Readers’ comments

Posted on August 15, 2007 in Readers' comments

From time to time I’ll post readers’ comments here, with any reply I might have.
From “Paul in Orlando”:
Hi John,
I stumbled across your blog while looking for (of course) a Hoppin’ John recipe for New Year’s day. I felt I had to drop a quick note to say “hi” after reading some of your essays linked from the blog. In particular I wanted you to know that I have been peripherally aware of Karen Hess’s historical scholarship for a year or so, but your essay about her pushed me to read the first two chapters of “The Taste of America” on Google Books and subsequently order the paperback from Amazon. I feel as if I’ve met two kindred spirits in terms of “food philosophy.”  I know I’ll enjoy reading your updated book when it is published this year, and of course will be ordering some of your grits.
I very much backed into a process where I’m even capable of considering whether I have a “food philosophy.” I cooked for myself in college and during my single years, but never developed any kind of gourmet taste or thought-process about food. I was interested in good coffee, good seafood, and how to cook decent Italian staples.  Then, for various reasons, my wife took over all the cooking shortly after our marriage. She does not like fish or coffee, but we find common ground in Italian food. I don’t think I paid any attention to cooking for over ten years, other than enjoying the meals.
Things changed when I bought a campfire dutch oven to use during my son’s Cub-Scout campouts. I surfed the internet looking for ideas on how to use the thing, and quickly discovered that cast-iron cooking is its own little cult (which I joined enthusiastically for a while). I became obsessed with “roots food,” and questions such as why southerners eat grits but northerners do not. I decided to see if I could re-create some favorite food memories (gumbo from Mulate’s in Baton Rouge, shrimp and grits from a weekend in Charleston) by researching them on the internet. That lead me to many different essays and writers, including the historical cookbooks that Karen Hess brought back to print. And now it has brought me to your blog.
Most food writers, in my opinion, are as much about fashion as they are about good food. It can be fun to cook homemade gnocchi or a great cassoulet (OK, mediocre, but I couldn’t find duck confit anywhere in my local area). But such writing and cooking says more about the industrial food chain and the information-rich internet than it does about my local environment in Florida. I find it much more satisfying to cook a good chowder or gumbo, and explain to my kids how the ingredients reflect colonial, Afro-Caribbean, and Choctaw influences. It also explains why I am feeding my Florida-born kids the southern tradition of Hoppin John on New Year’s, though I was born and raised in NY.  I want them to have a sense of place, in addition to memories of our family’s other food traditions.
In short I have come to the same place you’ve been writing about for years.  I feel it’s very important to discover and preserve the old regional American food traditions — to understand how people adapted to the crops and livestock that would thrive locally, while incorporating influences from their often foreign homeland. We have been an agricultural powerhouse since the earliest colonial days, but have “evolved” into a country that feeds itself out of the frozen-food aisle or the drive-through.  That sure is convenient, but it’s not culture.
Thanks for your online essays and blog. Happy New Year!
Best regards,
Paul from Orlando
From Matt Neal of Neal’s Deli in Carrboro, NC, in response to my writings on figs (and tomato seeds):

John, I love fresh figs, maybe more than any other food. A good fig on a slice of good country ham is very good, better than with prosciutto, especially if you don’t add any dressing or do any cooking to it. I love ham and mustard, and I eat ham and fig, but I don’t like figs with vinegar or mustard. A bowl of figs on the kitchen table is the best thing in the world to snack on. I think vanilla ice cream with fresh figs and a slice of buttermilk poundcake is a great dessert, but  fig ice cream is a bit of a waste of effort and figs to me. Like you, I have scoured my cookbooks for fig recipes and found little. On Ocracoke Island they do a nice fig cake that is oldfashioned and pudding-y, probably same as you mentioned,they stack them next to the cash registers in the stores there. When I lived in Savannah I got my figs by reaching through old cast iron fences- after a few days of walking by beautiful trees laden with ignored fruit I would go a little mad and resort to poaching! This was downtown in the middle of the day and no one ever said anything to me. I kept thinking that I would be stopped, and when I felt a tap I would turn to see a branch or overripe fruit brushing my shoulder. Nowadays I find that permission doesn’t dull the sweetness for me. The only recipe I’ve come up with that I return to often is a fig on top of a saltine covered with peanut butter but I return most often just to the figs themselves. At the deli when we have figs I just put a bowl on the counter and make everybody try at least one until they’re gone. I’ve gotten too many free figs in my life to charge for them. 

Sheila’s got another one due in late Nov. Come down sometime! – Matt


and in a postscript:


I forgot to mention that I eat the tomato seed jelly by the hand full when I’m processing tomatoes, I love that stuff! My sister says it’s very good for you. I often skip the step of deseeding when cooking tomatoes for home. – Matt

From my dear friend Ted Keller in Charleston, SC, in response to my essay, On Intolerance:


John –

I have just had time to sit down and give proper attention to this entry on your blog.

It is the best essay I have read in quite some time, and not just because I was there to witness parts of its “inspiration.” You have captured and fine-tuned multiple points that too often escape those who get their missives published weekly.

Please consider submitting this to the Post or NY Times.  It should be a central essay in either of the Sunday magazines.

Thank you for writing it – and for being a voice out there for us.

love you –


January 23, 2009:  From Catarina Burke in Massachusetts


This thread of correspondence began because of a comment I made about a highly recommended restaurant in Sicily that I found to be, according to my notes from that trip in 2000, “pretentious and silly.” The photo was taken in Sciacca.


Hi John,


I stumbled upon your blog while looking for some info on Sciacca and I’m wondering if you’d be so kind as to name the “Yucky” restaurant you mentioned in your  Western Sicily post.

I’d like to avoid it at all costs!


Ten years ago my spouse and I picked Sciacca out of the Michelin guide book and got married there. The Mayor presided, a traffic cop served as official translator (repeating over and over, “you have to live in the same house”) and the town undertakers were our witnesses.


It’s our “happy place” now-and it would be such a shame to eat bad food there!

Like you, we prefer to find local markets and cook a bit. We also

had some good recommendations from locals (Villa Bussola-seafood so good I almost passed out.)


Fish mousse is just a bit of a stretch for us!


Thanks very much and happy travels/cooking/writing.




Catarina Burke


Hi Catarina,


I never mention bad restaurants’ names on my blog because any mention gives it a Google hit. And there are those who love pretension! It may take me a few days to find that particular journal. I have dozens of them and they all look the same! Also, that was the fall of 2000, so it’s been a while. What I remember about it was that it was on a fairly narrow street, not down at sea level, and it had Slow Food posters all over the walls.


Il Gambero in Mazaro del Vallo (see photo) I’ll never forget. It was truly remarkable, and yet it was a big place right on the water and you might not think it good. Just like that place outside Pompeii:  it’s right there when you exit the Villa dei Misteri, it’s called Bacco ed Ariadne and I thought it would be pretty bad, but we were the first people eating that day, and we had gnocchi (which I rarely order in restaurants, having lived in Genoa and learned to make them from a little old lady in the country) and fried fish and they were both excellent, and his Spaghetti Cozzi was so good that when he saw me swooning, the owner insisted on giving me his precise recipe…


Later… You’re in luck in that the first notebook I picked up is the one I took to Sicily!!!

If you go to Palermo, don’t miss ‘Ngrasciato for seafood.


I’m sorry to say that I did not write down the name of the restaurant. (Actually, I’m glad I didn’t write it down. All the ceramicists in Sciacca were recommending it… AFTER I told them I preferred mom and pop trattorie!!!)

Anyway if you see those Slow Food posters (if indeed they’re still there) run like the wind! It was a chef’s restaurant and it was fairly small. I think it’s never a good sign when there are NO SIGNS of women.)

I also have about 20 guidebooks to Sicily. I could look in them and see if I marked it out. Sometimes I do that.

Just stick to trattorie, though, and you know you’ll be fine.



a few minutes later:


Cara Catarina,


Boy, is Karma on your side!!! I just picked up the first of many guidebooks, turned to Sciacca, and, under the restaurants listed, next to the listing for one called Hostaria del Vicolo at 10 Vicolo Sammaritano, I have scribbled “pretentious and silly.”





How very kind of you to take the time to reply.

Your emails make me wish I was leaving tonight.

(Made me sort of hungry too..)

 Unfortunately my trip isn’t until September!


I will avoid “Hostario.” (Doesn’t that mean *horse’s a** in Italian?)

I’d rather eat granita and brioche down at the fish pier, made by the cross-eyed man from the Michelin Guide.


Thanks for the recommendations.

I’m going to print your emails and take them with me.


I thoroughly enjoyed your blog. You sure seem to be having a good time.




(At this point in our correspondence I found the restaurant’s website and sent the following to Catarina)


Spare me: Hostaria Del Vicolo.






Spare me is right!

The chef has about ten glamour shots of himself on that website.

I suppose we ought to be grateful he at least kept his clothes on!


He does have one of my favorite wines on his list, though-The Morgante Nero D’avola is to die for. It will fix any ache or pain you may be experiencing.

The wine snobs like the more pricey ‘Don Antonio” but it’s a tad too cherry for me.


Pretty pictures, but that’s not what Sicilian food looks like.

In 2007 we stayed on Ortygia in Syracusa at a small but superb B&B. (Photo by Catarina Burke)


The host/owner made a great breakfast spread, which was served on a beautiful and scenic terrace. 

When I told him in my not-so-perfect Italian that I liked his shoes and wanted a pair for my husband he took the shoes off and handed them to me. (Yes, really!)

For dinner he sent us to a tiny place in the town center where we ate some of the best seafood we’ve had anywhere in Sicily.

He said it was his favorite restaurant.

Simple and authentic cooking in a beautifully restored old building and impeccable service. I had a zuppa di pesce that I wanted to drown in.

I will try and find the name of the place -you just never know when you might find yourself in Sicily again!


I’m lovin these emails and I would love to put some of them on my blog, but I’ll be back in touch.

I’ve gotta cook dinner and I’ve just poured a glass of 2004 Guigal Gigondas and have NO idea what I”m making for supper. (I have a refrigerator full of food I bought this afternoon. Probably duck breasts on the grill.)

Where do you live?

I’m in Washington DC


I’m in Massachusetts, about 30 miles northwest of Boston.

It’s cold and remote but for now it’s a good location for what I call my

“Obsessive Compulsive Gardening Disorder.”

I have a large greenhouse and many herb and veggie gardens, as I used to grow organic produce for an Italian chef. He retired so now I just eat the stuff and leave it on the doorsteps of my unsuspecting neighbors.

Well, OK-they probably know it’s me…the baskets say “Catarina’s Garden  😉


Your blog is really a lot of fun. I’ve never been to Ireland but you’ve convinced me that I must go. … It’s been delightful hearing from you, John, and thanks again. Isn’t the Internet great, John?!


I could use a glass of wine right about now myself!

Duck on the grill sounds great. Is there a recipe on your blog?


I’d be flattered to have any of my comments appear on your blog,.


Take care,



Hi, I’ve posted some of this duck breast stuff before, but it bears repeating:


Duck Breasts from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking:


I prefer duck breasts cooked quickly and separately from the rest of the body, or cured in salt and served as prosciutto. The French call a boneless breast of duck a magret.  To obtain two magrets from a duck, place a whole unskinned duck on its back, with its neck end toward you,  on a cutting board. Slice down the very center the full length of the bird, through the skin and flesh to the breastbone, then down along the breastbone on each side. Attached to the breastbone there is a narrow strip of meat which has a tendon running through it. The breast halves will easily separate from this “tenderloin.” Bring the tip of the knife down to the wishbone, which forms an arch around the neck cavity, and cut the breastmeat free from it on each side. Then, holding a breast half in one hand and the knife in the other, pull each breast half away from the rib cage, running the knife over the “tenderloin” and along the rib cage. Pull the halves  out away from the body, and slice them free from the wing joints. At this point, you may use kitchen shears, if you prefer, to cut around the magrets to free them completely from the body. This method may be unorthodox in butchering circles, but it is easy for even the novice, and eliminates the possibility of cutting into the flesh of the breast. If not using the rest of the duck immediately, sprinkle it with salt and return it to the refrigerator.


Duck Breast Hams


I like to serve thin slices of this “ham” with  melon or with preserved fruit such as pear chutney  or plum sauce (see below).  Take two duck breasts with skin attached and rub them with a mixture of salt (1 tablespoon) and my herbal mix (1 teaspoon). Place the breasts on a nonporous plate in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, drain off any liquid that may have gathered, wipe the breasts dry, and wrap each magret in several layers of cheesecloth. If you live in a cool, dry climate, you can hang them in an airy place to cure. In the Lowcountry we must refrigerate them, suspended, so that they don’t touch each other or other objects. They will be cured in about a week. Remove them from the cheesecloth and slice as thinly as possible.


Duck Breasts on the Grill


The Lowcountry Barnes family is is from Walterboro, South Carolina, on the black and sinuous Edisto River, about an hour from Charleston. Having never lost their rural traditions, the Barnes sisters — Erlene, Rena, Lessie Rae, and RuRu — were all great cooks, and their brother Russell, a stalwart for tradition. When I was researching the regional foods of the area, anytime I had a question about real Lowcountry food or farming, I called a Barnes. Russell rendered his own lard in an outdoor kettle, stirring it all day with what looks like an oar but is precisely a “lard paddle.” He also grew his own cane, and ground and boiled his own syrup from it.


Sunny Davis is Erlene’s daughter and a great cook herself. She could hardly not be, given Erlene as  her mother. Her boiled peanuts, her okra and tomatoes, her hoecakes, and her pickles are the best. For several years in Charleston, we were close friends, and when it was her birthday, I would grill for her. One year to celebrate, I cooked 2 dozen duck breasts on the grill, then another dozen when  a late-night crowd arrived. This is a wonderful dish, wonderfully simple to prepare.


These grilled magrets improve by being seasoned in advance. Several hours before eating, slice the skin of each duck breast  down to, but not into, the flesh, in three or four evenly spaced places. A cup of freshly picked mixed herbs from the garden, several cloves of garlic, and a teaspoon of my herbal mix are thrown into the work bowl of the food processor and evenly ground to coat each set of magrets. Put them on a nonreactive plate, covered, in the refrigerator until ready to grill.


Build a charcoal fire off to one side in a covered grill and let it burn until the coals are all evenly gray. Place the duck breasts, skin side down, on the grill several inches over the fire, and cook them until the skin is seared and cooked crispy brown, about 4 or 5 minutes. Fat from the duck may drip into the coals and ignite. If so, move the breasts to the side of the grill not over the fire, and cover the grill. Close all of the grill vents if necessary to kill the flames. After the skin side is cooked, turn the duck breasts over and place them on the fireless side of the grill. Continue cooking for no more than three minutes. The breast should be rare, springing back when poked with a finger. Slice diagonally into several pieces, through the slashes already made in the skin. Serve immediately.


This dialog convinced me that it would okay to name the restaurant. I see that the chef/owner has lost a lot of weight since we were there, but the pretense of his website is enough to turn me off. Those over stylized plates are a bit much.


Be forewarned! I wrote to Catarina again:


About that chef: He was about 50 lbs heavier when we there. I guess he has reason to be so vain now! And I see from the photos that the posters are gone but I see all those guidebooks still on the shelf in the dining room.

There’s nothing that loves pretense more than pretense itself. I’m reminded of a man I know here in Washington who loves to tell me all the famous restaurants he’s eaten in all over the world (many of which I have dined in as well), but he is never able to tell me a single thing he’s eaten in any of them. He also loves to tell me how much wine costs.

I taste his $75 bottles and think, You Poor Fool!  I’ve had $15 bottles that were better!

But there’s no accounting for taste. And the rich are different.


PS I’m going to
Genoa, my old stomping grounds, for two weeks in April. Can’t wait!


I’ll be sure to pop in and check on Signor Hostario.

Just to see if he “called Jenny” or maybe the creator of the website is really good with photoshop..


Italy in April, that is excellent. I will check your blog for news and pics..




Here’s another email from her that I somehow missed:


Here’s the Ortygia restaurant I was drooling on about: Porta Marina.

You pick your freshly caught fish from an ice case…

Maybe we’ll have to meet there sometime.


That was the first time we really explored the East coast of Sicily.

We rented a villa in Avola, saw Ortygia and Noto, and spent the remainder of the time at a place we love dearly-Hotel Villa Ducale in Taormina. This is the company of our trusted friend, Sebastiano Alibrandi: Sicily Life.

PS I’m thinking Sgr. Hostario is slim and trim from those NY sized portions he serves.

Thanks again, John-I’ll be dreaming of Sicily.

Have a great day.



December 24, 2008: From Jim Bain in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina:

Just a brief note to extend the very best of Christmas wishes to you and Mikel along with my hope that you both enjoy the happiest of New Year’s.
Hard to believe that 20 or so years have passed since I wandered into an unexpected delight of a bookstore in Charleston while revisiting the haunts of my Cadet years.  If I recall correctly, it was the during the weekend of my 10-year reunion at The Citadel, which would have been 1987, so that sounds right.  Doesn’t really matter.  I am sure it was merely one more weekend of invasion for you.
I have been checking in on the blog from time to time.  I find I must ration myself to no more than two or three visits a month, otherwise I get little or nothing accomplished at the office.  My time is spent reading, exploring links to amazing recipes and restaurants, dreaming of cast nets filled with fresh shrimp……   The list just goes on and on.
Thank you again for 20+ years of fine memories, wonderful stories, and the confidence to pull all of them together and share with friends.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Jim Bain

October 29, 2008: From Tori Anderson in Utah:
Good Evening Mr. Taylor,
I hope this email finds you well.
I just wanted to take a moment and let you know how much I enjoy your blog!  I’ve been following it for a few months now and your recipes are beautiful and vibrant (if I may use words such as those to describe them) as well as the more personal anecdotes and stories you share.  I grew up in Beaufort (my parents have now relocated to Summerville), so I especially enjoy your stories about Charleston and growing up in SC.  They bring a smile to my face–when I read your stories, I’m reminded of my own. 
The very best foods (at least for me) are those that are evocative of memory and emotion.  I am currently living away from my family and the South, as I am attending law school in far, far away Utah, but when I feel homesick, I just fix up some of my old favorites–many of them the quintessential Southern dishes–and I’m instantly transported back home.  As I mentioned before, your recipes and stories help me to do the same, so thank you for helping me to find another little piece of home.
Thanks again, and I wish the best for you and yours.
Take care.
Tori Anderson
October 1, 2008: On wine labels and cépages
If you wonder why wine labels sometimes say one thing and the winery’s websites say another about the percentage of varietals in each bottle, it’s because they can round off the percentages on the bottles as long as they’re meeting the proper criteria for the appellation. I can only imagine they do this so that they can use the (rear) labels year after year. The lovely 2007 Domaine de la Mordorée Côtes du Rhône rosé, “La Dame Rousse,” for example, is from Tavel but is not classified as such. The bottle said one thing; the website, another. A distributor’s website in France said something different. An American retailer’s said something else again (that same website translated “mordorée” as “woodcock,” the image of which is featured on the label, but the word means golden red, or, literally, “gilded moor”).
So I wrote the winery. Here’s our correspondence. If you need a translation, Babel Fish is a great site.
Il faut excuser mon français. Je ne m’en souviens plus. Je suis écrivain americain. On peut voir mon website e mon blog, ci-dessous. J’adore vos vins, mais je suis confondu au cépage de votre vin rosé “La Dame Rousse.” Votre website dit le suivant:

Grenache 40 %
Syrah 30 %
Cinsault 15 %
Carignan 10 %
Mourvedre 5 %

Mais la bouteille du cru 2007 dit çeci:
Grenache 50%
Syrah 40%
Cinsault 10%
A la fois, j’ai trouvé un autre site ( qui l’appellait “Tavel” et qui a dit çela:
 60% Grenache, 30% Cins-Mourv-Syrah, 10% bourboulenc-clair
J’espère que vous pouvez m’aider avec deux questions:
1. Pourquoi le vin (quand il a plus de 15% Cinsault) ne s’appelle pas “Tavel”? 
2. Quel est le cépage correct?

Je vous prie d’accepter mes sentiments respectueux,


John Martin Taylor



Here’s their response:


Cher Monsieur,
Les pourcentages sur l’étiquette sont arrondis et les informations données sur un site marchand comme V comme Vin ne sont pas toujours justes .
En rosé nous avons deux vins : Le Côtes du Rhône rosé et le Tavel.
Voici notre fiche technique sur notre site qui donne les bons pourcentages :
pour le Tavel
enfin il existe un Côtes du Rhône rosé dans notre gamme :
Il existe chez nous deux cuvées principales : la Cuvée Dame Rousse ( Tavel, Côtes du Rhône rouge et rosé et Lirac ) et la Cuvée Reine des Bois ( Lirac rouge et blanc et Châteauneuf du Pape.

Nous vous remercions de l’intérêt que vous portez à notre domaine et nos vins.
N’hésitez pas à nous contacter à nouveau , si vous avez d’autres questions.
Avec nos meilleures salutations
Fabrice Delorme
On September 27, 2008, I sent the following email to Frank Ruta, the Chef at Palena, my favorite D.C. restaurant, after having a wonderful spur-of-the-moment meal there on Friday night:


Hey Frank,

Mikel, my partner, and I were looking forward to our first evening home alone together last night. I had a duck, a rabbit, and a pound of duck livers, among an array of exciting vegetables I had bought at an Asian market in the suburbs. But our power was out for 10 hours yesterday, so we hopped in the car when he got home from work and drove to Palena. Got seated almost immediately in one of those comfortable, cozy, private, and quiet booths in the hallway. Perfect.

Ordered the 05 Gigondas but Kelly had just sold the last of the 05 and when the 06 came to the table and I said no, she recommended an 04 Barbera that was exactly what we were looking for. Thank her again for her perfect recommendation.

And then your lovely food came out. And the service was perfect. And the bread delicious. And we came home with cookies that I’ll serve my own guests tonight with some homemade ice cream after the duck, which I’m brining now and will later put on my rotisserie with cauliflower roasting in the drippings underneath. Beets and their greens. Or maybe I should just make a gumbo and be done with it. I’ve got duck fat roux in my freezer.

Anyway, I just wanted you to know that our experience last night at Palena was sublime, and I want to thank you for continually offering clear broths. We always order them and they’re always delicious. Growing up in the Deep South, there was always a hotel dining room in even the tiniest towns where white tablecloths and liveried servers welcomed diners on Sundays for their elegant repasts. Consommé was de rigueur. I don’t know anyone else who offers it on a regular basis. And no one who dares float a smoked porcini custard cube in it!

Kudos all around.

John Taylor ( and I know I speak for Mikel Herrington as well)


Frank replied:


Hi John


Thanks for coming in and thanks for writing. I want to thank you for appreciating the Consommé. We enjoy making them and finding creative, seasonal ways to keep them on the menu through-out the year. During my time at The White House, it was Mrs. Reagan’s favorite starter for formal or informal meals. Mainly for lunch, but also for dinners less grand than the State affairs. I love starting out that way:  warming the palate and stomach for the rest of the meal  seems so refined, and you’re right, I don’t know why we don’t see them more often. It was certainly a mainstay years and years ago on all of the hotel menus.

Sorry to hear about your power outage, and the loss of all the foodstuffs, but happy for the chance to come by.


Thanks again to you and Mikel for coming in, I promise to get up one day and shake hands.

All the Best



September 23, 2008: From Marjorie Bender of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, in response to my posting about the heritage lamb tasting I attended and wrote about on the September 19 blog:

Dear John,
Just back from the ALBC Annual ConferenceThanks for your comments and insights, and thanks for your wonderful endorsement of ALBC. I liked reading about the tasting on your blog.  Getting these breeds into the marketplace is a challenge. Getting consistency of product through breeding stock selection, quality processing, appropriate aging time, temp and humidity, storage, shipping and, last but not least, cooking, is really hard.  But we keep trying , and with consumer understanding and patience we’ll win the day!
We had a pre-conference workshop last Friday at Zazio’s in Kalamazoo, MI called “Turning a Whole Pig into Scrumptious Bites.”  It was a fabrication of a whole Tamworth. Matthew Millar, Journeyman’s Cafe in Fennville, MI did the fabrication. It was fascinating to talk of different cuts and the uses for bits and pieces that can be turned into a multitude of sumptuous cured and fresh pork products.  Judd, a young chef at Zazio’s, was eager to help whenever asked (can you hold our friend right here so I can saw through here) and jumped at the chance to cook the two tenderloins for tasting.  It was prepared with a dry rub of rosemary and a little salt, cooked with a little bit of corn oil ’til medium rare. Since I’d eaten at Zazio’s the night before and had their pork tenderloin, this was a great opportunity for comparison.  The Tamworth was delicious!  Much more flavorful, darker in color than the previous night’s pork, and melt-in-your mouth tender and moist.  Wow!  I think you would have loved it!  We needed most of the pork for our meal that night, but left some with Zazio’s in gratitude for their letting us use their demo kitchen. The menu ideas were flying!  ALBC has been partnering with Chefs Collaborative through the Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) project.(Elizabeth Kennedy was on hand to share information about their organization and to support getting these ‘heritage’ breed pigs into chefs’ hands.  She’s  promised to blog on it  soon. ( 
Also, just for the record, the Tunis sheep are an American breed developed the mid Atlantic and upper Southeastern states from sheep from Tunisia and other fat-tailed African breeds. The North American population of Jacob sheep is closely related to the British population, though ALBC now considers them a separate breed. Your fingers must have been flying when you wrote about the Gulf Coast sheep – they’re from the southeast.

Marjorie Bender
Research & Technical Program Director
American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
PO Box 477
Pittsboro, NC  27312
Office Phone: 919-542-5704  
Ensuring the future of agriculture through genetic conservation and the promotion of endangered breeds of livestock and poultry. 
Dear Marjie,
Thanks for setting me straight on those breeds. I try to blog while the tastes and smells and facts are fresh in my mind, but I’m my own worst proofreader.
Ah, those Tamworths! They’re amazing. I’ve had them both in Ireland and England and was blown away both times.
Keep up the good work and thank you so much for your input!

April 30, 2008: From Virginia Amos in Alexandria, VA, responding to an article I had written about shrimp in The Washington Post  (you have to register in order to read it online):

Dear John,

I just had a chance to read this morning’s Washington Post and the first thing that caught my eye – after “favorite shrimp” – was the mention of Thunderbolt, GA. My mother was born and reared (NOT raised) in Savannah and I spent every summer of my growing up on Wilmington Island. We didn’t cast for shrimp but we did put out lines with a sinker and a chicken neck for our share of crabs.

When you mentioned the Williamses it made me think of Williams Seafood, a wonderful ramshackle place on the way to Tybee Island. Do you know if they were related? The restaurant burned down a few years ago and hasn’t been rebuilt. Johnny Harris’ barbecue was another favorite and I think my parents actually got engaged there.

My father’s work in the coal business took my mother to West Virginia but she NEVER gave up her favorite meal of shrimp and grits! As deep as my roots are in Savannah (my mother’s family are all buried at Bonaventure and one of her bridesmaids was part of the Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil saga), my great great grandparents are from Charleston. My husband is also connected to Charleston via the now shuttered Maison Du Pre on East Bay Street that was owned by his ex in-laws.

When I was a publishers rep (Macmillan, Harcourt Brace, Simon and Schuster) I used to call on bookstores in Charleston and there was a lovely lady by the name of Marcel who was the buyer in a local department store (back when department stores were still a force in the book business). I don’t know how well known the story was but she was the youngest daughter of Auguste Escoffier and an invitation to her house for dinner was a rare treat. Did you by any chance have the pleasure of knowing her?

Well, enough rambling. Your story was full of pleasant rememberings and with our middle son and his family in Mt. Pleasant, those royal reds will be something to look forward to.

And now to order my stone ground grits . . .


Dear Virginia,

Yep, it’s the same Williams Seafood. We had a sailboat we kept on Hilton Head. Back before it was Hilton Head as folks know it today. We had one of three pleasure crafts on the island for over 20 years! Now there are 11 marinas and 30 golf courses, none of which were there in the beginning…. We would go to the docks at Thunderbolt when the boat needed repairs but also sometimes just so we could go for a nice sail and eat at Williams.

I had a culinary bookstore in Charleston from 1986-1999. Yes, I vaguely recall the Escoffier’s daughter story, but I think it would be granddaughter or great-granddaughter since his children were born in the 1880s. I’ll have to ask Serge Claire, the illustrious chef/owner of Charleston’s venerbable Marianne restaurant, from whom I heard today that Alain Saley, the chef/owner of Charleston’s Le Midi, passed away last night. Serge worked for Fernand Point, the great chef, at La Pyramide in Vienne, not far from Lyon. Point trained some of the world’s best-known chefs at his Michelin-Three-Star restaurant, among them Paul Bocue, Alain Chapel, and the Troisgros brothers. Serge chose to make Charleston his home and for over twenty years he graced us with his amazing culinary concoctions.

Most of my family is still in the lowcountry. You would probably love my book, Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking. It’s full of stories from the coastal plain.

Thanks so much for your input.


April 17, 2008 From Tina Blackwell in Columbia, South Carolina:
Hi! love your website! I was just wondering…I need to make a peach cobbler for a work dinner tomorrow, but this is not the time of year to get fresh, soft, good peaches in South Carolina! I don’t want to used canned ones, as the taste is NOT the same…Can I used frozen ones? And, probably a silly question, do I “thaw” them first? Also, if I am supposed to thaw them, do I “press” them with paper towels after they defrost to avoid too much liquid? Thanks!

Hey, and thanks for your input!
I PROMISE you that you can use frozen peaches out of season (of course, the better the peaches before they were frozen, the better the taste!) because when they’re cooked almost no one can tell the difference anyway.
Did you see the entry on my blog about cobbler?
Look at August 27, 2007 and you’ll see that I tell you what to do: You can use frozen fruit, but zap it in the microwave and sprinkle it with rum or a liqueur of some kind beforehand. If the fruit is not juicy and sweet, add some lemon juice and sugar to it and allow it to sit for the juices to draw.
Take care, and if you run into my brother Mike, give him a hug!

April 4, from Ann Bullock on the Gulf Coast, responding to my thoughts about fried chicken and Royal Red Shrimp:






March 17, from Bill Twaler of The Old Firehouse Restaurant in Hollywood, South Carolina:

Re: Liver Puddin’ and Onion Sausage
Good Evening John,

My name is Bill Twaler, remember me? I own the Old Firehouse in Hollywood with my wife, Lia. I really miss you, Sue, and the store downtown. Some of my fondest memories while going to Johnson and Wales happened in your store. I will always cherish the time that you and Sue gave me and the many things that the both of you taught me. Thank you.

You have always inspired my trying to learn more about southern food, but I am stumped by two things that seem to be very Orangeburg if not South Carolina. Those are the liver puddin’ and onion sausage. I can not find any real mention of them or what the history is behind them. Can you give me any clues. After Philip closed the Old Post Office I started to use Lee’s Sausage Company and have fallen in love with the Onion Sausage, Liver puddin’, and of course the pork chops. I was wondering if you know any of the history about these two items?

Thank you for your time. I just found your blog keep up the good work. Philip tipped me off about it thanks.

Bill Twaler
Old Firehouse

Dear Bill,
How wonderful to hear from you and of course I remember you and Lia. I don’t think I’ve seen you since we brought our friend Mwata in for dinner and Philip told everyone that Mwata was Denzel Washington!
Orangeburg was settled by Germans and Swiss with charcuterie skills; further, in Germany, there is the old tradition of smoking meats as well. It has long been my theory that wherever you find a great charcuterie or barbecue tradition in America, it’s where the Germans or Czechs or other Eastern Europeans settled: Orangeburg County, SC; eastern North Carolina (Moravians); Lockhart, Texas; Memphis; and Kansas City.
Sausage-making is ancient. The Romans, Persians, and Chinese all have the tradition that continues until today. You can see specific recipes travel where the emigrants went. I wrote on my blog about blood pudding, which has an enduring legacy in the British Isles, in Germany, and in France. Larousse says its origin is Assyrian, but Celts claim it as their own. I think the Lebanese still make one with sheep’s blood. Its ingredients vary by location. In France, it might be thickened with chestnuts or apples; in Scotland, it’s oatmeal. Whether it came to the lowcountry with Scots or Huguenots, it is thickened there, as is the lowcountry version of liver pudding, with rice. (Liver pudding is called scrapple in Pennsylvania “Dutch” country, thickened with cornmeal. The “Dutch” are, of course, German — “Deutsch.”)
As for onions in sausage, it’s probably a more recent addition to fresh sausage now that refrigeration is taken for granted. If you go to the Amish markets in Pennsylvania, you might think you were in Orangeburg County 40 years ago. Lots of fresh sausage with onions in it.
The only way to trace the history of recipes is to go through the written records. Unfortunately, however, many of these recipes have never been written down. It’s an arduous process and not conclusive. Finding a written recipe for blood pudding in an eighteenth century lowcountry plantation journal doesn’t prove its provenance. The planter’s wife may have gotten it while summering in Newport, Rhode Island. It is important to know the written recipes, but it’s just as important to keep them in historical context, and to see where the recipes have survived.
I hope this finds you well and happy. Did you see my blog piece about pizza?
Take care,
Your pal,
3/17/08 from Marvin Pryce-Jones, whom I met in Barbados, regarding ciguatera in barracuda:
John, I meant to tell you earlier when I was reading your “Barbados Blog” (great read – I’ve printed off a copy to go into my Barbados Visitors File, for those who stay @ my house. For information on the Island, it’s culture & food etc. I hope you don’t mind?)

re;- the Barracuda you had @ Tides. Barracuda in the Southern Caribbean sea doesn’t suffer from Ciguatera unlike the fish in the Northern part of the sea. Like you I was aware of Ciguatera when I sailed round the BVI’s some years ago.

It is caused by copper found on Northern reefs & fish who feed on the reefs & become part of the food chain including Barracuda, become infected.

Apparently a way to tell if a fish is infected with Ciguatera is that flies(how hygienic?) will not land on infected fish!

So if you don’t see flies on Barracuda in the fish market – don’t buy it. But as I say, in Barbados & the Southern Islands, Barracuda is safe to eat & delicious – I’ve eaten many times! Enough to say when I die I’m selling my body for scrap, so they can recover the copper etc. – joke, albeit a feeble one!

I’m not sure where the delineation of the South – North divide occurs in the Caribbean. Perhaps you or someone can enlighten me.

Oh & regarding flies ofnfish, meat etc (inevitable in climates such as Barbados). The locals (should) always wash their meat & fish with lime juice & water prior to cooking – it acts as a natural disinfectant.

Take care

Best regards to you both

Till the next time

Marvin Pryce – Jones

March 12-13 from Pat Creasy, my biggest fan, responding to my mention of the disappearance of good, old-fashioned cake recipes:
Old Cakes

I copied each recipe verbatim, and you’ll see, each set of instructions is bare-bones!

Here’s the first recipe I found in my mother’s files. It’s on a modern-day recipe card and “from the kitchen of Eva E. Grigsby.” While I don’t recall her, I remember it as a name from southern Indiana, where my parents grew up. My mother wrote at the top of the card, “from a 100-year-old recipe.” I’m not sure what it is, but I am confident you’ll know!

[Pat, this is a classic “jam cake,” which Carolinians call “Kentucky Jam Cake” and which Kentuckians call “Carolina Jam Cake.” Go figure! John]

4 eggs leaving the whites of 2 for frosting
1 c sour milk
2 c sugar
1 t soda
2 t BP
1 c butter
1 t cinnamon
flour to thicken about 3 c
1 t cloves
1 t allspice
1/2 nutmeg grated
1 c blackberry jam

cream sugar and butter
add eggs well beaten
stir in jam
Sift flour spices and baking powder
Dissolve sour milk with soda
Stir flour mixture and sour milk mixture alternately to creamed mixture blending well.
Bake 350 till cake tests done about 45 minutes

Unfortunately, there’s no recipe for the frosting.


This recipe is in my mother’s handwriting on the back of the schedule for a high school band contest from 1952. (While even as a kid I preferred savory to sweet, I recall loving this.)

Caramel Icing

2 cups brown sugar
4 level T flour
4 T butter
1 scant T white syrup
8 T team

beat slowly and cook about 2 minutes


Another recipe in my mother’s handwriting…yellowed paper, of course.

My mother’s cake (as my mother wrote at the top of the page)

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons soda in 1/2 c sour milk
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup boiling water
bake 35-40 minutes

Banana Cake with Seafoam Icing

This is not a heritage recipe, but it’s one I loved–and it’s old. My mother, Irene, made it frequently for cakewalks at the Band Boosters’ Blow-Out. Everybody always hoped to “land” on one of her cakes because they were as beautiful as they were delicious. As I recall it, it was surprisingly sophisticated for us.

350 degrees

2 1/2 c. sifted cake flour
1 2/3 c. sugar
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
2/3 c. hydrogenated vegetable shortening (Crisco or other)
2/3 c. buttermilk
1 1/4 c. mashed bananas (about 3)
2 eggs, unbeaten

Sift dry ingredients into large bowl; add shortening, buttermilk and mashed bananas. Mix only until all flour is dampened. Beat at low speed for 2 minutes.

Add eggs; beat one minute.

Bake two layers for 30-35 minutes



2 egg whites
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
5 T. water
dash salt

beat for 7 minutes over hot water. Add 1 tsp. vanilla

Melt over water:
2 squares sweet cooking chocolate
1 T. butter

Drizzle over icing.

Burnt Sugar Cake

This was a favorite of my parents, one Irene made till she moved to an assisted living facility. Sometimes she’d add chopped black walnuts to the batter and decorate with whole walnuts. A neighbor would wander into the woods and pick them.

2/3 c. butter
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. burnt sugar liquid
3 eggs
3 c. sifted cake flour
3 tsp. baking powder, slightly rounded
1 c. water
1 tsp. vanilla

Make burnt sugar liquid by melting a cup of sugar in heavy pan over high heat. When dark brown, add 1 cup boiling water and boil hard for 5 minutes.

Cream butter, add sugar gradually, creaming until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup burnt sugar liquid. Beat eggs until light and add to batter, beat well. Sift baking powder with flour and add alternately with water. Add vanilla. Bake in 2 layers at 350, about 25 minutes or until done.


2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons burnt sugar liquid
1 cup cream

Blend ingredients and cook, stirring constantly until it boils. Cook to soft ball stage. Cool to luke warm and beat until creamy. If it becomes too stiff, a tablespoon or two of cream may be added.

Old Food Stuff

You know, as I was copying one of the recipes, I was struck by the reminded of the “soft ball stage.” Irene never had a candy thermometer, yet she made perfectly anything that called for that sort of judgment. She’d just drop a little of whatever she was cooking into a cup of water and watch how it reacted. That’s how she knew its stage.

I grew up in Knightstown, Indiana, 35 miles due east of Indianapolis on old Road 40. The dads who didn’t work in a factory were farmers; some did both.  A few parents taught, as did mine, and even fewer engaged in other lines of work. My point? We grew up humbly–and didn’t know it, but as I reflect on those days, I realize we ate very well. There was nothing humble about our food. It’s why home cooking is so popular today.

Well, anyway… The point of this bit of Patty Pride history is food, but of course! I loved corn and was known to eat half a dozen ears at dinner, but occasionally, Irene would make a casserole of corn she’d scraped off the cob, a little water, butter, S&P. She’d put it in a Pyrex casserole and bake it till it crackled and spewed. It was like eating corn on the cob but without the effort! Did anyone in your family prepare corn that way?
[No, but throughout the South, corn is scraped off the cob and cooked in a cast iron skillet with either butter or bacon grease — “fried corn” it’s usually called. Same difference. John]


3/9/08 from Eddie Corley of Southern Shrimp (Johns Island, South Carolina)

Hello John,
I’ve been reading some of your blogs, I’m pleased to see you are doing well in DC. I was thinking of you just today as I was going through my list of Royal Red customers, I was really surprised to see how large the fan base has grown to these shrimp, This will be my ninth year selling them, So I will be calling all of these people soon, It’s really funny the last time I had them I arrived at my location (Iat 10:00am to find a large number of people that had started lining up at 6:00am It reminded me of the day after Thanksgiving sale at a large department store.
John it’s been a long time and I just wanted to say hello.
Sincerely your friend
Eddie Corley
Eddie and I had a long conversation and I’ve written extensively about shrimp on the March 10 blog.
 2/17/08 from Keith Strickland of the B-52s, responding to my posting about our 30+ year friendship
(photos are courtesy of Keith):

The beat goes on.
This is so cool. You should write a book about this. I have tried to convey what our scene was like in interviews; that The B-52s were born out of a larger circle of artists, poets and friends in Athens, Georgia.

I have a beautiful book by the German photographer Astrid Kirchherr. She is the photographer who took those wonderfully sophisticated photographs of the Beatles when they were all very young and hanging out together in Hamburg, Germany. She loved styling the boys and girls … she created the Beatle haircut and would dress everyone in thin black slacks and turtle necks. She was so ahead of her time.

I’m fascinated by the fact that this small group of artists, poets and friends in Hamburg in the late 50s and early 60s, who were reading French existentialist writers and eastern philosophies, had such an influence on The Beatles, and pop culture as we know it today.
I believe that our little scene in Athens in the 70s was also a part of that bohemian lineage.

Thank you,

“Legends in Our Own Minds”
Thank-you John for your efforts!!! I read every word thus far and I never wanted it to end and it made me long for the days of yore. As I told you before, you are the one to write the book on our own Athens “Bloomsbury” group. Whether as individuals we were “legends in our own time” or “legends in our own minds” the story of our coming together for our art, friendship, etc. is a story that should be written for us and for those that come after. We could all help you with our biographies of that time, photos, and sundry other items. Please consider it. Thanks to you and love, and love to all….
Teresa Randolph-Ott
from Mark Cline, of Love Tractor
John — how lovely, I miss you all —
and I have one other thing to

Kisses to all,

Love Mark

(The photo to the right is of me and Dana and Mark in Savannah one year when Love Tractor was playing there.)
from Michael Lachowski, of Pylon:
John ,

Hey man, thanks for sending this to me! I really appreciate you thinking of me so that I’d know to go to your site and read this great history.

You certainly have a lot of memories and detail i there! I’m terrible at that — I don’t recall as much. In our band, Vanessa is the historian; she wrote a really long illustrated history of Pylon that we used to have linked from our website. I’ll try to find the link of where it resides and send it to you sometime. It’s similar to your remembrances, just more written for a Pylon fan…

One of the things you certainly reminded me of was the postcards! I used to send and receive so many of them — although I didn’t do as many art cards as you and others did. I guess I sent my photos that
way sometimes. I remember writing card after card in the van on Pylon trips. I saved every postcard I ever received, so there is a collection there….

(Visit Michael at his website.)
Hey J.T.
A quick hey- i still haven’t finished reading all the blogging- it’s great that you are rounding up all the cast of characters that were part of the scene then….we always say in interviews how we were part of a whole group of people who shared a common sensibility when we started the band in athens and we all cross-pollinated – so to speak-
I often mention that the band went over to your house to eat cornbread and dance our asses off!….
Love the pictures and the whole vibe….more later.
Love ya
hey to Mikey-
P.S. we’ve dropped the ‘ from b-52s – we finally realized b-52’s what?
and another from Kate:
Hey J.T. and Everyone,

Thanks so much for your enthusiastic comments about the B-52s ( we dropped the ‘ for grammar’s sake, like the B-52’s WHAT?)
we’ve been doing a boatload of interviews to promote the new cd and also the single on radio (so y’all please call your local stations and ask them to play it ’till the juice runs out of it!)
We can’t wait for it to finally be released (March 23ish) – but we’ve already incorporated 6 of the new songs into our set- wait till you hear “pump”, “juliet of the spirits” , “hot corner” and “love in the year 3,000” and all the other tracks- i hope they rock your world!
In the interviews we always mention that we were part of a whole group of like-minded ,wildly creative friends back in the day that helped inspire and fuel the whole thing-
I’ll never forget the first party at Julia and Gray’s , Sally workin’ her skirt,
or all of us going over to J.T.’s for fresh-made cornbread and breaking into a conga line over “shotgun”!
Or Teresa Randolf screaming “I can’t believe this is happening here in Athens, Georgia”!
Doing our first jam at Owen Scott’s basement and writing “killer bees”
Tommy Adams a go go boying in that crazy video Spencer Thornton did!
Dana Downs gettin’ DOWN!
and Robert Waldrop writing beautiful lyrics and being such an inspiration.
Ken Bullock as “Tony James” sitting on a tree branch at my little shack on Jefferson River Road and always making us laugh ourselves silly! Adele Maddry dancing and laughing wildly!
Anyway, love you all and let the blogs continue!
and more and more- John you’ve done a great job of BLOG! It’s great to be part of it all-
(and i’ll NEVER forget that mushroom party at your apt. in nyc!)

from Dana Downs:

OMG This is fabulous! Now when anyone asks me about the good ‘ol days I will just send them here! What a fun fun site! One of my fondest memories of you at the time was from Teresa’s party (the second time the B’s the old Jewish Country Club) Fred was wearing a polka dot dress and was throwing polka dot napkins into the crowd. You were running around screaming “the napkins match! the napkins match!!” They had just started playing 52 Girls for the very first time, and for the longest time I thought that’s what the name of the song was; “The Napkins Match”. and Teresa on somebody’s shoulders screaming “I can’t believe this is happening in Athens Georgia!!” SHE SHAW! Write more!! Love the pic of Robert and EG….
(Dana has sent tons of photos, too, which I’ll be adding soon.)
God John the B-52’s thing makes me cry and I haven’t even read it but am only looking at the pictures. How lucky we are to have you to write this in honor of everybody. You are so smart and I am honored to be included and feel lucky to have been such a part of a free time where we could be so creative in an unbounded atmosphere. Thank you for you magnificent brain. We love you,

Julia and Bob

from Philip Bardin, the beloved chef from Edisto Island’s The Old Post Office restaurant:
The B-52’s remain to me – along with Patti Smith Group – as one of the most influential aspects of my life. Had it not been for the B-52’s, I doubt I would have had the energy or the bravery to express myself in my profession as a chef (hate that word). John Taylor remains one of my best friends and -while he was in a perfect position to brag about his affiliation with my favorite band – he NEVER DID.

The entry on the B-52’s adds validation to the encouragement of this brilliant, ground breaking band.

Taylor and I share a common trait: both if us cook with the B-52’s playing in the background. When I was cooking in Columbia, SC and had to dole out over 100 orders of Eggs Benedict, the cheap tape player I brought in played this inspiring music and got us thru and all throughout our work chaos, we always said to one another : “Everyone Had Matching Towels”.

John’s write up of this spectacular group is movie worthy and a total delight. Until the B-52’s came along, I always felt alone. Thank you, HOPPIN JOHN for reuniting me with the best times of my life.

Philip Bardin

from Adele Maddry:
Hey Lex,
Add this to your blog: Today, leap year 2008, there was a multiple choice question on the millionaire show about the B’s. Something like–in the B-52s 1989 hit “Love Shack,” what
type of car were they driving? This man answered, “it’s as big as a whale,” said Chrysler, and won $4,000!!! That’s cute, like the time that the Sunday New York Times Crossword clue was singer
Kate _____.
Popular culture indeed!
Maybe we should make up a board game!!
12/29/07 from Pat Creasy, a longtime customer and correspondent:
Among the MANY things I like about you…

You don’t stack and fancify your food, and you don’t sprinkle chopped parsley on the rim of a plate. And it’s always the most beautiful presentation…just food.

You serve food to be eaten.

Dear Pat,
Thanks so much for your many kindesses. One of my favorite culinary quotes of all times was written by Martha McCulloch-Williams of Tennessee in her 1913 book, Dishes and Beverages of the Old South: “The very best decoration for a table is something good in the plates.”
At the height of the food-styling 80s, Lee Bailey was one food writer who demanded that all the food photos in his books be taken of the dishes after they were prepared from his recipes (usually by him and one or two assistants, on location in the lovely homes he featured in the books). No lard posing as ice cream. All garnishes edible and appropriately complementing the foods. No marbles in the soup to give it heft. After the photos were taken, he and his friends and hosts sat down to eat. I know, because I was there several times. And that’s how we shot my book. And it’s how I get the photos for my blog: I simply pull out my camera right before we eat what I’ve made.
Hope you have a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year.
12/24/07 from Pat Cantor in New York:


A grand and happy holiday to you and yours. I checked your blog to see if you had a recipe for collards (to see if you had a twist I didn’t know about). And bless your heart, you do them the way I’ve adapted. In olive oil! I figured that when you have a pork loin roast, black-eyed peas (avec ham hock) for New Years’ Eve, then the collards could do with a simpler, less porky touch. Of course, I’m convinced that champagne helps to digest the pork fat!!

I’m enjoying your blog when I can snag a moment to read. You do have a way with words.


PAT CANTOR (missing your okra)

Dear Pat:

Four of us managed to eat a 12-pound ham in three days over the holidays, but we also went through a bottle or two of olive oil plus Lord Kows how many sticks of butter! I’m not sure how much of that the Champagne was able to cut through: my pants are tightern hell! The producer of my pickled okra went belly-up several years ago, but the recipe appears in two of my books and it’s very traditional. If you can find gorgeous okra (I found just-picked, unblemished okra in an Indian market in Hackensack, New Jersey, one summer), these pickles are not hard to make, though they are time-consuming since you have to pack the okra pods in the jars individually, one up and one down. If you can’t find beautiful okra, though, they are not worth it. Talk o’ Texas makes a decent product that is widely available. Buy their HOT.

Hope you have a happy and healthy new year. The recipe follows.

Pickled Okra (from Hoppin’ John’s Charleston, Beaufort & Savannah)

These are the favorite lowcountry pickle, possibly because they are time-consuming to make: you must pack the okra pods tightly in the jars, alternating one up and one down so as to fill the jar and to prevent them from floating to the top. Use only freshly picked, bright green, blemish-free okra, no more than finger-long. Each pound of okra will yield two pints of pickles. You can multiply this recipe with no problem.

1 pound small young okra pods, all the same size
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 hot peppers
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 cup water
1 heaping tablespoon salt
2 cups white vinegar
Wash the okra and trim the stems a little, but not down into the pod. Pack the okra tightly in 2 sterilized wide-mouthed pint jars, alternating stems up and stems down. Divide the garlic, peppers, and mustard between the jars.
Bring the water, salt, and vinegar to a boil, then pour it over the okra to within 1/2 inch of the rims. Place a lid and ring on each jar, lower the jars in a water bath, and process at a full boil for 10 minutes.
Remove the jars from the bath and allow to cool completely. If the lids have not sealed, refrigerate the pickles. Store the pickles for 2 months, then chill before serving.
Makes 2 pints.
11/18/07 From Ann Bullock, who lives on the Gulf Coast:
I just enjoyed reading your November blog. I was lucky enough to have attended a seated dinner once in the Library of Congress .. the blog brought forth memories of my grandmother ‘s fruit cakes which were wonderful. She made scads of them right after Thanksgiving . Once I asked her for her recipe and she started “first I make a pound cake.”
I asked her how to make a pound cake and her reply was “Silly fool, it’s a pound of butter a, pound of sugar, a pound of eggs and a pound of flour . ..”
I just finished a soup in my slow cooker that turned out great on a damp cool day. I put olive oil in the bottom of the cooker. I toasted sliced day old french bread, coated with olive oil. After the olive oil in the cooker I put a thin sliced yellow onion and two garlic cloves . Then a minced boc cabbage, then the toasted bread. I covered the dry ingredients with chicken stock, just to the top. Put the lid on, cooked on low for about four hours . Served with parmesean cheese sprinkled on top and a bit of olive oil (I ordered some from Portugal.)
Happy Thanksgiving. We’re off to Fairhope for the day.
Dear Ann,
Thanks so much for your holiday greetings. I, too, made a Portuguese-influenced soup this weekend, which I’ll post soon. I love those bread soups they serve all around the Mediterranean and wonder why they never caught on here (perhaps because good bread — the essential ingredient — was so hard to find in this country for so long?).
Take care and have a happy and safe Thanksgiving as well. Our plans are all up in the air because of a death. Seems they always seem to happen around the holidays.
09/11/07 Throughout the 90s, I was one of the lucky people who were invited to go along with Arlene Wanderman, the charismatic spokesperson for the International Olive Oil Council, a once powerful trade group, on treks through the Mediterranean olive-oil-producing countries to learn about, and write about, what I came to call “Mediterranean Gold.” I got to know many of the world’s best food writers as we traveled the cities and backroads of Spain, Italy, and Portugal. Paula Wolfert was often on the trips. Here’s a photo I took of Paula on a trip to the northernmost olive-producing region in Europe (near Brescia, in Lombardy). And here’s a photo she took of me picking olives near Baena, in Andalucía, in southern Spain.
I recently got the following email from her:

Hi John,

Just spent the last half hour reading through your blog. You are fabulous…. Well, I actually knew that! But it was fun to read you…it was as if you were in the room with me…or more to my memory in a bus!!!

You look great. You sound great. I’ve bookmarked the blog so I’ll be visiting from time to time.
08/21/07 Just as I was finishing canning “Chow Chow,” UPS arrived at the door with a package from Henny Hall (see 08/15, below).
Henny, your peaches and blueberries arrived safe and sound! Thank you so much. I owe you!!! (The peaches and blueberries are on the right in the photo.)
P. S. (The next morning) I had both with toast this morning and they are delicious. The blueberries taste almost as though they’re right off the vine, but I love the overripe lushness of the peaches. They remind me of eating them fresh over the sink, the pink juice dripping down my arms!

08/16/07 From Lindeke Mills of James Island, South Carolina:

Hi John:
Greetings from James Island! I was delighted to get your Blog. I’ve thought of you off and on this summer: when I put up pickled okra and dilled green beans from your recipes and also when my son or one of my nieces drops yet another of the blue Japanese porcelain plates [that I bought from you]…. With the arrival of August in Charleston I’ve finished my preserving for the year. I set aside Blueberry-Peach jam (blueberries from Leland Farms, John’s Island; peaches from Boone Hall Plantation, recipe from the Post & Courier years ago), fig jam from the trees in my father’s back yard and cherry preserves from a too-good-to-be-true sale at Harris Teeter (I don’t think we grow cherries in Charleston).
No canned tomatoes this year. It is too depressing to try to find a local tomato field that hasn’t become a housing development. I can’t grow tomatoes where I live on a tidal creek. When I plant them in the yard, the marsh rats get them. When I plant them in containers on the deck which is elevated 12 feet above the creek, not only do the marsh rats still get them, but the rats also decide to move into the house with us. Not good! Have you ever made Loquat jelly? You will recall Loquat trees are so very common around here. My husband and father decided they couldn’t stand to see the fruit go to waste and persuaded me to make the jelly. Never again! Too much work and I didn’t think the jelly was distinctive or tasty enough to justify the effort. Also, I suspect that everyone from out of state who received a jar probably never opened it because they weren’t sure what a Loquat might be.
At any rate, classes start at the College of Charleston next week, so it is time for my husband and me to get out of the kitchen and back to the classroom.
Best wishes to you and Mikel. Give Pantaloon [the dog] a scratch for me.
Lindeke Mills

Dear Linde,
Thanks for the great email! I can sympathize with you about rats. I have not had one single melon (of the hundreds that were on the vines) from our community garden, and the only tomatoes I’ve had I had to pick green and bring home to ripen. Mostly rats, but squirrels, too, and, I’m afraid, possums and raccoons as well. Rock Creek Park is just two blocks away from our garden, and it’s 1800 acres of utter wildness.
As for loquats, I honestly don’t remember if I’ve made jam or not. When I worked on the lowcountry book for years and years, I tried EVERYTHING. But most of the loquats in Charleston were planted in late Victorian times when Asian ornamentals were extremely popular, and they are not the best varieties for fruit. When I lived in Genoa, Italy, loquats (nespoli) were everywhere, as they are on the French Riviera as well (where they’re called nèfles, or nesples, or mespila), but they’re much fleshier, much more like apricots, recipes for which are generally interchangeable. In Charleston, I never heard them called anything but “Japanese plums,” and, before all the gentrification, when I first opened my store, small children would come around during their early season (as I recall, they were the first fruits of the year, during the Spoleto Festival) selling them. I doubt that anyone other than some “Olde Charleston” folks and me bought them. In England, they’re called medlars, from the German, but medlar also refers to another fruit, native to Persia, also popular in Victorian times. Some sources say that the Italian nespole refers to it, but, when I lived there, what we called nespoli were loquats. As is often the case, the common names are a mess to decifer: According to the OED, medlar originally referred to another tree, Mespilus germanica, also grown for its fruit, which, according to Hortus Third, is “edible after frost….when fully ripe, or made into preserves.” Otherwise, it is highly astringent, like an unripe persimmon. But medlar has come to mean the fruits of various other trees, “as Neapolitan or Oriental Medlar, the AZAROLE, Crataegus azarolus. Japanese Medlar, the LOQUAT.” This last, in other words, Charleston’s loquats (Eriobotrya japonica). The best fruits are grown on grafted trees; there are both white-fleshed and yellow- or orange-fleshed varieties.
Joann Yaeger, the brilliant chef-owner of Charleston’s former Café Piccolo and The Primerose House, developed a loquat tart recipe for me for my first book. It seemed a shame not to offer a recipe for this common Charleston dooryard fruit. But, given what a pain they are to prepare, as you and I both know, a better way to preserve this fruit might be to make a “brandy” from it, the way they do in Bermuda. It’s similar to the Cherry Bounce described both in my lowcountry book and on my blog. On Bermuda, it’s made with rock candy and gin, or more elaborately with brandy instead of gin and the addition of such spices as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice.

And here’s what I wrote in Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking:
Loquat or Apricot Tart

The loquat, most often called “Japanese plum” in Charleston, is a common tree of dooryards and gardens in the Lowcountry. Most of the trees have been cultivated from unimproved seedlings in this century as ornamentals; the fruits are undersized and full of the large seeds. The juicy, firm texture of the fruits, which resemble apricots, make them nonetheless a local favorite, particularly out of hand.
The season for ripe fruit (and it must, indeed, be ripe to softness to be edible) is brief; they are the first fruits of summer to arrive. Some years the fruits ripen in early April; other years they are still on the trees when the Spoleto Festival ends in early June. Neighborhood children love to climb the trees; they go door-to-door offering the fruits for sale. The following is a recipe from Joann Yaeger, a local pastry chef.
Apricots, another exotic fruit favored for Charleston courtyards, can be substituted in this recipe. If you have neither fresh apricots nor loquats, used dried apricots soaked in water overnight. (Instructions follow the recipe.)
1/2 pound butter
3 ounces sugar (about 1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
1/4 cup milk
2 cups flour, plus flour for dusting
1/4 cup apricot jam
2 cups seeded loquats, apricots, or rehydrated dried apricots (see below)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1-2 tablespoons sugar
     Grease a 9″ or 10″ tart pan and set aside. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, add the sugar to the butter and beat well. Add the extract and the milk and continue to beat until well-blended. Turn the mixer to low, and sift the flour into the mixture a little at a time until it is all incorporated into the dough. Preheat the oven to 350º.
     Turn the dough onto a floured surface and roll out about 1/2″ thick. Score off a section of the dough big enough to fill the pan. Roll that section up onto the rolling pin, then unroll it into the tart pan. Lightly press into place. Brush a layer of jam onto the tart, then add the fruit, interspersing it with little pinches of the remaining dough. Sprinkle with the nuts, then sprinkle the entire tart with sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes, or until the dough is evenly browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yield: 8-10 servings.

Note: For 2 cups of rehydrated apricots, fill a 2-cup measuring cup loosely with dried apricots. Fill with water to barely above the 2-cup mark. Pour the water into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the apricots, stir well, remove from the heat, and cover. Let stand overnight.

I hope I haven’t bored you to tears. Thanks again for writing.


08/16/07 from Scottie Cochran of Denison University (Granville, Ohio):



My husband and I met you in the mid-1990s in your shop in Charleston and have followed your progress since. We’re thrilled to know you’re living in DC now. We loved our life there from 1992-2000 in Palisades, and that is where we will retire in a few years, after I finish my work as Director of Libraries at Denison University, 25 miles east of Columbus, OH.
Here’s an odd coincidence, though I rarely have time to cook your stone-ground grits, I hauled some out of the freezer this past Sunday and made them, along with sliced tomatoes, crisp bacon, cinnamon toast, juice, and coffee. YUM! You can see for yourself. Here’s my blog, created for my 89 year-old Mom in Charlotte, NC. You’ll see the top three photos include central Ohio’s summer vegetable bounty, me stirring your grits, and the cloth bag the grits came in.
Thanks for sending along your new blog.
Scottie Cochrane


8/15/07 from my friend Henny Hall on Edisto Island, South Carolina:
Hi there–so glad I received your “blog” …. Scott Dantzler brought me peaches last week—they have been OK this year –not great, but OK. I wondered if you had ever done it this way — I learned this from our housekeeper many years ago — wash the peaches — cut them chunky-skins on — add the pits (making sure to count them, especially if you are imbibing while preserving) — the pectin is in the pits?? The peaches he brought needed little sugar — they were very ripe — I truly think he got them for his hogs but brought them to me first — I used about a scant 1 cup sugar to 4 BIG cups of peaches — they came out perfect — not too sugary, not too sweet — and set up like magic.
I got “boo-berries” from Mrs. Newton in Adam’s Run this year–I love the way she plants a row for animals, a row for humans, and on and on—they had no sugar added–not a speck–set up perfectly–all I boiled was blueberries and a squirt of lemon juice ( and I am having good luck growing my own lemons and Key Limes [thank you Alfred Burnside for the key lime plants]) — I put up 36 half-pints. Would be delighted to send one to you and Mikel…. Bud Skidmore (who has the daylily farm at the end of Steamboat Landing) brought me 3 quarts of the tiniest field peas—they are delightful……and John–what is a Dixie-Lee pea? My nephew keeps asking if we grow them down on Edisto? I have NO idea what he is talking about? Do you?
I am SO happy to know that you two love it there –a wonderful city. I know you will always remember where you got your feet wet–and I know you will not miss these 105+ days….
I will get preserves off to you two this week—if you find the peach too sweet–cut it with a mustard base BBQ sauce and it would be great basting a pork loin or ribbies !!! …
Let me know when you receive. Take good care and we will talk again soon.
Love, Henny


Hey Henny,
I don’t know if there’s pectin in peach pits or not but it seems to me a lot of recipes call for added pectin (which I’ve never used in a jam recipe, ever!). I do know that peach pits and leaves (as well as wild cherries and the pits of rose family members —  apples, apricots, plums, etc.) contain some cyanide, but I crack open the pits and add the almond-like kernels to peach ice cream and I haven’t died yet! The recipe is in my lowcountry book, and when it was released in 1992, I got a call from Barbara Kafka warning me that I was poisoning my readers! Today’s cultivated almonds, closely related to peach pits, pose no threat, and I doubt that peach pits do, either. I love the heady almond taste that the kernels add to the ice cream.
As for Dixie Lees, it seems they are yet another of the hundreds of varieties of cowpeas (see June 2007) that are grown throughout the South. I’m not familiar with them, but they are a vining crowder type. Call Clemson! I look forward to the preserves, a million thanks!!!