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.
The summer heat is still holding a firm grip on the Southern United States as I write this post. Hints of fall are evident, but still lacking are the cooler nights and drier air we associate with a change over to the most colorful of all seasons. Even if my mind is turning with thoughts of pie baking and celebratory events soon to come, a quick step outside with my dog reminds me that summer is still upon us.
Change comes upon us sometimes suddenly, or unexpectedly, and whether we are ready to embrace it or not, change is, oddly enough, constant. Change can bring excitement or worry.
However, sometimes we find ourselves fighting for change and hopefully, all for the better. As someone concerned with women’s issues, I will be happy in celebrating the fight for change our ancestors fought for in obtaining the right to vote.
Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment allowing women in the United States the right to vote. It was a battle fought over decades with little changes, and with many stories of courage and determination, along with scars both physical and mental, for the effort. Many others changed our lives simply by going about the daily business of getting things done. One such woman was a southern girl who did just that. Her name was Eugenia Duke.
Eugenia Thomas Slade Duke never dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur or a legend, she just wanted to serve others as best she could, doing what she did best. And in making sandwiches for troops on their way to Europe during World War I, she planted the roots that would become an empire. And among Southerners and many world-class chefs, Eugenia Duke is a household name.
In 1917, the world was fully entangled in the war in Europe, and as the United States joined forces overseas, many a young soldier found himself miles from home, training for trench warfare in military posts across the States. None of these young men knew what they were about to encounter, and leaving behind the only life they knew must have been a shock, especially considering America was still a mainly agricultural society then, especially in the South.
While women rolled bandages, knit socks, and sewed blankets, Eugenia began making sandwiches.
Chicken salad, egg salad, and pimento cheese slathered between slices of bread would have been welcome to any boy far from his mother’s kitchen, but it was Eugenia’s homemade mayonnaise that made all the difference. Charging just ten cents each, soldiers couldn’t get enough of Eugenia’s sandwiches.
When the war ended, Eugenia began selling her sandwiches at a local Greenville drugstore and demand was such that is rumored that in the spring of 1919, she once sold 10,000 sandwiches in one day.
In 1923, she was encouraged by her top salesperson, C.B. Boyd, to concentrate on her mayonnaise spread, as that was what made her sandwiches so special. Eugenia took a leap of faith and bought a building in downtown Greenville to manufacture “Duke’s Mayonnaise.” She made another savvy move in striking a deal with the Ottaray Hotel, by asking them to allow her to host tea parties in their lobby. Of course, the sandwiches were made with Duke’s Mayonnaise.
Active in women’s rights, Eugenia Duke became a fixture in Greenville society and I am sure discussions about the right to vote came up during those elegant tea parties as she was active in seeing women obtained the right to vote. No doubt she did more for the women’s vote in the South with her sandwiches and mayonnaise than a thousand marches and riots ever could. Afterall, the deciding vote came from Representative Harry T. Burn from Tennessee who opposed women having the right to vote, then remembered his mother and her support of the 19th Amendment. Maybe he also remembered the home cooked meals she fed him growing up.
Oddly enough, a 1920 Census report, she lists her occupation as, “none.” Apparently, she thought her thriving empire was just something she did for others, not a sign of her making her mark on the world or as a means of making a statement about the ability of a woman to make a name for herself in a man’s world.
By 1929, Duke’s Mayonnaise was so successful that Mrs. Duke sold the company to C.F. Sauer, a family-owned company producing spices and extracts for housewives. The company still markets Duke’s Mayonnaise to this day.
But selling her business didn’t mean Eugenia was finished and ready to hang up her apron. In 1950, her daughter Martha, married and moved out to California. Eugenia and her husband soon followed, and Eugenia began making sandwiches again under a new name…The Duchess Sandwich Company. They continued to sell sandwiches until Eugenia died at age 90.
Both home cooks and celebrated chefs use Duke’s Mayonnaise in their kitchens today. We love the tanginess of Duke’s and what it brings to recipes that other sandwich spreads do not. Made with a heart to serve others may be the secret ingredient in Eugenia Duke’s recipe that made her a woman before her time. I cannot imagine a Southern kitchen without a jar of Duke’s Mayonnaise or a world without a spirit like Eugenia Duke. Let’s celebrate our Votes For Women victory with a sandwich made with a spoonful of Duke’s Mayonnaise.
Back in the Eighties, the country music group, Alabama, had a song called “Song of the South,” that was very popular. Within the lyrics is a line that goes, “Somebody told us Wall Street fell, but we were so poor we couldn’t tell.” Unfortunately, for millions in our nation, things haven’t changed much. For too many, The Great Depression, is alive and well even in America, the Land of Plenty. Many is the two income family that is desperately trying to make ends meet.
But before this begins to sound political, this blog post isn’t about politics, it’s about good ‘ole Southern baking. Though it would be difficult to find any Southerner who doesn’t freely offer an opinion on politics when prompted even slightly. We all know and have experienced moments of needing to cut back on spending and savor what we already have. And many recipes of Southern origin focus on doing a lot with oh so little. Vinegar Pie certainly fills a sweet tooth on very sparse ingredients.
The origins of Vinegar Pie go back to our pioneer days when fresh produce was difficult to come by. Whether travelling across country, or simply trying to make a living off the land where one settled and called home, fresh fruit was a luxury, and many times not available.
The taste of this pie is a contradiction of its name. It isn’t acidic as its moniker suggests. It is a truly sweet and flavorful pie. Many are the variations as some recipes call for apple cider vinegar and others for distilled, white vinegar. I’ll include two recipes here for those with either one staple in the pantry or the other. If you have never tried Vinegar Pie, you will be surprised by how such simple ingredients can become such a flavorsome treat!
Recipe for Vinegar Pie:
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten
¼ cup of melted butter
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 unbaked pie shell for 9 inch pie
Preheat oven to 350*. Combine the sugar, eggs, melted butter, salt and vinegar in a large bowl. Stir until ingredients are well blended. Pour mixture into unbaked pie shell and bake in the oven for 35 minutes. Allow to cool or serve slightly warm. (This pie is even better with a dollop of whipped cream on top).
Recipe for Vinegar Pie
3 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
Pinch of salt
1 ½ cups boiling water
¼ cup vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon flavoring or lemon juice
6 tablespoons sugar
Beat egg yolks until thick. Mix sugar and salt with flour, blend well. Add boiling water slowly while stirring. Add vinegar. Cook over hot water, stirring until smooth and thick.
Remove from heat and add flavoring or juice. Allow mixture to cool. Pour into a baked pie shell.
Make meringue of egg whites and 6 tablespoons of sugar. Spread over top of pie. Brown in slow oven at 325*.
(This is a recipe I found in an old cookbook, North Carolina and Old Salem Cookery by Elizabeth Hedgecock Sparks (Beth Tartan)).
I have never been a “cherry” person. For whatever reason, I just never found these round, ruby colored jewels of fruit to be very appealing. My mother will confirm this. Every time we go out for a hot fudge sundae, or any dessert served with a cherry on top, she will end up with two cherries on her dessert. I just can’t handle eating a plain, old cherry. There is something about it my palate just doesn’t like. I can eat cherries within a cake or anytime it is covered in rich, dark chocolate, but never “just cherries.”
For that reason, I have never baked a cherry pie. I could eat a slice of cherry pie with a heaping spoonful of vanilla ice cream dripping over the pastry crust, and melting slowly into the juice, but it wasn’t enough for me to set about baking one from scratch on a hot July afternoon.
It wasn’t until our local grocery store featured fresh, sweet cherries at $1.99 a pound, and the Fourth of July holiday, that I decided to take the plunge. There is something about the rich, red cherry and the thought of fireworks bursting in the night sky that make cherry pie our go-to dessert this time of year.
I am glad I did. This recipe I found in Better Homes and Gardens, “Baking Step-by-Step,” was a cinch to make and easy to adapt using fresh cherries instead of canned cherries as is stated in the original recipe. Though I did have to break down and use a store-bought crust, (my pastry wasn’t cooperating in my humid kitchen, even with two fans running), the lattice was simpler than I anticipated. I could have skipped the fancy lattice crust but I needed an excuse to use my new pastry crimper. The result was a tasty, slightly tart, cherry lattice pie that was perfect for any reason; not just Independence Day.
Recipe for Fresh Cherry Pie with Lattice Crust
2 frozen pastry crusts or recipe for double pastry crusts if baking from scratch (allow frozen pastry to come to room temperature)
1 lb. fresh, sweet cherries; pitted (the original recipe calls for (2) 14 ½ oz. cans pitted cherries in water pack)
1 ½ cups of sugar
¼ cup of cornstarch
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon of butter
½ teaspoon almond extract
⅓ cup of cherry brandy or cherry juice (the original recipe asks that you reserve the water pack from the canned cherries and use that for making the syrup you will pour over the cherries)
Preheat oven to 375*
Directions for crusts:
If using store bought pastry as I did, allow them to come to room temperature. Then line the bottom of one 9-inch pie plate with one of the crusts. Using a knife or pastry crimper, cut out about eight, thin strips of pie pastry and set aside.
Directions for syrup:
In a medium sized saucepan, add sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon. Gradually add the cherry brandy or cherry juice. Cook the liquid over a medium-high heat while continuing to stir. Once the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is bubbling, remove from heat.
Stir in pitted cherries. (I made the mistake of keeping the cherries whole. It looks better but is much easier to eat if you slice the cherries in half). Add the butter, and almond extract to the cherries and stir well.
Fill the pastry lined pie plate with the cherry filling. Trim the excess pastry from the edges of the pie plate.
Begin weaving the lattice crusts over the filling. Place four to six strips of pastry across the top of the filling vertically. (It is easier to weave an even number of pastry strips than odd numbers of them).
Now, counting across, pull back the even numbered strips of pastry. Place a strip of pastry horizontally (across), the odd numbered strips of pastry. Now, pick up the even numbered strips of pastry and place them back over the filling.
With the odd numbered strips of pastry, pull them back and add a strip of pastry across the top of the even numbered strips of pastry. Then lift up the odd numbered strips and place them back over the filling. Continue this pattern until you have reached the top of the pie plate.
Optional: brush pastry strips with an egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake in the oven for approximately 35 minutes. You will want to cover the edges of the pie with foil to keep them from browning too soon. If you have a pie crusts shield, this works even better.
Bake on the lowest shelf of your oven to ensure the bottom crusts bakes to a golden brown and doesn’t become soggy.
I am willing to admit it…I am a city girl. I like convenience. However, I love the peace and quiet the country offers. Growing up in a fast, growing southern city made it difficult to hold on to the small pleasures my early years in a small town offered. The crafts, hobbies, and daily life activities I knew early on were not appreciated in the large city my family moved to in the late seventies.
Homemade Christmas ornaments, cakes baked from scratch, and running barefoot over patches of deep, cool grass in summer, were replaced with organized activities created by groups filling a gap once filled by two-parent homes. Not one of the kids I played with in the city were familar with hours spent with Mom baking cookies and cakes. No one knew the method of Wilton cake decorating, and anything homemade. Store bought was all they knew.
In my childish desire to “fit in,” I engaged in the same past-times of other kids. It wasn’t easy. Our country accented, one car, one income, do-it-yourself family was as foreign to them as their pointless need for designer jeans and and a place at the beach was to us.
That’s why when I came across a recipe for “sonker,” I was perplexed. Surry County Sonker, to be precise, was a recipe so regional and unique to the area of my anscestors, no one outside of Surry County, North Carolina had even heard of this special dessert.
“Mom? Ever heard of sonker?” I asked recently.
My mother perked up. “Oh yes, my mother used to make sonker,” she said cherrily. “It was good. She usually made it with whatever fruit we had leftover. Seems to me she used self-rising flour, sugar, and…”
No one knows with any certainty how sonker came about, or the origins of the name sonker. The most popular explanation is that it might be from a colloquiaism of sunk, as in the fruit sunk down at the bottom of the pan as the flour rose to the top, thus the fruit “sonked down.” As my mother explained to me, it was just a sort of pie, but not quite. It was a cobbler, but not exactly like a cobbler. It wasn’t cobbler. It wasn’t pie, it was just…sonker.
That is the legendary Sonker.
However it came to be, sonker was something put together by housewives and consisted of the fruits of summer, or autumn, or winter, just whatever was available at the time. My mother recalled how her mother whipped up a sonker for the fieldhands that planted and picked tobacco in the area. Her mother learned from her mother, and her mother from her mother, and so on. And the way your mother made sonker was the correct way to make sonker. It depended on what was available and what the busy women had time to work with in addition to their other chores.
My mother paused, her eyes gazed upward as the wheels of her memory spinned. “I think she used self-rising flour. I remember it had lots of juice and we always ate it with cream.”
It wasn’t long before we were both in the kitchen, gathering up ingredients as my mother talked her way through the memories of her mother’s recipe. I grabbed the sugar and the bag of peaches we had bought earlier in the week. Soon the stovetop was red hot and adding to the misery of a humid June day, as I scooped up the blueberries from their corner in the back of the refridgerator.
Steam billowed under the exhaust fan as we watched the fruit and sugar bubble and pop with thick juices. Mom stirred the fruit while I mixed the flour and milk together for the topping.
The result of our efforts was a deep dish filled with juicy fruit and the liquid filling every edge of the pan. The doughy top, baked brown and broken through by the lucious fruit underneath. It didn’t last long. We ate up our work with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
“We never had money for ice cream,” my mother recalled. “Ice cream was a special treat for when we went into town on weekends. But we usually always had cream from the cow.”
Sonker was often served with a milk dip, as it was called. A sweet, thick liquid consisting of sugar, water, a little cornstarch for thickening, and a dab of vanilla.
Our afternoon making sonker lead me to ask my dad if he remembered sonker.
“Sonker pie!” He let out. “Oh yeah, my mother made sonker pie.”
Sonker pie, as he called it, was again made in a similar way as my mother’s mother, with self-rising flour, whatever fruit she could gather together, and lots of sugar. Always made for the folks out in the fields planting or harvesting a crop. For my anscestors, that meant corn, wheat, and of course, tobacco.
Today sonker seldom resembles the dessert my parents remember so fondly. Sonker on the internet and You Tube is dolled up with puff pastry or strips of rolled pastry dough with crimped edges, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is just not a true sonker. It isn’t true to our heritage, but so many people today, especially in America, want to replicate everything to fit everyone’s palate that our past is lost and forgotten.
Many immigrants have changed their native dishes to appeal to the masses and for good reason. They, like me so many years ago, wanted to fit in. And in doing so, they had to change what seemed odd to everyone else in order to survive, but we still need to hold on to what made us who we are. Homogenization is fine for milk, but not people.
I do feel grateful to live in a country with so many choices. American cuisine is a collection of everyone’s past from around the world. I think I would get bored eating the same foods everyday of the week. So if you would like to try something different, I hope you will give sonker a try. It is a part of my past I would like to share with everyone.
Recipe for Old-Fashioned Surry County Sonker and Milk Dip
1 stick of butter (a half cup)
Approximately 4 cups of fruit of your choice (whatever is available)
1 tsp. of vanilla
1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar
1 cup of self-rising four (or leftover rolled out pastry dough, this is for placing on to of the fruit)
1 cup of whole milk
a pinch of salt
(1) Preheat your oven to 350*
(2) Melt the butter in a rectangle sized baking pan; one that has deep sides. Any deep edged pan or dish will do.
(3) In a heavy saucepan, add the fruit and 1 cup of sugar. Warm the fruit over medium heat until the fruit and sugar are hot and bubbly. Keep stirring or the fruit wil stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.
(4) In a seperate bowl, mix together the rest of the sugar along with the cup of flour, milk, and vanilla.
(5) Pour the fruit into the prepared baking dish, then pour the batter over the top. Some people add the batter first, either way is fine. My mother’s mother added the fruit first.
(6) Bake in oven for at least 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
(7) Serve with milk dip, cream, or vanilla ice cream while sonker is hot.
For the Milk Dip, mix together 1 cup of milk, 1/4 cup sugar, and vanilla to taste over medium heat in a small pot. Add a bit of cornstarch for thickening. Stir until sugar and cornstarch are dissolved. Pour over sonker and serve.
It started over a month ago, when my father started reminding me about his upcoming birthday and the coconut cake I had baked for him last year. He loved it so much he decided he wanted the same cake when asked what kind of cake he wanted this year.
“I love that coconut cake you make,” he said. “I like that lemon filling you put in the middle.”
And so for the past month, everyday, my father would call and tell me that he had a birthday coming up and he would sure like “that coconut cake,” again. When I asked what he wanted for a present, he simply replied, “Just that coconut cake.”
Well, my dad loved his coconut cake and he told me it was so good he wasn’t sure if the cake would make it past the weekend. (His birthday was on a Thursday this year) I began to wonder why so many of my other cake baking efforts were a big flop. One cake bakes like a dream, another, a huge fail with me throwing the cake in the trash as if it were a frisbee. I began to believe my abilities in cake baking were limited, and I would just have to settle for title of at-home baker with a hit-or-miss record. The Great British Baking Show was not in my future.
But I am not one to give up! I may moan and cry and pout for a couple of hours, but come morning I have a new determination. My, “I cannot rest until I figure this out,” attitude kicks in and once again I am off like lightning, my brain spinning like a hamster wheel.
Since it is impossible for me to sleep in one of these spells, I stayed up streaming YouTube videos on cake decorating. I have decorated cakes with success, maybe I could be inspired to try cake again.
After many nights falling asleep to the musical backgrounds provided during many a wedding cake video, I came across Global Sugar Art and a Chef Alan Tetreault. After watching him make even the most elaborate designs appear easy-breezy, I found his video on baking cakes from scratch. Apparently, I am not the cake baking failure I always thought I was. First things first. The tools of the trade have as much to do with the success of our bakes as do the ingredients.
My mind began taking notes of the complexities of oven temperature, and exact placement of pans on the oven racks. It seems a 350* oven and a pan of cake mix is more complex than I thought. Here, I would like to share Chef Tetreault’s tips about ovens and cake pans.
First, use an oven thermometer to check that your oven is truly reaching the desired temperature. Many ovens can be off as much as 20 degrees!
An oven set at 350* is fine…as long as you are using a simple aluminum pan.
Baking pans made of Anodized aluminum, glass, dark metal pans, and sheet pans, need a lower temperature because they conduct more heat. 325* is a better bet for these types of baking pans.
And according to Chef Tetreault, never bake a cake on a rack placed any higher than the middle of your oven. Higher than that and the cake will form a crust on the top of the cake and as the rest of the cake bakes, it will spill out over the sides of the pan, causing your cake to erupt! No one wants to clean out that mess!
Another hint: When using a convection oven, always set the oven to the setting for baking cakes. This is something I have no understanding of, as I am using an “apartment style” oven, but if you have a convection oven, I assume you know what this means.
There is so much information in this video, and it is eye-opening for us at-home, hobby bakers that I am placing the link for the video at the end of this blog. I hope you will take the time to watch the video in its entirety. There is so much useful information and Chef Tetreault is a very calm presence. It feels like he is teaching you step-by-step and not talking down to his viewers. That’s all for now.
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 Biscuits
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.
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.
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.
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.