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Recipes and Stories

8 November 2017: Old-Fashioned Scalloped Oysters

Old-Fashioned Scalloped Oysters

Since fall is my favorite season for cooking, it shouldn’t take a mathematical genius to figure out that Thanksgiving is my favorite cook’s holiday. Normally, the second week in November would find me up to my elbows in planning—gathering recipes, happily mapping out every detail, stocking up on the basics.

And by the week of the feast, my kitchen is fragrant with a simmering broth pot, bubbling cranberry conserve, baking cheese straws, and toasting pecans. For the space of that week, no kitchen job—not even peeling brussels sprouts—seems tedious.

This year, however, my kitchen will be a lot quieter, not to mention less fragrant.  Read More 

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1 November 2017: Of Writers’ Block and Bourbon Apple Cobbler

Bourbon Apple Cobbler

Any writer will tell you that there’s nothing to equal the exhilarating feeling that comes with finishing a piece of writing. Whether it’s a whole book, a magazine article, or just a short essay like this, it’s like winning a door prize, finally being let out of jail, and reaching the top of an impossible mountain climb or finish line of a marathon, all at once.

But then. What immediately follows is an awful, restless sense of “what now?” It’s almost like being abandoned. That piece of writing has been your sole life’s purpose for days, months, sometimes years. And now it’s finished . . . with nothing to take its place. It’s not quite like writer’s block, but sometimes it feels worse. Read More 

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30 October 2017: Chicken Pot Pies

My Chicken Pot Pie, with carrots, celery, onions, and peas and a basic pastry topping

One of the most welcome of all supper dishes on a crisp autumn evening is old-fashioned chicken pot pie. For warming comfort it may have its equals, but it has no superior.

Like so many homey dishes of its kind, there are probably as many versions as there are cooks, ranging from the elegantly simple triad of chicken, gravy and pastry to those loaded with vegetables, herbs, and spices. Some are even embellished with hard-cooked eggs and ham.

Some are made only with a whole chicken that was cooked specifically for the pie, while others are only made when there are leftovers that need using up. Read More 

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23 October 2017: Mama’s Stuffed Zucchini

Mama's Baked Stuffed Zucchini

My mother has capably filled many roles in her life—singer, teacher, administrator, pastor’s wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, but she’s never more herself than when she’s in her garden.

Even from hundreds of miles away, I can see her puttering in that garden as clearly as if I was standing at her kitchen window looking out at it. From early spring until well after the first frost, in the morning and again at dusk, she’d be out there, her face shaded by a big straw hat, her shoes and trousers stained with red clay dust, watering young seedlings, talking to the pest-eating critters who forage among the plants, inspecting the cucumbers, okra, squash, and tomatoes for fruit that has gone from green nub to ready-to-harvest literally overnight. Read More 

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9 October 2017: Broccoli, Bacon, and Potato Soup

Broccoli, Bacon, and Potato Soup

This morning, my office window looks out on an autumnal scene that seems like the beginning of perfect day for soup. Through the dwindling leaf canopy of the old pecan tree that dominates the view, the early sun occasionally peeks weakly through clouds that promise rain. There’s even a bit of frost on the window panes.

Unhappily, appearances, as they so often are here in Savannah, are deceiving:  Read More 

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3 October 2017: Pork Chops for Fall

Oven-Braised Pork Chops with Apples and Sauerkraut

It was a crisp fall evening in the early days of my graduate school work at Clemson University, and we actually had something that architecture students rarely see: an evening free of deadlines.

I’d just moved off campus into my first apartment on my own, a cozy four room half-basement affair tucked into the side of a hill, with a kitchen that, at long last, was completely mine. Every free moment back then was spent in that kitchen, experimenting, puttering, nibbling. Read More 

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29 September 2017: Cornsticks and Memories of Marcella Hazan

Freshly baked cornsticks: Hot, crunchy, and irresistible

“Taste.”

When I once asked the late Italian cooking doyenne Marcella Hazan what she felt was the most important thing in cooking, that was her immediate and emphatic answer.

Marcella died four years ago today, just a few months shy of her ninetieth birthday. When I reflect on her life as a teacher and sum what she taught us, it all comes down to that: Taste.

It may seem obvious and simplistic, but it’s all too often overlooked in our age of so-called culinary cleverness. It’s far too easy to get carried away with being “creative,” or with taking too much to heart the notion that we “eat first with our eyes,” and lose sight of the single most important thing: that moment when we lift our forks and the food meets with our tongues. Read More 

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22 September 2017: Savoring Old New Orleans

Oysters Rockefeller at Galatoire's

Last weekend, it was my privilege to celebrate the publication of my latest book, Ham: A SAVOR THE SOUTH® Cookbook, at the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Association’s annual conference and trade show in New Orleans. The big event was sharing a panel moderated by Ashley Warlick with James Beard Award-winning author and dear friend Cynthia Graubart and new friends Melinda Risch Winans and Cynthia Lejeune Nobles (authors of The Fonville Winans Cookbook: Recipes and Photographs from a Louisiana Artist).

But the joy in the trip was a chance to savor some of old New Orleans and it’s legendary food in the company of lovely friends.  Read More 

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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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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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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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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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6 July 2017: For National Fried Chicken Day—Granny Fowler’s Sunday Fried Chicken

Granny's Fried Chicken was never this elegantly served, and this isn't perfect, but it's as close as I could get. Photograph by John Carrington Photography

Whenever I think of my Dad’s mother, known to us all as Granny Fowler, I inevitably start to crave fried chicken. My mother and maternal grandmother also made fried chicken that was very fine in its own way, but the one that we all (even Mama and MaMa) agreed was the best was Granny’s. Read More 

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4 July 2017: Old-Fashioned American Potato Salad

For Independence Day, Old-Fashioned American Potato Salad

Because it's Independence Day and I'm missing my grandmother more than usual today, tonight's dinner includes the very old-fashioned American-style potato salad that MaMa always made, with celery, sweet onion, sweet pickles, hard-cooked eggs, and mayonnaise (she used Duke's) laced with a little yellow mustard for zip and color.

My grandmother diced the potatoes and then boiled them, but I've always boiled the potatoes whole, in their skins, to preserve their flavor and keep them from being sodden.  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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30 June 2017: More Summer Salads

Chicken Salad with Green Grapes and Almonds (because the pecans were in the freezer and the almonds were already toasted and ready to use)

About two-thirds of a left over roasted chicken, half a bag of green grapes languishing in the vegetable bin, and a new bundle of scallions. Add in a steaming afternoon in which cooking is out of the question. For most people, the logical sum of all that would’ve been chicken salad with grapes, a modern standard that has been enjoyed all over our country for more than thirty years.

Most people, that is, except for me. 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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23 June 2017: Seafood Stuffed Tomatoes

Seafood-Stuffed Tomatoes, Photographed by John Carrington Photography

One of the many things that Southern cooks share with Italians, especially those along the Ligurian coast that’s known as the Italian Riviera, is a love for filling hollowed-out vegetables with a blend of their chopped pulp, stale bread crumbs, herbs and seasonings, and often some kind of chopped meat, poultry, or seafood.

Here in the Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry, stuffed vegetables have long been a beloved part of our summer tables. Recipes for them date back well into the nineteenth century. Read More 

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8 June 2017: Summer in a Bowl

Macedonia di Frutta all' Ilda, a lovely blend of summer fruit enhanced with Maraschino liqueur and a splash of rum.

One of the great compensations for (and means of relief from) summer’s heat is a fresh mixed fruit salad. It’s also one of the most versatile dishes of the season. Call it “cocktail” and open the meal with it; call it “salad” and serve it as the meal’s side dish or even centerpiece (all on its own or blended with cold seafood, poultry, or meat); call it “Macedonia,” “fruit cup,” or “compote” and it brings the meal to a delightful close.

Whatever we call it, and however we serve it, a fragrant bowl of well-mixed and chilled fruit is perfect warm-weather fare: it stimulates, satiates, and cools as nothing else can. It brings a ray of sunshine to a rainy day and soothing coolness to days when the sun’s rays become relentless. Read More 

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30 May 2017: An Aging Palate, Wild Greens, and the Flavors of Youth

Fusilli (also called Rotini) with Wild Greens, Scallions, and Pine Nuts

In her later years, M. F. K. Fisher, the prominent mid-twentieth-century American essayist and food writer, once wrote poignantly of missing the ravenous, almost insatiable hunger of youth. Charmingly romantic to read in one’s twenties, it wasn’t so charming to reread years later, when that youthful hunger lingered and fought with a suddenly slowing metabolism of middle age. But there’s nothing charming or romantic about it when old age is staring one square in the face.

The problem is that, while our appetite and capacity may slow down with age, the curious cook’s palate doesn’t slow down with it.  Read More 

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23 May 2017: Of Sautéed Mushrooms and Pimiento Cheese

Small white button mushrooms sauteed in butter

A gray, overcast day, a handful of small button mushrooms left over from styling a newspaper column illustration, a new block of very sharp cheddar, and a small jar of pimientos in the pantry: Probably those things will seem unlikely as an invitation to an afternoon of culinary nostalgia to anyone but me. But there it is. Read More 

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18 May 2017: Guacamole and Southern Cooking

Guacamole with Scallions and Oregano: No, it's not exactly Southern, but it's an example of how our cooking continually evolves

One of the things I love most about Southern cooking is that it’s not a homogenous fabric. It’s a rich, patchwork-like tapestry, woven from many threads and patches that defy the narrow stereotypical boundaries that we all-too-often try to put around it. Even if we could confine it to the most common of those stereotypes—biscuits, barbecue, fried chicken, pimiento cheese, and sweet tea—we’d still be faced with the hundreds of different ways that each one of those things is made all over the South.  Read More 

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11 April 2017: Parsley

My culinary security blanket: a bouquet of fresh flat-leaved Italian parsley

Now, here’s a curious thing that I can’t explain. For reasons that are a complete mystery to me, having a bouquet of fresh parsley in my kitchen is a kind of culinary security blanket. It reassures and comforts me, even when I end up using very little of it in the pots.

Unfortunately, that’s more often the case than not. Despite the truth in the old Italian proverb “essere come il prezzemolo” (literally “to be like parsley,” that is, everywhere), I can rarely use it all up before it starts to fade. Read More 

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20 March 2017: The Key Ingredient

A little bit of love and a lot of cleaning and organizing have made my small, dark kitchen seem new and comfortable.

For nine years, I have hated my kitchen.

People are always surprised to hear it: Somehow, there’s a prevailing notion that all food writers are possessed of dream kitchens—spacious, light, airy, equipped with state-of-the-art appliances and gleaming copper cookware.

And wouldn’t that be nice?

I am blessed to have nice equipment (including gleaming copper), but the kitchen it occupies is rented and not the stuff that my (or anyone else’s) dreams are made of. Read More 

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6 March 2017: Of Leftovers and Creamed Tuna

Old-Fashioned Creamed Tuna with Noodles

So much contemporary food writing, my own included, focuses on the importance of freshness: Using the best ingredients that our budgets will allow; taking the time and care to select the freshest, choicest things that we can find; using care in the way we store and use them. It would be nice if our cooking could always be like that. But more often than not, our day-to-day cooking is (or should be) more about not wasting what we’ve already got on hand.

Far too many people on this planet—no further away than our own neighborhoods—are hungry. No, using up that food instead of throwing it out isn’t helping those hungry people. But to squander still edible food just because it’s not at its absolute peak is self-indulgent and irresponsible.  Read More 

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27 February 2017: Fancy Food and Chicken à la King

Classic Chicken à la King served over buttered toast

During the post-war 1940s, ‘50s, and early ‘60s, when homemaking was still the most common profession for women, a popular form of entertainment was the ladies’ luncheon, either as an end in itself or as a part of a bridge party, garden club, or church circle meeting. The food for these occasions was dainty and fancy: tomato aspic, consommé, creamed chicken and seafood, casseroles, chicken, ham, and fish salads, and congealed and composed salads. How it looked was probably more important than how it tasted, but flavor was still not to be taken for granted.

The king, if you’ll pardon the expression, of all this dainty fare was Chicken à la King. Basically creamed chicken with an attitude, it dates back, as so many things of its kind do, to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, with at least four claims on the credit for its creation.  Read More 

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9 February 2017: The Art of Broth and the Comforts of Chicken Soup

My Chicken Noodle Soup

The deep belief in the healing power of chicken soup may well be one of the most universal concepts in the world’s cuisines.
No matter where on this globe one happens to be, if there are chickens in the barnyard and sick people in the house, there will be chicken soup in the pot. The details and flavorings that go into that pot will vary, depending on the culture and the cook, as will the age and size of the bird. It’s often called “Jewish Penicillin” in our country, but the faith in it as a curative really has no territorial or cultural boundaries. Read More 

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28 January 2017: A Lowcountry Winter Stew

A Lowcountry Ragout, inspired by Sarah Rutledge's timeless classic, The Carolina Housewife, published in 1847

Winter in the Carolina and Georgia lowcountry is rarely what one could call harsh, but the last week or so has been unusually mild even for us—more like late spring than the dead heart of winter. But we know that those balmy whispers of spring are fleeting and can never be trusted. And, sure enough, this weekend the temperatures have once again dropped.

It’s still not what a New Englander would call cold, but it’s blustery enough to make us crave heartier fare, something that will not only warm us in the moment, but stick with us for a long time. And when that kind of craving comes calling, nothing answers it better than a good stew. Read More 

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