Stewed Greens

Some people cook roots with greens, but I don’t. Cut three bunches of turnip and two of mustard right above the gather.  Strip the leaves from the stems and put them into a clean stoppered sink. Sprinkle with a generous amount of salt, cover with cold water, and agitate to knock off sand and other debris. Repeat the process until the greens are thoroughly clean; there’s nothing worse than gritty greens. Load leaves into a big pot on medium heat, add about two cups of light stock, a chopped white onion, and a pound of bone-in ham or turkey. Reduce heat and cover. Stew, stirring occasionally, for at least two hours, adjust salt, add a little pepper, and let sit a bit to set before serving.

Fondue for the Masses

Chances are if you’re an average middle-class sort, somewhere tucked away in a cabinet or closet you have a fondue pot. Chances are as well that you’ve never used the damn thing and likely never will because you’re more likely to order out chicken wings or pick up a meat-and-cheese/vegetable tray from the local supermarket than make something as baffling as fondue.

Fondue is (of course) a Swiss dish, likely begun by people of simple means with simple ingredients, cheeses and wine at its most basic. The French word fondue itself simply means ‘melted’. Most Swiss would agree that a proper fondue is made with a blend of cheeses–of gruyere, emmental, and a softer local cheese such as raclette or appenzell–white wine, a little kirsch, a spoonful of flour to prevent curdling, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and nothing else. Fonduta, the Italian version of fondue, is made with fontina cheese…There is also a similar Dutch dish called kaasdoop (cheese dip), which begs the question of why we insist on calling it fondue in the first place.

Trendy American cooks embraced fondue in the middle of the 20th century. The early recipes were startlingly elaborate—as were the fondue sets themselves—and included prescribed serving rituals as well as a warning against drinking cold beverages while consuming cheese fondue because the hot cheese would harden in the stomach and cause constipation. (It won’t.) Fashionable authors recommended using those long two-tined forks with the cute little colored knobs on the end to skewer the bread cubes, which is why colorful glazed fondue pots with matching forks were standard gifts at bridal showers and weddings. Many of you likely remember your mother’s fondue set in harvest gold and avocado green. The “canned heat” was typically Sterno brand. Fondues became quite popular because the ingredients were inexpensive and familiar; the equipment novel and within reach, and while most of us consider a fondue about the gayest thing you can serve at a party, it makes for a novel holiday dish (particularly New Year’s) and is actually quite good.

The following basic recipe is from Betty Crocker’s Dinner Parties: A Contemporary Guide to Easy Entertaining, [Golden Books: New York] 1970, 1974 (p. 55). I recommend you lightly toast the bread cubes.

Cut a French loaf into 1-inch cubes, and a pound of Swiss cheese into 1/4-inch cubes (about 4 cups). Sprinkle about two tablespoons AP flour over cheese and toss until is coated. Rub cut clove of garlic on bottom and side of quart ceramic fondue pot, heavy saucepan or chafing dish. Add 1 cup dry white wine (Rhine, Reisling, Chablis, Neuchatel); heat over medium until bubbles rise to surface (do not allow to boil). Gradually stir in cheese, adding only 1/2 cup at a time and stirring after each addition until cheese is melted and blended. (Do not allow mixture to become too hot.) Stir in 2 tablespoons kirsch or sherry liqueur and seasoning. If fondue has been prepared on range, transfer fondue pot to source of heat at table and adjust heat to keep fondue just bubbling. Guests spear cubes of bread with long-handled forks and dip into cheese mixture. Stir fondue occasionally. (If fondue becomes too thick, mix in more warm white wine.) 4 servings.

Willadeen’s Spoon Bread

Willadeen Monahan and her sister, Geraldeen, used to sing on the local radio shows in north Mississippi back in the 1950s. They were pretty and could sing up a storm, but the act never went anywhere, and in time they both married and settled down, Geraldeen in Kosciusko and Willadeen in Como, where I became her neighbor. Panola County gets mighty cold in the deep Delta winter, and when the north wind came whipping down on us like a blue devil, Willadeen would call us up and say, “Y’all come on over and get some of this spoon bread to keep you warm. You know I make the best in the world!” And she did. Here’s her recipe.

Preheat oven to 400. Sift 1 cup of white or yellow cornmeal into 2 cups of lightly salted (1 teaspoon) boiling water. Lower the heat and stir vigorously until it becomes a stiff gruel. Remove from heat and mix in a cup of cold milk. This is best done with a whip, and some people will use half-and-half or cream for a more sumptuous dish. Add 2 well-beaten eggs and 2 tablespoons melted butter. Blend until very smooth and ladle into a heated, well-oiled 8-in. baking dish. Willadeen used a skillet, which gives a nice crust. Bake until firm in the middle and nicely browned, for about 40 minutes, less if you’re using cast iron. Serve hot from the oven.