Perhaps no other cook has played such a central role in the renaissance of traditional southern cooking as Edna Lewis. When asked who has influenced them most, chefs from New York to Little Washington to Charleston cite Ms. Lewis and her classic collection of recipes, In Pursuit of Flavor, first published in 1988.
Edna Lewis learned to cook by watching her mother prepare food in their kitchen in a small farming community in Virginia. Because she was raised at a time when the vegetables came from the garden, fruit from the orchard, pickles, relishes, chutney, and jellies from quick canning, and meat from the smokehouse, Edna Lewis knows how food should taste. Every recipe included in her cookbook, both old friends and new discoveries, reflects her memory of and continuing search for good flavor.
In chapters devoted to fruits and vegetables, meat and fowl, fish, herbs and spices, bread, and other baked goods, Ms. Lewis shares her secrets for getting the best out of food: combining tomatoes with cymling squash, pumpkins with onion and bacon, cooking sweet potatoes with lemon, and boiling corn in its husk. She always keeps a bit of country ham around to perk up greens, cooks fish fillets or chicken breasts in parchment, and braises meat in a clay pot to keep it moist. Her baking recipes, for the griddle and the oven, include tips on the right flour to use, how to make your own baking powder (to avoid the chemical taste), how to listen for signs that a cake is done, and when to use frozen butter in a pie crust and when to use pure leaf lard.
In Pursuit of Flavor brings generations of cooking wisdom to today's kitchen.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Edna Lewis was born in Freetown, Orange County, Virginia, in a community founded by her grandfather and his friends shortly after their emancipation from slavery. She is the author of The Taste of Country Cooking.
Read an Excerpt
Potatoes Baked with Virginia Ham
Potatoes are one of the few vegetables that are good in all seasons—although in the summer when they are freshly dug from the garden, they taste especially delicious. Besides the familiar varieties such as Idaho, russet, and cobbler, there are new kinds of potatoes in the markets. Most have similar flavor and some, such as small explorer potatoes, can be added whole and unpeeled to soups and stews. Recently I found a yellow potato at New York’s Greenmarket that had a slightly different texture and a heartier flavor than most white potatoes. I have also tried blue-skinned potatoes, which look pretty and taste just about the same as any other potato. Use any white potato for this recipe, which makes a good supper dish.
½ clove garlic
2 tablespoons melted butter
5 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 cups julienned Virginia ham
2 cups heavy cream
½ cup bread crumbs
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Crush the garlic and stir it with 1 tablespoon of the melted butter. Rub an 8-inch square pan, 2 inches deep, with the butter. Layer the potatoes in the pan and season them lightly with salt, pepper, and some chopped parsley. Next, sprinkle a handful of ham over the potatoes. Repeat the layering until the pan is full and the top layer is potatoes. Add the cream, which should be nearly level with the top layer of potatoes.
3. Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Toss the bread crumbs with the other tablespoon of melted butter. Take the pan from the oven and distribute the bread crumbs evenly over the potatoes. Continue baking, uncovered, for 5 to 10 minutes, until the bread crumbs are browned.
Black-eyed Peas in Tomato and Onion Sauce
A few years ago I decided to try cooking black-eyed peas this way instead of with a piece of pork, as everyone else does. I think the tomatoes and onions, garlic and parsley and olive oil give the peas a real interesting flavor—which, after all, they need. Black-eyed peas are a little dull, as are all dried beans.
1 cup black-eyed peas
4 cups cold water
½ cup high-quality light olive oil
One medium onion (about 6 ounces), chopped
½ teaspoon crushed garlic
1¾ cups tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and cut into pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1. To prepare, pick over the peas, removing the discolored ones or stones that are often found. Wash in cold water and then place in a large pot with the water. (The peas will expand and cook more uniformly if they are not crowded in the pot.) Cook over medium-high heat for 30 minutes, then test the peas. If they are tender but still firm and have no raw taste, drain them and immediately run cold water over to stop the cooking and keep them from falling apart. Drain and set aside until needed. (If they are not quite ready, cook them for another 10 minutes and test them again. Depending on how dried out they are, black-eyed peas cook at different rates. Do not overcook them—they will cook a bit more once they are in the sauce. They should be served whole in the sauce and not mushy.)
2. Heat a 9-inch skillet until hot, then add the olive oil. Add the onion, sauté a minute, then add the garlic and the prepared tomatoes, and cook the mixture slowly for 30 minutes. Stir often during cooking. Add the black-eyed peas, mix well, and season with salt and pepper—the peas should be well seasoned. Cook gently for 10 minutes more, then add the parsley. Spoon the beans into a casserole and set in a warm place until ready to serve. The dish can be reheated in the oven. Serve hot but not overcooked.
Panfried Quail with Country Ham
Quail are delightful little birds that you never have to worry about being tough. If you buy them fresh, let them age for a day or two to tenderize them. Quail are getting easier and easier to find in supermarkets and local butcher shops, and although many are sold frozen and are quite good, they are best fresh. You can also buy them from game bird farms that raise them for home buyers and restaurants. As with pheasant, I usually ask the butcher or game bird farmer to leave the feathers on the bird and the innards intact because this improves their flavor as they age. But most cooks would probably want to have the birds plucked and cleaned, which certainly is easier and does not make such a difference in flavor that I would advise against it.
I sauté quail on top of the stove in a covered pan to keep them moist, but they also do well roasted, if covered. Quail are good to make for guests because they “hold” in the pan for 15 or 20 minutes without drying out, which gives you time to get the rest of the meal organized. For this dish I call for fresh white grape juice, which adds good tart flavor. Fresh grape juice is simple to make if you have a vegetable mill or potato ricer, but do not try to make it in a blender. The blender does not extract the juice, it just purées the fruit.
1 cup white grapes (to make ¼–⅓ cup grape juice)
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
8 quail, split and flattened
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ pound Virginia ham, cut into 2 by ¼-inch matchsticks
1. First, make the fresh white grape juice. Crush the cup of grapes with a pestle, then put through a sieve or vegetable mill to extract the juice, or use a potato ricer.
2. Combine the salt, pepper, and thyme, crushing the thyme with your fingertips. Sprinkle both sides of the birds with the seasonings.
3. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat until it foams and just begins to brown. Add the quail, skin side down. Sprinkle with ham, cover, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the skin is golden brown. Turn the birds and continue cooking, covered, until the juices run clear, about 4 minutes longer. Take the pan from the heat and let the quail rest, covered, for about 10 minutes. Arrange the quail on a platter and sprinkle the ham from the pan over them.
4. Pour the fat from the pan. Add the grape juice (you can also use water, if you prefer), and bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute, scraping the browned bits from the bottom to deglaze the pan. Pour over the quail and serve.
Red Snapper with Olive Mayonnaise
Red snapper is one of my favorite fish, but I find it tastes different depending on where it is caught. The snapper from the Gulf of Mexico does not have exactly the same flavor as the snapper caught off the Carolina coast and while both are good, I prefer the Gulf fish. The flesh of Gulf snapper is a little darker. Both are meaty, tasty fish that lose their bright red color during cooking. I like to cook them quickly after they have marinated in lemon juice for about an hour. I think the fast cooking in a hot skillet really brings out the good flavor of snapper. Black olive purée is sold in jars in Italian markets and specialty stores, but if you can’t find it you can make your own by puréeing pitted Mediterranean black olives.
2 pounds red snapper, bones removed and split in half
Juice of ½ to 1 lemon
6 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon chopped garlic
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons puréed Mediterranean olives
1. Put the snapper in a glass or ceramic dish cut side up, and squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the fish. You may need to use a whole lemon, depending on the size of the fish and the lemon. Leave the fish to marinate at room temperature for 1 hour, spooning lemon juice over it now and again.
2. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
3. Heat the butter in a heavy ovenproof skillet until foaming. Add the garlic before the butter browns. When the butter begins to brown, put the fish in the pan, cut side down. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes over high heat, until nicely browned. Turn the fish over and put the entire pan in the hot oven. Cook for about 8 minutes, until flaky but not overcooked. Combine the mayonnaise with the puréed olives and additional lemon juice to taste. Serve this with the hot fish.
Benne Seed Biscuits
Benne seeds, which are also known as sesame seeds, were brought to America long ago with the Africans. Their name derives from the Benue State of Nigeria. The Nigerian name for this seed is beni. Slaves planted them at the ends of crop rows and around their small cabins and used them in much of their cooking. They are still extremely popular in the South and turn up in recipes for cereals, breads, cookies, and biscuits. I think their flavor is best when they are toasted, and short of burning them, the longer you toast them, the better they are. These crisp little biscuits go well with cocktails, pâtés, and soups, or anytime you would want a cracker.
1 cup benne seeds
3 cups flour
1½ teaspoons single-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
⅔ cup lard
⅔ cup milk
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
2. Put the benne seeds in a shallow pan in the preheated oven. Look at them after 5 minutes to check on the color—they should be the color of butterscotch and they should have a delicious toasted smell. If not ready, shake the pan and return them to the oven for 1 to 2 minutes—but watch carefully.
3. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add the lard and work the mixture with a pastry blender or your fingertips until it has the texture of cornmeal. Add the milk and mix well. Mix in the benne seeds. Place the dough on a floured surface, knead for a few seconds, and shape into a ball. Roll the dough out until it is about the thickness of a nickel. Using a 2-inch biscuit cutter, stamp out rounds and lay them on an ungreased baking sheet or a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 12 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with a little bit of salt, and serve hot. You may store the cooled biscuits in an airtight tin or jar and reheat them before serving.
Raspberry Pie Garnished with Whipped Cream
For this pie, you need 3 pints of raspberries, because raspberries cook down so much. The juice from the berries is used as a glaze and the whole thing is pretty and sweet and really delicious, especially when served with whipped cream. I specify organic raspberries simply because I think they taste better.
When I make the buttery crust that I think tastes best with light-tasting fruits and berries, I do something that might be too fussy for most cooks. You don’t have to do it, but it makes a nice crust. I chop up the butter, put it in the freezer, and let it get really frozen. I then take 1 cup of flour and cut in the frozen butter, mixing it in well—you have to work really fast before the butter softens too much. When this mixture is fine enough, similar to cornmeal, I add the rest of the flour and proceed with the recipe. The crust is nice and light and good with berry and lemon meringue pies.
BUTTER PIE PASTRY
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Scant teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) firmly chilled or frozen butter, cut into small pieces
¼ cup ice water
3 pints raspberries, organic if possible
½ cup sugar
About 1 cup sweetened whipped cream
9-inch pie plate
1. To make the pie pastry: Put the flour, salt, and butter in a mixing bowl. Blend well with a pastry blender or the tips of your fingers, until the mixture is the texture of cornmeal. Add the ice water, mix quickly, and shape the dough into a ball. Dust the dough lightly with flour and shape into a flat cake. Wrap in wax paper and put in the refrigerator to rest for 30 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
3. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into 2 unequal pieces. Roll the larger piece out and press it into a 9-inch pie dish; trim the edges. Roll out the second piece of dough into a 7-inch circle and trim the edges in a zigzag design. Stamp out a 2-inch circle from the center of the top crust, using a round cookie cutter. Put the top crust in a pie plate and bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Lift the crust from the pie plate and cool on a wire rack.
4. Before baking the bottom shell, prick the surface without piercing all the way through to the pie plate. This will prevent the pastry from puffing up. Check the pastry after 10 minutes of baking. Prick any puffed‑up places and continue to cook until lightly browned. Cool before filling.
5. To make the filling: Pick the raspberries over, looking for any moldy ones or stems. Do not wash the berries or they will become soggy. Put the berries in a wide ovenproof dish in a single layer. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the sugar over them and set them in a preheated 375°F. oven for 12 to 13 minutes. This should be time enough for the berries to bleed and give out the right amount of juice.
6. Remove the berries from the oven and cool. Then lift each berry onto another dish and scrape the juice from the ovenproof dish into a stainless steel saucepan. Add the remaining sugar and set the pan over a medium burner. Cook for 12 to 13 minutes, until the juice is reduced to a thick syrup. Remove this from the stove and hold until you are ready to assemble the pie.
7. Brush the bottom of the cooled pie shell with some of the heavy syrup. Line the shell with a single layer of raspberries. Reserve 8 or 9 berries. Pile up the rest of the raspberries in the shell to make a thick pie. Spoon the syrup glaze over the berries, making sure to coat all of them. Position the pastry top over the berries. Fill in the stamped-out center with the reserved berries and spoon glaze over them. Serve sweetened whipped cream on the side.
What People are Saying About This
As the voice of one of the first communities of freed African Americans, Edna Lewis captures the elegance of palate of Virginia with both aplomb and grace. Her recipes reflect a genuine knowledge of, and passion for, the region; their subtleties of flavor are indicative of the sure hand of an accomplished cook. Simple directions, and deeply rooted ingredients and techniques power this important voice of the twentieth-century south, and hence, the country.