11 February 2014

Savannah Seasons

Several years ago the popular book in the zeitgeist was 1000 Places to See Before You Die.  There were pyramids, mountains, camel races, and culinary adventures.  One of those culinary adventures was a visit to Savannah’s Elizabeth on 37th.   It is definitely one of those 1000 places.

After running a small restaurant in Atlanta with a loyal following and building a large law practice, the Terry’s decided they wanted a different life for their daughters so they uprooted to historic Savannah.  Elizabeth on 37th is housed in a stately old home.  Elizabeth Terry and her family live upstairs.  The restaurant is like walking into a friend's dinning room. 

After a series of accolades including the l995 James Beard Award as Best Chef in the Southeast, Elizabeth Terry with her daughter Alexis, wrote Savannah Seasons.  Before it seemed like such a remarkably “hip” idea, Terry sifted through old cookbooks, recipes and garden notes at the Georgia Historical Society.  She studied Savannah’s rich food history from scuppernongs to fig preserves, from juniper berries to Madeira, from Africans to Native Americans, gathering a deep understanding of the ways food impacted history.

Like many a great cookbook, the recipes in Savannah Seasons seem to be both old and familiar and cutting edge, simultaneously.  There are pickled onions – with cranberries.  There is a simple broiled fish – in a cinnamon marinade.  There are turnovers – with oysters and horseradish.  Take these exact recipes and update the format of this book and reviewers would rave about such a “new” take on Southern cooking.  

So take a new, old look at Southern fare, like this gumbo.

Hearty Okra Gumbo with Chicken and Shrimp

6 chicken thighs, roasted and shredded, bone and skin discarded
1 cup minced onions
3 tablespoons minced garlic
2 small yellow squash, cut into ¼-inch dice (1 cup)
2 cups sliced okra
4 cups Basic Chicken Broth
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup cored, seeded, and minced green bell pepper
¼ cup minced fresh basil
1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined (12 ounces)
2 teaspoons hot chili sauce
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt 

In a soup pot, combine the chicken, onions, 2 tablespoons of the garlic, the yellow squash, okra, chicken broth, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are very tender. Remove the bay leaves. Set aside.

Just before serving, reheat the soup, then warm the oil in a large skillet and sauté the green bell pepper, remaining garlic, basil, and shrimp until the shrimp are just pink. Add the hot chili sauce, the lemon juice, salt, and the contents of the skillet to the hot soup.

Elizabeth Terry retired from the restaurant, but her spirit of generosity and rich southern hospitality live on.

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