The Southern Sympathy Cookbook

I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Fig, Bourbon and Vanilla Bean Jam

Canning is a new passion for me.  I’ve had fits and starts about it over the years, lots of failures, lots of time spent making jams or relishes only to forget about them and never use them. But after all that trial and error, I have finally got the knack of it and have had mostly successes, and a great deal of enjoyment from what I have produced.  I have even gained the confidence to experiment with my own concoctions, and this is one of my favorites.  It’s rich with figs, set off with the warmth of vanilla and a depth from the bourbon.

I like using the slow cooker for making this.  It is pretty hands off, and clean-up is relatively easy.  This method is also a little forgiving as it will stay at temperature and there doesn’t need to be that frantic rushing to fill the jars at just the right moment.  I also use an immersion blender for this, but if you don’t have one, chop the figs smaller and try a potato masher or a really sturdy spoon to mash up the figs. You will get a slightly chunkier product.

I love this jam on an English muffin.  And fresh, warm buttermilk biscuits – oh lordy.  But this is also a very sophisticated accompaniment to a cheese and charcuterie tray.  It makes a great glaze for pork roast, or serve some on the side.  And of course, it is gorgeous in my Blue Cheese and Fig Savories.  This makes quite a few jars, but it’s worth it since there are so many uses for the jam.  And what an elegant gift!

Fig, Bourbon and Vanilla Bean Jam

3 ½ pounds brown fresh figs, like Celeste or Brown Turkey

2 ¾ pounds granulated sugar

6 Tablespoon lemon juice

5 Tablespoons bourbon

1 vanilla bean

First, place a small ceramic plate in the freezer.  You’ll use this this to test the set of the jam later. Then get your jars clean.  You will need nine half-pint mason jars.  I clean the jars and the rings in the dishwasher, and leave them in there with the door closed to stay warm.  You can’t put the lids in the dishwasher, it will ruin them.

Quarter the figs, cutting any larger ones into eights and place in the crock of a 6 quart slow cooker.  Add the sugar, the lemon juice and the bourbon and toss to coat. Cover the slow cooker and cook the figs for 2 hours on high. The figs will become nice and syrupy.  Remove the top from the cooker, and using a stick blender, puree the figs until you have a smooth texture with a few small chunks.  Split the vanilla bean open and scrape the seeds into the figs, then drop in the bean. Give the mixture a good stir, then continue to cook the jam, uncovered, for 4 -5 more hours, stirring occasionally.

When the jam has cooked down and is thickened, pull that little plate out of the freezer and spoon a little jam onto it.  Leave to set for a minute, then tilt the plate.  If the jam stays put, or only runs a little bit, it’s ready to go. Also, run a finger through the jam on the plate if the two sides stay separate and don’t run back together, you’re good to go.

While you jam is cooking, get a boiling water canner or big stockpot of water going.  Here are step-by step instructions for processing jam in a canner.  When the jam is almost ready, pour some boiling water over the lids to your jars to soften the seals and set aside.

When the jam has met the set test, turn off the slow cooker. Remove the vanilla bean. I like to ladle the jam into a large measuring jug for easy pouring. Fill each of your warm, cleaned jars with the jam, leaving a ½ inch head space.  Dry the lids with a clean paper towel and place on the jars.  Screw on the bands, then process the jars for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.  If you have a bit of extra jam, scoop it into a refrigerator container and keep in the fridge for up to a week.

When the jars are processed, leave to cool on a towel on the counter.

The processed jars will keep for a year in a cool, dark place.  Don’t forget to label your jars!

Makes 9 (1/2pint) jars

Charro Beans

I’ll be honest, I don’t actually know the history of Cinco de Mayo, I just know it’s a perfect excuse for a slap-up Mexican meal, and that is always a good thing.  And there is something so friendly and communal about a Mexican feast.  It’s a great way to gather friends and family, its interactive eating that everyone can enjoy. So for your own celebration, serve up some Smoky Beef Tacos or Green Chicken Chilaquiles, along with a side of Charro Beans.  Start your party off with some Green Chile Cheese Puffs.  And of course, don’t forget the Fresh Citrus Margaritas!

I have found some gorgeous red kidney beans at my local Latin/Asian/Caribbean/Middle Eastern supermarket from Guatemala called Frijol Pilay, but look for any dark burgundy, plump beans. Epazote is a popular dried herb in Mexican cooking, and I have been told that not only does it improve the flavors of beans, it aids in their digestion – and some of the impolite side affects. You’ll find it in the herb and spice section of Latin markets, but I pick it up at Penzey’s.  Mexican oregano has a more distinct flavor than standard (usually Turkish) oregano and is worth having around if you cook a lot of Latin dishes. My favorite restautant charro beans come with diced pieces of jalapeno floating in the broth, but I prefer a halved, cleaned pepper in to flavor the cooking liquid, instead of biting into pieces.  Do what you like, and add another pepper if you like it spicy.

Mexican chorizo is a soft, well-seasoned sausage (Spanish chorizo is hard and dry).  I buy freshly prepared at the Latin market, but it is readily available at many grocery stores.  It can range from mild to spicy, and if it’s labeled, choose mild so you can monitor your own flavor level.

Charro Beans

3 cups dried red kidney beans

1 small onion, diced

1 teaspoon epazote (optional)

1 teaspoon Mexican oregano

1 jalapeno pepper, stem, seeds and ribs removed

5 cloves garlic

Handful cilantro (stems and leaves)

1 pound fresh Mexican chorizo, casings removed if necessary

6 strips bacon, cut into small pieces

Sort through the beans and pick out any that are shriveled or imperfect.  Soak the dried beans in 6 cups of water, uncovered, overnight. The next day, drain the beans, rinse well and place in the crock of a large slow-cooker.  Add 6 cups of water, the diced onion, epazote, oregano, jalapeno pepper and garlic cloves and stir well.  Cover the crock and turn the pot to high, 6 hour setting.

When the beans are halfway cooked (3 hours), sauté the chorizo until brown, breaking it up into small pieces.  Remove to a heavy layer of paper towels on a plate to drain using a slotted spoon.  Drain off the oil, then sauté the bacon pieces until crispy.  Remove the bacon to paper towels to drain.  Pat the chorizo to remove as much grease as possible.  With a good chorizo, it will be bright red, so try not to stain your clothes.  Add the chorizo and bacon to the beans in the slow cooker, stir, replace the cover and continue cooking until the beans are tender.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can cook the soaked beans in a large Dutch oven over low-heat for 2 – 3 hours until tender.  Check the beans occasionally and stir to prevent scorching on the bottom, adding water as needed.

Serves 8- 10

Boiled Peanuts

This week, the farmers market was looking a little forlorn as summer moves into fall.  The tomatoes and beans are fading, but the winter squash and pumpkins aren’t quite in yet.  But I did find a nice treat at one of the stalls.  Raw peanuts.  Nice, big fat ones just waiting to be boiled up.  A big ol’ batch of goobers.

Boiled Peanuts are a love-or-hate kind of thing.  They are not crunchy like roasted peanuts, but soft and wet.  Some people just can’t get into the texture, and the fact that sometimes a little juice might squirt out when you open them up. Generally, you find someone selling boiled peanuts on the side of the road, or at a country gas station.  I myself had never considered boiling my own peanuts until I overheard a conversation about boiling them in the slow-cooker.  So I had to try. It works, it’s easy, and it’s a great treat when I find raw peanuts.  Pull out a brown paper bag of goobers at a party, and a conversation about the merits or drawbacks is sure to ensue. I like my goobers with plenty of Creole seasoning and salt, but you could use just salt or any flavor combo you like. 

Boiled Peanuts

I find raw peanuts, also called green peanuts, sometimes at farmers markets, but most often at Asian grocery stores.  They are peanuts in the shell that have not been roasted.  You can make as many peanuts as you want.

1 pound raw peanuts

5 cups water

2 Tablespoons Creole seasoning (I like Tony Chachere’s)

2 Tablespoons salt

Place the peanuts and the water in a slow cooker and stir in the seasonings.  Cook on low for 10 hours, turn off the slow cooker and leave the peanuts in the seasoned water for another 10 – 12 hours.  Drain the peanuts and enjoy!

Boiled peanuts will keep covered for up to three days, but the drained peanuts can be frozen for up to two months.  Reheat the peanuts in salted water to thaw.