My Mother had a friend and she would say about her: "She always has champagne in the fridge, but she never has toilet paper." While my Mother saw this as a weakness, I was rather enamoured of this philosophy and it seemed all together Southern to me.
Here are some of the things we know about Southerners.
Give them a minuet or two and they can party for weeks. Kentucky Derby: about two minutes. Parties: two weeks. Mardi Gras: Fat Tuesday becomes Ash Wednesday at midnight. Parties: three weeks.
Southerners have loads of china and other forms of dishes. I personally have 4 sets of picnic dishes and I am not ashamed.
Baptists aside, a Southerner can mix up a fine cocktail with little more than a jar of grain alcohol and a peach from Chilton County.
As Julia Reed will tell you in her book, you can set the most elaborate table, order new napkins, have engraved invitations and still serve Popeye's... and that's what I like about the South.
Now Julia Reed's South is one of those books that is often classified as "aspirational" that is to say you probably can't call your favorite Pulitzer Prize winning author and get them to loan you their house for a party that involves a photo shoot for your cookbook like Reed can, but we know in your heart of hearts you want to.
So each "party opportunity" comes complete with exactly which china it was served on, who printed the invitations, where the napkins were bought, what vintage the wine was, and who lent the gorgeous property where the party was photographed. Frankly, we love that kind of info. In fact, many cookbooks go to enormous lengths to make you think that you have just stumbled on some grandly orchestrated tableaux, without filling in the details. We love the details.
The food is delightful and runs the gamut from tea sandwiches to a fine pulled pork. One of our favorite party items is a savory sorbet and Reed weighs in with variation of the Belle Meade Country Club tomato sorbet. Mac and cheese is elevated to Gratin de Macaroni. Chess pie becomes squares.
I do love this book because it follows in the tradition of one of my favorite cookbook authors of all time, Lee Bailey. Bailey would revel in the new found adoration of Southern food. Frankly, he should be adored even more. Reed writes:
"But the book that had the greatest impact was Lee Bailey's Country Weekends."Many years ago, my friend Harry Lowe and I were cooking. He had a recipe he wanted to try and he was reading it to me. "It sounds like Lee Bailey," I said. Harry Lowe looked and said it was indeed. You could just tell. Bailey had the ability to take high and low and mix it up into something wonderful. He would be very proud of Julia Reed.
This recipe is a take on a crab dip that one often sees at fancy soirees, but here it becomes a rather heavenly grilled cheese.
Grilled Deviled Crab & Cheese Sandwiches
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, plus more for grilling
1 cup finely diced andouille sausage
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
¼ cup thinly sliced scallions, including some of the green tops
¾ cup heavy cream
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¾ cup grated good Cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 ½ teaspoons Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
1 large egg yolk
1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over for shells and patted dry
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 loaf Pepperidge Farm Very Thin Sliced White Bread
½ cup finely minced Italian parsley or chives, or a mixture of both
Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and fry for 5 minutes. Drain off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the scallions, cream, Parmesan, Cheddar, Tabasco, and Worcestershire sauce and still until the mixture is bubbling and thickened, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Beat the egg yolk in a large bowl. Gradually add about 1 cup of the cheese mixture, mix well, and stir in the rest. Toss the crab in the lemon juice and fold it into the filling. Taste for seasoning and refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 1 hour before making the sandwiches. (At this point the filling may be refrigerated overnight.)
To make the sandwiches: Cut the crusts off the bread, spread a layer of crab filling between 2 slices, press them together, and repeat. In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Place as many of the sandwiches in the skillet as it will hold. Press down lightly with a spatula and turn over after about 2 minutes, or as soon as the underside is golden brown. Press down again and remove the sandwiches to a warm baking sheet when the flipsides have browned. As you cook, you will likely need to add more butter. If the butter gets too brown after a few batches, you may need to wipe out the pan and start over.
When all the sandwiches are done, spread the minced parsley on a plate. Cut each sandwich in half into triangles and dip the long edges into the herbs. Serve immediately.
Feel free to serve them on your Grandmother's Haviland or on a My Little Pony paper plate! Julia won't mind.