Archive for the ‘American, regional (Southern)’

The Jennings Sisters’ Boiled Custard

April 06, 2017
By Holly Jennings

 

Stir and chat. Chat and stir.

 

That is all you need to know to make a good batch of boiled custard. That and to completely disregard its name. If you bring boiled custard to a simmer, let alone a boil, you will have a lumpy scrambled mess on your hands.

 

The term boiled custard is an old-fashioned one that refers to the cooking process, done entirely in a pot over the heat, to distinguish it from its cousin, the set custard, which is gently baked, preferably in a water bath, to acquire a firm yet delicate texture. Today, boiled custard is more often called “stirred custard,” referencing the constant stirring required to ensure a smooth texture, or “soft custard” or “custard sauce,” describing its pourable, saucelike texture. Crème anglaise is a supreme example of this style of custard. In the South, though, the old-fashioned term lingers as does a particularly Southern way of enjoying it: as a traditional holiday beverage. Call it drinking custard. During the holiday season, you can find store-bought jugs of boiled custard in the dairy section of grocery stores, sitting right next to the eggnog, in some Southern states, Tennessee and Kentucky for certain. Leave it to Americans to transform an Old World dessert sauce the into a “big gulp.”

 

I know. It’s completely illogical to talk about southern boiled custard at the beginning of April, four months past its season, yet too early to capitalize on the strange Christmas in July phenomenon. But sometimes you need to run with what you’ve been handed, while the inspiration is still fresh.

 

At the end February, at a family gathering to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday, my cousin Joseph, reminiscing about his grandmother’s cooking and holiday traditions, suddenly said, “Let’s make boiled custard!” Joseph, a Tennessean, was the sole family member there from my father’s side of the family—the Jennings side.

 

Joseph’s forty-six-year-old boyish enthusiasm is hard to resist, but (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…)


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…)


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…)


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…)


Holly’s Cow Peas — Authentic Country Cooking

October 13, 2015
By Holly Jennings

Holly's Cow Peas

It’s honest, simple food that speaks plainly of its origins, its parts, and aspirations. It’s the humblest of food that fit for a king, and it’s startlingly delicious.

 

Like Hank William’s “Lost Highway,” it’s direct and from the heart; it cannot tell a lie. Like the vernacular dogtrot house or Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water, it springs naturally from its place, its environment.

Dogtrot house

Dogtrot house

Fallingwater

Fallingwater

That’s what authentic country cooking is, and that’s what Holly’s Cow Peas are. Or, at least, they’re made in the spirit of authentic country cooking. The browned onion topping and garnish of chopped parsley probably never appeared on a bowl of cow peas back in the day, but this is now.

 

Country cooking’s unfussy ways are the secret to its success and the root of our modern day disappointment with it: More than any other type of cooking, it’s only as good as the ingredients used.

 

That’s why the food revival going on in the South right now is so (more…)


Bean Cuit

October 01, 2015
By Holly Jennings

Bean Cuit

 

I wrote this post more than a month ago, when green beans were still plentiful. Then, before I had a chance to put the finishing touches on it, I got a story assignment, my first since moving to Richmond. (It’ll be published in the November/December issue of Edible Richmond Magazine). Of course I fell into that deep hole of writin’ and researchin’, like I always do when I get a chance to have a byline, so Bean Cuit had to wait. Hope there’s still lovely fresh green beans about somewhere. Considering how this method has you cook green beans to smithereens, I would think that a frozen stash of summer’s abundance will work just as well.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I may end up being one of those old people that you can’t let in a kitchen anymore because they’ll leave the stove on and burn the whole friggin house down. It’s going to suck to not be able to cook.

 

Several weeks ago I made a pot of slow simmered beans and peas: a couple of handfuls of pole beans from our 12-foot-tall Turkey Craw pole bean plant in our courtyard, the remaining bush beans from the plant in our community garden plot, and some shelled pink-eyed peas, also from our garden plot, added sequentially in descending order of size to a pot of water seasoned with a healthy teaspoonful of sea salt and even healthier spoonful of bacon grease. When the beans had become withered and dull in color and velvety soft, and when the water had transformed into nutritious pot liquor, I turned off the heat and went for a walk.

 

Upon returning, I thought I heard my husband in the shower, but at that moment I realized the sound I was hearing was the sound of the last amount of pot liquor evaporating into the air and sound of beans sizzling on the bottom of (more…)


Succotash—More Than the Sum of Its Parts

August 23, 2015
By Holly Jennings

Succotash #1

Two versions of Succotash (#1 in the foreground)

Succotash is a perfect subject for this posting, my first on the foods of Virginia. You could argue that no dish is more Virginian than succotash, going way back, as many claim, to the Powhatan Indians, a tribe that lived along the eastern shore of what is now called Virginia. And it’s the dish that made me feel at home here during my first summer living in Richmond.

 

Last August, heading home from the Richmond airport on Route 5, past vestigial farm fields sprinkled among small businesses and light industry, I spied a tented farm stand on the left side of the road. After doing a quick maneuver, I pulled in next to the table of colorful produce.

 

“Do you add tomatoes to your succotash?” asked the farmer, as soon as I’d made my selection of tasseled ears of corn, shucked fresh lima beans, and bright red tomatoes.

 

Her question caught me off-guard. I hadn’t given the dish much thought, perhaps not since (more…)



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