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Recipes and Stories

5 September 2017: Peanut Soup

Old-Fashioned Peanut Soup, still served in Colonial Williamsburg's King's Arms Tavern.

An old New Yorker friend tells me that, until recently, on Tuesday morning after Labor Day the subways smelled heavily of mothballs, regardless of what the weather was like. Since the holiday marked the symbolic if not actual end of summer, summer whites were dutifully put away and fall woolens came out of storage.

Well, it may be the symbolic end of the season, but here in the Deep South, we’re facing another full month or more of summer heat and humidity. Those white shoes may be ceremonially moved to the back of the closet, but other wardrobe changes will have to wait.

All the same, there’s a distinct shortening of the daylight hours and the lengthening of the shadows, bringing subtle changes in the light that inevitably turn our imagination toward fall. At the table, we may not be ready for heavy cold weather fare, but we’re weary of a steady litany of salads and chilled soup and are ready for the mellow flavors of autumn. Read More 

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7 November 2011: Part II Queen Molly's Ragout of Turnips

Queen Molly's Ragout of Turnips--the second recipe in today's essay
Mary Randolph provided a similar recipe to that given by Hannah Glass below, though without cream. A few pages over, we find a gorgeous and absolutely classic treatment for turnips that is an equally perfect autumnal accompaniment for pork and poultry of any kind. It almost certainly came to Mrs. Randolph by way of the French-trained cooks at Monticello, since Jefferson’s granddaughter, Martha Jefferson Trist Burke, recorded having had “turnips with brown sugar” at Monticello. Unfortunately, Mrs. Burke’s memory was dim and her attempt at the recipe is, to put it politely, inept. But happily Queen Molly, as usual, got it absolutely right.

A Ragout of Turnips.

Peel as many small turnips as will fill a dish; put them into a stew pan with some butter and a little sugar, set them over a hot stove, shake them about, and turn them till they are a good brown; pour in half a pint of rich high seasoned gravy, stew the turnips till tender, and serve them with the gravy poured over them. (The Virginia House-wife, 1824 ed., p. 128)

She does not add that the gravy should be pretty much reduced to a glaze. I always add a little butter to enrich the glaze at the end.

Serves 4

2 pounds of very small turnips of the same size (or larger ones, if necessary, see step 1)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup rich veal or beef broth

1. Scrub the turnips under cold running water, drain, peel, and trim them into uniform ovals. If they are larger, cut them into halves or quarters and trim each piece to a neat ovals of similar size.

2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat and, put in the turnips. Toss until they are well coated, then sprinkle with sugar and shake to even distribute it. Sauté, gently shaking the pan to roll them, until they are nicely browned, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the broth and bring to a boil, again gently shaking the pan. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer gently until the turnips are just tender. The broth should be reduced considerably. Raise the heat and quickly boil, again shaking the pan gently, until it is reduced to a glaze. Add the remaining butter, shaking until it dissolves into the glaze, taste and adjust the salt as needed, and pour into a warm serving bowl. Read More 
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7 November 2011: Part I Creamed Turnips and Queen Molly

Hannah Glass's To Dress Turnips (Creamed Turnips)
7 November 2011: Creamed Turnips and Queen Molly

This past weekend, it was my privilege to speak at the annual George Washington symposium, held in the conference center at the gate to his beautiful Mount Vernon estate. This year’s symposium officially launched the historic site’s handsome new cookbook, Dining with the Washingtons, so the subject was naturally Virginia foodways.

There can be little conversation on that subject without mention of Mary Randolph and her landmark book, The Virginia House-wife, published in 1824. Widely believed to be the first comprehensive chronicle of Southern cooking, it is one of the earliest published cookbooks in America to be truly American and regional.

My job was therefore to discuss Mrs. Randolph and Virginia’s role as the cradle of that cuisine, a somewhat daunting assignment, since I (1) am not a Virginian and (2) had in my audience Nancy Carter Crump, one of the great pioneers in the field of modern culinary history. The preeminent authority on Virginia foodways, Nancy was the recipe developer for Dining with the Washingtons.

Fortunately, she is a gracious lady and, thanks to her work, and that of our mutual mentor, Karen Hess, I was not unprepared for the task.

The setting could not have been more perfect: Mount Vernon, under clear, deep blue skies and surrounded by brilliant displays of colored leaves, was at its most exquisitely autumnal best. However, the highlight was spending time with Nancy, whose charm, graciousness, and sheer knowledge made for the very best of company.

Rounding out the mix were historians David Hancock, an authority on Washington’s beloved Madeira, English culinary historian Ivan Day, Mount Vernon’s research historian Mary Thompson and senior curator Carol Borchert Cadou, and Chef Walter Staib, a lively and charming character who presides over the kitchen of historic City Tavern, which Washington frequented whenever he was in Philadelphia.

If only Mary Randolph herself could have been there to complete the round table. By all accounts, a formidable woman, Queen Molly (as she was nicknamed in her the glory days as Richmond society’s leading hostess) was known not only for her culinary prowess and keen wit, but for her often-sharp tongue and incisive opinions. She was not a woman who held back.

At any rate, one of the things that one does at foodways symposia is eat—and eat a lot. Over the course of the weekend, we sampled many things that Martha Washington would have ordered from Mount Vernon’s kitchen, all prepared from Nancy’s delft interpretations of dishes from period cookbooks in Mrs. Washington’s collection.

One of the things stood out in particular for me, however, (and of which I think Queen Molly would have heartily approved) was a simple dish that everyone else probably barely noticed: seasonal turnips mashed and dressed with butter and cream. It was the perfect foil for the herb-stuffed collared pork loin it accompanied, and a refreshing reminder that, while the cooking of the Virginia gentry could be as elaborate as a State Banquet, it could also be exquisitely simple.

Since Thanksgiving is fast approaching, it is worth noting that these turnips would also be the perfect accompaniment for roast turkey. Here it is, the original, by Hannah Glasse, and as interpreted by Nancy Carter Crump in Dining with the Washingtons.

To Dress Turnips.

They eat best boiled in the pot, and when enough take them out and put them in a pan, and mash them with butter, and a little cream, and a little salt, and send them to the table. But you may do them thus: pare your turnips, and cut them into dices, as big as the top of one’s finger, put them into a clean sauce-pan, and just cover them with water. When enough, throw them into a sieve to drain, and put them in to a sauce-pan with a good piece of butter and a little cream; stir them over the fire for five or six minutes, and send them to table. (Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, 1806 ed., p. 32)

Serves 6 to 8

2½ pounds turnips, peeled and diced (about 4 cups)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup heavy cream
Salt and whole black pepper in a peppermill

1. Put the turnips in a large saucepan, barely cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, until the turnips are fork-tender. Remove from the heat, and drain thoroughly.

2. Return the turnips to the saucepan, and set over low heat. Add the butter and stir until melted. Stir in the cream, and season with salt and pepper. Stir until well blended and heated through. Pour the turnips into a serving dish, and send to the table, or mash them roughly or until creamy, if preferred. Read More 
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