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Recipes and Stories

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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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 August 2018: MaMa’s Vegetable Soup

MaMa's Vegetable Soup, photographed for my first book, Classical Southern Cooking, by the incomparable John Carrington.

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

When I was trying to construct a recipe for my first cookbook, in her typical way, MaMa said, “I never measured anything for soup, so just guess.” Well, of course, she measured— 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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8 December 2017: MaMa’s Coconut Cake

MaMa's Coconut Cake (from Essentials of Southern Cooking, Lyons Press 2013/Licensed by Shutterstock)

Coconut cake is a traditional Christmas cake in the part of Carolina where I grew up, and both my grandmother’s made it, using basically the same recipe. But my maternal grandmother, known to us as “MaMa” (we pronounced it Maw-Maw) had a special touch that no one else could match.

Hers was one the most extraordinarily moist cakes I’ve ever had. The great secret for its moistness is also the reason it tasted more intensely of coconut than any other.  Read More 

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27 May 2016: 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, Read More 

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4 March 2016: Silence is Golden

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.  Read More 

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

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.  Read More 

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

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.  Read More 

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14 April 2015: Braised Artichokes with Onions

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. Read More 

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20 February 2015: Broccoli in the Cold Season

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. Read More 

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22 October 2014: Sweet Potato Salad

My sweet potato salad as made by friend Betsy Hollis for the recent Manna Club gathering where my cookbooks were honored and celebrated.

After I left architectural practice and was waiting for the publication of my first book, Classical Southern Cooking, in a moment of what can only called temporary insanity, I let a former cooking student sweet talk me into opening the kitchen of her new downtown café. Though I had long been writing about andteaching home cooking, I had absolutely no professional cooking experience. But she needed a cook and I needed work and, besides, wanted the experience.  Read More 

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7 August 2014: Mama’s Pickled Okra

Mama's Pickled Okra, a classic taste of Deep South Summer

Cleaning out my fridge — not just tossing out spoiled leftovers but taking everything out, sorting through and purging half-empty jars of condiments that are no longer really usable, wiping down the ones that were still good, giving up the lame hope that my sour dough starter, untouched for more than a year, might still be alive, and scrubbing every shelf and bin—is always both cathartic and depressing. But it was especially so after the two years of neglect that had been the fallout of three back-to-back book deadlines. Read More 

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8 April 2014: Baked, Boiled, and Roasted

Baked Beets, cooked whole and simply split and buttered while still hot

“Beets have a finer flavor baked than boiled; it requires longer time to cook them this way.”

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

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

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31 March 2014: More Spring Carrots

Butter-Braised Whole Spring Rainbow Carrots

Most of the nineteenth century cookbook authors treated all root vegetables the same way: scrubbed them well, trimmed, and sometimes “scraped them nicely” (that is, peeled them), boiled them in abundant salted water, and then dressed them with salt and butter. So long as the roots are not overcooked, it’s still a fine way to cook them. Read More 

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29 March 2014: Spring Carrot Soup

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Here on the coastal plain of Georgia, spring carrots have been turning up at the farmers’ market for a couple of months, but it is now that they’re really hitting their prime. Friend Relinda Walker, the proprietress of Walker Farms, grows both the usual orange and colorful rainbow varieties of sweet young carrots. Laid out with their bright, fresh greens still attached, they’re as beautiful to look at as any bouquet of flowers you can imagine. Read More 

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5 November 2013: Chanterelles and Country Ham

Sautéed Chanterelles with Country Ham and Cream, spooned over old-fashioned sautéed grits cakes

Mushrooms in cream are surely one of the world’s great gastronomical inventions. And when a little dry-aged country ham and bit of fresh thyme is added to the mix, they lend a lovely autumnal fragrance and depth of flavor that enhances even the mildest of fungi. The combination is the perfect way to bid farewell to the all-too-brief season for chanterelles. Read More 

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24 August 2013: Deviled Crab

Deviled Crab, a Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry Classic

Crab cakes have become standard fare on Southern restaurant menus from Maryland to Louisiana, and one of the signature dishes of modern Southern cooking. They’re so popular that it seems petty to quibble over them. But as delectable as it can be (when well made), molding cooked crabmeat into a regular, round cake presents a delicate balancing act for the cook: keeping the binding breading to a minimum without having the cake fall apart in the frying pan. Read More 

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30 July 2013: A Bowlful of Cherries and Cherry Pie

Bourbon Cherry Pie, from Essentials of Southern Cooking (fall 2013)

Cherries have been at their peak over the last couple of weeks and, this year, have been unusually sweet and juicy. Luckily, when they’re seasonal and at their best, their cost per pound is correspondingly at its lowest. And since they’re a favorite summer fruit in our house, there has almost always been a bowl of them on our kitchen table, ready for grabbing by the handful. Read More 

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2 May 2013: Asparagus Season

Newly gathered asparagus, kept fresh for the table in a vase of water.

A glance through cookbooks of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries might give the casual reader the impression that our ancestors played a one note theme when it came to asparagus. Read More 

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4 January 2013: Black-eyed Peas Beyond New Year’s Day

Black-eyed peas, seasoned with ham, onion, garlic, herbs, and hot peppers, are too satisfying and delicious to limit them to one day at the beginning of the year
Though black-eyed peas have become to New Year’s Day what turkey is to Thanksgiving, the uniquely marked field pea with one of the most evocative names in the vegetable kingdom is a year round staple for Southerners. And while they’re commonly associated with humble tables (the superstition associated with having them at new year is that beginning the year with such “humble” fare will bring prosperity), they really know no social, ethnic, or economic boundaries. Read More 
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3 January 2013: Winter Greens

Collard greens, judiciously seasoned with lightly caramelized onion, garlic, and ham should not be limited solely to one day of the year.

One of the most satisfying, calming rituals of the new year in a Southern kitchen is the cleaning, prepping, and cooking of that obligatory mess of collard greens. For me, this ritual is almost as satisfying as eating them.  Read More 

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21 December 2012: Christmas Cheese Straws

An old-fashioned Christmas treat: classic cheese straws with a cup of tea
Of all the Christmas goodies that hosts and hostesses have traditionally laid by for drop-in guests during the holidays, cheese straws speak closest to my heart. Called cheese “biscuits” in nineteenth century manuscripts and community cookbooks, they’re not to be confused with the cheese-flecked baking powder bread popular today: back then “biscuit” was still being used (as it still is in Britain) in its older form to designate a crisp cookie. Read More 
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12 December 2012: Eggnog

Real eggnog, served up with its crown of froth and nutmeg in a festive holiday Tom-and-Jerry Cup, is something to celebrate all by itself.

One of the most enduring symbols of the American holiday table is eggnog, that lusciously creamy, frothy, deeply intoxicating concoction of eggs, milk, and some kind of alcoholic beverage. Like fruitcake, the season’s other great culinary symbol, this heady beverage is reviled almost as much as it is revered.

There may be something in the old saying about familiarity breeding contempt;  Read More 

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4 November 2012: Trout with Rosemary, Ginger, and White Wine

To Boyle a Trout, or Poached Trout Steaks with Rosemary, Ginger, and White Wine. Photo by John Carrington, from Classical Southern Cooking
One of the amusing things about the today’s culinary community is its assumption (or should I say presumption?) that we, being smart, inventive, and modern, have made great strides over the cookery of our past, which was naïve, crude, and, well, just plain archaic and weird.

Someone is naïve, all right, but it’s not the cooks of the past.  Read More 
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22 October 2012: Roast Chicken

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

But fried chicken is—or, rather, should be—special occasion fare. For me, the simplest, and most satisfying, way of cooking a chicken is roasting, especially at this time of year: the aroma is the very essence of autumn’s kitchen. Read More 
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13 October 2012: History on the Egg I--The Big Green Egg as Brick Bread Oven

The Bread of our Forefathers, fresh from the Big Green Egg
When Kitchenware Outfitters, the kitchenware store where I have worked for the last six years, became a dealer for Big Green Egg, the ceramic outdoor cooker that was modeled on an ancient Asian technology, the historian in me was fascinated by the realization that these cookers performed much like another ancient technology: the open hearths and brick bread ovens of our ancestors here in the West. Read More 
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25 August 2012: Annabella Hill’s Grilled Pork Tenderloin Medallions

Mrs. Hill's Grilled Pork Tenderloins with Sage Butter, 1867

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

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

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4 August 2012: More Summer Tomatoes

Young Green beans, which often go by their swanky French name, "haricots verts"--in fresh tomato sauce -- photography by John Carrington, from The Savannah Cookbook
While summer tomatoes are still at their peak, indeed, overflowing in some home gardens, here is another lovely thing to do with them.

I submit this in response to the persistent myth that Southerners historically had no subtlety with the vegetable pot: it comes from a late nineteenth century Savannah manuscript.  Read More 
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