From an Ozark country inn, a philosophy of cooking
Dairy Hollow is a tiny farmhouse nestled in the Ozark hills in the Victorian resort town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. In 1979, Crescent Dragonwagon purchased the small two-bedroom house, originally built in 1889, with her husband, Ned Shank, a preservationist-architectural marketer. After much ``interpretive restoration'' and hard work, they opened their home as Dairy Hollow House in 1981, slightly larger than the original farmhouse and with cottages for half a dozen people.
And now, with the help of co-author Jan Brown, Ms. Dragonwagon has crafted a cookbook commemorating the name and ideals of this farmhouse-restaurant.
``The Dairy Hollow House Cookbook'' (Macmillan, $19.95) is full of recipes and is also liberally sprinkled with delightful poems, quotations, drawings, ideas for flower arrangements, anecdotes, and the history of the Dairy Hollow House Inn, where it all began.
``To own a country inn of this type is to be committed to tending the flame of a certain sweetness and romance,'' Dragonwagon said in a phone interview. ``That committment has to do with being small and personal and caring, qualities that simply cannot be faked and that make a business like ours what it is.
``In our cooking, we aim for our own kind of style. Our dishes are abundant, original, fresh, lighter, filling, sometimes rich but not heavy, based not on the absence of anything but rather the presence of many lovingly chosen ingredients.
``All our dishes are custom made, carefully prepared, generally with local ingredients, taking some regional elements and mixing them with other influences to make a style we call `Nouveau'zarks.' ''
As a teenager, one of her favorite authors was M. F. K. Fisher, who inspired both her cooking and writing. Today, Dragonwagon is a novelist and children's book author with more than 20 books to her credit.
During the sixties, Eureka Springs was a small, rather isolated Victorian hill town, and it was during this period that she adopted her rather fairy tale-like name which has stayed with her long enough to be well-known by readers of her books.
She and Jan Brown mingled recipes and viewpoints to concoct the latest cookbook.
``I told Crescent we'd just have to use my recipe for Black Russian Rye Bread,'' Ms. Brown recalls. ``It's so good. But Crescent said SHE had a really super recipe for Black Russian Bread, too. It turns out our recipes were identical -- so we put it in the cookbook, of course.
``It's a dark, heavy, serious peasant bread, chewy and delectable. It's great toasted in thick slices with Gruy`ere cheese melted over it.''
The mixed fare of their cookbook tries to anticipate the tastes of a variety of eaters interested in experimenting with the types of food Dragonwagon serves in her country inn.
``People who are adventurous eaters late at night want plain, simple, basic food for breakfast,'' says Dragonwagon. ``Not all people are morning people. Tastes are very conservative at the first meal of the day. Try them on Stir-Fried Poke in Phyllo Dough? -- oh no. This kind of person will never start the day with any deviation from the norm. By brunch time you have a bit more leeway. You could probably get away with garlic or chives in the scrambled eggs!''
One of Jan's most popular recipes is for a classic Ozark dish -- country-fried chicken with milk gravy. It's in the cookbook, of course.
A third-generation Kansas farm girl, Jan grew up on her mother's and grandmother's fried chicken. ``I remember the fights that broke out among the nine children in our family over who would get the `crispy' left on the paper towels the finished chicken drained on,'' she says.
``I remember the sweet milk gravy my mother made, and how my Uncle Pete would judge a man by the pieces of chicken he chose from the platter; if he took one good piece like a drumstick or a thigh, and one bad piece, like a back or a neck, he was considered unselfish, kind. But a man who took two good pieces was apt to steal from his own mother.''
Eureka Springs is described as ``a most peculiar place'' by writer A. J. Kalklosch. He writes of ``houses hanging by corners on the steep hilsides, perched on jutting boulders, spanning the gulches, nestling under crags or grottos. Its two-story streets, its winding thoroughfares, circular paths, present a disorder that is a delight.''
``The diversity of people and the variety of activities are part of the attraction of Eureka Springs,'' says Dragonwagon. ``And these are some of the things that make it so enticing a place to come and take the risk of living out your dreams, as we have.'' Dairy Hollow House German Baked Pancake 3 large eggs 3/4 cup unbleached white flour 3/4 cup milk 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or lemon extract 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Combine first five ingredients and beat together until very smooth; set aside.
Melt butter in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet. When skillet is quite hot, pour in batter and put skillet in oven. Bake 15 minutes at 450 degrees F.; lower oven temperature to 350 degrees F. and bake another 10 minutes.
It will have puffed dramatically but will soon settle down a bit, so show it to your guests quickly so they can exclaim with delight. Also, the edges end up higher than the middle, making a crater perfect for any one of the following fillings. Fruit Fillings:
In a heavy skillet melt 4 tablespoons butter and lightly saut'e prepared fruit in season, peeled, if necessary. )Specifics follow.) As it softens, drizzle over fruit 1/4 cup honey or brown or white sugar; a dash each of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Cook fruit until just heated through: tender, not mushy. When pancake is done, spoon hot fruit over center of pancake. Sprinkle with sifted powdered sugar to taste. Present the glorious whole, puffed, fruited, sugared, dish to the table. Slice into pie-shape wedges and serve. Apple: Use 4 or 5 washed, peeled, sliced tart apples and saut'e about 7 to 10 minutes. Tart apples like Granny Smiths or Stayman Winesaps are best, but Golden or Red Delicious will do. Peach: Saut'e 4 to 6 washed, peeled, pitted, sliced fresh peaches, 4 to 6 minutes, depending on ripeness. Add a drop of almond extract to peaches when removing from stove. We think brown sugar is a delectable sweetener with peaches, but not too much. This, too, can serve delightfully as dessert. Banana: Use 4 bananas, slightly underripe, peeled, cut lengthwise and then halved, ending with 4 pieces per banana. Saut'e gently 2 to 4 minutes only. Strawberry: Wash, pick over, and slice strawberries to equal 2 cups, sliced. Heat in butter, stirring with extreme gentleness so as not to mash, 2 minutes only. Blueberry: Follow strawberry directions but leave blueberries whole and cook 4 to 5 minutes. Jan's Country-fried Chicken With Milk Gravy 2 1/2 to 3-pound frying chicken, cut up 1 cup buttermilk or sweet milk 3 cups vegetable oil 2 cups unbleached flour 3 teaspoons paprika 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper 1 medium onion, quartered
Place chicken in large, shallow dish and cover with milk. Let sit 10 minutes.
Preheat oil over medium heat in 10- to 12-inch cast-iron skillet. (Safflower oil is Jan's choice; peanut would be Crescent's; Jan's grandma used Crisco or bacon grease.)
You want oil to reach about 375 degrees F. by thermometer. As oil heats, blend together in large bowl the flour, paprika, salt and pepper.
Remove chicken from milk and dip each piece into flour, dredging thoroughly. When oil is at 375 degrees F., place floured chicken in pan, crowding until all are in. Add onion among chicken pieces. Cover and cook over medium heat 12 to 15 minutes. Turn each piece with tongs or fork, fry 10 minutes more.
Remove lid and continue frying 5 minutes more, until chicken is golden brown and fork tender. Drain on paper towels or brown paper bag. Let chicken sit while making gravy. Milk Gravy 4 tablespoons unbleached flour 1 1/2 cups milk or potato water Salt and freshly ground pepper
Pour off and discard oil from skillet, except about 3 tablespoons oil. Leave little brown crumbles in skillet for texture and flavor.
Blend flour into oil and stir until smooth. Place over medium heat and whisk while adding milk gradually. If cooking potatoes for mashed potatoes, you may use half potato water and half milk.
Whisk and stir until gravy is smooth and thickened and piping hot and free of any raw flour taste. Add salt and pepper. Go easy with salt if using potato water as part of liquid.
Pour finished gravy into gravy boat. Serve with warm, just-fried chicken.
True country accompaniments would be mashed potatoes with plenty of butter, corn on the cob, buttermilk biscuits, homemade blackberry jam, more butter, freshly sliced tomatoes, cole slaw, and fresh peach pie.