Rural jaunts bring back scrumptious memories. `I'm ready to pack a picnic at the drop of a hat,' says this Southern food doyenne
Each time I read again Alice B. Toklas's cookbook, I am reminded of how kindred our minds are on the subject of food. A trip in the car meant a picnic to Alice. And in the years before World War II, she and Gertrude Stein drove all over the French countryside in their battered old car with glorious food in a basket.
The lunches that Alice prepared for those jaunts linger vividly on my palate as I read. They awaken taste memories of picnics I have loved. I have always been ready to pack a picnic lunch at the drop of a hat. The least excuse is all that's needed.
In the days before superhighways, traveling by car to me was a joy. The country roads might have been bumpy and curvy and awful, but we seldom noticed. We loved the farmlands, the trees, and the livestock in the pastures.
The country roads never bypassed a little town - no, indeed. We adored those little towns. They usually consisted of a bank, a grocery, and a hardware store, sometimes with the post office in the back. The few people that were out on the street were visiting with each other.
We would attend to our business; that is, if we had any. Then we would drive on until we found a shady spot, a bit off the road, to spread our picnic lunch.
The menu didn't change much unless we had company, but it was always wonderful.
We would have chicken salad and homemade pimento cheese sandwiches, pickles, and olives. Oftentimes we would have thin slices of nut bread spread with butter, and cookies. We would have a thermos of iced tea, a mixture of soft drinks, and loads of ice.
Above all, we had a great ``treasure'' of time. No one was in a hurry. I'd turn the clock back for at least a day if I could.
Here are two of my favorite picnic menus:
Picnic Menu Chicken Salad Sandwiches Pimento Cheese Sandwiches Fragrant Lemon and Almond Cake Cold Drinks
Picnic Menu Baltimore Barbecued Chicken Pimento Cheese Sandwiches Olives and Pickles Old Piney Nut Bread Cold Drinks Homemade Pimento Cheese 1/2 pound New York sharp cheddar cheese 1/2 cup mayonnaise 1 4-ounce jar pimentos
Allow cheese to come to room temperature. Chop coarsely. Put into processor and twirl until cheese is perfectly smooth. Add mayonnaise and mix thoroughly. Add pimentos and twirl not over a second. The pimentos must stay in fairly large pieces. Refrigerate until needed.
This is a Maryland way of basting chicken for the oven or grill. It is tart and spicy. At the same time, it has a delicacy unlike the tomato-rich, earthy country barbecues of the deep South.
Baltimore Barbecue Chicken 4 shallots or scallions (green onions; white bulb only), finely chopped 1/3 cup water 1 teaspoon dry mustard 2 tablespoons tarragon white wine vinegar 2 tablespoons quality ketchup 2 tablespoons lemon juice 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, cut into pieces and chilled 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste Cayenne pepper to taste Salt to taste 2 frying chickens, 21/2 to 3 pounds each, split 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Combine shallots or scallions with water in small saucepan. Simmer until shallots are soft, 11/2 to 2 minutes. Don't allow them to sizzle or boil dry. Add mustard, vinegar, ketchup, and lemon juice to shallots and cook over low heat 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the flavors to ripen about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Reheat sauce over low heat until just warm, no hotter. Beat in chilled butter 1 piece at a time. Add Tabasco, cayenne, and salt. Set aside.
Rinse chicken halves and dry well with paper towels. Lay bone-side down in large roasting pan. Season with salt, brush with 3 tablespoons unsalted butter and place in oven. Cook chicken, basting several times with pan drippings and remaining butter, for 25 minutes. Allow chicken to become golden and crisp. Continue to cook, brushing chicken with barbecue sauce several times, 6 minutes. Be careful not to let sauce burn. Serves 4.
A fine cook from St. Petersburg, Fla., gave me this bread years ago. It has been a favorite ever since.
St. Petersburg Orange and Apricot Bread 1 package (7 ounces) dried apricots 1 egg 1 cup sugar 2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled 2 cups all-purpose flour 3/4 teaspoon salt 3/4 cup fresh orange juice 1 teaspoon grated orange peel 1 tablespoon baking powder
Soak apricots in warm water to cover for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Drain apricots thoroughly, setting a few of them aside to be added to batter whole. Mash remaining apricots with fork. Do not pur'ee. Combine egg and sugar in large bowl. Beat with electric mixer until mixture drops from a spoon in ribbons. Beat in melted butter.
Sift flour with salt. Add to egg mixture alternately with orange juice and grated peel. Add baking powder and mix in quickly. Add mashed apricots and mix thoroughly. Fold in whole pieces of apricot by hand.
Spoon batter into two small (7-by-4-by-2-inch) foil-lined pans. Set pans on middle shelf of oven and bake until batter springs back at once when lightly touched, about 1 hour.
Allow bread to stand for 5 minutes before removing from pan. Turn bread out onto cake rack, remove foil, and let cool thoroughly before slicing it thin. Makes 2 small loaves.
Note: Drain apricots well - or there will be too much moisture, and bread will be heavy. The oven temperature must be kept low, as this loaf burns easily. The whole apricots will show up in an attractive pattern when bread is sliced.
Mother was such a wonderful cook in many ways. I liked nothing better than her nut bread, which she made with hickory nuts, the wild pecan that is native to Kentucky. The flavor of the cultivated Southern pecan is reminiscent of the wild species, although milder.
Old Piney Nut Bread 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature 3/4 cup sugar 2 eggs 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 3/4 cup milk 1 1/2 cups chopped hickory nuts, pecans, or walnuts
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Cream butter thoroughly with sugar in large bowl of an electric mixer. Add eggs and continue to beat until mixture is thickened and smooth.
Sift flour with baking powder and salt. Add this to creamed mixture alternately with milk at a very low speed (or by hand, which is best), until well blended. Add nuts and mix thoroughly.
Grease standard (91/2-by-41/2-by-3-inch) loaf pan and line it with greased foil. Spoon in batter, and place pan on middle shelf of the oven. Bake until loaf is golden brown, feels fairly firm to the touch, and a skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean (60 to 70 minutes). If the bread springs back at once when lightly touched, the bread is done. Turn bread out onto a rack, remove foil, and allow it to cool completely before slicing. It will slice better the day after baking. Makes 1 loaf. Note: This will dry out if overbaked.
Fragrant Lemon and Almond Cake 1 cup sugar 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind 6 tablespoons lightly salted butter 2 large eggs 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup milk 1/2 cup ground, blanched almonds
Lemon glaze: 1/4 cup sugar (4 tablespoons) 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine sugar, lemon rind, and butter in electric mixer and beat thoroughly. It will not become perfectly smooth yet. Add eggs and beat until mixture turns to a lighter shade of yellow and falls in ``ribbons'' when scooped up with a spoon and poured back into the bowl.
In the meantime, sift flour with baking powder and salt. Add these dry ingredients alternately with milk, folding them in by hand with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Fold in ground almonds until well blended.
Spoon into 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan or two 71/2-by-33/4-by-21/4-inch small loaf pans that have been greased and lightly floured or greased and lined with wax paper. Do not fill pans over 3/4 full.
Place cake batter on middle shelf of oven for approximately 1 hour, or until it springs back at once when lightly touched and is a very light golden brown.
Remove cake from oven and brush top generously with lemon glaze while warm.
Allow cake to rest a few minutes, then loosen it from sides of the pan with a thin knife. Remove from pan and cool. Wrap cake in foil or place in a plastic or tin box for a few hours. The lemon flavor should be allowed to permeate the cake before slicing. Serves 8 to 10.
Camille Glenn's most recent book is ``The Heritage of Southern Cooking'' (Workman Publishing, $14.95).