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Recipes and Stories

2 July 2020: Old Home Week and Pimiento Cheese

The Arts and Crafts Cottage where my maternal grandparents lived, which we all knew as "Ma-Ma's House."

 

Last week I went back to Anderson, South Carolina, my parents' home town and the site for some of my best childhood memories and earliest cooking experiences. It was the first time I'd been back in at least twenty-three years, and was bittersweet.

 

It was surprising how much was just was it had been when I last drove away from it, as if the ensuing decades had passed without touching it. But so much had changed—and a good bit of it for the better. By the time I was in college, the old downtown was rapidly going to seed. But it has since experienced a Renaissance. The courthouse square, which had been paved over as a parking lot in the fifties, has been reclaimed as a small park and the site of a new courthouse annex. Trees lined the center median of Main Street, and new shops, restaurants, and hopping night spots have filled the old storefronts that line its edges.

 

But. While all the places that had meant a lot to me were still standing, many of them were in peril. Southside Baptist Church, where my parents met, grew up together, and were married, was sadly neglected. Its trademark steeple was shedding shingles and louvers from the bell chamber openings, the latter of which had been boarded over for so long that the paint on those boards was faded and peeling.

 

Next to it, the tree-lined streets that made up Gluck Mill Village, where my father was born and raised, now have an uneven canopy from so many of its trees succumbing to age and neglect. The neat rows of cottages, once carefully and lovingly tended, resemble the snaggle-toothed grin of someone whose dental hygiene has been grossly neglected. For every house that is still neat, square, and shining with fresh paint, there are at least three that look beaten-down and defeated.

 

The sturdy brick school house, which, when I started at Clemson had only recently been neatly restored into a community center, is now abandoned and has deteriorated into a boarded-up, dilapidated ruin, overrun with weeds and Virginia creeper.

 

Just a block away from it stands the house where Dad was born and raised. Though still in the family, it has the down-at-heels look of a place that's no longer loved. The yard where Paw-Paw Fowler, with less than two weeks left to his life, stubbornly stood on weakened legs to watch the church until my parents came out so he'd know they were married, is cluttered and overgrown.

 

The little duplex where Granny (Dad's mother) moved after Paw-Paw died, and spent the last thirty or so years of her life, was still in fairly good repair, but was so changed that it was barely recognizable, and the porch where I can still see her rocking was no longer screened, but instead had a strange heavy, modern railing that clashed with its simple architecture.

 

We left the village and drove less than a mile down Old Starr Highway, now called South Main, to where it splits and merges with Murray Avenue to form a divided highway. We stopped on the small island of land formed by that split in the graveled lot of a long, still-sturdy, brick storefront whose wide front porch hugs the edge of the highway.

 

The faded but still legible signs on its flank read Master's Country Store, but in my youth it was just "Master's Store," a grocery, dry-goods, butcher's shop, and service station that catered both to the surrounding farming community and the mill village.

 

For more than thirty years, my maternal grandfather managed that store, pumping Texaco gas, checking oil and tire pressures, scooping ice cream, and delivering boxes of groceries (yes, delivering) to the elderly widows in the neighborhood. But mostly, he was the butcher.

 

He made sage-scented pork sausage that lured customers all the way from Atlanta, ground beef chuck, cubed round steak, and cut rib steaks to order from carefully aged whole sides of meat. And with an ancient, cleaver-like carbon-steel cheese cutter, he cut fat, orange wedges of cheddar from cloth-bound wheels that he'd aged for at least two years in the meat locker.

 

As I stood on the shady porch of that store and peeked through its dusty windows, I could still smell, if only in my mind, the sawdust that covered the butchery floor, the pungent aroma of sage, red pepper flakes, and salted pork fat, and the mustiness of old, oil-stained wood. But most of all, I could smell and almost taste the tang of that cheese.

 

It's natural rind nearly russet-colored with age and its center studded with the same protein crystals that mark a mature Parmesan, it was so sharp that it would literally take the roof off your mouth—and was indescribably delicious. I've not tasted its equal since.

 

Wistfully, I turned away and wandered next door to the only other building on that "island," a modest arts-and-crafts cottage where my maternal grandparents lived for half their marriage. In their day it was always gleaming white, its porch, surrounded by flowering hedges and beds of black-eyed Susans, sported a double swing and bright rows of red geraniums in fat clay pots that were at various times rusty natural clay, sun-yellow, dark green, and wash-cauldron black.

 

Painted red now to match the other outbuildings of the Masters family farm across the road, the house is unoccupied, and although it's being tended, its grass is mown and its shrubberies trimmed, it no longer has the loving attention it knew in my grandparents' day.

 

As I stood on its front lawn, a rush of nostalgia that was warming and heartbreaking in equal measure brought back some of the happiest moments of my childhood: Chasing June bugs and grasshoppers in that yard, climbing the old chinaberry tree, lazily reading or drawing on that porch, and, best of all, cooking with my grandmother in the kitchen.

 

When I close my eyes, I can still see that kitchen in sharp detail, down to the contents of every cupboard. Before I was ten, its bright yellow beaded-board walls were replaced with clean, white plasterboard, and its few enameled steel cabinets gave way to modern built-ins of knotty-pine. But even though it was white for a lot more of my childhood than it was yellow, that's how it lives on in my memory.

 

That kitchen is where I learned how to fry chicken, make country-steak with onion gravy, sauté blanched poke salad with streak-of-lean and spring onions, slow-simmer pole beans with salt pork, stuff hollowed-out yellow crookneck squashes for baking, make my grandmother's beef vegetable soup that was thick with produce that all came from my grandfather's garden plot, mixed countless pound and layer cake batters, fried doughnuts and dusted them with cinnamon sugar, and hand-mixed the best pimiento cheese that I'd had before or since.

 

I can still vividly recall every detail of making that pimiento cheese, down to squishing part of the cheese into the mayonnaise with my bare hands, but have never recreated it exactly. That's partly because of the cheese that went into it, the cheddar my grandfather aged in the meat locker. But it's only recently that I realized the other thing that was missing: the mayonnaise Ma-Ma used.

 

It wasn't homemade. Ma-Ma wasn't a lazy cook, but if a commercial product came along that took care of a tedious cooking chore, such as beating driblets of oil into egg yolks by hand with a fork, she embraced it without looking back. So it was a commercial mayonnaise. But the trouble is that the brand she used, while still made, no longer tastes the same. Most brands today, hers included, are made with soybean oil, which has a distinct aftertaste that's not altogether pleasant.

 

Still, I make it, and try to get it as much like hers as I can manage. Because, even if it's only a whisper of what it was then, it's still a touchstone back to her, to my grandfather, and to a childhood that, while not always perfect, was a lot luckier and happier than I knew.

 

It isn't complicated; it just needs care, patience, and good cheese. Take a pound of the sharpest, oldest cheddar you can get your hands on and, while it's still cold, grate a quarter of it through the fine holes of a box grater. Yes, by hand. Set that aside. If it's not as sharp as you'd like, fine-grate a quarter of a pound of good Parmigiano-Reggiano and set it aside. Grate the remaining cheddar through the coarse holes of the grater and let it all sit until it loses its refrigerator chill.

 

Meanwhile, drain two 4-ounce (or one 7-to-8-ounce) jars of diced pimientos in a large wire-mesh strainer set over a bowl to catch the juice. Get out dry mustard powder and ground cayenne pepper and have it close by.

 

Now, put the fine-grated cheddar in a mixing bowl and add to it about ¾ of a cup of mayonnaise. Add a generous pinch of the mustard and a dash or so of cayenne. Using your hands, squish the mayonnaise and cheese together until it's smooth. Yes it's messy and a little disgusting, but if you channel your inner child, it's actually kind of fun.

 

Mix in the coarse-grated cheddar, pimientos, a spoonful or so of the pimiento juice, and, if you're using it, the Parmigiano-Reggiano. If it seems too thick and stiff, add another spoonful each of pimiento juice and mayonnaise, and then add mayonnaise by spoonfuls until it's a good spreading consistency, but not loose and mayonnaise-y. Taste and adjust the cayenne and mustard, keeping in mind that what you should mainly be tasting is cheese and pimientos.

 

You can dig into it right away, but it'll be improved by letting it rest, refrigerated, for a couple of hours or even overnight. It'll keep in the fridge for at least a week. Always let it sit at room temperature for at least fifteen-to-twenty minutes so that it loses that tombstone refrigerator chill. Slather it on thin-sliced white bread, pipe it into 2-to-3-inch lengths of washed and strung celery, or just put it in a bowl and surround it with crackers.

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30 June 2020: Lowcountry Summer in a Bowl

Shrimp with Tomatoes and Okra

 

Three quintessential ingredients of a lowcountry summer table are tomatoes, okra, and local creek shrimp. And nowhere is the eclectic blending that defines our cooking better illustrated than when those three are combined in the pot.

 

Though they've found their way into gardens and pots the world over, tomatoes are believed to have originated in Central America. Okra, while now common in the Atlantic Rim's African Diaspora and in Southeast Asia, has its roots in Africa. And although dozens of varieties of shrimp are found in every part of the globe, our local brown creek shrimp have a unique sweetness thanks to the grassy marshes where they've thrived for thousands of years.

 

When all three come together in the same pan, however, their sum speaks solely of the coastal plains of the South and subtropical Caribbean,  Read More 

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30 May 2020: Stuffed Yellow Crookneck Squash

Stuffed Yellow Crookneck Squash with Bacon

 

My mother is descended from generations of gardeners, and fresh produce from our family garden counts among the fondest memories and greatest comforts of my childhood.

 

From late spring when the red clay of the Carolina hills was turned over for new planting until the frost nipped the last of the tomatoes and sweetened the fall greens, our gardens were both a place of deep comfort and a source for even deeper comforts at the table.

 

Of all the things that came from them, the one that resonates with the best of those childhood memories and characterized our summer table is yellow crookneck squash.  Read More 

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12 May 2020: More Pasta and Squash

Pasta with Bacon and Yellow Crookneck Squash

 

As many of you know, for most of my adult life, two culinary traditions have been inextricably intertwined in my kitchen: the Southern cooking of my childhood, and the Italian cooking that made such a marked impact while I was studying architecture as a young adult.

 

Part of it is that the two cuisines (or, I should say, collections of cuisines) have so much in common. The cooks of the South's many cuisines, and those of Italy, especially Northern Italy, share so many of the same ingredients and approach them with a similar mindset, combining and building flavors in exactly the same way. Because of that, the blending of these cuisines in my kitchen has a natural logic.

 

At any rate, that blending has marked my cooking for nearly half a century. Read More 

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3 April 2020: Finding Comforts in Isolation

Aunt Margaret's Congo Squares (Bars), a comfort in any season, but especially now

 

As we move into a third week of isolation and face that it's not going to end any time soon, we're all looking for comfort in this time of uncertainty wherever we can find it. Someone asked if I was cooking more—and actually, I'm not: we but rarely eat out and I cook every single day.

 

But what I cook has changed. I don't bake a lot, especially not sweets, except around the mid-winter holidays. But warm baked treats are a comfort—if you have flour—and I do, having just filled my flour canister up for a seminar I'd been asked to do on bread in the Bible. Social distancing orders caused the seminar to be postponed, but it meant I had a reasonable supply of flour on hand when hoarders stripped our grocery's shelves, so I've actually been baking a little.

 

A couple of days back, Timothy asked if I would make Congo Bars. It opened a floodgate of warm, deeply comforting childhood memories. They were just what we needed.

  Read More 

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30 March 2020: Simple Carbs in a Crisis

Gratin of New Potatoes and Spring Onions

 

A dear friend and fellow food writer/cooking teacher reminded me this morning of one reason that panic hoarders have cleaned out the flour, pasta, and rice from most of our markets over the last two weeks: Simple carbohydrates are a natural mood elevator.

 

She suggested breadmaking as a great way to expend energy in this time of confinement that has an added bonus of providing a lovely, warm simple carbohydrate that comforts and naturally lifts us from the inevitable depression that comes with being cooped up.

 

It's a fine idea. Unhappily, unless you made it to the market before panic emptied the shelves of bread's primary ingredient, for the moment, an idea is all it can be.

 

So far, however, no one has been panic-hoarding one of natures great sources of simple carbohydrates: potatoes (at least, not here in Savannah where I live). Read More 

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11 February 2020: Smothered Pork Steaks with Sage and Shallot Gravy

Smothered Cubed Pork Steaks with Sage and Shallot Gravy

 

One of the best things about having a basic set of simple dishes that we turn to again and again is that they provide us with knowledge and skills that we don't even have to think about. So, when we're confronted with a new ingredient, once we understand its essence, we can automatically apply the knowledge and innate set of skills we already have, without having to dig out a recipe.

 

Recently, a recipe featured in my newspaper column called for a small amount of fresh pork. While shopping for it, I ran across cubed boneless pork steaks on sale, and found a package that contained just enough for the recipe with two nice-sized steaks that could be set aside for another meal.

 

I'd never cooked cubed pork steaks, but it didn't matter.  Read More 

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12 December 2019: Crystallized or Candied Citrus Peel

Crystallized or Candied Citrus Peel

It's easy to imagine the cook who first decided not to waste the fragrant lemon and orange rinds that were left behind when the fruit was peeled and prepared for the table, fiddling around and boiling it in honey or sugar syrup until the tart, brightly colored peelings were plump and sweet. It's still one of the most delightful candies ever created, but is also indispensable in holiday baking, especially in fruit cake.

 

Though commercially candied citrus peel for baking has been around for a long time now, today most of it is made with high-fructose syrup, which, while cheaper, is cloyingly sweet with an unpleasant aftertaste. Fortunately, making it at home isn't difficult or all that time-consuming and is an excellent way to use leftover citrus peelings that would otherwise be thrown out. Read More 

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18 November 2019: Early American Bean Soup

Early American White Bean Soup

 

It never pays to get carried away and overthink things in the kitchen.

 

When the weather finally turns cool, nothing warms and comforts quite as simply or completely as a hearty bean soup. The ingredients are inexpensive, the method is artless and requires next to nothing in the way of skill from the cook, and virtually the only way to mess it up is to walk away from the pot and forget it long enough for it to boil dry.

 

And yet. When I dug up one of my recipes from an old newspaper column to make a shopping list for a pot of bean soup, instead of finding simple directions for a simple dish involving one pot (as it should be) was confronted with an unnecessarily complicated operation requiring two pots and a layered sautéing step that was supposed to "build" the flavors but in fact didn't contribute enough to those flavors to make it worth the trouble. Read More 

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29 October 2019: Party Food and Hot Cheese Dip

Hot Baked Three Cheese Dip

 

One of the biggest challenges of writing my regular newspaper column is party food. That's mainly, I confess, because I'm a bit of a broken record when it comes to putting out a party spread: I butter-roast a couple of pounds of pecans, toss them with salt (and chopped rosemary if I'm feeling racy) grate a pound or so of cheddar and stir it into a batch of pimiento cheese, stuff a pan of biscuits with country ham or roll out a batch of spicy cheese straws, and call it a day.

 

Coming up with a different menu that's clever and interesting and doesn't have any of those things on it, is always a struggle.

 

The clever part is the biggest stumbling block. Read More 

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25 October 2019: Soup Season and Beef Soup Monticello

Beef Soup Monticello

Last weekend, more than sixty members of my high school class gathered in the cool of a rainy upstate Carolina evening to celebrate the anniversary our graduation into adulthood. It was a welcome refreshment of the spirit, not only in the renewing of old friendships, but in the taste of distinctly autumnal weather afforded those of us who now live away from those hills.

 

The respite from our lowcountry heat made it easy to get into a fall mindset for the research and development of seasonal stew recipes for my regular newspaper column. But a bonus was that the combinations of flavors that came to the fore inevitably brought me back to a favorite recipe from a favorite kitchen of the past: Beef Soup Monticello. Read More 

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18 September 2019: Panned Oysters

Elegant simplicity, Panned Oysters on Toast

As Savannah's weather begins to moderate and our season for oysters opens, it seems like a very good time to revisit an old local favorite, Panned Oysters. There may be other ways of preparing oysters that are as good, but short of forcing a live oyster open and slurping it without ceremony right out of its shell, none can top it for flavor or surpass its elegant simplicity. Read More 

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14 September 2019: Blackberry Cobbler

Old-Fashioned Blackberry Cobbler, with a proper pastry crust.

Some of my loveliest late-summer memories are of foraging for wild blackberries in the pastures, woodland thickets, and shoulders of country lanes in the rural communities and small towns where I grew up in upstate South Carolina.

 

We'd come in from those outings tired and sweaty (we had to wear long sleeves, thick jeans, and sturdy shoes as protection not only from the brambles but crawling varmints), our hands and wrists scratched and deeply stained with purple, filled with at least as many berries as we had in our pails. I could close my eyes and literally see mound upon mound of shiny purple-black fruit. Read More 

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15 August 2019: An Old Dog Relearning Old Tricks

A Quick Sauté of Beef is done in less than tweny minutes, start to finish.

I am having to relearn how to cook on an electric range, and the one on which I am learning is working my nerves.

 

Crowded into the end of our apartment's galley kitchen, the thermostat of its large front burner is defective and will suddenly make it surge to high heat when it's set anywhere between high and medium-low. From medium-low to low, it practically turns itself off and is barely warm.

 

That can be fixed, but the undercabinet microwave that hovers a mere thirteen inches above the cooking surfaces (five inches less than standard upper cabinet height) cannot. Read More 

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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. Read More 

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13 July 2019: Remembering Jo Bettoja

Jo Bettoja's Georgia Pasta is one part uptown Roman Pasta al Forno and one part down-home Southern Squash Casserole.

She was standing alone, her regal bearing making her seem much taller than she actually was. Impeccably dressed in a chili-pepper red Chanel suit, her sleek, graying hair neatly pulled back in its signature coil at the nape of her neck, she sipped from an old-fashioned glass cupped in her hand with careless grace, and exuded the kind of timeless beauty and noble elegance that had earned her the nickname "la bella contessa."

 

My breath caught in my throat. There, within just a few yards of my wondering eyes, was one of the great, iconic teachers of Italian cooking. I had two of her lovely cookbooks and had long admired her simple, direct way of writing and cooking. And she was right there. Alone.

 

Pinching myself and gathering my nerve, I ambled over, and shyly introduced myself, "Signora Bettoja, you don't know me from Adam's house cat, but I've been an admirer of yours for years and have wanted to meet you for a long time." Read More 

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12 July 2019: My Grandmother's Creamed Yellow Squash

MaMa's Country-Style Creamed Summer Squash, with my bit of fresh thyme thrown in, a quintessential taste of her summer table

 

More on the skillet steamed squash from the last essay of that name.

 

The method was the one my maternal grandmother, known to us as MaMa, used to cook the sweet, young yellow crooknecks from my grandfather's garden throughout the summer, although she did it in a deeper saucepan rather than the skillet I use nowadays.

 

But while she did sometimes bring them to the table whole, she more often took them one step further and creamed them. Read More 

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12 July 2019: Skillet-Steamed Summer Squash

Skillet-Steamed Summer Yellow Crookneck Squash with Vidalia Sweet Onions and Thyme

 

Summer squash of all kinds are a staple in my kitchen throughout the season. There are almost always a few yellow crooknecks or zucchini (or both) in the refrigerator's vegetable bin and often a tub of cooked leftovers right next to the tub of pimiento cheese.

 

More often than not, they're simply cooked by steaming them in their own juices, a method I included in a recent column for the newspaper. It's basically how my grandmother used to cook them, with a few touches of my own added through the years, and is very simple, requiring next to no skill and only a very little attention from the cook. And it works for any summer squash, though it's especially nice for our sweet yellow crooknecks. Read More 

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22 June 2019: Summer Frying

Golden, Pan-Fried Young Yellow Crookneck Squash

 

As we settle into summer and try to acclimate to the heat and cope with it in the kitchen, we often overlook a cooking method that's ideal for hot weather, and that's frying.

 

Yes, it involves boiling hot fat which can be messy and smelly, but it's also one of the quickest and tastiest way to prepare summer's produce. While the heat is intense, it's brief, and because it's fast, the flavors and textures are better preserved. And there's an added bonus in that it gives the food a flavorful caramelized, crackling-crisp surface.

 

When frying is done properly, the mess is no worse than any other way of cooking and the fat stays where it belongs—on the outside, so the finished product isn't heavy or greasy. Read More 

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10 June 2019: Crab Au Gratin

Lowcountry Crab Au Gratin, my first taste of the grand cuisine of Old Savannah, the place I have called home for four decades.

This week marks the beginning of my fortieth year in Savannah, Georgia's oldest city and its colonial capitol. Four decades of changed professions, loves lost and loves found, and learning to live with and cook in eight different kitchens. I never imagined that nearly two thirds of my life was destined to pass here.

 

I also never imagined crowning those four decades with moving. Twice. In two different directions—and within the space of not quite two months.

 

I cannot recommend it. Read More 

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27 February 2019: Melted Butter and Butter Liaisons

Bourbon Shrimp is just one of the hundreds of variations on sauces thickened with melted butter

 

When we talk today of "culinary heroes," we all too often forget the real heroes in cooking: the thousands of unassumingly genuine, curious, and clever cooks of the past who first discovered the techniques that we take for granted. It's on the shoulders of these forgotten souls that our modern culinary knowledge has been built.

 

Among one the greatest of them was the cook who discovered a simple technique that, over just the right amount of heat would—seemingly like magic—make butter melt in a way that kept it suspended in a liquid, creating a thick, sumptuously silky sauce. Read More 

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31 January 2019: Cold Weather Comfort and a Favorite Revisited

Oysters in Leek and Bourbon Cream, a variation of the old Lowcountry staple "Chafing Dish Oysters"

 

As January winds to a close, it's deep winter in Savannah, which means that the red buds, tulip (Japanese) magnolias, and wild violets are all beginning to bloom even though it's refreshingly cold and the temperatures are hovering at freezing every night.

 

But even though the landscape is trying to act as if it's spring, it's still bracingly cold and perfect cooking weather. It's also the height of the season for our local oysters. They're wonderfully briny and yet sweet, especially raw, but since they're the clustering type, they don't lend themselves to being presented on the half-shell. Read More 

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22 December 2018: Old-Fashioned Thumbprint Cookies

Old-Fashioned Thumbprint Cookies

Once upon a time, I was very organized. Any holiday baking that I did would’ve been long ago planned out and done by now. But life, as the saying goes, has been too much with us lately, and other things have had to take precedence over it.

Moreover, with our grandchildren a full day’s drive away, and most of my friends and neighbors either watching waistlines or already inundated with treats, the only people here to eat Christmas cookies are the two of us. Now, two people and multiple tins of homemade Christmas cookies, cheese straws, and fruitcake is a deadly combination.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a few homemade treats in the house, and there’s always someone who’s holiday will be brightened by a gift of things we’ve made ourselves. Read More 

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20 December 2018: Savannah Chafing Dish Crab, or Hot Crab Dip

Old-Fashioned Savannah Chafing Dish Crab, or Hot Crab Dip

Once upon a time, an elegant fixture on the buffet table of any Savannah holiday party worth attending was a hot crab spread or dip that was simply called “Chafing Dish Crab.” It was of course named for the way it used to be served—warm but not bubbling hot from a glistening, polished silver chafing dish.

Dipped into toast cups  Read More 

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7 December 2018: Baked Potatoes

Old Fashioned Baked Potatoes: boiled and mashed potatoes mixed with butter, milk and salt, then spread in a casserole, topped with a sprinkling of black pepper, and baked until golden brown on the top.

When we nowadays hear “baked potato,” what automatically comes to mind is a fat russet potato baked whole in, as the old cooks would have put it, “its jacket,” until the outside is crispy and and the inside is fluffy and dry.

But before wood burning iron cookstoves and later, gas and electric ranges replaced the open hearth in the kitchen, that was called a “roasted potato,” which for us today usually means potatoes that are cut up, tossed with oil, and baked at a high temperature. Read More 

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30 November 2018: The Writing Life and Chicken and Dumplings

Old-Fashioned Southern Chicken and Dumplings

This page has been a bit quiet the last few months and I’m sorry about that. But I did promise at the beginning that it wouldn’t be filled with drivel just to keep myself in front of you all.

In the meantime, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I do.

In many ways, it’s a small thing. It’s just stringing words together on a page—and not about the monumental, earth-shaking problems that are facing humankind. I don’t probe the depths of the human intellect or heart, nor contemplate the vast mysteries of the universe. I don’t attack injustice, blind hatred, suffering, or destructive greed.

All I do is write about how to cook and do it well. It’s never about being clever or inventive, and rarely tries to shake anyone up. It’s about ordinary stuff. And comfort.
 Read More 

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5 November 2018: Autumn Breakfast Biscuits Stuffed with Pan-Fried Pork Tenderloin

Hot, freshly-baked buttermilk biscuits stuffed with pan-fried pork tenderloin, an old time "hog killing day" breakfast treat.

Some of my very best childhood memories are tied to the cool, crisp days of autumn—and not merely because it happens to be the time of year when I was born. There’s something about the cool, clear air, golden light, and rituals of the season that are always renewing and reassuring.

One ritual of autumn that has been nearly lost to us all is the annual hog killing day. I confess to having only a vague memory of those days from when we lived in Grassy Pond, a little farming community outside Gaffney, South Carolina. But the memories that have been passed down by my mother and her parents have been told and retold until they’re almost as vivid as if I’d been right there beside them,  Read More 

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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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29 September 2018: Michaelmas and Mushrooms

Mary Randolph's Stewed Mushrooms

Though autumn officially began a week ago and won’t really be felt here in Savannah for weeks to come, for me September 29, the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (commonly called Michaelmas) is the real beginning of the season, which happens to be of my favorite of the entire year.

Aside from roasted goose in parts of England, there’s not a lot of food that’s connected with Michaelmas. But among the flavors that speak of autumn for me are mushrooms: in soup, sauce, over pasta, rolled in an omelette, or just on their own, sautéed in butter or, as the early nineteenth century doyenne of Southern cooking, Mary Randolph, directed, stewed in their own juices: Read More 

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27 September 2018: Ham and Coca-Cola

Ham Steak Baked in Coca-Cola, a modern Southern classic

Old, in the context of culinary history, is relative. The cuisines that collectively make up the thing we loosely refer to as “Southern cooking” aren’t exactly ancient when compared with their root cuisines in Europe, Africa, Native America, and Asia, but they’re actually a good deal older than we often suppose.

As early as the mid-seventeenth century, for example, the cookery of the Virginia Tidewater had already solidified into a cuisine that was unique to the region and would be easily recognized by modern Virginians. And by the middle of the eighteenth century, the rice cuisine of the Carolina Lowcountry, the Creole cookery of New Orleans, and, many believe, the still largely undocumented cookery of Appalachia had taken on the basic form that they have today. In short, most Southerners could go back two centuries and feel right at home at the table.

That said, many of our most iconic, argument-provoking dishes are really not much older than my generation Read More 

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