If I were to name one cake that epitomizes southern desserts my pick would be carrot cake. Chess pie could be said to hold the spot for the pie category, and peach cobbler for something in between the two.
You may consider a different cake to fit the textbook definition of southern, but for me carrot cake was always a family favorite. Throughout my life (and throughout most celebratory tables) a carrot cake was alway present.
Such an old recipe has a debatable origin. It is not debated that it origins began it another country and eventually grew and changed in the States. Traditionally the sponge includes shredded carrots and nuts and smeared with a creamed cheese icing.
With such a traditional cake, it is hard to find a unique or delicious variation on the classic version. I find keeping the modification simple will result in the best results. An easy variation on the tradition is the use of honey to sweeten the cake. Of course, I prefer local honey since Savannah has such good procurers like Capital Bee Company.
To push the variation a bit more, I added orange zest and a bit of orange juice to the cream cheese icing. The citrus brightens up the soulful cake.
Do you know what a muscadine is? It is okay if the answer is no, considering most southerners would answer the same.
My childhood included a giant muscadine vine in the back yard, and most years it produced plethora of the juicy fruits. We had so much fruit growing in the backyard, my mother and I even tried our hand at making muscadine wine. It may have turned out a little on the vinegary side.
A muscadine is the south’s version of a grape but gooier and a bit more tart. They are in season right now and can be found by the carton full at your local farmer’s market. I naturally scooped up more than I could reasonably use in one recipe because finding them inspired me to create.
You can eat them like a grape, but after years of tasting the unique fruit, I can advise you that straight off the vine is not the best option. Roasting them at a high temperature breaks down some of the fibrous material and subdues the chewy fruit. It also adds to the overall flavor since by roasting you are caramelizing the natural sugars.
You can do a lot with a raw or roasted muscadine, but for this years bounty a muscadine toast sounded like an interesting option. A quick call to one of my all-time favorite Savannah restaurants, Cotton & Rye, and I scored a gigantic warm loaf of fresh baked rye bread.
The last ingredient I selected to round out the flavors was fresh, creamy ricotta with a squeeze of lemon.
I think you will find this recipe simple, unique, and quite delicious. Since muscadines are so unique and often difficult to find, I would love to hear you ideas on how to use the fruit.
The history of the chess pie is debatable. Many contribute its origin to England, but those who have lived in the south their entire lives know it is as southern as peach pie.
To describe the many variations of chess pie that I have tasted, I would sum up the experience as a pecan pie without the pecans, and in their place, a little bit of cream. Just like a pecan pie, chess pie is one of the easiest pies you can make. Almost impossible to muck up.
A flaky tender crust sits at the base of the custard-like filling. And because the filling is so neutral, you can flavor the pie with almost anything.
Chess pie is sometimes referred to as buttermilk pie or vinegar pie.
For my summer version, I went with lemons and fresh pineapple sage from the garden. The custard is made using fresh lemon juice and lemon zest. I add in pineapple sage by seeping cream with it and using it throughout the recipe.
I always make my own pie crust because the taste is so much better than store-bought. A ratio of half butter and half lard is my preference for fat. You are your own baker, so use any recipe for a crust that you like or even use a premade one!
Travel is the best way to draw inspiration in life. For me traveling means exploring the food of the city I am visiting. I spend hours of research mapping out my food journey to ensure I eat only the best the city has to offer. Oftentimes the result is overindulgence over a short period of hours.
Two weekends ago I found myself in New Orleans. One of my favorite southern cities of all time. I am lucky to have family in Louisiana which gives me more than enough legitimate reasons to explore the land of endless sugar cane fields. If you have never visited, I strongly urge you to add NOLA to your short list of destinations. Wrought with history and culture, the French influenced city has no shortage of things to see and do. Live music in every bar, towering historical buildings, and more voodoo shops that you can stand. I have been many times yet I have never seen the same thing twice.
Louisiana a state that is know for the origin of Cajun cuisine which is heavily influenced by Creole cooking with French technique. Technically, Cajun food did not start in Louisiana, but through immigrants who eventually settled in the state. And yes, there is a large difference in the Cajun and Creole, which I plan on breaching in a later post.
For now I would like to spend a little bit of time focusing on the Creole and French side of the state. The city folk, those in New Orleans, cook Creole food, unlike the country folk who cook Cajun. Since I spent time in the city, everything I ate could be considered Cajun—even the non-Cajun food—and here is why:
If you have ever visited New Orleans it is easy to see that the town is a culmination cultures created through the settlement of immigrants, which is still occurring today. There are more restaurants that a visitor could reasonably conquer, all of which are a different—even if only slightly. Restauranteurs present patrons with their interpretation of local food, adding in their own influences and ideas. This is a practice that has been occurring in NOLA since before my time. The food of our ancestors is not the food of our towns as we now know them.
A world-wide known dessert is the perfect example of the evolution of the food in NOLA. Bananas foster was created in New Orleans at famous New Orleans restaurant Brennan’s by Chef Paul Blange. Today you can still visit Brennan’s and try the food that has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards. The recipe was created in 1951 and even published by the New York Times in 1957. The concept is simple: smother ripe bananas in butter, sugar, and liquor then set it aflame.
Although widely considered a traditional southern dish, by no means it is so in the literal sense of the word. The recipe was not contemplated until the mid 20th century. When comparing so many dishes that are said to be traditionally southern, bananas fosters is much younger than say hoppin’ john, which can be dated back to the 19th century.
This dish epitomizes both Southern and Louisiana cuisine, ever progressing into new fare that features a nod to the past. So why not draw inspiration from a City and State that has drawn culinary inspiration from it’s inhabitants, landscape, and visitors, and create something totally new from already known and loved recipe (also my husband begged me to make monkey bread, so the idea was streamline).
Many recipes call for canned biscuit dough. I believe that fresh is best, so my recipe makes the dough from scratch.
If you draw any inspiration from this post or recipe, I hope you take the idea of bananas foster and add it into a something to create a brand new dessert…or savory dish. I would love to hear about what you come up with!