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In this definitive cookbook, Ronni Lundy draws upon her Kentucky mountain roots and on the recipes and food passions of the fellow Southerners-from home cooks to a new generation of professional chefs-she met in her extensive regional travels. Lundy cooks her way through the bounty of the Southern garden, from succulent purple speckled butter beans and lady cream ...
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In this definitive cookbook, Ronni Lundy draws upon her Kentucky mountain roots and on the recipes and food passions of the fellow Southerners-from home cooks to a new generation of professional chefs-she met in her extensive regional travels. Lundy cooks her way through the bounty of the Southern garden, from succulent purple speckled butter beans and lady cream peas to corn and greens, muscadines, Georgia peaches, figs, mayhaws, and watermelon. She visits farm markets and festivals, finds heirloom-seed growers, and provides mail order sources for everything from sweet-potato chips and "old-fashioned whole heart" grits to fiery-orange HoneyBells.
Butter Beans to Blackberries is also a great guide for food-conscious visitors to a South that is rediscovering its culinary heritage.
Those who do are often transplanted Southerners longing for the taste of a vegetable as common as July fireflies where they grew up, but hardly known elsewhere. My experience has taught me that asking for butter beans north of the Mason-Dixon is apt to get you a bowl of thick soup made from very large, dried lima beans. It's tasty, but a bit on the brackish side and doesn't have the sweet, creamy flavor of a Southern butter bean at all.
The term "butter bean" is used to refer to lima beans, which fall roughly into three categories. First it refers to fresh limas, with the most prized being those with beans of the "baby" variety -- small (about the size of your thumbnail) and very tender. Such beans can be found throughout the United States either fresh (in season), frozen, or canned.
Second, a distinction is made in many regions of the South between this already small lima bean and even smaller ones. These smaller beans may go by different colloquial names. They are known as butter peas in the Montgomery area but may be called "sieve" beans in other parts of Alabama or the South. This is also the bean prized as the "sivvy" of Charleston and the surrounding Low Country area of South Carolina. Joe Kemble, assistant professor of horticulture at Auburn University, says the common names are a corruption of the more proper name, sieva bean. Sivvy beans are prized for their sweetness but, alas, don't ship well.
Third, the speckled butter bean is a variety of lima with a colored, mottled, skin -- usually a deep purplish brown and green, or black and green. Speckled butter beans have a creamier texture and more buttery flavor than their green lima cousins. I, like my mother before me, watch religiously for speckled butter beans in the very brief period in the summer when they may show up shelled and fresh in the produce department of local supermarkets. Although the farmers in this part of Kentucky don't grow them commercially, speckled butter beans are a summer staple in farm markets throughout the deeper South, and if you drive the noninterstate highways in June, you are apt to see hand-lettered signs on the side of the road proffering "fresh speckled butter beans -- just in." Most commonly, though, I come by these beans frozen, and sold throughout the year at supermarkets here. They are very nearly as tasty frozen as they are fresh.
Like sieva beans, speckled butter beans sometimes go by colloquial names. For instance, Wylie Poundstone says lots of folks around Montgomery call them rattlesnake beans. And elsewhere a lima variety with cream and maroon speckled skin is called the Christmas bean.
Technically, you can interchange the more widely available baby lima beans for the speckled butter beans in most recipes, but the flavor will be different. All of the beans are delicious, however, and, as Wylie says, "You can do so much with them. They're some of the most versatile vegetables in the Southern kitchen."
Remember to go easy on seasonings when you cook butter beans, since it's the beans' own subtle flavor which you want to emphasize.
|At the Table||ix|
|Soup Beans, Red Beans, and the Humble Peanut||37|
|The Spring Garden||119|
|Cucumbers and Melons||149|
|HoneyBells, Ruby Reds, Calamondins, and Other Citrus||251|
|Peaches, Mayhaws, Quinces, andBananas||271|
|Figs, Plums, and Scuppernongs||303|
|Strawberries and Blueberries||313|
|Things to Order||338|
|Places to Go||341|
2 quarts water
1 ham hock
6 cups (about 2 pounds) fresh shelled baby lima or speckled butter beans
In a large pan, bring the water and ham hock to a boil. Cook, partially covered, at a low boil for about 30 minutes, to season the water. Add the beans and bring the water back to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes to 1 hour (see The Time It Takes, below), until the beans are tender and creamy inside. Remove the hock and add salt to taste. Serve immediately or keep refrigerated for 2 to 3 days. Reheat thoroughly before serving.
Note: Frozen speckled butter beans or baby lima beans may be used. When you add them to the water, use a wooden spoon to gently break apart clumps.
The Time It Takes
Southerners cook butter beans anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours. The choice depends somewhat on the size and freshness of the beans (the larger or older they are, the longer they take to reach tenderness). Some folks like butter beans just at the point when the inside is tender but the skin still pops when bitten. Unless you are making a salad or relish with the beans, I think that's missing the point. Perfect butter beans are cooked until the insides are quite creamy -- the reason for the "butter" in their name.
In most of the recipes for butter beans here, you will find estimated cooking times with a wider variance than is usual in a cookbook. Experiment until you discover what degree of tenderness you prefer, and be aware that even the same type and size of bean will take a different amount of time to cook from one batch to another, depending on the freshness of the beans. If you want to serve butter beans for a dinner that requires precision timing, cook them to doneness a day or two before, refrigerate them, and reheat thoroughly at serving time.
Miles's Wild Mushroom and Potato Hash
Serves 4 as an entrée, 6 to 8 as a side dish
Miles James shared this wonderful recipe, which makes use of the meaty flavors of the many mushrooms which grow in the Ozarks Plateau. At James at the Mill, they serve this as a side dish, and Miles notes that it is great with game, like venison, or hearty meats, such as lamb. When I made it at home, however, we ate the hash as a main course with a simple salad of greens, apple, and onion in vinaigrette. It's nice to have a little sourdough bread on the side to sop up the very last of the juices.
1-1/2 pounds Irish potatoes
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 pound mixed "wild" mushrooms (shiitake, portobello, oyster, crimini)
1/8 cup fresh chopped thyme
1 cup heavy cream
1 white onion, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
Peel the potatoes and dice them about 1/2 inch square. In a large, deep-sided skillet or sauté pan, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat. When hot but not smoking, add the potatoes. Cook until they begin to turn golden on the bottom. Use a spatula to gently turn them, and brown the other side, scraping any crust up from the bottom of the pan as you do.
While the potatoes are cooking, wipe the mushrooms clean of any grit and remove the stems. Place the stems, thyme, and cream in a heavy saucepan, and heat slowly on low.
Chop the mushroom caps coarsely. When the potatoes begin to brown on the second side, add the mushrooms, onion, and bell pepper. Stir to mix, again scraping up any potato crust from the bottom of the skillet to prevent burning. Cook until the potatoes, onion, and pepper are tender, about 4 minutes. If you need to turn the heat lower to prevent sticking, do, and take a little longer to cook, if necessary.
When the vegetables are tender, strain the cream, removing the thyme and stems, and add it to the hash. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, stirring just enough to keep the mixture from sticking. When the cream boils, remove from the heat. Serve warm.
Jammy biscuits are a Southern interpretation of sticky buns, one which takes advantage of the light, fluffy quality of the soft winter wheat used in the South and the abundance of flavorful fruit jams. I like this best with chunky peach or apricot jam, but it also works very well with a tart, thick orange marmalade.
1/2 cup butter, plus some for the pan
1 cup peach or apricot jam, or marmalade
1/8 cup crystallized ginger, minced
2 cups flour (preferably soft wheat)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan liberally with butter, and set it aside.
Melt 1/2 cup butter in a small saucepan. Pour 1/4 cup out of the pan, and set it aside. Add the jam and the crystallized ginger to the pan, and stir over very low heat until mixed and of pouring consistency. Pour it into the bottom of the greased pan.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the middle, and pour in the remaining 1/4 cup of melted butter and the milk. Use a wooden spoon or your floured fingers to quickly mix, until the dough holds together in a rough ball. Turn it out on a liberally floured flat surface, and roll it into a rectangle about a foot long and 8 or so inches wide.
Mix the brown sugar with the pecans, and sprinkle the mixture evenly over the surface of the dough. Roll the dough into a log 12 inches long. Use a sharp knife to cut every 1-1/2 inches to make 8 biscuits. Place them with a cut side down in the jam, snugly. It's okay if they touch.
Bake for 15 minutes, until the tops of the biscuits are golden. Allow to cool for 3 minutes, then turn upside down onto a serving plate. Serve at once.
Excerpt and recipes from Butter Beans to Blackberries: Recipes From the Southern Garden, copyright c 1999 by Ronni Lundy. Published by North Point Press/A division of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.