THE ART OF PRESERVING

The Art of Preserving | for the love of the south

Every year, I find myself trying to cling onto the last days of summer. By this point, many Southerners are beyond ready for cooler temperatures and shorter days, which I do love. But there is something about summer I wish I could bottle up: flickering fireflies, warm summer nights, and most of all, its produce. I happily endure the heat to devour juicy, ripe tomatoes, peppery okra pods, blushing peaches and beautiful blackberries.

The art of preserving is like a palimpsest, something that has been traced onto the pages of generations before us. With each page, the lines grow fainter and fainter until one day it may completely disappear. So, in pure desperation of holding onto the last days of summer and the art of preserving, I tied my linen apron strings and got to work.

Fresh Tomatoes | for the love of the south

I gathered all of the essentials: clean jars, fresh basil, a pot of boiling water, and a crate full of ripe summer tomatoes, anxiously awaiting their moment to be sealed in a mason jar and put away for the chilly months to come. Standing there in my steamy kitchen, with one hand on my hip and the other fishing out jars of sealed tomatoes with my bare fingertips, which I do not recommend, I instantly felt connected with the wonderful women with worn, wrinkled hands that have perfected the art of preserving generations long ago. There is something romantic and beautiful about preserving; in taking something we have in abundance today and saving it for sparse times in the future. The art of preserving is like an act of faith.

This goes beyond preserving tomatoes; this is a ritual to pass to the next generation in hopes of preserving part of our culture and forever clinging to the flavor of summer in the South.

The Art of Preserving | for the love of the south

Canned Tomatoes:

There isn’t a recipe to go along with this post, but I will give you a few steps for canning tomatoes that I found helpful.

P.S. Make sure you carefully inspect your jars, lids and rings before using. If you notice any rust, dents or chips, don’t use them for canning, please! Also just as a reference, I bought a 25-pound crate of tomatoes and canned 20, 16 ounce wide-mouth jars.

Wash your jars, rings and lids with warm, soapy water and dry completely. Place the jars, rings, and lids onto a baking sheet, making sure the pieces are spaced out and not touching. Place the baking sheet into a 225oF oven for at least 10 minutes. If you keep them in longer, that’s fine, but allow them to stay in for at least 10 minutes, undisturbed.

Cut an “x” on the bottom of each tomato and blanch them in a bowl of recently boiled water. Allow them to sit in the hot water for 5-10 minutes, or until the skin comes off with ease.

Peel the tomatoes, cut the core out and slice in half, lengthwise. (If you are canning larger tomatoes, cut into quarters.)

Whenever you are ready to fill the jars, take the baking sheet out of the oven and fill the jars with the peeled and cut tomatoes, placing a fresh basil leaf into each jar. Gently press the tomatoes down, and drain any excess liquid that comes up to the top. Pressing on the tomatoes does two things: you are making sure you are filling all of the space in the jar, and you are getting rid of excess water from the tomatoes. The result: you end up with actual tomatoes in the jar, not just a few tomatoes and tomato water! After you drain the liquid, fill the jar with more tomatoes until the jars are completely filled. With a clean towel, wipe any excess juice or pieces of tomato from the top of the jar.

Carefully place the lid onto the jar, making sure you do not touch the bottom of the lid. Screw the lid on tightly. Place the jars in a large stockpot, filling the pot with water so that your jars are covered at least halfway. Place a lid on the pot and allow the water to come to a boil. Once the water begins to boil, set a timer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, carefully take the jars out of the boiling water, tighten the lid more if you can, and set the jars aside to cool completely. Make sure you check the seal by pressing down on the top of each lid. If the lid doesn’t budge, great job! Store in a dark, cool pantry. But if the lid pops back, place the jar in the fridge and use a.s.a.p.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HUSHPUPPY HOARDER

Pimento Cheese Hushpuppies | for the love of the south

The hot, humid Louisiana air is heavy with mosquitoes, fireflies and the scent of fried fish. Newspaper shrouded picnic tables are piled high with platters of golden, crispy fish fillets and pale green peppery coleslaw, but peaking behind the Tabasco and rémoulade sauce rests the crowning joy of the fish fry, hushpuppies. Hushpuppies are my favorite part of any backyard fish fry or seafood joint.

Whenever I was young, I knew I was walking into a seafood restaurant because of the distinct aroma of damp wood and fish. There were stuffed alligators and moss-covered tanks filled with live seafood to play with while we waited for our table. I listened to everyone gush over what there were going to order that evening. Whenever I was asked what I was going to order, I simply stated, “Nothing.” But I had a plan. See, most people go to seafood places because of the seafood, of course, but I adored going to seafood restaurants for the promise of unlimited hushpuppies.

Pimento Cheese Hushpuppies | for the love of the south

As we were seated, I immediately grabbed the boat-shaped, woven basket filled with brown paper and tiny, round golden hushpuppies and placed them in front of me. Fishing out my trusty butter knife from my paper-restrained silverware, I cut the hushpuppy in half with accuracy in one fell swoop. The piping hot golden nugget of fried cornbread spilt in two, and sweet steam filled the air. The outside was golden and crispy and the inside was bright yellow and fluffy. I was in heaven. I grabbed a small packet of butter, which was in the center of the table, sitting alongside the hot sauce, salt and pepper (as if butter was like any other condiment), and in very precise motions, slathered half of the packet on half of the hushpuppy and the rest on the other…and I.ate.them.all.

Pimento Cheese Hushpuppies | for the love of the south

Once I finished one little basket of puppies, I replaced the empty basket where I found it and stealthily made my way over to the other side of the table, which had a full basket of untouched hushpuppies. I dodged jumping juices of cracking crabs legs and the saunter of stuffed shrimp and fried catfish as my little arms reached for the hushpuppies, which were in sheer peril of being contaminated by seafood spatter. I repeated this action throughout the entire meal without anyone noticing. No one would have guessed that I had eaten my weight in hushpuppies that night. Quiet and content, I sat at the end of the table with a pile of empty butter packets in front me, and a whisper of a smile running across my face. Hushpuppies.

Hushpuppy Prep | for the love of the south

Recipe: Cast-Iron Pimento Cheese Hushpuppies

Serves 4 as a side

Note: This is my version of the beloved hushpuppy. There is a balance of sweetness from the honey, spiciness from the cayenne, sour notes from the pickled pimentos and saltiness from the cheddar, which makes these hushpuppies my favorite!

Since these hushpuppies have extra moisture in the batter in the form of cheese, pimentos and honey, you need to finish these puppies off in the oven. This extra step insures that all of the centers are cooked through properly and allows the entire batch of the hushpuppies to come out of the oven at the same time piping hot!

Dry Ingredients:

1 cup of fine-ground yellow cornmeal

½ cup of all-purpose flour

2 ½ teaspoons of baking powder

½ teaspoon of kosher salt

¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper

Wet Ingredients:

1 large egg, lightly beaten

¾ cup of whole milk (or buttermilk)

2 tablespoons of honey

½ cup of cheddar cheese, grated

¼ cup of pimentos, drained and finely chopped

Canola, peanut or vegetable oil, for frying

In a mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, beat together wet ingredients. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir just until everything is combined. Cover and let rest for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.

In a 4-quart pot (preferably cast-iron), heat oil at least 3 inches deep to 350oF, making sure the oil remains at a steady temperature.

Preheat oven to 350oF

Once the oil has reached the appropriate temperature, drop rounded tablespoon scoops into the oil in batches of six. (I use a 1½-tablespoon cookie dough scoop.) As soon as the hushpuppies begin to float, flip, allowing both sides to get nice and golden brown. (These puppies cook quickly! They only need about 1 minute total in the oil.) Remove the hushpuppies from the oil and transfer to a paper towel lined plate or brown paper bag to drain. Once all of the hushpuppies have drained, place them into a shallow baking pan in a 350oF oven for 7-10 minutes until the center of the hushpuppies are set. (I usually test a hushpuppy in the center of the baking pan by pricking it with a knife and checking to make sure the center is set and no longer runny. If you notice it is still runny, place them back in the oven for a few more minutes.) Serve piping hot!

 

 

SOUTHERN WOMEN

Sweet Tea + Magnolias | for the love of the south

There is something special about Southern women. There are elements engrained in our history, in our ability to be hospitable and in our namesake. We take on the names of the great women that have created a legacy before us, in hopes of leaving our own legacies. There are great expectations on our lives as Southern women. We were taught to sit up straight, to listen more than we speak (which we don’t always succeed at, but we try!), and to attempt to meet difficult times with a sugary disposition. Daring to be sweet in a world hell bent on being difficult. And above all, we were taught to be nothing less than a gracious hostess.

I mastered the art of being a hostess at a young age. I watched my grandmother and mother gracefully greet guests into their homes with open arms, always offering them something to drink as soon as they cross the threshold and answer the door with such enthusiasm the person on the other side heard them coming from a mile away while they shout, “I’m coming! I’m coming! I’m coming!” The gesture was well received with a grin and a hug around the neck.

Magnolias + Pearls | for the love of the south

Now, I greet guests with open arms in my own home. Mimicking the movements I’ve watched over the years. I rush around last minute lighting magnolia scented candles, pulling at my linen apron strings while touching up my lipstick right before company arrives. All the while, attempting to give the illusion that everything looks this way all the time, that I’m not out of breath, and that my company couldn’t hear me running around as they walked up the wooden stairway to my loft!

Magnolias | for the love of the south

Most people remember how you make them feel upon meeting, that is why the heart of a hostess is so important to Southern women. Our goal is to make you feel loved and comforted as you step into our home. We want to make sure there is plenty of food whenever life carries a crisis to your doorstep (and enough casseroles to fill your entire freezer for a year), enough flatware to serve a small infantry, and more than enough pimento cheese and biscuits to slake any Southern appetite.

Magnolias + Pearls | for the love of the south

Southern women are made to withstand heat. We have the tolerance to render bacon fat with a smile in a steamy kitchen in the dead of summer. To be able to serve ice cold sweet tea at a moments notice. We are resourceful in the kitchen when tough times abound. We are resilient women, withstanding all odds, challenges and our past. Southern women are tethered to history and are made stronger because of it.

I’m grateful to be a Southern woman. It has helped shape the very person I have become: God-fearing, proud, strong-willed, polite, caretaker. I am defined by geography, circumstance, and culture, and for that, I am truly grateful. Forever I will be thankful to be a spirited, Southern woman like the great women before me who graced these halls, handled these slicked skillets, wore these pearls and filled these etched glasses with sweet tea. Long live the legacy of the Southern woman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOME & HILL

Spring Picnic | for the love of the south

Tennessee. This is a lovely state in which I’m grateful to call my home. I’m enjoying discovering sweet family farms that sell fresh eggs, with their only advertising being a hand painted sign leaning at the front of their fence. Farmers markets with some of the most passionate farmers tending to their stands, making sure you choose the best possible produce for your weekend meals, and the whispers of the South’s history being sung in the graveyards and historic battlefields. I’m educating myself in tobacco-scented sorghum, golden benne seeds and wild emerald green ramps.

Thyme & Garlic Infused Fried Chicken | for the love of the south

It’s no secret that I’ve been enraptured by Tennessee’s seasonal displays of autumn and winter, but as I pass the gently green rolling hills of Franklin, white petals blow in the wind like gently falling snow. I begin to realize this is easily my favorite season yet. Lovely dogwoods and cherry blossoms reveal their beautiful blooms, enticing us for a picnic so we can revel in nature’s spring splendor.

Homemade Potato Chips | for the love of the south

So in preparation of a lovely spring picnic, I decide to create a menu of thyme and garlic infused fried chicken, gently bathed in buttermilk and cayenne pepper, paired with crisp homemade potato chips and a wonderful sweet delight of floral elderflower marshmallows.

Elderflower Marshmallows | for the love of the south

I pack all the picnic treats in a vintage wooden basket. Nestled paper bags filled with chips, silver bento boxes of marshmallows, and a lovely milk glass dish of fried chicken line the basket. Packing up anything, especially food, reminds me to take a piece of home with me wherever I am going, or in this case, my kitchen. As I pull out my everyday flatware, white flour sack dishtowels, silver Laguiole knives, and Mason jars filled with lemon slices among the green grass and blushing blossoms, I am reminded of my sweet home on a hill in Tennessee.

Spring Picnic | for the love of the south

I am grateful to be able to contribute to the lovely quarterly, Home & Hill, which is dedicated to people who love this state as much as I do. You can find these recipes exclusively in Home & Hill Issue No. 3. You can order the magazine here!

THE PRODIGIOUS GRAPEFRUIT

Grapefruit + Raw Cane Sugar + Olive Oil Pound Cake | for the love of the south

While driving down the long, dusty road to Lacassine, Louisiana, cleared sugarcane fields revealed new life from the rich soil and a mellow, sweet fragrance filled the warm air. I imagined the empty field later in the year, taking over the landscape with its towering pampas-like foliage. As I became entranced by the pale jade landscape, we crept closer and closer to my great grandma’s house.

I tiptoed across the tiny, white shells in my great grandmother’s driveway and peaked around the corner of her small, whitewashed house and stepped into the garden. To me, this was an enchanted backyard, filled with life from one end of the tiny lot to the other. Strategically placed rows of perfectly ripe tomatoes and fingerlike okra pods smelled of sweet grass as I walked by. Tiny yet vibrant red and green peppers pirouetted in the breeze, reminding me of flickering Christmas lights. A protective fig tree magically became the perfect umbrella to take refuge under in the midst of afternoon showers, and near the back of the property, there was a gaggle of disgruntled chickens that became ruffled around the feathers if you got too close to their coop.

Grapefruit + Raw Cane Sugar + Olive Oil  Pound Cake | for the love of the south

On this particular trip, I decided to keep my distance from the foul fowls and kept to the side of the house, close to my grandmother. She was reaching over her head, picking what looked like spotted yellow basketballs. Quietly and curiously, I filled as many plastic shopping bags with the enormous unidentified fruit as I could and piled into the backseat of the car. I remember how the combination of the saccharine air from the sugarcane fields and the fresh scent of the mysterious citrus resting on my lap made my mouth water.

Immediately when we got back to the house, my grandma grabbed a large carving knife and split the colossal clandestine citrus in half, revealing blushing pink flesh. My grandma smiled proudly and said in her sweet Cajun accent, “Dat’s a biiggg grapefruit!” My mouth dropped in sheer disbelief, and we both started laughing and began ripping into the slightly sweet and tart flesh.

Grapefruit + Raw Cane Sugar + Olive Oil Pound Cake | for the love of the south

With a mouthful of ruby grapefruit and pink juice dribbling down my chin, I wondered what the secret was to the gigantic, sugary grapefruits that grew in my great grandmother’s backyard. Suddenly, I recalled the soft, spring breeze coming from the sugarcane field across the way and became sweetly satisfied in solving the mystery of the prodigious grapefruits.

Grapefruit + Raw Cane Sugar + Olive Oil  Pound Cake | for the love of the south

Recipe: Grapefruit + Raw Cane Sugar + Olive Oil Pound Cake

Slightly Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 1 Loaf Cake

Note: If you don’t have plain yogurt or buttermilk in the fridge, have no fear. Just add 2 tablespoons of grapefruit juice to 1/3 cup of milk and let it sit on the counter for 5 minutes to get nice and funky! It works perfectly in a pinch! 

Using the zest and juice from 2 medium-sized grapefruits for this recipe usually makes enough leftover juice for a simple glaze. Just whisk ½ cup of powdered sugar while slowly adding the leftover grapefruit juice until you have a smooth, thick glaze. Pour the glaze over the cooled cake and serve!

1 ½ cups (190g) of all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

¼ teaspoon of baking soda

1 teaspoon of kosher salt

2 tablespoons (30ml) of grapefruit juice, plus 1/3 cup (80ml) for syrup

1/3 cup (80ml) of buttermilk or plain yogurt

2 tablespoons of freshly grated grapefruit zest (from 2 medium-sized grapefruits)

½ cup (100g) of granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for syrup

½ cup (95g) of raw cane sugar

½ cup (120ml) of olive oil (choose a mild olive oil, not extra virgin)

2 eggs, at room temperature

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9×5” loaf pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a glass-measuring cup, combine 2 tablespoons of grapefruit juice and buttermilk (or yogurt).

In a large mixing bowl, add grapefruit zest, ½ cup of granulated sugar, and raw cane sugar. Rub the zest and sugars together with your fingertips. Whisk in the oil until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, and whisk until combined. Scrape down the bowl.

Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures to the cake batter, beginning and ending with the flour.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top and tap the pan on the counter a few times, releasing any bubbles in the batter. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Meanwhile, combine remaining 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar with 1/3 cup of grapefruit juice in a small saucepan, and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

When the cake has finished baking, let it cool for 10 minutes and invert onto a cooling rack with a tray underneath. Poke holes in the cake with a skewer or toothpick and brush the grapefruit syrup over the cake. Allow the cake to cool completely while absorbs the syrup. Serve the cake all by itself or create simple glaze to pour over the top  (see note). Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

FAREWELL WINTER

Pecan Chicory Cream Dutch BabyWe were teased. Teased by pleasant weather, by the tiny, pointy buds resting on the trees and the brilliant yellow daffodils, which magically emerged from the earth. Spring was surely on its way. Then, surprisingly, I woke up last Monday morning to a wonderful, winter wonderland. Slightly muddled but still enchanted by the snowy spectacle, Michael and I grabbed our coats and boots we had hastily stashed away in the back of the closet and set out on our last possible snow day of the year.

We took a stroll, arm in arm, through sleepy downtown Franklin and wandered closer to one of our most beloved spots, the beautiful and historic Carnton Plantation. The Carnton Plantation became famous during the Civil War for reasons I will lovingly spare you from. We slowly trekked the frozen ground, taking in the stillness of the landscape. Vibrant daffodils stared at us with their luminous, trumpet faces, reminding me to cherish this passing winter’s day.

The only sounds on the estate were the crunching of my black wellies underfoot and the soft, trickle of snow falling to the ground. Everything was still. It gave me a chill how eerie the plantation grounds felt. Here, on the same land where many men fought on crimson soil, we stand in bliss over a blanket of white snow.

After rambling through the main manor, we made our way to the back of the grounds where a secret, swampy area teems with life. We spotted a family of mallards having a morning swim, each of them taking turns ducking under the glassy surface, only to have beads of water swiftly glide off their backs.  Fog slowly crept across the water like a fold of delicate tulle gently, slowly unraveling from its seams. Flotsam from an old, cockeyed structure in the swamp jarringly thumped against the side of the building, waking us from our wintery daydream.

Carnton PortraitWe ran back to the car with stiff, frozen limbs and glided away. I sat there thinking of winter and hoping this was its farewell finale. If this was winter’s way of saying goodbye, then I believe the occasion calls for creating something special with the rest of the lovely pecans I’d been hoarding. This pecan and chicory cream is earthy and slightly surreptitious in nature, just like our winter spectacle. Hopefully I’ve taken off my heavy coat for the last time this season. Until next time dear winter…it’s been grand.

Recipe: Pecan & Chicory Cream

Makes about 1 ½ cups

Note: Pecan & Chicory Cream can be covered on toast, cake or spread across the top of a Dutch Baby (recipe below) sprinkled with pecans, powdered sugar and melted chocolate!

200g of slightly toasted pecan halves

1 cup of heavy whipping cream, plus more if needed

2 tablespoons of cane sugar

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

2 tablespoons of recently brewed chicory coffee

Pinch of salt

Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan. Boil for 10 minutes on medium low heat, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on the cream so it doesn’t boil over. Take off the heat and place in a blender and blend until smooth, adding more whipping cream if needed. The texture you are looking for is a smooth paste. The pecan cream should have grain but it should be spreadable. Keep chilled until ready to use.

Recipe: The Perfect Dutch Baby

Serves 2

Note: You can also make the batter ahead of time for a speedy breakfast. Just blend the ingredients together and stash the batter in the fridge overnight. Continue with the rest of the recipe as follows.

¼ cup of all-purpose flour

¼ cup of half-n-half

2 eggs

2 tablespoons of sugar

Splash of vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter, room temperature

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Combine all of the ingredients with the exception of butter in a blender and blend until smooth. Set aside.

Once the oven has preheated, place the butter in a 10-inch skillet and place in the oven until all the butter has completely melted (this will only take a few mintues.) Take the skillet out of the oven and brush the melted butter up the sides of the skillet. Pour the batter into the buttered skillet and immediately return it to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes or until the edges are golden. Enjoy!

 

 

THE PECAN TREE

Pecan Milk | for the love of the south

Outlined against the illuminating midwinter sky, delicate black branches of the pecan tree gently wave like arthritic hands toward heaven in prayer. Emerald fruit the size of a newborn’s fist are scattered under the bowing boughs of the ancient pecan tree. Mossy jackets peel away like damp pieces of cardboard, revealing a black and brown tiger striped shell.

My grandfather is one of the most patient men I have ever met, and, therefore, the caretaker of the pecan trees. He is tender at heart, wrinkled around the eyes and deeply rooted. After gathering the pecans, he perches himself at the vast wooden kitchen table, his mighty, weathered hand grasps the pewter cracker. The weight of the metal breaks the shell, exposing the tender, sweet, earthy meat of the pecan. Meticulously separating the two halves from the center of the nut, he carefully places the pecans in labeled bags, with the exception of the occasional stragglers that just have to be tasted. It’s a sweet reward for tending to his beloved pecan trees.

Pecan Milk | for the love of the south

Some years, the tree would be barren, either from drought or an autumn storm, which would strip the tree of all its green fruit. But, then, it’s prolific once again, as in life. Even though this past year the steadfast tree hasn’t produced well, he is still patient and tends to it, like a member of the family, waiting and caring for the tree in gentle spirits.

Pecan Milk Ingredients | for the love of the south

Recipe: Homemade Louisiana Pecan Milk

Makes 4 servings

Note: Making this recipes is like bottling pecan essence. If you can’t get your hands on Louisiana pecans, use whatever you can find. Just know there will be a difference in flavor when using grocery store pecans rather than fresh, local ones.

You can reuse the leftover strained pecan meal if you don’t like the idea of tossing it. I add some of the damp meal to cornbread batter, pancake batter or biscuit dough. It’s also yummy stirred into yogurt or oatmeal. You can also add it to a vanilla ice cream base to make a quick pecan ice cream!

1 cup of Louisiana pecan halves

2 tablespoons of local honey

Pinch of kosher salt

Place pecans in a bowl and cover with water by 2-inches. Let stand at least 12 hours (the longer the pecans soak, the creamier and smoother the milk with be.)

Drain pecans and discard the soaking liquid. Place pecans, honey and salt in a blender. Add 4 cups of hot, filtered water to the blender and blend on low speed, increasing to high for at least 2 minutes.

Strain pecan milk through a tea towel or a fine-mesh sieve into a medium-sized bowl, pressing down on the solids. Toss or reuse the pecan meal (see note above.) At this point, adjust the sweetness and saltiness of the milk to taste. You can also add more water if you desire a thinner milk. I usually double strain my pecan milk, but the beauty of this recipe is that you can make the milk to your desired taste and texture! Enjoy!

Honeycomb + Sea Salt | for the love of the south

CHRISTMAS TIME IS HERE…

Christmas Fruitcake | for the love of the south

* This post is dedicated to my Great Uncle Harvey who passed the day after I wrote this story. His joy for life will be remembered this holiday season and forever in our hearts. 

There is something lovely about the anticipation of the Christmas season. We put up decorations, sweetly adorn cookies and gather with loved ones around a fire and sing Christmas carols. We ready our spirits and hearts in good tidings and joy. We smile at strangers passing by and wish them a Merry Christmas. The preparation of the season is as special to me as Christmas day itself.

Everyone has their own way of preparing for the holiday, and for some, it might come in the form of fruitcake. Every Christmas season, like clockwork, my grannie, her sister and their patient and loving husbands cleared off their dining room table to produce piles and piles of bar-shaped, bright green and red studded no-bake fruitcakes. For hours upon hours, the four of them would sit and talk and chop and package these speckled sweeties in cellophane wrappers to pass out as gifts to neighbors and friends.

So, in the honor of the anticipation of the season, here is a fruitcake, steeped in spices and floral honey, studded with winey dried fruits and fresh orange juice, then baked till the whole kitchen smells undeniably like Christmas. I’m not sure of the exact origin of fruitcake, but like all languages, traditional recipes are ever changing, ever adapting, ever breathing. I just so happen to be Southern, so I deem this cake a Southern fruitcake by way of geography. Nonetheless, wherever you are this Christmas, I wish you peace, hope, joy and love. May your holiday be merry and bright, and may your kitchen be filled with fervor, family and fruitcake!

Recipe: Christmas Fruitcake | Inspired by Nigella Lawson

Makes 1, 10-inch cake

Note: To make this fruitcake a showstopper, just before serving warm a little rum or vanilla-infused vodka in a small saucepan. Bring the cake to the table, along with the warmed alcohol and a long match. Turn off the lights. Carefully light and pour the flaming alcohol over the top of the cake. Allow everyone to coo over the cake for a few more moments before serving.  

1 ¾ cups of pitted prunes, roughly chopped

1 cup of golden raisins

¾ stick of butter, softened

½ cup of dark or light brown sugar (depending on your preference)

1/3 cup of local honey

¼ cup of strongly brewed coffee, cooled, preferably chicory

1 orange, zest and juice

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

¼ cup of unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/8 cup of all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon of baking powder

¼ teaspoon of baking soda

2 eggs, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 3000

Put the fruit, butter, brown sugar, honey, coffee, orange juice and zest, cinnamon and cocoa powder into a medium saucepan on medium-low heat. Bring to a slow boil, stirring as the butter melts. Allow the mixture to simmer for 10 minutes, then take it off the heat and allow to cool for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, spray or line a 10-inch cake pan with parchment paper. Wrap a piece of parchment paper around the pan that comes higher than the sides of the tin (this will prevent the top of the cake from burning.) I place my cake pan on a sheet pan and then wrap parchment around my tin and secure it with kitchen twine (this way you can get the cake in and out of the oven with ease.)

Whisk flour, baking powder and baking soda together in a small bowl.

After the mixture has cooled for 30 minutes, add the eggs and flour mixture to the fruit mixture. Stir to combine.

Pour the fruitcake mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for 1-1 1/2 hours until the top of the cake is firm and has a shiny, slick look. I make sure to check the cake after 45 minutes though. The center will still be a little gooey.

Allow the cake to cool on a rack until completely cooled and unmold the cake from its tin. Decorate however you like! Merry Christmas!

TABASCO TASTEMAKERS & FRIED HAND PIES

Apricot Hand Pies | for the love of the southJust a few short weeks ago I was basking under the moss covered oaks on the McIlhenny’s private land of Avery Island, LA. While taking in the enchantment of the island, a spicy haze wafted from the boiling, galvanized pots of seafood bubbling away, christening our first night with the Tabasco family.As we took our seats at the table that evening, white trays filled to the brim with local Louisiana crabs, shrimp, and Andouille sausage were presented to each guest. Tony Simmons, CEO of Tabasco, educated the table on how to properly shell crab, while Nelson, one of the fabulous cooks on the island, secretly and graciously shelled mine. Dinner ended with chicory coffee and the most decadent pecan praline bread pudding to date.Barrels of Tabasco Sauce | for the love of the southThe next day, we returned from an in-depth tour of the Tabasco plant to the Marsh House and Chef Sue Zemanick of Gautreau’s in New Orleans prepared a cooking demonstration of gumbo des herbes. With the nutty aroma of roux filling every nook and cranny of the kitchen, I knew the dinner to follow would be immaculate. As an afternoon treat, the group was guided to the bayou where we were escorted around by an adorable airboat, which was the perfect way to relish in the beauty of the Louisiana landscape.Louisiana Bayou | for the love of the southDinner was breathtaking. gumbo des herbes with a deviled quail egg was presented as the first course, paired with Tabasco Chipotle and Original pepper sauces, followed by the sweet and spicy duck with pickled vegetables and crispy puffed rice. Sautéed red snapper with corn, Brussels sprouts, chanterelles and a spicy beurre blanc was the third course trailed by a grilled hangar steak with marinated tomatoes, cucumbers and a chimichurri sauce. Last but not least, dinner was tastefully topped off with a chocolate pot de crème with spicy peanuts and a Chantilly cream. Gracefully and happily I waddled upstairs to bed, only to be awoken by the smoky aroma of bacon, which gently crept up the top of the staircase of the historic Marsh House.View from the Marsh House | for the love of the southStanley, another remarkable cook on the island, was at the helm of the stove scrambling eggs and serving his handmade fried pies delicately laced with a snowfall of powdered sugar. Cajun classics like fresh fig preserves, Steen’s Cane Syrup for the pain perdu and chicory coffee lined the breakfast table. Our daily gathering at the breakfast table brought the group even closer together as we sipped on our coffees and devoured our sugar laden fried pies.

Later that day, the entire group did a Tabasco Tasting with Charlie Cheng, the senior manager of research and development and shared cocktails made by Kirk Estopinal of Cure and Bellocq in New Orleans. After one last dinner together, we parted ways the next morning after boudin and cracklings at Legnon Boucherie.The Awakening Cocktail | for the love of the southAs I unpacked my bags the next day, the faint smell of Tabasco pepper sauce and boudin wafted from my gauzy tops, and I began realizing how the trip went beyond anything I could have imagined. I was not only brought in to be apart of the process of making Tabasco, but I was a guest in their home. I was honored to be a part of their lives, if only for a few short, glorious days. They inspired me, taught me about their culture and their way of life as a friend. It’s no wonder why the McIlhenny brand is so prosperous; their hearts are warm, their passion is ardent, and their intentions are pure. That’s exactly what goes in every single bottle of Tabasco. It’s a piece of their family they share with the world. I will always have a bottle of Tabasco on my table, as a token and remembrance of my time on dear old Avery Island.Apricot Hand Pies | for the love of the southRecipe: Adapted from Stanley Dry of Avery Island, LA

Makes 12 Fried Pies

Note: You can use any filling you like for these fried pieces, but Stanley’s favorite is apricot! For the apricot filling, just add 6 ounces of chopped dried apricots to 1 cup of boiling water. Cook the apricots for 5-10 minutes, or until almost all of the water has evaporated and the apricots have plumped up. Take off the heat and sweeten to taste with local honey and a spritz of lemon juice. Set aside and chill.

2 cups of White Lily Self-Rising flour

1 tablespoon of sugar

3 tablespoons of butter, chilled and cut into small cubes

2 tablespoons of lard or shortening, chilled and cut into small pieces

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons of milk

Apricot filling (see note)

All-purpose flour for rolling dough

Clarified butter, for frying

Powdered sugar, for dusting

Line 1 sheet pan with paper towels and another sheet pan with parchment paper dusted with flour and set aside.

Combine self-rising flour and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add cold butter and lard/shortening and cut into the flour using either a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add milk and combine quickly with a spatula.

Sprinkle your surface with a generous amount of all-purpose flour. Turn dough onto the floured surface and knead a few times with floured hands. Roll out to a thickness of ¼ -inch, sprinkling dough with additional flour, as needed, to prevent sticking. Using a floured 4-inch biscuit cutter, glass or can, cut 12 rounds of dough. Place rounds on the sheet pan dusted with flour.

Using a teaspoon, place a small mound of filling in the center of each round. Moisten the bottom edge of the dough with water, fold over to make a half-moon shape and crimp to seal the edges with your fingers.

Place a nonstick skillet on medium to medium-high heat. Pour ¼-inch of clarified butter in the pan. When the fat begins to sizzle, place the filled hand pies in the butter and cook until golden brown. Flip and brown on the other side. Place the fried hand pies on sheet pan fitted with paper towels to drain. Pile the pies on a platter and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Enjoy!

STOCKING UP + SOUTHERN LIVING COOKBOOK GIVEAWAY

Pantry Essentials | for the love of the south

Those who love to eat have the ability to be the best cooks because they understand how to satisfy their own cravings and are more likely to trust their instincts. If you adore what you are cooking, you will have more ambition in the kitchen. Whenever you create something you love and are excited about, people sense and share that excitement with you. If you go into the kitchen preparing a dish you’re unsure of or doubt, it will most likely come out abysmal, but if you begin with confidence and thinking of dishes you love to eat, masterpieces are already in the works before you even wield a knife. Cook with pure poise and sheer selfishness.

Along with coolness in the kitchen, utilizing your pantry and stocking your freezer will set you up for triumphant meals that you and your loved ones will treasure. Whenever I have afternoons of downtime, I spend them in the kitchen hoarding the pantry and the freezer. It’s the sort of therapy I love, and it makes me feel utterly productive. What I don’t do is make multiple meals at a time and freeze them. I don’t find this practical at all. You will most likely forget about these dishes, they will end up shoved into the abyss of the freezer, and the mystery meals with be tossed away along with the time and money you spent preparing the dishes. What I do do is prepare elements of dishes I use in my everyday cooking. I leave meals like Pot Roast, Roasted Chicken, Slow Roasted Tomatoes, and Lasagna Bolognese for those lazy Sunday afternoons when I have hours and hours on end to prepare supper.

FREEZER:

I will forever keep these essentials in my freezer. Like I said, I don’t freeze entire meals, but I do have basic elements waiting for me in my freezer. A great tip for freezing anything is to make sure you put an expiration date on the container so there is no guessing and no waste. Label everything!

Pizza Dough, we eat pizza at least twice a week in my house!

Homemade Stock (Vegetable or Chicken)

Tomato Soup is a comfort meal; all you have to do is add grilled cheese!

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Sandwich Bread freezes great and never goes bad in a small household like ours.

Chicken Legs for Roasted Chicken Legs

– I have a gallon-sized bag of Vegetable Scraps in the freezer for homemade vegetable stock. Whenever the bag is full, I just boil the scraps with water, fresh garlic, onion and spices for 1½ hours, strain it, label it and freeze it!

Sticks of Butter are securely stashed in the freezer especially during the holidays when I do a lot of herb butter rubs and caramels. I never run out!

– I freeze Bacon to ensure it doesn’t go bad before I get a chance to use it all up!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough (I live with a cookie monster)

Base of an Ice Cream Maker; you never know when you will have a craving, and I hate waiting 24 hours for it to freeze!

PANTRY:

A well-stocked pantry will take you far in the kitchen. I buy my pantry essentials in bulk so I never run out of these ingredients. They are essential to many quick meals.

Rice makes a great side; leftovers are perfect for fried rice and pairs with the gumbo that is securely stashed in the freezer.

Dried Pasta is a lifesaver in the kitchen. I make the perfect Macaroni & Cheese, Pasta with Red Sauce, and Pasta with Pesto with dried pasta from the pantry.

Canned Tomatoes

Local Honey

Potatoes & Onions

Homemade Granola makes for the perfect quick breakfast and the easiest afternoon snack.

Chocolate in my house disappears straight out of the package most of the time.

Vinegars & Oils are essential for quick dressings and they boost the flavor of endless dishes.

Lemon & Garlic

Cornmeal makes for the perfect Griddle Cakes and speedy Cornbread.

Whole Bean Coffee… there is pretty much an endless supply in my pantry. I make Chicory Granita and Pumpkin Spiced Iced Coffee with the beans, along with my morning coffee.

Homemade Vegetable Stock Using Scraps:

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 onion, roughly chopped and skin left on

1 garlic bulb, cut in half at the equator

1 gallon-sized freezer bag filled with vegetable scraps

1 teaspoon of black peppercorns

4 quarts of water

In a stockpot over medium heat, add the olive oil. Add onion, garlic and scraps to the pot. Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the scraps begin to wilt from the heat slightly. Add peppercorns and water. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours. Strain and divide between freezer bags. Label, date and stash in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Quick Start Homemade by Southern Living

To give an extra helping hand, I am giving away a copy of Southern Living Quick-Start Homemade, which has even more great tips, tricks and recipes for great weekday suppers! All you have to do is leave a comment below letting me know your favorite speedy supper between now and midnight, October 13th. The winner will be chosen randomly and will be contacted via email on October 14th! Limit 1 comment per person, pretty please! Good luck, y’all!

CONGRATS TO JANE WHO WON THE SOUTHERN LIVING QUICK-START HOMEMADE COOKBOOK! THANK YOU FOR ALL WHO PARTICIPATED!