Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Tennessee cornbread is thin and flat, made in an iron skillet with bacon drippings and just a hint of sugar, used in the same way you’d add a sprinkling of salt while making your cake or pie. The skillet bestows a fine crispiness that gives way in each bite to the luxurious heft provided by the addition of genuine animal fat.
The cornbread of my growing up years--and what I make now--is golden on top, with a brown crunchy bottom that you can only get when you make it in cast iron.
Because this is the type of cornbread I grew up with and what’s authentic for me, I tend to measure all other cornbread by the Tennessee yardstick. The best cornbread in California is what I make in my own kitchen, with my own aged iron skillet, my coffee can full of bacon drippings and my taste memory of all the cornbread of all my years before leaving the South.
Apparently a lot of people indulge in cornbread snobbery--not just me. Some insist it must be made specifically with either white or yellow cornmeal, that it must have flour or a handful of chopped jalapeno peppers or even a can of creamed corn tossed into the mix. And if you don’t make it the way they do, then it’s NOT the real stuff.
Author and storyteller Crescent Dragonwagon makes a good point about the concept of authentic cornbread. I attended her presentation on the subject during the annual conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals recently, and she gave the rundown on corn’s history as part of the Mesoamerican diet waaay before the Europeans showed up. People have been making bread from ground corn for centuries, and my way of doing the job is but one of many. As she wisely pointed out, the original cornbread was the TORTILLA!
So to all those Californians whose cornbread I’ve disparaged, I apologize for the crap-ass remark. But I’d still rather eat my own.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
For example, European settlers to the Louisiana lowcountry brought their recipe for paella, and it metamorphosed into jambalaya, as they had to substitute tomatoes for the saffron and oysters for the mussels. In the process, a wonderful new cuisine was born.
Corinne puts the finishing touches on the jambalaya. With a dish this varied and flavorful, you’ll never miss the saffron and mussels!
As she handed everyone a packet of recipes, she encouraged us to make gumbo at home. “But,” she said, “if you live where there’s no andouille, use what you have—kielbasa or chorizo or whatever is native to where you come from.”
This is the way it has always been done. We cling to our customs and recipes, but as we settle in new places, we have to make adjustments. With humankind's propensity to roam the earth, who’s to say how authentic any recipe--or any custom--is?
Friday, April 25, 2008
--Thanks to my sister-in-law, Linsey Lewellyn, a fine and imaginative photographer, who captured Cosmo's I'm-too-cute-for-you look.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
We're trying different cocktails most every evening. Last night we had calvados with triple sec, fresh orange and lemon juices and a touch of orange bitters. Lovely! It's a treat having the tools, products and materials handpicked and gathered for us, to jumpstart our learning process. We'll never be in their league of cocktailing, but I appreciate such a lovely basket of bar essentials being put together by Wes Moore and Chuck Taggart, of Gumbo Pages fame, a couple of guys who know more about the business of mixology than anyone else I know.
Bravo and thank you, Chuck and Wes, most generous donors of the Spirits Basket! You're collectively da bomb! You're heading to JazzFest even as I type this and probably won't see it for a week or so, but know that your contribution to the church's charitable programs is instructive, tasty and fun! Cheers! Salud! Slainte! Prost! Chin chin! Salute! and God bless!
Edible Memphis assigned me to write a story on figs, which are the most voluptuous, sensual fruit on the planet. It’s easy to go on about them endlessly, and in terms that aren’t entirely appropriate for that venue. I’ve decided to start my fig ponderings right here, so I can purge the questionable stuff from my system. Otherwise I’ll never get my article written—or at least I won’t be writing one they can publish.
In Animal House, the film classic that exemplifies college life at its most scholastically rich and enlightening (har har), frat boy Otter encounters the dean’s wife in the fruit & veg section at the grocery, and the two begin a discussion on the sensual merits of particular produce. They never get around to talking about figs, which is a good thing, for the movie's rating could have easily have plunged from R to X—or NC-17, if they’d had that rating then.
I suffer from fig lust. I think the fig is the sexiest fruit of all. Because it looks so . . . uh, it tastes so . . . um, it feels so . . . hmm, maybe this isn't the appropriate venue either. Figs inspire all sorts of scandalous prose and salacious imagery, and I don't want to veer into the pornographic here.
But if your only exposure to figs is the dried ones or those abominable cookies, you really don't know what you're missing. And you'll be gobsmacked with delight when you find your first real one, especially if you can pull it off the tree yourself and chomp right into it on the spot, supremely fresh and unmolested by a refrigerator stay. You'll remember it with the fondness you hold for the memory of your first kiss or your first flesh-to-flesh engagement of whatever kind. Even when you find fresh figs in the grocery, they're most likely bruised and sad. They're just too fragile to ship very well. You HAVE to have your own fig tree. In fact, Andy and I planted one in our backyard a couple of weeks ago. We're wishing we had planted one as soon as we bought our house, since we were moving from a rental house with an incredibly prolific fig tree in the yard, and we yearned to have that generous supply of sweet, slurpy goodness right there at our disposal. We were spoiled, too spoiled ever to settle for dried figs again. Until this one begins to produce, we'll continue to haunt the yards of our friends who have mature fig trees.
Figs are so luscious and sweet, so succulent and sinfully tasty, you want to fall face down into them, wallowing, slurping and writhing in total depravity (see why I have to get this out of my system!?), luxuriating in their sweetness and textural wickedness. At least that's MY reaction to them.
I don't think this is working. If anyone ever publishes a magazine called Fig Lust, I'll be a contributing editor. And now I have to get busy writing a g-rated article on figs. This isn't going to be easy.