The biscuit recipe in the "Two's Company" column Sunday, April 13 contained a tyopgraphical error. The recipe should read: BUTTERMILK BISCUITS (About 2 dozen) 2 cups all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup shortening 2/3 cup buttermilk Sift dry ingredients together. Cut in shortening until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk and knead until smooth. Roll dough about 1/4-inch think and cut with biscuit cutter. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned.
ALONG WITH the Southernization of the White House has come a new interest in Southern cooking. Miss Lillian's peanut soup and Griffin Bell's rooster pepper sausage have passed into Georgetown recipe files, and is now generally recognized that chicken fried steak is not the last word in Mobile cuisine. I'll put Justine's of Memphis up against Sans Souci any day.
In your catalog of seductive tete-a-tetes, mark the "real Southern home dinner" to be played right to the hilt: Slitted-eye suave on his part, fluttering on hers. If you have a veranda, or a porch with a ceiling fan, your future is Scarlett. Lay out palmetto fans. Put glass chimneys around the candles, and if you have an open porch, drape it luxuriantly with mosquito netting. (Y'all has only one syllable.)
Southern hospitality, like Rhett Butler, has the reputation of being devastating, and rightly so. But you must recognize that real Southern cooking is to Colonel Sander's special recipe as chopped steak is to Little Tavern hamburgers. After-dinner rolls have nothing to do with floury gravy.
There are all sorts of Southern cuisines, some lingering at a lower evolutionary level than others. There are the specialty styles -- Creole and Cajun -- available in varying degrees of purity. Creole is, like New Orleans, a little French, a little Spanish, a little Indian, a lot of spice and invention. Cajun comes from the rivers and bayous and leans to what-have-you school. (Why is it so hard to find gumbo file in Washington?)
Soul food, what was originally sole food to poorer folks, is based on "extra" portions of butchered animals and cheap, plentiful vegetables. The unfortunate tendency to overcook food originated with the tough meats and the bitter greens; it was also handy to leave the pot simmering all day while working outdoors. Mountain menus can be similar, but in some areas the stewing of squirrel, rabbit, even opossum has been raised to an art.
But plain ol' Southern country cooking is as simple and satisfying as any cuisine in the world. If nothing else makes the South rise again, the proliferation of frozen biscuits may.
Homemade preserves and jams and pickles, beaten biscuits, country ham and red-eye gravy, cornmeal-fried green tomatoes, banana pudding, pecan pie, squash souffle, cornbread, sorghum -- after all, we're talking about the culture that invented the mint julep!
And just to set the record straight, competently fried chicken and fresh catfish are as delicious as the frozen and franchised are fulsome. Those Shake-'n'-Bake-'n'-I-haylped commercials give me the willies.
A complete Southern menu might open with juleps, whiskey sours or just bourbon, served alongside crackers with cream chese and either hot pepper jelly or Picapeppa sauce, or cold beaten biscuits with paper-thin sliced or chopped country ham. Move to the main course with the chicken, crisp cold beans with sour cream, corn or squash souffle, sliced very ripe tomatoes with fresh basil or fried green tomatoes, baking powder biscuits or cornbread. For dessert, try a molasses cookie, a fresh fruit pie or Kentucky Derby pie, a kind of double-dipper with a thin layer of fudge pie at the bottom and cheese or pecan pie on top.
The woman who raised me, Laurine Hill, makes the world's best fried chicken -- crisp, smart, as delicious cold as hot. I've watched her make it for years, and even I can't do it the way she can, but I gather that a real iron skillet, seasoned and crusty, is essential. She just dries off the chicken pieces and shakes them in a paper bag with flour, salt and a healthy dose of black pepper. She fries in an inch or so of melted vegetable shortening (make sure it's really hot, or the coating will be soggier).
Firm green tomatoes should be sliced fairly thickly, dipped in beaten egg and then into yellow cornmeal and fried in butter.I like them to turn sort of dark; if you don't like the looks or the flavor of blackened butter, add a little oil to the pan.
The best cornbread recipe I know is mine. (i've always wanted to say that.) In a bowl mix 2 cups stone-ground yellow cornmeal, two cups buttermilk or soured milk (very thrifty -- keep a jar of spoiled cream, etc.), two eggs, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda and a fairly healthy shaking of salt. In a 12-or 14 inch heavy iron skillet, melt a full 1/3 cup bacon or country ham drippings (you can use shortening), swirl it around to coat the skillet, then pour the drippings into the bowl. Stir but don't beat. Cook in the skillet in a 425-degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes. I can usually tell when it's done by the smell suddenly ballooning through the house; look for the cornmeal to get firm in the center and pull away slightly from the sides of the skillet.
Please do not grasp the handle. It is very hot I know. LAURINE'S BISCUITS 4 cups plain, all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup shortening 1/2 cup buttermilk
Sift dry ingredients together. Cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add butter-milk and knead until smooth. Roll dough about 1/4-inch thick and cut with biscuit cutter (Laurine used to use a glass).
Bake at 350 degree 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned.