23 January 2010

Delectable Dishes From Termite Hall


Originally, Termite Hall was coaching inn located halfway between the Mobile, Alabama courthouse and Spring Hill College. It was known appropriately as the Halfway House. It was a place Eugene Walter knew well. The house came to its name honestly. There are several stories all a means to the same end. One has it that Mrs. Marston, the lady of the house, was walking through the house when the parlor floor gave way because of the termites. Another has the children sitting on a balustrade on the porch. When they got up, it collapsed, eaten away by the termites. Either termite story was sufficient for the house to become Termite Hall.

Eugene Walter was a consummate cook and food writer on a par with M.F.K. Fisher. He was a consultant on the Time Life Series, writing American Cooking –- Southern Style. He was also an award winning novelist and poet, a singe, actor and composer, and a general bon vivant of colossal proportion. For more on Eugene Walter, check out our post at Lucindaville. For more on his cookbooks, stay here.


Delectable Dishes From Termite Hall takes its title from the fine old three-story building seen above. Eugene Walter was not the kind of man to walk away from a good tale and falling through the floor at Termite Hall was a great tale.

Since he was a boy, Walter collected recipes the same way some kids collected stamps. As an adult, he compiled many of these recipes into a several cookbooks. In an introduction to this edition, novelist Pat Conroy writes,
“I have not come across a bad recipe in the book, and certainly, not a dull one. It was Eugene who told me that as a cookbook writer he was always trying to disguise the fact that “my real job is to be a philosopher king and prince of elves.””
Here is Eugene Walter at his elfish best on the subject of Jerusalem artichokes, grown everywhere in the South.
“Twenty-five lashes with a dead flounder to whichever publicity genius dreamed up the name Sun Choke. The plant has been known since the early 1600’s as Helianthus tuberosus, topinamber, and Jerusalem artichoke. …I love the French topinambour: I’ve always felt that if Rumpelstiltskin or Pinocchio had a little sister her name would be Topinambour.
Here is an old recipe for an even older vegetable.
Stewed Topinambour – Old Mobile Style

Melt some butter and bacon fat in the skillet and brown a thinly sliced onion, sprinkle in a tablespoon of flour, stir until nicely colored, not dark. Add a small glass of dry white wine, mix and let simmer a minute then put in a crushed toe of garlic, some freshly-ground black pepper, a dash of nutmeg, and a pound or so of small peeled Jerusalem artichokes. Simmer until the vegetable is cooked but not mushy. Before serving add more butter, salt to taste, and a sprinkling of chopped parsley or chives.
If you have never tasted Jerusalem artichokes, give this recipe a try. And please, please, read Eugene Walter.

2 comments:

  1. completely new to me and I love it.

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  2. Yes, Delectable Dishes from Termite Hall is one of the great southern cookbooks. I can't say that I've made everything in it but I've read it all many times and I keep returning to it again and again.

    One time, I said to Eugene "Eugene it's a great cookbook but the recipe for Stamp and Go is only half there. What do you do after you gather the ingredients?" He looked at me for a minute (there really is a bad typo/mistake in the Stamp and Go recipe) and then recovered with "Oh, you know, it's just Jamaican street food, mix it up, flip over a cup and stamp it out, and then fry it. It's what the street vendors do, same thing, everyone knows that. It's just the usual little stamp and go fish cake."

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