Cookbook a taste of Southern summer




Martha Hall Foose couldn't talk. There was a confusion about the day we'd planned to speak and now she was driving in her car, her dog chasing behind, having nearly bitten the mailman. Which brings me to her new cookbook, "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook (Clarkson Potter, $32.50)."

One of the first inside photos shows a rural metal mailbox. Perched on the open mailbox door is a frosty drink in a mason-jar mug. A rustic sign reads Mailbox Bar. A sweet, not-menacing dog stands beneath, being petted. A group in the background leans against a pickup truck.

The photo is the illustration for Mailbox Cocktail ("Fold Down Door, Set Down Drink," as she subtitles it). The tale behind the recipe is one of many charming stories from this Mississippi Delta native who wants to give you "a little taste of what life is like down South."

"Out on Rural Route 2 ... the mail run is around four o'clock. About 5 most afternoons, nearly everybody on Pluto (Martha's family farm) comes down to check the mail. Propped or perched on a variety of seating (old tractor seat, stump, log, lawn chair, wheelchair, four-wheeler, and tailgate), they go through their daily post, trusty dogs at their sides, mailbox doors folded down, with a drink of some sort resting on each one ...It's generally a wonderful time of day."

A Mailbox Cocktail calls for at least 2 ounces of bourbon, 2 ounces of ginger ale and a lime wedge, all poured over crushed ice. I didn't test it because I needed to finish this article. I'm sure it's wonderful and potent.

Martha Foose didn't really plan to be a writer or a cook, it just happened that way. Born in Yazoo City, Miss., hometown of renowned Southern writer and editor Willie Morris, Ms. Foose came to love cooking by reading cookbooks. This is her first foray into writing of any kind, "I'd never written anything more than a grocery list," she said. But I bet, as with many writers, she's been composing this book in her head for years.

Martha Foose attended Ecole Lenotre pastry school in Paris, worked in Los Angeles with Nancy Silverton and in New Orleans with Susan Spicer. She owned and operated bakery/restaurants in Oxford and Greenwood, Miss.. Before she left to write this book incorporating essays and her take on Southern classics, Ms. Foose was executive chef at Viking Cooking School, also in Greenwood.

For a time, "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea" was sold out, an enviable position for an author. Ms. Foose assures us that books are now back in stock. You may wish to get a personalized copy by going to marthafoose.com.

She's got another book planned, more stories and I hope more recipes. I can't wait to make her Chicken Thighs and Dumplings, or "pillows adrift in the richest of stews."

I've already got the ingredients for Monday Red Beans and Rice ("Back to Work with Hambone"), Tallahatchie Tomatoes ("Bright Spot on the Buffet)," and Apron String Biscuits ("Red-Eye Gravy or Tomato Gravy"). These are square biscuits and so-named because "if you don't have a knife handy a taut apron string will do the trick to cut them."

Clever. I wish I'd thought of that.

SILENT SHADE COBBLER ("REFLECTED IN BLUES")

PG tested

A sugary, crisp topping on this cobbler makes it especially delicious and one of Martha Hall Foose's favorite recipes. She explains that the boiling water poured over the unbaked cobbler mixes with the cornstarch, making a jammy blueberry layer.

  • 5 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
  • 3 cups granulated sugar (I reduced this to 21/2 cups; you don't have to)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put blueberries in 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish. Drizzle with lemon juice.

In medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder,  1/2 teaspoon salt, nutmeg, mace, 1 1/2 cups sugar, milk, soft butter, and vanilla. Spoon over berries; spread in even layer.

In small bowl, mix remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar (I used only 1 cup here), remaining  1/2 teaspoon salt and cornstarch. Sprinkle over batter.

Pour boiling water evenly over cobbler. Poke few holes in batter with handle of wooden spoon. Bake 50 to 60 minutes, until top is golden brown, frosted and shiny.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 8 (or more).

-- Adapted from "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea" (Clarkson Potter, $32.50)

BLUE CHEESE AND PECAN BREAD (FOR THE HOSTESS)

PG TESTED

Inspired by the flavors of Irish soda bread, Martha Hall Foose developed this moist, barely sweet, savory quick bread for a hostess gift. She writes, "Ring the doorbell with your elbow and present the hostess with a bottle of wine and this bread, and you will most likely be invited back."

  • 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut up
  • 2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled ( 1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Cut in butter until mixture resembles oatmeal. Add cheese and pecans; toss to distribute. Make well in center; pour in 1 1/2 cups buttermilk and egg. Stir with sturdy spoon until a shaggy dough forms.

Tip dough out onto lightly floured work surface; knead gently to bring together. Form into slightly flattened 6-inch round.

Place on lined baking sheet. Brush with remaining 1 tablespoon buttermilk; sprinkle with pepper. With serrated knife, cut shallow X in top of loaf.

Bake 10 minutes. Reduce oven to 375 degrees.

Bake 35 minutes, until loaf is deep golden brown and sounds hollow when thumped on bottom. Cool on wire rack.

Makes one 8-inch round loaf.

-- Adapted from "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea" (Clarkson Potter, $32.50)


Miriam Rubin is a cookbook author and food writer who lives in Greene County.




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