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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

Ingredients:
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
Salt
6 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup finely shredded basil, for garnish

Directions:

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.

34 comments :

Alicia said...

What an interesting post. I always love reading about someone who achieved so much during their lifetime while just living life.

The recipe sounds delicious. I don't believe I have ever in my life had a turnip before, do they just sell them in stores here in California I wonder? I'll definitely have to check next time I am in the grocery store and give this soup a try.

Ginny said...

This looks wonderful! And I bet it would work with an immersion blender, too..

Alessandra said...

Nice, wit veggie stock for me :-).

Have a good weekend Mary

ciao
Alessandra

Ambreen said...

Looks fabulous, delicious & tempting soup!

Big Dude said...

Great story about what a person can do in America. This sounds like a delicious soup for turnip eaters. I like the greens, but have not been able to develop a real desire for turnips - luckily I like about everything else.

Rita said...

Interesting post Mary; that soup must be so good with the turnip taste.

StephenC said...

I don't know what is better, the persons you highlight or the way you tell their stories. I'm so glad you are out there.

Jenn said...

I love reading the background on all these amazing women! This one is no exception :)
I'm not one to be a fan of turnips, but this soup looks too wonderful to pass up!!

The Blonde Duck said...

I love this series.

bellini said...

Before this weeks challenge I had never heard of Edna Lewis but I am happy to have discovered her and her true Southern roots.

Jeanette said...

I had not heard of Edna Lewis until this week (which is why I enjoy this series of posts so much). What a nice simple but comforting soup recipe.

Kim said...

I always forgot to buy turnips. Shame on me because this soup looks lovely!

Tanna at The Brick Street Bungalow said...

Ms. Lewis deserved looking "up to" in lots of ways, sounds like to me. I love turnips and I'm sure I will love this soup. Thank you for passing on another inspiring story. Hope you have a wonderful weekend. blessings ~ tanna

GLENDA CHILDERS said...

What an adorable woman.

Fondly,
Glenda

Susan..... said...

I saved the same magazine. Until I got that issue I'm embarrassed to say I knew her name but not her. Only recently have I started to collect cookbooks from the masters. I think it's time I put hers next to Julia's on my shelf. Thanks for reminding me Mary.

"va tutto bene"

Heather @girlichef.com said...

Another one for my ever-growing "to-make" list. This sounds wonderful. I could make a meal out of it, actually with some of her cheese straws :D

Claudia said...

"Custodian of southern cooking." What a perfect phrase. So far I am making every recipe of hers I have come across. This is no exception.

ImSoVintage said...

What an inspiring story. Would you believe I have never had a turnip. My father was a prisoner of war in WWII and all they had to eat were turnips, so he never allowed them in our home. Have a great day.
Laura

Sue/the view from great island said...

I've made so many vegetable soups in my life, but you've made me realize that I've never had turnip soup. It sounds perfectly down home and Southern, I will try it.

mr. pineapple man said...

Comforting soup! Have a great weekend Mary!

Veronica Gantley said...

Oh Mary, this would make a great Lent recipe. I will just swap out the chicken stock for vegetable. It looks so creamy and good. You picked a great recipe to share with us.

Susan Lindquist said...

What a smooth creamy soup ... the addition of the basil ribbons makes for such a pretty presentation and wonderful green flavour pop! She had such great ideas for dishes, didn't she?

Claudia said...

I'm back. This is simmering on the stove. It's just beautiful in its simplicity.

Susan Lindquist said...

What a smooth creamy soup ... the addition of the basil ribbons makes for such a pretty presentation and wonderful green flavour pop! She had such great ideas for dishes, didn't she?

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

Mary, I know I will really enjoy this soup. I have a dish I make that is mashed potatoes and turnips that is so good.

SKIP TO MALOU said...

I enjoyed reading this post. It is such an inspiring story of a woman of substance.
I definitely haven't had any soup of this kind, but I am sure it's a wonderful way to start a family meal.
have a great weekend Mary,
malou

Joanne said...

I never really know what to think about turnips but in this soup they look divine!

It's amazing how much Edna lewis achieved. Really amazing.

What's Baking?? said...

Interesting story, Mary. Like your presentation and the soup looks very comforting.

Barbara said...

You certainly chose an unusual dish, Mary. Looks delicious. And your write up was wonderful. Lots of bloggers seem to have met Edna Lewis which has made this week's game changer much more fun!

BeetleBuggy said...

Great story on Edna, Mary! I love the dish you picked out to showcase all that she's achieved. It's such a hearty soup and I can bet that tastes delicious! :)

Mireya @myhealthyeatinghabits said...

Mary, that soup looks so delicious! It reminds me of the wonderful soups my mother-in-law makes. I'll have to try this one.

France@beyondthepeel said...

I've never tried turnip soup but it sounds tasty enough...I think it's the word "silken" that really sell it.

Miranda said...

I have never actually even had a turnip - but I do love a good soup and this one sure does look like the name describes!

Taryn (Have Kitchen, Will Feed) said...

I've been sick for the past few days and this soup looks like just the thing to make me feel better!

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