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Screen Doors and Sweet Tea

Recipes and Tales From a Southern Cook

by Martha Hall Foose

Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales From a Southern Cook

Born and raised in the Mississippi River Delta, Martha Hall Foose grew up on fried chicken, sweet tea, and the stories of Eudory Welty, which stoked her passion for both the culinary and literary American South. Now a chef and storyteller, Foose weaves these threads together in Screen Doors and Sweet Tea:  Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook. Painting a portrait of quintessential Southern fare and the people who call the Delta home, each recipe is accompanied by a tidbit of Southern life. There's the ritual of "Mailbox Happy Hour," for example, which is the time of day when pretty much everyone on Rural Route 2 comes down to check the mail, resting perhaps a Mailbox Cocktail—Bourbon and ginger on ice—on the folded-down box.  Then, there's the nearly religious devotion to Delta doughnuts, "best appreciated not long after their baptism in oil." It's this mix of community, tradition and faith that nourishes both body and soul and defines the region. 

When it comes to the recipes themselves, Foose has one foot firmly planted in tradition and the other wandering into contemporary territory.  She twists Southern classics into novel creations like the salty-sweet buttermilk bacon pralines, roadside stand-fresh crawfish rice and corn bisque, and pecan-smoked catfish, a tasty alternative to the fried mainstay.  From tamales to tabbouleh, she nods her head to the multicultural influences in the South, like her sweet potato soup, which gets an Eastern-influenced kick from coconut milk and curry powder. Yet, she returns enough to hearty staples to please even "Mother of the Church" elders—think proper fried chicken, Delta peas and rice, baked mac and cheese (considered "a vegetable in some states," she declares), greens with cornbread croutons, and apron string biscuits. Trained at the famed pastry school Ecole Lenotre in France, Foose especially shines with desserts. Her sweet tea pie is scrumptious enough to make you want to tap at her screen door to ask for a slice and a story.


Sweet Tea Pie With Candied Lemon and Mint

6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
8 large egg yolks
¾ cup strong steeped orange pekoe tea, cooled
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons cornmeal
½ teaspoon salt

Make the crust. In an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until well combined. Add the flour and mix until the dough forms a ball. Pat the dough into a 9-inch pie pan. Chill until ready to use.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Make the filling. In an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until light. Add the yolks one at a time, beating at low speed until well incorporated. Slowly add the tea, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the flour, cornmeal, and salt and mix well.

Pour the mixture into the prepared crust. Bake for 45 minutes of until set.  Cool completely on a wire rack, and then chill for 2 hours before serving.  Garnish with candied lemon peel, sweetened whipped cream, and mint leaves.

Reviewed by Rachel Levin

(Updated: 12/23/08 SB)

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