A Christilisa Cookbook Review
I always find myself questioning who I am. There are many days I wonder, how can I celebrate who I am when I’m from Alabama. Weird, right? It’s so deeply ingrained that nothing good comes from Alabama, so, therefore, I’m not good? Mad real questions being asked. The juxtaposition of being Black AND from Alabama is wild but it is okay to be both, good or bad. It’s hard to accept the concept that life can be made up of moments before us that influence and shape us for a lifetime. I would like to think we all struggle with our ancestral history and finding who we are.
I’m currently reading, Homage, a cookbook by Chef Chris Scott and Sarah Zorn. It tells the story of his background, growing up in South Carolina and Pennsylvania, developing the term Amish Soul Food. This cookbook is an Homage to his Nana who shaped his way of life and cooking. The memories and bonds created from food in his family made him want to create something for his children and this cookbook is the answer.
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The introduction tells of how we are dealing with a reckoning in terms of injustices against Black people as well as the inequaities in regard to food. He posits what he can do to guarantee more equality not only in the kitchen but in the media. With every food focused piece written, I hope I’m contributing to the rewriting of food media and bringing to the forefront stories that would not get talked about or at least a different perspective on mainstream stories.
With Homage, Chef Chris offers a refreshing perspective on what soul food is and how it can change depending on the person and their upbringing. Let’s take a dive into his world.
We start with pantry items. As this is a mix of Southern and Pennsylvania Dutch, the items contain ingredients from molasses to buckwheat flour, stone ground grits, and Carolina gold rice. I can’t forget cider vinegar, as the use of pickled and sour things is heavy in this cookbook.
Seven Sweets and Seven Sours
This is about the sweet and sour additions to your biscuits, desserts, proteins, and sides. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of sour and pickled things even though my grandmother was the queen of pickling. I remember one of the bedrooms had multiple shelves full of pickled cucumbers. Her brine wasn’t overly sour and had the right amount of spice. There is not a pickle out there that comes close. I suppose I’m biased as Chef Scott is about his family's sours. One of the main sours in Homage is chow-chow. It is used on various items throughout and is a classic staple in the north and south. What is chow-chow? It’s a mix of veggies that have sat in brine and blended together to make a relish. It gives some salt or texture to a dish.
Just as chow chow adds something, so too do the sweet items. They are condiments such as Apple Butter, Mincemeat, and Yam Molasses. Of the three mentioned, only two would be found in my Alabama kitchen. I’ve yet to meet someone who has had mincemeat on the menu even after spending time in the Midwest. If you want to give it a go, why not start with this one that offers a little bit more soul in my opinion.
All Day E’ery Day
As the title suggests, these are the dishes you can make every day, possibly for breakfast. I probably wouldn’t because I would end up like an oversized hot potato.
Some of my favorites include Johnny Cakes with Apple Butter. They have a crunch on the outside but fluffy on the inside with a hint of sweetness and corn. The addition of the Apple Butter takes it up a notch; Cheese Grits with Jerk Pork had me at hello. The combination of this Southern staple and Caribbean spiced meat creates a marriage you never knew you needed; and Boiled Peanut Hummus. The Alabama girl in me couldn’t believe the elevation of boiled peanuts. I never thought to make it into a dip. After thinking about it, peanuts are similar in shape and size as the chickpea.
There are many recipes in this chapter that are Pennsylvania Dutch: Scrapple, Creamed Chipped Beef with Brown Milk Gravy and Toast., Potato Waffles and Potatoes and Onions. Even the use of Old Bay seasoning makes an appearance.
These recipes tell the story of Chef Scott’s upbringing, going to lunchettes with his grandfather, enjoying the simplicity yet heartiness of the meals which can be eaten for lunch or breakfast.
I’ve never been one to say no to breakfast at any time of the day. I don’t think y’all will either for these dishes.
Greens, Beans, Tubers, and Grains
When it comes to greens, beans, and tubers, ya girl doesn’t believe in a set recipe. I use minimal ingredients because for me, the flavor comes from the length of time on the stove-low and slow.
You’ll find the usual staples: collard greens, mustard greens, potato salad, and cabbage. But, you’ll also find a Hot Pepper Sauce Watermelon Salad, Millet and Summer Corn, Radicchio Salad with Cola Boiled Peanuts (anytime peanuts are included I get giddy) with Amish Cheddar, Amish Baked Beans and Crispy Yucca (shoutout to my Cubans!).
This chapter gives us sides that can be a main course, at least in my family, or a great addition to any four/five course meal. Here is where you will find the dishes that make you feel at home. I know I did.
Hard Times Food
Sometimes, life gets rough and you need ways to feed a family without breaking the bank-this chapter is it. Most of the items are what we call “throwaways”: tripe, turkey necks, chicken livers and pigs feet. These were parts of the animal only good for certain people-the help.
You also have your vegetables-fried green tomatoes, okra and tomato stew, cabbage soup and rice and gravy. (Rice is considered a vegetable to many people-you eat it with most meals and would be incomplete without it).
I never viewed these as foods eaten during hard times because we ate them on a regular basis. I suppose my people did a good job of letting us feel like we were wealthy by having food on the table and great experiences to enjoy.
If you know anything about Black people, we always have a reason to celebrate. As my brother-in-law recently mentioned, we always have a tshirt made for our celebrations. 😆 My mom and sister had the cutest shirts made for the book themed baby shower for our little munchkin back in 2018.
At the baby shower, we also had one of the dishes mentioned in this chapter, chicken and waffles. Though, Chef Scott has a slightly different take (chicken and waffles is getting played out).
Some of the dishes I don’t see as celebration foods but as everyday food. Growing up, Mac and cheese, fried chicken, smothered pork chops, and fried catfish was eaten on the regular. I guess not so poor after all.
I attempted the Lemonade Buttermilk Fried Chicken and failed miserably. I used boneless chicken and tried to panne it. The original recipe will be easier to make.
There are many more dishes to try in this chapter that will keep you coming back- BBQ ribs, Country Fried Steak, Deviled Eggs, and Hand Pies stuffed with Jackfruit to name a few.
Breads and Flours
My least favorite thing to make is bread and biscuits. They are laborious and have to be perfect; not my style. I’m known to make cookies or cornbread (Jiffy is a girl’s best friend) but crackers, rolls, and donuts don’t tend to make the list.
This might change with the recipes in this chapter. From Red Velvet Cornmeal Madeleines to Black Eyed Pea Donuts to Spaetzle and Pecan Rolls, these recipes are great to tackle from novice to expert. They just might change my mind and yours over making bread based dishes and biscuits.
My favorite thing to cook is shuggas or sweets as most of you aptly call them. I felt there were not enough recipes for this section but a girl is biased.
In my opinion, the most Pennsylvania Dutch recipes show up in this chapter: German Chocolate Donuts, Krimpets, Shoofly Pie Ice Cream and Aunt Sara Mae’s Buttermilk Cake stand out but you also have classics like Peach Cobbler, Whoopie Pies, and Funnel Cake.
Chef Chris Scott and Sarah Zorn do an exceptional job of telling personal stories and giving us insight into diaspora foodways and Pennsylvania Dutch. Who knew we had so much in common.
Cookbooks will always connect us. The more we engage and buy these types of cookbooks, the more we will learn about each other. It will also make publishers listen to more than one type of story and help share them with the world.
Homage does just what it set out to do; celebrate the foodways and stories of ancestors while bringing them into modern times. This cookbook deserves a spot on your table and in your kitchen smattered with grease, butter, and love.
Until next time,