Corn, Vidalias, and Raspberries

Posted in John's Current Blog on June 13, 2016

June 12, 2016, Savannah GA:  Seems that every time I cook something delicious and go to blog about it, I find that I already did so 7, 8, or 9 years ago. I think I’ll just stop looking back and go ahead and write about the dishes. It actually might be interesting to compare what I say about the dish now and what I said then. And, truth be told, I’m writing to distract myself from the horrible reality of the day, having awakened to the news of the worst mass murder in American history. My email inbox has been filled with condolences and questions from my friends abroad — in England and France and Italy and Bulgaria and China — wanting to know what is going on in America. I no longer have any words to explain the hatred and violence. I lose myself in cooking and gardening.

My neighbor Randy Dixon is the son of the Mayor of Vidalia, Georgia, home of the eponymous apple-like onions. This is the third time I have found a bag of the sweet onions on my doorstep. I have been grilling them and putting them in relishes and salads, and last year I made a Tarte Tatin with them. I normally don’t cook with them the way I would with Spanish or white onions because they are so sweet and full of juice that they don’t provide the oomph that I expect from those more potent alliums. They do pair remarkably well with equally sweet, fresh summer corn. I often put a little olive oil in a pan, add some chopped Vidalias, some peppers (both sweet and hot), and then the corn kernels, cut from the cob. I toss it around for just a minute or two and then eat it either hot alongside grilled meats, fish, or fowl, or cold in a salad. Last night I tossed the corn “hash” with arugula and added some Bulgarian sirene (sold as feta, but much milder and, in my opinion, more delicious), a bit more oil, and a splash of fresh squeezed lemon juice. It was one of the best salads I’ve ever had. My salad garden finally burned up, so I planted field peas and, after having fresh mesclun every day for four months, then not having any for two weeks, I broke down and bought some arugula at the grocery store. I’m not complaining. Hell, it’s summer here and the farmers  markets and local grocery stores are filled with local produce. I’ve been luxuriating in tomatoes and peaches and berries for weeks. My old friend Gerard Krewer owns Harriet’s Bluff Organic Blueberry Farm and he joined me and my visiting niece Jennifer Powell for lunch on Saturday after he sold blueberries at the Forsyth Farmers Market. Of course he brought me an entire flat, which I stuck in the freezer because he brought me another entire flat last week as well! We stopped by my “son” Scot Hinson’s general store, P W SHORT (his website is about to be lauched) and ran into Randy and his fiancée Maggie Sumrall. They were picking up some of my grits and we were restocking on delicate extra virgin olive oil from Georgia Olive Farms.

For lunch on Saturday I fried chicken (see blog from April 3, 2008) and made rice and onion gravy (see November 16, 2010) and served butterbeans and homemade chow-chow. We had fresh fruit for dessert. I’ve known Gerard since the late 70s when he was the County Extension Agent in Clarke County, Georgia. I had just finished my Masters in Film and had a government grant to be the staff artist at the Sandy Creek Nature Center just outside Athens. Gerard and I worked together laying out nature trails in the county. Years later, after he had his PhD and was working at the Agricultural Experiment Station in Tifton, we reconnected when I inquired there about the truffles growing in pecan groves, about which I was writing an article.

Corn and Vidalia Onion Soup

The night before, I had made this, which is one of my favorite dishes.  I sweat one big chopped fresh Vidalia onion (about 2 cups) in a little butter (about 2 tablespoons): that is, very slowly in a heavy covered Dutch oven with a self-basting lid. Self-basting lids have protuberances on the underneath side of the lids which condense the steam back into water, which continually drips down onto the braising foods. I then added 6 cups of very rich roast chicken stock, brought it to a boil, reduced to a simmer, and let it cook for about 15 minutes. I cut the kernels from 3 large ears of corn (about 6 cups of kernels), added them, and returned to a simmer for about 5 minutes. I then pureed the soup and strained it, discarding the solids. I tasted for salt and added a little, plus a little white pepper. I served it warm with a garnish of fresh chives from the garden, but it is equally delicious served cold with a dollop of drained yogurt. I have also served it with a spoonful of the corn hash, above. I have made the soup with shrimp stock and added shrimp or a big hunk of lump crabmeat. It is thick and creamy with no cream, no potatoes, and a mere handful of ingredients. This recipe will serve 8.

I’ve also been making ice creams– strawberry, peach — and sorbets. Raspberry is one of my favorites.

Raspberry Sorbet

I’ve given some basic instructions for making fruit sorbets before, but this one is so easy and delicious  — with no cooking whatsoever — that I will go ahead and give precise instructions. The sugar syrup trick I learned when I lived in Italy: instead of cooking sugar and water together to make a syrup, all you need to do is to have a pint jar with a tight fitting lid (a Mason or Ball canning jar is perfect). To one cup sugar (and I used tan cane sugar I buy at my Mexican tienda), I add one cup water, close the lid tightly and shake vigorously (imitating the tattooed, mustachioed, hipster “mixologists” who seem to be behind every restaurant bar these days) for a full 3 minutes. Let the jar sit for a minute or two and shake again for another minute or until the sugar is completely dissolved. To 6 cups of raspberries in the work bowl of a food processor, add a couple of teaspoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice and pulse until well pureed. Strain the puree through a sieve, pressing well to push as much of the berry pulp through as you can. Discard the seeds. Whisk the sugar syrup into the berry puree and refrigerate until it is well chilled. Freeze according to your ice cream machine’s instructions.

I found a great deal on raspberries and bought way more than I could eat or put in sorbet, so I am making Raspberry Vodka: I put a cup of fresh raspberries in a pint jar with a tight fitting lid and fill it with vodka. You can use a quart jar and a pint of berries instead. Close the lid tightly and shake it a few times and leave it at room temperature (but out of the sun) for three weeks, shaking it about once/day. After three weeks, strain out the seeds, pushing the pulp through a sieve. Transfer it to pretty bottles and use it in cocktails. You’ll impress your young hipster friends.

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