♥ miss edna lewis, my valentine ♥

“So many great souls have passed off the scene. The world has changed. We are now faced with picking up the pieces and trying to put them into shape, document them so the present-day young generation can see what southern food was like. The foundation on which it rested was pure ingredients, open-pollinated seed—planted and replanted for generations—natural fertilizers. We grew the seeds of what we ate, we worked with love and care.” ~ Edna Lewis (“What is Southern?”)


For me, she’s the one. The more I learn about Edna Lewis, the more I love her.

Since today marks the 7th anniversary of her passing at age 89, it’s a good time to celebrate her remarkable achievements as an award-winning chef, cooking teacher, caterer, cookbook author and Grand Dame of Southern Cuisine with a love-in-your-mouth piece of her Warm Gingerbread. Mmmmm-mmmmm!

long view

Miss Lewis, as she was always known, grew up in the small farming community of Freetown, which is located behind the village of Lahore in Orange County, Virginia (about 66 miles from where I live). Her grandfather founded Freetown with two other freed slaves and started the first area school in his living room.

Long before it became chic to advocate fresh, organic, seasonal ingredients and field-to-table cuisine, Edna and her fellow Freetown residents were enjoying a bucolic live-off-the-land existence — growing, harvesting and preserving their own food, gathering nature’s bounty (seeds, fruit, nuts), fishing the streams, hunting wild game in the woods, cultivating domestic animals.

In The Taste of Country Cooking (Knopf, 1976), a classic of Southern cuisine edited by the brilliant Judith Jones (also Julia Child’s editor), Edna shares recipes and reminiscences of the simple, flavorful, uniquely American, Virginia country cooking she grew up with, lovingly describing how they anticipated the select offerings of each season and celebrated special occasions like Christmas and Emancipation Day with full-out feasts.


We are reminded that there’s nothing better than a freshly picked sun-ripened apple, relishing a dish of Spring’s mixed greens (poke leaves, lamb’s-quarters, wild mustard), celebrating Summer’s bounty with deep-dish blackberry pies, apple dumplings, peach cobblers and pound cakes, sitting down to a Fall Emancipation Day dinner of Guinea Fowl Casserole, “the last green beans of the season and a delicious plum tart or newly ripened, fresh, stewed quince.” As Alice Waters says in her introduction, “sheer deliciousness that is only possible when food tastes like what it is, from a particular place, at a particular point in time.”

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carlyle house cauldron tea and tour

Happy Almost Halloween! 

‘Tis the season to practice your cackles, dust up your brooms, and sip strange brews.

Is he hiding a biscuit in his vest?

This past Sunday, Len and I headed out to the historic Carlyle House in Old Town Alexandria to attend a Cauldron Tea. I’m always happy to steep myself in the fun of a seasonal tea and this one came with the chance to tour the beautifully restored 18th century Palladian-style home of one of Alexandria’s founders, John Carlyle, a wealthy merchant who apparently knew how to invest his shillings and have a really good time.

We arrived a little early, so we strolled around the lovely 3/4 acre garden, which showcases plant materials available to Carlyle during the time of his residency. We were greeted by the chitter chatter of hundreds of birds, no doubt exchanging Sunday pleasantries and engaging in mini-debates (we are a swing state after all). I’d been to Old Town countless times, but never knew this sweet little haven was here. Perfect spot for a tête-à-tête!

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farm market walkabout

June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month!

Have you been to your local farmer’s market yet?

Here’s what we saw on a recent trip to Reston Farm Market:

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A Few Take-aways:

  • Flower vendors are kind and seem to smile more. Bunches of lavender = a dream of Provence.
  • Giant zucchini prove that bigger is not always better.
  • Clowns making balloon animals do not like to be photographed when they are coughing.
  • Eek, leeks!
  • My love is like a red, red raspberry.
  • 100 Bowls of Soup! Ginger carrot is quite refreshing.
  • Squash multiply like rabbits. It is highly likely they will take over the world.
  • Hooray for samples: salsa, cherries, cucumber, strawberries, tomatoes!
  • I don’t care what you say. Cucumbers standing up are obscene.
  • Rubbery green beans. Boing!
  • Mmmm, whoopie pies! Pause to worship at the altar of baked goods.
  • Lettuce entertain you.

So what did we buy? Basil, rosemary and parsley plants. Ravishing raspberries. Cranberry orange scones, apricot linzer cookies, triple chocolate rockies. Vine ripened tomatoes, blushing with vibrant color and oozing summer flavor.

Embrace me, my sweet embraceable you.

Brought home these babies and had a little Insalata Caprese for lunch. So easy to prepare, wholly satisfying, and quintessentially summer: sliced tomatoes at their peak ripeness, fresh mozzarella and basil leaves seasoned with Fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper, extra virgin olive oil drizzled over the top. Magnificent in its simplicity, laid back and luscious, with each unadorned flavor taking center stage without an ounce of competition. Ti amo! Ti desidero!

*kisses bunched fingertips*

Delizioso! Squisito!

What summer fruits and veggies are you most looking forward to eating?

Buon Appetito!

*swoons and dreams of tooling around Capri on a Vespa with Al Pacino.*


This post is linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share food-related posts (fiction/nonfiction/cookbook/movie reviews, recipes, musings, photos). Put on your bibs and join the fun!


Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

friday feast: death by summer strawberries

“Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.” ~ Al Bernstein

Hello there, Cutie Pies.

Happy June! We’re kicking off the summer with some sweet strawberry love.

There’s nothing more beautiful or tempting than a bowl of juicy, fragrant berries. You do like them, don’t you? Strawberry lovers are considered, “health conscious,  fun-loving, intelligent and happy.” Non-lovers = “weird, boring, stuffy — picky eaters who avoid healthy foods.” No, that couldn’t be you.

Love the deep red color and all those tiny seeds — did you know each is actually an ovary and considered a separate fruit?

Last weekend, the mustached one and I braved the heat and humidity to check out the Strawberry Festival in Delaplane, Virginia. What’s a little weird is that Delaplane isn’t in a big strawberry-producing area — they have to import strawberries from California to feed the estimated 10,000 people who attend. I guess if you’re busy going on hayrides, playing field games, listening to music, watching puppet shows, browsing craft tables, checking out the peanut roasting machine and petting farm animals, you can work up a big appetite.

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chatting with candice ransom about iva honeysuckle discovers the world (and a giveaway)!

Cornelius and I are thrilled to welcome award-winning children’s author Candice Ransom to the Alphabet Soup kitchen today.

As you may know, we’re in love with her latest book, Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World (Disney Hyperion, 2012), which was just named to the Summer 2012 Kids’ Indie Next List, and which Kirkus describes as, “A breezy, wide-open window into the turbulent heart of a dramatic third-grade adventurer and her small-town Virginia community.”

I was instantly captivated by spunky and supremely self-assured Iva Honeycutt and her quest to become a world famous discoverer. With great-grandfather Ludwell’s treasure map in hand and her not-so-trusty canine companion Sweetlips by her side, she paces and dowses her way around her hometown of Uncertain, Virginia, searching for General Braddock’s war chest. But as all great explorers eventually learn, sometimes you end up finding something entirely different, and by golly, it’s even better!

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