Welcome to “Eating America,” a weekly cross-country culinary road trip. From New Orleans to Nashville to New York City, we explore America’s unique cuisines and hometown favorites through staff interviews, field notes, and delicious recipes. Read on for a chance to win a copy of our new The Complete Cook’s Country TV Show Cookbook.
Above: Cook’s Country Chicken-Fried Steak
It’s been a long time since Louise Emerick’s childhood in Dallas. But ask about cornbread, and she’ll wax poetic.
“Cornbread up north doesn’t sit right with me. It’s sweet, and a little too fluffy. It’s more like sheet cake than real cornbread.”
That’s because Louise grew up on her grandmother’s East Texas cornbread. The recipe calls for a cast-iron skillet, “sweet milk,” white cornmeal (“Yellow cornmeal is for the pigs,” her grandmother said), and bacon drippings. Louise’s grandmother kept bacon drippings in a coffee can under the sink; today Louise keeps hers in a ramekin in the freezer. When you find perfection, you don’t mess with the recipe. And this is classic Texas comfort food.
“It’s savory, crusty, and coarse,” Louise says. “Love on a plate.”
Above: Cook’s Country Southern-Style Skillet Cornbread
Louise comes from a long line of fantastic cooks. Thanks to her grandmother, affectionally called “Mama,” and her own mother, Louise was instilled with a love for good food. This passion brought her all the way to Boston, where she now works as the Senior Books Editor at America’s Test Kitchen.
She’ll be the first to tell you she’s not a Southern cook, to admit she can’t handle eating heavy Texan fare everyday. But there are a few comforting, nostalgic dishes she couldn’t do without. Recipes she’s asked her mother to write down so they can never be lost. It’s funny how a bite of food can take you back to a place, a person, a suddenly clear memory.
She can’t eat green beans without thinking of her mother, who handpicks them one by one at the farmer’s market downtown. Crazy as it seems to pick out individual beans, the resulting Green Bean Ham Hock is magic.
She fondly remembers that when she put a plate of brisket, mashed potatoes, and fried okra in front of her dog Boone, he went for the okra first, an instinct that warmed her heart.
And the barbecue. She didn’t think she was fiercely biased until she met her husband, who grew up in North Carolina, and the barbecue battles began. No matter how much pulled pork she tried, it always came back to brisket in thick, smoky sauce.
“It’s a point of pride and what I grew up on. Brisket is king.”
Above: Cook’s Country Texas Barbecued Beef Ribs
Then there’s the Pecan Pie That Almost Won, her mother’s incredible signature dessert. Unlike some pecan pies, this one isn’t sticky or cloying, but beautifully nutty and just sweet enough. Her mother’s recipe calls for a secret ingredient—vinegar. Once, she entered the pie into the Texas State Fair, which was a “really big deal, especially when you’re from Texas.” The pie made it into the Top 3, but before her mother could bake the pie for the final round of the contest, she fell sick.
When Louise’s grandmother came for a hospital visit, she couldn’t help but ask her daughter, “Are you really sure you can’t get up and make that pie?”
When it comes down to it, Louise treasures these memories of her childhood and her hometown even more than the food itself.
“Food is a story, not just something you eat,” she says. “It brings people together. It’s a community. We all remember what we were doing by what we ate. Our best memories are about food—it’s that simple, and it’s good.”
Above: Cook’s Country Texas-Style Blueberry Cobbler
All featured recipes in this post will be free through October 14, 2012.
Last Week’s Contest – The winner of our Regional Favorites: Miami Key Lime Pie giveaway is Kelly, who wrote: “Growing up in the Nutmeg state surrounded by mostly macintosh apples, apple pie ruled our holiday dessert table. Double crust, hot and preferrably a’la mode!” Thanks, Kelly!
This Week’s Comment Contest Giveaway – Does your family have an old regional recipe passed through the generations?
Let us know in the comments for a chance to win a copy of The Complete Cook’s Country TV Show Cookbook, which includes more than 200 great American recipes like Slow-Cooker BBQ Beef Brisket and Texas Sheet Cake.