Archive for the ‘By Category’

Aunt Peggy’s Bestever Cake

November 24, 2016
By Holly Jennings

Bestever Cake

 

The cake above is not just any cake—it’s not even just the bestever cake, it is the last thing I ate prepared by my late aunt Peggy. I got news of her sudden and unexpected death a few weeks ago. That night as I lay sleepless, recalling her, I remembered that she’d made this excellent cake for our family reunion, in June of 2015. She called it simply “bestever cake” and said it was ridiculously simple to make.

 

More memories of Peggy Jo Rose and her cooking flooded back. On a summer morning when I was eleven or so, Aunt Peggy gave me and my cousins a great gift: encouragement to go out into the world to do some work, with daring, if needed, in order to return home to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

 

“If you kids go pick sour cherries from Mr. X’s tree, I’ll make you a pie. Remember to ask him first. And pick a big bagful—I’ll need a lot for a pie.”

 

A pie in exchange for picking cherries was more than fair. We ran off to ask Mr. X ourselves, to figure out how to get up and down the tree ourselves, and to not neglect our work, if we wanted enough fruit for a large, mile-high pie.

 

We did get that pie, and it was the best pie I’ve ever eaten. Looking back, (more…)


Baked Green, and Not-So-Green, Tomatoes

October 16, 2016
By Holly Jennings

oven-baked-tomato-dinner_with-text

Leftovers from a dinner of oven-baked green and half-ripened tomatoes, roasted okra, and fried bacon, a happy threesome if there ever was one.

One evening, I burnt the tip of my left index finger while frying green tomatoes in a cast-iron pan. Instead of using a spatula to flip the cornmeal-dusted rounds, I got right in there, with my fingers. Now, a week and half later, the spot looks like the veneer on an old piece of furniture, yellowed and crackled, and feels like dried wax, as if I’d had a run-in with a molten candle instead of hot bacon grease.

 

The altered condition of my fingertip made me think of a film I saw some years ago called Illégal in which the main character, Tania, deliberately burns her fingertips on a hot clothes iron to obliterate her finger prints. She does this to avoid identification, after slipping into France for better work opportunities, and to avoid deportation, if she is found out.

 

This spring I applied for entry in the Global Entry program that allows for speedier clearance into the U.S. upon returning from foreign travel. As part of the application process, your photo is taken and your fingerprints scanned. I used it the first time this (more…)


Cream of Celery Soup with Roasted Fennel Bulb

October 01, 2016
By Holly Jennings

Cream of Celery Soup with Roasted Fennel

 

This soup has been patiently waiting in posting queue, and now its time has come.

 

I developed it early last winter to make use of a powerful fermented flavoring accent called Salted Herbs. But it never got airtime because my attention was soon drawn to other ingredients and their stories: first to black walnuts, which kept me busy for several weeks, musing about their strange beguiling flavor, and then to the mustard greens and cabbage that, after laying quietly, like dead things, in my garden plot over the winter, had, by (more…)


Okra—Now and Then, Again

September 22, 2016
By Holly Jennings

Hill Country Heirloom Red Okra

Hill Country Red Okra in my garden, mid-September

It was inevitable that I would to learn to how to prepare okra right about now. But that’s exactly how I knew it would be back when I planted okra seeds in my garden plot earlier this summer. That’s one of the great things about having a garden: it forces you to deal. If there is a vegetable you want to become familiar with in the kitchen, plant it in your garden. A pot in a courtyard or on a balcony will do just as well. Then, weeks, maybe months, later, the vegetable will have migrated from the soil to your kitchen counter, and finally into one of your cooking pots.

 

You may or may not have had ideas for the preparation of the vegetable when you planted it, and even if you did, a lot can happen along the way from seed to produce. I had pickles in mind when I planted my seeds, and, for that reason, of the two heirloom varieties I planted, Cajun Jewel and Hill Country Red, I was especially excited about the latter, described as (more…)


Maple Black Walnut Ice Cream

August 26, 2016
By Holly Jennings

Maple Black Walnut Ice Cream_2

 

This custard-style ice cream is for devoted black walnut lovers, and wannabe lovers. It gives a double dose of the nut’s unique flavor: First, toasted nuts are ground into a flour and steeped in the cream and milk to impart their flavor, sight unseen; second, at the end of churning, finely chopped toasted black walnuts are mixed in for crunch and another layer of flavor. A few extra steps are involved in making this ice cream—like tempering the egg yolks and reducing the maple syrup—but the results are worth it. Ever since researching the inimitable black walnut for (more…)


Smothered Cabbage

May 06, 2016
By Holly Jennings

Overwintered cabbage, refusing to be contained it its square-foot home

Overwintered cabbage, refusing to be contained in its square-foot home

Last weekend, when looking for a recipe to smother an unruly head of overwintered cabbage into delectable submission, I came across these can-do words in Mary Randolph’s book The Virginia Housewife Or, Methodical Cook:

 

It will much ameliorate the flavor of strong old cabbages, to boil them in two waters, i.e., when they are half done, to take them out, and put them into another sauce pan of boiling water.

 

Boy have I got one of those, I thought to myself.

 

The specimen I had in mind to test Randolph’s method was eight months old, and had been growing in my garden plot since last summer when I direct sowed some Early Flat Dutch cabbage seeds, hoping for a late fall harvest. I misjudged timing and gave the poor dears too late of a start to reach their cabbage potential before the first frost came—even though in Richmond, Virginia, that can be as late as late October. When it was time to prep the plot for winter, they were just one-tenth of their cabbage selves, but I didn’t have the heart to (more…)


Overwintered Mustard Greens

April 16, 2016
By Holly Jennings

Mustard greens in garden and in bowl copy

 

Overwintered mustard greens. Lovely sounding, isn’t it? I love what those three words evoke: a food with a stand-up-and-take-notice personality and a patina of flavor possible only after enduring hardship—the freezing depths of winter.

 

Right about now, you might find OMGs featured on the menu of some season-driven, farm-to-table restaurant in some food-lively town, along with other locally grown or foraged foods described with equally telling adjectives that marshal a world of artisanal food production: hand-pressed, pickled, preserved, house-cured, tree-ripened, aged, fermented, cellared.

 

But that’s not where I spotted my over-wintered mustard greens. I found them in my community garden plot early last month, after a premature burst of overly warm weather spun me into a frenzied gardening mode.

 

After a spate of seventy-degree days, off my husband and I went to our plot to prepare it for spring planting. That was when I discovered the mustard greens that I’d left in the ground last fall as an experiment had made through the winter admirably well. That was in mid-March.

 

Since then we’ve had two hard frosts, which had me scurrying back to the garden to throw plastic over the small seedlings that had begun to emerge, like tadpoles, around the (more…)


On the Verge with Salted Herbs

March 15, 2016
By Holly Jennings

Salted Herbs (photo by Sonia Lacasse)

Salted Herbs (photo by Sonia Lacasse)

 

There is comfort in stasis, in trees that are barren, and fields that are resting.

 

In those frozen, darker times, time is generous. You can make it your own and, with inexpensive switch-button illumination, it’s easy for everyone to make more of it.

 

Then comes the notion of soft rains falling—not yet falling, but soon, way too soon.

 

A frantic anticipation of springtime deadlines sets in: seeds must be ordered, seedlings started, ground prepared, planting schedules established. Time is no longer your own.

 

Fall harvest is the other time Mother Nature snaps a whip. Sometimes she offers extensions, but not always, and not any that you can count on.

 

Once the food from the garden is harvested, most of the work shifts to the kitchen, my first home. Cleaned and prepped, then blanched and frozen, dried, canned, or fermented, there’s a lot of work to be done, but the payoff is greater.

 

During the unpressured off-season months, all that you need to do to enjoy your hard work is (more…)


Leap Year Black Walnut Parsley Pesto

February 25, 2016
By Holly Jennings

Black Walnut Parsley Pesto

 

Usually, black walnuts are folded into fudge, cakes, pies, ice cream, and other sweets, where their wonderfully pungent and earthy flavor off-sets cloying sweetness, and where sweeteners round out some the nut’s sharper notes.

 

But, when eaten out of hand, the flavor of black walnuts, America’s own native nut, can be something to get used to, especially to the unschooled palate. In comparison, the familiar flavor of the reserved English walnut is facile; black walnuts require a training regimen. Black walnuts make you earn their respect.

 

Make this pesto part of your training regimen. Though it’s easy to fall in love with black walnuts when your introduction to them is in a lovingly prepared dessert, this savory treatment is just as irresistible, especially when paired with mushrooms and soba.

 

If you’re developing a taste for black walnuts, you might start with (more…)


Bloody Butcher Cornbread—The Official Bread of Halloween

October 30, 2015
By Holly Jennings

Official Bread of Halloween copy

 

Owing to its phenomenal flavor, striking blood-red color, suitably macabre name, and Old Dominion pedigree, I name Bloody Butcher Cornbread the official 2015 Virginia State Bread of Halloween.

 

Even though not as commonly associated with Virginia as, say peanuts or ham, Bloody Butcher corn traces its roots directly to the state, where the first reference to the variety, a style of dent corn ideal for flour, cornmeal, and grits, was made in 1845.

 

When Bloody Butcher was named, referencing, as the story goes, the bloodied apron of a butcher, slasher films hadn’t yet been invented.

 

Back then, I imagine the colorful words connoted something of the ordinary facts of life, rather than the horrifying, especially for farmers, who would have had intimate knowledge of processing meat.

 

Until the recent whole-animal butchery renaissance, the sight of a bloodied butcher apron (more…)



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