Southern Sauté

Summertime farmers

Aunts Mary and Lin Barker weren’t known for their cooking, but they surprised me on one of my weekend trips to The Farm. We’d always start the day with a good sit-down breakfast – eggs, bacon or country ham and biscuits. This particular Saturday morning breakfast included a side dish of tomatoes, okra and corn chopped up and fried in a bit of bacon grease. It was delicious!

Southern Sauté

Ingredients

  • 2 ears sweet corn
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1 pint okra (preferably smaller pods)
  • 1 large sweet onion – Florida Sweet or Vidalia
  • 4 strips bacon

Directions

  1. Coarsely chop the onion and tomato. Cut the corn off the cob. Slice the okra.
  2. Cook the bacon in a heavy skillet until crisp. Remove bacon and set aside.
  3. In the bacon grease, saute the onion on medium high heat until translucent, stirring as necessary.
  4. Add the corn and let it brown a bit before adding the okra. The okra will cook down, but you don’t want it to get too gooey.
  5. Add the tomatoes at the end and just cook enough to get them warm and add a bit of juice to the mix.
  6. Salt and pepper to taste – a couple of shakes of Tabasco if you’re so inclined – and you’re done.
  7. Sprinkle each serving with crumbled bacon.

There’s nothing like vegetables picked from the garden just minutes before cooking. This is not just a breakfast dish, but also a great side – especially with any kind of pork. Having inherited those low-country genes from Dad’s side of the family, I like to serve it over rice with country ham. It’s also delicious over grits.

Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie

Anyone interested in traditional Florida cooking will find Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ classic, Cross Creek Cookery, a delight. If her name sounds familiar, it’s because she is the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Yearling. After her success with The Yearling, she wrote a non-fiction account of her life at Cross Creek in rural central Florida. Since she enjoyed entertaining and was quite proud of her cooking skills, Cross Creek described many of her favorite dishes. That book was published in 1942 and was picked up by Book-of-the-Month Club. A special armed forces edition was sent overseas during World War II. As a result, she received a lot of mail wanting recipes for those dishes. Cross Creek Cookery was published later that same year. From the introduction:

Men in the Service have written me from Hawaii, the Philippines, Australia, Ireland and Egypt. Always there was a wistful comment on my talk of foods; often a mention of a boyhood kitchen memory. Eight out of ten letters from Cross Creek ask for a recipe, or pass on a recipe, or speak of suffering over my chat of Cross Creek dishes.

Although there are many “Old Florida” recipes like Spoonbread, Poke Weed and Gopher Stew, you’ll also find some of her prized recipes like Lobster Newburg, Steak and Kidney Pie and Utterly Deadly Pecan Pie. Of course there’s many a story to go along with these recipes so the book is both delicious and entertaining. Here is Marjorie Rawlings’ recipe for pecan pie – and yes, it is “utterly deadly”.

Marjorie Rawlings' Utterly Deadly Pecan Pie

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ¼ cups Southern cane syrup
  • 1 ½ cups broken pecan meats
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

Boil sugar and syrup together two or three minutes. Beat eggs not too stiff, pour in slowly the hot syrup, add the butter, vanilla and the pecan meats, broken rather coarsely. Turn into a raw pie shell and bake in a moderate oven about forty-five minutes, or until set.

Her comment about this recipe – just before she offers her “reasonable” pecan pie recipe – is priceless:

I have nibbled at the Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie, and have served it to those in whose welfare I took no interest, but being inclined to plumpness, and having as well a desire to see out my days on earth, I have never eaten a full portion.

Dad’s Clam Chowder

In this part of Florida we make a spicy red clam chowder laced with datil pepper.  It’s called Minorcan clam chowder after the immigrants from Minorca, Majorca and the Mediterranean who settled here before the American Revolution and created this dish using local resources.  The datil pepper is a hot pepper found in just about every native St. Augustinian’s garden.  Although our family doesn’t have any Minorcan ancestry, we do love our local Minorcan dishes that have been passed down for generations.

Dad was known for his version of Minorcan Clam Chowder.  I admit it is delicious, but I don’t think Dad deserves all the credit.  You see, Dad very seldom made Minorcan Clam Chowder.  He had an army of family members doing all the work for him.

Dad was in the Merchant Marine so he spent most of his time at sea.  When he was home during the summer, he would rent a cottage at the beach and all the family would spend a month doing all the things you do at the beach.  We kids lived in our bathing suits – swimming, fishing, boating and skiing.  Our few chores included digging clams, cleaning the catch of the day and manning the meat grinders when Dad was making chowder.  While adults did all the chopping – we were not yet old enough to handle sharp knives – we were quite capable of turning the crank on the grinder.  In addition to grinding the clams, Dad’s recipe was unusual in that he included grated potatoes and onions with the chopped ones.

Making chowder was quite a production.  Fortunately the results were of sufficient quantity that we normally only made it once during each summer vacation.  Years later, my (then soon-to-be) husband got a taste of chowder-making Barrett style as part of a clam-digging expedition in the creek behind Dad’s house.  Early one Sunday morning found us “kids” and our significant others wading around the muddy creek as Dad directed us from the seawall.  By day’s end we all went home with a generous portion of that delicious brew.  Fortunately for us, by then food processors had replaced meat grinders!

Bill Barrett's Minorcan Clam Chowder

Ingredients

  • 150 clams (or 4 lbs chopped, frozen clams)
  • 2-3 bottles clam juice
  • ½ lb salt pork, chopped
  • 2 lbs onions, 1/2 chopped and 1/2 grated
  • 2-3 cans tomatoes
  • 2 cans water
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 4 med bell peppers, diced
  • 1 teaspoon thyme, oregano, marjoram
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1 or 2 datil peppers (whole), or to taste (Scotch Bonnet or Tabasco peppers can be substituted)
  • 6 Idaho potatoes , 1/2 diced and 1/2 grated

Directions

Saute salt pork; add onions, celery, bell peppers for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, water and seasonings. Cook 15 minutes. Cook diced potatoes in a small amount of water, then add potatoes and water to above mixture. Add raw grated potatoes, clam juice, and clams.  Simmer one hour.