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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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8 June 2018: Old-Fashioned Chicken Salad

Old Fashioned Southern-Style Chicken Salad, yes, with saltine crackers

We were just home from a quick trip to Charleston to catch up with my friend and mentor Nathalie Dupree and get in a couple of Spoleto concerts. It was midafternoon and we were tired and hungry. The refrigerator gave up a bit of leftover poached chicken and, because I’m Southern, there’s always mayonnaise and what the old cooks called “made mustard.” A quick survey turned up a nearly empty jar of bread-and-butter pickles that needed to be finished off, and while the celery was old and not very promising, there’s always onions in the pantry.

Sometimes, knowing when to leave well enough alone is a cook’s best asset.  Read More 

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21 May 2018: The Case of the Corrupted Collop

Classic Scotch Collops, here made with pork tenderloin.

Oh, the convolutions of an historian’s mind. While researching a story for my regular newspaper column, I was reminded of a curious old recipe from Harriet Ross Colquitt’s timeless classic, The Savannah Cook Book, published in 1932. The recipe was for Scotch Collops.

Now, collop is an old English word for a thin slice of meat. It could be used for anything from veal to bacon, though it most commonly described thin slices of veal or beef round. They were usually fried in butter or lard and sauced with a rich gravy made from the deglazed pan juices—essentially the same as Italian scaloppine. Read More 

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26 February 2018: In Defense of Southern Cooking III

Buttermilk Biscuits are as Southern as it gets, and yet historically, they weren't a part of all the old cuisines of the South

The Historical Cuisines

The loose regions into which the South has historically been divided, for the most part, follow the patterns of European colonization. They are: the Old South, the Atlantic coast from Maryland to North Florida; the Deep South, incorporating the Gulf states from West Georgia and the Florida panhandle to Eastern Texas; the Mountain South of Appalachia, including the Western portions of Virginia, the Carolinas, and northern edges of piedmont Georgia and Alabama as well as the interior states of West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky; and the Central South, which includes parts of the “border states” of Missouri, Kentucky, and West Virginia as well as Arkansas, Eastern Oklahoma and North-east Texas.

You must understand that those loose regional boundaries are very loose indeed.  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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15 December 2017: Old-Fashioned Wine Jelly

An Old-Fashioned Christmas treat: Wine Jelly with Custard Sauce

The dessert in the Christmas dinner that was shared in my last column was a lovely, old-fashioned thing called wine jelly. It’s not jelly as in a spread for toast, but jelly as in the stuff invalids are often fed when they’ve been off a solid diet.

It was once a classic old holiday treat that was actually rare and special, a fact we can’t really appreciate today, since sweet, flavored gelatin has lost a lot of its luster, thanks in large part to that stuff we feed convalescents. It’s a shame, really, because it’s a lovely, light dessert that adds sparkle—both literally and figuratively—to a holiday meal, and deserves to be popular again. Read More 

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2 September 2017: Ham-Stuffed Buttermilk Biscuits

Classic Southern Ham Biscuits

We’re finally at Labor Day weekend and, at least where our somewhat quixotic late-summer weather is cooperating, many of us will be marking summer’s last official hurrah by packing a picnic hamper and blanket and heading for the beach, local park, some picturesque country landscape, or at the very least the back yard. Mind, here in the South, we’ll be able to picnic until well into October, but there’s just something about marking the end of summer by symbolically eating outdoors “one the last time.”

Magazines, newspapers, food web sites, and the air waves are full of helpful ideas for crowd-pleasing picnic and cookout fare, which is all very nice. But every good Southern cook already knows the real way please the crowd, and that’s to make sure that the picnic hamper contains an ample supply of three things: fried chicken, old-fashioned potato salad, and ham biscuits. 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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29 July 2017: Classic Shrimp Salad

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.  Read More 

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3 July 2017: Shrimp and Corn Pie, or Pudding

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:  Read More 

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29 June 2017: Classic Crab Salad

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. Read More 

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11 August 2015: Southern Slow-Cooked Pole Beans

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.  Read More 

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24 February 2015: Pineapple Charlotte

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. Read More 

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14 February 2015: An Historical Romance

Blanc Manger (or blancmange) for two makes a lovely end for an amorous dinner for two

Why we set aside just one day to commemorate romance (and inadvertently bludgeon those who don’t have any in their lives), I do not know. But since we do, and many a lover will be trying to win (or at least please) the heart they crave by way of the stomach, here are a few thoughts on romance at the table on the Feast of St. Valentine. 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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26 February 2014: Cornbread and Corn Whiskey

Skillet Cornbread the way God meant it to be: naturally sugar-free.
I don’t know what you’re doing on this late February day, but it cannot be better than what I’ve been doing: sipping piping hot double-concentrated homemade beef broth while laughing and crying my way through Julia Reed’s new masterpiece, But Mama Always Put Vodka in Her Sangria!

This morning dawned cold, wet, and gray in Savannah and I’ve been taking advantage of a rare day on my own to put a batch of said beef broth through one last simmer while reading Julia’s delicious prose as background for a newspaper story. Read More 
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24 December 2013: Christmas Eve Oyster Stew

Buttery oyster stew is not particularly photogenic, but it's awfully good to eat. Don't neglect to use plenty of butter: this is celebration food, for goodness sakes!

Nostalgia is a funny thing. Nothing stirs memories of the Christmases of my childhood more lucidly than Doris Day singing “Silver Bells.” Yet the memories conjured have nothing to do with city sidewalks, but of the rolling, red-clay fields and pastures of Grassy Pond, the farm community where we lived until I was ten.

There wasn’t one single silver bell, red and green blinking street light, or rushing shopper for miles. Read More 

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10 April 2013 Strawberries and Bourbon

Spring in a bowl: strawberries macerated in bourbon and lemon

It’s usually a mistake to assume that someone who looks back to history is somehow bound and gagged by the past. Yet, the prejudice is commonplace, and seems to be especially prominent in the culinary community, where so-called “cutting edge” trends whiz past at light speed, seemingly leaving us dusty old historians behind to stew in our own marmite. Read More 

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23 February 2013: Comfort me with Country Style Steak

Country Style Steak, served in the Lowcountry way on a fluffy bed of rice

When the weather turns cold and damp, as it has this week, or simply when we just need comforting, nothing answers in my household like this simple but deeply satisfying dish of tenderized round steak slow-simmered in an aromatic gravy. Originally called beef “collops” (the old English word for sliced meat), this dish goes back at least to the mid-eighteenth century, and as its contemporary name suggests, has long been a staple of farm kitchens all across the South. 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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28 November 2012: Creamed Turkey on Toasted Dressing

Thanksgiving Dinner's Last Hurrah: Creamed Turkey over Toasted Dressing

This is how we polished off the last of the turkey and dressing in my house. Although it’s now too late for your Thanksgiving leftovers, it’s worth keeping on file, especially if you have turkey and dressing at Christmas. And if you should not have any leftover dressing, try it on waffles, biscuits, or just buttered toast. Read More 

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21 November 2012: Thanksgiving Lagniappe—Purefoy Cranberry Relish

Purefoy Cranberry Relish

If you’re getting down to the wire with Thanksgiving and don’t have time to make cranberry sauce, but still don’t want to open a can, here’s a quick and simple classic that requires no cooking. If you have a food processor handy, it comes together in five minutes flat—and will keep until Christmas if you keep it well-covered and refrigerated, and use only a clean silver or stainless steel spoon to dip into it. 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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18 October 2012: Apple Pie Season

Gingered Apple Tart with Shortbread Crust, photographed by Timothy Hall
Surely one of the best fragrances of autumn is the heady aroma of the season’s first juicy, ripe apples baking in a pie. For many Americans, it’s the quintessential aroma of the season—the subtle smell of falling leaves and of toasting pecans, roasting turkey, and mulled cider all rolled into one. 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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8 October 2012: Mushroom Soup

Thick, rich Mushroom Soup made with both fresh and dried mushrooms and broth, cream is only added as a garnish at the end

After my recent newspaper story on fall mushrooms, several correspondents asked about a good recipe for mushroom soup, since one wasn't included in the story. I went looking to see what might turn up in some the early American cookbooks in my collection, and to my surprise, found only this simple recipe in The Carolina Housewife: 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.
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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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