Even Peaches Have Stones

You’ve heard it said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Fortunately, good food eaten in the company of great friends also reaches a woman’s heart, and Shirley Tedesco’s heart definitely needs reaching one particular Mother’s Day.

Shirley and Joe Tedesco have recently experienced some heartbreak, but it’s Shirley who is having a hard time getting back into the swing of things. On the outside, she appears to be the same wonderful wife and mother she’s always been. Fortunately, Joe can see through the warm and fuzzy façade to the broken heart within, and he won’t let his wife’s heart turn to stone.

Together with their best friends, Smiley and Charlene Roberts, Joe plans a Mother’s Day surprise for Shirley that includes delicious food sure to melt anyone’s defenses. Shirley understands that she’s been loved from the inside out, and the once unhappy mother finds the strength to direct her heart back to her family.

I featured peach cobbler on the Mother’s Day menu at the church where Smiley and Charlene attend. The following recipe is the one I had in mind for the above-mentioned scene. It’s easy to make, but it looks quite impressive and tastes like you slaved over it.

Old-Fashioned Peach Cobbler

8 Georgia peaches, peeled and sliced, about 6 to 8 cups

¼ c bourbon

¼ c dark brown sugar

2 T corn starch

1 t ground cinnamon

2 t vanilla

 

Dumplings:

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour

½ c raw sugar, plus more for dusting

2 t baking powder

1/2 t sea salt

16 T (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter

3/4 c heavy cream, plus more for brushing

 

Heat the oven to 375° F.

In a large bowl add the peaches, bourbon, dark brown sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, and cinnamon. Mix well to coat the peaches evenly. Set aside.

To prepare the dumplings, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Add the sugar, and stir to mix well. (The large crystals of raw sugar will not pass through a sifter.) Cut twelve tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) butter into small pieces.  Add it to the flour mixture and cut it in with a pastry blender or your hands until the mixture looks like coarse bread crumbs.  Pour in the cream and mix just until the dough comes together.  Don’t overwork; the dough should be slightly sticky but manageable.

In a twelve-inch cast iron skillet over medium-low heat, melt the remaining four tablespoons butter.  Add the peaches and cook gently until heated through, about five minutes.  Drop the dough by tablespoonsful over the warm peaches. There can be gaps as the dough will puff up and spread out as it bakes.  Brush the top of the dumplings with heavy cream and sprinkle with sugar. Put the skillet into the oven with a baking sheet on the next rack down to catch any drips.  Cook for 40 to 45 minutes until the top is browned and the peach juice is bubbling.

Allow the cobbler to sit for five minutes, and then serve it warm with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

Southern Comfort Food

I couldn’t hold up this recipe for cornbread because a lovely wedge with melting butter is pictured with the southern fried cabbage I featured in a previous post. If you’re drooling right about now, imagine how Joe Tedesco feels when he spies this duo on the serving tables at the Mother’s Day celebration hosted by the Baptist church where his and Shirley’s friends, Smiley and Charlene Roberts, attend.

Naturally, Italian food tops the list of Joe’s favorites, but he’s willing to experience a little cross-cultural, culinary revolution if it means he gets to eat to his heart’s content.

Cast Iron Cornbread

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup cornmeal

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar (I use raw)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Cooking Spray

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8-inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, buttermilk, and butter.

Pour the buttermilk mixture into the cornmeal mixture and fold together until there are no dry spots (the batter will still be lumpy). Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish. Allow it to stand for about five minutes to achieve a nice crown on the batter.

Bake until the top is golden brown and tester inserted into the middle of the cornbread comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the cornbread from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Side Note: This recipe can be doubled and baked in a twelve-inch cast iron skillet. Bake for 30 minutes and additional five-minute increments until a tester inserted into the middle of the cornbread comes out clean.

Southern Fried Solution

Joe Tedesco has a big heart, and he can see that his wife, Shirley, could use some cheering up for Mother’s Day. So, he pulls out all the stops when planning Shirley’s Mother’s Day celebration. Joe also has a big appetite, and the lure of a home-cooked meal is more than he can ignore. This is why the Tedesco Family will be attending church with their friends, Smiley and Charlene Roberts, on Mother’s Day. The Baptist church where Smiley and Charlene are members is hosting a meal in honor of mothers, and the dishes the men will prepare are the recipes their wives and mothers use. For Joe, this translates into culinary heaven. But really, the day is all about Shirley.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind for the above-mentioned scene in my novel, The Tedescos. This recipe is a meal unto itself, but when paired with other Southern favorites, then Joe is right in believing it’s ecstasy for the taste buds.

Southern Fried Cabbage

6 – 10 bacon slices

4 T butter

1 medium sweet onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large head of cabbage, sliced or chopped

2 T Worchester sauce

3 T apple cider vinegar

2 T brown –OR– raw sugar

½ t hot Hungarian paprika –OR– ½ t Cajun seasoning

Sea salt

Black pepper (I used quad-colored peppercorns)

1 t crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Side Note: I used an 8-oz. package of Applegate uncured turkey bacon for this recipe which produced less fat. You will need to increase the butter to 6 T to take the place of the bacon drippings should you choose to do the same.

Slice or chop cabbage, taking care to remove any ribs and the core, and set aside.

Stack the bacon slices and cut them into strips across the width. In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the bacon until brown and crisp. Set the cooked bacon aside and reserve 2 T of drippings.

Add the butter to the reserved bacon drippings in the skillet. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion turns translucent. Add the Worchester sauce, apple cider vinegar, and sugar. Stir gently and allow the onions to caramelize slowly and the liquid to thicken as it cooks off. Return the bacon to the skillet and stir gently.

Add the cabbage and season with salt, pepper, and hot Hungarian paprika ­–OR– Cajun seasoning. Cover and allow the cabbage to cook down about half way. When the cabbage has begun to wilt, stir the mixture. Return the cover to the skillet and continue cooking until the cabbage is tender.

Remove the lid from the skillet to allow the excess liquid to cook off. Stir gently to coat the cabbage and keep it from burning. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes if using. Transfer to a serving bowl and enjoy!

Who’s Your Momma?

Shirley Tedesco has her hands full with eight children ranging in age from five to sixteen, but she loves being a mother. She’s also very practical about the whole endeavor and readily distributes hugs or spanks as needed to keep her brood of eight angels/hoodlums in line. In the chapter of my novel, The Tedescos, titled “Soul Food,” Shirley is feeling like less of a mother than she normally does. Her husband, Joe, knows she’s experiencing a bout of the blues, and his heart breaks for her. Joe springs into action with a Mother’s Day celebration sure to lift Shirley’s spirits and quite possibly earn him some points.

While writing, I knew that Mother’s Day had been established long before the year during which my novel took place, but the research provided some interesting history with which I’d like to honor mothers everywhere.

One of the earliest example of celebrating mothers came about with the Christian festival known as “Mothering Sunday.” This holiday fell on the fourth Sunday during Lent, and it was once a major tradition in England and parts of Europe. Faithful church attenders would return to their “mother church” (the main church nearest their home) for a special service.

Over time, Mothering Sunday became a more secular holiday. Children began presenting their mother’s with small tokens of appreciation or flowers. This custom started to fade in popularity, but it eventually merged with the American version of honoring mothers, Mother’s Day, in the 1930s and 1940s.

In America, the origins of Mother’s Day date back to the 19th century. Prior to the Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis, a resident of West Virginia, helped start the “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” in an effort to teach proper childcare to local women. Later, the clubs served as a unifying force in areas of the country still divided by the Civil War. In 1868, Jarvis promoted reconciliation between mothers of Union and Confederate soldiers by organizing “Mothers’ Friendship Day.”

Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and suffragette, also provided an important aspect to what would become the modern Mother’s Day. In 1870, Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation.” Her call to action asked mothers to unite in promoting world peace. In 1873, she campaigned for a “Mother’s Peace Day” to be celebrated every June 2.

Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis, was instrumental in promoting the official Mother’s Day holiday in the 1900s. After her mother’s death in 1905, Anna Jarvis regarded Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children.

John Wanamaker, a Philadelphia department store owner, provided financial backing for Anna Jarvis allowing her to organize the first official Mother’s Day celebration in 1908 at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia. Thousands of people also attended a Mother’s Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in Philadelphia.

Anna Jarvis, who never married or had children, started a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and influential politicians in an effort to have Mother’s Day added to the national calendar. By 1912, many states, towns, and churches had adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday, and Anna Jarvis established the Mother’s Day International Association to assist with promoting her cause. Her perseverance paid off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure to officially establish the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

There is no set way to honor and celebrate mothers and motherhood. My experience has been that small, private celebrations or those grounded in faith touch a mother’s heart the most. It isn’t about what you can give to and/or do for your mother; it’s about maintaining the relationship throughout the year, and then taking one special day a year to say an extra “I love you.”

La Cucina Povera

In the chapter of my novel, The Tedescos, titled “Soul Food,” the family attends church on Mother’s Day with their good friends, The Robertses. After the service, the Tedesco Clan is invited to attend a meal in the church fellowship hall. The men and boys prepared the meal they will serve to the mothers to honor them. Much of the food the Tedescos encounter is familiar, but one dish in particular initiates a conversation between Joe Jr. and Tabitha and Tonya Roberts and results in the explanation of ‘la cucina povera.’

The Italian phrase literally means the poor kitchen, and it is a style of cooking familiar among the lower classes (think peasants) of a particular society. Often, peasants had to cook with whatever they had on hand whether it came from the kitchen or the farm. The ‘poor kitchen’ can be found in every society. The great thing about this concept is that some really delicious recipes emerged from the simple, high-quality ingredients that were available.

Attempting to cook in the style of ‘la cucina povera’ may earn you a laugh especially from an older person who lived through the war in Italy. They may refuse to acknowledge ‘the poor kitchen’ style and argue that it was simply the preparation of the food they had on hand. Americans, with all their varied food choices and easy access to said food, have a tendency to romanticize a style of cooking that was a part of basic survival. Still, I can think of several recipes in which my family indulges that found their way into my writing because of my love to feed people whether real or imagined. Many cookbooks featuring this style of food have been published, and I highly recommend you try one or two meals from them if you’ve never encountered peasant cooking.

Beans and cornbread, cabbage and noodles, and soup made from some combination of vegetables are the types of peasant food I grew up with. I never knew that what we ate was considered to be from ‘the poor kitchen’ because the adults who prepared it for me cooked with love and made everything taste wonderful. Delicious, simple food is usually the tastiest, and in the end, that’s really what it’s all about. What does your family enjoy from ‘la cucina povera?’

%d bloggers like this: