What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking – on Amazon
Mrs. Fisher’s Fish Chowder
I came across this recipe for fish chowder while browsing through an old cookbook on line. The book’s title is What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking. It was published in 1881 and written by Mrs. Abby Fisher. Mrs. Fisher was a former slave and her cookbook is believed to be the first ever written by an African-American.
The fish chowder recipe appealed to me. I decided to try to make it although Mrs. Fisher doesn’t give very precise instructions, ingredient amounts, or cooking times. Onion, butter, cayenne, and salt were easy but I had to Google ‘sea cracker’ and eventually found a modern equivalent. She doesn’t say what kind of fish so my choice was hake, an inexpensive white fish For ‘Irish potatoes’ I used Idaho and instead of ‘salt pork’ my substitute was pancetta. I added some olive oil and paprika. I think Mrs. Fisher wrote this book for people who knew how to cook. so she was able to make some assumptions. This recipe worked for me and I’ll definitely make it again.
1/4 lb. pancetta cut in one inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 & 1/2 lbs. fish cut into one inch pieces
1 large, peeled and cubed Idaho potatoes
3 ground Pilot Bread Crackers
3 pats of butter
1/4 tsp . cayenne
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
salt to taste
Cook the pancetta on a low heat until it ‘s brown and the fat rendered. Then remove it from the pot.
Also on low heat, in the same pot, lightly brown the onions and removed them.
As Mrs. Fisher says, “Having all now prepared,” add 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil to prevent sticking to the rendered pancetta fat if the pot appears to be too dry, then put in the fish. Next add the pancetta. Then a layer of potatoes and then the onions with the sprinkled cracker crumbs. Dot the butter on top of that, sprinkle the cayenne and paprika and that’s it. Cayenne is pretty spicy so be careful how much you use.
Add 2 cups of water, cover the pot and simmer for one hour on a low heat – don’t stir it and disturb the layers. Check it occasionally and add water if it starts to dry out. Use a ladle when you serve it and be sure to get each layer.
Fry the garlic in oil. Add the tomatoes and cook until slightly soft.
Add the broth, bay leaf, and the pasta. Keep adding heated water, maybe 2 or 3 cups, to keep a soupy consistency. When the pasta is almost done, add the peas, stir and cook for a few minutes. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil.
A Meat Stall with the Holy Family Giving Alms – Pieter Aertsen
Red Wine Beef Soup
This soup is dark, hardy and meaty. Cotes du Rhone is always recommended for meat soups and stews. It doesn’t have to be expensive but should be good enough to drink.
Preheat oven to 350°. Season meat with salt and black pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches, brown and transfer to a plate. Pour off all the drippings from pot and return 3 tablespoons to the pot and use 3 for the roux.
In separate pot add 3-4 tbsps. drippings and 3 tbsps. flour to make the roux. If it’s too dry add some more drippings or wine.
Addtrinityand oregano to Dutch oven and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until lightly browned. Then add the tomato paste and blend. Add the roux and stir until well combined. Stir in wine and blend, then return the meat with any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil.
Add all herbs and garlic to pot. Stir in stock. Bring to a boil, cover, and transfer to oven.
Cook until ribs are tender, about 1 hour 45 min. Transfer ribs to a platter and remove the meat from the bones and discard the bones.
Strain sauce from pot or remove herbs, garlic, etc. with a spider and discard.
Add 8 cups of water to the pot. Stir and bring to a boil. Add the pasta, cook until al dente and serve.
This is good served with a little prepared horse radish or parmigiana cheese or both.
Navajo Corn Soup (with a twist) This recipe calls for salt pork. I replaced it with pancetta.
Cut the pork into bite sized pieces, season and brown it with the pancetta. Do this in batches so the meat browns and doesn’t steam. If there are any bones, brown then too. When done, remove the meat and sauté the onion, add peppers, garlic & oregano and cook until softened.
Return meat to pot. Add stock and simmer covered for 1 hour. Remove any bones, taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in corn a few minutes before serving.
If you’re using dried whole corn start with 1 and 1/2 cups. Wash it thoroughly, soak overnight, drain when ready to use. Boil dried corn until tender – about 3 and 1/2 hours in 6 cups water.
Here’s another home style dish that you don’t see on a restaurant menu. Our mother served soup or some type of minestra for dinner every evening along with a second course. Monday pasta patate, Tuesday pasta piselli, Wednesday pasta lenticchie, etc.
Pasta Lenticchie ala Piccola Nicolina
Pick over the lentils and rinse them in a scolo pasta (colander). Set aside. Heat the olive oil in a 3-quart pot and add the carrots, garlic and celery. Sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the rinsed lentils, salt and pepper and stir. Add enough water to cover plus an inch and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until lentils are tender (about 40 minutes). Add the ditalini or broken spaghetti and cook for 8 minutes.
Note: always taste as you are cooking. Lentils and broken pasta vary in size therefore the cooking time may vary.
Green pepperonciniinfused oil is good to drizzle on top of each serving. Please do not sprinkle cheese on this.
My mother made zucchini soup often. My sister Rochelle still makes it and gave me the recipe.
In a pot, sauté a finely chopped onion in oil until tender and transparent. Don’t brown. Add the zucchini and just cover with hot water – about 2 cups. Season to taste. Simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Scramble the eggs with the grated cheese and add to pot. Add one cup of marina sauce (see below) and stir until well mixed. Serve with additional cheese.
Marinara Sauce –
¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic (cut in large pieces so they can easily be removed)
1 ½ lbs of fresh tomatoes or 1 28oz con of crushed San Marzano tomatoes
Salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes to taste
Lightly brown garlic in the olive oil. Add about a pound and a half of chopped fresh or one large can of crushed tomatoes (approx. 28 oz.). Add salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes. Simmer ½ hour on medium heat and it’s done.
Basically, minestra is soupy pasta with vegetables. The vegetables can include broccoli, cauliflower, cecis, peas, lentils, beans or greens. The pasta is usually small, like tubes, shells or even broken spaghetti. The ingredients and combinations are up to you. An example of minestra is Pasta e Patate or the following pasta with escarole and beans from my sister Nicki. (If you need to distinguish between the soupy minestra pasta and pasta with say, tomato sauce or pesto, those are known as pasta asciutte, ‘dry pasta’ although it’s covered with sauce.)
Pasta con Scarola e Fagioli
On a cold winter night nothing warms you up like a bowl of minestra. It’s hearty, delicious and easy to prepare. My Mother served soup at every meal. This minestra was and still is one of my favorites.
1 head of escarole (rinse in cold water and cut into ½” strips)
Olive oil to drizzle in cooking pot
2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
2 smoked ham hocks
1 can of cannellini beans (drained and rinsed)
1/2 lb. ditalini (short tubes)
Clean the escarole in cold water and cut into ½” strips. Set aside. Heat the olive oil in a 3 quart pot add the garlic cloves and remove them when they are brown and soft. Add the ham hocks to brown. Add water to cover the hocks and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about a half hour to forty-five minutes. Add the escarole and cook until softened about 15 minutes. Then add the rinsed cannellini beans and pasta. Cook until the pasta is done – about 10 minutes.
< Zuppa >
Zuppa is a broth which never includes pasta and usually has a slice of bread or biscotti in it. An example of this follows as Merlutze en Brode, a recipe from a restaurant, The Fisherman’s Wharf, that our family had in the 1950s. This style of preparation goes back to a time before tomatoes were common in Italian cuisine. Our chef, Michele, was proud of this one – so simple and so good.
Merlutze en Brode
¼ cup olive oil
3 thinly sliced garlic cloves
½ cup coarsely chopped parsley
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 medium sized whitings
2 day old Italian bread or fruzalle
Lightly sweat the garlic in oil. Add salt, black pepper and ½ of the parsley. Cut the whitings into 5 pieces each, including head and tail, add to pot and just cover with hot water. Remove the head and tail when they get soft. Continue simmering until the skin becomes loose enough to remove and you can lift out the spine and bones from the pieces of fish. Add more water if it gets too dry. Add the rest of the parsley just before serving. Put some bread or fruzalle in a bowl and cover with the fish broth.