Read these cookbooks: “Fruit” by Nancie McDermott and “Corn” by Tema Flanagan (below) (UNC Press, $20)
By Wendell Brock
North Carolina food writer Nancie McDermott gets a gold star for including mayhaws in “Fruit.” Her delightful little volume is one of two new titles in The University of North Carolina Press’ ongoing Savor the South series. (The other is “Corn,” which we’ll shuck in a minute.)
Who knew that McDermott knew of the tiny, apple-like berries that grow in the wetlands of the Deep South? I remember my mama wading into snaky waters or gliding out on a boat to scoop up the coveted cranberry-size berries with a fishnet. We made them into jelly, which McDermott cleverly concocts into a glaze for meatballs and melts into barbecue sauce.
The author of two of my most treasured go-to dessert books, “Southern Pies” and “Southern Cakes,” she surprises us here with fruits most of us don’t know how to handle: persimmons, pawpaws, quince. Good idea, McDermott. We’ve plenty of recipes for peaches and strawberries already.
I’m intrigued by cantaloupe pickles and preserves, offered in recipes like Bill Neal’s Persimmon Pound Cake and his Elegant Persimmon Pudding; Pawpaw Ice Cream and Pawpaw Caramel Sauce; and Moroccan-Inspired Lamb Stew with Quince.
Moving on to Tema Flanagan’s ode to corn. Lend me your ear.
After a concise history of maize, the Alabama writer and farmer gives us chapters titled “On and off the Cob,” “Dried and Ground”(you know, grits and meal), “Nixtamalized and Popped” (hominy and the movie staple) and “Mashed and Fermented” (bourbon). As it happens, the chapters get shorter as she goes along.
I’m horrified that anyone would add sugar to creamed corn, or garlic to grits. But Flanagan redeems herself with the likes of Blistered Corn and Green Onion Hushpuppies, Chicken and Peppered Cornmeal Dumplings, Rustic Cornmeal Tart With Peaches and Blackberries, Hominy Hummus (Yippee! I love hominy, even though no one else seems to), and Popcorn Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce.
Back to naked corn: For my money, the best way to cook corn on the cob is to steam it in its own husk in the microwave. (Boiling takes out the flavor.) You won’t find that method here, so allow me: Trim off each end, tear off the coarse outer shucks to leave a thin layer of light green, and zap it for about three minutes. (Or as one friend says: “Until you smell it.”)
Then the shucks and silks come off like a dream. You’ll want to stand at the kitchen counter, snarfing ear after ear. My brother grows the best sweet corn there is, and that’s how we do it. Trust me on this kernel of truth.
Wendell Brock is an Atlanta food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).