Pat conroy cookbook, p.1
Pat Conroy Cookbook, p.1
ALSO BY PAT CONROY
The Water Is Wide
The Great Santini
The Lords of Discipline
The Prince of Tides
My Losing Season
South of Broad
This book is dedicated to the cooking partner of my life,
I would like particularly to thank Jennifer Josephy, the superb editor of Doubleday/Broadway’s excellent line of cookbooks, for her guidance through this project. Without her, my longtime editor, Nan A. Talese—who is all right with words but hardly an expert on food—would have been lost.
I Encounter Escoffier
The Pleasures of Reading Cookbooks No One Has Ever Heard Of
A Hometown in the Low Country
My First Novelist
The Bill Dufford Summer
A Recipe Is a Story …
Honeymoon: The Romance of Umbria
Travel: Tuscany and Rome
Letter from Rome
Eugene Walter of Mobile
Southerner in Paris
Why Dying Down South Is More Fun
The Greatest of All South Carolinians
Eating in New Orleans
The subject of food is nearly a sacred one to me. It never surprises me when I read stories about the ancients sacrificing animals and bringing plates of fruit and the produce of their fields to appease the anger of their restless gods. My passion for eating springs from a childhood not deprived of food, but deprived of good food. My mother thought cooking was a kind of slave labor that involved women having too many children. She looked upon food as a sure way to keep her family alive, and it did not occur to her until late in life that one could approach a kitchen with the same intensity as an artist nearing a canvas. To Peg Conroy, the kitchen was a place of labor, not a field of fantasy and play.
Though I grew up living along the Eastern seaboard, my mother never served fresh fish at her dinner table, even if I had caught and cleaned them myself. Since we were a Roman Catholic family (the oddest thing, by far, a human being could aspire to in the South before the Hare Krishnas turned up at the Atlanta airport), we were under a religious injunction not to eat meat on Friday. Anytime I would come into the house with a string of fish, my mother would hold her nose and say, “Get those smelly things out of my house this minute, young man.”
My mother could not have been more upset if I had brought roadkill newly scraped off a highway into her kitchen. Perhaps Peg Conroy carried some bad experience with a fish into her adult life, like a bone lodged in her throat. Wherever her aversion to fish began, she solved the Friday problem by serving frozen fish sticks to her large, rowdy family for the approximately five hundred Fridays of my childhood. My youngest brothers thought that fish were rectangular in shape for the longest time. My brother Mike still prefers a fish stick to a salmon steak.
I did not taste fresh shrimp until I got to Beaufort, South Carolina, late in high school, yet I lived around inlets and rivers teeming with schools of shrimp swarming in their measureless fecundity. Each fresh tide brought shoals of white shrimp boiling into the creeks a hundred yards from the house where my mother heated up their frozen cousins.
But even my mother could not grow up in the South without accruing several specialties that she could render with casual mastery. She made corn bread that could not be improved upon. I can still smell her apple and peach pies cooling on the windowsills of our house on Spencer Avenue in New Bern, North Carolina. Her lemon bisque made her famous in whatever neighborhood we settled in during my much-traveled boyhood. Those she made by rote, out of a sense of duty. She took little joy from those mouthwatering recipes she had brought to her marriage. It saddens me that my mother never achieved any satisfaction from the kitchen, where she spent so much of her time dreaming of being elsewhere. I loved her grits and biscuits, and her fried chicken was so wonderful that I have spent much of my life searching for that piece of fried chicken which will provide the soul-stirring satisfaction of my mother’s recipe.
But let it be said, my mother was not a gifted cook and never aspired to be one. She collected some recipes because, I think, she heard that was one of the things young wives did during the era in which she grew up. The table she set never contained surprises or those moments of ecstasy when some experiment she had wrought in her oven was brought to the table in triumph. My mother looked upon food as a necessity, not a realm of art.
When I wrote my book The Prince of Tides, I made the shrimper’s wife, Lila Wingo, one of those Southern cooks who went to the kitchen with her passionate nature ablaze. By then, I thought about cooking the way I thought about writing. I had come to cooking by accident, and it was one of the strangest events in my life when I found myself before a stove with three daughters wandering around me fully expecting that I would feed them before I put them to bed.
When my first wife, the fetching Barbara Bolling, entered Emory University Law School, she pointed to the kitchen and told me from that day on I would be responsible for cooking the evening meal for the family. This seemed fair enough to me, but it contained the seeds of both disaster and high comedy. My mother had not taught her oldest son how to cook an egg, much less a full-bodied meal that would not cause rickets or beriberi among my feisty daughters. I have absolutely no recollection of how I kept myself alive from the time I graduated from The Citadel until 1969, when Barbara and I married. Certainly, I carry no memory of standing over a stove cooking something perfectly wonderful for dinner. Mostly I remember heating up things.
But with my first dinner in view, I drove to the Old New York Bookshop in midtown Atlanta to ask my friend Cliff Graubart for help. There was no book in the world that Cliff could not find for me and his spirit was generous and open-minded.
“I need a cookbook, Cliff,” I said when I entered his store.
“Why?” Cliff asked.
“I’m in charge of feeding my family the evening meal from now on,” I answered. “Barbara starts law school next week.”
“I’m going to miss Barbara,” Cliff said. “Starving to death is a tough way to die. And I can’t sit by and let you kill your kids.”
Cliff pretended to dial three numbers on his phone, then said to an imaginary speaker: “Hello, nine-one-one, I’d like to report an incident of child abuse out on Briarcliff Road.”
“Very funny,” I said. “You know of a good cookbook?”
Cliff thought for a moment and said, “I hear Escoffier’s is good.”
I walked out of Cliff’s store with a copy of Auguste Escoffier’s cook-book in my hand. It is not a manual I would encourage the first-time cook to turn to, but its purchase was a life-changing event. For a single year I used only recipes from Escoffier’s great text. My family and friends raved about my cooking talents, and a passionate amateur was born in that kitchen on Briar cliff Road. I made the thrilling discovery that if I could read and follow directions, I could cook. If I discovered a fabulous recipe, I could prepare a terrific and praiseworthy dish. I could feed people well, and they would love me for it and sing my praises to friends and neighbors. Because of Emory Law School, I discovered an avocation as an amateur cook of some distinction, and I find that fact miraculous. The love of cooking is a portable, moving pleasure that I take with me into every house or country I enter. When other cooks ask me who taught me how to cook, I always say, without irony, “Auguste Escoffier was my first instructor.” He was the hospitable maitre d’ who led me by the arm and introduced me to the limitless world of cuisine. Because of him, I was a French cook before I was an American one.
I had never heard the word “stock” in my life when I opened Escoffier’s cookbook, but then again, I had never heard of Escoffier either. I came upon this paragraph on the first page of his cookbook:
Indeed, stock is everything in cooking, at least in French cooking. Without it, nothing can be done. If one’s stock is good, what remains of the work is easy; if on the other hand, it is bad or merely mediocre, it is quite hopeless to expect anything approaching a satisfactory result.
“Hopeless,” I thought as I read, panicking that the only stock I knew of lived in barns. I called Barbara and Cliff and a half dozen other friends. None of them could shed any light on what stock was, although Barbara told me she had used cans of chicken stock from the grocery store when she made soups. But Monsieur Escoffier mentioned nothing about cans. I set about my work. I took Escoffier to mean “If you do not use good stocks, you should not be allowed to eat.”
For three days, I made stocks in my kitchen. I broke and roasted bones and had four burners on the stove burning brightly day and night. I made white stock, fish stock, brown stock, chicken stock, and veal stock. Some of the stock I turned into essences. I had made an essence before I had made a meal. I had made a glaze before I had roasted a portion of a cow or a sheep. Turning my back on glazes, I taught myself how to make “the leading warm sauces.” I felt like a chemist, a magician, some sorcerer’s apprentice made hauntingly alive by the luscious smells coming out of my kitchen.
Then I began to cook, and I have never stopped.
I have gravitated toward people who love to cook and eat and I have turned the art of stealing recipes into both a hobby and an art. I have lived in France and Italy and been lucky enough to eat in some of the finest restaurants in the world. Periodically, I have taken courses from cooks as varied as Nathalie Dupree and Giuliano Bugialli, but I have also learned from those I encountered along the way.
When I walked into Suzanne Williamson Pollak’s kitchen on Hilton Head Island several years ago, she was fixing supper. She had her hands full and could not shake hands, but looked up, smiled, and said, “Hey Pat. Wonderful to meet you. Why don’t you make the pasta?”
On the counter was a mound of flour with three broken eggs set in its well. I had never made fresh pasta in my life, but I made it that night as Suzanne gave me directions from the stove. The directions were clear and easy to follow. We have been cooking together ever since. She is more fun to cook with than anyone I have ever met except my passel of fine and comely wives. Suzanne and I are both dedicated amateurs, but we can cook our little fannies off. We collect recipes and cookbooks, and both of us believe that the cooking of food is one of the most delightful activities a human being can do during the course of a lifetime. There is joy in the preparation of food that we share and try to spread around to those we love. Now we will try to spread the source of this joy to you. Suzanne is the great workhorse and beauty behind the recipes in this book. I provide the hot air and sense of story.
Let us take you to a restaurant on the Left Bank of Paris that I found when writing The Lords of Discipline. There are meals I ate in Rome while writing The Prince of Tides that ache in my memory. There is a shrimp dish that I ate in an elegant English restaurant that passed out Cuban cigars to all the gentlemen in the room after dinner that I can taste on my palate as I write this. There is barbecue and its variations in the South, and the subject is a holy one to me. I will write of truffles in the Dordogne Valley in France, cilantro in Bangkok, catfish in Alabama, scuppernong in South Carolina, Chinese food from my years in San Francisco, and white asparagus from the first meal my agent, Julian Bach, took me to in New York City.
I will put everything in and encourage you to make all the ingredients the freshest and the best money can buy. The first rule is this: use good stock. I am one of the few Southern boys in the history of cooking who ever delivered that instruction. And let me tell you that the world is a magical and unpredictable place when a man who has never cooked a meal in his life walks into a bookstore in Atlanta, Georgia, and leaves with Escoffier under his arm. I do not know if my novels will last or not, but Auguste Escoffier proved to me that a great cookbook can endure forever.
Now, let us begin, as I relive in my memory the fabulous things I have eaten in my life, the story of the food I have encountered along the way.
PIE DOUGH If the truth be told, I find making pie dough a daunting task. For the tomato and onion and the apple pies I make each summer, I buy frozen pie shells at the supermarket and find the results perfectly acceptable. But Suzanne Williamson Pollak is a purist about such matters, and she makes pie crust with the same ease I chop cabbage for slaw. Her pie crusts are works of art. • MAKES 1 DOUBLE-CRUST PIE
2½ cups chilled all-purpose flour*1
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
5 to 6 tablespoons ice water
1. Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process to combine. Add the very cold butter and process until the mixture is the size of peanuts, about 30 seconds. Drizzle in the ice water and pulse just until the dough comes together in two or three pieces. This will only take a few seconds. Do not overprocess, or the dough will be tough.
2. Transfer dough to a dry floured work surface and knead quickly (3 or 4 strokes so the butter does not get too warm). Form into two balls, one slightly larger than the other, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate. Chill for at least an hour before rolling.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR HAND MIXING
1. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Using a pastry blender (or two knives) cut the butter into the flour mixture until crumbly (the size of small peas).
2. Using a fork, stir in only enough water to form a dough (about 5 tablespoons). When the dough comes together in one or two pieces, transfer to a clean, dry, lightly floured work surface.
3. Knead until the flour and butter form one piece, working quickly so the butter doesn’t get too warm (about 3 to 5 strokes). Form into two balls, one slightly larger than the other, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate. Chill for at least an hour before rolling.
The success of pie pastry (or any pastry) depends on keeping the shortening and the flour cold and using ice-cold water.
Pastry in a pinch: When blending the butter and the flour, pinch a few crumbs together with your fingers. If the dough sticks together, you’re ready to add the water. If it doesn’t stick together, you have to add more shortening.
In the South, we use White Lily self-rising flour because it’s the very best for pie crusts and biscuits.
Leave it alone: the less handling of the dough, the better. The pastry will be lighter and better if you don’t try to smooth out every lump of butter.
All pies should be cooked in the lower portion of the oven so the bottom of the pie will cook. When making fruit pies, place a heavy-duty baking sheet in the oven while it is preheating. Place the pie on the hot baking sheet to bake; it will crisp the crust and catch the overflow.
PASTA DOUGH The first time I met Suzanne Pollak, she led me with great efficiency through the steps that she elucidates in this recipe. She took me through each step slowly and cautioned me if the dough became too yolky or too dry because of excess flour. On the first five occasions we cooked together, I made the pasta dough until I became comfortable with the process. When I tasted the pasta that first night, it was like eating silk.
• MAKES APPROXIMATELY 1 POUND, ENOUGH FOR 4 TO 6 SERVINGS
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1. Pour flour out on a clean, dry, smooth work surface and make a well in the center of the mound. Keep the sides of the well high enough and thick enough so the eggs will not leak over or through the sides of the flour wall. Slowly pour the eggs into the well.
2. While lightly beating the eggs with a fork, slowly incorporate the flour from the sides while you use your other hand to keep the sides of the well from collapsing. Using your hand, slowly sweep the flour up the sides of the well, building a thicker wall and at the same time letting a little flour fall from the top onto the eggs. You will use less than half the flour for the actual pasta dough. (If the eggs do manage to seep out beyond the wall of flour, all is not lost. Use the fork to push some flour over the puddle of eggs and scrape the mixture back into the main mass.)
3. When the mass begins to resemble dough, remove the excess flour. Wash your hands to remove extra flour.
4. Now start to knead the dough. If the dough is too sticky, add a little flour (sparingly). If there is too much flour in the pasta, the dough will dry out, becoming difficult to roll. Using the heels of your hands in an under-and-over motion, knead the dough (rotating it frequently) until it is smooth and elastic, at least 10 minutes.
5. When the dough is smooth and satiny, sprinkle it with a light dusting of flour, cover with a clean dish towel, and let it rest for half an hour. You will need the rest as well because the next step is rolling out the dough.
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