501 Life Magazine | Southern cooking from the garden
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Southern cooking from the garden

by Don Bingham


The produce from gardens will soon be approaching, and the time is right to dust off the recipes from our favorites — all made with home-grown fruit and vegetables! Who doesn’t love the incomparable old-time flavors and textures wrapped with the Southern aura of comfort and welcoming tastes of spring and summer harvest?

 

    From the beginning, the South has been influenced by many cuisines — English, French, African, Spanish, West Indian and more. Natalie Dupree (great cook from PBS Network) says the South is a vast region — larger than Europe. Southern cooking is primarily home cooking, not chef’s art.

You would not consider this cuisine “nouvelle” or “precious.” It’s just good food, made for savoring, not simply pretty to look at.

 

Southern foods were always served “family-style” in big bowls at the table. Plated meals in a Southern home are rarely found. The meals are usually a show of abundance with a variety of vegetables. The Southern garden, backyards and farms have dictated what we ate and still do. Many southern cooks still purchase enough Vidalia onions to last all winter long. 

 

They “put up” conserves and preserves, canned beans, dried beans and peas, salted and preserved meats and fish, and kept a country ham on the cool larder shelf.

 

Natalie boasts that “we’ve only recently started ‘entertaining’ at home” — what we did before was have “company” over! Rarely did the Southern cook have a “dinner party” — rather the table was always full of family, people from church, a stranger in town, the minister and family, or even neighbors (imagine that!). You always made a mess (quantity) of everything to feed a crowd.

 

Isn’t it fun to know that many of our recipes are named for the person who gave it to us — no matter how long we have been making it? Our recipe collections are full of traditions and from a long, long line of the heritage of great Southern cooks.

 

As recently as this past January, we purchased new “larger than life” bowls to feed our family of Southern diners. Certainly, it takes more than one or two cast-iron skillets to serve a Southern meal. Agreeably, it takes time to cook in this style — but what can be more comforting than passing the bowls and trays to serve oneself the portion of a favorite vegetable! 

 

My wife, Nancy, and I try to visit our favorite “family style” restaurants when traveling (The Loveless Cafe outside of Nashville is our favorite), just to renew this art and style of Southern dining!

 

Our table is set — ready to fill with our favorite time-honored and delicious foods! The recipes are included for your enjoyment! All of them are irresistible — but pass the bowl to your neighbor and save room on your plate — there’s more coming!


Helen’s Cabbage Slaw

1 head cabbage, shredded

2 heaping tablespoons granulated sugar 

2 heaping tablespoons vinegar

1/2 cup mayonnaise

Mix sugar and vinegar until sugar is dissolved; add mayonnaise to mixture. Toss cabbage with dressing. Sprinkle poppy seeds or celery seeds to taste. Serves 6.


Nancy’s Carrot Salad

1 pound carrots, grated

1 cup raisins

1 medium can pineapple tidbits, drained

1/2 cup shredded coconut

Mix all ingredients and add 2 tablespoons light cream with 1/2 cup mayonnaise. Serves 4-6.


Gourmet Corn Bread

1 cup self-rising corn meal

2 eggs

1 cup sour cream

8 3/4 ounces cream style corn

1/2 cup salad oil

Mix. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Makes 12 muffins or one skillet.

Our Supper Club Company Carrots

1/2 cup margarine

1 small onion, minced

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon seasoned salt

2 cups milk

4 cups cooked carrots, drained 

6 slices American cheese

Cook onion in margarine until soft. Stir in flour, mix, add salt and pepper. Stir in milk, bring to a boil and cook 3 minutes until thick. In 2-quart casserole, layer carrots and 3 slices of cheese. Repeat; pour sauce over all. Top with buttered breadcrumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Serves 4-6.


Fried Green Tomatoes

2 green tomatoes

1 cup flour or corn meal, seasoned with salt and pepper

1/3-1/2 cup butter

Cut the tomatoes into thick slices; thin slices tend to disintegrate. Coat on both sides with the seasoned flour or corn meal. In an iron skillet, heat the butter until sizzling hot, but do not brown. Re-flour the tomatoes and place in the skillet in one layer. When golden brown, turn and brown the other side. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with any slices that remain. Serve immediately.


Black-eyed Peas

4 cups fresh or frozen black-eyed peas

4 three-inch pieces fatback (or ham bone)

2 hot peppers

Place the peas, water to cover, fatback and hot peppers in a heavy saucepan and bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer one hour until the peas are soft. Serve the peas with their juice. If you use dried peas, place in enough water to cover, bring to the boil, then turn off the heat and let sit one hour, drain and proceed.


Jane Bradley’s Topping

1 medium onion, chopped

Pinch sugar

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup apple-cider vinegar

Combine ingredients and let sit one hour. Serve on top of black-eyed peas. 


McCardell’s Special Spinach 

(A favorite diner in Chattanooga)

3 cups chopped spinach (frozen)

3 tablespoons onion, finely diced 

3 ounces mushrooms, diced

2 fresh tomatoes, peeled and diced 

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup rich cream sauce

2 eggs, beaten only until blended

1 1/2 ounces Parmesean cheese

Salt and Tabasco sauce to taste

Small clove garlic, chopped fine

Cook the best quality frozen chopped spinach in boiling salted water. Do not overcook. Drain well. 

In a heavy saucepan, melt butter, cook onions and mushrooms. Don’t brown. Add tomatoes just to warm through. Add spinach and blend lightly with onion, mushrooms and tomatoes. If you use the garlic, it should be sautéed with the onions. Add cream sauce. Blend lightly. Add beaten eggs and cook over low heat, stirring to keep from sticking until the eggs are cooked. Add cheese, salt, Tabasco sauce and blend. Serves 8.


Eva’s Spicy Oven-Fried Chicken

4 whole boned chicken breasts

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons cayenne pepper

1 cup flour

Season the chicken breasts with salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon of the cayenne pepper. Add the other tablespoon of cayenne pepper to the flour and mix well with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken breasts in melted butter and then with the seasoned flour. Line baking sheet with foil. Place chicken breasts on foil-lined pan and bake in oven at 350 degrees until chicken is browned, crunchy and juices run clear.


Jewell Hoefer’s Brown Sugar Pound Cake

1 pound light brown sugar

1 1/2 cups butter

7 eggs

3 cups all-purpose soft-wheat flour

Icing

1 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup butter

1 pound confectioner’s sugar 

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 small can evaporated milk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and lightly flour a 10-inch tube pan. Cut out a piece of wax paper to fit in the bottom of the pan and grease and flour the paper. Beat the sugar and butter together until light. Beat in the eggs one by one. Fold in the flour, pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake 60-90 minutes. Remove from the oven to a rack. Cool and remove the cake from the pan. Peel off the paper.

To make the icing: Brown the pecans in butter in a skillet. Add the sugar and vanilla. Bring to a spreading consistency with the evaporated milk. Spread over the cake while warm.


Ambrosia

15 oranges, as juicy as possible

1 1/2 cups shredded coconut

1 cup fresh peeled pineapple, in chunks

2 ounces cherries, pitted

1 banana, peeled and sliced

1/4 cup orange-flavored Cognac liqueur, or to taste

Peel and section the oranges, carefully removing all the white and membrane, saving the juice. Mix the oranges, juice and coconut in a bowl. Add the other fruit to the oranges and toss lightly. Turn into glass bowl and sprinkle liqueur over just before serving.


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