French Market Bean Soup

Somewhere among the cuneiform tablets found scattered around Ur there’s bound to be a bean soup recipe, and likely soups using multiple varieties of dried beans have been around almost as long. This particular recipe is comparatively quite recent—it’s only been around about as long as I have, which dates it to around the time Sputnik was launched—and its connection to New Orleans’ French Market is likely speculative at best. But it is a rich, hearty winter soup, and much of its appeal is that it lends itself to gift packaging. You can easily combine these dried beans and parcel them out in jars to give away over the holidays.

A typical recipe calls for one pound each of navy beans, pinto beans, split green and yellow peas, black-eyed peas, lentils, both baby and large limas, black beans, red beans, Great Northerns, soybeans and barley pearls, but you can use whatever combination you like, the more the merrier, and a variety of colors is a plus. Divide your bean mixture into 2 cup (about a pound) gift packages, cloth sacks or jars, whichever you find most attractive. Including a couple of bay leaves in each portion is a nice touch.

You’ll also want to include the recipe: For 2 cups beans (and 2 bay leaves), place in a heavy pot with 2 quarts water, a ham joint or hock–some people use a smoked turkey neck or tail–a large onion chopped, about a cup of chopped celery and a hot pepper or two. Now, a lot of recipes will tell you to add a can of chopped tomatoes at this point, but don’t; if you do, your beans will take forever to cook. Bring to a boil and simmer until beans are soft, adding water if needed. Remove meat from bone, chop and add back to the pot. Add tomatoes now if you like along with a clove of garlic or two (crushed and minced) little thyme and basil, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with cornbread or French bread.

Kool-Aid Pickles

So I’m checking out at Froogle’s, and I hold up a jar of pickles and two packs of cherry Kool-Aid to my girls Meshaun and Lorita who are sitting in the motorized shopping carts up next to the front door and say, “Guess what I’m making?”

They look at one another like, “This fool don’t know what he’s doing,” and tell me first that I don’t have the right kind of Kool-Aid “You gotta use Tropical Punch” that no, you do not use the pickle juice in the jar, that you dump that out and make a quart of Kool-Aid with two packs of mix and one cup of sugar, that you shouldna’ bought whole pickles cause now you gotta slice them in half and that no, you do not need to heat it up, just pour the tropical punch in there and put it in the refrigerator for a few days and that’s all you do you big dummy.

Taste like Sweet Tarts, yes they do.

Herb-Roasted Rutabagas

The rutabaga is a mutant; it has 38 chromosomes while other turnips have 20. Some say it’s a cross between a cabbage and a turnip that originated in Bohemia in the seventeenth century, but where the hell they came up with that goes largely unexplained by any account. Rutabagas are milder and sweeter than other turnips, and you’ll find them in the supermarket coated in wax to keep them from drying out, which they do more readily than other root vegetables. This simple recipe is a wonderful alternative to the usual mashed “swedes” with enough butter to gag Paula you’ll find on a lot of cool-weather tables.

One large rutabaga, peeled and cubed into more or less bite-sized pieces, will serve four people easily. Coat the pieces in oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and granulated garlic, and bake them at 350 tossing or turning occasionally to brown evenly. When they’re just tender through, dust with dried herbs—sage, rosemary, marjoram, basil, rosemary or a combination—and continue cooking until done through. These are even more delicious the day after.

Pimento Cheese Pizza

While most all of us eat pimento cheese year-round on some type of bread, likely its eaten cold as a spread, a snack or a light lunch item. This recipe brings pimento cheese into football season and beyond not only as a great party recipe, but also as a cold night nosh for a family.

You can use a prepared pizza crust, but I implore you to learn how to make a simple pizza crust; it’s not hard at all, and there are dozens of recipes available using nothing more than flour, yeast, water and olive oil. With a homemade crust, you can adjust the thickness to your tastes and add whatever herbs and cheeses you like to it instead of what some dingbat in a test kitchen thinks you like. Using a homemade crust, roll out your dough—I like mine on the thin side—and crimp the edges. Cover the crust with thin slices of tomato that have been drained between paper towels; slice tomatoes, place between layers of paper towels and press to leach out seeds and jelly. Dust the tomato layer with grated Parmesan cheese and a bit of that ubiquitous Italian seasoning blend.

As to the pimento and cheese, friends and neighbors, I wish I could tell you that you can use store-bought or even your homemade recipe, but if you do, you’re going to end up with a greasy, runny mess because the mayonnaise will separate in the oven. Instead, toss mild grated cheddar with drained diced pimentos—I dice the roasted red peppers you can buy in a jar—diced white onions and shaved ham. Yes, you can use bacon but make sure it’s lean. I wouldn’t range too far afield in toppings—no anchovies!—but it’s your pizza, and you can put any damn thing you want on it. Spread pimento cheese mixture over the tomatoes, dust with Parmesan and bake on the middle rack of a very hot oven (450) for about 15 minutes.

Hosford’s Apple Cookies

While digging a well for Mrs. Mary Allison, a widow from New Orleans who moved to Way, Mississippi in 1899, Parson Hargon discovered a plentiful source of mineral water, and in time a popular resort named Allison’s Wells grew up around the spring. Initially offering only medicinal baths and drinks (and those for men only), the spa eventually added a hotel and restaurant (La Font) with a grand ballroom that in time also hosted the Mississippi Art Colony. Allison’s Wells was destroyed by fire in 1963

In 1981, proprietor Hosford Fontaine—doubtless at the urgings of countless friends—published Allison’s Wells: The Last Mississippi Spa, a treasure-trove of history, profiles of the people who kept the resort functioning as well as other unforgettable characters, musicians and of course artists such as Till Caldwell, Inez Wallace, Ted Faires, Marie Hull and others. Many of these people contributed to the illustrations which are augmented by dozens of charming vintage photos including a poignant image of Hosford standing amid the charred ruins. But best of all—from my standpoint in the kitchen—The Last Mississippi Spa also includes a sprawling section on recipes for almost anything to put on the table: hors d’oeuvres, soups, salads, dressings, breads, meats, seafood, vegetables, breakfast and brunch dishes, desserts, candy and cookies, all “tried and true” from the La Font kitchens.

You don’t see many Southern apple cookie recipes; a quick scan of Southern Sideboards, Bayou Cuisine, River Road Recipes, Vintage Vicksburg, Gourmet of the Delta, The Jackson Cookbook and The Mississippi Cookbook turned up nary a one. Though the South has a native crab apple, the Old World apple species that produce what Emerson called “the American fruit” simply don’t do well in our climate and fruit from those that do are most often dried or made into pies or sauce. As to the kind of apples to use, that’s up to you. I used Galas because they’re pretty.

The original recipe calls for a cup of margarine, but I’ve substituted butter because it just flat-out tastes better. I suspect Hosford used margarine for the sake of economy, but then a lot of women of her generation used margarine because it was considered upscale, being “store bought” and all. I used white raisins because you’ll find different shades of fruit in a box of white raisins while others are uniformly dark, and I used pecans because they go so well with apples in any recipe.

About 3 apples, enough to make 3 cups of fine unpeeled dice; (use only pieces with skin so that when baked they’ll stay somewhat firm)
2 sticks butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
A half teaspoon each ground cloves, nutmeg and salt
2 cups rolled oats
¼ cup white raisins
¼ cup chopped pecans (or nuts of your choice)

Cream butter and sugars well, add eggs and flour mixed and sifted with spices and baking powder, then stir in apples, oats and nuts. Refrigerate dough for about 30 minutes, stirring once. Form dough into ping pong balls, and bake on a lightly oiled cookie sheet with parchment paper at 350 or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.This recipe makes about three dozen wonderful, chewy, sticky cookies.

Vanilla Lemonade

An elegant riff on an eternal favorite, vanilla lemonade adds a gracious touch to any summer soiree, the perfect companion for a plate of ginger snaps or sugar cookies. If you’re already accustomed to making lemonade properly, with a simple syrup rather than raw granulated sugar, then it’s nothing more than a simple variant. And according to correspondent Dan Vimes, the addition of Cat Head vodka doesn’t diminish the subtle flavor and enhances its consumption.

Combine one cup white sugar and one cup water in a small saucepan along with the sliced peel of one lemon (juice the lemon first, then pare the peel). Bring to a quick boil, just enough to dissolve the sugar, then reduce the heat, add a tablespoon of pure vanilla extract and let it simmer for several minutes. If you can get them, two vanilla beans can be used instead, in which case you will have to strain the syrup, but it’s well worth the effort. Add this syrup to six cups of water along with about a cup of fresh strained lemon juice or to taste and keep in a sealed container until ready to pour over ice and serve.

Muscadine Or Scuppernong?

It’s late summer; the exhausting heat lingering and September’s drought is setting in, but on a bright note, our native grapes are beginning to appear in markets. These aubergine and bronzy green globes are a little bit pricey, often going for as much as $5 (but usually more like $3) a quart, but to me they’re worth it. These grapes have a thick skin and rind–they’re actually chewy–but when you bit into them, you get an explosion of sweet, sharp flavor.

North America has two native grape species, Vitis labrusa, often called the fox or possum grape, and Vitis roundifolia, which most people call a muscadine. While the wild fruit of both species is edible, the fruit of cultivated varieties of vastly superior. Naturally, both species are widely used for making wines, which are most often cloyingly sweet and best used as an aperitif or digestif. The name muscadine comes from its similarity to early settlers with the Muscat grape, a Mediterranean type used in making muscatel, both words deriving from the musky scent of the fruit.

Muscadines come in a variety of colors, but there are two basic color types: the black or purple and the bronze. “Scuppernong” is the name of the first muscadine cultivar, a cultivar being a variety of plant that is created or selected for cultivation. This “white” (most types are a light greenish) was so named because of its discovery along the Scuppernong River in North Carolina. Interestingly (and surprisingly) the original mother vine is still on Roanoke Island, where it has been growing and producing for several hundred years. Because scuppernongs are such an early variety of muscadines, scuppernong entered common usage to refer to any bronze/green/”white” muscadine grape even though botanical correctness dictates that “Scuppernong” should only designate the cultivar and not all such color types.

You can use muscadines and scuppernongs as you might any berry: in pies and cobblers, muffins, jams and jellies, but because their fresh taste is so incredibly wonderful, I recommend that you simply keep a bowl  on the kitchen table for a quick little nosh during the season.

Ice Cream Bread

Versions of this recipe have been bouncing around a lot recently, most of them praising its fool-proof simplicity, but as with such recipes—and one with two ingredients is about as basic as they come—the devil is in the details. Most versions call for 1 ½ cups of self-rising (“hot rise”) flour and a pint of melted ice cream—which make make a soft, sticky dough rather than a batter—baked in a standard 8×5 loaf pan at 350 for 45 minutes, but I’ve found that the recipe makes a much better presentation when baked in a 5×3 (16 oz.) loaf or a similarly-sized spring-form baker at 350 for only 35 minutes. I’ve also found that you must use a very rich ice cream such as a French vanilla or (as in this case) a butter pecan and that LuVel works just as well if not better than Ben & Jerry’s, but you must let the ice cream melt slowly on the kitchen counter or in the refrigerator overnight; don’t put it in the microwave or it will be “flat”. These cute little loaves serve six adults easily, slice into eighths for kids, and while a dollop of whipped cream might seem more appropriate, I don’t think a scoop of vanilla ice cream is redundant at all.

Cucumber-Lime-Basil Sorbet

Puree two peeled chopped cucumbers, one cup simple syrup, 1/4 cup of fresh lime juice, a pinch of salt and 5 basil leaves in ta blender, then press through a fine screen. Pour the mixture into a container, and float a cleaned egg in the mixture . If a quarter sized portion of the shell is showing you are good, if not add more syrup. Chill mixture then run in ice cream maker.

Photo and recipe via David Odom