Some cooking ideas from 'A Painted House'

Wednesday, February 13, 2002



Are you reading "A Painted House"? John Grisham's book is part of the city's current literacy project and hundreds of people in the area are reading the book to be a part of the 31 discussion groups to be held in Cape Girardeau this month. It's not too late to start. Get your copy today and start reading so you too may be a part of one of the groups.

Food is mentioned frequently in John Grisham's farm novel, set in Black Oak, Ark., in 1952. The Mexicans ate tortillas; Vienna sausages and crackers were a quick snack enjoyed by the hill people during picking season. Chicken was served two times each week on the Chandler farm, and fried chicken was the staple at the annual baseball game between the Baptist and Methodist men. Although we don't have the recipe from the church ladies, Martha Stewart's Perfect Fried Chicken is a family favorite at Julia's house. Julia Jorgensen, librarian at Cape Central High School, is the project coordinator.

Martha Stewart's Perfect Fried Chicken serves 8. Cook the dark meat, which takes a bit longer, apart from white meat to ensure doneness. Small chickens, called fryers, about 3 pounds, are tender and best for frying.

Make sure to use kosher salt in this recipe; if you measure with table salt, it will be too salty.

Martha Stewart's Perfect Fried Chicken

6 cups nonfat buttermilk

1/4 cup plus

5 teaspoons kosher salt

1/3 cup Tabasco Sauce (optional)

2 two-to-three pound chickens, each cut into 8 pieces for frying

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons baking powder

2 pounds vegetable shortening

6 tablespoons bacon drippings (optional)

Combine buttermilk, 1/4 cup kosher salt and Tabasco sauce, if using, in a large, airtight container. Add chicken pieces, turning to coat in the liquid. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Combine flour, remaining 5 teaspoons salt, black and cayenne peppers, and baking powder in a brown paper bag. Shake vigorously. One at a time, place chicken pieces in the bag, and shake to coat. Place coated pieces on a clean plate or tray. Heat vegetable shortening (and bacon drippings, if using) in two 10-inch cast-iron skillets over medium-low heat.

Using a frying thermometer to measure temperature, bring shortening to 375 degrees; it should be at a medium, not a rolling, boil. Use tongs to place thigh and drumsticks in skillets. Fry until coating is dark golden on bottom, 10 to 14 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted into a thigh should register 170 degrees. Drain on brown paper bags or several layered paper towels. Transfer cooked pieces to baking sheets, and place in the oven to keep warm while frying remaining chicken. Using a slotted spoon, remove any bits of coating left in skillets, and discard. Place breast and wings in skillets. Cook 10 to 14 minutes on each side. Drain on brown paper bags.

Remove dark meat from oven and serve.

Gran's biscuits must have been fabulous ... "heavy and perfectly round, and so warm that when I carefully placed a slice of butter in the center of one, it melted instantly. My mother concedes that Ruth Chandler made the best biscuits she'd ever tasted." (Page 35 of "A Painted House.") Lard was probably a key ingredient in her biscuits. We have it on good authority that cooks in northern Arkansas in the 1950s used Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook.

So taken from that book, enjoy this recipe for a nostalgic eating experience.

Biscuits Supreme

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 cup shortening

2/3 cup milk

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, cream of tartar, and sugar; cut in shortening till mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add milk all at once; stir only till dough follows fork around bowl. Turn out on lightly floured surface; knead gently 1/2 minute. Pat or roll 1/2 inch thick; cut with biscuit cutter. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet in hot oven, 450 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Makes 16 medium biscuits.

"Every picnic had potato salad, and every chef had a different recipe.

"Dewayne and I counted eleven large bowls of the dish, and no two looked the same." (p. 252). Another Mississippi author, Eudora Welty, collected this recipe from the Hotel Vicksburg for a Federal Writers Project "America Eats." Herbs and low-calorie cooking take precedent in many kitchens today. This recipe could easily be adapted to lower calories and fat as you update this standard picnic fare.

Cold Potato Salad with Bacon

9 potatoes, well scrubbed

8 ounces bacon, diced

1/2 cup diced onion

1/4 cup white wine or apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Drop the unpeeled potatoes into a large saucepan of boiling water. Cover and boil until there is a slight resistance to a knifepoint. Drain, peel and cut into 1/4 inch slices. Set aside, tightly covered. In a medium skillet, fry the bacon until crisp; drain on paper towel, reserving the drippings.

Sauté the onion in the drippings until tender; drain. Add apple cider vinegar and the remaining ingredients. Pour the hot sauce over the potatoes, turning gently with a fork to coat evenly. Gently stir the bacon into the salad. Serve immediately.

Lime and Thyme Potato Salad

Toss 4 cups cooked potato cubes in a dressing made from 1/3 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 cup dairy sour cream, 1/2 teaspoon finely shredded lime peel and the juice of a lime.

Stir in 1 tablespoon of snipped fresh thyme, 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper

If salad seems too stiff after chilling, stir in a splash or two of milk.

The picnic boasted "sixteen coolers of homemade ice cream, all covered tightly with towels and packed with ice." (Page 252). The ladies probably used raw eggs as an ingredient and it required someone to turn the handle, adding ice and salt to make the cold dessert. The hard work and labor required to make homemade ice cream has been eliminated with the introduction of the electric freezer, and the health hazard of raw eggs is no longer a concern with eggbeaters. Patti Siemers, employee of Cape Girardeau School District, shares her recipe for the favorite ice cream they use on their dairy farm.

"Mrs. Cooper somehow mixed chocolate and peanut butter in her ice cream, and the results were incredible. Folks clamored for it all year round ... when she needed yard work done she'd simply make a cooler peanut butter ice cream." We encourage you to add your favorite flavors too!

Homemade Ice Cream

6 eggs or 11/2 cartons egg beaters

1 can Milnot (chilled)

1 small box vanilla instant pudding

2 cups sugar 1 tablespoon vanilla

Milk, about 1/2 gallon (or to fill mark on ice cream freezer)

Beat eggs until foamy; add sugar and Milnot. Beat well until frothy. Combine pudding and vanilla to above mixture, and mix well. Pour into a 4-quart ice cream freezer. Add to egg mixture milk, enough to fill freezer to the fill mark on outside of container. Mix well with freezer paddle. Freeze.

We know the church ladies in the book made their brownies from "scratch" but today's chefs have the luxury of box mixes. This favorite of local resident Karen Altenthal combines the ease of a mix with the "extras" that provides that "scratch" touch of love.

Caramel Brownies

2/3 cup evaporated milk

1 (18.25 ounce) package

German chocolate cake mix

3/4 cup butter

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup chopped pecans

1 (14 ounce) package individually wrapped caramels, unwrapped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease one 8 x 10-inch baking pan. Combine cake mix, 1/2 of the evaporated milk, the butter or margarine and the chopped nuts. Mix until combined and spread 1/2 of batter into the prepared pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 6 minutes. Melt the caramels and the remaining evaporated milk. Remove brownies from oven. Sprinkle chocolate chips over the brownies then pour the melted caramel mixture over the top. Spread the remaining batter over the top of the caramel. Return pan to oven and bake for an additional 18 minutes. Let brownies cool before serving.

I hope you have enjoyed a few sentences from the book, as well as some recipes that go along with the book, too.

Have a great week and we hope you make it to one of the discussion groups.

If not, read the book anyway, you will really enjoy it. And as always, happy cooking.

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