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Southern Baking and Beyond

For many in today’s world, baking is a hobby, something dabbled in once the leaves begin to change into their brilliant colors towards the end of another year. Baking is a reason to show off a recipe seen practiced between the pages of a trendy magazine, or seen demonstrated on any number of television shows clamoring for our attention and ratings.

In the South however, baking is more than a hobby, it’s a way of life. It is as much a  fixture in our DNA as in our culture.

Southerners share food at every occasion, in times of celebration as well as sadness. Ask any Southerner to share a favorite memory of childhood and usually the answer will involve a grandmother’s kitchen filled with aromas that comforted the most troubled soul. The memory may include holidays and women with busy hands gathered together to make easy work of pies, cakes and cookies. Or perhaps thoughts harken back to a time one was in need and a special dish made from the heart was sure to accompany healing words. Nevertheless, kindness was the most important ingredient of any bake.

My mother remembers the multitude of baked goods served at dinners on the ground of her hometown church. She recalls how her mother made a well in the wooden bowl filled with flour, salt, and buttermilk for biscuit dough and “pinching off” the dough into drops that would mysteriously form a perfect round biscuit.

I still remember my grandmother’s fried chicken she always made special when we came to visit. The delicious, perfectly seasoned poultry was juicy and tender and far superior to anything you could buy in a bucket! My grandmother has passed on, but forty years later have not lessened the memory for me.

Old-fashioned Southern baking is too quickly becoming only memories for many. Today’s South seems to have no place for what is tried and true, replacing everything Southerners know and love with something newer, quicker, and more exotic. There is nothing wrong with trying something new, but when I can no longer find pimento cheese at the supermarket because it is considered “too Southern” for newcomers, I feel like a part of my heritage is being stripped away.

And so, I created this blog for classic Southern baking. You will not find obscure ingredients, or words you cannot pronounce. Along the way, I’ll provide stories and history behind our favorite bakes, as well as how-to videos and the recipes that didn’t work. (I’ve had many recipe fails! I am not a pro pastry chef!)

I look forward to sharing, learning and creating the bakes that are truly Southern as well as many that we have adopted as our own and become Southern through the years.

Thank you for visiting,

Suzanne

 

 

 

Blueberry-Lemon Biscuits

 

boy picking on blueberries in cardboard box
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Fresh blueberries and summer are forever a perfect picture of what summer in the South is all about. As soon as the weather becomes warm enough to tolerate, but before it becomes unbearable, blueberries with their deep indigo color reminds us of a cool refuge in warmer months.
Jams, jellies, pies, and my favorite, blueberry muffins, are what make blueberries special. No other fruit can burst into the most majestic shade of purple when baked. It is as if blueberries hide a secret only to be revealed once under heat. This recipe for Blueberry-Lemon Biscuits reminds me of a certain fast-food chain and their blueberry biscuits.
However, this recipe requires real blueberries, not blueberry flavored bits of some substance known only to scientists in a lab. And the addition of lemon peel and juice makes these biscuits far superior in taste and texture. Just biting into those berries, full of flavor makes heating up the kitchen in the warmer months, worth the effort.

Recipe for Blueberry-Lemon BiscuitsDSCI0236

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
¼ cup cold butter
One egg, lightly beaten
(1) 6 oz. carton of lemon yogurt (can substitute vanilla flavor)
2 tsp. milk
1 tsp. finely zested lemon peel
1 cup fresh or frozen unsweetened blueberries

Recipe for Lemon Glaze:
In a small bowl mix together 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 tsp. finely zested lemon peel, 1 tsp. vanilla, and enough lemon juice (3-4 tsp.) to make a thick glaze liquid enough to drizzle over biscuits.

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400*. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Set aside.
Mix together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, sugar. Cut in cold butter until the mix looks like crumbs.
In a small bowl, stir yogurt, lightly beaten egg, and lemon zest. Add mixture to the flour mixture.
Using a fork, stir the mixture until moistened. Fold in blueberries gently.
Drop about a heaping tablespoon amount onto baking sheet. (An ice cream scoop works well for this task.)
Bake 10-15 minutes until the biscuits are golden brown in color.
Once removed from oven, place biscuits onto wire rack for cooling.
Drizzle lemon glaze over biscuits once biscuits have cooled.
Enjoy!

Note* These biscuits can be frozen, just do not drizzle the glaze on them before freezing. Wrap them in foil and place in airtight container safe for freezer. When ready to bake, place foil wrapped biscuits in a 300* oven for 20-30 minutes. Drizzle with glaze as you would if freshly baked.

Mom’s Easter Sunday Ham

white flowers between brown rabbit figure and eggs
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The glorious colors of Spring are beginning to paint the landscape here in the South, along with our nemesis, that sticky, yellow-green pollen dust from the tall pines. My red car is covered in the stuff, but I don’t need to see the pollen to know it’s there, my fits of coughing and itchy, eyes let me know Spring has sprung!

Along with the misery, is the hope Easter brings. New life is abundant in the flowers blooming to their fullest glory, while various birds sing their praises of survival through the bitter cold of winter.

This time of year reminds me of so many Easter celebrations of years past. My mother made Easter as much of an event to be anticipated as Christmas morning. Waking up to a big basket filled with the many colors of flavorful candies and a huge, bunny made of delicious chocolate, is still a memory I cherish. Coloring eggs with the famous Paas food dye kits were as much fun as the holiday itself. This was only a building up to a luncheon with the main attraction, Mom’s Easter ham.

The large ham would be prepared on a large platter surrounded by greens and coated with orange extract, then, much to the delight of my brothers and I, set aflame with the single strike of a match. Watching the spectacle was akin to watching a fireworks show on the Fourth-of-July.

Mom has always gone out of her way to make holidays special. She doesn’t cook much anymore as her battle with Essential Tremor makes it difficult on her best days to handle the complexities of cooking. But as the season turns to warmer temperatures and longer days, I still can’t pass by a ham display at the local grocery store without thinking of that special Easter ham.

There are ways to make the star of the day more tasty and attractive without breaking your bank account. Here, I share my mother’s helpful advice for a fail-proof ham.

  • First, make sure to check prices from your local grocery stores. In the weeks before Easter, most stores will run specials hoping to pull loyal customers from their regular markets to the one with the biggest price cuts.
  • After you have removed all the packaging, place the ham in your sink for a good long rinse under cold water. The rinse will remove all the surface salt the ham has been coated in by the brand company. Don’t worry that this will reduce the salty flavor from the ham, the meat will still have its natural saltiness, just not the overkill of the sodium that ruins the flavor of the ham.
  • Don’t rush through. prepare some of the side items to your meal in advance. Potato salad, for example can be made up to two days ahead. Green beans were always served with the ham instead of asparagus. Mom knew our palates would not take to anything so exotic as vegetables we didn’t normally eat during the rest of the year. This is not the time to surprise everyone with something you are not sure they would partake of any other day of the year. It is nonsense to waste time and money, let alone food, when folks will not eat it.
  • Wether a buffet or table setting; relax, let others set out flatware and beverage glasses. Send out food to the table and dispense with elaborate decorations. People don’t talk about the way your table looked in the years to come. People remember how good the food tasted and how special the day was.
  • Make deep, criss-cross cuts into the ham before cooking.  Place a whole clove deep into each of the “squares,” created by the knife cuts. Allow the ham to cook as long as required to achieve the flavor to come through. Baste the ham with orange juice while the ham is cooking will help dispense of any saltiness and create a richer flavor to the ham once the extract is added.
  • Arrange the ham on the platter and surround with salad greens mixed with peeled orange slices. Add a few cranberries for color if you like.
  • Finally, pour the orange extract over the ham, generously. Use up all the liquid. Don’t hold back some for “use later.” Trust me, unless you have some special recipe that calls for orange extract, you will never buy another bottle until next Easter.

Now, strike a match, and set the ham ablaze! Watch everyone, especially the children, ooh and ahh over the magical moment as the bright orange and red flame jumps and waves into a blue light, then quietly slows down and disappear into the checkerboard pattern of ham and clove.

As I celebrate my one-year anniversary of this blog. I thank all the followers and wish them a Happy Easter and the filled promise of that first Easter celebrated so long ago.

Enjoy!

Irish Tea, Me, and History

I love St. Patrick’s Day! The bright colors of spring abound, and various birds of every description begin to flutter around in the trees, and celebrating the patron saint of The Emerald Isle marks the time of year when everything is about renewal and fresh beginnings.

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Photo by Melissa on Pexels.com

I usually partake in this special holiday by sporting the deep, green color of Ireland’s countryside through my wardrobe. I pull from my jewelry box a unique, gold-plated pin embellished with various charms and tokens representing the Emerald Isle and walk happily about with pride.

Twenty years ago, after I came across the family Bible from my mother’s paternal grandparents, I began researching my family tree. In those days, if you wanted to know more about where you came from and how you got here, you needed money, time, and a lot of patience. (All things I am very short of). Census records were kept on microfilm in a musty cavern beneath the structures of government buildings. You needed permission and someone who knew where to look for what it was you needed to look for. Those were the old days. At least I could ask my parents what they knew or had heard from relatives when they were growing up. But that was all I had, and as I am not a celebrity, no one from “Who Do You Think You Are?” was going to be knocking on my door with the answers in hand.

Today, we have the internet and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to guide us in finding our family and those long, stretched out lineages of people who came before us. Through their website, http://www.familysearch.com, I was able to find relatives dating back to the 10th century from Wales. In fact, my mother’s grandfather’s line hasn’t a drop of Irish blood at all! But the Millikan family roots run deep in North Carolina, and it is from her father’s side of the family that we attribute to the sod of Ireland. It has been recorded that the Millikan clan came down from Pennsylvania after settling for a time with the Quaker’s of German descent. After a time, the English Quaker’s migrated south and settled permanently in the piedmont of North Carolina. When exactly, my family came from Ireland is still a mystery and it may take another twenty years of digging through records on the internet before I find the answers. But, I love a good mystery, and that is all part of geneology…looking for clues to unravel the different parts that make a whole.

green trees under blue and orange sky during sunset
Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

What I do know is that my family came here long before we called ourselves Americans. That in itself is an amazing discovery, and while I continue my journey, I will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a good, strong cup of Irish Breakfast tea, and some, “hot from the oven,” delicious raisin scones. And with every sip and every bite, I will remember how fortunate I am to be made of so many wonderful ingredients. Afterall, that is the very heart of baking, bringing together the parts that are different to make something wonderful. Enjoy!

 

Recipe for Irish Raisin Scones

2 cups all- purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2  1/2  tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. shortening

3/4 cups of raisins

1 cup of buttermilk or scalded milk

 

Directions:

  1. Combine flour, sugar, and baking powder with salt in a mixing bowl. Cut in the shortening with a fork or pastry blender until the mixture is crumbly. Add raisins and the buttermilk and continue to mix with fork or pastry blender until ingredients are moist. The dough will be sticky.
  2. Place the dough onto a well floured surface and knead dough for approximately one minute. Shape into a ball and place dough onto ungreased baking sheet. Mark out with a knife wedges of eight pieces. Let dough rest for ten minutes. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until top is a golden brown. Make sure to insert a toothpick or skewer into middle to test for doneness. If not done, place bake in oven until dough is set in the center.

If you want a sweet, crunchy top for your scones, brush the top with a beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar before placing in oven to bake.

Serve warm with various jams, jellies, or preserves along with sweet cream or clotted cream. Enjoy with a cup of Irish Breakfast Tea or any other tea you prefer.

Chocolate Chocolatey Mint Chip Cookies

20190129_160303Nothing in this world calms my nerves like a batch of chocolate chip cookies. And wile I wait, none to patiently, for my laptop to run another “update,” my mind goes back and forth from my tablet to the countertop, where a recent batch of chocolate cookies beckons.

Over the holidays, I found my local grocery store had put up a display for Andes Mints. I hadn’t seen these striped, chocolate candies for ages, so I picked up two packages and decided to offer then as a refreshment for for guests. They never made it that far. My mother helped me gobble down the first batch, and with our chocolate, mint craving satisfied, I had still one unopened box. What to do with it?

I often find myself struggling over what to prepare for dinner. As there are only two people, and one fussy, little dog around, it is difficult to think of meals for such a small group. It is on these occasions where I scramble through coupons in a quest for something in the fast food genre. The glove compartment of my car is stuffed with antiquated brochures and flyers from restaurants offering special deals for a limited time. I came across one from Subway. Off I went. At least, it is healthier than other options.

photo of person driving
Photo by Peter Fazekas on Pexels.com

As I was paying for my sub sandwich, I noticed the display of cookies on the counter. Deep, rich chocolate with flecks of bright green caught my attention. “Chocolate Mint Chip.” I decided at the last minute to add them to my purchase.

After the meal, I warmed the cookies in the microwave and as my mother and I sank our teeth into the melty, minty, cookie, I thought about how easy it would be to make these for myself. I already had the box of Andes Mints, and I was sure I had a recipe somewhere for chocolate, chocolate chip cookies.

My mother spent the next evening, breaking up the entire box of candies into bits and pieces. Carefully unwrapping each as her hands would allow. My mother decided that her hand trmors would make her ideal for this job as she didn’t need to use delicacy when breaking up the candy.

Below is the recipe for these cookies I made at home. They really are delicious, and a refreshing break from the usual chocolate chip cookie. Enjoy!

Chocolate Chocolatey Mint Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

1 2/3 cups of all-purpose flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 tsp, baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup butter or margarine

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup of Chopped Andes Mints

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375*

  1. In a large bowl or mixer, cream together butter, and sugars together until light and fluffy. Gradually add vanilla and egg and blend until smooth.
  2. Add flour, cocoa powder, and other dry ingredients to creamed mixture. Mix well.
  3. Stir in the Andes Mints pieces, gently.
  4. Drop tablespoon sized dough onto greased cookie sheet. Bake for around 10 minutes. Cool for approx. 5 minutes on cookie sheet then remove cookies  and place on cookie rack to finish cooling.

P.S. I found the dough to be a bit soft for this recipe, so I added an extra 1/4 cup of flour to the mixture I had leftover for a more firm cookie. Of course, if you like a more soft cookie, keep the recipe to the original above.

I hope you enjoy this recipe. Take care, Suzanne

 

 

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

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This is the day of new beginnings and resolutions! And though we all have good intentions, sometimes we are unable to keep those promises to ourselves we made in the late hours of the previous year.

I am all for new opportunities, as I have had to re-invent myself many times in life. The best laid plans don’t always work out, but I believe the Lord our God has our best in His plans.

This recipe for Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies is a good idea when the long winter sets in our bones and makes us hungry for comfort foods that are not part of our diet in the New Year. However, they are packed with less sugar than regular chocolate chip cookies and with the added oatmeal and pecans, they certainly won’t wreck you diet too much!

I hope you will enjoy these as much as I do.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups uncooked regular oats

1 (12 0z.) package semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup toasted chopped pecans (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350*

Beat butter and sugars in bowl at medium speed. Add eggs and vanilla.

Add salt and baking soda.

Add flour and oats a little at a time. The mixture will begin to become stiff. This is normal.

Once flour and oats have been mixed in, begin adding chocolate chips and pecans.

Place teaspoonful drops onto ungreased baking sheet or use parchment paper on baking sheet if desired, and bake in oven for 10-12 minutes. Cool on wire rack for about 2-3 minutes.

Enjoy!

A Very Merry Black Forest Cherry Cake

Many who enjoy baking as a hobby know baking from scratch is the standard. But when the holidays press us to our limits, a box of cake or cookie mix makes life bearable. I love baking from scratch, and I love finding new recipes to try out as well as old ones I haven’t attempted. This year, I will have no “baked from my own two hands” baked goods upon my countertops. This year is right out of a box. After battling a cold virus since Thanksgiving, I feel grateful I am able to accomplish as much.

I came across this particular recipe for Black Forest Cherry Cake, many years ago in a cookbook from QVC Host, Mary Beth Roe. “My Family’s Favorites” is filled with easy recipes for beginners, with many made from scratch and others that are a real help in any kitchen with shortcuts by the way of boxed mixes, canned goods and minimal ingredients.  The cookbook is no longer available through QVC, however, an internet search might provide some outlets where it can be obtained.

This recipe has been celebrated by many in my family and if you are pressed for time, with only four ingredients, it is simple and quick to make. I hope you will enjoy this rich, dense, and flavorful cake that tastes like it was made from scratch. Shhh…you don’t have to tell anyone it came from a box!

Black Forest Cherry Bundt Cake

1 package chocolate cake mix

1 (21 oz.) can of cherry pie filling

1/4 cup oil

3 eggs

Preheat oven to 350*

Combine cake mix, pie filling, oil, and eggs. Beat well until smooth. Pour into greased and floured Bundt pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until done. Cool in pan for 25 minutes, then invert onto cooling rack to finish cooling. Decorate and serve with can of extra cherry pie filling and whipped cream.

Note* You can serve this cake without any extra pie filling or cream. It is great with ice cream or just plain. Decorate using your imagination and enjoy! Merry Christmas Everyone!DSCI0219

Mystery and History in a Hummingbird Cake

black yellow and green small sized bird on red steel ornament
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I can still remember the first time I came across a recipe for Hummingbird Cake. I was in my early twenties at the time and tucked in the pages of Country Cakes by Bevelyn Blair was this odd, if not strange sounding, cake. I thought, “Why on earth would someone name a cake after a Hummingbird? Surely no one would put hummingbirds in a cake!” Well, I was young.

After scanning the ingredients, I was surprised by the mix of spice and tropical fruits. Somehow, that didn’t seem like a good mixture to my imagination and I never attempted to make the cake, even though it is considered a Southern classic.

Over twenty years later, and hopefully a little wiser, my mother’s impending birthday set me to thinking of something I could bake for her that would be unusual, and not just the bakes I was most familiar with. I had done a Red Velvet with her for my own birthday just two months earlier, so it seemed odd to make it again. Then it came to me, “How about a Hummingbird Cake? It might be just strange enough to be the best cake we have ever made.”

If anyone knows about my mother and I and our history of cake baking, then they also know every birthday cake ends up in the garbage can. It is as if the baking gods have it out for us when it comes to cakes and birthdays. Any other day of the year will result in a decent and quite tasty cake, everyday but for two out of the year. This time I was determined and the mysterious Hummingbird Cake would end our streak of bad luck!

I started reading through the indexes of my many recipe books and decided on the classic from Southern Living magazine. In the February 2018 edition, was the story of the cake as well as a recipe with many ingredients already in my cupboards. And definitely no hummingbirds!

The story in Southern Living credits Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, NC as having submitted the recipe for the magazine in 1978. It is the recipe we all know and follow as the true Hummingbird Cake. But as I was researching further into the cakes’ history, I found that not only can the roots of the recipe be traced back to Jamaica and part of a press package advertising Jamaica tourism, but the cake itself has many variations and is known by a different name.

low angle photography of coconut trees
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Doctor Bird Cake as it is called in Jamaica, began as a type of fluted, bundt cake without frosting. It was named after the national bird of Jamaica, the Red-Billed Streamertail Hummingbird. Jamaicans refer to the bird as Doctor Bird as its black crest and long black streamer like tail feather resemble the top hat and long, tailed coats worn by doctors of days long gone by. Another version states the bird is called the Doctor Bird as it lances flowers with its bill to savor the nectar. 

The bird is revered not only for its beauty, but for its history as well. The first people of Jamaica, the Arawaks, believed the bird possesed magical powers. They called it the ‘God bird,’ because they considered the bird to be the reincarnation of dead souls. The bird has been written about in many Jamaican folk songs, one with lyrics, “Doctor bird, a cunny bud, hard bud fe dead.” The translation reads, “It is a clever bird which cannot be easily killed.”

The recipe has changed only slightly since it was first introduced to American’s back in the 60’s, but one thing has remained and that is the cake’s moistness and delectable flavor. It is truly unique as the bird it was named for. Here is the recipe submitted by Mrs. Wiggins so long ago.

Hummingbird Cake

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Ingredients: 

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups granulated sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

3 large eggs, beaten

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (I like Watkin’s brand)

1 (8oz.) can undrained crushed pineapple

2 cups chopped ripe bananas (the recipe calls for six, I found four to be enough)

1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Vegetable shortening (for greasing the cake pans)

Frosting Ingredients:

2 (8oz.) packages cream-cheese, softened

1 cup salted butter or margarine, softened

2 (16oz.) pkg. powdered sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Additional toasted pecans can be used to decorate cake after it is frosted.

Step 1. Preheat oven to 350*. Whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add eggs and oil. Stir until ingredients are moistened. Stir in vanilla, pineapple, bananas, and toasted pecans.

Step 2. Divide batter evenly among 3 well-greased (with the shortening) and floured 9- inch round cake pans.

Step 3. Bake in preheated oven until a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean; about 25-30 minutes. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and cool completely for about an hour.

Step 4. Bein the frosting will cakes are cooling. Mix together cream cheese and butter in a mixer or with hand-held electric mixer, until light and fluffy. Choose medium speed. Gradually add the powdered sugar and mix on low until frosting is smooth. Add the vanilla and mix at medium-high speed until frosting is fluffy; about 1-2 minutes.

Step 5. Assemble the cake by placing first cake layer on a plate or cake stand. Spread about one cup of the frosting over the cake layer. Continue with second and third layers, covering with frosting after each layer is added. Spread remaining frosting over the top and sides of assembled cake. Add additional toasted pecans if desired. Enjoy!

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It sounds like a lot of work goes into making this cake. But really, it doesn’t take all day and if you have baked a cake before, this cake will not stress you out. Just take it step-by-step. If you haven’t baked a cake before, my advice is the same. Just make sure to gather all your ingredients first. Make sure your cake pans are prepared while you wait for the oven to preheat.