22 May 2015

Culinary Echoes From Dixie

In 1914 according to Kate Brew Vaughn:

"It has been a great pleasure and gratification to me to see the growth of interest in cookery and household efficiency. Fifty years ago, women of refinement were prone to declare almost boastingly that they had never cooked a meal in their lives, and today we note with interest their granddaughters cooking wholesome meals without becoming degraded in the work."

Ah, those poor degraded women of the late 1800's who were forced to cook for the family. In a attempt to instruct these "granddaughters" who are now making their way into the kitchen, Mrs. Vaughn wrote Culinary Echoes from Dixie.  However, before one can set about to cook for the family, Mrs. Vaughn has very strict rules for the budget.

" Twenty-five percent for food, twenty percent for rent, fifteen percent for operating expenses, fifteen percent for clothes, and twenty-five percent for  higher life --education, benevolence, entertainments, and savings."

And one might imagine, cookbooks.

Now one of the reasons folks just love old cookbooks is because they find recipes that have been adapted into the most ravishing dishes, when in fact, the origins are quite simple.  For instance, several years ago in the New York Times, Julia Reed raved about the frozen tomato at the Belle Meade Country Club in Nashville. Well truth be told, frozen tomatoes, a kind of  tomato ice cream served on a bed of lettuce were quite popular.  Mrs. Vaughn's recipe is a bit less complicate than Belle Meade's; more if a tomato sorbet than an ice cream, but the effect is the same.

Frozen Tomato Salad

Peel and chop fine 8 ripe, firm tomatoes. Season with a little salt , pepper, and sugar and three drops of onion juice; turn into a freezer and freeze.  Fill a melon mold with this frozen mixture, pack in ice and salt, and let stand for several hours to ripen.  Serve on a bed of white celery leaves garnished with olives, with mounds of thick dressing over it.

Now while both of these recipes are fine, here is Miss Lucinda's trick for accomplishing the same thing in no time.  Grab a bottle of you favorite Bloody Mary mix.  Pour in in the ice cream maker following the factory instructions.  In 40 minutes you will have a tasty tomato sorbet that will make you the Belle (Meade) of the ball, or tasteful summer luncheon, which ever comes first.

19 May 2015

Franklin Barbecue

You might just ask yourself, are so many people getting into the race for President just so they can go to the head of the line at Franklin Barbecue?  Since they are always being asked, "Why do you want to be President?"  I think skipping the line at Franklin might be an electable response.

Let me say right off the bat, I am one of those girls that barbecues.  One guy who was working for me, said he knew I was from the South because I had a dozen rigs to cook out. I found another guy who was helping me with yard work looking a bit puzzled.  He said, "You have like nine grills."  Well, I said, "Ones of whole hog, one for shoulders, one for steaks, a smoker, a clay oven..."  He just went back to work.  Yes, I am a bit inclined to love a good barbecue book.

Franklin Barbecue is the kind of meritocracy story that America was built on.  Of course, for every one Franklin there are thousands of failures, but we do love to extol success.   Here's the story:  Kid from Texas is kinda lost in the world.  Buys a cheap smoker and even cheaper brisket.  His first try, not great, so he becomes determined.  Keeps working at it.  Works odd jobs, saves $1000.  Tried to buy large smoker.  Fails.  Keeps at it. Gets smoker in disrepair.  Cleans and fixes smoker.  Buys $300 trailer.  Fixes it up.  Gets food truck license.  Moves smoker and trailer to lot.  Makes brisket.  People come.  End of second mother BBQ blogger comes, says best bite of brisket ever.  Lines form.  Lease former barbecue restaurant complete with old, disgusting food(someone else's failure), fix up. Longer line. Texas Monthly -- Best Barbecue in Texas. Lines, longer lines. Bon Appetite -- Best Barbecue in USA.  Television.  More television.  Only time ever but POTUS goes to front of the line.  (In all fairness he did pay the bills of some of the people he cut in front of.) Cookbook!

Actually, Franklin Barbecue is a meat-smoking manifesto.  I knew going into this that the book contained only a few recipes.  The best early review of the book came from Helen Rosner in EATER.  When I got my copy I read the blurbs.  I read about Aaron Franklin, but then I had read about him before, seen him on television, and on television, and on television.  Read about his coauthor and his photographer.  I read the introduction where Franklin says if you want to find the recipes just go to the last chapter.  But I started with chapter one.  I looked up and realized several hours had passed.  I was still reading.  I was reading Aaron Franklin's meat-smoking manifesto like it was a novel -- or a manifesto.  I am ready to go all Anonymous on my smoker.

You know how "they" say, " I could listen to so-and-so read the phone book."  Well, I believe I could listen to Aaron Franklin read the phone book.  Who knew smoke could be so fascinating?  Who could compare brisket to Mary Lou Retton?  Who could make the Maillard reaction sound like so much fun?  I now worry about sausage casings, and wonder if my flue is long enough, and think that maybe, just maybe, I should learn to weld.

The term "hot and bothered" usually has a sexual connotation.  Unless you have spent your last $100 on a piece of meat, tossed it on a smoker, and tended it for 12 hours through smoke, sun, rain, heat, and mosquitoes, you haven't been truly hot and bothered.  You want to understand what that feels like, read Franklin Barbecue.   Me, I'm off to buy a welding mask.

15 May 2015

Zora Neale Hurston on Florida Food

Today's Famous Food Friday features Zora Neale Hurston.  Hurston was so much more than a novelist; she was a writer, folklorist, activist, and anthropologist. Most people might remember Hurston from reading Their Eyes Were Watching God in school, but know little else. If one were ask Hurston, she would have said she was born and raised in Eatonville, Florida, but in truth, she is an Alabama girl, born in Notasulga.  Since she was just a child when the family moved to Eatonville, she probably had little memory of Alabama. Her favorite spot may have been Eau Gallie, Florida where she wrote to friend,  "Somehow this one spot on earth feels like home for me. I have always intended to come back here. That is why I'm doing so much to make a go of it."

Hurston in Eau Gallie
For Hurston, home was Florida.  In his book, Zora Neale Hurston on Florida Food, Professor Fred Opie delves into Hurston's early twentieth-century ethnographic research to examine the food of Florida that appears in her writing.  A graduate in anthropology, Hurston conducted ethnographic research with Franz Boas and worked with both Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead.  After her death, Hurston's papers were ordered to be burned, but a friend happened to pass by the house and stopped, put out the fire and saved the collection.

Fred Opie has studied Hurston's ethnographic research and her literary works to look specifically through the lens of food. The book is loaded with historical photos that bring the period to life. There are fields of collards, enormous barbecue pits, chicken frying, church picnic, and advertising encouraging the consumption of lots of corn.

He augments Hurston's writings on food with a collection of recipes belonging to Hurston and to the African-American community from traditionally black newspapers and other period cookbooks. Opie spends special attention to the descriptions of how foods were cooked whether braised or barbecued, smoked or fried. There is also an emphasis on traditional ingredients such as cornmeal, fish, and rice and peas along with folk remedies Hurston collected. Many of the farm laborers and sawmill workers had little or no access to doctors or medical attention so plant based cures were common among workers.

In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Tea Cake is bitten by a rabid dog and his mind deteriorates from the infection. He needs a doctor but the closest one is in Palm Beach and there is no way for Tea Cake to be saved.  In her research, Hurston came across a remedy for "Loss of Mind."

Loss of Mind Remedy

Sheep weed leaves
Bay leaf
Fig leaf
Poison oak
Sarsaparilla root
2 cups water

Take the bark and cut it all up fine. Make a tea. Take one tablespoon and put in two cups of water and strain and sweeten.  You drink some and give some to the patient. Put a fig leaf and poison oak in show.  (Get fig leaves off a tree that hasn't borne fruit.  Stem them so that nobody will know.)

 We may make a big jug of this and keep it handy!

We collect cookbooks not just for a collection of recipes, but because they root us in a specific time and place. What we eat is embedded in our lives and history.  It reveals who we are.  Zora Neale Hurston's life can be found in the food of her beloved Florida.  We might never have known that if not for Fred Opie.

13 May 2015

Simply Vegetarian Thai Cooking

When I saw Nancie McDermott recently, she said she would hook me up with a copy of her book Simply Vegetarian Thai Cooking.  She was true to her word.  It was sitting on my desk when I was working on my last post for Sorghum's Savor.  I mentioned that Ronni Lundy used a lot of sorghum in Asian cooking and one of her dishes is adapted from a recipe by McDermott, so I must be on the right track with this week's cookbooks.

I don't cook a lot of Asian, so this seems like a great place to start. Simply Vegetarian Thai Cooking is an update of an earlier book, Real Vegetarian Thai. I suppose my resistance to cooking Thai food is the daunting list of ingredients. I have a huge pantry, but I rarely run across a Thai recipe that doesn't require at least 3 items I don't possess, so "throwing" something together is always a bit hard. McDermott is masterful at giving options for lemongrass, galanga, and other items that might not be handy.  That being said, imagine how cool these recipes are in all their exotic glory.

The best part of the book comes late in her section entitled Basic Recipes. This section contains many of the stocks, sauces, condiments, and curries that make the recipes come to life. I do love to cook curry, but lately, they have been lacking, so this part of the book is a definite sweet spot.  While a curry does require a rather long list of ingredients, they are easy to come by.  Her simple curry paste is going to be a staple in the fridge.

Quick-and-Simple Curry Paste

5 fresh serrano chiles, three fresh green jalapenos or 7 long slender dried chiles
1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves and stems
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup coarsely chopped peeled fresh ginger root
1/4 cup chopped garlic (15-20 cloves)
1 tbsp grated lime zest
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp salt

1. Stem chiles and discard some of the seeds. Chop fresh chiles coarsely. Soak dried chiles in hot water to cover, about 10 minutes.

2.  Drain dried chiles, if using. In a blender or mini processor, combine chiles, cilantro, onion, ginger, garlic, lime zest, coriander, cumin, black pepper and salt and grind to a fine, fairly smooth puree, stopping often to scrape down sides and adding a few tbsp (30ml) of water as needed to move the blades.  Transfer to a jar, seal airtight and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

I am sorry I didn't have this cookbook earlier, I would probably now be a whiz at Thai!  Well, it is never too late to start and I am headed to the kitchen now!

11 May 2015

Sorghum's Savor

When I was a kid in Alabama, I really didn't much care for those "historical" day trips to learn from our ancestors. The was one exception. I loved to go to Waldo, Alabama for the sorghum soppin'.  Every year, they would grind the sorghum in an antique horse operated grinder, boil it down and then offered up biscuits and sausage and sorghum. History at its finest!

One of the funny things that has happened with this obsessive interest in Southern food is to watch chefs rave about ingredients that have been our shelves for generations.  One of those is ingredients is sorghum. Who better to write about sorghum as a staple than Ronni Lundy. In her book, Sorghum's Savor, Lundy begins at the source, talking to many of the families who produce sorghum today and some whose families have made sorghum for generations.

The book offers up traditional recipes for things like pies and cakes. Who can beat butter and sorghum for biscuits and cornbread? In watching chefs use sorghum in new ways and in experimenting with the sweetener in her own kitchen, Lundy found that the flavor of sorghum enhanced many Asian preparations leading to her to call it "Hillbilly Umami."

Lundy tracks down many of those new sorghum-obsessed chefs who offer up their sorghum recipes.  Every few pages one is likely to run into a James Beard Award winner extolling the wonders of sorghum. So while there is plenty of of tradition in the form of  stack cakes and baked sweet potatoes, the book takes sorghum in a very modern direction with a Southern Lassi, Miso-Sorghum Chicken and Kale, and a Red Thai Curry.

One traditional recipe gets it unusual name from the father of folk singer, Jean Ritchie.  He mixed sorghum and butter and put it on cornbread.

Gravy Horse

1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons sorghum syrup

Put the butter in a small bowl or saucer and let sit at room temperature until it is softened but not runny.  Pour sorghum over the top and use the tines of a fork to first mash then gently whip together.  You can use the fork to daub it onto hot biscuits.

We've come a long way from Waldo!

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