We are suckers for stories. Our favorite cookbooks are the ones that share anecdotes and give us context for the food. Fried Chicken? Always delicious. Fried Chicken recipe that was someone’s grandmother’s? Irresistible! The Southerner’s Cookbook by the Editors of Garden & Gun Magazine is the kind of cookbook you can pick up and read. They’ve let us excerpt our favorite essay from the book. Make some pecans, curl up, and enjoy.
For most of the 1980s and ’90s, our grandmother, Elizabeth Maxwell, rented a tiny brick house hidden behind a grander home on Meeting Street in Charleston, South Carolina. Her stocky dwelling had served in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the separate kitchen house for the large stucco mansion directly in front of it—detached, so that the occasional hearth or chimney fire wouldn’t engulf the entire property. The place was perfectly suited to our Gran, partly because of its size—she’d been widowed since 1971—but more so because she was a passionate cook and an ardent recipe collector and she loved to entertain.
In 1997, Gran’s landlady and friend, Elizabeth Young, who lived in the big house, became a widow too, and for several years the two of them were very much in demand on the South-of-Broad reception, wedding, and cocktail circuit, attending a party—if not two, and often three—most nights. Heels clacking, pocketbooks swinging, they’d set out around 6 p.m. in Mrs. Young’s black Taurus, always parked in front of the wrought-iron gate, for a leisurely evening of open bars, cheese bites, finger sandwiches, and shrimp every which way.
People would casually remark—We don’t know where they get the energy! At their age!
We knew exactly where. Gran was in her late eighties by then, and Mrs. Young her late seventies. Both were spending less and less time in their own kitchens, so these parties functioned as dinner. But beyond the sustenance (and the frugality), these nights out were the energy that kept them going. Think about it: what true Southerner wouldn’t compose an entire evening of cocktail parties if she could?
There’s something about the first drink and bites of the evening that focus the crackling effervescence of great hospitality. It’s why we tend to find twentieth-century regional cookbooks, from Natchez to New Orleans to North Augusta, to be front-heavy, with generous chapters covering drinks and hors d’oeuvres. And it makes a certain sense: smart hosts and hostesses want those first impressions to be the most lasting ones (and not simply because the power of memory tends to fade with the fourth gin and tonic . . .). And while some might argue that cocktail hour is the most memorable stretch of an evening simply because that’s when our memories are least compromised, we believe it goes beyond that, to the very nature of cocktail party food.
While Pickapeppa Hot Sauce actually hails from Jamaica, its flavor profile—spicy-salty-sweet with the oaky undertones that come from barrel aging—meshes perfectly with Southern standbys from barbecue to Bloody Marys. When it collides with pecans, it’s a match made in Southern cocktail-hour heaven.
about 4 cups
- 1 pound (about 4 cups) pecan halves
- 1 (5-ounce) bottle Pickapeppa sauce
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- Place the pecans in a large bowl. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together the Pickapeppa sauce, water, brown sugar, salt, and smoked paprika. Pour over the pecans and let sit for 1 hour, tossing occasionally to mix. Drain.
- Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Arrange the drained nuts in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, tossing once, until fragrant. Let cool on the baking sheet. The nuts will keep stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
- TIP: For a sweeter spin, sprinkle the nuts with an additional 1⁄4 cup brown sugar just before you put them in the oven.
Excerpt courtesy of The Southerner’s Cookbook, Copyright © 2015 by Garden & Gun Magazine. For more of the Lee Brothers, find them at their entertaining website here. For more recipes, travel ideas, and other great stories from Garden & Gun, check them out here.