In this episode, we are riffing on recipes from Edna Lewis’s 1986 cookbook: The taste of Country Cooking. This cookbook/memoir hybrid is about what life was like in the rural Virginia community –where Lewis grew up– the food she ate growing up and when. Sunday Revival Dinner, Morning after Hog-Butchering Breakfast, and a Wheat Harvesting Dinner are all included. These feast-sized menus are for when people got together. And they are very seasonal. What was fresh was what when on the table. This book highlights the best of farming and foraging for your food.
After she became an adult, Lewis moved to New York City. There, she began cooking at Nicholson Café. The restaurant became popular among the bohemian artist set of the city. Writers such as Truman Capote, William Faulkner, and Diana Vreeland frequented the cafe. They loved Lewis’s seasonal and farm-fresh style of cooking.
Unlike in Lewis’s day, Farm-to-table cuisine— where restaurants buy directly from farms and ranchers rather than large food companies— is very popular. Perhaps the most famous farm-to-table restaurant is Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, which opened in 1971. If you’re familiar with farm-to-table food, you might associate it with the 1970s and with California. But Edna Lewis championed that kind of cooking in 1958 and on the other side of the country.
Lewis was a food pioneer who can teach us so much about how to use the little plots of land we have around us to make good food. Anybody who can do that with food is someone worth learning about.
I make peach cobbler on special occasions, always with canned peaches. So, in my first draft of this episode, I was going to make peach pie with canned peaches. I actually bought the canned peaches. But I started feeling guilty about that. Edna was about fresh food. So, I changed my mind and made the pie with fresh peaches. And I’m really glad I did. This was the best peach dessert I ever made, hands down. It wasn’t that much more effort to peel and slice 8 peaches. But it was worth the flavor, that’s for sure.
I also really enjoyed cooking these dishes. Edna’s food has a simple elegance that’s quite inspirational. And it really inspired me to use my garden. I used lettuce, collards, onions, tomatoes, herbs and celery from my own little patch of ground. Each course had something that I grew in it.
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2017 Duboeuf Beaujolais Villages (FR)
2018 De Martino Gallardia Cinsault (CL)
2017 Groundwork Mourvedre (CA)
2017 Bodegas Volver Tarima Mourvedre (SP)
2019 Don Rodolfo Moscato (AR)
2018 Bartenura Moscato (IT)