Kool-Aid Pickles

So I’m checking out at the store, 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 with their phones 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 day and that’s all you do you big dummy.

 

Cocktail Sauce

Russell had his dander up. “Yancy, you are an effete snob!”
“Oh, come on, Russ,” I said. “Because I’m making shrimp cocktails?”
“No, you also wear ankle socks and tuck your t-shirts into your boxer shorts. But shrimp cocktails are further evidence of your snootiness.”
“There’s nothing epicene about a shrimp cocktail.”
“See?” he said. “You even know to say ‘sissy’ fifteen different ways.’”
“Russ, it’s your birthday party. What do you want for an appetizer?”
“Oyster shooters,” he said.
“I’m gonna call your momma and tell her you’re still sleeping with your ex.”

To one cup chili sauce, add one tablespoon each of lemon juice and horseradish, and a teaspoon Worcestershire sauce. For heat, I recommend Crystal hot sauce and a healthy dash of freshly-ground black pepper. I don’t recommend garlic. Freshly-chopped parsley gives heft and texture.

Granny Potatoes

A lady friend once asked me why she couldn’t make potatoes “like granny used to make”. I knew what she was talking about since people have been making these potatoes this way since they’ve had potatoes on hand. Many people in the American South remember this from their childhoods as one of those dishes that always appeared on the table. It’s true comfort food, and bespeaks of the poverty in our region. Simply peel and cut those lumpy red potatoes you see in the store into more or less bite-size pieces, boil them with water to cover by an inch until they’re just done. Add a smooth flour and water mixture (1:2T) and cook on a very low heat until quite thick. You can add bacon drippings or butter; not olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper.

Practical Primavera

“America’s grandest contribution to the pasta repertoire,” pasta primavera was invented in New York at Le Cirque in 1977. According to the ineffable Craig Claiborne, primavera soon became “by far the most talked-about dish in Manhattan”. The dish is today cliché, but remains a good standard for the home kitchen.

A simple dish, primavera is pasta with early vegetables in a cream reduction; think of it as an alfredo by Monet. Sauté cooked pasta–most people use spaghetti or fettuccine, but I prefer a vermicelli or angel hair–and blanched vegetables along with a bit of minced garlic and scallions in enough butter to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper, add heavy cream, and simmer until cream begins to thicken. Toss with a grated hard cheese, and plate with a sprightly garnish.

Lemon Pecan Baklava

This is a light, flaky sweet for warm afternoons. Spread three cups chopped pecans, melted butter and light brown sugar seasoned with cinnamon onto a half pound sheet of buttered phyllo, cover with another layer of the phyllo, bake until golden, slice and top with a syrup of honey and lemon.

The Masters Pimento Cheese

“The Masters pimento cheese must be the most famous sandwich in all of sport,” wrote journalist Andy Bull, and it was Nick Rango’s recipe for “the pȃte of the South” that made the Masters gallery snack iconic.

The pimento cheese Nick Rango sold from his store, Woodruff Drug in Aiken, South Carolina, was so famous that in the 1960s, Masters organizers dropped the husband-and-wife catering team they’d hired since the 1940s to make way for Rango’s. For 45 years, Rango and his two children, Billy and Stella, whipped up massive quantities of pimento cheese by hand to take to in Augusta every April.

More than 20 years ago, the Masters chose not to renew Rango’s contract; afterward he refused to share the recipe, taking its secret to his grave in 2015. Ted Godfrey, Rango’s replacement, claims that the missing ingredient in Rango’s pimento and cheese came to him in his sleep, as missing things tend to do. By the next year’s tournament, Godfrey had filled Rango’s shoes, and patrons were none the wiser. But Godfrey also withheld his recipe after the Masters replaced him with in-house catering in 2013.

When Rango lost the contract, the change of hands hardly registered with patrons, but when Godfrey lost the contract, patrons noticed—and so did the press. Wright Thompson, a writer for ESPN noticed, and he was directed to Godfrey, who spilled the beans. Thompson’s 2013 exposé—later known as “Pimento-Gate”—revealed a Masters’ operation that tournament organizers would’ve preferred stay shut. The episode, Thompson wrote, “left the Masters concessions staff trying—and failing, in a rare moment of fallibility—to recreate the same recipe that generations of golf fans have enjoyed.”

Admittedly, until the unlikely event that a Rango relative shares the original recipe, the best we have is an imitation of an approximation created by lifelong Masters patron and Augusta food blogger, Gina Dickson. Since her family moved to Augusta in the 1970s, Dickson estimates she’s been to no fewer than 25 Masters tournaments. A deft cook who’d eaten countless pimento cheese sandwiches dating back to the Rango era, Dickson says it took her several hours to reverse-engineer the ingredients and consistency. I recommend you add a grain of salt.

Masters Pimento Cheese Sandwich

2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
4 ounces cream cheese
½ cup mayonnaise (“just don’t use Miracle Whip—that’s a Northern thing”)
4-ounce jar pimento peppers, drained and diced
1 tablespoon onion, very finely minced
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until smooth and creamy. Refrigerate the mixture for at least an hour to allow it to become firm. Serve on white bread.

Getty via Gastro Obscura

Collards at Tara

Fiction writers  concern themselves more  with the turmoil of the human condition (usually theirs) than soups and sandwiches (like the rest of us), but you’re going to find food mentioned in many novels. It is, after all, an essential element of existence itself.

Margaret Mitchell was born to an upper-class home in Atlanta at the turn of the last century, and her family roots sank deep into antebellum Georgia. Given the social dynamics of her upbringing, she was certainly well-informed when it came to that period’s Southern table, so we shouldn’t be at all surprised to find a notable description of an antebellum spread in Gone with the Wind.

When Ashley came home from the war for Christmas, the table was still graced with Aunt Pittypat’s Sèvres, but the only things to eat were sweet potatoes–a perennial staple of hardship from any quarter–and a skinny rooster Uncle Peter had put out of its misery, Scarlett remembered Tara’s groaning boards:

There were apples, Yams, peanuts and milk on the table at Tara but never enough of even this primitive fare. A the sight of them, three times a day, her memory would rush back to the old days, the meals of the old days, the candle-lit table and the food perfuming the air. How careless they had been of food then, what prodigal waste! Rolls, corn muffins, biscuit and waffles, dripping butter, all at one meal. Ham at one end of the table and fried chicken at the other, collards swimming richly in pot liquor iridescent with grease, snap beans in mountains on brightly flowered porcelain, fried squash, stewed okra, carrots in cream sauce thick enough to cut. And three desserts, so everyone might have his choice, chocolate layer cake, vanilla blanc mange and pound cake topped with sweet whipped cream. The memory of those savory meals had the power to bring tears to her eyes as death and war had failed to do, the power to turn her ever-gnawing stomach from rumbling emptiness to nausea.

While most of these dishes seem apt for a wealthy, socially prominent Georgia plantation meal in the 1830’s, some people (admittedly me among them) might find the presence of collards in a porcelain tureen jarring because I’m such a stuck-up redneck, but stewed collards fit on the table in any damn thing that will hold them. I’ll be the first one to say turnips are good, too, but not raw with red mud on them, for chrissakes.

No-Fail French Toast

This simple recipe is very old and is known by many names, most famously French toast, which likely comes from pain perdu, “lost bread”. Usually served as a sweet dish, I prefer it simply seasoned with salt and pepper. It’s best to use a thick cut wheat. Sourdough gives it an off flavor.

Beat three eggs in a cup of milk or half-and-half. Season with salt and pepper; add a little vanilla if you plan to serve it sweet. Sop dried bread slices in egg/milk mixture and pan-fry in butter until nicely browned.

Lemon Ice

For each cup of finely crushed ice, add 1/4 cup granulated sugar and the juice of a lemon.  A drop of vanilla is a nice touch. Mix very well and serve with ginger snaps.

 

Poke Salad

Euell Gibbons lauds poke as “probably the best-known and most widely-used wild vegetable in America.” In Stalking the Wild Asparagus, Gibbons writes that the Indian tribes eagerly sought it and early explorers were unstinting in their praise of this “succulent potherb.”

“They carried seeds when they went back home and poke soon became a popular cultivated garden vegetable in southern Europe and North Africa, a position it still maintains. In America it is still a favorite green vegetable with many country people and the tender young sprouts, gathered from wild plants, often appear in vegetable markets, especially in the South.”

Much like ramps, poke salad was eaten as a spring green because it was one of the first edible herbs to appear, giving a much-needed break from the beans, cornbread and salt pork diet of winter. In April 2000, Allen Canning Company of Siloam Springs, Arkansas canned its last batch of “poke sallet” greens. As late as 1990 at least two processing plants continued the tradition, Bush Brothers of Tennessee and Allen of Siloam Springs. Surprisingly, one of the best markets for canned poke was southern  California due to the many “Oakies” who settled there in the ‘30s. John Williams, the canning supervisor at Allen Canning, said, “The decision to stop processing poke was primarily because of the difficulty of finding people interested in picking poke and bring it to our buying locations.” Also, poke processing was never a significant item in their mult-imillion-dollar enterprise, so it just became more bother than it was worth.

The only drawback to poke salad is that it’s poisonous. The mature parts of the plant and the roots contain significant amounts of a violent but slow-acting emetic. Having said that, you’re probably wondering why in the hell anyone would even consider eating it, but prepared properly, poke salad is not only safe but delicious. Here’s how you do it: harvest only the youngest, tenderest sprouts of poke. Wash, stem and trim. Boil them for about ten minutes in plenty of salt water. Then drain, rinse and simmer for a while with just a bit more lightly salted water and a bit of oil of some kind. A slit hot pepper pod of the slender sort is a nice touch, and adding big pinch of sugar is something you just ought to do. Trust me.

Use prepared poke much as you would spinach; Euell has a poke salad dip in his book. I like it with scrambled eggs and onion, and it’s wonderful in an omelette.