If it seems like Nashville is everywhere these days—that’s because it is. GQ recently declared it “Nowville,” and it has become the music hotspot for both country and rock. But as hot as the music scene is, the food scene is even hotter. In Nashville Eats, more than 100 mouthwatering recipes reveal why food lovers are headed South for Nashville’s hot chicken, buttermilk biscuits, pulled pork sandwiches, cornmeal-crusted catfish, chowchow, fried green tomatoes, and chess pie. Author Jennifer Justus whips up the classics—such as pimento cheese and fried chicken—but also includes dishes with a twist on traditional Southern fare—such as Curried Black Chickpeas or Catfish Tacos. And alongside the recipes, Jennifer shares her stories of Nashville—the people, music, history, and food that make it so special.
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About the Author
Jennifer Justus, the former culture reporter at the Tennessean and author of The Food Lovers’ Guide to Nashville, is an expert on Southern food. Her work has appeared in Southern Living, Cornbread Nation: The Best of Southern Food Writing, Imbibe, and more. Justus blogs at a nasty bite, an expression her grandmother used to describe a simple meal.
Read an Excerpt
BISCUITS + PONES + ROLLS
COUNTRY PAIN PERDU PHILA'S MAKE-DO BISCUITS KATHRYN'S MINI APPLE CHEDDAR BISCUITS BEATEN BISCUITS SAWMILL SAUSAGE GRAVY REDEYE GRAVY BUTTERMILK BISCUITS CORNBREAD DODGERS TRADITIONAL SKILLET CORNBREAD CORN LIGHT BREAD YEAST DINNER MUFFINS JALAPEÑO CORNBREAD
Linda Carman often spends her days in a tiny test kitchen for Martha White, the aroma of her baking experiments perfuming the air. But as a child, she woke to the smell of biscuits every morning, too, and came home to cornbread every evening. Her mother carried on a farming tradition for a family that needed sustenance for long days. Then after studying home economics in college, Linda traveled Southern back roads to teach others how to cook and bake at cooking schools, extension offices, and 4-H clubs, sometimes punching down the dough in the bowl that rode shotgun beside her. She understands what breads mean to people in this area.
The breads in this chapter include the types she — and many others from this region — hold dear, from pones of cornbread baked in heirloom skillets to the simplest corn dodgers flavored with bacon drippings. Biscuits will be served, too, along with simple but beloved accompaniments such as redeye gravy made with black coffee and ham drippings to a family recipe for sawmill gravy from songwriter Holly Williams.
In Fortunes, Fiddles and Fried Chicken: A Business History of Nashville, author Bill Carey notes that at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century, flour was Nashville's number one export. Companies even outside the area found it profitable to ship grain to Nashville from the Midwest on the L&N railroad line. Grain would be ground and packaged there, then distributed.
After the invention of commercial leavening agents, self-rising flour took hold in Southern kitchens beginning in the late 1800s, when a Nashville concern called the Owsley Flour Company began to mass-produce it. Other brands with more staying power followed, including Royal Flour Mill in 1899, with its Martha White line named for the founder's daughter.
By 1948, Martha White had tapped into the growing country music business in Nashville by sponsoring the Grand Ole Opry despite an advertising budget of just twenty-five dollars a week. The company hired an unknown bluegrass group called the Foggy Mountain Boys (led by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs) to tour the South and play shows to tout the brand. They became known as the "World's Greatest Flour Peddlers" and toured widely on the Martha White Bluegrass Express bus. Many others musicians like Alison Krauss have followed in their footsteps through the years.
But beyond the flour companies, cooks turned the raw ingredients into those golden-tinted orbs of biscuit or cornmeal for spreading with butter or a slow roll of sorghum. Lon and Annie Loveless served biscuits from their private home to travelers along US Highway 100 and made a business of it as the Loveless Motel and Cafe. The creaky hardwood floors have borne the weight of many steps, from twirling dancers at the Lovelesses' house parties in the 1940s to servers delivering trays of fried chicken and biscuits to customers.
While the motel part of the property has been converted back into shops and ownership has changed hands, Annie's original biscuit recipe still draws a varied group of locals, tourists, and cyclists fueling up for a ride down the nearby Natchez Trace Parkway. The Oliphant family, for example, has gathered at the Loveless every Easter for half a century. And at least one customer returns on his wedding anniversary each year to sit at his and his wife's favorite table, even though she's no longer here.
Relative newcomers like Karl and Sarah Worley of Biscuit Love Brunch carry on the biscuit tradition by reviving the cracker-like beaten biscuits at their shop, and they keep it modern, too, with their biscuit sandwiches of fried hot chicken, a drizzle of honey, and house-made pickles. The couple paid their dues schlepping lunch in a food truck to office parks and selling to rowdy crowds at music festivals until 2015, when they opened a brick-and-mortar shop in the Gulch area of Nashville. A formerly gritty-looking part of town where the trains from the L&N line once met, it's now a spot where glassy condos and hot restaurants have sprouted, so it's a fitting spot to keep one foot in tradition and another pointing toward a more modern South.
Even before biscuits, many of the most beloved breads in the South were baked by Native Americans using cornmeal. Traditional recipes include the simple cornmeal-and-water dough that bakes into dodgers or the round pones that have been sharpened and moistened with buttermilk. We slice and share them at the table like savory pies for sopping up pot likker or split them open to steam and smother with white beans and chowchow.
A few handed-down rules apply to some of these breads. Keep the biscuits small enough to warrant taking two and leave the bigger versions for the restaurants. As for Southern cornbread, we use white cornmeal more often than yellow, and though we're apt to slip a spoonful of sugar into just about anything Southern, we'd rather you don't when it comes to the cornbread.
But overall, these breads are easy, with basic ingredients and simple steps for whipping up batches as regularly as you'd like. And they're the texture of what grows here — you can feel it as you make, serve, and break these breads together at the table.
Alice Jarman, the first test kitchen director for Martha White, often traveled with bands on the company's bluegrass bus. Between sets she would put on live advertisements by demonstrating how to make fried chicken and biscuits. So when the bus broke down during one tour, she told her protégée Linda Carman, "We just sat on the side of the road and ate the commercial."
Foggy Mountain Breakdown LESTER FLATT AND EARL SCRUGGS
This song, along with the jingle "You Bake Right with Martha White," became two of the band's most requested. Even during a performance and taping at Carnegie Hall in New York City, a guest kept shouting for "Martha White!" until the band had no choice but to oblige.
How Many Biscuits Can You Eat? DR. HUMPHREY BATE AND HIS POSSUM HUNTERS
Dr. Humphrey, a Vanderbilt graduate and physician, also happened to be one of the great country harmonica players and the first performer ever broadcast on the Grand Ole Opry.
Biscuits KACEY MUSGRAVES
This Nashville-based artist from Texas took home two Grammys with her album Same Trailer, Different Park. Known for her witty lyrics, she sings in this song about minding your own business.
Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy UNCLE DAVE MACON
One of the first favorites of the Grand Ole Opry, this old-time banjo player first performed in vaudeville.
When Phila Hach makes biscuits, she doesn't mess with measuring cups, pastry cutters, or spoons. She plunges her fingers directly into the mound of flour and cream. "What is life except for the feel?" she asked, batting the dough with swift experience as the bowl rattled against the counter.
She made her first batch of biscuits at age two in 1928. It's how her mother taught her to count: "One ... two ...," she remembers, folding the dough over on the floured surface and stopping just past ten. Then the eighty-eight-year-old chef cut the dough into circles with an old snuff can from a brand that's long been discontinued. "I used to have hundreds of these and gave them away," she says.
Growing up on a farm with a Swiss mother, who also worked as one of the first home demonstrators in Middle Tennessee, Phila picked up cooking early and easily. She still recalls peering over the edge of a saucepan to watch the magic transformation of an egg cracked onto the hot surface. Yet with the lessons of the country around her, she longed to study the city, too. "I want to learn," she told a hiring manager at the airline where she took a job as stewardess in the 1930s. "I still do," she says now. "But it takes guts to step out there and be your authentic self."
It also took guts to walk into the kitchens of the world's best hotels and ask to cook alongside the chefs. That's what she did at the Savoy in London and the George V in Paris during layovers. She gathered tastes and techniques like stamps in a passport, adding a worldly touch to her strong Southern foundation.
She wrote the first catering manual for the airlines in the 1930s and then became a local celebrity as hostess of the first cooking show in the South, welcoming June Carter Cash and Duncan Hines the man, among others, to her table.
She married a German tobacco importer whom she had met briefly in the lobby of a swanky Parisian hotel. He offered to carry her bags, and she politely refused his help. A few years later, he moved to Tennessee, turned on his television, and the lovely American flight attendant was looking back at him in black-and-white. He wrote to her, but she tossed his note into the garbage — for a moment. Then, on second thought, she fished it out of the wastebasket and accepted his offer for a date. "I never saw another man," she says. They honeymooned for a year before opening Hachland Hill Dining Inn just outside Nashville.
Even with her travels, Phila has remained rooted in her Tennessee farmland upbringing, which instilled in her an honest resourcefulnes — the ability to make the best of what's on hand. "What is intriguing to me still are the resources our land supplies us with. But the most intriguing to me is the resources of our ingenuity," she says. "When I was growing up, we had no grocery store. What did we need? Sometimes in our life, we get all mixed up. What we want is not necessarily what we need."
With her white hair pulled into a tight bun, she ties on an ankle-length apron (it's where she keeps her cell phone) before buzzing through her kitchen. She imparts her wisdom partly through the seventeen cookbooks she penned, sometimes for making biscuits and other times on living life.
"One of the things that I learned is to be free in the way that you live. Don't make work out of anything. When people say 'I'm gonna work on it,' I say 'work on what?' I'm all about the moment," she says, "because, it's gone."
Country Pain Perdu
When friends visit, as they often do, Phila Hach still displays the ingenuity and resourcefulness she's called on for years, like many who grew up in this region. She might pull together this pain perdu made with half a loaf of nearly stale bread and egg yolks. Topped with tomato and slices of bacon and paired with a grated carrot salad, it's simple, chic, and as comfortable on the plate in Tennessee as it is in Europe. "What more could you want?" she asks.
Makes 4 servings
4 large egg yolks
1 1/3 cups (315 ml) whole milk
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup (60 g) yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 small tomatoes
4 thickly cut slices bread (I used a Tuscan-style boule)
1½ teaspoons to 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
8 slices bacon
1 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan cheese
In a small bowl, combine the egg yolks, milk, salt, and pepper.
In a separate bowl, combine the cornmeal and oregano. Slice the tomatoes and place them on paper towels.
Place the bread flat in a casserole dish. Pour the egg mixture over it and let it sit while you heat a sauté pan over medium-high. Add just enough of the oil to coat the pan, and then add the butter. When the oil and butter are hot, carefully move the bread with a spatula from the casserole pan to the sauté pan.
Fry the bread for about 2 minutes on each side, until it is golden and brown and crispy in places. Set the bread aside. Remove the pan from the heat and wipe out excess oil with a paper towel. Return the pan to the heat and add the bacon. Fry until they reach the desired crispness.
Meanwhile, dredge the tomatoes in the cornmeal mixture. When the bacon is done, remove it from the pan and pour off a bit of the grease, leaving just about 1 tablespoon, and then fry the tomatoes for about 2 minutes on each side, until the cornmeal mixture is lightly browned.
Top the bread with the tomatoes and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Drape the bacon across the tomatoes and serve.
Phila's Make-Do Biscuits
Phila's biscuits have been featured in documentaries, newspaper articles, and magazine spreads. She can make them with buttermilk or cream, with yeast or without leavening. But on the day we visited, she wanted to show us yet another way of making do with what she had in the cupboard and fridge.
These biscuits feel light despite the sour cream and have a breath of orange, as you'd expect from the ingredient list. Regardless of your experience with biscuits, these are truly simple to whip up.
Makes about a dozen biscuits (depending on the size of your cutter)
1 cup (125 g) self-rising flour, plus more for turning out dough
½ cup (120 ml) full-fat sour cream Splash of orange juice (about 2 tablespoons)
Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Use convection if you have it.
Combine the flour, sour cream, and orange juice with your hands, working quickly and stopping as soon as a dough forms — be careful not to overdo it. If you feel like you need it, sprinkle on a little more orange juice.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and fold it over twelve times. Cut the biscuits into rounds by pressing the cutter straight down and place them close together on a baking sheet. Combine the scraps if you would like by pressing them together just once or twice to use up all the dough.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes. If you're not using convection, which I do not have, you might find these biscuits to be flatter and less golden on top. That's okay. They'll be more brown on the bottom and cooked through. Serve them warm with butter, sorghum, honey, or your favorite preserves.
Kathryn's Mini Apple Cheddar Biscuits
Kathryn Johnson, a Nashville food blogger at ladysmokey.com, cohosts occasional Sunday afternoon potlucks with live music. For these soirées, she often makes these biscuits. They're a hit for their bits of apple and cheese, and for being crispy on the outside and moist inside.
Makes 2 dozen mini biscuits cut into about 2-inch (5-cm) rounds
2 cups (250 g) all-purpose soft wheat flour (Kathryn uses White Lily unbleached bread flour)
1 cup (120 g) whole wheat pastry flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 tablespoons (85 g) unsalted butter, cut into ½inch (12-mm) pieces, chilled
1 cup (181 g) peeled and grated apple
1 cup (120 g) shredded extra-sharp white cheddar
1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C).
In a medium bowl, mix together both flours, the baking powder, and salt. Add the butter, working it into the flour with your fingertips until the pieces are a little larger than an English pea but not larger than a lima bean. Work quickly, but gently, so that the heat of your hands doesn't melt the butter.
Add the grated apple and cheese. Then pour in all of the buttermilk and, using light pressure, fold the mixture a few times until it holds together. Don't overmix. In order to make light biscuits, it is important to work the dough as little as possible.
Turn the dough out onto a floured board and fold it quickly and gently four to six times, just enough to get all the ingredients mixed.
Sprinkle a little flour under the dough and lightly dust the top of the dough so that it won't stick. Roll the dough out to about ½ inch (12 mm) thickness. Cut the dough into 2inch (5-cm) rounds. Place them on an ungreased baking sheet so that they are touching, and bake the biscuits for about 12 minutes. They will be light in color on top with the bits of cheese turning brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Beaten biscuits came along before the invention of commercial leavening, back when the dough literally took a beating: several hundred strikes with a mallet until it blistered, causing pockets of air. Inventors later created a hand-cranked machine called a biscuit break to make the process somewhat easier, but it still required time, attention, and energy rarely put forth in home kitchens today. All the rolling, cranking, and beating produces a light, flat circle that's more crackerlike than the puffed-up biscuits we know today. Beaten biscuits were the type of snack you could slip into your pocket before work and leave for a few days without worrying about them going stale.
Home cooks can, however, try this recipe using a food processor. It's similar to a version that ran in an article by Nashville writer John Egerton in the New York Times in December 1983. And with their small, round shape, eating one can feel like taking communion with reverence for time and tradition.
Makes about 2 dozen biscuits that are 1½ inches (38 mm) in diameter
2½ cups (315 g) all-purpose flour
½ heaping teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup (100 g) lard or vegetable shortening (lard is preferred)
¾ cup (180 ml) heavy cream, very cold (nearly icy)
Position one oven rack at the bottom and one at the top, then preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C).
Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
Using a pastry cutter, cut in the lard until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Add the cream and knead the dough into a ball. Divide the mixture in half and whirl each piece for 2 minutes in a food processor fitted with the dough blade.
Recombine the two pieces of dough, roll it out, and fold it several times. When the dough is smooth, cut the biscuits into 11/2-inch (38-mm) circles. Pierce each biscuit two or three times with a fork to allow air to escape from the layers during baking.
Bake the biscuits on the bottom rack for 5 minutes and then move them to the top rack for about 25 to 30 minutes. They should be very lightly golden and firm. Serve them with very thinly sliced pieces (almost like shavings) of country ham.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Nashville Eats"
Copyright © 2015 Jennifer Justus.
Excerpted by permission of Abrams Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
BISCUITS + PONES + ROLLS,
STARTERS + SALADS,
VEGGIES + SIDES,
Index of Searchable Terms,