or any other spring celebration meal) is an old-fashioned French puree. These are not the thick, mashed-potato like “purees” that have become so fashionable lately, but fresh vegetable soups that have been pulverized to a suave, elegant cream.

Not only do purees show off the fresh, full flavors of the season’s produce, they adapt beautifully to the unpredictability of the weather, being equally as good cold as hot. (more…)

9 April 2014: Easter I, Classic Deviled Eggs

April 9, 2014

Tags: Easter, Easter Dinner, Deviled Eggs, Eggs, Classic Southern Cooking, Essentials of Southern Cooking

Classic, Old-Fashioned Deviled Eggs, here garnished with capers and a light dusting of paprika
A recent poll on my social media author’s page confirmed something that any Southerner already knew: it isn’t Easter dinner down South if it doesn’t begin with deviled eggs. But it also gave away something I’ve long suspected: that the affection for these morsels has no geographical limits. They may come in and out of “fashion,” but they’ve never lost their front and center place on Easter’s table all across the country. (more…)

21 September 2013: Curried Rice Salad

September 21, 2013

Tags: Rice Salad, Curried Rice Salad, Lowcountry Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Savannah

Curried Rice Salad with Raisins, Pecans, and Green Onions
As summer slips into autumn, it would not do to let it pass without visiting a warm weather standard that straddles the bridge between the seasons: curried rice salad.
Unlike pasta, leftover rice is perfect for recycling in a salad: while pasta often turns gummy and flabby when cold, rice holds its shape, remains firm and yet tender, and because its surface starches “set,” the grains don’t clump together but remain distinct and separate. (more…)

17 July 2013: Suffering Succotash

July 17, 2013

Tags: Succotash, Corn, Butterbeans, Historical American Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking

Classic Succotash with fresh butterbeans, corn, tomatoes, and herbs
Succotash is a true American classic and arguably one of the greatest vegetable dishes in all of American cookery. Though what we know by the name today mostly likely bears very little resemblance to the original, this mélange of corn and beans originated in Pre-Colombian America, and still carries its Native American name.

(more…)

16 March 2013: Scallops Diane

March 16, 2013

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Bay Scallops and Mushrooms, Scallops Diane, Shrimp Diane, Creole Cooking, Cajun Cooking, Louisiana Cooking, Pasta

Scallops with Mushrooms and Scallions, or "Scallops Diane"
If you follow this essay series at all, you will have noticed that I rarely venture into the justly famous cookery of Creole and Cajun Louisiana. That’s mainly because, first of all, these cuisines are not directly a part of my own heritage, and secondly, they have more than enough champions on their own, both true Louisianans and posturing Creole/Cajun wannabes, to need any help from the likes of this old Cracker. (more…)

4 February 2013: Ilda’s Ham and Potato Gratin

February 4, 2013

Tags: Ilda, Comfort Food, Ham and Potato Casserole, Historical Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Classic Italian Cooking

Ilda's casseruola al forno, or ham and potato gratin: comfort food in any language.
It was my first night in Italy. Our class had spent the day sketching in the picturesque port towns of Portofino and San Frutuoso. Soaked with Riviera sunshine and salty Ligurian air, we came back to the school, a villa that commanded its own picturesque view of the Bay of Genoa over the red-tiled rooftops of the old city. We were exhilarated, exhausted, and very hungry, as only active young people can be. (more…)

23 January 2013: A Trilogy of White Bean Soups

January 23, 2013

Tags: White Bean Soup, Bean Soup, Classic Italian Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Cannellini Beans

White Bean Soup II, with Garlic and Rosemary. If you're feeling the need for pig, ramp it up with pancetta or bacon
A welcome nip in the air has conspired with a touch of homesickness to bring on a craving for hearty, old-fashioned bean soup. There are so many good ones—from my father’s simple mélange of copper-brown pintos with ham and onion (eaten with hot cornbread crumbled into the bowl) to the suave, sophisticated puree of black beans that once graced so many Savannah dinner tables. I love them all, but my favorite is a simple, hearty white bean soup. (more…)

16 January 2012: Turtle Bean Soup

January 17, 2012

Tags: Savannah, Black Beans, Turtle Beans, Black Bean Soup, Savannah Turtle Bean Soup, Classical Southern Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Historical Cooking, Historical Southern Cooking

Savannah Turtle Bean Soup served in the old tradition. Photography by John Carrington, from The Savannah Cookbook
Across the lane from my office window (in Savannah, we do not have “alleys”), there are orange and gold turning leaves right next to a magnificent tulip magnolia in full bloom. In mid-January. Such rare mornings as have commanded a topcoat and scarf have more often than not dissolved into afternoons that are downright balmy, barely demanding a sweater. This is almost unheard of, even in our little seaside corner of Georgia.

Fortunately, despite such daytime extremes our evenings have been cool enough to stir a seasonal longing for warming, comfortable bowls of soup. And when comfort is required, is there anything that fills the bill quite so well as bean soup?

All bean soups, from the thick, pasta-studded zuppas of Tuscany to the fragrantly spicy mélanges of the Caribbean, speak of the region from whence they came, and Savannah’s own, made with black, or as they were colloquially known, “turtle” beans, was no exception.

Where most bean soups are robust and provincial, and eaten from coarse everyday pottery, this one was a subtly seasoned, velvet-smooth puree served in the best company china. Ranking second only to Turtle Soup for refined elegance (it even had the same garnish of wafer-thin sliced lemon, sieved egg, and minced parsley) it was the culinary answer to the graceful architecture that surrounds our celebrated squares.

Unhappily, modern Savannahians rarely encounter this lovely soup at all, let alone served in that gracious way. The black bean soup to be found in local cafés and on far too many family supper tables is a Cuban or Southwestern inspired concoction spiced up with chilies, cilantro, cumin, and enough garlic to ward off an entire family of vampires.

Now, there’s a lot to be said for a spicy dose of Caribbean or Southwestern sunshine on a cold, drizzly winter day. But when the soul needs both warmth and refinement, Old Savannah had the better medicine.

Savannah Turtle Bean Soup

Sometimes the eggs were merely sliced and laid on the bottom of the tureen or soup plate before the soup was ladled in, imitating the way the turtle’s eggs were used in that soup, but for state occasions, they were forced through a wire mesh sieve and sprinkled over the top of each serving.

Serves 8 as a first course at dinner, or 6 as a main course at lunch or supper

1 pound dried black beans
½ pound lean salt-cured pork, in one piece, or ¼ pound if pre-sliced
6 cups meat broth
1 large or 2 medium white onions, trimmed, split lengthwise, peeled and chopped
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, lightly crushed, peeled and minced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced small
1 small turnip, scrubbed, peeled and diced small
2 ribs celery, washed, strung and diced small
3 tablespoons tomato paste (or, in season, 2 medium ripe tomatoes scalded, peeled, seeded and chopped)
1 bay leaf
2 large sprigs of parsley
3 whole cloves, beaten to a powder with a mortar and pestle
1 blade mace, beaten to a powder with a mortar and pestle
Salt and whole black pepper in a peppermill
Ground cayenne
1 tablespoon mushroom catsup or Worcestershire sauce
2 large hard-cooked eggs, peeled
6-8 tablespoons sherry (1 tablespoon per serving)
1 lemon, thinly sliced
2-3 tablespoons minced parsley
Pepper Sherry, optional

1. Rinse the beans under cold running water, sort through and discard any damaged or discolored ones, and put them in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Add enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Beans cook better in soft water: if your water, like Savannah’s, is hard, use bottled or filtered water. Bring the beans slowly to a boil point over medium heat. Turn off the heat and soak until the beans have doubled in volume, about an hour.

2. Replenish the water with enough to cover the beans by 1 inch. Put the pot back over medium heat and bring it to a simmer again, skimming away any scum that rises. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer and cook until the beans are tender, about an hour.

3. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid, and return the beans to the pot with 2 cups of cooking liquid, the salt pork, and meat broth. Raise the heat to medium, and bring it back to a boil. Add the onion, garlic, carrot, turnip, celery, and tomato paste, let it return to a boil, skimming off any scum that rises, then put in the bay leaf and parsley, powdered cloves, a pinch or so of salt (going easy; you can correct it later), a liberal grinding of pepper, a small pinch of cayenne, and the catsup or Worcestershire. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer, cover, and cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 2 hours.

4. Puree the soup through a food mill or with a hand blender, regular blender, or food processor. If it’s too thick, thin it with some of the reserved bean cooking liquid. Return it to the pot and bring it back to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often to prevent scorching. Taste and adjust the seasonings, and let it heat 2 to 3 minutes longer.

5. Meanwhile, force the eggs through a coarse wire sieve. To serve, add a tablespoon of sherry to each bowl and ladle in the soup. Float a slice of lemon on top of each and sprinkle with egg and parsley. Serve at once, passing Pepper Sherry separately, if liked.

31 October 2011: Pasta al Forno and Macaroni Pie

October 31, 2011

Tags: Pasta, Macaroni, Classic Italian Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Marcella Hazan

Macaroni Pie, or Southern-style Pasta al Forno, photographed by John Carrington
Recently, Italian cooking authority Marcella Hazan published a thought-provoking essay called “. . . and then you do something more.” Her attention had been caught by a “creative” blogging cook’s overwrought rendition of a Bolognese classic, pork loin braised in milk. To the perfectly balanced quintet of the original dish (pork, milk, butter, salt, and pepper), the blogger had added enough garlic to fumigate lower Manhattan, at least three herbs, lemon zest, and, for reasons that completely elude this cook, olive oil.

Aptly calling the result “an acute case of culinary vandalism,” Sa. Hazan took the opportunity to remind us that cooking is a craft, and within that craft, a little creativity—like spice—goes a very long way and should never be allowed to take over and run amok.

“We should be spending our time as cooks,” she concluded, “in understanding, practicing, perfecting, and respecting a craft that is essential to our survival. We ought not to be distracted by trends, lured by fashion, obsessed by the pursuit of originality. These are not directly linked to the pleasure that well-crafted food brings.”

This came sharply home a day or two later, when I was putting together my contribution for a potluck party, a dish of baked pasta that was in my childhood simply called macaroni pie. Beneath its euphemistic name, when properly executed this Southern classic follows in the best tradition of Italian baked pasta: all it requires is good macaroni, the best cheese that can be had, and a little care with the craft.

The macaroni was good-quality Italian pasta, the cheese, a Vermont cheddar that, while it would have fallen far short of my grandfather’s standards, was still nothing to sneeze at. And there was a bit of Parmigiano-Reggiano on hand to make up for its minor shortcomings. Yet, suddenly, making it the usual way seemed unimpressively simple. Maybe if I added little cubes of browned bacon, with perhaps a couple of onions caramelized in the bacon fat, and some sage . . . or rosemary . . .

I got as far as opening the refrigerator door, but before my hand laid hold of the bacon, almost as if she had actually been there, watching and reading my thoughts, Marcella’s voice came sharply to my mind's ear: stop fooling around and just make it properly. Yes, ma’am.

The dish came back home scraped so clean that it barely needed washing.

Macaroni Pie

In parts of the South, a simple egg and milk custard replaces the cream that’s used here (about 2-3 eggs, depending on size, for the same volume of milk). In other places, the binder is bechamel, just as it is in Italy. My grandfather’s version, following an old North Georgia tradition that had English roots, was plain milk, with saltine crackers distributed among the macaroni as a thickener.

But however they’re bound together, the critical ingredients here are pasta and cheese: at the risk of being tediously redundant, so long as those two things are first rate, they don’t need help, and if they aren’t good, or if you’re a bit careless with the execution, the dish doesn’t have a prayer no matter what you add—and that’s all there is to it.

Serves 6

Salt
1 pound elbow macaroni
3 cups heavy cream
12 ounces (¾ pound) well-aged extra-sharp cheddar, coarsely grated
½ cup (about 2 ounces) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Whole black pepper in a mill

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375° F. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil, toss in a small handful of salt, stir, and then slowly add the macaroni, stirring. Let it come back to a boil, adjust the temperature to a steady but not rapid boil, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente. Meanwhile, butter a 2-to-3-quart casserole. Just before draining the pasta, take up and reserve about a quarter of a cup of the starchy cooking liquid.

2. Drain the pasta and turn it into the casserole. Add a few spoonfuls of the reserved cooking liquid (just enough to make it seem glossy and moist—you may not need it all), the cream, and toss until the pasta is coated. Add most of the cheddar, holding back about half a cup, half the Parmigiano, and a light sprinkle of salt and pepper. Quickly toss until the cheese is evenly distributed. Smooth the top and sprinkle the remaining cheeses over it. Generously grind pepper over it and bake in the center of the oven until bubbly in the middle and golden brown. Let rest 5-10 minutes before serving.

19 October 2011: Tasting Authentic History

October 17, 2011

Tags: Classical Southern Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Chicken Kentuckian, Bourbon, Mushrooms, Authenticity in Historical Cookery, Chicken

Chicken Kentuckian on the sideboard of a late eighteenth century dining room. The silver belonged to Fr. Ralston. Photography by John Carrington
At the Association of Food Journalists’ conference in Charleston earlier this month, four of us participated in a panel about Gullah cooking, the cuisine of Lowcountry residents of mostly West African descent. The core of the panel was a pair of women who were Gullah, author and cultural anthropologist Vertamae Grosvenor and Chef Charlotte Jenkins; Jeff Allen and I rode shotgun as outsider journalist and historian on either side.

The main task was to define Gullah cooking and address whether or not its present incarnation was authentic.

During the question and answer period, a man lamented that Gullah culture had been entirely obliterated by twentieth century development of the barrier islands of Carolina and Georgia.

This even though two Gullah women were sitting right in front of him.

His remark, however, did bring the real issue into focus: it forced the acknowledgment that the discussion had been less about definitions and context than authenticity within the framework of history. Had the Gullah community ceased to exist because its people had changed and adapted to cultural encroachment, and was their cooking, both in the Lowcountry and in the diaspora, still “authentic” in the face of these cultural adaptations?

If you think on that for half a minute, you’ll answer yes, of course it is—as authentic as it was three hundred years ago when the West African slaves who founded this culture first adapted their rice based cuisines to incorporate new ingredients such as cornmeal, beans, and salt pork. To argue otherwise would be like arguing that Italian food has not been authentic since the sixteenth century, when chocolate, coffee, corn, beans, tomatoes, and zucchini were introduced from the New World.

The only constant in life is change. When confronted with that constant, civilizations have three choices: move, adapt, or die. A cuisine that adapts to the forces of change is simply following a natural continuum that began the day the first men and women learned that holding food over a fire did good things to it.

The history of cooking is not a series of contained plateaus ascending like stairs but a free-flowing river that picks things up along the way, has things thrown into it, and in turn tosses things onto its banks and leaves them behind.

The logical illustration of this would be something from a Gullah kitchen; but as Jeff obligingly pointed out to our audience (and as you will readily notice from my picture), Gullah cookery is not part of my heritage.

A dish that is a part of it, that has been on my mind ever since the season turned, is Chicken Kentuckian, a handsome sauté of young chickens basted with bourbon and finished with mushrooms and cream.

It came to me from my former minister, the late Rev. William H. Ralston. Its lineage in his Kentucky family goes back at least to his grandmother, who made it with the family’s young yard chickens, rough homemade whiskey, and mushrooms that had been gathered in nearby horse pastures.

Fr. Ralston used a chicken from the market, refined distillery-brewed whiskey, and white button mushrooms. Though I routinely use the same whiskey that he did, my original rendition added dried porcini mushrooms to lend the earthy depth of the wild mushrooms his grandmother used. In more than twenty years of making it, subtleties that I’m not even conscious of have crept into the pan, making it uniquely my own.

Which version is the most “authentic?” All of them are. No, Fr. Ralston’s probably was not quite like his mother’s and certainly not his grandmother’s, and mine is no longer quite like his, just as your interpretation will eventually become uniquely your own.

Will what you taste be what Fr. Ralston’s grandmother did a hundred years ago, or what he did a mere two decades ago, or even what I do today? No. But will you still be experiencing an authentic taste of history? You bet.

Chicken Kentuckian
Serves 6

2 young frying chickens, no more than 2½-3-pounds each, disjointed as for frying
Salt
½ cup all-purpose flour
8-10 large, wild mushrooms, sliced thick, or ½ pound crimini or portabella mushrooms
½ ounce dried boletus edulis mushrooms (porcini or cèpes), optional
¼ cup unsalted butter
1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped scallion
½ cup well-aged bourbon
1 cup heavy cream (minimum 36 percent milkfat)

1. Wash the chickens, pat dry, and spread them on a platter. Lightly dust with salt and flour. Wipe the fresh mushrooms with a dry cloth and slice them thickly. If using dried mushrooms, put them in a heatproof bowl, pour 1 cup of boiling water over them, and soak until cooled.

2. In a large, heavy skillet that will hold all the chicken without crowding, heat the butter and olive oil over low heat. Add the chicken and chopped scallions and sauté, turning frequently, until it is golden and tender, about half an hour. While it cooks, baste every few minutes with spoonfuls of the bourbon, being careful to add it in small amounts so there is never any liquid accumulated in the pan: it should sauté, not steam. When the chicken is cooked through and golden and all the bourbon has been used, remove it to a warm platter.

3. Turn up the heat to medium high. If using the dried mushrooms, lift them out of their soaking liquid, dipping to loosen any sand that is clinging to them, and put them in the pan. Filter the soaking water through a paper towel or coffee filter and add it to the pan. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, and boil until all the liquid is evaporated. Add the fresh mushrooms and sauté, tossing constantly, until beginning to color, about 3 minutes.

4. Add the cream and scrape loose any residue that may be stuck to the skillet. Simmer until just heated through and starting to thicken, about 1-2 minutes, depending on the richness of the cream. Taste the sauce and correct the seasonings, pour it over the chicken, and serve at once.

25 September 2011: Chanterelle Season

September 25, 2011

Tags: Chanterelles, Wild Mushrooms, Parmigiano Butter, Lowcountry Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Historical Southern Cooking, John Martin Taylor, Hoppin' John Taylor

Late season Chanterelles sauteed as in the recipe given here, photographed on November 18; they're larger and meatier than the early season mushrooms I used when the accompanying story was written.
One of the loveliest things about late summer and early autumn in the Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry is the annual sprouting of chanterelle mushrooms, the yellow-orange trumpet mushrooms that briefly dot oak-shaded lawns and parks. Their flavor is delicate but distinctive, and well worth seeking out.

Foraging for them requires two things: a thorough knowledge of wild mushrooms and a sense of responsibility. Though wild-growing chanterelles are distinctive and easy to spot, novices can, and have, gone wrong, and over-harvesting or careless gathering by the greedy have all-too-often depleted many once plentiful beds.

In his masterpiece on Lowcountry cooking, John Martin Taylor (a.k.a. Hoppin’ John) instructs that the responsible way to gather chanterelles is to cut the stem just above the ground with a small knife or very sharp scissors rather than plucking them, so that they leave their genetic imprint behind for next year. You should also not be greedy and gather more than your share.

If all that intimidates you, or if you live in an area where these wonders don’t grow, farmed chanterelles are now available in many specialty grocers. While they’re expensive and won’t have the flavor of freshly harvested wild mushrooms, they are still delicious and well worth your while.

Since I don’t have a ready source for gathering them locally, the market is where I usually get mine, and when I spied a bin of them in a local specialty grocery, looking bright, fresh, and meaty, it was impossible to resist them, even at close to twenty dollars a pound. It’s only once a year, after all.

Regardless of how you come by them, preparing chanterelles for the table is a simple operation. Lowcountry cooks have long known that they need very little kitchen conjuring to bring out their best. The secret to perfection is a generous hand with the best butter that you can find.

Sautéed Chanterelles
Serves 4

¾ pound fresh chanterelle mushrooms (or a whole pound of you’re flush)
6 tablespoons best quality butter (preferably Parma or French butter*)
½ cup finely chopped shallots
1 large or 2 medium cloves garlic, finely minced (not pressed)
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
1 generous tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley

1. Gently brush any soil from the mushrooms with a dry cloth and thickly slice the large ones and halve the smaller ones. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. When it is barely melted, swirl the pan and add the shallots. Sauté, tossing often, until they are translucent and beginning to color.

2. Add the chanterelles and garlic and rapidly toss to coat with butter. Sauté, tossing, until the garlic is fragrant and beginning to color and the shallots are golden, about a minute.

3. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and sprinkle in the parsley. Let them heat, tossing, half a minute longer and take them off the heat. Add the remaining butter cut into bits and shake the pan until it is just melted. Eat them as is, or over (not in) omelets, or over pan-toasted bread, or as a sauce for pasta.

* Parma butter is a by-product of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese manufacturing, but don’t think of it as leftovers: it’s made from the rich, skimmed cream from the night milk. It, and sometimes excellent-quality French butter, can often be found in specialty grocers.

Serving Up the Chanterelles

Over an omelet: It is hard to beat chanterelles over (not in) an omelet made with fluffy newly-laid eggs. Prepare the mushrooms first and keep them warm, then make the omelets and spoon the chanterelles over them after they’re plated.

Over pan-toasted bread: Cut ½-inch thick slices from a good quality round loaf. Generously spread both sides with softened butter and put them in a skillet over medium heat. Pan-toast turning several times, until uniformly golden and crisp on the outside but still soft at the center. Keep them warm. Prepare the chanterelles as above, put the toast on 4 warmed salad plates, and top with the mushrooms.

With Pasta: This is how I had mine. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil, add a small handful of salt, and cook ¾ pound of pasta while you prepare the mushrooms in a pan large enough to hold the pasta up to the point of adding the finishing butter but don’t add it. When the pasta is done, drain, saving a little of its cooking water, and add it to the mushrooms over low heat. Toss well, adding a little of the cooking water if it’s too dry, then add the finishing butter and toss until it is melted and incorporated. Serve immediately. Good pasta choices: homemade egg tagliatelle, or short factory pasta such as penne, campanelle, lumache (snail-shaped), or ziti.

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.

10 August 2011: Supper Shrimp and Grits

August 11, 2011

Tags: Shrimp, Classic Southern Cooking, Grits, Shrimp and Grits

Summer Supper Shrimp and Grits. Photography by John Carrington
Long before it was discovered by ambitious chefs and made the poster appetizer for the Nouvelle Southern Cooking movement of the 1980s, shrimp with grits was hearty, humble breakfast and supper fare in the Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry that no one would have thought of as fancy, let alone an appetizer.

To begin with, it would not have occurred to anyone to have grits at dinner, particularly not at a formal table. In the second place, in those days the idea of something as substantial and satisfying as shrimp swimming in rich gravy as merely an appetizer would have seemed truly strange.

Once it got into the hands of creative chefs, however, there was no turning back until it had been so gussied up and overdone that it was hackneyed and passé. It then came full circle and was rediscovered as fashionably “retro”—whatever that is supposed to mean.

That’s not meant to be a cranky slam of what professional cooks do when they spin on a classic. It’s just that, in all their spinning, everyone lost sight of the original dish and its humble origins.

A lot of us stopped thinking of shrimp and grits as a perfectly sensible breakfast and supper dish and started thinking of it as too fancy for regular meals. We either quit making it altogether or saved it for company—something our grandmothers would rather have died than do.

This past Monday evening, I’d picked up some lovely local brown shrimp for supper. Since there were just two of us, it needed to be something simple, and I stood there with the refrigerator door open, getting nowhere, until the bag of grits on the bottom shelf caught my eye.

How could I have forgotten about shrimp and grits? The perfect supper on a hot summer evening had been there all the time, just waiting to be noticed.

For two persons (and this doubles nicely), you’ll need

¾ pound of medium shrimp
2 strips of extra-thick-cut bacon cut into ½-inch dice
1 small or half a medium yellow onion, trimmed, split, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
1 large clove garlic, lightly crushed, peeled, and minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and ground cayenne pepper
4 cups hot Cooked Hominy Grits (recipe follows)

1. Peel the shrimp, reserving the shells. Cover, and refrigerate the shrimp. Put the shells and 4 cups of water in a stainless or enameled pot. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, being careful not to let it boil over. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the liquid is reduced to 1 cup. Turn off the heat, strain the broth into a stainless steel or glass bowl. Discard the shells. If not proceeding right away, cool completely, cover, and refrigerate. (If you’re in a hurry, you can omit this step and just use water for the gravy, but this does make it tastier.)

2. When you are ready to continue, put the bacon in a large sauté pan or skillet that will hold the shrimp in one layer. Sauté over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until browned. Add the onion. Raise the heat to medium-high and sauté, tossing frequently, until it’s pale gold, about 4 or 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant but not colored. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until it is lightly browned, about 2 minutes more.

3. Slowly stir in the shrimp broth (or 1 cup of water) and bring it to a boil, stirring constantly. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and season lightly with salt and cayenne. Cook until the shrimp are curled and pink, about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings and serve at once over hot grits.

Cooked Hominy Grits
Serves 2

½ cup hominy grits (often labeled “regular” grits . . . whatever that means)
Salt

1. Bring 2 cups water to a boil in an enameled or stainless steel saucepan over medium heat. Prepare a teakettle of water, bring it to a boil, and keep it simmering.

2. Slowly add the grits to the saucepan in a steady stream, stirring constantly. Bring it to a boil, still stirring, and reduce the heat to a steady simmer. Loosely cover the pan and cook, stirring often, until the grits are very thick and tender, about an hour. If the grits get too thick before they’re tender, add a little of the simmering water from the kettle.

3. Season to taste with salt and simmer 5 minutes longer.

18 July 2011: Okra Soup

July 18, 2011

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Southern Cooking, Okra, Tomatoes, Okra and Tomatoes, Savannah Cooking

Okra Soup, a summer staple in Savannah. Photography by John Carrington
One of the key foundations on which so much of Southern cooking is built is the rather magical pairing of okra with tomatoes. From Maryland to Florida, Virginia to Texas, whether it’s simply the two vegetables simmered together, a thick gumbo, or a complex pot of vegetable soup in which they’re joined by everything else in the garden, the combination is practically universal.

Small wonder: this union is one of those perfect marriages of flavor and texture, so perfect in fact that we tend to forget it was unheard of as little as five centuries ago. Tomatoes are of course native to Central America and okra is African; for thousands of years they were quite literally a world apart from one another.

Exactly how they came together is murky territory for historians. However, since tomatoes were introduced to West Africa by Portuguese explorers early in the sixteenth century, it seems logical that the idea sprang from the mind of an African cook. And it’s significant that the first (if not only) appearance of this pairing in American cookery is in the South, where there were enslaved Africans in many kitchens.

At any rate, it quickly took root down here. When Mary Randolph set down her recipe for “ocra and tomatas” in The Virginia House-wife in 1824, the combination was already so deeply engrained that it was practically universal. Down in the Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry, for example, it was a defining element of the local cuisine when Mrs. Randolph was in diapers.

In Savannah, the really characteristic dish that spun off this pairing is Okra Soup, a simple mélange of tomatoes, okra, and broth made from both beef and ham. Once a staple soup course throughout the summer for formal two o’clock dinners and main dish for businessmen’s lunches and family suppers, its real beauty as a culinary concept is that it can be both refined and elegant and coarse and hearty.

Regardless of how and when it’s served, okra soup always comes with a large spoonful of steamed rice. Once, fiery little bird peppers and/or Pepper Sherry were offered as well. The peppers were passed in a small bowl, and each guest took just one to crush in the bottom of the soup plate, but removed it before the soup was ladled in (they’re so hot that that’s all most people could stand). Pepper sherry, equally as hot but more refined, made the rounds in a cut glass cruet, to be added in mere droplets at the diner’s discretion.

Such graceful customs have, unhappily, all but disappeared, but thankfully the classic soup endures.

Savannah Okra Soup

The best way to tackle this job is to turn it into a 2-day operation: make the broth on the first day, chill and degrease it, then finish the soup the following day.

Serves 6

2 pounds meaty beef shank bones
1 smoked ham hock, about ¾ pound
2 medium white onions, trimmed, split lengthwise, peeled, and chopped
3 pounds ripe tomatoes, scalded, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
1½ pounds small, tender okra (about 8 cups), trimmed and thinly sliced
Salt and whole black pepper in a peppermill
1½ cups hot Lowcountry Steamed Rice
Fresh green bird’s eye peppers and/or Pepper Sherry (see below), optional

1. Bring the beef, ham hock and 3 quarts of water slowly to a boil in a heavy bottomed stockpot over medium heat, carefully skimming away the scum that rises. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the liquid is reduced to 2 quarts, about 2 hours. Add the onion and simmer slowly until tender, about 20 minutes. Let it settle a few minutes and skim off the excess fat. You may make the broth a day ahead. Cool, cover, and refrigerate it without skimming, then you can simply remove the solidified fat from the top.

2. When you’re ready to finish the soup, bring it back to a simmer over medium heat. Stir in the okra and tomatoes, loosely cover, and let it come back to a simmer. Uncover, reduce the heat, and simmer gently for about 20 minutes.

3. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, until the vegetables are tender and the soup is quite thick, at least an hour more—longer won’t hurt. Remove the beef and ham hock. Some cooks pick the meat from the bone and add it back to the soup. Others frown on this practice. Discard the bones.

4. Pour the soup into a heated tureen or divide it among heated soup plates. If offering fresh bird peppers, allow guests to crush a single pepper in their bowls and remove it before the soup is ladled in. You may also pass Pepper Sherry (see below) instead. Put ¼ cup of rice in the center of each serving, or pass it separately.

Notes on additions: Other vegetables are sometimes added, most commonly butterbeans (small lima beans) and corn. Add a generous cup each of fresh, small green butterbeans and freshly cut white corn for the last 40 minutes of simmering.

To make Pepper Sherry: put a third of a cup of bird’s eye peppers (or as much as half a cup of other hot peppers) in a heatproof bowl. Pour a cup of boiling water over them, let stand for one minute, then drain and transfer the peppers to a glass cruet or jar that will hold one and a half cups. Add a cup of medium dry sherry, cover, and let step for at least a day before using.