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We were a pride of cousins. On occasions when we all had gathered from various corners of the South, my grandmother's house would echo with the cacophony of thirteen grandchildren. Once we took tow of Aunt Bett's babies sledding with us in the woods. We found a hill that provided the most exciting sled ride in my memory.. By dusk, ...
We were a pride of cousins. On occasions when we all had gathered from various corners of the South, my grandmother's house would echo with the cacophony of thirteen grandchildren. Once we took tow of Aunt Bett's babies sledding with us in the woods. We found a hill that provided the most exciting sled ride in my memory.. By dusk, exhilarated, wet, and cold, we trudged home. A warm fire and Burnt-Sugar Cake welcomed us back.
Southerners have made sugar their business since Colonial times. But that only partially explains why my relatives consider themselves experts when it comes to dessert. Our ancestors had big farm kitchens, stations for more than one cook or baker, and many hungry mouths to feed. Dessert had always been an essential part of every meal; a pleasurable awakening for the palate after a heartening repast. Dessert satisfied the soul after bolstering the body and helped to supply the needed calories to carry on the hard work in the fields. It even made the afternoon's work look brighter.
In the land of Dixie, personalities can be downright sugary. The favorite nickname in my family is "sug," but others include "honey," "sweet pea," "toots" (pronounced tuutz), and "cookie." I like to think that words are drawled just because they sound sweeter. And in my family, a person's attachment to a certain sweet is a part of them like the way they wear their hat or overuse their favorite expression. My grandfather always had a hankering for cherry pudding; my mother adores all things chocolate. My sister Pam prefers lemon anything, while for my father, it's maple pecan. Uncle L.A., the beekeeper, loves persimmon pudding, and Aunt Sue always has a batch of nut candy on hand.
Where I come from, dessert is not only served after dinner. It can be breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I remember at one opulent family feast Aunt Bett pronouncing, "Tonight, I'm having dessert first."
And on a long-ago snowy December morning, after rising at daybreak and trudging through the woods to find the perfect Christmas tree and carrying it back home, my Dad and I helped ourselves to a very large slice of homemade Christmas Orange Cake for breakfast. We were happy all day.
I have seen desserts similar to my Southern favorites in the cases of fancy bakeries in New York. These smart marketers know that a good idea never grows old, it just needs repackaging. Their presentations are lavish: a round chocolate torte embellished with a fleur-de-lis of confectioners' sugar looks just like my warm chocolate cake dusted with sugar through a child's handmade snowflake pattern. The tea cakes wrapped in transparent paper and tied with hemp in Monsieur Bouley's patisserie are the same as my Lemon Kisses wrapped and tied with a handsome ribbon snipped from my kitchen drawer. I challenge even Mr. DeLuca to compare Muzz's Lemon Chess Pie to his Tarte Citron!
These tried and improved-upon recipes are from the honorable tradition of Southern baking, which borrows liberally from African, English, and French cookery. My hope is that these desserts will make happy memories in some other lives as well. A thoughtfully prepared and beautifully presented dessert brings a group together like bees to honey.
Chocolate Chess Pie
Redolent of winter gatherings. When more than one kind of dessert is offered, this pie pleases the chocolate lovers.
1/2 cup butter
Two 1-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
One 9-inch unbaked pie shell
Preheat oven to 325oF.
Melt butter and chocolate in small saucepan over low heat. In a medium bowl, combine sugars, eggs, flour, milk, and vanilla, stirring well. Gradually add chocolate mixture, stirring constantly. Pour into pie shell and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool slightly before eating, or serve warm with whipped cream or Aunt Leecie's Custard Sauce if you must gild the lily.
CHOCOLATE CHESS PIE
MUZZ'S LEMON CHESS PIE
FRIED FRUIT PIES
COCONUT CUSTARD PIE
PUMPKIN CHIFFON PIE
LEMON MERINGUE PIE
29 PUDDINGS & CUSTARDS:
MOM'S CHERRY PUDDING
WILD PERSIMMON PUDDING
RASPBERRY SUMMER PUDDING
APRICOT BREAD PUDDING
KAY BENNETT'S DEEP-DISH SWEET POTATO PUDDING
PEARS IN NIGHTSHIRTS
CHOCOLATE-COVERED PEANUT BUTTER BONBONS
CANDIED FRUIT PEELS DIPPED IN CHOCOLATE
SIMPLE BUTTER MINTS
MISS TRIXIE'S CANDIED POPCORN
65 COOKIES & BARS:
PAM'S FROSTY DATE BALLS
LIBBY ROBBINS'S SCOTCHIES
MRS. WHITMORE'S COOKIES
79 FAVORITE CAKES:
BURNT-SUGAR CAKE WITH BURNT-SUGAR FROSTING
CHRISTMAS ORANGE CAKE
SUGAR-CRUST POUND CAKE WITH SHERRY SAUCE
WARM CHOCOLATE CAKE
PAM'S PERSIMMON-APPLE CAKE
101 CHILLED & SPIRITED DESSERTS:
PEACH ICE CREAM
FROZEN FRUIT COMPOTE
POACHED PEACHES WITH WHOLE PEPPERCORNS
FIGS IN SPICED WINE
HOT FUDGE SAUCE
REAL WHIPPED CREAM
AUNT LEECIE'S CUSTARD SAUCE