At Home with Edna
I feel at home with Edna Lewis‘ recipes. Perhaps because she was raised in Virginia, as was my mother. During her lifetime, she wrote about familiar dishes: collard greens, long-cooked green beans, spoon bread, damson jelly, fried okra, potato cakes, pan-fried chicken, and lard-based pie crusts—all much apart of my childhood dinner table. Admittedly, I rejected some of those dishes as a youngster, but have since grown to love them.
Foods from Home
Edna went back to Virginia each spring for wild strawberries and green gage plums (a lime-colored plum available in late summer). She found the peaches and pears in New York, where she had settled, were just as good as those in Virginia. But the berries and plums were worthy of a trip home. (Her feelings about the food of her childhood reminds me of a story, that I must pause to tell you.)
When I moved to Missouri in the early 60s, my mother had never been to this part of the country and often sent me “care packages.” Having lived and travelled only on the East Coast, I’m sure she had some misgivings about food availability in the Midwest. I never let on otherwise. A few times she spent a lot on postage just to mail me a carton of apples, that she’d picked in the orchards of Winchester, VA. When she finally visited us in Columbia and saw that I was not being nutritionally deprived, I never got another food package. But I enjoyed them while they lasted. 🙂
A Forever Stamp on Southern Cooking
The much admired chef was featured in the leading house and food magazines of her day. She ran many a restaurant kitchen, taught cooking classes, worked as a caterer, and was the author and co-author of four cookbooks.
While Edna is no longer with us, her recipes and cooking techniques live on. In 2014, she was one of five chefs immortalized on a limited edition forever stamp. She, indeed, left a “forever stamp” on Southern cooking.
Kitchen Pointers from Edna
- Use green basil and purple basil interchangeably. Use the small leaves and pinch them from the plant rather than cutting, which can cause darkened basil leaves. Most herbs are best fresh grown, with the exception of thyme, oregano and rosemary.
- Fresh chervil is a flavorful addition to peas. (This is not a herb that I’m familiar with. It’s described as mild-tasting, a cross between tarragon and parsley with a hint of licorice.)
- Put date of purchase on the jars and boxes of herbs you get at the store. Too often flavors wane within several months
- Scraping garlic into a soft mush rather than chopping creates a stronger, sweeter taste.
- When cooking garlic, add it to the pan after the onions are partly cooked. Never let it burned or the flavor is ruined.
- Raw vegetables should be eaten raw, while cooked vegetables should be “honestly” cooked. (To Edna, vegetables cooked al dente do not release their full flavor.)
- The best pie crusts come from using small bits of frozen butter or pure leaf lard.
- Using the right flour is key to baking. (She preferred King Arthur, unbleached.)
- Onions, shallots and garlic should not be refrigerated. Fruits, berries, cakes and breads should be allowed to set out to give flavors time to be released.
- When refrigerating remember that glass holds cold better than plastic. Salad greens should be stored in enamel or glass.
- For quick breakfast biscuits, measure all the ingredients the night before and all you have to do is mix them.
- No matter how good a pie filing is, people will always comment on the crust.
- Make fruit pies in a Pyrex pie pan. The crust browns better.
- When making cookies, use an insulated, heavy-gauge metal cookie sheet to prevent burning. If a cookie sheet is rimless, it’s easier to lift cookies from the pan.