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Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking

Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking

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Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking

4.5/5 (3 évaluations)
2,102 pages
16 heures
Nov 1, 2012


Through more than 600 recipes and hundreds of step-by-step photographs, Dupree and Graubart make it easy to learn the techniques for creating the South’s fabulous cuisine. From basics such as cleaning vegetables and scrubbing a country ham, to show-off skills like making a soufflé and turning out the perfect biscuit—all are explained and pictured with clarity and plenty of stories that entertain. Traditional Southern recipes and ingredients are also given modern twists to make them relevant for today’s healthy lifestyle.

Nov 1, 2012

À propos de l'auteur

NATHALIE DUPREE is a recipient of the Cordon Bleu Advanced Certificate. She has hosted more than three hundred top-rated television cooking shows on PBS, the Learning Channel, Star TV, and the Food Network. She founded Rich's Cooking School in 1972 and has taught more than ten thousand students around the world. She is the author of eleven cookbooks, including New Southern Cooking and Nathalie Dupree's Southern Memories (both Georgia) and her most recent, Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking. She lives in Charleston, South Carolina, with her husband, Jack Bass.

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Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking - Nathalie Dupree



It is with humility and gratitude to those who have gone ahead that we thank them for their legacy. From the nameless slaves and cooks who tended crops and stoked fires, to those who wrote down what they cooked and what they ate, we thank you. Recipe collections begun by Martha Washington (1749), Thomas Jefferson (1780), Mary Randolph (1824), Sarah Rutledge (1864), Mrs. A. P. Hill (1867), and Mrs. S. R. Dull (1928) eventually found their way into print, providing hundreds of receipts of inspiration. Community cookbooks published throughout the South are a source of pride here, and for good reason. Honest food is found between their pages.

We look to our contemporaries in the field and thank them for keeping the South on the minds of cooks across the United States: John Egerton, John Folse, Damon Lee Fowler, Rebecca Lang, Dorie Sanders, David Shields, Virginia Willis, and others. We miss the nearness of Edna Lewis but know this collection would make her smile, just knowing more people will learn the true techniques of Southern cooking.

Our primary debt, however, is to those who have helped so generously along the way, starting with Kate Almand and Grace Reeves at Nathalie’s Restaurant; those from Rich’s cooking school, starting with Charles Gandy and Elise Griffin and ending ten years later with Carol Smaglinski and Margaret-Anne Surber; those of the first television crew, starting with Forsythia Chang, Anne Galbraith, and Gena Berry, then Ray Overton, and ending fifteen years later with Virginia Willis and Mary Moore; and those who worked so assiduously on this book, starting with Deidre Schipani for her wisdom and ending with intern Mary Katherine Wyeth, who, too, quickly became a diligent cook and recipe tester. We have credited many of their recipes here. Beth Price was our ballast when we felt we were sinking, always there to read another round of edited recipes, as well as devise and coordinate our recipe testing by outside testers. Our loyal friends and fans have helped us write a better book, especially our battery of a dozen proofreaders, including Carol Kay, Sarah Gaede, Sally Young, and Pat Royalty. We wish we could name you all.

We are grateful as well for our patient families and friends, who during the last few weeks of our editing, got nothing to eat without fixing it themselves and put up with our bleary eyes and short tempers. That said, for five years they reaped the benefits of eating well.

We could not have done this book without those at Gibbs Smith publishing: Christopher Robbins, for pushing us to do it, and most importantly, our hard-working and loyal editor, Madge Baird, and production editor/designer, Melissa Dymock. And right up to the bitter end, our talented and supremely dedicated photographer, Rick McKee, who was there to shoot a dish or ingredient on a moment’s notice.

It is difficult to close the acknowledgements, fearing we have omitted someone who should appear between these covers. Whoever you may be, please accept our appreciation for your contribution to this tome, and our sincere apology for our oversight.

Foreword, by Pat Conroy

In the summer of 1988, I served as best man in the wedding of Cliff and Cynthia Graubart in a civil ceremony of restrained elegance. It took place in a museum at the Campidoglio on a hill overlooking the city of Rome, Italy. The famous Southern cookbook writer Nathalie Dupree was the matron of honor.

Later that evening, I hosted a party on my rooftop terrace overlooking the Tiber River. Nathalie cooked the meal that night with me serving as errand boy and her sous chef. Nathalie prepared a wedding dinner that was one of the finest meals I ever ate under the Roman stars in my three years of magical eating in Italy. What the Italians did not know that night was that Nathalie Dupree had managed to fix a Southern feast in a kitchen with a view of St. Peters Cathedral and the Vatican in the windows behind her. Everything that Nathalie Dupree touches turns to gold. Now she has teamed up with the bride of that oft-celebrated wedding in Rome and they have produced this definitive and seminal work.

I’ve carried a lifetime passion for the reading pleasure I can get from Southern cookbooks and consider Southern cooking to be one of the great cuisines of the world. When they come out, I try to read them all and buy them all. I’ve met the Lee Brothers, and the great Frank Stitt, and Jean Anderson and Joe Dabney. I wrote an introduction to the superb novelist Janice Owens’ hilarious and moving cookbook Cracker Kitchen, wrote one for Southern Living’s Comfort Food, and another for my former student on Daufuskie, Sallie Ann Robinson, who published her delightful cookbook Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way in 2003. For many years now I’ve known my way around Southern letters and Southern cuisine.

Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking is the most exhaustive and well researched volume on Southern cooking ever published. It is massive in its sheer size and the audacity of its ambition. The book certainly looks like a candidate to replace Mrs. H. R. Dull’s classic 1928 cookbook, Southern Cooking. Its range is large and its scope is encyclopedic. I had no idea there were this many recipes for Southern food popping out from ovens in kitchens below the Mason-Dixon line. But the true beauty of this book is the clarity and ease that will lend confidence to the beginning cook and expertise and knowledge to the gifted one. My piecrusts have always been mysterious messes, but not after I read Nathalie and Cynthia’s cogent explanation of the art. My fried chicken has never been as good as my mother’s or as bad as my grandmother’s, but these two writers unlock the secrets for an impatient, itchy cook like me. They make baking cakes and pies seem simple and joyous and well—a piece of cake to me. Their recipes for vegetables are mouthwatering, and the ones for fish make me happy to be alive and living beside salt water and having access to pristine, clear water rivers flowing through the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

In a long-ago place, Nathalie Dupree was my first cooking teacher in downtown Atlanta’s mythical Rich’s Department Store. She was a wonderful, eccentric teacher who made cooking seem like it was one of the most wonderful ways to spend a human life. Nathalie began to invite me to her sumptuous dinner parties and her guests were always the most interesting people in Atlanta at any given time. The talk was high spirited and animated and good natured. Famous chefs and cookbook writers made their way to Nathalie’s table in the eighties, and Cynthia Graubart met her future husband, Cliff, at one of Nathalie’s soirées. Although I always thought Cliff was set up and that Nathalie was playing matchmaker for Cynthia, the producer of Nathalie’s cooking show at that time. Cliff was a Jewish boy from Brooklyn, and the most Southern food he’d eaten when I met him was a bagel. Cynthia is a splendid cook in her own right, and the marriage has prospered as Cliff sits down to magnificent Southern meals every day of his life, though I’ve caught him backsliding when I find him in a deli slathering cream cheese and lox on a poppy seed bagel.

So this glorious cookbook comes into our Southern world as celebration, compendium, and almost a sacred text. I feel I have an intimate and deeply personal connection to this book. Cynthia Graubart was the beautiful bride standing on the Campidoglio in Rome as Nathalie Dupree caught the flung bouquet that Cynthia tossed in the air behind her.

I thought about that Roman wedding the whole time I was reading this book and how the arc of history has a way of inflating or repeating itself. But I still remember the pleasure of those Roman friends who raved over the quality of Nathalie’s meal that night, so exotic, so original, so refined in its execution. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that Nathalie waltzed into a country with one of the great cuisines of the planet humming in trattorias all around her, yet she paid homage to the food and people of the American South. She fixed one of the finest Southern meals I’ve ever eaten.

Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking is destined, I think, to become one of those classics of the breed like the inimitable Junior League cookbook Charleston Receipts. It imparts wisdom, a dash of history, a pinch of philosophy, and a wagon load of good eating. It is a splendid achievement.

—Pat Conroy

The Very Beginning

The day I met Julia Child, in June 1971, my last day at Cordon Bleu in London, she toured the school and came to see the results of our final exams. I was brought out to meet her, as I was the only American student in the Advanced Certificate class graduating that day. I had never heard of her, as I had been living in London for a couple of years and had never seen a cooking show on television. In spite of my ignorance, I was drawn to the commanding presence of this woman. Later, on Marylebone Lane in London in front of the Cordon Bleu, I ran into her and asked her what I should do with the rest of my life.

She answered, Teach cooking. Open a cooking school. We need cooking schools in America. I never forgot the advice given to me by this stranger who had only known me five minutes. I had no idea how to teach anything, much less cooking. David, my favorite former husband, and I left London and went to Majorca, where we wound up working in a restaurant—he as bookkeeper, I as chef—without either of us speaking the language or having ever been inside a restaurant kitchen. At the end of the season and a tremendous learning curve, we returned to the United States, to Atlanta, where my father and David’s parents lived. I cooked two carrot cakes a day for a restaurant until it was time to move to fifteen acres of land we had jointly purchased with his stepmother, Celeste Dupree, in rural Georgia, midway between Social Circle and Covington, Georgia, forty miles east of Atlanta, across from the Tri-County Cattle Auction Barn and Hub Junction.

There, with the help of my brother, we built a kitchen and restaurant inside an old machine shop warehouse we had converted into an antique shop. There was no money for air-conditioning, but then we hadn’t had air-conditioning in Majorca, either. By the next summer, we had put a window unit in the small dining room, and ultimately, one in the kitchen.

We grew as much of our own food as we could, including exotics like shallots and almost all the summer vegetables for our restaurant. Our neighbors would give us baskets of produce they couldn’t use in exchange for free meals. We also grew an abundance of fresh herbs. To my knowledge, there was no other restaurant in Georgia using fresh herbs at that time except, perhaps, parsley. The majority of upscale restaurants in Atlanta served continental cuisine, while we served what we grew and what we could purchase locally in grocery stores or from local farmers. I did what I had done in Majorca: I combined the fresh produce available with classic European cooking techniques. This ultimately became the basis for what has been called New Southern Cooking. It is a continuation of this food that we are doing in this book.

In the mid-seventies, Rich’s Department Store asked me to start a cooking school in their Downtown Atlanta, Georgia, store. I called Julia and asked if I could come see her. She asked, What do we have to speak about? I told her she had suggested start a cooking school when we had met four years earlier. She clearly didn’t remember me. I bumbled on, asking her what kind of a cooking school I should start. Well, a full participation one, of course, she said. So I did.

Soon, I was doing what Julia had recommended—teaching. Customers at the restaurant had asked me to teach them, driving down from Atlanta, an hour each way with a few bottles of wine tucked in their cars (our restaurant was in a dry county). I formed friendships with those students that I still have today.

Rich’s Cooking School contained twenty stoves, for a maximum of forty students, in a separate room on the street level of their downtown store. We rarely had that many in a class, unless it was a demonstration class. Within ten years I had taught more than 10,000 students and stopped counting.

Julia and her husband, Paul, came to the school many times, promoting her books to large audiences. We grew to know each other, particularly after serving together on the board of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), our professional organization. She read stories I wrote for Brown’s Guide to Georgia about Southern cooking—classic techniques of biscuit making and fried chicken as well as mainstream recipes from the South.

On one of her visits we went up to the store’s book department. She purchased some Southern Junior League Cookbooks as well as one by Mrs. H. R. Dull, Southern Cooking. Julia said, off-handedly, Dearie, you should write a book about Southern cooking techniques one day like the articles you are doing. I felt uneasy, overwhelmed with a who, me? feeling and didn’t answer her.

So, here I am, more than thirty years and twelve books later, with that book she told me to write. She didn’t tell me to use the Mastering the Art of part of the name of her book, but out of reverence, I feel I must. It was her idea, after all.

Now I wish we had followed more of her advice. It was given to everyone as part of the introduction to Mastering the Art of French Cooking. As she said about culling her original manuscript, even on Bible paper it would take a stand to hold it. It has taken a lot of winnowing over the last five years to realize what she was saying. We removed 300 pages and a hundred photographs to get it down to 720.

She had other advice: Learn from anyone who knows one thing you don’t know, and never apologize. I have tried to do the learning but have not conquered the never apologize. Julia was one of a kind, a master teacher. Women cooks owe her a debt because she forged a path that wouldn’t have existed without her. I hope this book will pay back a little of what she did for me.

Why Did We Write This Book?

We dearly love the food of our region and the people who produce and cook it. We fantasize about Southern food, fix it for our families, and tote it to our friends.

This book is intended for people who want to know the whys and wherefores of Southern cooking, both historic and modern, and the steps towards achieving great results. It is written for those who have enough time to read the introductory information in the chapters, not the harried cook who simply has to get the food on the table in fifteen minutes for her—or, in these days, his—starving family, although we have some easy recipes, too. It uses almost no pre-packaged ingredients except those necessary in any pantry—canned tomatoes, rice, and a few others—although we have made good use of frozen foods on occasion, particularly those we put up ourselves. Geared towards home cooking as opposed to restaurant fare, it highlights recipes where learning a technique is required, with a bit of thought necessary. The book includes, as well, some recipes and techniques that are easily mastered using local ingredients presented in new ways, such as peaches and figs with country ham.

One of the results of the publication of my book New Southern Cooking (published in 1985 by Knopf and still in print twenty-seven years later by the University of Georgia Press) was the companion series for Public Television. Cynthia produced over eighty or more television shows in three series. The shows brought an outpouring from Southerners across the United States who wanted to learn to cook foods they remembered eating while growing up. They craved a taste they fondly remembered but didn’t know where to start, because the techniques were no longer in daily practice. Historically, the cooks preparing Southern dishes had made them seem like magic. To them, the needed techniques were part of the rote learning of their childhoods, repeated so much they were second nature. They craved their foods of their region—grits, for instance, used in new and exciting ways as well as traditional.

New Southern Cooking on PBS was groundbreaking. It showed the country how to prepare Southern dishes. Each show featured an entire meal, from starter to dessert. Every step for each dish was shown on camera with no made-up TV magic. When we made a bread, we had a bread made for every stage in a bread’s life, from yeast to slicing. The steps in the process for great Southern recipes like piecrusts, biscuits, and chicken and dumplings were demonstrated in great detail—possible mistakes and all—so the home cook could learn and then duplicate the foods dear to their hearts and memories. Like the book, it codified Southern cooking.

We traveled extensively throughout the Southeast, visiting more than eighty locations to show how our products were grown and produced—catching shrimp, going oystering, picking peaches, making hominy, watching grits being stone ground and peanut butter being made.

A new generation has grown up needing to learn the techniques of how to make biscuits, chicken-fried steak, and hoppin’ John, as well as cream corn, and seed a hot pepper. They see chefs do razzle-dazzle on television but, with a few notable exceptions, not teach the basics. Exotic ingredients flash into recipes, but sadly the basics, such as separating the yolk and white of an egg, are often omitted. We have set out to change this, to codify even further the methodology we used in the television series. We gathered methods and recipes of how to cook the iconic dishes of our region, as well as how to use the available ingredients in more modern ways—such as roasting okra rather than only frying it and yet achieving a crispy, snacking-good result.

Aided by an army of assistants and testers, we culled through recipes to retain the best of the best. We have collected and treasure the historic recipes that form the basis of our cooking, and we feature some of them here to show the silver thread that binds our Southern heritage to the dishes we still serve today.

We couldn’t include them all, so please don’t bemoan the lack of one famous old cake recipe your family always made. It may be on the cutting room floor, and, most likely, the techniques it used are in another recipe. There are hundreds more recipes to be collected and tested. We have focused this book on the basics—the techniques and traditions we feel should be captured, codified, and carried on to the next generation of cooks. There are many more techniques and recipes to be studied and reproduced. We recognize that this new generation will use our book merely as a starting point, adding to it as they gain in skill and experience.

What Makes Southern Food Unique?

Southerners lie awake at night and remember their grandmother’s biscuits, their Aunt Sue’s mashed potatoes and gravy, the grits from the mill down the road, and the boiled peanuts their grandfather taught them to cook in an large, well-used old can over a fire in the backyard. We crave our food and dream about it.

When we say Southerners, we don’t mean just the people living here now. We mean all the extended family of Southerners, who write us from Oregon, saying, My grandmother lived in Mississippi, and she made a hoecake for me every morning for breakfast when I stayed with her in the summer. It was lacy, and crisp, but solid in the middle. She’s gone now, but I sure would like to make that hoecake. Do you know how? The extended family lives all over the world now, perhaps not even having a relative here anymore.

Their family may have migrated as part of the Southern Diaspora, when African Americans went north or west in search of opportunity and greater freedom but remained segregated, either by choice or design. Both blacks and whites were lured away by the promise of cheaper, more fertile land, education, and advancement—the whites to Kansas before the Civil War or California’s Central Valley during the Great Depression in search of work to feed their families. Or a grandmother had married a soldier, who then moved her to another place from one of the many military bases that at one time dotted the South. But those families passed on the lore, some of them in the manner of African storytellers repeating generations of oral recitations, others through diaries and letters. They reminisced about family and childhood friends. They considered themselves and their children part of the Southern culture no matter how far they roamed. It was and remained part of their identity.

Early English colonists brought cattle, chickens, and pigs as well as curries and spices, wheat, oats, and other grains, along with root vegetables and beans. Africa, through ship captains and others, contributed peas, okra, melons, eggplants, benne (sesame) seeds, and rice. Indigenous foods included the all-important three sisters—corn, native beans and squash (including pumpkins)—as well as poke sallet (supplemented by English and African greens), muscadine and other wild grapes, plums, wild game, and seafood. Other arrivals included tomatoes from Central and South America.

Slavery prevailed in areas that depended on large quantities of cheap labor, such as regions growing cotton or rice. Rice, once prevalent in the lower coastal South, had a symbiotic relationship with slavery. Slaves from the rice-growing areas of Africa had the skill, knowledge, and ability to grow the finest rice in the world, bringing great wealth to the South. Hurricanes and the end of slave labor did away with what was left of rice as a primary crop in South Carolina near the end of the nineteenth century, although it is now a boutique crop and continues to be grown there. Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas continue as rice-growing states into the twenty-first century.

Southern foods vary according to the origins of the inhabitants, as well as the geography, weather, and soil content that range from the Lowcountry of Georgia and South Carolina to the mountains. We include more from some regions than others, to avoid duplication of technique as well as to avoid multiple variations of one recipe. For that reason we offer variations throughout, to hint at the ways others embellish the same recipe.

There are some decidedly Southern foods that are the buzzwords of what makes our cuisine unique. They include rice, grits, turnip and collard greens with pot likker, okra, pecans, peanuts, hot peppers, black-eyed and other peas. There are more things that make it special, such as our soft-wheat flour and our seafood and the textures of our food.

Corn, a native crop, was historically a crop of much value in the South. Grits, corn meal, and corn flour are integral by-products of corn. Cornbread is as popular as Kentucky whisky, originally called corn moonshine liquor. Corn was eaten freshly boiled and buttered off the cob, scraped to be creamed in a frying pan, or fried as fritters. Corn provided sustenance all year. We see it now in even more ways, modern succotash recipes contrasting with microwaved corn on the cob.

In Texas, only the eastern part remains oriented towards Southern food. West Texas is oriented towards Tex-Mex and Mexican food, as well as beef barbecue. Commercial corn products such as tortillas, along with guacamole and salsas, began finding a place in the Southern diet by the late 1980s, with Mexican and Hispanic foods gaining in the decades that followed.

Florida, too, is only part Southern in its cuisine, primarily the area where Cynthia grew up, near Jacksonville, and farther west into its boundaries with Georgia and Alabama.

Louisiana developed two distinctive cuisines, still independent of other Southern food. The Cajun cuisine, a form of country cooking created by French Acadians, is broad and flavorful. The holy trinity—onions, celery, and bell pepper—and the pope —garlic—are its base. Creole cuisine is New Orleans city food, a sophisticated, rich mélange of Spanish, French, Italian, and African dishes. In this book, we have not been able to do justice to this noble and exciting food. It is for someone else to do. We have relied on Paul Prudhomme, John Foltz, and the Times Picayune cookbook for our knowledge, as well as recipes we have collected ourselves.

Hot peppers and their sauces provide an important condiment all over the South. Up until the late eighties, it was common to see simple hot peppers in a jar of vinegar on the table of home kitchens; but now there is an extensive variety of commercial sauces and an astounding infusion of hot peppers of all sizes and heats.

African foodstuffs brought to the South are still beloved among the broad expanse of Southerners, without regard to color and income. The legacy of poverty suffered by both races after the Civil War, combined with the presence of black cooks (first as slaves then as servants) in white middle-class homes well into the 1960s, resulted in the broader enjoyment of comforting and filling foods that have been called soul food for more than forty years. The South remains definitive as a region in which upper-class whites regularly eat peas and other peasant dishes. The peanut is a significant Southern financial and nutritional asset with worldwide dietary influence. Southerners are as liable as other Americans to eat peanut butter sandwiches and salted peanuts. Only in the South, however, do newcomers wonder about bald peanuts when hearing native Southerners’ drawl in talking about savoring them. No, they are not hairless; they are freshly harvested peanuts boiled in the shell in salted water.

Turnip and collard greens remain an important source of nutrients, and not just among low-income residents. The heat of the kitchen and traditional African one-pot cooking techniques encouraged the slow cooking of tough greens and pole beans on the back of the stove, with a slice of salted or smoked hog jowl, fatback, or streak of lean (seasoning meats to provide flavor and protein) and hot pepper. Young greens are now sautéed, braised, or even used in salads, perhaps rubbed with salt or oil to tenderize and make them malleable, but there is still a great affection at all income levels for the older style, eaten with cornbread, particularly when there is a nip in the air. The broth (called pot likker) adds nutritional value and warmth.

The Geography and the Inhabitants

The American South is larger than Western Europe. It is composed of the eleven states of the Confederacy, which stretch from Virginia to Texas. The region is bounded on the east by five states bordering the Atlantic Ocean: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Four others stretch westward from Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico: Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Two other states separated by the Mississippi River—Tennessee and Arkansas—stretch westward from Virginia to Texas. The region also includes the southern parts of the border states to the north that still allowed slavery when the Civil War began, stretching westward from Delaware across Maryland to Kentucky and Missouri. These Border States remained in the Union; West Virginia separated from Virginia over the issue of secession, becoming a new state in 1863, yet remains linked to Appalachia.

The settlers of the region, now home to more than 100 million people, were diverse. Only remnants of Native Americans remained, but large numbers of English, ranging from minor royalty to indentured servants and former prisoners, as well as Africans, Scotch-Irish, French, Spaniards, Germans, and Welch settled early. A smaller cultural sprinkling of Italians, Jews, Chinese, and Greeks, as well as Hispanics (in Texas and later, Florida), added spice to the cultural hodgepodge of food in the South, to form a distinctive blend of Southern cuisine. They are historically linked by the common experience of shared defeat in the American Civil War in the defense of chattel slavery followed by decades of poverty that lasted well into the New Deal. This South is the only region of the United States that from the earliest beginnings was a biracial society. Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, D.C., all have large pockets of Southern cultural infusion. These pockets intertwine and celebrate the food, music, and culture of the South, which expanded there in large part because of the mass migration of several million African Americans (called the Black Diaspora) during and after the post-Civil War period of Reconstruction. It continued to accelerate after World War II until the Civil Rights revolution significantly diminished the region’s history of racial discrimination.

Irresistible Qualities of Southern Foods

It is the textures and flavors that are hard to separate by region. Crispy, for instance, is uniquely Southern: crisp fried chicken; crisp fried pork rinds; crisp chitlins; crisp French fries; fried steak; fried catfish and perch, bass and flounder; trout freshly fried from the streams; and even fried watermelon rind. The flavor from lard-fried foods is almost inseparable from the texture of crispy.

Crispy also results from roasting and grilling. The skin of grilled pork crackles when you bite into it. Roasted Sunday chicken, with a skin that separates from the flesh and crunches, leaves the breast moist and tender. Grilled or roasted potatoes become deep brown and crispy around the edges, and just-picked rosemary sprinkled over them takes their flavor over the top. Onions crisp up in the oven, and toasted bread snaps and crackles. Cheese straws offer a crisp introduction before they melt in the mouth.

Flaky-melting is another texture. The combination of lard (or even shortening or butter) and flour in biscuits and piecrusts is unrivaled, due to the Southern flour we have primarily used for over a hundred years, which is lower in gluten and bleached to make it more tender. The melting flakiness of biscuits in one’s mouth cannot be achieved without it.

Tingle on the tongue, the little dancing in our mouth that hot red peppers give, insinuates itself in our foods, from turnip greens to hot pepper jelly.

Which brings us to sweet/sour. In hot pepper jelly, the components of sugar, cider vinegar, and hot peppers form a multipurpose condiment. It adds bite and caramelization to a pork roast (the ah taste) or other pig parts, or added to a sautéed piece of country ham is a finishing sauce, melting in the pan and embracing the ham. Vinegar in a cruet, splashed on cooked greens or just about anything brings dash to the daily diet. (Usually the vinegar has a hot pepper immersed in it to give that pop we want.)

Sweetness in main courses—but definitely not in cornbread, which needs no sweetening, corn bringing its own sweetness—is not unusual. Take Coca-Cola with country ham, for instance, either to finish as a reduction in a frying pan or to cook the ham long and slow as it braises. Sweet onions from Vidalia, Georgia, and Texas Sweets smoothly enhance grilled meats, tomatoes, salads, and vegetables, cooked along with, inside, and as an accompaniment, raw or cooked. A little sugar on top of a baked tomato never hurt anyone, nor did brown sugar on a sweet potato. Sweet bourbon beef and Thanksgiving turkey have moved around the country from our sideboards.

Tenderness is another quality. Tender cakes and cobblers, all made from that soft-wheat flour, excel. When I studied cooking in London, my teacher wanted to know what made Southern cakes so much better. It is that combination of tenderness, lightness, and flavor that runs through our desserts and makes them memorable enough to crave when in a different country.

If a spoon did not stand up in the iced tea from its sugar content, than surely peach cobbler, pralines, divinity, and our cakes—daffodil cake, caramel cake, and coconut cake—and our pies—crispy pecans interspersed with corn syrup giving a crisp-tender rendition, sweet potato pie, fried peach pies with their crisp sweetness, and even peaches eaten over the sink as they drip from our mouths—stand up to anyone’s idea of goodness.

Small wonder our food haunts us when we leave the South, following us wherever we move, emerging more and more in cuisines around the nation and the world, and winding up in the dreams of foreigners.

It isn’t just popularity—it’s passion. We love our food! It dominates our thoughts from early morning, when we wonder if we have time for biscuits filled with melting butter, or grits topped with shrimp, and drink our Coca-Cola (Nathalie’s favorite) for breakfast. We think about it through noon, when we have cravings for fried chicken or turnip greens with cornbread. By sundown we wish we had a mint julep—or at least iced tea flavored with freshly picked mint—in our hands, and dream about peach cobbler for dessert. It starts all over again the next morning.

The Southern Pantry

All of the ingredients in this book can be found in an average Southern local grocery store or market in season. Those of us who can’t live European style and shop every day or two find our pantries invaluable. The modern Southern pantry is a combination of shelves and cupboards, refrigerator and freezer. Some items, like quail, may be special ordered by those who are not so fortunate to have them accessible.

Stocking a kitchen is a very individual decision. For busy families, a well-stocked kitchen, featuring most of the items on our lists, will be the quickest answer to the refrain heard every day, What’s for dinner? For smaller families, the needs may differ, and relying on flavorful condiments such as our Tomato Conserve or a quick Pan Sauce made with Dijon mustard and heavy cream to quickly liven-up sautéed chicken breasts or a pork tenderloin are go-to solutions for fast weeknight meals. Singles may cook a main dish leisurely on the weekend and then package it in smaller portions in the freezer for future meals. Still others relish breads and sweets fresh from the oven. They will keep a complete baking pantry.

We have compiled the lists that follow from our recipes in this book, which represent the cooking we do regularly. We rely heavily on our pantries and spend the bulk of our weekly shopping gathering fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables for use in our daily meals.

One caveat: every family should have a list of ten meals they can make with little effort from the pantry (including the refrigerator and freezer). These could include chili, chicken breasts, macaroni pie, rice pilaf, soups, ham and redeye gravy, omelets or other egg preparations, etc. Post the list inside the pantry door for quick reference. The ingredients for these things should be kept on hand at all times, ready for use when the cook is too tired or hungry to think, when the cook isn’t home and the other family members need to prepare the meal, or in case of hurricanes and other emergency situations. Replace as you use so your pantry is always complete.

Nathalie’s top five pantry meals: Shrimp and Grits, Sausage and Apples, Macaroni Pie, Fast Chicken Breasts with Ribboned Vegetables, lady peas, and cornbread, Vidalia Onion Tart, Biscuits with Pork Tenderloin. Fortunately salad greens are available year-round in my garden. I keep chicken breasts, sausage, and pork tenderloin in the freezer as part of my pantry staples. There are always bits and pieces for soups there as well.

Cynthia’s top five pantry meals: Comforting Cheese Soup (broccoli variation), Lemon-Lime Pot Roast with Tomatoes and Garlic (always a cooked one in her freezer), Skillet Lemon Chicken Thighs (boneless, skinless thighs are a freezer staple for her), along with cooked rice from the freezer, and omelet or savory tart concoctions from the bits and pieces of leftovers on hand.

Check the expiration dates of canned goods, and keep the oldest ones handiest. If dried herbs are a necessity or preference, since they should be renewed annually, split the purchase with a friend and replenish only as needed. If there is no need to replenish after a year, strike it off the list and do without. Unlike spices, there is rarely a time when one specific herb is the only one that can be used to enhance a dish. Thyme, oregano, and marjoram, are easily interchangeable if not perfect substitutes. If choosing just one, I would choose marjoram. Rosemary lasts well on the pantry shelf, but fresh is better. The ratio of three to one commonly used in cookbooks is only applicable if the dried herbs are freshly purchased. Old stale herbs are no better than dust, and there is no ratio for dust to fresh herbs.

The Freezer

Making double batches of main dishes, having a stash of flavorful stocks, and storing the best of our summer fruits and vegetables is only the tip of the iceberg for how helpful freezer storage can be to the cook. Frozen peaches, mangos, and blueberries are always in Nathalie’s freezer for speedy desserts, along with pecans and peanuts. The boiled peanuts are for her husband.

Cynthia’s Pantry

Being the laziest of cooks, with two children and preferring to spend my time reading old cookbooks, I’ve been known to take shortcuts, especially for hectic weeknight meals. My freezer has bags of frozen chopped onions (as I’m more apt to find a spoiled onion in my pantry than a Vidalia dressed in pantyhose), and my refrigerator has jarred minced garlic. My freezer is never without a bag of sliced peaches, as my favorite last-minute dessert to make for unexpected guests is Lazy Girl Cobbler, and my self-rising flour gets replenished far more often than my baking soda or baking powder. I almost never cut a recipe down in size: I’ll make the full recipe and freeze some for another meal; it always feels like money in the bank to me. For my weekend cooking, I tend to use all fresh ingredients.

The Pantry

The Baking Pantry

All-purpose soft-wheat flour

Self-rising soft-wheat flour

Bread flour


Self-rising cornmeal mix


Baking soda

Baking powder

Cream of tartar

Breadcrumbs or panko

Granulated sugar

Confectioners’ sugar

Dark or light brown sugar

Unflavored gelatin

Active dry yeast

Vanilla, lemon, and almond extracts

Vanilla bean

Unsweetened cocoa powder

Grated or shredded coconut, preferably frozen

Staples in Cans, Jars, Boxes, and Bags on Shelf, in Refrigerator or Freezer

Peas and beans, including black-eyed peas, butter beans, butter peas, cowpeas, crowder peas, English peas, lady peas, and white acre peas preferably frozen but dried or canned if need be

Tomatoes—crushed, diced and whole, preferably the best brand available

Tomato paste

Chicken and beef stock or broth, homemade and commercial

Pecans and peanuts

Black olives, such as Greek and Italian

Pimentos or jarred red peppers

Red and white wine vinegar, cider vinegar, sherry vinegar

Shortening, lard, and/or vegetable oil

Olive oil

Soy sauce

Mayonnaise—preferably Duke’s

Worcestershire sauce

Hot sauce



Chili sauce

Tomato conserve


Sorghum, maple syrup, and light or dark corn syrup

Honey—Tupelo, orange blossom, or sweet clover

Peanut and other nut butters

Jams and jellies such as apricot, strawberry, raspberry, red currant, muscadine, and red pepper

Evaporated and sweetened condensed milk

Rice—Carolina Gold, long-grain, wild, arborio, on shelf or in freezer

Quick grits (not instant) and stone-ground grits





Dried fruit—apricots, candied ginger, cherries, cranberries, figs, prunes (dried plums), and raisins

Graham crackers, gingersnaps, vanilla or chocolate wafers, and/or butter cookies for crusts

Chocolate, semi-sweet, dark, and milk, in chips or bars


Dry sherry and/or dry Madeira, vermouth or other fortified wine

Liquor or liqueur, such as Grand Marnier and/or Limoncello, or Cointreau

Refrigerator Staples

Butter, salted and/or unsalted, as preferred

Large eggs

Whole milk

Buttermilk—whole or dried

Heavy cream

Sour cream

Clemson blue cheese

Soft goat cheese

Parmesan cheese

Sharp Cheddar cheese

Feta cheese

Gruyère cheese, preferably Comté, or Swiss in emergencies only

Cream cheese

Greek or other yogurt

Fresh herbs in season—thyme, oregano, flat-leaf parsley, basil, marjoram, cilantro, mint, lemon balm, rosemary, chives

Meats—pork (streak o’ lean, fatback, or other seasoning meat); country ham slices (thin for biscuits, thicker for sautéing for a meal)

Spices and Seasonings

Benne (sesame) seeds—black and white

Coriander seed and ground coriander

Cumin seed and ground cumin

Fennel seed

Curry powder

Chili powder

Ground hot red pepper

Hot red pepper flakes

Hungarian paprika

Mustard—dried and whole seed and Dijon

Ground ginger


Ground turmeric

Whole and ground cloves

Saffron threads

Poppy seeds


Whole and ground cinnamon

Bay leaf

Salt—kosher, sea, table

Pepper—black peppercorns, grains of paradise, white or other

Season to Taste

The great gift of cooking is to be in charge of the decisions made in the kitchen. Seasoning a dish is up to the cook, tasting at various points in a recipe, to determine the flavors of the finished dish. In our recipes we use the phrase season to taste with salt and pepper. In some recipes, this direction comes at a point in the recipe where physically tasting the dish is impractical. In these cases, we mean to add salt and pepper as you normally would, to the level you appreciate. Where the direction comes later in a recipe, by all means grab a spoon and taste the goodness before deciding how much salt or pepper is needed. The cook is in charge.


Salt is salt. The basic mineral makeup of salt, no matter where it comes from or how it is packaged, is the same. The differences lie in the physical size and shape of the grains. Table salt is the most common salt used in our recipes. It is always the best for baking, as the grain dissolves well in dough. Kosher salt is a larger grain, and therefore measures differently. The grain takes up more space in the measuring spoon, allowing for more space between grains, and therefore requires a bit more to make up the same measure of table salt. We follow the formula of 1 1/2 teaspoons of Morton brand kosher salt is equal to 1 teaspoon of table salt. For Diamond brand kosher salt, our measure is 2 teaspoons Diamond brand is equal to 1 teaspoon table salt. Sea salt contains additional minerals left behind during the evaporation process, and each measures slightly different, although much more closely to table salt than the kosher salts; so follow the season to taste rule.

How to Use this Book

Any book this size can be intimidating, so begin at the beginning. Reading cookbooks is a pastime enjoyed by many non-cooks, propped up in bed late at night. We only wish it was practiced by more cooks! Resist the temptation to dive right into a recipe in the middle of the book. Take the time to read the information at the beginning of each chapter. The introductory material, both here at the beginning of the book and at the beginning of each chapter, is here for a reason: it introduces the reader to the subject at hand, including an orientation to the ingredients central to the chapter, specific equipment beneficial to the outcome of a recipe, and the techniques needed to achieve success. There is something here for everyone, from the most experienced to the novice.

Always begin by reading the recipe from start to finish. Visualize the process, gather the ingredients and equipment. Don’t attempt a challenging recipe when you are in a hurry. Give yourself time to work through the details of a recipe. Although the recipes have been written to stand alone, many recipes will give a cross-reference to a technique or another recipe in order to avoid being overly repetitious. Follow the trail through those references to learn more about a technique or process. The index in the back of the book is perhaps the best way to access the detailed information or explanation you might be looking for.

Some of the recipes are quite long, purposefully. We have written them so that the reader will know what to expect in each stage of the recipe. The language of the recipes is important. In spite of the length of some recipes, all recipes are written in sparse but detailed language. The nuance of the words is important. Whisk means to use a whisk to combine the ingredients. A stand mixer is called for in a recipe for good reason: the batter is thick, or the mixing time is lengthy; so we call for that specific equipment to make the job easier and the result better. We hope to have written in the voice that gives you confidence, as if we are standing right next to you in the kitchen!

But not all of the recipes are challenging. Many will be familiar from Nathalie’s books (the beloved Lazy Girl Cobbler, Snacking Sour Cream Cornbread, Lemon Lime Pot Roast with Tomatoes and Garlic), and others so easy you’ll wonder why you need a recipe. We’ve tried to be thorough but not intimidating. Learning techniques ultimately makes the cook’s job easier and far more rewarding.

Sprinkled throughout the book are boxes of information that provide a helpful tip, or further elaborate on an ingredient or technique. We’ve also included historical references in these boxes—there’s so much to learn by studying where we’ve come from.

The foods in these recipes are well known but not old-fashioned. We take the glorious goodness overflowing from our farms and markets, teach a traditional technique, and also use traditional foods in new ways (Okra Chips, anyone?). What’s old is new again, and the techniques are here to enhance your skills and confidence.

The more you cook, the more successful you will be. For the most intimidating of Southern fare, like biscuits and piecrusts, practice is imperative. Give yourself the gift of a quiet morning or afternoon to sequester yourself alone in the kitchen. Make several batches of biscuits, each of different sizes and with different ingredients, to discover which one is your preference and to develop your technique. Do the same with piecrusts. Don’t tell anyone what you are doing. Practicing doesn’t mean perfection, but serving luscious Southern food is about as gratifying as anything I do. A Southern gourmet is one who does the best she/he can with the food at hand. 


Southern hospitality is more than a cliché. Historically, plantations were far apart and transportation was rudimental. Guests, invited or unexpected, were welcomed and fed in good times and bad. Hard times, like the Great Depression, were times for helping each other. Even in good times, welcoming included offering something to eat or drink, to start the occasion, large or small.

In a region that has enjoyed big, mid-day farm lunches (called dinner) and three o’clock dinner in Charleston, it is hard to say when starters started, just as it is hard to say what a starter is. The word canapé is derived from the French word for couch, for instance. Hors d’oeuvre means, according to Food Lover’s Companion, outside the work meal, or food outside the work. Starters is a word we have adopted to mean something we can eat anytime short of a main course.

Starters have gone from a narrow range of options to a broad swath of foods presented in new and exciting ways. The highlights once were when one was offered a ham biscuit or cheese straws, doled out stingily to children or offered graciously to adults. On a sideboard or buffet table, shrimp was draped around the edges and on top of ice in a large punch bowl with a dish of cocktail sauce in the center.

We’ve had celery sticks (which I still love) filled with pimento cheese or peanut butter; roasted pecans, peanuts, or variations thereof; various dips, including artichoke, crab and onion made from packaged onion soup and sour cream, served with chips; oysters wrapped in bacon, hopefully crisp, but often not.

Some of these remain in our repertoire, but we’ve kept them simple and resonant to the culture. Along our coast we use fresh crab, finding the canned not worth the effort; pimento cheese is still high on every Southerner’s list, and we’ve filled a tart with it. Rather than ubiquitous cubes of mediocre cheese, we’ve poured melted hot pepper jelly over logs of goat cheese. Fresh vegetables shine, such as zucchini rounds with a little bit of grated carrots.

A variety of ingredients have become available to stimulate the imagination. The English custom of tea with sandwiches and other delicacies was certainly not lost on Southerners, even after we started dumping enough sugar in our tea to make a spoon stand up unaided and enough ice to chill an igloo. Tiny grits cakes with shrimp and bacon; peaches and figs with country ham; savory tarts and custards that could replace soup or salad at the table or be served in the living room have all changed the order of meals.

Cynthia’s husband, Cliff, has a habit of fixing little nibbles for the family while waiting for dinner. He might show up with a chopped-tomato-and-basil concoction or a chicken liver paté he whipped up in the food processor, with a glass of wine rather than the still popular bourbon and branch water his neighbor drinks. Many of us don’t even know when we are hungry—my French son-in-law, Pierre Henri, who frowns at nibbling outside of meals and is no fan of canapés, says that when one eats, the hunger comes. So a starter should be only that—something to whet the appetite, readying one to sit down and eat a meal.

Peaches and Figs Wrapped in Country Ham

Serves 2

Traditionally in Europe, melons are wrapped in prosciutto ham and served as a starter or appetizer. Our thinly sliced country ham is supple enough to wrap equally well and is enjoyed by all, whether with peaches, figs, melons, or savory crunchy vegetables. Serve as a nibble on toothpicks or plated as a starter.

Peel and slice the peach into wedges. Cut an X in the top of each fig, cutting three-fourths of the way down, keeping the sections attached at the base. Tear the country ham into strips.

Roll a small portion of country ham around a finger and insert into the X on the fig. Wrap another ham strip around each peach wedge. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time, not more than 2 to 3 hours.

Variation: Cut peeled cantaloupes or mangos in cubes or wedges, and wrap with country ham. Wrap sliced raw or lightly cooked asparagus or okra, or picked ramp, okras or other pickles with country ham.

Country Ham with Baked Stuffed Figs

Serves 4

The bubbling cheese and lush figs, served on a platter of thinly sliced country ham or wrapped in it and served on plates is simple, uses what’s on hand and seasonal, and is a combination of comforting and sensual.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Cut an X in the top of each fig, cutting three-fourths of the way down, keeping the sections attached at the base. Move to an ungreased rimmed baking sheet and gently open them.

Mix together the cheese, pecans, and herbs until well blended. Use a small spoon or piping bag to gently stuff each fig with filling. Bake the figs for 8 to 10 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling.

Arrange the country ham on a platter or individual plates and top with warm figs. It is a little tricky, but these can be wrapped in thinly sliced ham and toothpicked if necessary.

Clemson Blue Cheese was originally made in an abandoned railway tunnel and is now made in a year-round climate-controlled environment at South Carolina’s Clemson School of Agriculture. It has worked its way into a frequent relationship with fresh figs and country ham.

Fig and Pecan Tapenade with Goat Cheese

Serves 20

Dried figs keep me going between fresh fig seasons. They pep up dips and spreads. Cream cheese has long been the base for many decorative spreads, but soft goat cheese has crept up in popularity.

Cover figs with water in a heavy saucepan, bring to a simmer, and cook over medium-high heat until figs are soft and water has nearly evaporated, about 7 minutes.

Move figs to a bowl using a slotted spoon and stir in olives, oil, vinegar, green olives, thyme, and pecans. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Arrange goat cheese circles overlapping around a small platter. Spoon fig mixture over the cheese. Serve with crackers.

Chopping Dried Fruit

To prevent dried fruit from clinging together while trying to chop it, coat the metal blade lightly with cooking oil or spray. If the dried fruit is to be used in a flour-based recipe, toss the fruit in flour to coat, then chop and return the fruit to the flour. Some cooks have success with chopping dried fruit in the food processor, just pulsing the blade a few times.

Savory Fig Bites

Makes 24 mini tarts

Judy Bernstein lives on one of the beautiful islands surrounding Charleston, where she serves fresh figs from her trees to make a tarted-up starter. This makes a sweet-sour combination medley served in a crispy case. The filling is best made ahead to allow the flavors to meld.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly butter a mini muffin pan, add the phyllo cups, and brush the cups lightly with butter. Bake 5 to 7 minutes, until crisp. Remove and set aside.

Mix goat cheese, cream, and 2 tablespoons honey until smooth and creamy. Stir in lemon rind and rosemary. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To assemble, spoon a tablespoon of the goat cheese mixture into a cooled shell. Top with a piece of fresh fig. Repeat with remaining shells and sprinkle with black pepper. This can be done several hours ahead or up to a day in advance.

Before serving, bring vinegar and remaining 1 tablespoon honey to the boil in a small saucepan; simmer until reduced by half and slightly syrupy, 5 to 7 minutes. Drizzle over each tart.

Another Nosh-able idea for Phyllo Cups

Using 1-1/4 cups Hot Pepper Jelly, 3 ounces Brie, peeled and cut into 30 small pieces, and 3 tablespoons chopped lightly toasted pecans, fill each phyllo cup with 1/4 teaspoon jelly. Top each with 1 piece of Brie. Sprinkle all with toasted pecans. Bake in a 350-degree oven until cheese melts, about 5 to 6 minutes. Serve warm.

Fried Watermelon Rind

Makes 2 cups

Some think Southerners would fry anything if given half a chance. In this case, the watermelon rind melts inside the crunchy exterior in a totally unique and fabulous way. People will hover over the cook in the kitchen, snitching the delicacy; not much will make it to the table.

Toss together the cornmeal, flour, salt, and pepper. Meanwhile, heat the oil to 350 degrees in a heavy skillet. The oil should be deep enough to submerge the watermelon cubes. With one hand, roll the still damp cubed rind in the cornmeal mixture. Use a slotted spoon to add breaded rind to the hot oil, frying in batches if necessary so as not to crowd the cubes in the pan. Fry about 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Drain on paper towels and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Remove the fruit from the watermelon and reserve for another purpose. Use a sharp knife to separate the dark tough exterior of the rind from the pale green interior. Chop interior into 1-inch cubes and discard outer skin.

Stuffed Grape Tomatoes

Makes 1 pint

Grape and other small tomatoes have changed the party table. They are very perky and just the right size for a bite.

Make a cup out of each tomato by cutting the tops off and removing the seeds with a small spoon. Reserve tops. Cut a small slice off the bottom of each tomato so it will stand without falling over. Drain tomatoes upside-down on a rack over a paper towel.

Cut off one corner of a plastic ziplock bag to make a piping bag. A star or other pastry tip may be inserted if a decorative top is desired. Add goat cheese to bag. Turn the tomatoes right side up and move the slit end of the bag over the small tomato cavity. Push from the top of the bag, using the other hand to steady the bag. Pipe the goat cheese into the tomatoes, coming up slightly over the edge. This may be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 day. Cover with the tops and garnish with basil or oregano leaves before serving.

Variation: The fillings are endless, including ham or Basic Chicken Salad or Pimento Cheese.

Indispensable Mushrooms with Greens

Serves 16

Party food should be pretty, easy to assemble, and easy to serve, as well as delicious. Button mushrooms fit the bill perfectly. They can be made ahead and reheated easily and filled with anything from beef stew to foie gras. These button mushrooms can be eaten with one bite, but please do serve with napkins if not a plate. Large mushrooms will need a plate and should be served at a sit-down meal. Any leftover filling can be frozen for another time, or it can be added to rice, couscous, or a Sunday omelet.

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