Certain smells can return Marilyn Markel to a time when her curly gray locks were dark and her grandmother stood in the predawn light of her kitchen, stirring biscuits, simmering beans, and frying pork.
“That was the core of my young life, to be in the kitchen with her,” says Markel, who credits her grandmother, Nellie Dee Wims, with inspiring her culinary career, which includes hundreds of recipes developed during her tenure as the cooking-school manager for Southern Season. “When I cook these things today, it’s like going home.”
Markel, who returns to the Triangle this week from her home in Charleston, puts classic Southern recipes in the hands of home cooks with Southern Breads: Recipes, Stories and Traditions. An informative read, it was cowritten with Chris Holaday of Durham, a former Southern Season colleague and historian who also photographed many of Markel’s mouthwatering dishes. Recipes from friends Nathalie Dupree, Sheri Castle, Ricky Moore, and others are also featured.
While Markel had long dreamed of writing a cookbook with a broad theme, the opportunity to collaborate on one focusing on Southern breads—especially biscuits and cornbread—proved to be an irresistible draw.
Among the many biscuit varieties, local readers will appreciate that Markel includes both her standard—a drop style in which they bake crowded in a skillet—and a traditional version favored by former Southern Season coworker Willard Doxley.
"We disagree on method, but I sometimes think we taught everyone in the Triangle how to make biscuits," Markel jokes, referring to the many sold-out classes the pair presented over the years.
In the chapter on cornbread, the authors assay one of the most controversial topics in Southern baking: whether "real" cornbread includes sugar. Markel insists it does not. Like her granny Wims, she enriches the batter with bacon drippings and buttermilk. The simple ingredients have a starring role in one of the book's most inviting recipes, a New Year's-friendly panzanella with cornbread cubes, collards, and black-eyed peas.
Just thinking about cornbread carries Markel back on a fragrant current to that Nashville, Tennessee, kitchen, where her grandfather would slice crispy strips from the edge, leaving the tenderer middle for others. "Granny'd always scold him, but it wasn't real anger," she recalls. "She knew it was our special thing."
In addition to classic recipes, including the no-knead Sally Lunn Bread, a brioche-like loaf with English roots, Southern Breads offers a number of irresistible "go-with" recipes. Pinto beans, made luxurious by a small but essential chunk of salt pork, are the ideal complement for cornbread. Country-ham compound butter for biscuits? Yes, please.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Breadcrumb Trail"
SALLY LUNN BREAD
- Photo by Chris Holaday
- Sally Lunn Bread is a dense, cake-like treat perfect with a pat of butter and jam.
Makes 1 loaf
1¾ cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
¼ cup warm water
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 egg yolk
Combine the flour, sugar and salt. Whisk briefly.
Heat the milk and butter in a saucepan over medium heat until the butter melts. Add the water and yeast and whisk to combine. Allow to sit 5 minutes. Add the eggs and beat lightly.
Stir the liquid ingredients into the dry mixture and stir with a spatula until all ingredients are incorporated. Put bowl in the refrigerator overnight or up to 2 days. About 2 hours before you’re ready to bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator.
Pour into a buttered 9-inch loaf pan.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. After dough rises to the top of the pan, put the loaf into the oven and reduce temperature to 375 degrees. Bake for about 45 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 190 to 200 degrees. Cool on a rack. When cool, run a knife down the edges of the pan and turn the loaf out onto the rack.
Reprinted by permission of the authors from Southern Breads: Recipes, Stories and Traditions by Marilyn Markel and Chris Holaday, Arcadia Publishing, 2016.