Local foods that taste of home

Chef Martha Hall Foose believes community ties sweeten a meal.

Welcome: Martha Hall Foose's cookbook 'Screen Doors and Sweet Tea' centers on Southern comfort and friendship.
A blueberry Silent Shade Cobbler
Sunflower Squash
Screen Doors and Sweet Tea by Martha Hall Foose

If you have traveled the world, there is nothing quite like the aroma of a well-loved dish to bring you right back home. For Mississippi Delta chef Martha Hall Foose, a whiff of slow-simmering gumbo is akin to coming around the bend and catching sight of the bridge that straddles the Yazoo River near her house: Both promise that familiar comforts aren't far off.

Meals made with ingredients grown right out the back door may hum with flavor, but they also tell the story of recipes passed down the generations and shared among neighbors. To Ms. Foose, author of the new cookbook "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea," a good, local dish can taste even better if she knows the farmer who has grown the ingredients.

"I'm a big fan of our local farmers' market," says Foose. "The green beans you buy from someone you've known since elementary school are going to taste better than some 'unknown' green beans.... It really does make a difference to have that social and emotional connection to food."

Hard-working farmers, too, have the satisfaction of knowing on whose tables their crops of beans, berries, and squash end up.

Healthy local relationships underlie the recipe for Sunflower Squash (below), one of Foose's favorites. The deep-fried fritters sprung from a mischievous act of her friends Jamie and Kelly Kornegay, who would leave sacks of the superfluous summer squash on neighbors' doorsteps in the dark of night. Another neighbor came up with the recipe and now everyone is relieved to have an additional use for the yellow vegetable that floods gardens this time of year.

"Make friends with your [local] farmer," says Foose. "It's totally worth it in so many ways."

– Kendra Nordin

Sunflower Squash

2 cups self-rising cornmeal

1/2 cup self-rising flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1/2 cup grated onion

1 cup grated yellow summer squash

1 cup buttermilk

1 large egg

Vegetable oil, for frying (1 to 2 cups)

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the cornmeal, flour, salt, and sugar to get out any lumps.

In a separate bowl, combine the onion, squash, buttermilk, and egg. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry and stir well to combine. Let sit for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat about 4 inches of oil in a deep pot or deep-fryer to 375 degrees F. Set a wire rack over newspapers or paper towels to cool and drain the squash after frying.

Do not stir the batter. Dip two spoons into the hot oil, then scoop up one spoonful of batter and slide it into the hot oil using the other spoon. Repeat to make more fritters, dipping the spoons again into the hot oil if the batter begins to stick. Fry the squash for 2 minutes, turning as needed until crisp and deep golden brown. Drain on the rack set over newspaper. Serve hot.

Source: 'Screen Doors and Sweet Tea' by Martha Hall Foose

Silent Shade Cobbler

5 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated

1/4 teaspoon ground mace

3 cups sugar

1 cup whole milk

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 1/2 cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Spread the blueberries in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish sprayed with nonstick spray. Drizzle the lemon juice over the berries and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, the nutmeg, mace, 1-1/2 cups of the sugar, the milk, butter, and vanilla. Spoon over the berries and spread in an even layer.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1-1/2 cups sugar, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the cornstarch. Sprinkle this mixture over the batter. Pour the boiling water evenly over the top of the cobbler. Poke a few holes down in the batter with the handle of a wooden spoon. Bake for 1 hour or until the top is golden brown, frosted, and shiny. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Source: "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea" by Martha Hall Foose

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