Piccalilli Pepper Relish

Canned PiccalilliRelish

There is an American tradition of pickling and canning that goes back to the early settler days. Because of the seasonal uncertainty of food sources and the lack of refrigeration, it was really important to extend the bounty of the summer and fall harvests by putting up and preserving meats and vegetables. Pickling and brining foods provided special relishes, chutneys and sauces to liven up the monotony of winter meals. In the South, that meant chow-chow, a relish made of cabbage, onions, green tomatoes and cucumbers. In the North and Midwest, that meant chutneys and piccalilli, a sweet pepper relish that was a mix of pepper and green tomatoes derived from the English version of Piccalilli, which was a variation on an Indian Pickle.

Today, Piccalilli Pepper Relish is still a great way to use up all those sweet and hot peppers that start overflowing in July and August. It has a sweet and sour tanginess that is great as a condiment for pork roast or fried chicken, or greens. Like any good relish, you can also put it on hot dogs and in deviled eggs. You can really use it as a table condiment the same way you use salsa or ketchup.

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Baja-Style Fried Catfish Tacos with Slaw

Baja-Style Fried Catfish Tacos

Baja-style fish tacos have become increasingly popular over the last 10-15 years. The grilled fish wrapped in tortillas make a great summer dinner. When it’s cold out and the hubby isn’t too keen on getting outside to grill, we make a Southern version – Baja-Style Fried Catfish Tacos with slaw.

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Thanksgiving podcast appearance!

Winter Squashes - butternut, kabucha, pumpkin & golden nugget

Today at noon, I’ll be a guest on Wiseheart Woman’s blogtalkradio podcast. The host, Lisa Capehart and I will be talking about “New Healthy” alternatives to Thanksgiving food favorites.

“New Healthy” Food Ideas for Thanksgiving Podcast

Go to Wiseheart Woman’s blogtalkradio site to listen LIVE at noon EST on Monday, November 18th or to hear the archived broadcast when you get a chance. 

UPDATED: Here is the link to the archived show:
Wiseheart Woman blogtalkradio The “New Healthy” Thanksgiving 

Here are links to my blog posts about each of our discussion topics:
– Thanksgiving cocktails
– Fresh Green Bean Casserole from scratch
– Pumpkin Pie from Scratch
– Making Pie Crust from lard

Cranberry Cocktails

Thanksgiving cocktails with cranberries – Cosmopolitan, Champagne & Chambord and Cranberry Margarita

Fresh Green Bean Casserole from scratch

Green Bean Casserole before the oven

A holiday food tradition at our house is Green Bean Casserole. Of course, being a child of the 60’s and 70’s, back in the day, my Mom would open up two cans of green beans, a can of Cream of Mushroom soup, mix them together and top with canned fried onions. Four cans, a little baking time, and she was done! I guess I can’t blame her for doing things the easy way, but now that I’m the cook for the holidays, I’m more than willing to trade convenience for taste. In that spirit, I’ve revisited that just-okay version and used fresh ingredients to make a homemade Green Bean casserole from scratch. Is it as easier? No, but it’s infinitely better tasting.

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Muscadine cocktail – using wild grapes for a fall cocktail

Muscadine Cocktail with boiled peanuts

 If you live in the South, you have probably have had your share of muscadines and scuppernongs, our native wild grape. In Georgia, a walk through the woods in late summer and early fall will usually yield at least a handful of the Southern wild grapes to enjoy. You can often find them along the ground, where they’ve fallen from their high perch in the trees.  I usually eat them where I find them, but sometimes we’re lucky enough to come upon low-hanging vines that make picking a couple of pints an easy chore. They are fragrant, juicy and sweet. Like pears or apples, the muscadine signals Fall in the South. They are my inspiration this week for a Southern Fall Muscadine Cocktail.

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Roasted Okra (and grilled okra) – a Healthy Alternative

okra

Forget Red State vs. Blue State. Okra divides this country as surely as any October college football rivalry. You either “get” okra, or you don’t. And if you live outside of the South, you probably just don’t get it. I know. I know. It’s weird. It’s slimy. It’s green and prickly. Maybe you just have to grow up with it to appreciate it. For me, growing up in East Tennessee, our childhood summer dinners would often just be a plate of fried okra, sliced tomatoes (both from with my Dad’s big vegetable garden) and cornbread. If there is a better summer dinner, I don’t know what it is.

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Making Cracklin Cornbread

Cornbread with cracklings

When I finished my lard rendering project, I was left with about 4 cups of cracklins. Cracklins (or cracklings) are crispy bits of fried pork fat. They are pretty much just like the crispy ends of a bacon strip. Not wanting to waste them, I put them in the freezer for later use.

Cracklings or cracklins

Cracklings or cracklins

Ever since I had cracklin cornbread at Harold’s BBQ in South Atlanta, I’ve been wanting to make some at home. One exceptionally cool night last week, with a pot of veggie soup on the stove, I pulled out my cracklins from the freezer and made a skillet full.

One thing I want to make clear… you should never, ever, ever add sugar to cornbread. That is just wrong.

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Making Lemon Chess Pie – a Southern traditional recipe

The finished lemon chess pie, waiting to be served with strawberries

Do people in other parts of the country make chess pie? Even though I’m not from the Deep South, I’ve eaten chess pie my whole life. It’s hard to imagine someone not knowing about it. Brought over from England, the chess pie has been around the South for at least 200 years. Chess pie is a simple egg custard pie, made with buttermilk, butter, sugar and, uniquely, corn meal.  Variations that I’ve seen include nutmeg, vanilla and lemon for the flavoring. In the springtime, before the summer fruits start coming in, I love to make a lemon chess pie to serve with the beautiful fresh strawberries that we start to see in the market. With some newly-made pie dough in my fridge last week, I decided it was time to make a pie.

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Making Pie Crust with Lard

Pie Crust with Lard Uncooked

Sometimes, when I talk about an ambitious food project that I’m working on at home, I get the sense that people think I’m crazy. Am I that much of a food freak? Maybe I just have too much time on my hands, but I sincerely love good food and I’ve realized over the years that the best food comes from a certain amount of effort done in my own kitchen. I know I’m not the only one who thinks this. Many of my friends are like-minded – spending a lot of time, energy and love on their food. I hope that you’re one of those people, too.

One thing I love to do is make pies, including my own pie crust. A homemade pie crust has a flavor and texture so superior to a store-bought crust and is so easy to make, that I never even think of buying one. If you have cold butter (and/or lard), flour, salt and sugar, you can have a pie crust dough ready to put in the refrigerator in 10 minutes.

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Making Lard at Home

A jar of freshly-rendered lard

What’s wrong with lard? Nothing. That’s why you should be making lard at home.

In the 60’s & 70’s, everyone knew that butter and lard were full of saturated fats and cholesterol and if you cooked with them, you were just handing out heart attacks on a plate. My Southern mother, being the progressive person that she was, always cooked with Crisco or margarine. Why? Because science told her it was healthy! To us, lard was a bad word, connoting greasy, porky, fatty food. I’m sure the ghosts of our Southern great-grandmothers were collectively rolling their eyes at this. Why? Because as it turns out, switching out manufactured shortenings and fats for natural fats was a huge mistake. It turns out lard is a healthful fat!  

How healthful? Lard contains less saturated fat than butter, is mostly a mono-saturated fat (the good kind of fat), has no trans fats and has a high smoke point, making it ideal for frying. If it is naturally rendered, it is free of artificial colorings, flavoring or additives. It is also has an incomparable taste in a pie crust or a tamale. It’s really no wonder that chefs have rediscovered cooking with lard as a return to natural whole foods. 

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