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This week, I featured Carolyn Hart's Death on Demand Mystery series as part of the Moonlighting for Murder event hosted by Jen of Jen's Book Thoughts. Because the novels are set on an island off the coast of South Carolina, I thought it'd be fun to feature a southern cookbook as a sort of tie-in.
Although I've had Sarah Belk's Around the Southern Table since the early 1990s, I haven't cooked out of it as much as I'd like. On the other hand, I have read it cover to cover, I browse through it on occasion, and I use it as a reference.
This is the type of cookbook that holds a number of attractions for me besides the recipes. Here are some of the highlights:
- The book contains historical information about many of the ingredients. (I didn't know Thomas Jefferson grew pomegranates.)
- I love the literary quotes that introduce many of the recipes (from Carson McCullers to Pat Conroy to Civil War diaries).
- I appreciate that Belk has slightly modernized dishes (less lard, more vegetable oil).
- Belk has an easy to read, personable writing style.
Catfish is one of those foods whose basic goodness transcends all economic and social levels. Catfish suppers--complete with hush puppies, fries, coleslaw, and plenty of iced tea--create a kind of "get-down" camaraderie that is as warm and genuine as Southern hospitality itself. (p. 151)And here she is talking about her cornmeal shortcakes with peaches and cream:
Whenever I indulge in a fresh peach, the kind so ripe and juicy you have to eat over the sink, my mind leaps back to summer mornings in my grandmother's kitchen where the scent from bowlfuls of the fruit permeated the entire room. The glorious simplicity of perfectly ripe peaches inspired this dessert. (p. 397)Okay, so what about the recipes? Belk gives us the full range, from biscuits and breakfast to barbecue and desserts. As I mentioned, many of the recipes have been updated to eliminate some of the fats, but Belk still uses enough cream, butter, and bacon to keep the authentic flavors. Most of the ingredients are easy to find, even for a northerner living in a small town. Others, especially some of the fish and seafood, are not readily available in my area.
Belk has provided recipes for southern classics like cheese and grits, fried oysters, and hoppin' John. Her updated dishes include a soba noodle salad with cucumbers and spicy peanut dressing, smoked chicken salad with dried cherries and walnuts, and pork with apple-thyme sauce.
The index is very well compiled, making it easy to find what you're looking for. And I especially like chapter on beverages, which includes historical information about beer, wine, whiskey, and tea. There is a list of southern vineyards and a section with mail-order information (although it was put together before the days of easy Internet access).
My only complaint is that there are no photos or drawings in the cookbook. When a dish is completely new to me, I appreciate knowing what it's supposed to look like when I go to serve it.
Here's a vegetable dish I make in the winter months.
Carrots and Parsnips with Orange Butter and Chervil
- ½ pound carrots, trimmed and peeled
- 1½ cups freshly squeezed orange juice (may substitute half grapefruit juice)
- ½ pound parsnips, trimmed and peeled
- 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Fresh chervil sprigs, to garnish (I've used parsley)
In medium saucepan bring orange juice to boil. Add carrots, cover, and simmer 3 minutes. Meanwhile, peel parsnips and slice to same size as carrots. Add parsnips to carrots and simmer covered 3 to 5 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. With slotted spoon, transfer vegetables to serving dish and cover tightly to keep warm.
Bring orange to boil over high heat and reduce to 3 tablespoons. Off the heat, tilt pan and whisk in butter, piece by piece, allowing each piece to become thoroughly incorporated before adding next, returning pan to very low heat if sauce becomes too cool. Season with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over vegetables, garnish with chervil, and serve immediately.
Published by Simon & Schuster, 1991
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