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Recipes and Stories

21 August 2017: More Simple Summer Cooking—Fresh Peach and Blueberry Compote

Fresh Peach and Blueberry Compote with Sourwood Honey

Toward the end of the summer of 1979, while I was in graduate school at Clemson University, my mother came for a short visit. As usual, she left me with a cache of produce from her garden, supplemented by baskets of fragrant late peaches and blueberries from local orchards.

It was my first apartment, and therefore the first kitchen that was wholly my own: usually, such gifts led to a day of curious cooking, but a project deadline loomed and my un-airconditioned apartment was too hot to consider turning on the monstrous avocado-green electric stove that dominated my little kitchen. Read More 

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20 June 2016: Fresh Blueberry Compote for the First Day of Summer

Fresh Blueberry Compote with Bourbon and Cinnamon

Today’s the summer solstice, the longest day in the year (or rather, the longest stretch of daylight), marking the official beginning of summer. Our ancestors made a bigger thing of the solstice than we do nowadays, but its a good excuse to turn a regular back-to-the-grind Monday into something a little more special.

It needn’t be any more involved than taking a little more care with tonight’s supper, say, finishing it off with one of the quintessential fruits of early summer’s table: fresh blueberries. Read More 

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Blueberry Crumble

Sunday Dinner Blueberry Crumble (Photo by Timothy Hall)
Among my favorite and most cherished memories from childhood are those big, leisurely Sunday dinners that we had after church, when we actually ate in the dining room and used the good china and silver.

There were never fewer than three side dishes and always a dessert (most often banana pudding)--which marked it as a special occasion at my mother's table, since a sweet at the meal's end was not a given in our household.

Now that I am the one who gets up early on the the "Day of Rest" and does the cooking, I appreciate more the effort that my mother put into making it seem leisurely. However, it remains among my favorite meals, both to make and to eat.

Whether it's the traditional Southern roast and plethora of sides from my childhood or a simple frittata with hash browns, the challenge, for me, is that obligatory dessert at the end. Sweets are just not my thing.

Happily, blueberries are in season and over this past holiday weekend, there happened to be a couple of pints on hand. Sunday's dessert was a snap to make, because nothing is simpler, or better, than a blueberry crumble, and this one may well have been the best I've ever made.

For the fans of my Facebook page, who were drawn in by Timothy Hall's handsome picture, here's how to make one of your own.

Blueberry Crumble

Serves 6 to 8
3 pints blueberries
¾ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 lemon
7 ounces (about 1½ cups) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
4 ounces (8 tablespoons or 1 stick) unsalted butter

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 375° F. Wash, drain, and pick over the berries to remove any stems and blemished fruit. Put it in a glass or stainless steel mixing bowl and add the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Grate in the zest from the lemon. Toss well, taste a berry, and if they are not very tart, halve the lemon and add a squeeze of lemon juice, as needed.

2. Lightly butter a shallow 2 quart casserole and pour in the fruit. Wash and dry the mixing bowl, put in the flour and brown sugar, and toss until well mixed. Add the butter and cut it in until the mixture resembles course meal, with lumps no bigger than very small peas. Sprinkle it over the fruit.

3. Bake until golden brown and the filling is bubbly in the center, about 45 minutes. Read More 
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26 May 2011 History Flambéed

Everyone knows the old adage that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. In food history, the more likely adage is that those who don’t know history are doomed to think they’ve invented something that has been around for centuries.

Let’s face it, except possibly for that extremely silly restaurant fad for “deconstructed” food, there is very little about cooking that is really new, and most of the things that actually are new are built on an idea or a technique that has been around for a very long time—at least, anything that has legs and substance.

Those who know my first cookbook, Classical Southern Cooking, and subsequent work as a developer of historical recipes, presume that stepping into my kitchen is like time travel. They’re always shocked to find jars of marinara in my pantry. But while my work and my heart may be involved in the past, the rest of me lives right here in the present.

A solid grasp of food history is not a culinary straight jacket. In fact, it can be wonderfully liberating: the more one knows about the cooking of the past, the less one has to think in the present. Techniques and ideas flow organically from one’s subconscious without a lot of taxing the imagination to be clever.

For example, a knowledge of that wonderful old flambéed dessert, Cherries Jubilee, made it easy to parlay a half-pint of blueberries in the fruit bin of the refrigerator into a quick dessert on a warm spring night. It was nothing new, just a very old idea and technique logically applied to another round fruit that would roll easily in the pan.

I like to think that Annabella Hill, Mary Randolph, and Lettice Bryan would have enjoyed it, but can promise you this: they lived in the real world of their own time, with a solid understanding of their own culinary past. They wouldn’t have thought there was anything especially clever or inventive about it.

Blueberries with Grand Marnier
Part of the charm of Cherries Jubilee is the pyrotechnical show: it’s done tableside in a chafing dish and the fruit is ladled over the ice cream while it’s still flaming, but it tastes better when the alcohol is fully burned off, so I always let the flame die completely.
Serves 2

2-4 scoops vanilla ice cream
1½ tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup blueberries, rinsed well and picked over for stems
1-2 tablespoons sugar
Ground cinnamon in a shaker
Whole black pepper in a mill
A generous splash (about 2 tablespoons) Grand Marnier

1. Have the all the ingredients ready and put the ice cream into serving bowls. Melt the butter over medium high heat in a 9-10 inch skillet or sauté pan. Add the blueberries and shake the pan to coat them with butter. Sprinkle with sugar to taste, a couple of light dashes of cinnamon, and a light dash of black pepper (about 1 light twist of the mill).

2. Sauté, shaking the pan constantly, until the berries begin to shed juice into the butter and the sugar is dissolved, about a minute. Pour in the Grand Marnier and standing well clear, ignite it. Continue to shake the pan, rolling the berries, until the flames go out. Turn off the heat, pour the berries over the ice cream, and serve at once. Read More 
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