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Fine Cuisine with Art Infusion
"To cook is to create. And to create well...
is an act of integrity, and faith."


Butter Beans to Blackberries


"No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook
in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice
and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers."

~ Laurie Colwin


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“…I have learned that nothing can equal the universal appeal
of the food of one’s childhood and early youth.”
~ Craig Claiborne


Our featured cookbook:

Butter Beans to Blackberries:
Harvest of the South
by Ronni Lundy (1999, Farrar, Straus and Giroux).


"A cookbook that puts you on the front porch, snapping beans, sipping
iced tea, and waiting for your peach cobbler to come out of the oven..."

"On a summer evening some years ago, two of the South's most celebrated
writers, William Faulkner and Katherine Anne Porter, were dining together
at a plus restaurant in Paris. Everything had been laid out to perfection; a
splendid meal had been consumed, a bottle of fine burgundy emptied, and
thimble-sized glasses of an expensive liqueur drained. The maitre d' and an
entourage of waiters hovered close by, ready to satisfy any final whim.
'Back home the butter beans are in,' said Faulkner, peering into the
distance, 'the speckled ones.'
Miss Porter fiddled with her glass and stared into space. 'Blackberries,'
she said wistfully."
~ Eugene Walter, Foods of the World: American Cooking:
Southern Style (1971)


As the publisher reminds us, Ronni Lundy does indeed draw upon her
Kentucky mountain roots and on the recipes and food passions of the
fellow Southerners she has met in her extensive regional travels.
No doubt. And the recipes are superb as Ms. Lundy 'cooks her way
through the bounty of the Southern garden'.
What endears this cookbook to me most of all, however, is the author's
uncanny ability to transport me back to the carefree summers of my
childhood - one summer in particular when I was determined to prove
to my grandmother's dismay that a child could, indeed, live quite well
on tomato sandwiches and sugar cane. The recipes are accompanied
by personal anecdotes written in a style that can only make me wonder
whether Ms. Lundy is a poet posing as a cookbook author.  For those
of us who read cookbooks like novels anyway, this delightful book is
a jewel to be savored in many ways.


From the Introduction...

"In my family we have a ritual dinner served in the heart of every summer,
though I never thought of it as such until a few years ago. The foods are
as specific and their preparation as prescribed as those for Passover:
fresh corn is cut, then 'milked' from the cob with the edge of a spoon and
simmered in a cast-iron skillet with butter, cream, salt and pepper; white
half-runner beans and small, creamy white potatoes in their jackets are
braised slowly all day on the back of the stove; deep-red and warm-yellow
tomatoes are laid out in thick slabs on a china plate turning translucent
with age; cucumbers not much bigger than a grown  man's thumb are
sliced, salted, and chilled in a glass dish with ice cubes on top; coleslaw
is made the painstaking way my mother always made it, with hand-slivered
cabbage; trimmed green onions are served standing tall in a water glass
or mug; a jar of chow-chow or some other hot homemade relish is passed
on the side; something from the garden is dredged in seasoned cornmeal
and fried in a black cast-iron skillet - green tomatoes or okra, maybe; and
always there is a pan of hot cornbread and a pitcher of iced tea with sugar
melted in it and lemon on the side..."
"...Like a Passover meal, this one has its ritual litany: we recite all the names
of friends and relatives dead or living (but not here) who would have savored
this dish or that as it makes its way around the table. We eat until our bellies
are full and then eat on until our souls are satisfied as well. And then we take
deep breaths and make room for cobbler of blackberries or peaches, or home-
made ice cream
, and, of course, the watermelon that has been chilled in a tub
of ice water or in the bottom of the refrigerator all day.
"Through it all, through the years, the people around the table tell stories that
are brought to mind ( like Proust's remembrances) by the taste or smell of foods
first savored and sniffed ages and ages ago. And in the dark, as the crickets
sing and the fireflies come out to tempt the children away from the table, we
remember who we are."

 "Being a Southerner is itself a celebration."
~ Tim Partridge, Atlanta chef and caterer

from The Spring Garden

"I didn't have my first taste of fresh asparagus until I was in my early twenties,
but I remember the moment well. A friend and I were clearing a long-unused
garden plot at another friend's house in New Mexico, preparing to plant that
spring. It was Polla Clare who came upon the wistful stand of new asparagus
sprouting amid weeds, and she cried out in pure pleasure. It was nearly lunch-
time anyway, so we squatted there in the sun and dirt, snapping stalks, then
swishing them clean in the watering can and eating until we nearly foundered.
It was one of the sweetest, purest tastes I'd ever encountered, and I've been
a fool for fresh asparagus since.
So were the gardeners of the South, my early experiences notwithstanding.
The early stands of asparagus and first crop of peas were prized for their
unpredictability as much as their sweetness. Summers come on quickly and mercilessly in much of the Deep South, and spring crops are often abbre-
viated, even lost to heat and humidity.
Perhaps because of their rarity, little is done to either asparagus or peas in the kitchen, except for some simple techniques to enhance their natural flavor."


Benne-Coated Asparagus

Serves 4 as a side dish

"Benne, or sesame, seeds are used to season many fresh
vegetables along the eastern shore of the South, but
none pairs up so exquisitely as fresh asparagus."

1 pound fresh asparagus
Salted water
1 tablespoon butter
3 drops green Tabasco, or
other hot green pepper sauce
1/3 cup sesame seeds
4 fresh lemon wedges, seeds removed

 Rinse the asparagus well, and break off the tough ends by lightly bending each spear until it naturally snaps. Discard the ends and set the rest aside.
In a wide skillet, bring 1/2 inch of lightly salted water to a boil. Lay the asparagus in the water, let it return to a boil, and turn the heat down to a
slow simmer. Cook for 8 minutes, then drain the asparagus in a colander.
Carefully wipe the hot skillet to remove any water, then add the butter.
Melt it over medium-high heat. Add the Tabasco, and mix to blend, then
toss in the sesame seeds and toast them, shaking the skillet gently but
constantly, until the seeds start to turn golden.
Add the asparagus, sprinkle lightly with salt, and gently toss with a spatula
to coat the spears with the sesame seeds. Serve immediately, spoon in any
seeds which didn’t stick to the spears. Pass lemon wedges on the side, so
guests can squeeze juice to accent to taste.


Spring Peas ‘n’ Lettuce

Serves 4 as a side dish

2 cups shelled fresh green peas
8 pearl onions
1 cup water
2 tablespoons salted butter
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 large leaves Romaine or curly leaf lettuce
Freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the peas and set them aside. Trim the ends from the onions and
remove the outer paper skin.
In a saucepan with a lid, heat the water and butter over medium heat until
the butter melts. Add the sugar, salt, peas, and onions. Turn the heat very low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
Near the end of the cooking time, rinse the lettuce leaves well and slice
them into pieces about 2 inches long and ½ inch wide. When the 20 min-
utes are up, stir the lettuce into the peas. Cover, and cook for an additional
10 minutes. Add pepper to taste, and serve immediately.


Sweet Peas and New Potatoes

Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

 “…When I was about ten years old, my mother began to give me a ritual gift
back each spring. I had been to a friend’s over the spring break and had been
particularly taken with a dish her mother had served: chunks of ham with fresh
peas and new potatoes in a thick, sweet cream sauce. I came home still moony
over it. And my mother (who hardly ever used a written recipe herself, so didn’t
think to ask others for theirs) sat me down at the white porcelain table in the
kitchen and had me reconstruct the dish for her from memory – quite possibly
the beginning of my career as a cookbook writer.
I’m guessing now, some nearly forty years later, that Evelyn’s sauce was a
béchamel made with the juices of the simmered ham and vegetables. What
evolved in my mother’s kitchen was a somewhat simpler dish, but one equally
To keep it light for spring, she eliminated the ham from the pot, and the flour
from the sauce. Instead, she served this as a side dish with the first spring ham dinner, often for Easter. We used the butter rolls that came with the dinner to
sop up every drop of the creamy broth. In time, we realized that the ham was superfluous, and this simple pea-and-potato dish became the centerpiece of a
meal that my mother prepared for me every spring, even after I’d moved into
a home of my own.
It’s comfort food by taste and texture, for sure, but for me, the comfort it gives
runs even deeper…”

 And for me as well. My grandmother cooked this dish (using the béchamel
sauce) – with a baked ham – just as ritualistically every spring, and quite
often for Easter.  My favorite accompaniment as a child was an orange Jell-o
salad loaded with grated carrots and pineapple. That meal remains one of my
all-time favorites.
And yes, it is most definitely comfort food in more ways than one. Enjoy!

1 pound shelled fresh green peas
12 new potatoes, no bigger than golf balls
6 to 8 pearl onions
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons salted butter
2 tablespoons half and half [we use more!]
Fresh black pepper

Put the peas and potatoes in a heavy saucepan. Trim the onions, remove
their papery skin, and add them to the pot. Add water, just to cover, and
the salt. Place over medium heat and cook, covered, at a lively simmer
(do not boil) for 25 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender when tested
with a cake tester or fork.
Add the butter. When it is melted, add the half and half, stir, and remove from the heat. Grind on pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

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