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
Recipes and Stories
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.
Fresh-cut asparagus is spring’s best compensations for hay fever.
Flowers are lovely and all very well, but they satisfy only two of our senses. Asparagus gets all five—even sound, if it’s not overcooked. And when it’s freshly cut (that is, only minutes from the bed), it needs absolutely nothing, not even butter. Strong flavors like ham, leeks, garlic, and even lemon can be paired with it only with care and restraint. Read More
Now that strawberries are in season again, we’re constantly making use of them in the dessert bowl at the end the meal. But while they turn up all through the season in our cereal, salad, and snack bowls, we don’t often think of beginning the meal with them.
And yet, a cool, refreshing strawberry soup is a lovely and novel way to tease palates at the beginning of dinner, luncheon, or even brunch. Read More
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
When I began working on my first book, Classical Southern Cooking, broccoli wasn’t thought of as an especially Southern vegetable. But what I found as I delved into the kitchens of our past was a different story. Broccoli had been growing in the South at least since the eighteenth century, and was included in all the old Southern cookbooks, beginning as early as Mary Randolph’s iconic Virginia House-wife in 1824 right through to Mrs. Dull in the twentieth century. Read More
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
One of the great universal concepts in Western cookery is the breaded cutlet: a thin slice of meat, beaten thin both to make it uniform and to tenderize it, coated with dry bread crumbs, and fried to a delicate brown. Crackling crisp on the outside, tender and juicy inside, it’s arguably one of the most satisfying ways of giving flavor and panache to cheap and bland cuts of meat or poultry. Read More
30 January 2015: Simplicity in the Cold Season
A few days ago, I reflected on how the simple act of peeling and eating a perfectly ripe Clementine orange recalled the fact that the principles of good cooking and satisfying eating are founded less on creativity than on the virtues of balance, simplicity, and restraint.
That wasn’t to suggest that there’s no room for creativity in the kitchen; Read More
What we don’t add to the pot, Marcella Hazan frequently reminded us, is equally as important as what we do. While under-seasoning can make a dish fall short of its potential, it’s a failing that can still be corrected; there’s rarely any hope for a dish that has been over-seasoned or buried under a confusion of other flavors. Read More
Nothing recalls the Sunday mornings of my childhood quite like the aroma of onions and beef baking slowly in a pot roast. Read More
A simple way to dress up and stretch a family meal for unexpected company during the holidays, or just make it seem a little more special for the home folks, is a bread basket filled with piping hot, freshly baked biscuits. They never fail to impress, and make everyone think you’ve gone to a lot more trouble than you really have. Read More
In my family, the fat turkey of Dickens’ immortal tale, A Christmas Carol, was always the centerpiece of our Christmas dinner table, even though we’d just had turkey at Thanksgiving. Usually, my grandfather also baked a fresh ham (not the cured pink meat we think of as “ham” now, but an uncured fresh haunch of pork), an old family tradition that had been passed down for generations before him, and is carried on by my younger brother to this day. Read More
Last night for supper we finished the last of the dressing and a big chunk of the leftover turkey with creamed turkey over pan-toasted slabs of dressing. For those with smaller households who said that most recipes for turkey leftovers just created another “leftover” problem because it made more than one person would eat, just make a smaller batch: it divides easily. Read More