The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations from Two Great American Cooksby Edna Lewis
Edna Lewis--whose The Taste of Country Cooking has become an American classic--and Alabama-born chef Scott Peacock pool their unusual cooking talents to give us this unique cookbook. What makes it so special is that it represents different styles of Southern cooking--Miss Lewis’s Virginia country cooking and Scott Peacock’s inventive and sensitive blending of new tastes with the Alabama foods he grew up on, liberally seasoned with Native American, Caribbean, and African influences. Together they have taken neglected traditional recipes unearthed in their years of research together on Southern food and worked out new versions that they have made their own.
Every page of this beguiling book bears the unmistakable mark of being written by real hands-on cooks. Scott Peacock has the gift for translating the love and respect they share for good home cooking with such care and precision that you know, even if you’ve never tried them before, that the Skillet Cornbread will turn out perfect, the Crab Cakes will be “Honestly Good,” and the four-tiered Lane Cake something spectacular.
Together they share their secrets for such Southern basics as pan-fried chicken (soak in brine first, then buttermilk, before frying in good pork fat), creamy grits (cook slowly in milk), and genuine Southern biscuits, which depend on using soft flour, homemade baking powder, and fine, fresh lard (and on not twisting the biscuit cutter when you stamp out the dough). Scott Peacock describes how Miss Lewis makes soup by coaxing the essence of flavor from vegetables (the She-Crab and Turtle soups taste so rich they can be served in small portions in demitasse cups), and he applies the same principle to his intensely flavored, scrumptious dish of Garlic Braised Shoulder Lamb Chops with Butter Beans and Tomatoes. You’ll find all these treasures and more before you even get to the superb cakes (potential “Cakewalk Winners” all), the hand-cranked ice creams, the flaky pies, and homey custards and puddings.
Interwoven throughout the book are warm memories of the people and the traditions that shaped these pure-
tasting, genuinely American recipes. Above all, the Southern table stands for hospitality, and the authors demonstrate that the way everything is put together--with the condiments and relishes and preserves and wealth of vegetables all spread out on the table--is what makes the meal uniquely Southern. Every occasion is celebrated, and at the back of the book there are twenty-two seasonal menus, from A Spring Country Breakfast for a Late Sunday Morning and A Summer Dinner of Big Flavors to An Alabama Thanksgiving and A Hearty Dinner for a Cold Winter Night, to show you how to mix and match dishes for a true Southern table.
Here, then, is a joyful coming together of two extraordinary cooks, sharing their gifts. And they invite you to join them.
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Read an Excerpt
Our Favorite Sour Milk Cornbread
Sour-milk cornbread is one of those quintessential foods of the South for which there are hundreds of recipes (and infinite variations). Although we'd never claim to have the "definitive version, Miss Lewis and I worked together on this recipe until we got just what we wanted: an all-cornmeal bread that's light, moist, and rich, full of corn flavor, with the tanginess of sour milk or buttermilk. Like all Southern cornbreads, it has no sugar—that's a Yankee thing.
Traditionally, milk that had started to culture was used in cornbread and other baked goods, both for its pleasant sharp taste and for a leavening boost (its acids react with baking soda to generate carbon dioxide). Since modern pasteurized milk doesn't sour nicely—it just goes bad—we use commercial buttermilk here instead.
This is a genuine all-purpose cornbread, delicious as a savory bread or even as a dessert, slathered with butter and honey. My mother and grandmother only made this kind of leavened cornbread (which they called "egg bread") for cornbread stuffing, and it does make superb stuffing. It's also delicious in a time-honored Southern snack: cornbread crumbled into a bowl with cold milk or buttermilk poured over. Many Southerners—especially of an older generation—would call that a perfect light supper on a hot summer day, after a big midday meal.
1 1/2 cups fine-ground white cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Homemade Baking Powder (see note)
1 3/4 cups soured milk or buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Preheat the oven to 450°
Mix the cornmeal, salt, and baking powder together in a bowl. Stir the milk into the beaten eggs, and pour over the dry ingredients in batches, stirring vigorously to make a smooth glossy batter.
Cut the butter into pieces and put it in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or baking pan. Put the skillet in the preheated oven, and heat until the butter is melted and foaming. Remove from the oven, and swirl the butter all around the skillet to coat the bottom and sides thoroughly. Pour the remaining melted butter into the cornbread batter, and stir well until the butter is absorbed into the batter. Turn the batter into the heated skillet, and put in the oven to bake for 30-40 minutes, until cornbread is golden brown and crusty on top and pulls away from the sides of the skillet.
Remove the skillet from the oven, and turn the cornbread out onto a plate. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before cutting into wedges. Serve the cornbread while it is hot.
Note on Homemade Baking Powder:
Distressed by the chemical additives and aftertaste of commercial "double-acting" powders, Miss Lewis years ago started making her own baking powder—a traditional mixture of cream of tartar and baking soda. When I first used her formula (from her books, before we met), I couldn't really taste any difference. Soon, though, I realized that muffins and quick breads made with aluminum-sulfate-based powders left a metallic "tingle" on my tongue. Today, I make up a batch of this powder every week for use at the restaurant and bring a jar home for Miss Lewis. We recommend it for all the recipes here. If necessary, you can substitute commercial baking powder in equal amounts.
Sift 1/4 cup cream of tartar with 2 tablespoons baking soda together 3 times, and transfer to a clean, tight-sealing jar. Store at room temperature, away from sunlight, for up to 6 weeks.
Makes 2 1/2 Pints
Miss Lewis made this chutney at Café Nicholson, where it was a favorite of India's ambassador to the United Nations, Madame Pandit—sister of the legendary Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru. Serve this with Country Captain (pages 96-97) as well as roast pork and game dishes. You can substitute pears, peaches, or green tomatoes for the apples.
2 cups apple-cider vinegar
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 pounds tart cooking apples (Winesap or Granny Smith), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
10 large cloves garlic, peeled
About 3 inches fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
6 dried chili peppers
1 1/2 cups raisins
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
Put the vinegar and sugar in a large nonreactive saucepan or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Toss the apples and lemon juice in a large bowl. Put the garlic, ginger, salt, and dried chilis in a food processor, and blend until finely chopped.
Add the apples, garlic mixture, raisins, and mustard seeds to the vinegar-sugar mixture, and simmer, stirring often, until the apples are tender and the chutney has thickened, about 45 minutes.
Spoon the hot chutney into sterilized canning jars, and seal following manufacturer's directions. Or simply put in jars and refrigerate.
Meet the Author
Edna Lewis is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Grande Dame of Les Dames d’Escoffier International (1999). She is the author of The Taste of Country Cooking as well as In Pursuit of Flavor and The Edna Lewis Cookbook. She lives in Decatur, Georgia.
Scott Peacock was born and raised in Alabama. He has served as chef to two governors of Georgia and at two restaurants, Atlanta’s Horseradish Grill and, most recently, the highly regarded Watershed in Decatur, where he lives.
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