Recipes and Revelations From Two Great American Cooks
review by Augusta Russel Scattergood
My dilemma was what to review for light summer fare for USADEEPSOUTH readers. Nevada Barr’s newest mystery? Advice from the Sweet Potato Queens? An about-to-be-published picture book for kids set in Louisiana’s Cajun country?
Then I hit on it, or, more precisely, it called to me from the New Books display at our local mega-bookstore. Summertime, when the livin’ is easy -- what better to read than a cookbook?
The Gift of Southern Cooking, Recipes and Revelations from two Great American Cooks, written by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, is part essay, part memoir and filled to the brim with delicious southern food and gorgeous color photographs. Perfect for whiling away a summer afternoon, whether you’re reading or cooking.
Edna Lewis, who also authored The Taste of Country Cooking and is the recipient of numerous awards for her culinary skills, is in her mid-eighties. Her Virginia country roots compliment Alabama-born Scott Peacock, who is half her age. These two hands-on chefs share mouth-watering family recipes and Southern traditions in this glorious collaboration.
A grandchild of slaves, Miss Lewis’s world was as different from her friend Scott Peacock’s as two parts of the South can be. When he describes his childhood fondness for chilled canned asparagus topped with mayonnaise and compares it to the garden asparagus Miss Lewis’s mother grew on their farm in Virginia, it’s evident how much they have to learn from each other. They founded the Society for the Revival and Preservation of Southern Food, an organization devoted to promoting Southern foodways, and now they share a home in Decatur, Georgia, where Mr. Peacock is chef at the highly regarded Watershed.
The book is arranged in sections such as “Spicy Collards and Sweet Potatoes,” “Praise the Lard and Pass the Biscuits,” and “Cakewalk Winners.” Each recipe is introduced with a story. Their description of Pimento Cheese, or “pimenocheese,” as we Southerners tend to say, pays homage to the pimento cheese we all grew up with -- pure “mouse cheese” and pimentos from a little jar. Their grown-up version features roasted peppers and homemade mayonnaise.
I’ve never been able to duplicate the salmon croquettes of my own childhood and I don’t think fresh filet of salmon is the secret ingredient. I remember a can of salmon, a cornmeal breading, and the delicious results. Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis advise poaching the fresh salmon in wine, mixing the ingredients carefully with a light touch, and serving the croquettes with Old-Fashioned Creamy Grits. This, like all of their recipes, is simple to make and explained in careful detail. I can attest to the salmon croquettes being even better than the ones I remember from my childhood.
Twenty-two menus are included at the end of the book, including suggestions for “An Alabama Thanksgiving,” “Summer Crab Cake Dinner,” and “Celebrating the Running of the Shad.”
This treasure of a book, written by extraordinary cooks, and the recipes of Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis are meant to be shared with friends and family. Because many of the recipes are simple enough for a beginning cook and the explanations are clear and easy to understand, the book would make a perfect gift for a new bride or groom. Or buy it for yourself, and the shared stories and photographs included in The Gift of Southern Cooking just might inspire you to record your own family’s secrets of Southern cooking.
Scott’s Bitter Chocolate Sauce
Note: Cooled and refrigerated, this sauce will keep for 3 weeks and can be reheated before serving.
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
Heat the milk and heavy cream to just below a simmer, and set aside.
Melt the butter and chocolate in a double boiler over just-simmering water. Add the sugar and salt, and stir well. Slowly stir in the heated milk and cream, and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat, and cool slightly before serving.
Serve the chocolate sauce warm or at room temperature.
Mississippi native Augusta Russel Scattergood writes monthly book reviews for USADEEPSOUTH. Readers may write her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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