By Ronni Lundy
There's much more to Southern food than fried chicken, grits, and biscuits. Just ask Ronni Lundy, a native Southerner, itinerant gourmand, and author of the new book, Butter Beans to Blackberries: Recipes from the Southern Garden. Part cookbook, part memoir, and part journal, this engaging work is Ronni's tribute to the foodways of the South its traditions of growing, cooking and eating past and present.
Southern cuisine is, and has always been, deeply rooted in the garden. Every Southern region is known for its distinctive crops and glorious garden varieties: Charleston's famed sivvy beans, Montgomery's lady cream peas, and Georgia's succulent peaches. Such regional diversity, coupled with myriad ways of food preparation and cooking (going back to the American Indians, African slaves, European settlers, and Southern colonialists), is what defines the South's rich culinary heritage today.
In Butter Beans to Blackberries, Ronni sings the praises of all of the South's earthly treasures: beans, greens, peas, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, okra, potatoes, eggplant, squash, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, root vegetables, mushrooms, fruits, berries, and more. She devotes a chapter to each garden ingredient, explaining its heritage, texture, flavor, and color as well as the rituals of its harvest, preparation, and cooking. Supplementing her fascinating and often-times humorous detail are more than 150 recipes, gathered from family and friends, and restaurateurs she met during her many travels through the South. There are recipes for hot and cold soups; biscuits, breads, puddings, and pies; hearty stews and meatless casseroles; afternoon snacks; Derby Day lunches; thirst-quenching ades; and jams, jellies, gravies, and chutneys.
Respecting tradition, Ronni offers her favorite recipes for authentic, time-honored Southern classics. There are the family favorites of Real Cornbread and Fried Green Tomatoes as well as foolproof True Grits, a lighter version of Red Beans and Rice, and the best Iced Tea with Lemon. and what would a book about Southern cuisine be without recipes for quintessential dishes like Hoppin' John, sublimely Simple Succotash, magical Shuck Beans, and Golden Gazpacho. But Ronni delves deeper into the South, unearthing unique recipes that have become beloved mainstays. Spiced bean pastries, or Bean Pies, are a favorite sweet n' savory snack; Skillet Corn, otherwise known as creamed corn, is a summer staple; and Peach and Dried Cherry Chutney is a popular spread typically served with pork or grilled chicken. Along with the old comes the new, so there are edible examples of the recent renaissance in southern cooking, too. From the executive chef at Louisville's legendary Brown Hotel comes Joe Castro's Corn Risotto with Fresh Carrot Broth, which exemplifies the marriage of Southern flavors and Mediterranean texture; and, from José Gutierrez, a French-born and trained chef at Memphis's Peabody Hotel comes Jose's Hush Puppies Stuffed with Shrimp Provençal, a jazzy version of hush puppies that melds Continental flair with an appreciation for the ingredients of the South.
Ronni's Southern hospitality shines through in Butter Beans to Blackberries as she shares techniques, rituals, and culinary wisdom that have been passed down to her from generations of Southerners. She tells how to "wrench" greens, milk corn, dry shuck beans, string and snap peas, remedy recipes, and make ingredient substitutions. Ronni also chronicles her encounters with local horticulturists, restaurateurs, and fellow food enthusiasts, relaying important information about the wealth of regional delicacies. At the back of the book there is a complete listing of mail order sources for a wide variety of these ingredients, including butter beans, crowder peas, Kentucky country hams, hot sauces, cornmeal, ramps, molasses, and figs. Adventurers and armchair travelers will also appreciate Ronni's sidebars or "road notes" that tell about fun places to visit throughout the South: bed & breakfasts, down-home eateries, fancy restaurants, local farmer's markets, state-by-state festivals, regional contests (South Carolina's "Rolling in the Grits" contest), and working farms (North Carolina's Celebrity Goat Dairy). All of these are also included in a geographical listing at the back of the book.
Born in Corbin, Kentucky, and raised in Louisville, Kentucky (where she lives today), Ronni is a full-fledged Southerner. She is also the author of Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes and Honest Fried Chicken, which was recognized by Gourmet as one of six essential books about Southern cooking, and The Festive Table. Formerly the editor of Louisville magazine and the restaurant critic for The Louisville Courier Journal, she is currently the editor of Entrez!, the newsletter of the International Association of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, and she is a freelance writer for numerous publications and organizations. Color transparencies of the front cover are available upon request.
Butter Beans to Blackberries
Recipes from the Southern Garden
By Ronni Lundy
North Point Press
A division of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.
Hardback, $27.50, May 1999
Information provided by the publisher.
This page created July 1999
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