09 April 2011

Weekend Cooking: Around the Southern Table by Sarah Belk

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.


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.
Of course, I do love the sound of the recipes too! Before I get to the food, I want to give you a sense of Belk's style. Here's quote from her introduction to catfish:
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

Serves 4
  • 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)
Cut carrots into 1½-inch pieces. Cut larger pieces lengthwise into sixths or eights; cut smaller pieces lengthwise into fourths, leaving tips of carrots whole if they are slender. (The idea is to make sure all the pieces are approximately the same length and width so they will cook evenly.)

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
ISBN-13: 0671528335

There is a MR LINKY associated with this feature; if you can't see it, please click on the title of this post to find everyone's links.


Uniflame 4/9/11, 6:13 AM  

How nice to have a cookbook for this long and that it still manages to inspire you :)

I have a cookbook review myself this week for weekend cooking :) Together with Chinoiseries.

Have a nice weekend :)

Chinoiseries 4/9/11, 6:18 AM  

Beth, those are the best cookbooks, the ones that not only contain wonderful (almost timeless) recipes, but area also a joy to read :)

The carrot & parsnip dish sounds really good, I'll have to try it sometime! What do you suggest to serve it with? Bread for example?

Beth F 4/9/11, 6:25 AM  

I generally just serve this as a side dish to some kind of simple meat -- such as grilled chicken breasts or lamb chops. For those who don't eat meat, hummmm, perhaps as side dish to a sandwich or soup?

I bet these veggies would look pretty as a garnish to black bean or split pea soup.

Chinoiseries 4/9/11, 6:28 AM  

Great idea, I think they'll pair well with a hearty bean/pea soup :)

Kaye 4/9/11, 6:38 AM  

I love cook books that have historical info. This one sounds like a real winner!

Julie Goucher 4/9/11, 7:03 AM  

This book sounds great. Thanks for sharing the recipe. I am off to explore Amazon and see if I can see some more details as the mix with history appeals to me.

Beth F 4/9/11, 7:13 AM  

I didn't put affiliate links in because I wasn't sure if the book was still readily available, but it's definitely worth owning.

Rikki 4/9/11, 7:19 AM  

This sounds very interesting. I also like the writing style, makes you want to go and start cooking right away. I wouldn't worry about the missing pictures. It can be very liberating to not know what the finished dish is supposed to look like.

TheBookGirl 4/9/11, 7:50 AM  

This cookbook sounds wonderful...I love the use of literary quotes to introduce the recipes :)

We just had parsnips for dinner last night, one of my favorite veggies; I paired them with sweet potatoes.
I've often used orange juice with carrots, but never with parnsips; I'll have to try this recipe soon.

Carol @ There's Always Thyme to Cook 4/9/11, 8:13 AM  

This books sounds right up my alley! I love cookbooks that aren't all recipe, and I definitely agree about the pics! The recipe sounds delicious, having cooked with chervil that much, it's very nice!

Julie P. 4/9/11, 8:47 AM  

I'm getting hungry just reading those descriptions.

JoAnn 4/9/11, 9:04 AM  

I love cookbooks that include more than just recipes and photographs are a must for me, too!

bermudaonion 4/9/11, 9:12 AM  

Even though I've spent most of my life in the South, I'm generally not a fan of Southern cooking. My mother cooked a lot of Eastern European food since her parents immigrated from there. This cookbook does sound like it's worth checking out.

caite 4/9/11, 9:16 AM  

I love carrots and parsnips together...a very Irish dish too. They look so nice together but I have never tried it with the orange juice (have with carrots but not together) and I would love to try the chervil....never having tasted it.

Swapna 4/9/11, 10:00 AM  

I find that I'd rather just go out and buy Southern food than cook it at home. Still, this cookbook sounds interesting!

Meg @ write meg! 4/9/11, 10:07 AM  

Ooh, I love cookbooks that provide context and historical information, too. Sounds like a good one!

Rebecca Rasmussen 4/9/11, 10:15 AM  

That recipe sounds amazing -- orange butter? I am in! So very in. Happy Saturday!

Nan 4/9/11, 10:27 AM  

Nuthin' cookin' this weekend, but my whole week was involved in a potato pancake marathon to figure out which recipes we loved and which we didn't. I gave a link just to my blog address, and if anyone is interested they can read the daily postings. :<)

Julie Goucher 4/9/11, 11:10 AM  

I have had another read. Not surprisingly, the local library does not have it in the catalogue. Amazon.co.uk has copies raging in price from £6 to £44!

Can someone tell me please what is a Grit?

Michelle 4/9/11, 11:59 AM  

Cookbooks that tell stories seem like they would be an even better investment. You'd be more inclined to go back even when not in the kitchen!

Margot 4/9/11, 12:29 PM  

I know exactly the type of cookbook this one is. It's enjoyable to just sit with a favorite book like this. It's similar to a visit with an old friend. I have a few like this that I've written notes in the books, like when and who I fixed a dish for, etc. It becomes a memory book.

Heather 4/9/11, 12:59 PM  

This dish sounds wonderful. I like the history aspect of the book. Learning about the ingredients I use can be so helpful and interesting.

Diann 4/9/11, 1:04 PM  

Sounds like a great book to go though on a regular basis. However, I am with you, I really like to have pictures especially my first time making a recipe. I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Marie 4/9/11, 6:33 PM  

I love learning historical information about food. Thanks for the recipe. I adore parsnips!

Ikkin-bot 4/9/11, 7:14 PM  

Mine is about green onion cakes. Yum

Shydub 4/9/11, 8:05 PM  

I am joining your weekend cooking , my first entry

Meg @ A Bookish Affair 4/10/11, 5:30 PM  

I love southern cooking but haven't done a whole bunch of it myself.

- Meg
A Bookish Affair

Darlene 4/11/11, 2:01 PM  

This sounds like a fantastic cookbook with the historical tidbits, etc but I really like a cookbook to have pictures. It's often what draws me to trying to make it myself.

ann@Apples and Twinkies 4/15/11, 3:03 PM  

Thanks for hosting Weekend Cooking!

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