Almost a year ago to the day, I read How to Read Cookbooks by Linton Hopkins. He talked unsurprisingly about Larousse Gastronomique. He also spoke of Umberto Eco's criticism and Morton Adler's How To Read A Book. Lord knows I immediately wanted to drink with him.
Hopkins wrote about reading two unpublished works by his friend Bill Thomas. He gushed about Thomas' book on Geechee cooking, The Foods of Georgia's Barrier Islands and on the book he edited about Cherokee Cooking. It was like throwing down a gauntlet. I was determined to track down copies of these works if there was any way to find them. You know, the Internet is a terrible thing to waste.
First let me just say that Bill Thomas is a rather common name. There are a lot of them out. Undaunted I tried book titles, finding that the geechee cookbook was actually The Foods of Georgia's Barrier Islands. Finally I found a reference to a talk Doctor William Thomas had given many years ago on Cherokee cooking and there was a contact to buy the book. I tracked down the contact and found a telephone number.
Here is where our story takes the "Why the South is Different" turn. The number was for a copy place. In may a small Southern town the newspaper office had copy services and office supplies.
I called. I asked about the book. Just a minute the voice said and then another voice.
"Oh, honey, we don't keep those in stock. When Doc Bill needs 'em he just calls us and we print them up for him. Wait just a minute...Here's doc Bill's number. You give him a call and see if he needs us to print some up."
I said thank you, ma'am and she said I was more than welcome. I dare say Kinko's is not going to give you someones telephone number nor will they be telling you that you are more than welcome when you ask a question!
I called the number and left a message.
The next day I got a call from Doc Bill. Yes, he is indeed a real medical doctor. We spoke for nearly an hour about food, Southern culture, and gardening. We talked about the five varieties of okra I was growing and he discussed how important it was to actually grow the plants. Then he said, "You know you can eat the blossoms."
I can't remember when a culinary idea had left me so in awe. For years I had ignored the okra blossoms while gingerly picking squash blossoms to stuff. What an idiot I had been. This is my quick and easy go to recipe for stuffed okra blossoms.
Lucinda's Pimento Cheese Stuffed Okra Blossoms
8 okra blossoms, gently washed with the stamens removed
1 cup pimento cheese
1/2 cup panko
1 cup flour
1 cup sparkling water
Oil to fry heated to 350
Mix the pimento cheese and panko and gently stuff into the okra blossoms. Mix the flour and water, stirring constantly to avoid lumps; it should be rather runny. Dredge the stuffed blossoms into the batter. Lower into the oil and fry till golden, about 2 minutes. Drain on a paper towel.
One of the reason's that recipes don't have a copyright, is because mac and cheese is well, mac and cheese. You didn't invent it. Most food out there you didn't invent. So maybe Dominique Ansel did invent the cronut, but really it is a croissant cut with a donut cutter, not exactly Marie Curie discovering radium, but I digress... No doubt Linton Hopkins will be serving MY okra blossoms before long. I thought I invented Pumpkin and grits only to find it in The Foods of Georgia's Barrier Islands.
Pumpkin and Grits
5 cups of boiling water
1 1/2 cup grits
1/2 tsp salt
Fry 6 pieces of breakfast bacon or thin slices of ham in margarine or oil. Add to the grits along with q cup of cooked pumpkin or 1 can of pumpkin, not pumpkin pie mix. Add a bit of sugar about 1 tablespoon and some black pepper. Cook stirring often until cooked.
While I might not have invented them, they are a great side dish for pork or chicken and pretty good all by themselves.
Like any other tradition, passed down from generation to generation, ideas and information often get lost. It takes people like Doc Bill to gather it and write it down and keep it safe for me and for everyone else. We owe him a great debt of gratitude. Frankly, I think it is time for someone out there to publish Doc Bill's extensive knowledge on the terrior and traditions of North Georgia.