November 2007

Posted on November 30, 2007 in Archives

11/27/07 Here it is almost December and we still haven’t had a frost in DC. The gingko trees that line my street just started turning yellow and losing their leaves this week. The passion flowers on the vine covering my front stoop are still blooming (I took the photo to the left today). I’ve read that our gardening zone has even been changed, so that the Mid Atlantic is now what North Carolina used to be. And yet I’m amazed that there are those who continue to say “What global warming?!”
Tonight I’m going to make a Carolina Pilau, pretty much the way it’s been made in South Carolina for hundreds of years. This is one of my favorite recipes, one most lauded by my readers. It is utter simplicity and it cooks up with very little preparation. Tonight I’m going to add some lightly smoked Polish sausage to this chicken  dish, as well as the last of the peppers and tomatoes from our garden, which, remarkably, I still have.
The recipe and headnote are from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking, but the cooking is classic South Carolina.
Carolina Pilau
A dish such as this appears in various cultures as pilaf, jambalaya, and just plain chicken and rice. In Charleston and the surrounding Lowcountry, it started as pilau, but it’s often spelled perloo (though I’ve seen purloo, perlo, and perlau as well). It’s pronounced per-lo, but that “o” is a distinctive Charleston sound — and many people not from here think we are saying “oo.” Some people say “oo, la, la”; others say “oh, la, la.”
a 3-1/2 – 4 pound chicken
2 quarts water
1/4 pound unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 large chopped onion, about 1-1/2 cups
2 cups chopped celery
2 or 3 large tomatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
2 cups long-grain white rice
Cover the chicken with the water and boil for 1/2 hour. Remove the chicken from the broth and reserve. Skin the chicken and remove the bones, pulling the meat from the bones, then cutting the meat into uniformly sized pieces. Set aside.
(If desired, you can remove 1 quart of the broth and set aside for the recipe and then continue cooking the remaining liquid, adding the chicken bones, cut up, and some aromatic vegetables such as onions, carrots, celery, and herbs. Add more water if needed and cook until it is well flavored.)
Melt the butter in a Dutch oven on top of the stove, then add the onions and the celery and cook until the onions start to brown. Add the peeled tomatoes and their juice and the seasonings, putting a little more salt than you might think is necessary. Add the chicken meat, the rice, and 4 cups of the reserved broth. Cover, bring to a simmer, and cook slowly, without lifting the lid, for 30 minutes. Serve with a green salad and cornbread.
Yields 8 servings.
Our Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant was very disappointing, but we began with a bottle of Phillipponat Royale Réserve, another small producer of classic Champagne, at our friend Richard’s house, and then continued with another bottle of Champagne at the restaurant when we found that they made us wait for a half-hour for our table as we overlooked an entirely empty dining room, which they filled by seating everyone at the same time.
To make up for the awful food (dry dressing with burned pecans, turkey as hard as leather), I prepared a mini-Thanksgiving dinner for Mikel and me last night: pan-fried quail with giblet gravy, cornbread dressing, and rice and butterbeans with green tomato relish. I had been out to Rockville, Maryland, to buy a gel mat (a great product that I highly recommend: and had stopped at an eastern European market for Polish and German dried sausages which we nibbled with cantaloupes before dinner.
Dressing is made with leftover cornbread which you crumble and add a healthy dose of sautéed onions and celery (with lots of butter) and some chopped herbs (I used fresh parsley and two leaves of dried sage from my garden). I beat an egg and stir it in, then pack it lightly into a glass baking dish and soak the casserole with as much stock as it will hold. Bake in a 350o oven for 30 minutes or so, until the sides begin to brown and pull away from the pan. Serve with gravy.
This morning we went to Mark’s Duck House in  Falls Church, Virginia, with Betsey Apple and her son John Brown. For two hours we ate dumplings of scallops, shrimp, and chives; tender steamed young bok choy; barbecued ribs and roast suckling pig; shrimp-stuffed eggplant and fried shrimp in seaweed wraps; and their lovely shrimp noodle crepes, among other dishes. All for less than a bottle of Champagne!
Tonight I’m going back over to Richard’s house for steaks. I’ll take a
Mile-High Apple Pie
from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking
This overstuffed apple pie is topped with a glorious dome of a crust made with duck fat and a little butter. The crust is pushed down with the palm of the hand before slicing. For the crust, it is imperative that all of the ingredients and the utensils be chilled, for the duck fat melts at a lower temperature than do other shortenings.
For the crust:
1-1/2 pounds flour
good pinch of salt
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
4 ounces chilled duck fat (or lard)
2 ounces chilled unsalted butter
3/4 cup water, plus ice cubesSift the flour with the salt and the sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add a few ice cubes to the measured water and set aside. Cut the fats into the flour with a pastry blender, a large fork, or two knives, until the mixture is uniform and, as the old cookbooks say, it resembles small peas. Do not touch the dough with your hands. Place a wet towel under the bowl so that it will not slide around on the counter. Working deftly, scoop up large spoonsful of the mixture from the bottom of the bowl with a metal slotted spoon while sprinkling water into the mixture a little at a time. Work quickly as you “lift in” the water, stopping before all the water is in. You should stop the second you feel the dough will hold together without more water. Now grab the entire mass of dough up in your hands and push it all together into a ball. If the pie filling is ready, wrap the dough in some wax paper or plastic wrap and put it in the freezer for ten minutes; otherwise put the wrapped dough in the refrigerator to chill while you prepare the fruit.
For the filling:
8-10 large tart baking apples
1/2 cup sugar
the grated peel of one lemon
freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon rice flour
Peel the apples, core, and section them. I use an apple corer that simultaneously cores and sections the fruit into 8 perfect slices. Sprinkle them with the sugar, the lemon peel, some freshly grated nutmeg, and the rice flour, and toss so that all the ingredients are evenly mixed.
Assembly and baking:
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) chilled butter, cut into small pieces
Preheat the oven to 400o. Cut off half of the pie dough and roll it out so that it will fill a 10″ pie plate. Place it in the pie plate, allowing it to fall over the edges of the pan. Begin filling it with the apples, evenly distributing the butter pieces throughout. Pile the apples high in a mound. They will come above the top of the pie plate, several inches in the center. Set the filled pie aside. Roll out the remaining half of the dough, then gently lift it up on the rolling pin and center it on the filled pie, allowing the excess dough to fall over the edges. Gently pat the top crust into place on top of the apples, then run a sharp knifepoint around the rim just inside the lower crust, so that the top crust is cut off just where it meets the lower. Set the excess dough aside. Then, working deftly, and lightly, lift up the bottom crust that is hanging over the sides of the pie plate, and fold it over the rim, tucking in and sealing the top to the bottom crust, and crimping the rim between thumb and forefinger to create an attractive edge.
With a thin, sharp blade cut several steam vents in the crust, brush it lightly with milk and sprinkle it with sugar. Place in the middle of the preheated oven and bake for about an hour, or until the crust is evenly golden brown. Allow to partially cool before slicing, pushing the golden dome down lightly to meet the fruit which will have settled somewhat. Serve with crème fraiche, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream.
Yields 8-10 large slices, full of fruit.
I have a confession to make. After helping popularize the deep-frying of turkeys (which I still think is the best way to cook the birds, particularly the poor overbred creatures that are most readily available today), I shy away from being involved in the cooking of Thanksgiving dinners any longer. For years in South Carolina, I would find myself in the kitchen after the meal, helping the women hand-wash the good crystal, silver, and china that was always brought out for the meal (and usually only for this meal, Christmas, and Easter!). The other men and children would go plop down in front of the tv and watch the games. When I complained, I was told that that’s their tradition as well, to do nothing on that day. I couldn’t argue that point, but I did manage to convince the women that the meal must have been invented by a man who has never had to put 15 things in the oven at once!
Much of the food is fine sitting on a sideboard for awhile, especially if kept hot on warming trays or steam baths, I argued.
“Why don’t we go out?! ” I beseeched them. “We’re members of the country club, after all,  and they will have everything — not only perfectly roasted turkeys with gravy and dressing*, but also ham and country ham, roast beef, oysters, shrimp, casseroles, greens, beans, sweet potatoes, soups, salads, breads of all sorts, cranberries in a variety of dishes, and a huge display of desserts. No one’s feelings will get hurt if his or her casserole doesn’t get eaten, and there will be no discussion of whether the turkey should have been fried, slowly roasted, baked in a hot oven, brined, grilled, basted with butter, stuffed, or free-range**. No one will compare your biscuits to Nina’s and we won’t have to clean up!”
*About dressing: in the South we do not stuff our turkeys, but serve the dressing — never called “stuffing”– on the side. Sometimes there are several, perhaps one with oysters, another with nuts. They’re most often made with crumbled corn bread moistened with giblet gravy and perhaps some eggs and butter added to sautéed onion and celery.
**As if most of the people who have an opinion on these variations have ever actually tried them! 
I won the women in my partner’s family over, even after his mother installed two ovens in her new kitchen specifically to help her through the three big family meals of the year. Now that we live in DC, it’s really a moot point for Mikel and me: We go out. I cook dinner almost every night of the year, and Mikel washes the dishes. It’s our holiday, too!
And so, Dear Reader, while I have lots of experience preparing traditional Thanksgiving dishes (many of which appear throughout the holiday season, and all of winter, for that matter), I don’t cook that meal on that day. This year, we’ll eat out. Yes, we miss our families, and cooking for the one to two dozen who are likely to show up for a family gathering back home in South Carolina is a loving thing that I would readily do… if I didn’t also have to clean up!
Today is my brother Mike’s birthday! Here’s to you!
This weekend I was really in the mood for fish, so I went to the Wharf down near the Jefferson Memorial and bought a beautiful 4-pound “rockfish” (known as striped bass to most). The most popular gamefish of the Chesapeake, they were fished to near extinction until rigorous stocking programs, pollution controls, and, more importanty, fishing limits were put in place to help restore their populations. In 2006 they succumbed to a disease that may affect up to 20% of the Chesapeake stripers. Like herring, salmon, and shad, rockfish are anadramous, which means that they breed in fresh water but live their adult lives in the ocean. Their range is the entire Eastern coast of America, around the Gulf to Louisiana. They also can live and breed in inland water bodies such as the huge man-made Lake Murray in South Carolina, near where I grew up.
Traditional Mid-Atlantic recipes for rockfish always surprise me, because they rarely differ. I do believe, as I have written elsewhere, that the best cooking of fish is always the simplest, and that the rules are the same no matter what species or cooking mething you’re using. Most important is to not overcook the fish. That said, with the current interest in culinary history and “fresh and local,” I’m surprised that I am not seeing more recipes for rockfish soups and stews. Perhaps chefs are frightened off by some of the 19th century writers who instructed their readers to “boil steadily for three quarters of an hour” (a recipe attributed to Miss Fannie Nelson of Yorktown, Virginia, in Housekeeping in Old Virginia, written in Lynchburg in 1877). Worse, another contributor advises, “It takes two hours to boil.”
At the time, “boiling” was not the precise term we know it to be today. Many recipes instructed the cook to “boil” when simmering was clearly meant. Mary Randolph’s excellent The Virginia House-Wife of 1824, for example, declared rockfish “almost equal to stewed crab.” Her recipe “To Boil Rock Fish” instructs to “put it into the fish kettle with cold water and salt, boil it gently and skim it well.” [Italics mine.] But neither Maryland’s Way, published by the Hammon-Harwood House Association in Annapolis in 1963, nor John Shields’s Chesapeake Bay Cooking, published in 1998 as the companion to his television series, offer any fish soups or stews!
The 2007 rockfish season runs from late April through November in the Chesapeake. During trophy season rockfish have to be 28″ – 35″ or larger than 41″. Any rockfish bigger than 35″ and smaller than 41″ have to be released. The rules for both recreational and commercial rockfishermen change frequently. What I usually see are 3- to 8-pounders at market. They are always tagged if they are legal.
October and November are among the best months for finding beautiful, fat rockfish at market. I like to pair them with the beautiful greens such as turnips and collards which are at their finest in the fall.
I have been around boats for much of my life and have travelled extensively, and lived, in the Caribbean, where soups filled with greens reflect the African heritage of the islanders. Throughout the region, you find variations on an eponymous soup called callaloo (also spelled calaloo, callilu, calalou, and callau), after the principal ingredient, which are the leaves of two different plants that are used interchangeably. One is Chinese spincah (Amaranthus gangeticus), also known as yin-choi, hon toi choi or bhaji; the other is the leaves of elephant ear (Colocasia esculenta) or taro (also known in the Caribbean as dasheen or eddo). Taro leaves must be cooked to be edible, and they marry well with coconut milk, as they are served throughout much of the tropical world.
The simplest forms of callaloo the soup contain only some seasoned pork as flavoring. Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, Haiti, and Jamaica all have similar recipes. Trinidad is often credited as its birthplace; that island’s version often includes crab. In the Virgin Islands, where I lived in 1979, their Kallaloo contains fish as well as crab. A recipe from Famous Native Recipes of the Virgin Islands by Dea Murray, published when I lived there, says that you can substitute 1-1/2 pounds of spinach plus 1/2 pound of turnip greens for the 3 pounds of kallaloo greens called for in the recipe. In my version, I’ve used all turnip greens, more in keeping with my own heritage, the West African countries whence came the enslaved in the Caribbean, and the soups of the Portuguese, who, as slave traders, carried those verdant dishes with them back to the Iberian peninsula, where they have thrived, and to Brazil, where they are mainstays.
In the Virgin Islands, the soup is served with “fungi” (pronounced like the Italian “funghi” — FOONghee, but having nothing to do with mushrooms!), which is what Italians would call polenta, and Americans would call corn meal mush. Other islanders serve the dish with dumplings (which can be made from flour, cornmeal, or flours made from root vegetables), or coo-coo, a side dish made variously from breadfruit, cassava meal, or plantain flour. I serve mine with cornbread.
Notice in the photo on the left that I use two pots. This is not strictly the classic one-pot cookery of West Africa, Brazil, the Caribbean, or the Lowcountry, but the two pots are necessary to get the clean, bright flavors that I’m going for in this callaloo. Also notice that I have included carrots in my fish stockpot, along with the unpeeled onions, celery, and a handful of herbs from the garden (parsley, thyme, oregano, and one leaf each of basil, sage, and bay). Carrots are generally considered too sweet to be included in fumet (classic French fish stock), but this Caribbean stew is usually served with a sweet hot sauce such as Jamaica’s Pickapeppa. I prefer to have the slight sweetness of carrots in the background of the broth rather than the cloying sweetness of Pickapeppa right up front. I also used turnip greens, which need to be cooked longer than spinach or taro leaves, and which welcome the “pinch of sugar” that carrots provide.
Salt pork is cubed and cooked in a large heavy pot until it turns clear and begins to give off its fat, at which point washed turnips and garlic are added to the pot. (Note how the salt pork is clear in the photo.) The recipe follows.
Callaloo (Fish Stew with Turnip Greens)
For the greens:
2 pounds turnip greens
1/4 pound salt pork, diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled, green shoots removed, sliced
For the fish:
a 4-pound rockfish (striped bass) or similar white-fleshed fish, scaled, gutted, and gills removed
2 carrots, broken into pieces
2 stalks celery, cut up
1 large yellow onion, quartered
a handful of herbs including a bay leaf
2-1/2 quarts cold water
1 pint dry white wine
For final assembly and serving:
1 pound fresh or frozen okra, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 can coconut milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Hot sauce, preferably not a sweet one
Rinse the greens, remove any tough stems (a few pieces can stay if they aren’t too big; they’ll cook down fine), cut them up, and put them in a sink full of cold water, shaking them around to loosen any recalcitrant bits of dirt or sand clinging to them.
In a large, heavy 4-quart pot, over medium high heat, cook the salt pork until it turns clear and begins to give off its fat. Turn the heat to high and add handfuls of the greens with the water that clings to them, stirring the pot to distribute them evenly in the pot. As the greens wilt, add another handful, stirring well. Repeat until all the greens are in the pot and wilted. Add the garlic, stir, turn the heat down to medium low, and cover the pot. Continue cooking until they are done to your liking (about 15 minutes more), remembering that they will cook a little more both in sitting and in the soup.
Cover the fish and aromatic vegetables with cold water and wine. [Mary Randolph knew what she was talking about when she said cold water. Fish stock can become bitter if allowed to boil rapidly or for too long.] Bring slowly to a low boil and allow to simmer for twenty minutes, or until the fish barely flakes from the bone.
Remove the fish to a platter to cool and allow the stock to simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.
While the stock is cooking, and as soon as the fish is cool enough to handle, pull the skin from the flesh, and pick the meat from the bones. Be sure to get the tasty cheeks from the head. Set the fish aside on a plate while you finish assembling the soup. You should have 3 or 4 cups of fish.
Strain the stock and add it to the greens pot, along with the okra and coconut milk.  Stir well and bring to a simmer, skimming the soup of anything unsightly on the surface. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the okra is soft, and add the fish. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper, and serve the soup piping hot with cornbread and your favorite bottled hot sauce.
Makes 8 servings.
11/14/07 The Charleston 100
The November issue of Charleston Magazine has an article by the veteran writers, editors, and historians Harlan Greene and Stephen Hoffius. Perhaps if it had been written by others whom I respect less I would take it with a grain of salt. But Harlan and Steve both are to be believed. I’ve known them for over twenty years, having first met them while researching my own book on the lowcountry and they were both working at the South Carolina Historical Society. I always read a novel, magazine article, or academic essay penned by either of them, and I respect not only their editing skills, but their profound knowledge of the area. So it was with great pride and pleasure to see that they have me listed (#55) in their “Charleston 100,” a list of the city’s most influential people in its 337-year history!
The editors are quick to note that the listings are in no particular order. I’m sandwiched between Robert Barnwell Rhett, the firebrand secessionist, and the Pollitzer sisters, Charleston’s “iron jawed angels” who pushed for female equality, helped establish the first public library, and started Charleston’s first school lunch program nearly a century ago. Franz Meier (#4), the pioneering restaurateur, was honored, as well as Elizabeth O’Neill Verner(#1), the artist who popularized the image of Charleston during its renaissance, which began in the mid-twenties; the 18th-century protector of Charleston, William Rhett (#2), best known for capturing the pirate Stede Bonnet; and Leon Banov (#3), the physician who “forced modern plumbing on residents, and declared war on rats and disease through vaccinations.” Franz is the only other “foodie”* in the group. Most of the other honorees are givens, such as Joe Riley (#13), the venerable mayor of Charleston for the past 32 years, but there are some surprises — such as me!
Just after Riley, my dear friend Ruby Pendergrass Cornwell is listed: “A silk dress, gloves, and hat were her only armor when she dared to eat in a whites-only restaurant—and was arrested for it—in 1963. She later served on the local branch of the NAACP and developed a close friendship with [many prominent white Charlestonians].” I first met Ruby in 1975 through my friend Alice Conroy (whose husband John (#8), as Chief of Police, “kept the city from tearing itself apart in the tense days of the Hospital Workers’ Strike” in 1969). Ruby never missed a book signing or wine tasting at my shop in the 13 years I was open. She lived to be 101 years old and during her long life, she never stopped working for the good of society. She said, “I wasn’t a product of the Civil Rights movement, I pre-dated it!” From civil rights, which she always championed, she moved on to serve 20 years on the Board of the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston. She was a fixture not only behind the scenes, but also at small gallery openings, always boosting the spirits of young artists.
Here I am (in a photo by Bill Struhs) with Ruby on the joyous occasion of her 100th birthday, a gala affair attended by hundreds of her friends and admirers. She had just moved into an assisted-living facility, but she continued to be involved in the arts right up until the last few weeks of her life. A year after her 100th birthday, I called my friend Cheryl Van Landingham, who at the time was working at the home where Ruby lived, to see if I could bring Pantaloon, my then just-certified Therapy Dog, by to see her and some of the other residents. Cheryl said that Miss Ruby hadn’t gotten out of bed in a couple of weeks and that she probably wasn’t up to seeing anyone. I told her, “Tell her it’s me,” and I drove straight there. By the time I got to the home, Ruby was out of her bed, dressed and made up, and we had one of the best visits ever. I talked to her about gay rights and she encouraged me to always fight for what’s right. We visited for several hours. Cheryl took the photo of us with Pantaloon.  She died that night, just shy of her 101st birthday.
In her will, she left a bequest to the Coastal Community Foundation to build her endowment fund for the arts. I am so honored to have known Ruby Pendergrass Cornwell, and many of the other people cited as “The Charleston 100.” I can only hope that my work will inspire the way the lives of the others have.
*William Deas (#84), who died in the 1960s, and who was “the reputed chef in Mayor Robert G. Rhett’s household” is credited with creating Charleston’s she-crab soup. Not exactly a “foodie.” I think it’s great that he’s honored, but I doubt that he created the soup, a version of which was known in Scotland — and thickened with rice — centuries before the Yankees who came to Charleston in the late 20s to assemble a cookbook of Charleston classics for the New York Herald Tribune attributed the recipe to him!
11/12/07 Veterans Day
Last night we had our friend Tom Sietsema, the restaurant critic for the Washington Post, over for dinner. He brought his friend Ed Lichorat with him, who rows with DC Strokes Rowing Club. We had a great time, and I served a deceptively simple meal of rack of lamb, with the last of the beets and cowpeas from our garden. I made two breads, mango ice cream, tangerine-flavored walnut candies ( a variation on the orange candies, below), a lavender angel food cake (an experiment that worked beautifully), and a rabbit compote. We began with the delightfully yeasty and fruity NV Brut Champagne from Alfred Gratien, another venerable, small producer who makes classic blends of his own vineyard’s Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Meunier grapes. All told, including his vintage cuvées and rosés, about 20,000 cases. As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, I”ve pretty much given up on all of the big Champagne houses and love to seek out the smaller producers who make Champagne the way the big boys used to, with careful attention to detail and virtually nothing spent on marketing.
Debbie recommends a Pouilly-Fuissé with the rabbit dish, but I have never been a big fan of the wines of the Mâconnais, and tend to reach for a Chenin Blanc when I’m eating fatty, spicy food like fried chicken. Though wines made from Chenin Blanc vary probably as much if not more than those made from any other grape — from startlingly acidic and brisk to velvety and sweet, the well-balanced ones offering a good balance of acid and fruit are perfect with this compote enriched with cream and mustard. Though the wines of the Saumur are known to be “nervous,” meaning that they tingle with acidity and beg for aging, I’ve been finding some delightful, well-balanced, young ones lately, and last night’s was no exception. The Lieu-Dit Les Pouches 2006 is a single 8.5-hectare vineyard that produces a wine full of melon and citrus aromas while still nodding to its terroir of chalky soil. Not as acidic as Vouvray but very good with the rabbit nonetheless. And only $12!
After dessert, we sipped Cherry Bounce and toasted Karen Hess, who would have turned 89 yesterday.
Today I made fruitcake and ate leftover chili.
Here are the recipes.
An Historical Loaf of Bread
from The New Southern Cook
What anyone knows of breadmaking is learned through experience. Making real bread — bread with a good crust and crumb and an earthy flavor of grain — is neither hard nor time-consuming. It involves few skills and the one virtue of patience. Real bread — bread made from flour, water, yeast, and salt (and nothing more), for so long a rarity in America, is appearing with regularity throughout the country. There are a dozen excellent books on bread baking; ten years ago there were a couple. Bakeries are once again making honest loaves of what we have come to call European style breads, even as those breads become harder to find in Europe.
For years, bakeries that produced real bread were all but nonexistent except in a few large cities; they were even rarer in the South, where we have clung to our quick breads leavened with baking powder. Home bakers faced a next to impossible task finding an oven, the flour, good yeast, and even a good book to guide them. Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery, published in England in 1977, was virtually the only text available on the subject for 15 years; while comprehensive, it focused solely on the breads of England. Most of the written word on real bread that has influenced my baking over the years has been from the hand of Karen Hess, who prepared the American Edition of David’s work, and who continues to urge a restoration of the historial loaf of real bread — the classic yeasted white loaf — to the American table. Her books, lectures, articles, and demonstrations have helped forge the trail that saw the publication, in the early 1990s, of several good books on the making of real bread.
As bakeries offering real bread continue to appear throughout the country, and as bread machines and powerful mixers with dough hooks fill our kitchens, it is perhaps a perfunctory gesture to offer a recipe for real bread. As Karen Hess has repeatedly demonstrated, the only recipe one needs to make genuine bread is Mary Randolph’s, from The Virginia House-Wife (1824), the facsimilie edition of which was annotated with historical notes and commentaries by Hess in 1984. The recipe has been widely copied and republished by Hess and others. What follows is my wording of the recipe, using Hess’s brilliant instructions for simulating the conditions of a wood-fired brick oven at home. The words are mine, all else is the wonderful combination of Mary Randolph and Karen Hess. I offer but one difference in technique, that of directly mixing the dough over the sponge method.
This recipe involves several items that you probably don’t have in your kitchen, but it really does produce a loaf that is as close to the real thing as possible. I use the best flour I can find, fresh yeast, fine sea salt, and spring water. I advise you to do the same. If you can’t find fresh yeast in your natural foods store, go to the best baker in town and ask him to sell you some; it costs pennies and it keeps well in the freezer for months. You should weigh the flour and yeast. The flour that Mary Randolph used would have been soft flour, but do not use one of today’s overprocessed soft flours. Use unbleached all-purpose or bread flour; I like to use about 1/2 cup of whole-wheat flour as part of the mix. The amount of yeast that I suggest is slightly more than what Karen Hess uses, but I offer the direct rather than the sponge method simply as an alternative. Overnight sponges require less yeast.
I do, however, mix and knead my loaves by hand. Most importantly, though, no matter how the dough is mixed, is time: you must be patient and allow for a slow rise. Because my counters are too tall for me to work at comfortably, I place my mixing bowl (I use a large ceramic bowl from an antique wash basin) atop a bar stool fitted with a cushion. The bowl is the right height for me, and the padding atop the stool keeps the bowl from slipping and allows it to give a little with the kneading. It’s really a very comfortable way to knead bread.
I used to have a flower pot that, when overturned, had the shape of a domed bee hive. It was 6 inches across the base and the top had a diameter of 13 inches. It fit upside down perfectly on a 13-inch pizza stone. An 8-inch clay tray with a deep rim and into which the pot sat snugly acted as a cap. It got broken in my move to Washington and I haven’t replaced it because I can buy excellent bread here. I simply used another pot from my gardening supplies. It’s also a good idea to wear welder’s gloves on your hands and long sleeves on your arms when opening and closing the oven. A pizza peel, available in restaurant suppply houses, is helpful as well.
You can bake this bread with dry yeast (a teaspoon is plenty) and without the flowerpot. For a good crust, though, you should at least use the superheated pizza stone and mist the inside of the oven with water at 20 minute intervals. Otherwise follow the recipe.
All of the ingredients should be at room temperature.
1-1/2 cups spring water
1/2 ounce fresh compressed yeast
1 tablespoon pure salt
20 ounces (1 quart) flour
Warm the water to no more than 115o. Mix in the yeast and allow it to sit for about 10 minutes to proof. It should smell freshly, not sourly, of yeast.
In a large mixing bowl, add the salt to the flour and stir to combine. Make a well in the center. Pour the water and yeast mixture into the well and stir well with a wooden spoon until it becomes too stiff to stir. Then, using your hands, continue to mix the dough well. It will take about 10 minutes. When it becomes well blended, mixing becomes kneading.
Slam the dough down on a counter hard several times. This will help develop the gluten.
Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, 5 to 10 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball, wipe the rim of the bowl clean with a damp towel, cover with plastic wrap, and then a towel. Place in draft-free spot until the dough has doubled in volume. This may take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours: your choice of yeast, flour, salt, and water — all variables — are further varied by room temperature and the natural yeasts in the air. (Carol Field, an authority on Italian baking, once told me that her San Francisco kitchen became so filled with wild yeasts that she could make bread from flour and water!)
When the dough has doubled, remove it from the bowl to a lighlty floured surface. Punch it down and knead it for a few minutes until smooth again. Shape it into a ball, leave it on the counter, and place the mixing bowl upside down over it.
Open the oven and remove all but the bottom rack, placed on the lowest position. Place the pizza stone with the overturned flowerpot on it and preheat the oven to 500o. Place the clay tray in the sink filled with water to soak. Karen Hess suggests practicing all maneuvering beforehand, with a cold oven.
When the dough has risen by about a third and the oven has preheated, work quickly but methodically to get the dough into the simulated kiln. Open the oven and, preferably wearing welder’s gloves, remove the flowerpot from the oven. Quickly slash a tic-tac-toe pattern in shallow cuts with a razor blade on the top of the dough (slashes allow the bread to expand). Slip the pizza peel up under the dough and transfer it to the pizza stone with a flick of the wrists. Cover the dough again with the flowerpot, then put the soaked clay tray on top of it all. Immediately close the oven door and turn down the heat to 400o.
Bake the bread for a good hour, turning down the heat again to 350o at about 30 minutes to simulate the falling heat of a wood-fired oven. You can check the bread at 50 minutes to see how it is, removing the flowerpot. It may well be done. A rap on the bottom of the loaf with the knuckles should resound as if hollow. If the rap produces a dull thud, let it bake some more.
Let the bread cool completely before cutting, then use a serrated bread knife when you do. Store in paper, not plastic.
Makes a 2-pound loaf.
Rabbit Compote
from The New Southern Cook
     Similar to meat pastes or patés, this light and unusual shredded meat spread has gone through several cooks’ hands before appearing as the version below. Paula Wolfert offered Chef Lucien Vanel’s version in her classic book, The Cooking of South-West France; at a culinary conference held in New Orleans, Chef Susan Spicer (of Bayona in New Orleans) demonstrated her variation of that recipe, cooking the rabbit in broth instead of the usual fat. This is my version of Susan’s version of Paula’s version of Vanel’s version of the old French dish. Paula advises to start several days in advance so that the compote has time to mellow.
For the rabbit and stock:
1 skinned rabbit, 2-1/2 to 3 pounds
2 carrots
1 rib celery
1 large yellow onion, halved
2 bay leaves
a good handful of fresh herbs to include parsley, several sprigs of thyme, sage leaves, and others
16 black peppercorns
3 pints water
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
1/2 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, halved
Rinse the rabbit well and cut off the four legs and set aside. If any organs are included, set them aside for use in another recipe. Cut the loins from the backbone and set them aside with the legs. Place the remaining bones and carcass in a stockpot and add one of the carrots, the celery, half of the onion, a bay leaf, some of the herbs, and half of the peppercorns. Cover with the water and simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until the liquid has reduced by a third, to 1 quart. Strain, cool, and reserve the stock.
In the meantime, mix the wine and olive oil together. Peel the remaining carrot and onion half and slice both thin. Put the reserved rabbit legs and loin pieces in a low casserole dish and add the wine and oil mixture. Add the sliced carrot and onion, the garlic and the remaining herbs and spices. Toss to make sure everything is well coated, cover well, and refrigerate overnight, turning the pieces occasionally.
For the compote:
1 cup cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons chopped shallot
2 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs
salt and freshly ground black pepper
The following day, strain the rabbit and vegetables from the marinade, saving all. Set the casserole dish aside to use at the stove. Skim the oil from the marinade and place in a heavy sauté pan over medium high heat. Remove the rabbit pieces and brown in the hot oil, placing them in the casserole dish as they are browned.
Add the marinade vegetables and sauté until lightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the reserved marinade and increase the heat to high to deglaze the pan. Add the reserved quart of stock and the browned rabbit pieces and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for 2 hours, skimming occasionally. When done, the meat should be very tender and pull easily from the bone. Remove the rabbit from the pot and set aside to cool in the marinade casserole.
Strain the liquid and discard the vegetables. Skim the oil from the surface, return to the pot, and reduce to about 1 cup.
In the meantime, remove the bones from the rabbit with your fingers and discard, and shred the meat by mashing it between your thumbs and fingertips. Remove any cartilage, bit of bone, or tough silver skin that may remain. The rabbit meat should be uniformly shredded. Be careful to remove all bits of bone — there will be many small pieces.
Add the cream to the reduced liquid and reduce in half, until very thick. Whisk in the mustard and remove from the heat. Add the reduced cream mixture, the shallots, and the herbs to the shredded meat and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Remove the compote mixture from the casserole dish and pack into an lightly oiled small stainless steel bowl. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours. Tightly covered, the compote will keep for a week.
Remove the compote from the refrigerator about an hour before you plan to serve it. Turn it out on a serving platter and serve with toasted bread or crackers. Paula suggests serving the rabbit with prunes soaked in hot tea. Her version of the compote contains the sour greens of sorrel. I use paper thin slices of lemons (seeds removed) as a garnish.
Makes 2 cups, about 6 to 8 servings.
Rack of Lamb
from Hoppin’ John’s Charleston, Beaufort & Savannah
Fresh herbs from the garden add flavor in the oven and color on the plate. Have the butcher french-cut the racks for you, leaving the rib bones pristine.
2 frenched 8-rib racks of lamb
Freshly ground black pepper
8 to 10 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, plus some for garnish
1 tablespoon fine dry bread crumbs
Place the meat in a roasting pan, fat side up, and season it with black pepper. Allow it to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 450o.
Place the garlic and herbs on a cutting board and chop them well together. Add the garlic mixture to the bread crumbs and mix well. Rub the mixture all over the racks, then place in the preheated oven. Bake for 10 minutes at 450o, lower the heat to 425o, and bake for an additional 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the degree of doneness you desire. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before slicing 2 or 3 chops per person and serving on warmed plates.
Serves 6.
Beets with their Greens
from The New Southern Cook
Southerners are prone to use beets pickled, as a relish or garnish for other foods. I love to bake beets whole until they give to the touch, peel them, slice them, and splash with balsamic vinegar; but when fresh young beets with their tops are available, I cook them with their greens. Use only small and fresh beets with bright greens for this recipe.
2 bunches small beets with their greens attached, about 2-1/2 pounds
3 tablespoons butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the beets and greens under cold running water, then fill the sink with enough water to cover the plants. Cut the roots from the tops, peel them and cut into 1/4″ slices. Shake the leaves around in the water to free them of any grit, changing the water as many times as necessary. Cut any tough stems from the leaves.
Put the beet slices in a heavy bottomed saucepan and add about half of the butter and a little salt and pepper. Add the greens, the remaining butter, and a little more salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium heat until the beets are tender, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Serves 4.
Lavender Angel Food Cake
Our lavendar is still in bloom, but cold days are coming, so I brought the blossoms inside and stuck them down in a canister of sugar to make lavender sugar. I then placed some more blossoms in a 200o oven until they were dried. I used my Angel Food Cake recipe that is in The New Southern Cook, the only difference is that I removed the lavender blossoms from the curing sugar, added a teaspoon of dried lavender blossoms to the sugar, and ground it all finely together for a few minutes in the food processor before using it in place of the regular sugar in the recipe that follows. The house smelled incredible while it was baking and the flavor was delicate counterpoint to the candied walnuts and mango ice cream.
When you make homemade ice cream with a custard base, use the egg whites to make this southern classic and serve the ice cream with the cake. Angel food is the easiest cake to make, and it is cholesterol-free.
1 cup sifted soft southern flour or cake flour
1-1/2 cups sugar, divided
12 large egg whites at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 heaping teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Preheat the oven to 375o . Sift the flour with 1/2 cup of sugar at least three times and set aside.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites, salt, cream of tartar, and extracts on the highest speed until the whites begin to turn opaque. Add the remaining sugar, a little at a time, and continue to beat until all the sugar is just blended in and the whites hold firm peaks. Turn off the mixer and sift about a fourth of the flour at a time over the whites and fold in, repeating with each fourth until all of the flour is evenly folded into the egg whites.
Use a perfectly clean and dry 10-inch tube pan that is 4 inches deep or a 10-inch springform pan at least 3 inches deep. With a large spatula, gently push the cake batter evenly into the pan, making one last stir through the center of the batter. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a straw inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. If using an angel food cake pan with a center tube, turn the cake over to cool for one hour before removing from the pan. (Most angel food cake pans have a center tube that protrudes above the top of the pan so that they can be inverted to cool the cake with air circulating underneath. If your tube pan has no extension to allow for circulation, place the inverted pan over the neck of a bottle or an inverted funnel.) If using a springform pan, put it on a rack to cool, and as soon as it’s cool enough to handle, loosen the outer rim.
To remove the cake, use a thin knife and slip it between the cake and the pan, all around the outer edge and the tube. Invert the cake on a platter and lift off the pan. “Cut” pieces with two forks, placing the tines back-to-back and pulling the cake apart in opposite directions. Serve with ice cream or saturated with fresh fruit juices and topped with fruit and whipped cream.
Mango Ice Cream
Mango ice cream is one of dozens of variables on French Vanilla Ice Cream, the classic recipe that spread across the South as early as fifty years before the invention of commercial ice-making machinery. By the time Mary Randolph, for example, published The Virginia Housewifein 1824, she was well enough versed in the fine art of ice cream making to chastise those “indolent cooks” who would not properly churn the custard. In the 1825 edition of her classic cookbook, she included a design for a home refrigerator, though mechanical refrigeration was yet to be invented. Ice, however, was widely available in the larger cities of the South in the late eighteenth century. Save the egg whites (which can be frozen) to make the Angel Food Cake, above — a perfect foil for any ice cream.2 cups milk
5 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
2 large, ripe mangoes
1 large, juicy lime
Scald the milk along with 3/4 cup of the sugar and the salt in a heavy saucepan and remove from the heat. Beat the yolks in a bowl with the remaining sugar. Gradually add some of the scalded milk to the egg mixture, then pour the eggs into the milk in the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard coats the back of a spoon, about 8 to 10 minutes. Strain the mixture into a bowl and allow to cool completely.
Add the cream to the custard, cover, and refrigerate until very cold.
In the meantime, pit the mangoes and put the pulp, along with the juice of the lime, in a blender and puree. Chill the puree. When the custard is thoroughly chilled, add the mango puree to the custard and freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Makes 1 quart, about 6 servings.
Orange Walnuts
I made a batch of these last week to send to the family of my dear friend Libby Huger Dixon, who died last week, much, much too young. Libby was born into dual old Lowcountry families — the Scottish Frasers of Georgetown and the French Hugers (pronounced “U.G.”) of Charleston. Her aunt Bessie Fraser Betancourt used to make wonderful preserves and candies, among them these orange-flavored, sugared nuts. Of these favored treats, Bessie told me, when she gave me the recipe, they’re “very easy and very nice.” I’ll say!
1 large juicy orange
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 cups walnuts
Taking care not to dig into the white part, zest the orange rind and set aside. Squeeze the juice of the orange into a measuring cup; you should have 1/2 cup (if not, add some water so that you do). Boil the sugar with the orange juice until a thermometer reads 234o, or a small quantity of the mixture dropped into cold water forms a soft ball. Remove from the heat and add the orange zests and the walnuts. Stir until the mixture looks cloudy, and when it begins to sugar drop onto waxed paper or a greased cookie sheet or marble slab. If it hardens before it is dropped, dump the entire contents of the pot on the paper or greased surface and separate into bitesize morsels about half the size of a walnut.
Actually Delicious Fruitcake
from The New Southern Cook
Many people shy away from fruitcake because of heinous commercial varieties filled with rainbow-colored candied fruits and bitter rinds. Others resent the long ripening time so many recipes call for. This version is utterly delicious the day it is made. It is chock-full of your favorite dried fruits (and you can vary them to suit your own palate). I also always add a litte bit of pickled watermelon rind.
1-1/2 pounds (about 3 cups) dried fruits such as cherries, pears, peaches, raisins, prunes, dates,
     and figs, including some candied citrus peel as well or add fresh rind
1 tablespoon grated resh orange or lemon rind (optional, see above)
3/4 cup bourbon
1 cup chopped nuts such as pecans, almonds, walnuts, or a mixture
1/4 pound (about 1 cup) all-purpose flour, divided
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature, plus butter for greasing the pan
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature
pinch of salt
liquor of your choice
Dice the dried fruit and put it in a large mixing bowl. Add the bourbon, toss well, cover the container, and allow to sit at room temperature overnight.
The next day, grease a standard loaf pan or an 9″ bundt pan and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350o.
Add the nuts to the dried fruit and toss well. Sift 1/4 cup of the flour over the mixture and toss again so that the fruits and nuts are lightly coated. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg, until the mixture is well-blended and light. Sift the salt and the remaining flour together over the fruit and nuts, tossing it all together. Add the butter and egg mixture and fold it all together.
Turn the batter into the pepared pan and bake for 1-1/2 hours or until a straw inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. The top should be browned and the edges should be just pulling away from the sides.Set the cake in its pan on a rack and allow to cool for 20 minutes. Turn the cake out on a plate, and sprinkle liberally with the liquor of your choice. You may serve the cake immediately or wrap it in liquor-soaked cheesecloth and put aside in a tin for several months.
Debbie Recommends: Have a shot glass of sipping whiskey neat.
NOTE: You can multiply this recipe with no problem. Today I tripled it and then packed 1-1/2 pounds of the dough into each of six half-size dispsable loaf pans so that I will have fruitcake to give as holiday gifts. Here are photos of the diced fruit soaking in the booze and the cakes cooling after cooking.
11/04/07 We were out at the Eastern Shore again this weekend, where we harvested the last of the native persimmons we could find. Here are Mikel and my friend Chuck Dalby picking up ripe persimmons in St. Michaels. If you can find a persimmon tree in an urban setting, you’ll find more persimmons than around those in the wild, where opossums and raccoons will beat you to the punch. No matter what you do to persimmon bread, it will always be dense like fudge, but I added an extra egg to the recipe this time and separated the eggs, beating the egg whites and folding them in at the last minute. Truth be told, I couldn’t tell the difference. It’s all about the incredible fragrance of ripe persimmons, which does not subside in baking. Persimmons always remind me of the powerful bouquet of Condrieu, the viognier-based great white wine of the Rhône. For more information about persimmons, vist Barry Nichols’s fascinating site,
Indian Summer
11/02/2007 I’ve always thought of Indian Summer as that beautiful, crystal clear week of bright blue skies and warm weather that comes after the first frost but before winter sets in. But we’ve had no frost, and the thermometer just barely knelt down into the forties last night for the first time here in the MidAtlantic. The weather is gorgeous, even though Hurricane Noel churns its way up the Eastern Seaboard.
I just got back from our community garden where my beets and chard are thriving, where I have another bushel of cowpeas to harvest, and where the tomatoes and peppers are still hanging on. In the photo, a variety of heirloom peppers and tomatoes are shown on my front stoop next to a potted figaro pepper and bottles of hot pepper vinegar which I will use throughout the year on greens. The figaro, an Italian heirloom pimiento with very thick, sweet flesh, has been a tremendous producer this year for us. Grown in pots away from other peppers, each plant has given us at least a dozen of these deep red, intensely flavored favorites, an Italian heirloom from the Yakima Valley of Washington, according to Stephen Facciola’s invaluable Cornucopia II, a book no food writer can be without.
I’ll make both hot pepper vinegar and pepper sherry. Both are very easy to do. Most folks just put hot peppers in jars of vinegar and sherry to steep, but you’ll get better (clearer, longer-lasting) results with the vinegar if you boil a mixture of vinegar and water (2:1) with some salt (1/4 cup per quart) and seasonings such as mustard seeds for a half-hour before pouring into sterilized containers packed with peppers. You can add some onion to the boiling vinegar if you wish. Garlic for flavor and carrots for color can be packed into the container with the peppers. For even longer-lasting vinegars, process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Since you don’t want to boil sherry, it’s better if you dry your peppers first, the put about 4 or 5 of them in a clean pint container that has a lid and put aside for several weeks. Taste the sherry every two weeks. You may leave the peppers in or strain them out.
With our first night in the 40s, I’ll also make some chili:
Chili* con Carne (from The New Southern Cook)
This is a hearty winter chili, full of lean meat bolstered by oxtails. Oxtails are deliciously fatty, but the chili is totally degreased before serving. It has no beans, but can be served alongside black beans and rice (recipe follows) if desired. I prefer to use venison with this recipe, but you may use any cubed or ground lean meat. Some butchers automatically add a little fat into ground vension. You shouldn’t have to add any oil to the pot unless the meat you are using is fat-free.
Chili is best when allowed to mellow for a couple of days or at least overnight. The instructions allow for personal touches: choose the chili peppers and/or chili powders to suit your own palate.
1-1/2 to 1-3/4 pounds oxtails cut into 2″ lengths
3 to 4 pounds ground or cubed lean meat such as venison, veal, lamb, or beef (see above)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (optional)
2 cups chopped onions (about 2 medium)
4 to 6 garlic cloves, minced
1 fresh green bell pepper, seeded and chopped (1 cup)
1 cup mixed fresh or canned chilies to taste, such as red frying peppers, Anaheims, jalapeños,
     and chipotles
1/4 cup masa harina or corn flour
1 quart beef stock
2 pounds peeled and chopped tomatoes with their juice, vine-ripe or canned
2 tablespoons fresh or 1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves**
1 teaspoon cumin seeds**
2 tablespoons pure hot (New Mexican) chili powder**
2 tablespoons pure mild (Californian) chili powder**
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons salt
**You may substitute these ingredients with 1/4 cup of a commercial chili powder, but be forewarned that they lose their punch quickly and vary greatly in flavor and spiciness.
To a large heavy pot (5 to 6 quart) set over medium high heat, add the oxtail pieces, fatty sides down. Brown them on all the fatty sides first, then brown the exposed meaty areas. Remove from the pan and set aside. If the ground or cubed meat you are using is very lean, such as cubed venison, add the oil to the pan and allow to heat before adding the meat in batches, browning it evenly and removing it from the pan with a slotted spoon, setting aside with the oxtails.
Add the onions, garlic, and peppers to the pot and continue to cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are limp and are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the masa harina or corn flour and stir in well, until the vegetables are evenly coated, then gradually add the stock, stirring constantly. Add the tomatoes and the browned oxtails and meat and stir together well.
At this point you may add the 1/4 cup of commercial chili powder or continue as follows: Grind the oregano and cumin seeds together in a mortar and pestle, blender, or spice mill. Add to the pot along with the hot and mild pure chili powders, the bay leaf, and the salt.
Allow the chili to simmer for two hours, skimming any fat or scum from the surface occasionally. Allow the chili to come to room temperature, then remove the bay leaf and the oxtails. Pick the meat from the oxtails and add it to the pot. Discard the bay leaf and any bones, gristle, or fat from the oxtails. Refrigerate the chili overnight.
The next day (or before serving), remove any grease that has congealed on the surface and place the pot on the stove to reheat. Serve with the accompaniments of your choice: cornbread; chopped cilantro; grated mild cheese such as Cheddar or Monterey Jack; sour cream or crumbled goat cheese; chopped onions; cooked pinto or kidney beans; or black beans and rice (recipe follows).
Serves 10 to 12.
Debbie Recommends: Beer is best, but if you must have wine, try a medium-dry California Riesling such as Tefethan’s White Riesling.
*Chili or chile? I have used the currently accepted spelling from the American Heritage Dictionary. Southwestern food writers disagree with the editors of that marvelous tome, but in the Southeast “chile” (pronounced with a long i) is a colloquial form of “child,” a mock-condescending, familiar form of addressing someone (especially among Blacks) to whom you are imparting a concise, emphatic truth, such as, “Chile, you know chili’s some fine eatin’!”Black Beans and Rice (from The New Southern Cook)
Throughout the South, beans and rice are served as a side dish. From South Carolina’s hoppin’ john to the moros y cristianos of Cuban immigrants in Florida, this is typical southern fare.
1 cup dried black beans, rinsed and picked clean
5 cups water
1 small onion, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1 dried hot pepper (optional)
1 strip bacon
1 cup rice
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2 sprigs epazote, if available
About four hours before you plan to eat, place the beans, water, onion, pepper, and bacon in a heavy saucepan and simmer gently, covered, for three hours or until two cups of liquid remain. After three hours, add the rice, the salt, and the epazote (a Mexican herb that decreases the gas in bean dishes), bring to a simmer, cover, and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes, never lifting the lid.
Remove from the heat and allow to steam, still covered, for another 10 minutes. Remove the cover, lift out the epazote and bacon and discard, fluff with a fork and serve.
Serves 6.
The Library of Congress
Given my disgust with nearly everything about our political system these days, it’s a wonder that I can offer up any praise at all for our government. Nevertheless, I must hand it to the Library of Congress for being one of the great gifts of democracy, truly of, by, and for the people. If you have never visited it before, be sure to put it on your list the next time you’re in the nation’s capital, even if you have no desire to do any research. I went yesterday for the first time, researching the original source of some old southern recipes. After six hours of thumbing through the precious, yellowed pages of some of the most important cookbooks of the past 400 years, I sauntered through the marvelous old Jefferson Building, completed in 1897 and often called “the most beautiful public building in Washington.” Free guided tours are offered several times each day. Schedules are available online, and, if you can’t visit the Library in person, a virtual tour features highlights of the grand old building, recently restored, featuring murals and sculptures by some of the nation’s finest artists of the day. If you are going for research, you must first visit the Madison building across the street to get a researcher’s i.d. which is good for two years. Anyone over high school age with a valid, government-issued photo i.d. can obtain a researcher’s card.
If you want to read or reserach, I highly recommend that you visit the website first, print out the call numbers of any books you wish to use, and eat before you go. You may be there, as I was, for several hours. Rules are strict and enforced, but I found the employees there to be among the most delightful I have ever encountered, even when faced with extremely rude researchers who resented the rules. Many items are not allowed in some of the reading rooms — not even clipboards, but the rules are clearly posted and lockers are provided.