A recent poll on my social media author’s page confirmed something that any Southerner already knew: it isn’t Easter dinner down South if it doesn’t begin with deviled eggs. But it also gave away something I’ve long suspected: that the affection for these morsels has no geographical limits. They may come in and out of “fashion,” but they’ve never lost their front and center place on Easter’s table all across the country. Read More
Recipes and Stories
“Beets have a finer flavor baked than boiled; it requires longer time to cook them this way.”
— Annabella Hill, Mrs. Hill’s New Cook Book, 1867
Here’s an odd and suggestive historical puzzle: many nineteenth century American cookbook authors agreed with Mrs. Hill, conceding that beets taste best when they are baked whole rather than boiled. And yet, not one of them, Mrs. Hill included, provided directions for doing it. Read More
Most of the nineteenth century cookbook authors treated all root vegetables the same way: scrubbed them well, trimmed, and sometimes “scraped them nicely” (that is, peeled them), boiled them in abundant salted water, and then dressed them with salt and butter. So long as the roots are not overcooked, it’s still a fine way to cook them. Read More
Here on the coastal plain of Georgia, spring carrots have been turning up at the farmers’ market for a couple of months, but it is now that they’re really hitting their prime. Friend Relinda Walker, the proprietress of Walker Farms, grows both the usual orange and colorful rainbow varieties of sweet young carrots. Laid out with their bright, fresh greens still attached, they’re as beautiful to look at as any bouquet of flowers you can imagine. Read More
This morning dawned cold, wet, and gray in Savannah and I’ve been taking advantage of a rare day on my own to put a batch of said beef broth through one last simmer while reading Julia’s delicious prose as background for a newspaper story. Read More
Nostalgia is a funny thing. Nothing stirs memories of the Christmases of my childhood more lucidly than Doris Day singing “Silver Bells.” Yet the memories conjured have nothing to do with city sidewalks, but of the rolling, red-clay fields and pastures of Grassy Pond, the farm community where we lived until I was ten.
There wasn’t one single silver bell, red and green blinking street light, or rushing shopper for miles. Read More
Mushrooms in cream are surely one of the world’s great gastronomical inventions. And when a little dry-aged country ham and bit of fresh thyme is added to the mix, they lend a lovely autumnal fragrance and depth of flavor that enhances even the mildest of fungi. The combination is the perfect way to bid farewell to the all-too-brief season for chanterelles. Read More
Unlike pasta, leftover rice is perfect for recycling in a salad: while pasta often turns gummy and flabby when cold, rice holds its shape, remains firm and yet tender, and because its surface starches “set,” the grains don’t clump together but remain distinct and separate. Read More
Crab cakes have become standard fare on Southern restaurant menus from Maryland to Louisiana, and one of the signature dishes of modern Southern cooking. They’re so popular that it seems petty to quibble over them. But as delectable as it can be (when well made), molding cooked crabmeat into a regular, round cake presents a delicate balancing act for the cook: keeping the binding breading to a minimum without having the cake fall apart in the frying pan. Read More
This past weekend The Savannah Voice Festival debuted, and for the next two weeks, the steamy Lowcountry air will seem a little less heavy as it is filled with the glorious sounds of Fifty-three promising young performers who have gathered in our little town to study with more than two dozen seasoned singers, coaches, and accompanists. Read More
Cherries have been at their peak over the last couple of weeks and, this year, have been unusually sweet and juicy. Luckily, when they’re seasonal and at their best, their cost per pound is correspondingly at its lowest. And since they’re a favorite summer fruit in our house, there has almost always been a bowl of them on our kitchen table, ready for grabbing by the handful. Read More
Unhappily, I’m the only person in my household who thinks of livers and mushrooms as a luxury—much less an indulgence— Read More
A glance through cookbooks of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries might give the casual reader the impression that our ancestors played a one note theme when it came to asparagus. Read More
It’s usually a mistake to assume that someone who looks back to history is somehow bound and gagged by the past. Yet, the prejudice is commonplace, and seems to be especially prominent in the culinary community, where so-called “cutting edge” trends whiz past at light speed, seemingly leaving us dusty old historians behind to stew in our own marmite. Read More
If you follow this essay series at all, you will have noticed that I rarely venture into the justly famous cookery of Creole and Cajun Louisiana. That’s mainly because, first of all, these cuisines are not directly a part of my own heritage, and secondly, they have more than enough champions on their own, both true Louisianans and posturing Creole/Cajun wannabes, to need any help from the likes of this old Cracker. Read More
Everyone should have such a dilemma: there was a large cache of lovely jumbo dry-packed sea scallops leftover from a class and no one else could use them. It was up to us to use them, and we were going to be out until late. I was not, however, about to let a luxury go to waste.
Besides, the lovely thing about scallops like that is that they take no time at all to cook. I walked into the kitchen at 7:45 and a sumptuous yet simple supper was ready by 8:30. Read More
When the weather turns cold and damp, as it has this week, or simply when we just need comforting, nothing answers in my household like this simple but deeply satisfying dish of tenderized round steak slow-simmered in an aromatic gravy. Originally called beef “collops” (the old English word for sliced meat), this dish goes back at least to the mid-eighteenth century, and as its contemporary name suggests, has long been a staple of farm kitchens all across the South. Read More
It was my first night in Italy. Our class had spent the day sketching in the picturesque port towns of Portofino and San Frutuoso. Soaked with Riviera sunshine and salty Ligurian air, we came back to the school, a villa that commanded its own picturesque view of the Bay of Genoa over the red-tiled rooftops of the old city. We were exhilarated, exhausted, and very hungry, as only active young people can be. Read More
Sometimes the very best cooking is barely cooking at all. That’s partly because the most important skill in any cook’s repertory is that of knowing when to stop.
For example, one of the best of all possible ways to sauce pasta, whether it is fresh egg noodles made at home or dried factory pasta, involves no cooking at all: it is simply tossed with just butter and freshly grated Parmigiano. Read More
I don’t need a physicist to prove to me the law that objects at rest tend to remain at rest. All I have to do is look around my own house.
We really are creatures of habit, and once something comes to rest in a spot, that’s where we tend to leave it. That may not be a particularly Southern trait, but anyone who visits the South could certainly build a strong argument in its favor. We Southerners are masters at design by default, Read More
A welcome nip in the air has conspired with a touch of homesickness to bring on a craving for hearty, old-fashioned bean soup. There are so many good ones—from my father’s simple mélange of copper-brown pintos with ham and onion (eaten with hot cornbread crumbled into the bowl) to the suave, sophisticated puree of black beans that once graced so many Savannah dinner tables. I love them all, but my favorite is a simple, hearty white bean soup. Read More
One of the most satisfying, calming rituals of the new year in a Southern kitchen is the cleaning, prepping, and cooking of that obligatory mess of collard greens. For me, this ritual is almost as satisfying as eating them. Read More
Of all the Christmas goodies that hosts and hostesses have traditionally laid by for drop-in guests during the holidays, cheese straws speak closest to my heart. Called cheese “biscuits” in nineteenth century manuscripts and community cookbooks, they’re not to be confused with the cheese-flecked baking powder bread popular today: back then “biscuit” was still being used (as it still is in Britain) in its older form to designate a crisp cookie. Read More
One of the most enduring symbols of the American holiday table is eggnog, that lusciously creamy, frothy, deeply intoxicating concoction of eggs, milk, and some kind of alcoholic beverage. Like fruitcake, the season’s other great culinary symbol, this heady beverage is reviled almost as much as it is revered.
There may be something in the old saying about familiarity breeding contempt; Read More