Louisville: Then and Now

kybooksIn this post we feature two cookbooks from Louisville, separated by over 40 years in time, and influence-wise, by a couple of continents. The earlier cookbook, The Courier-Journal & Times Cook Book by Lillian Marshall, is culled from the newspaper’s food columns, many from Lillian’s acclaimed predecessor, Cissy Gregg. Fast forward 43 years, and we have Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen from Edward Lee, a Korean-American man from Brooklyn, now a Kentuckian-by-choice and a restaurateur in Louisville. The main thing that these two cookbooks have in common is the focus on meat; for Lillian, vegetables are side dishes, and for Edward, meat is simply what people eat.

cjThe Courier-Journal & Times Cook Book dates from when the Courier-Journal was a real newspaper, owned by Kentucky’s own dysfunctional Bingham family. The author-editor of this cookbook was at one point married to my father’s second wife’s brother. We once went to a Thanksgiving dinner at her house. The word was that Lillian was a great cook but left her kitchen a mess; I recall neither particularly amazing food nor an unusually messy kitchen. The Cissy Gregg recipes in this cookbook are traditional Kentucky fare, including “North Middletown Beaten Biscuits” (page 38), which so happens to be my grandmother’s recipe; on the Courier-Journal food page, my grandmother is credited although her name is misspelled. The Lillian Marshall recipes are, for the most part, 1960s Gourmet Magazine wannabes. Years ago, when I first cooked from this cookbook, I had no vegetarian or kashrut qualms, and so could try the meat recipes. I recall the chicken chow mein (page 16), which I made with leftover Thanksgiving turkey, a decent meat loaf recipe (page 108), and the recipe for Louisville’s own hot Brown sandwich (page 66). It was a little harder now for me to find recipes from this book to cook, but I did find some, all satisfactory.

kytabLillian walks on the wild side with “Tabooley Salad” (page 46), not standard Kentucky fare in the late 60s. Her tabouli (back to the more accepted spelling) quite correctly uses lots of parsley and less bulgur. There is nothing else of note in her recipe, just what one would expect: mint, tomatoes, onions, olive oil, and lemon juice. In my version of this recipe, I incorrectly used less parsley and more bulgur, just because that was what I happened to have.

shakercarMost people who know of the Little Colonel know the Shirley Temple movie, but the movie was based on the first in a series of books by Annie Fellows Johnston, of Peewee Valley, Kentucky, near Louisville (now the site the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women). Lillian has a chapter, “Culinary History”, featuring food to commemorate the Peewee Valley Centenary, from which I picked the recipe “Pickled Carrots, Shaker Style” (page 87). Since Edward Lee has a similar recipe in his cookbook, I decided to have a carrot contest between the two cookbooks. To make Shaker carrots. you cook carrots and onions in water, then cook further in a spiced sugar and vinegar bath. For people who like sugar and vinegar, these carrots were good.

tunamargThe name of the dish “Margarella” (page 117) is supposed to be a slurring of “Margaret’s really” as in “Margaret’s really good tuna dish”. The dish consists of tuna, vegetables, chutney, and cream. It is very sauce-like; Lillian suggests serving it with wild rice or fried noodles. I just combined it with some cooked noodles for a tuna fish casserole. I did not think that this dish was that good, although if the chutney I used had been less sweet, I might have liked it more.

kyzuc“Stuffed Zucchini” (page 134) is a classic zucchini-tomato combination with added onion, celery, and green pepper. I tossed some olives in with the other vegetables, although they weren’t in the recipe. Stuffed vegetables are attractive, but there’s no real difference in taste if one foregoes the stuffing business, and just chops up the zucchini to cook with the tomatoes and other vegetables.

potchI am convinced that potatoes will some day make a healthy food comeback. Consider, for example, butter, coffee, coconut, red wine. Thus I continue to enjoy potatoes, although Danny looks a bit askance at the potato dishes I put in front of him. “Au Gratin O’Brien Potatoes” (page 25) were great; so great, in fact, that I had no leftovers to enjoy. One problem I often have with these potato dishes in which sliced potatoes cook in a milky sauce is that the potatoes take forever to cook. Lillian solves this problem by having us partially precook the potato slices with onion and green pepper. The vegetables are then combined with a white sauce and cheese and baked in the oven. Cheesy and starchy and warm from the oven: what could be better? [Go to the recipe.]

spI love Edward Lee’s  Smoke and Pickles even though I cannot make most of the recipes, and the recipes that I did make were not uniformly fantastic. It’s a cookbook that I enjoyed reading: Edward has good stories and he loves food. It’s great fun to read about Edward’s transition from a Korean boy in Brooklyn to a Kentucky gentleman. He embraces every Kentucky tradition that he can think of: from horses, only giving up on riding lessons after being told “we don’t ride [’em], we buy ’em” , to bourbon: “I have never met a bourbon I didn’t like.” He even invents a few traditions such as “Tobacco Cookies” (page 260) which looked intriguing, although also disgusting. He is true to his Korean heritage: there are kimchee recipes, and lots of East Asian ingredients called for in his recipes. There is also lots of meat, most of which is trayf. There is a troublesome photograph of Edward communing with two pigs while munching on a bag of smoked barbecue pork rinds. Is he getting ready to offer some to his porcine, possibly cannibalistic, friends? But all in all, this is too good a book to be restricted to carnivorous gentiles.

jicamasalI would classify “Pineapple-Pickled Jicama” (page 172) as more of a salad than a pickle. This consists of jicama and bell peppers with a vinegar and pineapple dressing. Maybe it is called a pickle instead of a salad since there is no oil in the dressing. This salad was crunchy from the jicama and peppers, sweet from the pineapple, and sour from the vinegar. I had an enormous amount of this stuff, lots more than we could eat. Halving the recipe would yield a more reasonable amount.

squashsoupI have an issue with yellow squash, dating from an incident in which my other grandmother tried to force me to eat some. But no one wants to be controlled by the minor childhood traumas, and so I have a heightened interest in yellow squash recipes. Edward’s “Yellow Squash Soup with Cured Strawberries” (page 190) looked like a possibility, especially with those cured strawberries (strawberries tossed with sugar and salt and left to cure for an hour, no more). This is a simple soup. The yellow squash is cooked with onion and then blended with vegetable stock and sour cream. The strawberries were a nice addition, but without them the soup was fairly tasteless. The soup neither stoked nor cured my yellow squash aversion.

congee“Creamed Corn and Mushroom Congee” (page 205) was a very good hot and comforting dish that would have been even better with a few minor changes. Congee is a rice gruel made by cooking rice for a long time in lots of water. Edward’s gruel is enriched not only with corn and shiitakes, but with ginger and garlic, soy sauce and fish sauce, and an egg. The corn I used was too chewy; a less chewy corn would have made a much better dish. I also would have liked more shiitake mushrooms. By the time I was down to the last serving or two, we had fished out all the mushrooms. Finally, this dish was better when I added more fish sauce. Still, this was a very nice dish, and one that I will make again, with modifications.

bourboncar4Now I know what kind of carrots I am making next Rosh Hashanah when I feel obligated to bring a carrot dish to the table: Edward’s “Bourbon-Ginger-Glazed Carrots” (page 215). In the Louisville carrot cook-off in my kitchen, these carrots decisively beat the Shaker carrots. You cook carrots, young and tender if possible, in butter, then add the ginger and bourbon, along with some sugar and orange juice. Although Danny thought that the carrot taste was obscured, I could very definitely taste carrot. [Go to the recipe.]

jerkmushChewing on strips of salty dried meat may well be an activity we humans are hardwired to enjoy, but a pleasure that kashrut observing, mostly vegetarian people rarely indulge in. Thus “Portobello Mushroom Jerky” (page 239) looked like a great idea. Mushrooms are, after all, closer to meat than to plant. Edward marinates strips of mushroom in soy sauce, olive oil, sorghum syrup, lemon juice, and togarashi, then roasts the strips in the oven. The oven temperature he uses is surprisingly high: 325º, then increased to 375º; some of my mushrooms ended up a little burnt. But more to the point, these mushrooms were not chewy, and so were not very jerky-like. This is a forgettable recipe.

togoccBoth Danny and I agreed that “Togarashi Cheesecake with Sorghum” (page 254) was interesting, but interesting in a very positive sense. Although Edward recalls Junior’s cheesecake in the introduction, this is not a Junior’s type cheesecake. To begin with, Edward uses a ginger cookie crumb crust, not a sponge cake crust. His cheesecake filling is more subtle than lots of cream cheese with added cream or sour cream: his cheesecake is egg-heavy, with some cream cheese augmented with goat cheese and buttermilk, and less sugar than one might expect. The point of this cheesecake, though, is the togarashi, adding a quite pleasing hot accent, and the sorghum syrup drizzled on top. I liked this cheesecake and enjoyed every bite, yet was not tempted to keep eating more and more. Maybe the hot pepper does something to the brain that reduces the impulse to binge.


Cheesy Potatoes Again

Adapted from Lillian Marshall, The Courier-Journal & Times Cook Book

2 large baking potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 jarred red pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
¼ cup flour
2 cups milk, heated
6 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter a casserole dish.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the potatoes, onion, and green pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, then drain. Melt the butter in another pan. Add the flour and stir until combined. Gradually add the heated milk, mixing until smooth after each milk addition. Add the cheese to the white sauce, then the vegetables, and the salt and pepper. Put in the prepared casserole dish and bake until done. The top will be brown and the potatoes soft. This could take an hour or more.


Kentucky Korea Carrots

Adapted from Edward Lee, Smoke and Pickles

4 tablespoons butter
1 pound carrots, preferably young, peeled and cut into slices or chunks
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons minced ginger
3 tablespoons bourbon
Juice of 1 orange
2 teaspoons salt

Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Add the brown sugar and ginger and cook for a few more minutes. Add the bourbon and orange juice and cook until the liquid is syrupy, about another 5 minutes. Add the salt and pepper.

One thought on “Louisville: Then and Now

  1. Jessie

    I love when you write about cookbooks that I already own! It renews my interest in a book collecting dust on the shelves! I will be making Kentucky Korea Carrots and additional recipes from Smoke & Pickles soon!


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