Food Chat: the Art of Southern Cooking Edition

Years ago, Southern cooking was denigrated as the food you cooked if you didn’t know any better.  It was commonly held to be the food of people who had no money and no imagination.  The only thing everyone agreed it had was heart; and lots of it.

It was gathering around Grandma’s kitchen table for Sunday dinner.  It was ‘putting up’ summer vegetables in a kitchen that felt like the inside of a steam iron.  It was desserts that were full of love, fat, and sugar.

But then folks got busy.  In many households, both mom & dad worked all day away from home.  There just wasn’t time, energy or desire to spend all day in the kitchen turning out big, heavy meals.

And as time passed, there were fewer of those old-school grandmas left.  Those recipes and techniques were forgotten.  And we were all the poorer for it.

Then along came Nathalie Dupree, and everything changed.

In 1986 her book, New Southern Cooking was published.  And all that humble Southern fare was reintroduced to a new generation.  And this generation realized that home cooking, Southern cooking, country cooking; whatever you called it, was an important gift from our ancestors.  It was something to treasure and something in which to take deep pride.

It was better than the convenient meals we had traded it for.  Cleaner, tastier, and healthier—to mind, body and spirit.

On the weekend of August 5th, Nathalie Dupree will be in Chapel Hill at Southern Season to conduct a cooking class and a book signing (check their website for particulars).

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to have a telephone food chat with Nathalie (I tried calling her ‘chef’, but she quickly corrected me, “Everybody calls me Nathalie”.)

When I first became interested in cooking, I never missed her PBS show and have quite a few of her cookbooks.  She is one of my very first culinary mentors.

She’s a Cordon Bleu-trained chef, a renowned hostess, a savvy business woman, and a moving author (Get your hands on her essay, “Lover’s Menu”; it’ll break your heart).

She insists that her hundreds of shows; on PBS, The Learning Channel, and Food Network, were education, not entertainment.  And she’s still a teacher, who makes learning completely painless (and plenty entertaining).

She gave me a tip which I will use for the rest of my life when writing recipes.

Unless it’s a baking recipe (which is chemistry that relies on proper proportions for success); she doesn’t list an amount for salt and pepper.  You cannot season unless you taste.  And as the cook, you must taste and determine for yourself.

Nathalie generously gave me permission to share her recipes with you.  I chose one of her specialties; simple Southern vegetables viewed through the lens of a classically trained chef.

Green Black-eyed Peas, New Style

black eyes

2 cups fresh black-eyed peas, and snaps

4 cups boiling water

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons chopped fresh savory and/or thyme

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Place peas in a pot with the water and bring to the boil.  Add butter, and let boil for 20 minutes.  Add the herbs, salt and pepper.  Serve the peas hot and slightly crunchy in their “pot likker”.

Nathalie Dupree started the new Southern cooking movement.  She’s sold over half a million cookbooks.  Her cooking school in Atlanta has educated over 10,000 students.  She’s won two James Beard awards.

She rescued Southern cuisine and in doing so changed the way we all eat and cook.

Thanks for your time.

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