10 December 2015: Finding Home by the Recipe IV – Meet Dr. Mac
When Charlie Bedford came back home to Maple Grove, to say he wasn’t a well man would’ve been a gross understatement. He was nervous, at least ten pounds underweight, and struggled with chronic nausea, joint pain, and exhaustion, never connecting that all these things might be symptoms of his biggest problem: depression. But when he fainted one night from not having eaten all day, he realized he had to stop hoping that his physical problems would just go away on their own and do something about them.
He knew that old Dr. Eliot, the physician who’d delivered him and seen him through childhood, had retired, but had no idea who’d taken over the practice. And so he also had no idea he was about to be reconnected with an old friend. Read More
Recipes and Stories
10 December 2015: Finding Home by the Recipe IV – Meet Dr. Mac
Best-selling children’s book author Charlie Bedford had many talents, but cooking was not among them. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate good food, it just didn’t matter enough for him to be bothered to actually make it. On the rare occasion that the sleek kitchen of his Manhattan apartment had seen any activity, it had been Val who’d done it.
Besides, there were more good restaurants within three blocks of his apartment than there had been within a thirty miles of Maple Grove, the sleepy village where he’d grown up. Read More
799. Ambrosia—Is made by placing upon a glass stand or other deep vessel, alternate layers of grated cocoanut, oranges peeled and sliced round, and a pineapple sliced thin. Begin with the oranges, and use cocoanut last, spreading between each layer sifted loaf sugar. Sweeten the cocoanut milk, and pour over.
—Annabella Hill, Mrs. Hill’s New Cook Book, 1867.
Ambrosia was the legendary food of the gods, and it’s an especially appropriate epithet for this luscious fruit salad. When well made, it is indeed heavenly. A traditional Christmas dish all over the South at least since the days of Sarah Rutledge’s The Carolina Housewife (1847) Read More
Chapter Two of Finding Home finds Charlie Bedford back in Maple Grove, the town where he had been born and raised. He’d not been home since his mother died three years before, and his sudden return naturally caused a buzz of excitement. After all, he was the closest thing to a celebrity that the little town had ever known.
But the buzz quickly turned ugly when Charlie walled himself up in his mother’s house and refused to open the door to anyone. Within a week, he’d been pronounced as crazy as a bedbug by everyone—with the lone exception of his childhood best friend, Boyd Clayton.
Everyone should have a friend like Boyd. He never gave up on anybody. Read More
Most of you probably don’t know, but cookbooks and culinary journalism are not my only forays into story-telling. Like most Southerners, I’ve been telling stories my whole life and have been writing them down for most of it. None of it has ever felt mature enough to publish, but for the last few years, I’ve been working on a novel that feels ready, and am now looking for a home for it with a publishing house.
Called Finding Home, it’s the story of award-winning children’s book author C. F. (Charlie) Bedford, who turned a childhood pet rabbit into the hero of a best-selling storybook series and rode its success right out of his small-town childhood into the kind of charmed life that every writer dreams about but that most never achieve. At thirty-eight, he’d conquered the world of children’s literature with eight bestsellers and had been living the good life in New York City.
But then he came home one afternoon to a note, an abandoned ring, and a half-empty apartment, and his charmed life began to unravel. Before he knew what was happening, he found himself right back where he’d started, in his run-down childhood home in Maple Grove, a sleepy little village in the hills of upstate South Carolina. Read More
One of the best features of the house where we live is an enormous old pecan tree that canopies our entire back yard. Despite its age, that tree is still prolific, although we’re lucky to get more than a few handfuls of its nuts. Mostly that tree just shades the yard and helps me mark the seasons from my office window.
The problem is that the yard it shades is also a playground and free cafeteria for a motley assortment of spoiled, fat, urban squirrels. Read More
The first days of fall in Savannah were actually almost like fall—cooler, low-humidity, and believe it or not, even a few turning leaves—just enough to really tease the senses and get our palates primed for fall flavors.
This being the Georgia Lowcountry, of course, the weather was soon back to hot and steamy. Now, a tropical storm bringing rain by the gallon is running up against a cold front bringing the cooler temperatures—the perfect weather for indulging an autumnal palate.
It’s just the kind of weather for braised short ribs, Read More
Whenever I get the chance to spend time in good friend Bonnie Gaster’s Tybee Island kitchen (which isn’t often enough) I know that whatever we do will be a lot of fun and the results will taste fabulous. She’s a fabulous cook who does it with the kind of abandon that Julia Child admired and a keen natural palate that always keeps that abandon in good order. Read More
A couple of weeks ago, I revisited one of the loveliest and most misunderstood dishes in all of Southern cooking: pole beans slow-simmered with salt pork. With small new potatoes laid on top to steam during the last part of the simmer, it remains one of my all-time favorite ways of cooking these sturdy beans.
But pole beans are not the only ones that I, and many other Southern cooks, bring to the table. While researching for a lecture on the indomitable Mary Randolph, whose 1824 cookbook was one of the earliest printed records of Southern cooking, I was once again taken by her lucid and careful directions for French beans. Read More
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
Pickled peppers and the vinegar in which they are cured are important fixtures in a Southern kitchen, both in cooking, where they are used as a flavoring in countless vegetable and meat dishes, and at the table, where they are a condiment that accompanies everything from turnip greens to baked chicken. When a recipe calls for pepper vinegar, it means the vinegar from this, and not hot sauce, so don’t substitute the latter for it, but use a few drops of hot sauce diluted in cider or wine vinegar. Read More
Once upon a time, a pot containing a pepper plant that produced tiny, innocent-looking peppers no bigger than small peas could be found in almost every Savannah courtyard. Known as “bird peppers,” they only looked innocent: they’re among the fieriest of all the hot pepper clan. Everyone grew them because they were a fixture in Savannah dining rooms. The fresh peppers were passed in a small bowl to be used as a condiment for soup.
But they were also used in an infusion with sherry to create a lovely condiment known simply as Pepper Sherry. Whether it was in an elegant crystal cruet or just a re-used soda or condiment bottle, this fiery, amber liquid graced almost every sideboard in town, from the humblest creek-side dwellings to the most elegant of townhouses downtown. Read More
The union of okra and tomatoes in the pot is an inspired marriages that happens to be one of the great foundations of Southern cooking. From vegetable soup and gumbo to that soul-comforting triad of okra, onion, and tomato simmered together into a thick stew that can be served forth as a side dish, or over rice as a vegetarian main dish, or as the base for heartier main dishes with meat, poultry, and fish or shellfish stirred into the pot. Read More
One of the half-forgotten and much misunderstood delights of summer’s table in the South is tomato aspic, a cooling, velvety concoction usually made with canned tomatoes or tomato juice, even at the height of tomato season. In my youth, it was considered the quintessential first course for formal summer luncheons and company dinners, especially when that dinner, following a long-gone Southern custom, was served early in the afternoon.
Yet, as little as twenty years ago, when my first cookbook Classical Southern Cooking was published, tomato aspic was a long way from being forgotten. Read More
25 July 2015 Chicken and Corn Chowder
A lovely compensations for the intense, wet heat that settles over Savannah each summer like a warm wet blanket, is fresh sweet corn. And a popular, if a bit ironic, way of having that corn is in chowder, a rich yet simple soup that has been a fixture in Savannah for at least a century.
Recipes for it have been turning up in community cookbooks since the end of the nineteenth century, Read More
No one who has spent more than five minutes in an American kitchen needs to be retold the story of Vidalia Sweet Onions. Most of us know how a low sulfur content in the soil and warm, damp growing season conspired to produce an unusually sweet, moisture-rich bulb that became one of the earliest regional American food products to be protected by law.
What you may not know is that because they’re so juicy, they mold and rot more easily than other onions and therefore don’t keep as well. Read More
On this Father’s Day, it occurs to me that while I frequently write about my mother, grandmother, and occasionally my maternal grandfather and their influence on my career as a writing cook, I rarely mention my father. And yet, his integrity, his strong ethics, his wry sense of humor, and his unique way with words are all an indelible part of my own voice as a writer and teacher.
But lately I’ve begun to realize that his influence hasn’t stopped at words. Read More
One of the lovely things about early summer on the coast in the South is the brief window when soft-shell crabs are in season.
Like most crustaceans, as blue crabs outgrow their hard outer shells, they shed them and begin growing a new one. For a few fleeting hours before it hardens, the new shell is soft, delicate, and completely edible. They’re a much-anticipated seasonal delicacy here in the Lowcountry. That season is already waning here, but we still have a little bit longer to enjoy them. Read More
29 May 2015: Smothered Pork Chops at The Dixie
When we’re visiting family in Petersburg, Virginia, we always pay at least one visit to the Dixie Restaurant on Sycamore Street. Known to locals simply as The Dixie, it’s been around since the 1940s. Though over the course of those years this family-owned institution has known several incarnations, today it has returned to its roots as an old-fashioned neighborhood diner. Read More
You know you’re south of the Mason Dixon line when there are hushpuppies in the bread basket—even when that basket is on the table of a barbecue joint.
Not that hushpuppies are common fare in barbecue joints: These addictive little morsels of fried cornbread are more usually paired with fried fish. But at King’s Barbecue in Petersburg, Virginia, hushpuppies are served right along with the biscuits. Read More
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
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
5 May 2015: A Fool for Strawberries
Strawberries, that fragrant, luscious herald of springtime, have always figured prominently on Southern tables—and earlier in the year than for most of the rest of the country. But by May, the season in Florida, which produces most of the country’s early fruit, is over, and while it will linger a few weeks longer in Northern Georgia, Carolina, and Virginia, it’s beginning to wind down across the South. Read More
Sundays are busy days in my house. We’re up and out to church early: Tim is the organist-choirmaster and I help with the food for coffee the hour after services. If I’m on the schedule at the store, I go there straight from church, which makes for a very long day. By evening, we’re both ready to be off our feet, preferably with a glass of wine in hand.
Sunday supper, then (especially on those work days), is usually a simple meal. Read More
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
For the last couple of days, I’ve been looking longingly at this beautiful whole leg of lamb that I bought and wishing it could be left that way. I kept rehearsing the impossible: Surely there was some way I could miraculously roast it whole and still have Easter Dinner done shortly after we got home from church. Well, there really isn’t.
This morning, I finally took the thing out, took one last longing look at it, and said “Get over yourself and get this job done.” Read More
This classic, easy-to-assemble French gratin has been the potato dish for my household’s Easter for years. The ingredients are simple, its preparation requires almost no real skill on the part of the cook, and yet nothing is elegant nor satisfying to eat.
Best of all, it can be made today, and reheats beautifully. Read More
If you’ve planned out your menu with some forethought for things that not only can but should be made in advance, and have stocked your refrigerator and pantry with all the ingredients except the really fragile perishables (that is, asparagus and herbs), you’re almost home free. Read More
Once you have the menu fixed, today or tomorrow shop for the things that will keep: pantry staples, dairy products, the meat, potatoes, onions, and anything that you’ll need for the next make-ahead—in this case the soup.
My own menu: Puree of Spring Carrots, Butterflied Roast Leg of Lamb, Potato Gratin, Asparagus (the jury is still out on the sauce for this), and chocolate pots-de-crème. Read More
If you haven’t already planned the menu, do it today. Think about things that not only stand up to being cooked ahead, but actually benefit from it.