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Recipes and Stories

26 July 2019: Peach Shortcake

Peach Shortcake

 

Shortcake is one of the most versatile of all home desserts. The biscuit-like cake can be enriched with more butter and an egg yolk, spiced, studded with currants or chopped raisins, glazed with beaten egg white for a glossy finish, or brushed with milk and topped with cinnamon sugar.

 

The filling can be anything at all from savory to sweet: on the savory end, creamed chicken, creamed asparagus or peas, or even seafood (though I'd leave out the sugar in the shortcake for that); on the sweet end, fresh berries or soft summer fruit such as peaches, plums, mangoes, or figs, jam, cooked fruit compote, or even citrus marmalade.

 

But one of the very best of those fillings, even better perhaps than strawberries, is ripe, bright tart-sweet peaches. If you've never had peach shortcake, before the last fruit of the summer are gone, give it a try and see for yourself.

 

Peach Shortcake

 

This biscuit-like shortcake is the kind I remember my mother making throughout my childhood: She never had those little sponge cake cups and of course they were "fancy" so naturally we wanted those and not her simple homey cakes. Now we know better.

 

Makes 4:

 

For the biscuit shortcakes

5 ounces (about 1 cup) all-purpose Southern soft-wheat flour or pastry flour

1½ teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon chilled unsalted butter, cut into bits

1 tablespoon chilled lard or vegetable shortening, cut into bits

About ½ cup whole milk buttermilk or whole milk yogurt thinned to buttermilk consistency

 

For the peaches:

2 large, ripe freestone peaches

1 lemon, halved

Salt

5-7 tablespoons sugar, divided

Ground cinnamon and whole nutmeg in a grater

1 cup heavy cream

 

1. To make the shortcakes: Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 450° F. Sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and lard and cut it in with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture is the size of small peas. Make a well in the center and pour in ½ cup of buttermilk. Using a very light hand and as few strokes as possible, combine the ingredients into a soft dough. If it is too crumbly and dry, add milk by the spoonful until the dough is just holding together. Gather it into a ball.

 

2. Lightly flour the dough and a work surface and put the dough on it. Pat it out ½-inch thick. Fold it in half, pat flat again, and repeat 3-4 more times, using as light a hand as possible. If the dough gets sticky, lightly flour it, but use as little flour as possible. Pat it out ½-inch thick. Dip a 2½-inch-round biscuit cutter in flour and, pushing straight down without twisting, cut the dough into 4 rounds. Any leftover scraps can be lightly reworked and cut or baked as they are for cook's treat. Lay the cakes on an un-greased baking sheet.

 

3. Bake in the upper third of the oven for 8-12 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool on a rack and, if making them ahead, store them in an airtight tin or plastic container.

 

4. While shortcakes bake, peel, halve, and pit the peaches and slice them into a glass or ceramic bowl. Sprinkle with the juice of ½ lemon, a tiny dash or pinch of salt, 3-4 tablespoons of sugar, a dusting of cinnamon, and a light grating of nutmeg, all to taste. Toss well until the fruit is evenly coated, cover, and let it sit for 10-15 minutes, or until the sugar is dissolved. Taste and adjust the lemon juice, sugar, and spices and let it sit 5 minutes longer.

 

5. When you're ready to serve, whip the cream until frothy and beginning to thicken, sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of sugar, then whip it to firm peaks. Split the shortcakes horizontally with a serrated knife. Put the bottom halves on 4 dessert plates. Top with the peaches and some of their juice, holding back a few slices for garnish, then top each serving with a healthy dollop of whipped cream. Put the top halves of the shortcake over the filling, add a dollop or whipped cream, and garnish the edge with a few slices of peach. Serve as soon as they're assembled.

 

Recipe and some text are adapted from Essentials of Southern Cooking, Copyright © 2013 by Damon Lee Fowler, all rights reserved.

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19 October 2018: Grilled Ham and Pimiento Cheese

Grilled Ham and Pimiento Cheese.

When griddle-toasted sandwiches became popular in the last century, it raised one of the oldest sandwiches known, thin-sliced ham and cheese tucked between thin slices of buttered bread, from classic to perfection. There’s nothing in all of cooking that can surpass that exquisite balance of crisp butter-toasted bread, warmed salty-sweet ham, and irresistibly  Read More 

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8 July 2018: Summer Comfort and Blueberry Crumble

Blueberry Crumble is summer comfort food at its very best.

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

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

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16 February 2018: Hot, or Baked, Chicken Salad

Hot, or Baked Chicken Salad, a relatively new Southern classic

Tradition has often been defined as “how they did it when we were children” and it’s not a bad description of the way we all too often look at the elusive thing that we call Southern Cooking. So much of the “traditional” cooking that sparks debate among Southerners today has actually not been around all that long.

For example, one of the easiest ways to start the biggest fight you ever saw is to pronounce before a group of Southerners that there is only one true way to make pimiento cheese and then proceed to describe said way. Every single person present will argue that you don’t know what you’re talking about, because that’s not how their grandmother made it. Read More 

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3 February 2018: Classic Chicken Divan

My Chicken Divan


One of the great dishes of mid-to-late twentieth century American cooking is Chicken Divan, a layered gratin of broccoli, chicken breast and a velouté sauce enriched with cheese. Believed to have been name for its place of origin, the Divan Parisien Restaurant in New York City’s old Hotel Chatham (which stood at Vanderbilt Avenue between East 48th and 49th Streets), it was probably created sometime in the 1940s and is credited to Chef Anthony Lagasi.* Read More 

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12 January 2018: In Defense of Southern Cooking, Part I

Fresh Collard Greens

One day around the new year, when pots of collards and field peas were simmering away in so many Southern kitchens, a discussion arose among some of my colleagues about the frequency with which collards seemed to be turning up on so many so-called “new” Southern restaurant menus, and of how these greens were mostly being used and presented in ways that had nothing to do with Southern cooking.

The nicest thing one could say of most of these misbegotten things is that they’re bewildering. Read More 

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24 December 2017: Drinking Custard

Drinking Custard

Every year when the winter holidays roll around, I begin to crave that old-fashioned Southern holiday treat, drinking custard. Eggnog, at least, the real thing laced with bourbon or brandy, wasn’t something we had in a Baptist pastorium. But drinking custard was another thing. We could enjoy it not only at Christmas, but throughout the cold season.

If you’ve not encountered it, drinking custard is the same thing as custard sauce, only made with fewer egg yolks or whole eggs so that it’s thin enough to sip from a cup the way you’d do eggnog. For many Southern families, it was and still is a long standing holiday tradition and is actually the base that is often used for eggnog, especially if it contains no alcohol.

Mama used to tell stories of the days when my father was in seminary in Louisville and pastored a small country church Read More 

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19 December 2017: Christmas Breakfast

Christmas Strata with Ham and Mushrooms

When I was growing up, Christmas day always began (well, after plundering a roomful of Santa loot) with a traditional Southern breakfast: grits, eggs, my granddaddy’s perfectly seasoned pork sausage, country ham with red-eye gravy, homemade biscuits, usually with fruitcake, ambrosia, and sometimes drinking custard added in.

Nowadays, unless we have friends drop by, there are just two of us here on Christmas morning: Our children and grandchildren live three states away; my parents and siblings are four hours away. And one of us is a church musician with a command performance at Christmas Day Mass. We rarely have the luxury of time and leisure for a breakfast like that.

And, to be completely honest, the last thing I want to do on Christmas morning is stand in the kitchen monitoring a grits pot, hot oven, and panful of sausage patties. Read More 

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21 November 2017: Cinnamon-Orange Cranberry Sauce

Simple Cinnamon Cranberry Sauce is embarrassingly easy and lends a welcome homemade touch to the meal.

This year, I’m not doing my usual planning and precooking for Thanksgiving dinner, which has not been easy. For the first time in years my house isn’t fragrant with turkey broth and roasting pecans and my refrigerator isn’t crammed with more food than will fit into it.

My father turns ninety on Thanksgiving Day, so Tim and I are heading up to my parents’ house to be with them. I’ll be cooking, but it will be my mother’s way and there will be a lot of things that I usually do that won’t be on the table this year.

Never mind.  Read More 

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15 November 2017: MaMa and Salmon Croquettes

MaMa's Salmon Balls or Croquettes if you want to be dainty, served on one of her brown flameware plates with her flatware.

Nostalgia does odd things to us, at times when we’re least expecting it. Last week, while ambling down an aisle at the market, minding my own business and looking for something completely different, nostalgia, in the form of a large can of wild-caught “Traditional Style” salmon, jumped right off the shelf and accosted me.

“Traditional” means it was packed whole, skin, bones, and all. And standing there looking at that neat stack of pink-labeled cans, what my mind’s eye saw was a gray-striped pink cylinder of fish standing tall in a chipped and grazed creamware bowl of my grandmother’s. Suddenly, she was right there beside me, murmuring excitedly, “They’re on sale! Let’s get some!” Read More 

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1 November 2017: Of Writers’ Block and Bourbon Apple Cobbler

Bourbon Apple Cobbler

Any writer will tell you that there’s nothing to equal the exhilarating feeling that comes with finishing a piece of writing. Whether it’s a whole book, a magazine article, or just a short essay like this, it’s like winning a door prize, finally being let out of jail, and reaching the top of an impossible mountain climb or finish line of a marathon, all at once.

But then. What immediately follows is an awful, restless sense of “what now?” It’s almost like being abandoned. That piece of writing has been your sole life’s purpose for days, months, sometimes years. And now it’s finished . . . with nothing to take its place. It’s not quite like writer’s block, but sometimes it feels worse. Read More 

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30 October 2017: Chicken Pot Pies

My Chicken Pot Pie, with carrots, celery, onions, and peas and a basic pastry topping

One of the most welcome of all supper dishes on a crisp autumn evening is old-fashioned chicken pot pie. For warming comfort it may have its equals, but it has no superior.

Like so many homey dishes of its kind, there are probably as many versions as there are cooks, ranging from the elegantly simple triad of chicken, gravy and pastry to those loaded with vegetables, herbs, and spices. Some are even embellished with hard-cooked eggs and ham.

Some are made only with a whole chicken that was cooked specifically for the pie, while others are only made when there are leftovers that need using up. Read More 

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23 October 2017: Mama’s Stuffed Zucchini

Mama's Baked Stuffed Zucchini

My mother has capably filled many roles in her life—singer, teacher, administrator, pastor’s wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, but she’s never more herself than when she’s in her garden.

Even from hundreds of miles away, I can see her puttering in that garden as clearly as if I was standing at her kitchen window looking out at it. From early spring until well after the first frost, in the morning and again at dusk, she’d be out there, her face shaded by a big straw hat, her shoes and trousers stained with red clay dust, watering young seedlings, talking to the pest-eating critters who forage among the plants, inspecting the cucumbers, okra, squash, and tomatoes for fruit that has gone from green nub to ready-to-harvest literally overnight. Read More 

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9 October 2017: Broccoli, Bacon, and Potato Soup

Broccoli, Bacon, and Potato Soup

This morning, my office window looks out on an autumnal scene that seems like the beginning of perfect day for soup. Through the dwindling leaf canopy of the old pecan tree that dominates the view, the early sun occasionally peeks weakly through clouds that promise rain. There’s even a bit of frost on the window panes.

Unhappily, appearances, as they so often are here in Savannah, are deceiving:  Read More 

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3 October 2017: Pork Chops for Fall

Oven-Braised Pork Chops with Apples and Sauerkraut

It was a crisp fall evening in the early days of my graduate school work at Clemson University, and we actually had something that architecture students rarely see: an evening free of deadlines.

I’d just moved off campus into my first apartment on my own, a cozy four room half-basement affair tucked into the side of a hill, with a kitchen that, at long last, was completely mine. Every free moment back then was spent in that kitchen, experimenting, puttering, nibbling. Read More 

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30 August 2017: Old-Fashioned Squash Casserole

A Southern Classic: Old-Fashioned Squash Casserole

Before summer passes, some thoughts on an old seasonal classic.

One of the loveliest standard dishes for those great old Southern institutions—church covered-dish suppers, dinners-on-the-grounds, and buffet spreads for family reunions and funerals—is squash casserole. Variously known as a casserole, pudding, and soufflé (those last mainly when it has eggs in it), it’s popularity as a covered-dish offering probably owes a lot to the fact that it was cheap (the main ingredient came right out of the back garden), easy to make (especially on short notice), and delicious with just about anything. Read More 

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28 August 2017: Sherry Cobbler

An Old-Fashioned Sherry Cobbler. Photograph by John Carrington Photography, from The Savannah Cookbook (Gibbs-Smith, 2008).

Today, in part because of the horrendous weather that’s wreaking havoc elsewhere in the South, we’re having an unusual and welcome break from the long, unrelenting swelter that’s August in the lowcountry. With almost daily showers and high temperatures hovering at three digits, the outdoors has been a giant steam bath since July. Every year we complain that it seems worse than the last, but if we’re honest, we’ll admit it’s pretty normal for summer down here. Still, it often leads us to ponder how our ancestors got through it without air-conditioning.

The answers to that puzzle are: mountain cabins, beach cottages, and sherry cobbler.  Read More 

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4 July 2017: Old-Fashioned American Potato Salad

For Independence Day, Old-Fashioned American Potato Salad

Because it's Independence Day and I'm missing my grandmother more than usual today, tonight's dinner includes the very old-fashioned American-style potato salad that MaMa always made, with celery, sweet onion, sweet pickles, hard-cooked eggs, and mayonnaise (she used Duke's) laced with a little yellow mustard for zip and color.

My grandmother diced the potatoes and then boiled them, but I've always boiled the potatoes whole, in their skins, to preserve their flavor and keep them from being sodden.  Read More 

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11 April 2017: Parsley

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. Read More 

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20 March 2017: The Key Ingredient

A little bit of love and a lot of cleaning and organizing have made my small, dark kitchen seem new and comfortable.

For nine years, I have hated my kitchen.

People are always surprised to hear it: Somehow, there’s a prevailing notion that all food writers are possessed of dream kitchens—spacious, light, airy, equipped with state-of-the-art appliances and gleaming copper cookware.

And wouldn’t that be nice?

I am blessed to have nice equipment (including gleaming copper), but the kitchen it occupies is rented and not the stuff that my (or anyone else’s) dreams are made of. Read More 

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6 March 2017: Of Leftovers and Creamed Tuna

Old-Fashioned Creamed Tuna with Noodles

So much contemporary food writing, my own included, focuses on the importance of freshness: Using the best ingredients that our budgets will allow; taking the time and care to select the freshest, choicest things that we can find; using care in the way we store and use them. It would be nice if our cooking could always be like that. But more often than not, our day-to-day cooking is (or should be) more about not wasting what we’ve already got on hand.

Far too many people on this planet—no further away than our own neighborhoods—are hungry. No, using up that food instead of throwing it out isn’t helping those hungry people. But to squander still edible food just because it’s not at its absolute peak is self-indulgent and irresponsible.  Read More 

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27 February 2017: Fancy Food and Chicken à la King

Classic Chicken à la King served over buttered toast

During the post-war 1940s, ‘50s, and early ‘60s, when homemaking was still the most common profession for women, a popular form of entertainment was the ladies’ luncheon, either as an end in itself or as a part of a bridge party, garden club, or church circle meeting. The food for these occasions was dainty and fancy: tomato aspic, consommé, creamed chicken and seafood, casseroles, chicken, ham, and fish salads, and congealed and composed salads. How it looked was probably more important than how it tasted, but flavor was still not to be taken for granted.

The king, if you’ll pardon the expression, of all this dainty fare was Chicken à la King. Basically creamed chicken with an attitude, it dates back, as so many things of its kind do, to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, with at least four claims on the credit for its creation.  Read More 

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

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. Read More 

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26 March 2016: Mastering the Make-Ahead Easter Dinner IV—Butterflied Leg of Lamb

Roast Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Herbs, Garlic, and White Wine

If you’re doing a ham for Easter, you’re pretty much home free from here, but if you like to have lamb for the feast, as I do, you can’t cook it ahead unless you just want to have it cold on purpose.

Fortunately, a boned and butterflied leg cooks quickly with a minimum of last minute fuss.  Read More 

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15 February 2016: Sunny-Side-Up

Perfect Sunny-Side-Up Eggs are, like all simple cooking, a matter of finesse

Yesterday, a regular reader asked me to devote one of my newspaper columns to the proper way of cooking a sunny-side-up egg. My first reaction was that it’s a very simple process that even a big mouth like me could not stretch out into an entire newspaper story.

My second reaction was to recall that, like all simple things, a properly fried egg does take a little finesse—and finesse is a virtue that is far too often overlooked in the kitchen, especially when the process is a simple one.

Sunny-side up is actually just another name for the classic American-style fried egg. And the real secret to success with it lies in understanding that “fried,” in this instance, is a misleading moniker.  Read More 

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22 January 2016: Cleaning Day Beef Vegetable Stew

Cleaning Day Beef Stew: the Le Creuset enameled iron pot was the perfect thing for a slow, mostly unattended simmer

Cleaning out the cooking school kitchen at Kitchenware Outfitters, emptying the pantry of “what is THAT doing in here,” outdated samples, and small, unusable portions of condiments, pasta, curry paste, and so forth, dusting and reorganizing drawers, dish cupboards, and pot cabinets, is never my idea of a good time, but it has to be done periodically and the downtime before classes begin is the sensible time to do it.

And, truth to tell, there’s something cathartic about it that is really satisfying. Read More 

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19 March 2015: Strawberry 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.  Read More 

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26 November 2014 Mastering Thanksgiving XI—Turkey and Dressing

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. Read More 

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24 November 2014: Mastering Thanksgiving VI—Traditional Pumpkin Pie

All American Pumpkin Custard Pie

Now that we’ve established that I take an ecumenical approach to the traditional sweet potato and pumpkin custard pies on Thanksgiving’s dessert board, and have shared my grandmother’s recipe for the former, here’s how she made the latter.

It’s just a standard pumpkin custard without frills or “reinvention,” varying from most other American recipes only in detail.  Read More 

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23 November 2014 Mastering Thanksgiving IV—The Pastry Cook

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. Read More 

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