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The Taste of Country Cooking: The 30th Anniversary Edition of a Great Southern Classic Cookbook

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In this classic Southern cookbook, the “first lady of Southern cooking” (NPR) shares the seasonal recipes from a childhood spent in a small farming community settled by freed slaves. She shows us how to recreate these timeless dishes in our own kitchens—using natural ingredients, embracing the seasons, and cultivating community. With a preface by Judith Jones and foreword by Alice Waters.

With menus for the four seasons, Miss Lewis (as she was almost universally known) shares the ways her family prepared and enjoyed food, savoring the delights of each special time of year.

From the fresh taste of spring—the first wild mushrooms and field greens—to the feasts of summer—garden-ripe vegetables and fresh blackberry cobbler—and from the harvest of fall—baked country ham and roasted newly dug sweet potatoes—to the hearty fare of winter—stews, soups, and baked beans—Lewis sets down these marvelous dishes in loving detail.

Here are recipes for Corn Pone and Crispy Biscuits, Sweet Potato Casserole and Hot Buttered Beets, Pan-Braised Spareribs, Chicken with Dumplings, Rhubarb Pie, and Brandied Peaches. Dishes are organized into more than 30 seasonal menus, such as A Late Spring Lunch After Wild-Mushroom Picking, A Midsummer Sunday Breakfast, A Christmas Eve Supper, and an Emancipation Day Dinner.

In this seminal work, Edna Lewis shows us precisely how to recover, in our own country or city or suburban kitchens, the taste of the fresh, good, and distinctly American cooking that she grew up with.

ISBN-13: 9780307265609

Media Type: Hardcover

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Publication Date: 08-01-2006

Pages: 304

Product Dimensions: 6.85(w) x 9.52(h) x 1.06(d)

Edna Lewis was born in 1916 in Freetown, Virginia, a farming community founded after the Civil War by freed slaves (among them her grandfather) and for many years lived and cooked in New York City. She was the recipient of numerous awards, including the inaugural James Beard Living Legend and Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) Lifetime Achievement Awards, the Grande Dame des Dames d’Escoffier International, and the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) Lifetime Achievement Award. Her books were inducted into the James Beard Foundation Cookbook Hall of Fame, and she was commemorated with a United States Postal Service postage stamp. Miss Lewis was also the author of The Edna Lewis Cookbook, In Pursuit of Flavor, and, with Scott Peacock, The Gift of Southern Cooking. She died in February 2006.

Read an Excerpt

Rhubarb Pie
1 1/2 cups plus 2 teaspoons sifted flour
1 scant teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chilled lard
1/4 cup cold water
Makes 1 8 or 9-inch pie (depending on shallowness of pie plate)

2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon fresh-grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons cornstarch
4 cups (about 1 1/2 -2 pounds) fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 8 or 9-inch pie plate

Put 1 1/2 cups sifted flour and the salt into a 2-quart bowl, add the chilled lard, and mix well with a pastry blender or with fingertips. This blend will not be as dry as a butter-mixed pastry. When well blended add all of the water and mix until the water is all absorbed. This will make the dough a bit sticky. Sprinkle over lightly with 2 teaspoons of flour and roll into a ball. Leave to rest in a cool place for about 15 minutes.
Separate the dough into two unequal pieces. Roll out the larger piece and place it into a 9-inch pie pan. Roll out the smaller piece and cut it into 3/4-inch strips to form a latticework top crust.
Place the strips upon a sheet of wax paper and place it, along with the pastry-lined pie plate, into the refrigerator until needed.
When ready to prepare the filling, remove pastry from refrigerator. Mix together well the sugar, nutmeg, and cornstarch. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the sugar mixture over bottom of pastry. Mix the rest into the rhubarb and fill the crust. Place on strips in lattice fashion. Moisten rim of bottom crust to help lattice strips adhere to rim of bottom pastry. Place the pie into a preheated 450° oven.
This high temperature is important in forming a crispy crust when using very juicy products. If the crust tends to brown too quickly, cut a ring of aluminum foil and place it over the rim of the pie. It is the rim that usually overbrowns. Remove the foil about 10 minutes before the pie is to be removed from the oven. Total cooking time for the pie is 40 minutes.

Compote of Stewed Blackberries
Everyone seems to have forgotten how delicious blackberries wereif they ever knew. We picked them mainly for canning, for making wine and jelly to use in the winter, but how we did enjoy them too during the summer season in blackberry pie, rolypoly, or with cream and sugar, as well as stewed and served warm. Blackberries are still gathered from the wild and they are the one frozen fruit that still tastes good. Put up in Marion, Oregon, they can be purchased in the A & P frozen, and they are just as delicious when stewed for 10 minutes with a little water and sugar to taste. Serve warm with cookies or cold with warm, plain cake.

1 cup sugar
1 cup well water or bottled water
1 pint blackberries

Serves 4 to 5

Set the sugar and water to boil briskly for 10 to 12 minutes. Pick over the berries, wash them off, and drain on a clean towel. Then add them to the boiled syrup. Bring this to a near boil and stew gently for 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and leave in a warm spot if they are to be served warm.

Oven Brisket or Rolled Chuck
Beef was more available in the spring and summer and it was inexpensive as well, being locally butchered. We would take a big piece so that we could have some left for slicing cold during the busy sea­ son. Usually it was the rib roast. It was dusted with flour, salt, pepper, cooked to perfection, and served cold after the first or second meal. Locally grown beef had such a great flavor. None was ever left to spoil.

Because of the lack of flavor in beef today, I have searched and found that the more unpopular cuts have a bit more taste. Brisket, rolled chuck, which is also sold sliced as chicken steak, and flanken all have more flavor than some of the other more expensive, better­ known cuts.
For preparing this dish of brisket or chuck, purchase half as many onions as beef.

3 pounds beef brisket or chuck
Vegetable oil or lard
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 pounds onions, peeled and sliced
Fresh-ground black pepper
3 or 4 whole allspice
1 bay leaf

Serves 6

Wipe the meat with a damp cloth. Heat a skillet hot, grease lightly with oil or lard, and add the beef, searing well on all sides until well browned. Place the seared meat in a heavy pot or pan. Wipe the skillet out and then add a tablespoon of butter and put in the onions. Stir the onions until they are pretty well browned. Sprinkle the meat over with fresh-ground black pepper and now add the browned onions, allspice, and bay leaf. Cover closely and see that the pan is good and hot before placing it in the oven. Set into a preheated 400° oven until the meat begins to cook. Turn the oven to 225 ° and leave to cook undisturbed for 2½ hours. When finished, remove the meat and press the onions through a sieve. Add to pan drippings and season this sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with the beef.

Busy-Day Cake or Sweet Bread
Busy-day cake was never iced, it was always cut into squares and served warm, often with fruit or berries left over from canning. The delicious flavor of fresh-cooked fruit with the plain cake was just to our taste and it was also refreshing with newly churned, chilled buttermilk or cold morning's milk.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter at room temperature
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3 medium to large eggs
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 cup sweet milk, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 teaspoons Royal Baking Powder
1 light grating of nutmeg (about 25 grains)

1 10 x 10 x 2-inch cake pan

Serves 4 to 5

Blend the butter and sugar by hand until it is light and fluffy. Then, one by one, add the eggs, beating the batter with a wooden spoon after each egg. Add in 1/2 cup of flour and one part of the milk, alternating the milk in three parts and the flour in four parts, and ending with the flour. Add salt, vanilla, baking powder, and nutmeg, and mix well. Stir well after each addition, but always stir only once after you have added the milk then quickly add more flour so as to keep the batter from separating.

Butter and flour the bottom of the cake pan and spoon the batter into it. Bake in a preheated 375° oven for 40 minutes. Cut into squares and serve warm.