The Blue Willow Inn Cookbook: Discover Why the Best Small-Town Restaurant in the South is in Social Circle, Georgia

The Blue Willow Inn Cookbook: Discover Why the Best Small-Town Restaurant in the South is in Social Circle, Georgia


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The Blue Willow Inn Cookbook: Discover Why the Best Small-Town Restaurant in the South is in Social Circle, Georgia by Jane Stern, Michael Stern

Chicken and Dumplings, Fried Green Tomatoes, Cornbread, Collard Greens, and Sugared Pecans!

By any measure, the Blue Willow Inn in Social Circle, Georgia is as southern as you can get. Proprietor Billie Van Dyke says that no one is allowed to leave hungry, and certainly no one should after feasting on a variety of Southern salads, meats, vegetables, breads and desserts and, of course, sweet tea, the "Champagne of the South," and lemonade. Housed in a gloriously restored southern mansion, The Blue Willow Inn is home to Southern hospitality and charm at its best.

The Blue Willow Inn Cookbook offers delicious Southern recipes, vintage pictures from the early days of Social Circle, and fascinating anecdotes about the restaurant. It's a book that's wonderful for reading or for cooking.

The greatest restaurants in America are its wonderful independent regional restaurants. And there are no greater experts on America's regional restaurants than Michael and Jane Stern. "Coast to coast," said the New York Times, "they know where to find the freshest lobster rolls, the fluffiest pancakes, the crispiest catfish."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781558539914
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 06/28/2002
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 232
Product dimensions: 7.78(w) x 9.16(h) x 0.77(d)

About the Author

Jane Stern was raised in New York City and southern Arizona, learning to love both hot pastrami sandwiches and bordertown chimichangas. She met Michael Stern when they were graduate students at Yale University, at which point the couple set out on a lifelong quest to find the best American food and to write about it.

Michael Stern was raised at a Heartland table of square meals. The Sterns monthly “Roadfood” column in Gourmet magazine has earned them three James Beard Awards for journalism. They are heard weekly on Public Radio's The Splendid Table.

Read an Excerpt

Louis and Billie Van Dyke's The Blue Willow Inn COOKBOOK

By Jane Stern, Michael Stern

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2002 Jane and Michael Stern
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4185-6634-0




Iced tea is Dixie's eau de vie. It excites the palate, slips down the throat, and brings vigor back to bodies wrung out from the hot sun.

Throughout the Deep South, people drink sweet tea, which means that there is no need to add any sugar to what is served. It comes already sweetened. It is best drunk from a tall, wide-mouthed glass with clear, fresh ice cubes or heaps of crushed ice. Lots and lots of ice, always lots of ice. And, of course, a big pitcher for refills, as needed. If you wish, you can be fancy and squeeze a little lemon in it or add a sprig of mint, but really, any addition is gilding the lily. Sweet tea should be perfect just the way it is served—no garnish necessary. One important rule for making it is to use regular supermarket tea, not fancy gourmet tea. Another rule is to make it sweeter than you think it should be. Indeed, the motto at the Blue Willow Inn is to serve tea "strong and just a little too sweet."

Many are the hot summer days when we have gulped multiple glasses of this tea, realizing that this and only this is the beverage that God meant parched southerners to drink. It quenches thirst, replenishes verve and vitality, and stimulates your appetite for a nice hot supper.

According to Louis Van Dyke, "Grandmothers and mothers of the Old South served sweetened iced tea at every meal. In the Old South, children were never allowed to drink iced tea until they were twelve years old. They drank milk, water, or lemonade. Soft drinks were never allowed at the dinner table. The Blue Willow Inn honors these traditions by serving only sweetened iced tea, lemonade, coffee, water, and—to the unfortunate—unsweetened iced tea. Soft drinks are not available.

1 gallon water
4 to 5 family-size tea bags (each one is enough for a quart of tea)
3 cups sugar, at least
Lemon slices, for garnish (optional)
Sprig of mint (optional)

Bring the water to a boil in a 1 ½-gallon saucepan. Turn off the heat, and add the tea bags. Cover and steep 12 to 15 minutes. For stronger tea, let it steep longer, up to 20 minutes. Add the sugar while the tea is hot, stirring vigorously until dissolved. Allow to cool; then pour over ice. Garnish as desired.


Veranda Tea Punch

Sweet tea and lemonade are the traditional beverages to drink before and during a Blue Willow meal; but for special summertime moments on the porch, this equally sugary punch is something completely different.

2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
Juice of 4 oranges
2 cups strong-brewed tea
1 quart Coca-Cola
1 quart soda water
Lemon and orange slices, for garnish

In a large saucepan combine the sugar and water, and boil for 10 minutes to make sugar syrup. Cool. Mix the orange juice with the cooled sugar syrup. Add the hot tea. Allow to cool. Just before serving, add the Coca-Cola (or ginger ale, if preferred) and soda water. Garnish with lemon and orange slices.


Angel Biscuits

Leavened with yeast, these biscuits are airier and lighter than the traditional biscuit that comes with breakfast. They make a great choice for the breadbasket at suppertime.

1 package active dry yeast
2 teaspoons warm water (110°F)
4 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
½ cup solid vegetable shortening
2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 475°F. Sprinkle the yeast into the warm water in a small cup or bowl. Stir and give the yeast time to get frothy. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Cut in the shortening. Mix the yeast with the buttermilk, and combine with the flour/shortening mixture. Add the baking soda. Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface to about ¼-inch thickness. Cut with a biscuit cutter (a clean standard-size can works fine). Place each biscuit on a lightly buttered baking pan, and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown.


Banana Nut Bread

This is more like dessert than it is bread to accompany a meal. For afternoon tea, or with morning coffee, it's just right.

½ cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup mashed overripe bananas
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a bread loaf pan. In a small bowl cream the shortening and sugar together. In a separate bowl beat the eggs until light and fluffy. Add the lemon juice and mashed bananas. Blend the eggs with the creamed shortening and sugar. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together, and mix quickly into the banana mixture. Add the nuts, if desired. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan, and bake for 1-¼ hours, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.


Blueberry Muffins

Social Circle's Hard Labor Creek Blueberry Farm suggested this recipe to the cooks at the Blue Willow Inn. They're wonderful served warm from the oven, with softened butter to melt inside when you pull one apart.

1 egg
½ cup milk
¼ cup salad oil
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh blueberries, washed and dried,
3/4 cup drained, frozen blueberries

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Combine the egg, milk, oil, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and blueberries, mixing lightly. Do not overmix. Pour into a dozen lightly greased muffin cups. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.


Buttermilk Biscuits

Having grown up in Savannah, the Van Dykes know just how important biscuits are as part of a big southern-style restaurant meal. They dined often at Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House on Jones Street, famous for its bountiful all-you-can eat meals. They always include plenty of buttermilk biscuits, which are essential companions for any meat or vegetable dish with juices that need sopping. In the buffet room at the Blue Willow Inn, biscuits are constantly being replenished.

We watched the Blue Willow cooks make them, and the one thing that impressed us was how little they handle the dough: the less kneading, the fluffier the biscuit.

2 cups self-rising flour
Dash of salt
½ teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons shortening
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup sweet milk
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon melted butter

Preheat the oven to 475°F. Sift the flour, salt, and sugar together into a mixing bowl. Cut in the shortening until the mixture is coarse. Add the buttermilk, sweet milk, water, and 1 tablespoon butter. Mix lightly until combined, but do not overmix. Pour the mixture out onto a floured surface. Knead the dough two or three times. (If biscuits are to be used for sandwiches, such as ham biscuits or other breakfast sandwiches, knead them a few extra times.) With floured hands, pat out the dough to approximately ½-inch thickness. Using a floured biscuit cutter or standard-size can, cut out the biscuits. Do not twist the cutter when doing this; press straight down. (Dough scraps can be rekneaded and cut, but biscuits from this cutting will be tougher, more suitable for sandwiches.) Place the biscuits on a lightly greased baking pan. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the biscuits from the oven, and brush them with the melted butter. Serve immediately.


Buttery Biscuit Rolls

These rolls are another easily freezable breadstuff. If you plan on freezing them, remove them from the oven a few minutes early when they are only pale tan. Cool them completely, then seal them in plastic bags for freezing. To serve, thaw the rolls, then bake them at 350 degrees for a few minutes until golden brown. The Van Dykes suggest that you can add a tablespoon of dried herbs or two tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs (such as basil or rosemary) to the batter and give the rolls a flavor twist.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine
1 cup sour cream
2 cups self-rising flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium low heat, whisking until completely melted. Add the sour cream and flour, and mix lightly. Spoon the batter into miniature muffin cups (do not grease), filling each one to the top. Bake for 15 minutes. Serve immediately. (Adding a tablespoon of dried herbs such as basil, rosemary, or 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped herbs to the batter makes a tasty addition to your meal.)

[Note: To freeze, remove the rolls from the oven several minutes early. Cool completely before freezing. To serve, thaw the rolls, and bake at 350°F for only a few minutes until golden brown.]


Cornbread Biscuits

Given to the Van Dykes by Mrs. W. D. Partee, this recipe makes biscuits that are ideal for crumbling atop a heap of collard greens or into a bowl of pot likker.

2 cups self-rising cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening
1 ½ cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 475°F. Sift together the cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Cut in the shortening until the mixture is like meal. Add the buttermilk, and knead very lightly, only until mixed. Pour out onto a floured board, and roll out to about 1/3-inch thickness. Use a biscuit cutter to cut biscuits. Gently reroll the scraps, and cut more biscuits from them. Place the biscuits on lightly greased cookie sheet and bake for 12 minutes, until brown and slightly crunchy on the outside.


Cornbread or Corn Muffins

There are two warm-bread drawers always filled in the buffet room of the Blue Willow Inn. On the top are biscuits. On the bottom are corn muffins. An essential element of almost any southern meal, corn muffins have a starchy sweetness that is an especially good complement to ham, pork chops, or streak o' lean.

All-vegetable shortening
2 cups self-rising cornmeal
½ cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

Use the shortening to grease 15 cavities of a muffin tin or a baking pan. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine the cornmeal, buttermilk, egg, sugar, and the ¼ cup melted butter in a mixing bowl. Mix gently with a whisk, but do not beat. Pour into 12 to 15 cavities of the muffin tin or into the baking pan. Bake 15 to 18 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven, and brush the muffins or cornbread with the remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter. Remove the muffins from the tin, or cut the cornbread into squares and serve hot.


Lemon-Sauced Gingerbread

It isn't necessary to serve this gingerbread with lemon sauce, but the sauce totally transforms it—from a sweet bread suitable for an afternoon snack into a blissfully warm dessert.

¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup molasses
¾ cup melted butter
2 eggs, well beaten
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup boiling water

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour a 9 x 13 x 2-inch pan. In a mixing bowl combine the brown sugar, molasses, and melted butter. Add the eggs. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, soda, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Add to the sugar, molasses, butter, and eggs mixture. Mix well. Add the boiling water and mix thoroughly. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool. If serving with Lemon Sauce (p. 178), serve the gingerbread and lemon sauce slightly warm.


Southern Dinner Rolls

Wonderful for freezing and using as needed when unexpected guests arrive. They'll think you've baked for hours. You have saved your "southern hostess hospitality" reputation once again.

1 cup shortening
1 tablespoon salt
½ cup sugar
2 cups boiling water
2 envelopes dry yeast
½ cup warm water
2 eggs, beaten
7 cups flour
Vegetable oil

Combine the shortening, salt, sugar, and boiling water in a medium bowl, and mix well. Let the mixture stand until cool. In a small bowl dissolve the yeast in warm water, and add to the shortening mixture. Add the eggs, and mix well. Add the flour 1 cup at a time, and mix well. Grease the top of the dough with vegetable oil, cover, and refrigerate for 2 hours to let rise. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Roll the dough out on a floured surface to a ¼-inch thickness. Cut the dough into rounds with a 2-inch round cutter. Brush the top of each round with vegetable oil, then fold the rounds in half to form half-moons. Arrange the rolls on a baking sheet so the edges touch. Bake until brown. Serve hot, or let cool completely on a wire rack, and then freeze.


Spinach Cornbread

Greens and cornbread go together as well as ham and eggs. This recipe, given to the Blue Willow Inn by Kitty Jacobs of Guidelines, Georgia, combines them in a luscious loaf that is moist, high-flavored ... and good for you!

1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach
1 (6-ounce) package Mexican cornbread mix
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup melted margarine
¾ cup cottage cheese
1 cup chopped onions
4 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Thaw the spinach well, and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Place the drained spinach in a mixing bowl, and add the cornbread mix, salt, margarine, cheese, onions, and eggs. Mix well, and pour into a lightly greased, 8-inch-square baking dish. Bake 30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Allow to settle for 10 minutes before cutting pieces.


Spoon Bread

The name is a bit deceptive, for spoon bread is more like a cornmeal soufflé than any known piece of breadstuff. Although etiquette demands you eat it with a fork, it gets its name from the fact that it is served from the pan with a large spoon.

4 eggs, separated
2 cups milk
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cream of tartar

In a mixing bowl beat the egg yolks with an electric mixer at high speed until thick and light. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk and butter. When hot, stir in the cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. When the batter thickens, remove from the heat, and gradually beat in the egg yolks. Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a medium bowl beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until stiff. Gently fold the batter into the egg whites, and pour into a greased, 2-quart baking dish. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve immediately with butter.


Sweet Potato Biscuits

Only slightly sweet, these biscuits make a fantastic companion for pork chops or ham. They should be served so hot from the oven that when they are split open and buttered, the butter melts right into them. If you have leftovers, use them instead of ordinary biscuits or bread as the secret ingredient in the best bread stuffing you've ever made!

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup shortening
1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
¾ cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 450°F. In a large bowl sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and sugar. Cut in the shortening, and add the sweet potatoes. Stir in enough buttermilk to make a stiff dough. (You may need up to 1 cup or more.) Toss the dough onto a floured board, and knead lightly. Roll out to ½-inch thickness, and cut with a floured cutter. Bake until golden brown.


Sweet Potato Bread

This is a simple, moist loaf that begs to be served warm with soft butter melting into it.

3 large sweet potatoes
4 tablespoons vanilla
1 ½ cups flour
4 eggs
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons nutmeg
2 cups sugar
1 cup milk

Wash and peel the potatoes. Cover with water, and boil until cooked through. Drain off the water, and mash the potatoes, using a whisk or potato masher. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine the mashed sweet potatoes with the vanilla, flour, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, and milk. Mix well. Place in a large loaf pan, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.


Yeast Rolls

Any worthy southern meal offers a breadbasket with not just one kind of bread. At the Blue Willow Inn, you can always count on corn muffins and buttermilk biscuits; but for mopping gravy, sometimes a soft yeast roll is essential.

1 cup boiling water
¼ cup shortening
¼ cup butter plus melted butter for brushing tops
1/3 cup sugar
1 package active dry yeast
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
3 2/3 cups flour

In a mixing bowl pour the boiling water over the shortening and the ¼ cup butter. When the butter and shortening have melted, stir in the sugar, and cool to lukewarm (about 105°F). Stir in the yeast, and let it dissolve. Stir in the egg and salt. Sift the flour into the liquid, about ¾ cup at a time, adding enough to make a soft dough. Lightly cover, and allow the dough to rise in a warm place for about an hour, until doubled in size. Punch down the dough, and form it into round rolls, each slightly bigger than a golf ball. Place these rolls on a lightly greased baking pan, and allow them to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the rolls for 10 to 12 minutes until lightly brown. Remove from the oven, and brush with the melted butter. Serve immediately.


Excerpted from Louis and Billie Van Dyke's The Blue Willow Inn COOKBOOK by Jane Stern, Michael Stern. Copyright © 2002 Jane and Michael Stern. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword....................     ix     

Introduction....................     xi     

DRINKS and BREADS....................     1     

SANDWICH and SALAD....................     23     

APPETIZERS....................     45     

SIDE DISHES....................     77     

MAIN COURSES....................     111     

DESSERTS....................     139     

Acknowledgments....................     199     

Index....................     201     

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