Friday, February 24, 2012
50 Women Game Changers in Food - #36 Edna Lewis - Silken Turnip and Potato Soup
From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...It doesn't happen often, but sometimes I literally have to look up to the people I look up to. Edna Lewis, a giant of a woman and one whose influence in the food world was enormous, holds position 36 on the Gourmet Live list of 50 Women Game Changers in Food. She was born the grandchild of freed slaves and was raised in the rural community of Freetown, Virginia which they helped to found. She was taught to cook over a wood stove by her Aunt Jenny and the basic skills she learned there were the foundation on which a great culinary career was built. She left home following the death of her father and at 16 found herself in Washington, D.C. She would later move to New York City where her reputation as a Southern cook began to grow. While Edna, a political activist, would go on to become a great chef, and, as a custodian of true Southern cooking, teach a generation of young cooks all she knew, her first jobs in the city were as as a laundress and seamstress. She also worked for a period of time at The Daily Worker and married Steve Kingston, a communist who would later object to her feeding the elite. Shortly after her marriage she met John Nicholson, an antiques dealer who loved Southern cooking. Together they opened a restaurant, The Café Nicholson, where she did all the cooking. Her dishes were simple, delicious Southern food but the café attracted numerous famous faces and it became a watering hole for the literati and glitterati of the day. Edna stayed with restaurant until 1954. In the late 1960's, an injury forced her to stop cooking professionally. Encouraged by Craig Claiborne and Judith Jones, another of our 50 Women Game Changers, she produced her first cookbook, The Edna Lewis Cookbook. Several years later she published what has come to be known as the classic study of Southern cooking, The Taste of Country Cooking. I quote now, " Her books are as much personal memoirs as collections of recipes. They contain wonderful histories of Southern food and reflections on rural life. Her books are full of tips acquired from a lifetime of cooking. Edna’s pioneering chapters on fresh foods and seasonality predate the American culinary revolution." Edna also lived and worked in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina and Decatur, Georgia. She retired as a chef in 1992 and in the mid-1990’s, she and a group of friends started the Society for the Revival and Preservation of Southern Food. In 2003, she and Scott Peacock, a friend and collaborator, published The Gift of Southern Cooking. She died in 2006 at the age of 89. Some considered her to be "the South's answer to Julia Child". I consider her to be an original who beat the odds and, in the course of her journey, left footprints that made the journey of others infinitely easier.
I have an old copy of a special issue of Food and Wine magazine, called Chef's Recipes Made Easy, and Edna Lewis is one of those featured in the publication. Her contribution is a series of courses that make up a Southern Thanksgiving meal. One of the recipes I'd marked to try was her version of Silken Turnip and Potato Soup. This post gave me the incentive I needed to give it a try. Happily, I can recommend this without reservation. If you are looking for a soup with which to start a meal, this is a perfect candidate. I hope you will give it a try. Here's the recipe.
Silken Turnip and Potato Soup...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite courtesy of Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 medium onions, thinly sliced
3 pounds turnips, peeled and thinly sliced
1-1/2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
6 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup finely shredded basil, for garnish
1) In a large heavy stockpot or casserole, melt butter until it foams. When foam subsides, add onions and cook over moderate heat until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add turnips and potatoes and stir to coat with the butter. Add 2 teaspoons of salt, cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 20 minutes.
2) Stir in chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Cover partially and cook over moderate heat until the vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes. Working in batches, puree soup in a blender until perfectly smooth. Return soup to the pot and season with salt and nutmeg. Ladle soup into shallow bowls and garnish with the basil before serving. Yield: 12 servings.
Cook's Note: The soup can be made and refrigerated a day before serving.
The following bloggers are also featuring the recipes of Edna Lewis today. I hope you'll pay them all a visit. They are great cooks who have wonderful blogs.
Val - More Than Burnt Toast, Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed, Susan - The Spice Garden
Heather - girlichef, Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney, Jeanette - Healthy Living
Mary - One Perfect Bite, Kathleen - Bake Away with Me, Sue - The View from Great Island
Barbara - Movable Feasts , Linda A - There and Back Again, Nancy - Picadillo
Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits, Veronica - My Catholic Kitchen
Annie - Most Lovely Things, Claudia - Journey of an Italian Cook, Alyce - More Time at the Table, Amrita - Beetles Kitchen Escapades
Next week we will highlight the career and recipes of Severine von Tscharner Fleming. It will be really interesting to see what everyone comes up with. If you'd like to join us please email me for additional information no later than Monday, February 27th.