Southern ladies who can cook

The combination of vinegar and cocoa powder gives this traditional cake its signature velvety texture.

Here in the South, tried and true recipes hold deep and lasting value. As a Southern cook, you just have an instinct for recognizing those “special” dishes, and it is second nature to know if a recipe is a “keeper” or not. Holidays are typically when those well-loved recipes make their annual appearance. Food-splattered, grease-stained, ink smudged, and with handwritten notes penciled in the corners, those passed down recipes are irreplaceable.

Skillet Date Cookies

• 1 stick butter

• 3 large eggs

• 1 cup sugar

• 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

• 1/8 tsp. salt

• 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

• ½ lb. dried dates, finely chopped

• 3 cups Rice Krispies

• ½ cup coconut

• Powdered sugar or coconut for coating

In a large skillet, melt the butter over low heat. In a bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar; stir in the vanilla extract, salt, nuts, chopped dates, and coconut. Add the mixture to the butter in the skillet. Cook until mixture thickens and begins to pull away from the pan. Stir constantly for about 5-10 minutes, or until the color turns golden. Remove from the heat. Add the Rice Krispies and mix well. Shape into balls and roll in powdered sugar or coconut. Place on wax paper. Refrigerate overnight. (My Aunt Clara makes this family favorite treat for the Christmas holidays.)

Mashed Potato Casserole

• 8-10 potatoes

• 1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened

• 1 (8 oz.) container sour cream

• 2 tsp. garlic salt

• ¼ tsp. black pepper

• ½ stick butter

• paprika

In a large pot, boil the peeled and cubed potatoes with water until fork tender. Drain well. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese; add the sour cream and potatoes and continue to mix on high speed until mashed. Add the garlic salt and black pepper. Pour into a lightly greased pan. Dot with butter and sprinkle with paprika. Cover with foil and bake for 50-60 minutes at 375 degrees. (My friend Karen gave me this recipe years ago.)

Red Velvet Cake

• 1 ½ cups sugar

• 2 cups vegetable oil

• 2 large eggs

• 1 TBSP. white vinegar

• 1 oz. red food coloring

• 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

• 1 tsp. baking soda

• 1 tsp. salt

• 2 TBSP. cocoa powder

• 1 cup whole buttermilk

• 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the sugar and oil. Add in the eggs and beat well. Mix the vinegar and food coloring together and add to the cream mixture. Beat well. Sift the flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder together and add to the bowl alternately with the buttermilk. Stir in the vanilla extract. Beat well. Pour batter into three 9-inch pans that have been sprayed with a nonstick baking spray with flour. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, but not overcooked. (I freeze the cakes before icing them.) Ice with the cream cheese icing.

Cream cheese icing:

• 8 oz. block cream cheese, softened

• 1 lb. powdered sugar

• 1 stick butter, softened

• 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

• 1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Cream together the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add in the sugar and vanilla extract and beat well. (My husband’s coworker gave me this red velvet cake recipe.) Notes: I use more icing than the recipe calls for and use 1 ½ blocks cream cheese, 1 ½ lbs. powdered sugar, 1 ½ sticks butter, and 1 ½ tsp. vanilla.

— Amy Fischer lives in Fort Payne, Alabama, and is a Southern food enthusiast who loves to spend time in the kitchen creating tasty recipes. You can contact her at facebook.com/MySouthernTable.

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