Judging from the number of places in San Francisco that are serving fried chicken these days, I’d say Southern food is due for a revival. We may not experience the full range that Southern food has to offer, but certain items, such as biscuits, can create a frenzy around these parts.
Somehow the food of the South feels like our nation’s comfort food. In addition to fried chicken and biscuits, consider macaroni and cheese, cheesy grits, red beans and rice, cobbler, cornbread, Hopping John, sweet potato pie. All of these dishes have a soothing effect, even for those of us who didn’t grow up eating them. But Southern food also has many specialties that don’t often make it out of the South, and so it makes sense to explore the cuisine in one of two recent Southern cookbooks, the products of down home culinary institutions .
The Lee Bothers who are now located in New York, share a taste of their South Carolina home with the rest of us. Famous for their boiled peanuts, they also sell preserves, pickles, relishes, canned greens, hominy, black walnuts and a variety of other specialties. Send them two dollars, and you will be permanently placed on their mailing list and receive their stitched catalogues.
Now the Lee Brothers have come out with a cookbook, The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook appropriately subtitled, Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-Be-Southerners. This book has lots of recipes that you probably never heard of before. Some are very traditional like Benne Wafers, others like Saigon Hoppin’ John with the addition of coconut milk, cilantro, ginger and lemongrass, are a bit newfangled. This is a modern book, with a homegrown sensibility. The Lee Brothers share their secrets and tips and make you feel like family. Here is their recipe for pralines.
Makes 12 2-inch pralines, enough for 6 people
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup tightly packed light brown sugar
2 pinches salt
1/2 cup half and half
1 cup chopped pecans
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
In a 3 – 4 quart saucepan with a heavy bottom, combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, sale, and half-and-half. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon or heatproof rubber spatula, until the sugars have dissolved and the liquid just begins to simmer, about 01 minutes.
2. Add the pecans and butter and simmer, stirring, until the temperature reads 230 degrees on a candy thermometer. add the vanilla, turn off the heat, and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens perceptibly, to about the viscosity of beaten egg yolks, 4 to 8 minutes.
3. Ladle or spoon a little less than 1 tablespoon of the syrup onto greased was paper, creating a puddle that is approximately 2 inches in diameter. Repeat until all the syrup has been used. Cool the pralines for 10 minutes, until they harden and are cool enough to handle.
4. Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid, separating each layer with a sheet of waxed paper. The pralines will keep at room temperature for 3 or 4 days.
The other Southern cookbook on shelves now is Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant Cookbook, A Lifetime of Recipes from the Shenandoah Valley. This is a book that brings to light the recipes of a single mother who in 1952 opened a restaurant in the Appalachians. While the Lee Brothers share their family stories, here recipes are set in the context of the extended Rowe restaurant family, including employees and customers. From Scalloped Tomatoes, to Buttermilk Pie this book has the classics that have withstood the test of time. Filled with stories and photographs, the cookbook reads like a memoir and makes you hungry for more. This spoon bread is described as “a cross between a cornmeal souffle and polenta”. Sounds like more comfort food to me!
4 cups milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup cornmeal
4 eggs, lightly beaten
6 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butte a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.
Heat the milk and butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. When the milk begins to steam, add the cornmeal and cook, whisking constantly , for two minutes, until smooth. Remove from the hat and let cool and thicken slightly.
Whisk the eggs, sugar, baking powder , and the salt together in a bowl. Add the egg mixture to the cooled cornmeal mixture and mix well. Scrape the batter in the prepared baking dish and bakes for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown. Serve hot with butter.