Your email address is required to begin the subscription process. We will use it for customer service and other communications from Milk Street. You can unsubscribe from receiving our emails at any time.
This week, mother and daughter Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams tell us what studying the cooking of four generations of women in their family has taught them about the origins of soul food. Plus, we speak with international bagel consultant Beth George; Dan Pashman explores cold-weather cocktails; and we make pesto out lemon zest, not basil.
This episode is brought to you by Master Class.
Questions in this Episode:
“The Milk Street pie crust recipe looks like my dream dough, but I have a couple of questions. Can you walk me through some aspects of the recipe?”
“I have an old cast iron pan that is flaking. Should I leave it as is, or is there a way to fix it without taking it down to the bare metal, the ultimate cast iron sin?”
“I want to try making my own vanilla extract. How many beans should I be using, what kind of alcohol should I be using and when can I start using it?”
CK: This Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host, Christopher Kimbell . Today mother and daughter Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams take us into the kitchens of five women in their family to tell the true story of African American cook.
(Clip) Candace Randall: I used to bring baked chicken or baked fish to lunch most days at school with some kind of vegetable, which is a May I learned from my great grandmother, who was a black woman born on the plantation where her family had worked for generations in waycross, Georgia, and my students said to me one day, Miss Williams, you eat like a white girl. And I said, No, I eat like an old black lady. The fact that that like shaved happened was like very illuminating for me for mom for a lot of us.
CK: Also on the show, Dan Pashman looks for the perfect cold weather cocktail, and we make lemon pesto from the Amalfi Coast. But first, it's my interview with Beth George. She runs BYOB bagels, a bagel consulting company that's helped open over 80 bagel shops around the world, from Sweden to Uganda to the Bahamas. Beth, welcome to milk Street.
Beth George: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
CK: I've had a lot of people on this show. But I've never had an international bagel consultant before. Does that sound better than it is? Or is it better than it sounds?
BG: It's really pretty awesome. Because it's not something that anyone had heard of. And I hadn't heard of until I started doing it.
CK: So I guess we should just start with a food fight. Which is is there a definition of the perfect bagel? I have one you may have one, but I'm not sure everyone agrees on this. Like some people make soft bagels? Which just I mean, that's that's not a bagel. Right?
BG: Right. Well, okay, so this is it's not a fight yet. I think that's fair. You know, I really feel that a bagel should be crispy on the outside, crunchy, kind of depending on where you want to be has to be chewy on the inside. And I think it needs some flavor, it can't just be blanched out. And that means flavor from within the dough, like the soul of the dough needs flavor. So you know, I have a process I have different formulas I've created over a period of years. And so the different processes can really create that either soft bagel, or the crispy, crunchy bagel. And in our typical training, we make it every single way. And then I let them choose, right? This is BYOB, be your own boss. We're really about self determination. Because, you know, I started off not being a bagel maker. I started out being a lawyer and a mom.
CK: So is there some continuity of career between being a lawyer, a mom and a bagel maker? Did they share anything? Yeah,
BG: I yeah, I think they share passion right now. And purpose. You know, I started bagel making because my son who's now 23 just had, you know, significant food sensitivities. He couldn't digest regular wheat actually. So I created a spelt bagel for him. When you're, like 656 years old, he had a lot of behavioral and health problems. And now, you know, my figured it out over time it was his gut from what he was eating was impacting his brain.
CK: Could you explain that a little more? What did you find out about that connection?
BG: There's a big connection, and you can read about it. I mean, there's plenty of studies on it now. But if one is unable to digest the food that's in their stomach, this phenomenon occurs called leaky gut. It interferes with the neurological connections to the brain. And the reason why I got so into this is I was at the time a child advocate attorney. So I had been witnessing so many kids in trouble being diagnosed and then drugged, and I said, we're missing a link here. And so when that issue hit home for me, I just put the hold on everything. And I started studying. And I started seeing patterns. And what it was it was what he was eating, you know, so I just started going into my cabinet and literally threw away everything we had and started over again. And literally, he went from special education to the highly gifted program in school. I'm Middle Eastern, I'm Lebanese American, my husband's Jewish, Eastern, European, Jewish. So this kid has both, you know, culinary histories in his life, you know, and so I asked him what he wanted. And he was like,
CK: I want a bagel. So I said, Okay, I'm gonna make you The past bagel I can. So this experience, which is really pretty amazing transformation and the fact that you figured it out on your own, which is also pretty cool. Does that give you a sense, you know, mission in life that is, don't accept what people tell you and just go out and figure it out on your own? Absolutely. Because that's what you're, you're sort of done with a bagel business.
BG: Yeah, absolutely. And it is mission based. And you know, and I can talk people's ears off, and they're like, Oh, God, the bagel lady. Again, she's talking to us. All we want to know is how to make like a cinnamon raisin bagel, and we got a full dissertation.
CK: So you were a lawyer? How did you? Did you have to make this shift all of a sudden? Or was it a gradual thing over the years?
BG: No, it was it was gradual. So in 2008, I opened a bagel factory in Maine. And then by 2011, I decided it was really too much for me. And my bagel sales guy. His name is Frank Morrow. He's 82 years old. But he had been in the bagel business forever. And he just said to me, you know, you know what you're doing. And people need a bagel consultant. You know, they're, they're investing hundreds of 1000s of dollars into this business, and they don't know how to make a good bagel. And that's how that happened. It was really Frank saying The world needs a bagel consultant. And I think you're the one.
CK: So you've consulted around the world. People want to make bagels in Uganda, in Afghanistan, the Bahamas, Sweden. What are some of the more interesting variations on the theme you find in different places in the world? Are they all pretty much the same?
BG: Well, you know, I think what we top our battles with is where the variations are going to happen. But the other is like this young woman's birthday in India, who I'm working with, she's like, we need more spice. We just need more spice in this. So you know, in the Bahamas malt is very big. So we we really just added a lot of malt to those bagels, and people love them. In France, we did an Amen tall. if I'm pronouncing that correctly, Vegas, it was delicious.
CK: Well, there was a quote, in Paris, they didn't understand why they had to pay the same price for bagels as compared to their sandwiches, because there was a hole in the middle. I just thought
BG: that was really great to be able to go to Paris and teach bagel making felt like I had really made it.
CK: so is this pretty performer? We have the manual of 500 pages and you show up and start a page one, or is every situation of training really different.
BG: So we start with the basics with everybody. Typically, before the shops built, people come to me to my training bakery, and I teach them there. And then if they feel that they really need me to show up, then I go visit them. And I work with them for three to four days. And then it's basically they're on their own, but I'm there as a coach. And I often get texts or you know,
CK: sometimes the middle of the night worries, enter, they share these people share something. In other words, what type of person calls you up and says, I want to become a bagel Master?
BG: Yeah, I mean, it's it's an aha moment, something has happened in their lives. So for me, something happened in my life, right, my son, for other people, I'm working with somebody. And she's been a full time, parent, you know, and she's exiting out of her parenting career, after 30 years, basically. And she said, First, I want to do bagels, and I want to be my own boss. Another one is a family I'm working in and they really felt it was this, you know, this almost religious moment where they decided that they wanted a legacy business to carry on. And so they brought in like the, the sons and the son in laws and the daughters and the daughter in laws and the grandchildren. And they're all working on this project. I have people coming in from so many different places. And I am. This is gonna sound corny, but I'm really honored to be a part of that transition.
CK: Beth, I thought we were just going to talk about bagels, but we talked about life. It's been a pleasure. Thank you.
BG: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.
CK: That was Beth George. She's the bagel consultant behind BYOB bagels. Okay, it's time for my co host Sara Moulton, to answer some of your cooking questions. Sara is the author of home cooking one on one. She also stars in Sara's weeknight meals on public television.
Sara Moulton: So Chris, I have a question for you. Before we take any calls, do you have a favorite dish from your childhood that either your mother made or your grandmother or somebody else?
CK: Yes, I do. Actually, the best thing from my childhood was spoonbread Oh, I love spoonbread you know, it's almost a souffle right in a casserole dish, and it's absolutely delicious. And just one of the great things my mother was grew up in Virginia. And so it was at that time, I guess, slightly Southern, so it's a southern dish.
SM: Nice. Well, okay. I'd like that too.
CK Yeah, it's it's I don't know why people don't make it anymore because it's not hard to make. And it's, it is an exceptional side dish. So all right, well, let's take a call. Welcome to Bell street Who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Lynne calling from the San Francisco peninsula.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: Well, I would love to chat with you about pie craft. I've had really good luck with a vodka pie crust recipe I consistently get a really flaky crust and I love that I can make a few at a time and hold them in the freezer. The only problem is that even with that added moisture provided by the vodka The dough is a little tricky to work with as it tends to crumble. So I increase the recipe by half and I roll it out thicker than it's called for and that seems to help. I recently came across the milk street kitchen pie crust recipe that called for cornstarch and sour cream and it looks like a dirty dough. But I have five questions about it. Are you still with me? Oh, my goodness.
CK: Okay, I'm ready. Go ahead. Go Bye. Bye. Bye. By the way, before you do that, one note, you know, vaca pie crust. The whole point was it's 45% alcohol in the vodka and that alcohol dissipates during baking. So the reason it's a good crust is you can have a wetter crust To start with, right? And then during baking, a lot of that alcohol is driven off. So you end up with a flaky crust. So when you said it was crumbly, I think you could add a little more vodka at the front end. Because it'll it'll dry out during baking. It's just a quick comment.
Caller: Okay, that's a really good tip. All right, that is I'll hold that my back pocket.
CK: I'm ready for the pop quiz.
Caller: Okay, cuz I'm excited to try the new version here. The milk street kitchen version. The recipe says the dough holds in the fridge for 48 hours. Do you know if I can also shape it into discs? and freeze it? Yes. Great. And I'm curious about the sugar. Does it do more than act as a sweetener? Or can I omit it without disrupting the chemistry of the recipe just because I want to have one recipe for sweet and savory
CK: teaspoons sugar is not gonna make any difference? No, you can leave it out.
Caller: Great. Okay, and then Greek yogurt is a staple in my house. Can
CK: I use it in place of the sour cream? You can use sour cream is going to be a little more a little wetter than Greek yogurt. You might want to up the liquid by just a tiny amount but it should be close. Yeah.
Caller: Okay. The recipe explained how to blind bake the crust yet. Like last week, I made a chicken pot pie and power baking was not called for So will this crust also work in recipes that need an unbaked
CK: I would say I would not choose this crust for pre baking. But I can give you three pieces of ice they'll help refrigerated for 40 minutes and freeze it for 20 minutes before you pre bake it. That's when it's shaped in the pipeline.
Caller: So when you're pre baking, you said refrigerate it 40 and then freeze for 20.
CK: Yeah, and then put it directly in the pipeline shaped obviously it goes right into having to use a ton of pie weights like fill it up to the top to really help the edges from slumping, prevent them from slumping. And the third trick is make sure you don't take out pie weights in the foil until the edges are set. A lot of people take off their foil and waits before the dough is fully set. So they take it out in the swamps. So make sure it's dry and set before you do.
Caller: Okay, and that's probably my problem with the vodka pie crust because I add 50% to the recipe so then it makes sense to that would take longer to cook.
CK: Yeah, it's just a function of setting it with the weights before you take the weights out.
Caller: All right. Then lastly, are there general rules for when you would bake a crossbar bake it versus when you would use it just right. Yes.
CK: I Usually you you par bake across when you have a custard filling or liquid filling. Let's say apple pie. You don't need to do it. But a pumpkin pie you would.
Caller: Okay, I'm so excited to go make pie crust
CK: Did I pass up? Did I do okay? think we could do a whole show just on a pie crust. I mean, it's come up a lot. There's so much to talk about. We could have a masterclass on this because we haven't talked about rolling pins yet. Oh, here well, that for another Yeah, yeah. Well, Lin, call us back.
we'll do partitions. Yeah, we'll keep going. Take care. Okay. Yes, thank you. Thank you so much. Have a great day. Goodbye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you need a hand in the kitchen, give us a call anytime that number is 85542698431 more time 855-426-9843 or simply email us at questions at milk Street. radio.com Welcome to millstreet Who's calling?
Caller: My name is James. I'm calling from Milledgeville, Georgia.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: People told me you know, everybody says you need a good cast iron pan about 10 years ago, I went online and bought a nice vintage pan and proceeded to abuse it badly. And now what I have appears to be flaking. I'm sure the pan has been cleaned at some point in time. But if you close your eyes and run your fingers over the bottom of the pan, you can feel like you know a painted wall, you can feel where the seasoning is flaking off. Do either of y'all have an opinion on the atrocity of taking a cast iron pan down to its face iron and starting over?
Chris has about 5000 opinions.
CK: Well, if you want to fix an old pan, the best way to do it is to put some lousy oils and vegetable oil on the bottom of the pan, put a bunch of really coarse kosher salt in it heated up, use some sort of a grill brush to gently rub the bottom of the pan and the hot oil and the coarse salt is going to hopefully get rid of anything that's on the bottom of the pan that wants to come off. If you can get it off with that grill brush. Again, not too hard. That'll fix it, clean it off, don't put it in water, don't add soap. Take paper towels, when it's cooled, clean it out, heated on top of the stove with a couple tablespoons of oil. When it starts to smoke, take it off the heat rub the oil into the pan, do that a few times till it's cooled down repeat like 10 times. And then you should have built back the surface. Again, if you can't get a smooth surface, with using the hot oil salt technique, you're going to have to dump the pan and fork out 40 bucks for new ones, I'm afraid
Caller: there's a method out there online. And it says if you want to take it down to the base metal and start over which I know sounds like a sin is to put it in the oven and self cleaning mode. Oh, and it's simply the temperature is so hot, it takes off everything. And you end up with a clean cast iron pan that you then immediately season and whatever way that you choose to have you ever heard of that?
CK: Yeah, I have heard of that. I've never done it. I've never had the courage. You can do it. And then you go
to you do it and let us know.
CK: I do have a question, though. Is the bottom of the pan really, really, really smooth surface? Or is it
just flaking and a little bit of discoloration? I know this is a little bit OCD of me. But this is the only appreciating asset in my kitchen. You know, it really is, you know this was an antique and there is no crustiness on the bottom. The paint is almost perfect.
CK: I like the fact he referred to it as the only appreciating asset in your kitchen. I always feel I'm a depreciating asset in my kitchen. But you know, maybe you're right maybe the cast iron pans, the thing that's going up in value and going down.
Well, I've been waiting for a while but I just happened to have bought a new oven. So this was fixing to happen tomorrow.
CK: Okay, we're gonna have to call you back in a couple of days to see if you're still appreciating or depreciating when you figure that out.
Okay, thanks for the call. Take care. That was great. Thank you. Yeah.
SM: welcome to milk street Who's calling?
Caller: Hi, hey, this is Margaret. from Missouri. Oh, hi, Margaret from Missouri. How can we help you today? Well, I've taken on a new little hobby, and it's, it's making my own vanilla. Now. I'm not a big Baker or anything, but I just found it interesting. And I've been trying to read up to try to make sure I'm doing it right. And of course, everybody's got their own opinion. So I just thought I'd come to you guys and see what you think the recipe I'm using is just one ounce of beans to eight ounces of whatever kind of liquor, I use vodka. I know some I have used rum and so on, but then others are saying, oh, why don't we use one or two beans? Not ounces? Just one or two beans. So what is it? Do you use just one or two beans are using an ounce to every eight ounces of liquor? I usually go with the number of beans of course you know probably what you're doing is more exact. How many beans are in an ounce Do you find well that's hard to say that two Haitian beans that I order actually got five for an ounce. But then the Mexican ones I got were just like three. Well,
SM: I think then it's good to go with an ounce. I mean, what's your Talking about sounds about like the proportions I would have thought you know, like about four to six beans to eight ounces of your liquor and your liquor most if you want it to be more, just pure vanilla. I think I would go with vodka, because vodkas, so flavorless. But if you want sort of a more robust or caramelly flavor, you could go with, say bourbon, the good news about the vodka, you can use really cheap stuff. Because nobody you know, really, it's the point is the vanilla beans. So you might as well splurge on the vanilla beans and not on the vodka. And then you you know, you smash it gently every day for a couple of weeks, and then leave it for a couple of months. And, you know, I'd say after a couple of months, you could start dipping into it, but the longer you let it proof, so to speak, the more intense it will be. So have you gotten good results? so far? Are you happy with them? Yes. So once I started in December, smells wonderful. Now the ones in January that I use with rum, it's still got a pretty potent smell. So I'm hoping in another month or two that the vanilla will be stronger. Well, it's never gonna be as strong as it would have been had you use vodka. But let's let Chris weigh in on this. Yeah, I
CPK: I did this once. And I gotta tell you, you know, if you buy a really good vanilla and they're expensive, it's true. You could spend 30 bucks a bottle, but I find it's going to be a lot better than what you do at home. Because they really know what they're doing. And a good bottle lasts a long time. It's fun to do. However, I just asked you a couple questions. With the beans really pliant and soft when you when they arrived? Oh, yeah, there. Yeah. Yeah,
they're beautiful. They're great. A and they were beautiful. Yeah.
CK: Well, I I agree with Sara, you know, half a dozen beans, split your split them open right and scoop out the seeds and everything before you put them in the bottle.
I did on one batch, I split the beans. But I didn't take out the caviar. I left it all in the bottle. The other one, I just stuck them in their hole without splitting them.
CK: That's probably gonna hurt. I mean, you definitely want to open them up. Okay, I in I take the seeds out and put it in the jar too. But the other thing you could do, and I have done this, and this actually is I think worth doing is just making vanilla sugar, right? Because you know that that's really expensive. And you can just make a bunch of it. And that's great for coffee or any baking, having vanilla sugar. But you're doing everything right. Just make sure you split the beads open and they're good beans, but everything else.
Yeah, sounds good. Sounds correct to me. Well, I'm kind of disappointed if he thinks that a nice expensive store bought vanilla might be better. But anyway, it's been fun trying it. So there are really good vanilla
CK: out there now as opposed to the supermarket ones. But you know what? You're doing this because it's fun. So it's like making vinegar. So So go ahead and do it. Robert, thank you.
Caller: Well, I appreciate it. Thank you guys. Yeah, thank you. Take care. Bye bye.
CK: You're listening to radio. Up next, I'm chatting with mother and daughter Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams. That's right after the break. This is mostly radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now it's my interview with Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams, their mother and daughter as well as co authors of Soul Food love, which presents recipes inspired by the culinary traditions of four generations of black women in their family. Allison Carolina, Caroline, welcome to milk Street.
Alice Randal: Christopher wonderful to be with you. Yes.
Caroline Randall Williams: Thank you so much for having us.
CK: Yeah, it's a pleasure. You know, I did read your book soul food, love and the, the writing was, is terrific. And it's it's almost poetic is a certain poetry to it, which I really like. So could you just describe the basic construct of the book?
AR: Well, first, I want to say it's a great advantage when you're not a poet to be writing with a poet. Karolina was the poet. I'm a novelist. So that you picked up on some of the secret sauce of the book, there you go. But the the larger construct of the book, it's it's a tale of 100 years of cooking and eating in one black family. And it's told from the perspective of Caroline's grandmother, two of her great grandmother's, her mother, and then Caroline.
CK: So five kitchens.
CK: There's a lot of interesting quotes in here. And one of them was food ways and much of black America, our plane broke down. And which seems to be obviously one of the themes of the book. What do you mean specifically by that?
CW: So one of the reasons that we wound up writing the book was at the time I was living in the Mississippi Delta. And I think I'd never really experienced in any meaningful, sustained way a food desert before I was teaching at a school that was 98%, black and comparable figures to describe the number of students who are living at or below the poverty line. And, you know, these were kids who were raised with, in some ways, a sense of what soul food was, what Southern food was, what black food was, but then you look around it with food they had access to, and you know, the nearest grocery store was not walking distance, there was irregular transportation, like they couldn't get to fresh food, they couldn't get to high quality food. And so then it becomes things like Popeye's and gas station fried chicken that join the narrative of what soulfood is, which is, you know, in social ways and cultural ways. Those are important additions, but in terms of actually knowing our history, and where our food comes from, and what it was made of, like, that's so far from it. And the fact that my students didn't know that it was so far from where we started. That was the brokedown part, I think, you know, I used to bring baked chicken or baked fish to lunch, most days at school was some kind of vegetable, which is something I learned from my great grandmother, who was a black woman born on the plantation where her family had worked for generations in waycross, Georgia. And my students said to me one day, Miss Williams, you eat like a white girl. And I said, No, I eat like an old black lady. And the fact that that divide that that exchange happened was like very illuminating for me, for mom, for a lot of us.
CK: You also, I think, paint a picture of lots of different origins stories, like if you were a family living on a farm, your diet was quite different than a family, let's say living in town in Selma, or loving or Chicago, wherever. So is there consistency across this history that binds it together? Or does it depend on the origin story.
AR: So to be black, and in the south, and in America, when you look at a tree, when you look at a field, you're not just seeing food, you're seeing stolen labor, and you're seeing terror of lynching. And so that story is complicated, even when you arrive in your upper middle class Harlem home, even when you establish your beautiful house that grandma Bonta had with her husband, who was a professor and she had traveled to Yugoslavia and stayed at Tito's palace, but she still remembered the turpentine camps of waycross, Georgia, you take those food memories with you the good and the bad. And this history of domestic service, that by 1900, that the large percentage of African Americans working outside of their homes, and particularly women, were all working in domestic service. And the term that Caroline coined kitchen rape. This is something that so many of these women were subject to, in slavery and in freedom. It's not something that ended with emancipation. And so the kitchen has been a widely fraught space period. But there has been kitchen triumph. The other national story is that black women and men have continued to bring imagination, innovation, and cultural continuity to the kitchen. Despite these adversities. They create amazing, extraordinary recipes that were enjoyed in their own homes, and by white people who had black women and men working as their cooks.
CK: The first chapter mini Randall, dear. Something really interesting you wrote about said her husband grew up in Selma were white women ever cooks so he ended up doing a lot of the cooking because he could not stand to see her doing it. That that was Just talk about that because I, that, I guess surprised me or I never thought of that before.
AR: That was one of the wonderful surprises of researching to discover that deer never did any cooking. And that it was a conscious effort on her husband who was actually, you know, running a very successful business and wanting to give his life the privilege that he had seen white women have. And so he figured out a way to do the cooking. I knew myself that every morning when I was stayed with him, he would make skillet cornbread and coffee, milk down coffee for me, and she would have her coffee in bed that he had served. But I hadn't thought about the fact that she basically presented a meal on Sundays that he had cooked or impressed. Male family members or people working for the family male
into service. Yeah,
CK: I just loved that story. Grandma cooked in Nashville. Occasionally for club women, she belonged to clubs. Could you just describe that culture and also the food that went along with it?
AR: To me, gramma Bonta is the great triumph of the book. One of the things about the black experience and others time and domestic service, including in the period of enslavement is that black people developed an extraordinary grammar of cooking skills. And so what people haven't noticed is they, I like to say they saved the best for themselves, that no place did they want to use these skills to make ice cream to moles and Kubiak and all these things that they might have been doing in fancy homes and in restaurants. They save the best for themselves for their own homes. And often when they were cooking these club women dinners, and Grandma bontoc was an extraordinary example of being on both sides of the eating, cooking cleaning equation and making the most magnificent meals in those settings. And that's something that has been a little recorded until we put it in the cookbook.
CW: I think the only layer that I would want to add is to your question, you know about illuminating the world of club women, it's not just saving the best for themselves. But also, you know, the other side of that coin is choosing to have a lovely thing and make your own way into a lovely space, when the world is not making that kind of loveliness available to you. You know, these clubs formed out of, you know, in some ways a practical need might be the wrong word. But what do you do when you want to go out to dinner with your friends, and no restaurant will open its doors to you because of the color of your skin? You find a way and make a way to have a lovely elevated experience with your friends for yourself if the world won't give it to you.
CK: Yeah, I was struck by the recipes being I don't know for want of a better adjective celebration food, I mean, you know, aspects salmon molds, checkerboard sandwiches, layer cakes. I mean, the food was sort of larger than life, I
AR: I hink. It really was. I mean, even ramaa Bonta. Here's a woman whose husband, they grew up at married life in the Great Depression. He is a librarian and academic and historically black colleges not making much money. She had 36 play settings of silver that she hid in the bookshelves of his library behind his books, and would send up these card tables for her friends. She could sit 36 down to dinner. And one of the things that Karolina has inherited is 18 plus settings of real burgundy silver that have been up in Harlem, and had been in Tuskegee before that. This is silver that Malcolm X and Adam Clayton Powell had eaten with these forks and these knives, that's how important laying the beautiful table right for our community was for our community when we could do that.
CK: Nana, you right, that she was really the kitchen and the bar, I guess, to the civil rights movement. And no one was paying for the meals. Everyone sat at that table for free. Could you just talk about that? Because I thought that was so interesting.
CW: You know, I sit in front of my Nana's cookbooks every day when I go to work. My office is in my kitchen because to me that is where the work of my life happens. I am a writer, and I am a home cook and I write about cooking and I cook thinking about literature. It all intersects. And that is in no small part because of my grandmother, Joan Bonta. She worked as a librarian and brought home money that allowed her to lay these tables. You know, she chose a life with a man who fought for civil rights with everything bone and breath of his body. And she was proud to be able to have a job that allowed her to welcome the people that he was working to protect and support, and to take a worry off of people that were coming into her home, and just allow them to sink into a moment of celebration, or respite. And that to me is I think, the charge that I feel like I've inherited, I always want my home to be a place that people can come and expect to be taken care of. And they can expect to find food that's delicious, and a bar that's open and that there's nothing I'm asking for that except for that they experienced some joy from it. And I love that she paid for the food with the taking care of books. And then that resulted in this insane 2000 book, cookbook library that I now have where she sort of brought the two loves together.
CK: You mentioned I didn't know this, you mentioned the term did he What did he which I know from a song, but what is did he What did he
AR: What did he Why did he is sort of heaven on earth and black folk culture. Zora Neale Hurston is one of the people who captured this. It's one of the elemental, African American folk tales. And when people dream of heaven, it often reflects what's missing in their world in the desert. Heaven often has water. It's interesting when this heaven on earth did he Why did he this mythic place was invented, the chickens ran around with forks and knives in their back, it was an abundant food world.
CK: You know, it reminds me of a song big rock candy mountain, at least the original lyrics to it, you paddle around the lake made of stew and whiskey to you know, all the all the hands laid hard boiled eggs. It sounds like the two are related at some point
AR: completely. And it's all related to why mentioned Heaven is land of milk and honey. I love that song big rock candy mountain. In the black experience, we have the welcome table. And one of my favorite Kim's is that welcome table, and it's all about being up in heaven. And I'm going to tell Jesus, how you did me. It's about this great conversation and food at a table. But that idea of milk and honey, and conversation. So the ideal that we're all trying to achieve in secular circumstances now.
CK: LSU study with Julia Child in the 70s. I didn't know that. Could you just talk about that.
AR: That was one of my greatest life experiences. The opposite of Caroline, I grew up in a house with only three cookbooks. Only one that I got from the family which was a joy of cooking. And somehow another from a library. I got a Craig Claiborne menu cookbook. And actually from a friend's mother, I got Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French cooking. And as a little girl from about fifth grade up, I cooked my way through those cookbooks. I first met Julia Child, also in Detroit on the television, I was my parents were very busy people, I was often left in front of the television, and I found my way to Julia Child. So when I arrived at Harvard, I knew that she lived in Cambridge. And I think my sophomore year back in those days when he had telephone books, I cold called Julia Child. And I said, I had loved all of her books and cook through one or two of them fully. And I wanted to work with her. She invited me over to the house and she was so compassionate. And we I worked one on one with her for an entire semester, for a grade at Harvard. In her home.
CK: You guys went back and looked at your family history to do this book. What was the if there's one thing that really surprised you most? Because when you do that you of course find things you didn't know. What was that thing?
AR: Well, for me, it was that Papa did most of cooking and deer didn't because he let her present the meals on the Sunday. So I actually thought she had cooked those Sunday meals and didn't
CW: realize that Papa had done that in the writing of soulfood love mom and I actually put our hands on every single one of the cookbooks that I inherited from my grandmother. You know, they came in boxes when she passed away and my grandmother would press flowers into the pages of these books. She'd save menus that she'd written she'd just have stuck it in with a recipe. She'd have a grocery list. She'd have little diagrams of how she'd be planning to rearrange the furniture. She was having a lot of people over. Or my favorite was there were all of these card catalog cards from whatever. She'd be reading one of her cookbooks while she was working in the library and have stuck a card catalog card in there to hold her spot and then have left it. So as a grown woman myself getting to know her as a woman, instead of just knowing her as my grandmother, that was a pretty amazing learning experience for me, I'd say.
CK: Allison Caroline, thank you so much. I mean, you know, I wish I was part of such an interesting family. Thank you so much.
Thank you. So thank you. Gonna see that too. Welcome, Jay.
CK: That was Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams co authors of Soul Food love. Alice Randall spoke about the gospel hymn, the welcome table being one of her favorites. It was also an anthem of the civil rights movement.
I'm going to say that welcome. Water these day.
CK: It's time to chat with JM Hirsch about this week's recipe spaghetti with lemon pesto. JM How are you?
JM Hirsch: I'm doing great.
CK: So this week we're talking about Italy and Amalfi. I actually hiked in a mall few years ago. And one of the signature ingredients they grow there are these humongous lemons, which are great to make liquor, but also pasta dishes. So what is the lemon doing in a positive?
JH: Well, you know, the family that I learned this from they've actually been farming lemons on the hills of Amalfi for I think six generations now. And Salvatore traiteur. The farmer, he says they eat so many lemons. And it's so important to their culture to everything they do that they don't actually have blood in their veins. They have lemon juice, and after watching him and his wife cook for an afternoon and seeing the way they use lemonade, absolutely everything I believe, but Giovanna, his wife was showing me this recipe for you know, lemon pesto with pasta. And and I have, you know, a kind of an odd reaction to that because I think lemon can be very potent and it can overwhelm other flavors. But she was inspired by pesto Genovese, say the basil pesto that we all know so well. And the difference is she uses finely grated lemon zest and a lot of lemon zest instead of the basil. She replaces the traditional pine nuts with almonds and the garlic. She leaves out entirely.
CK: Now I've had pasta with lemon, actually in Boston many years ago. And my first reaction was strange bedfellows. But I've tried this recipe and I really liked it. So what is it about this recipe you think that makes lemon and pasta go together? so well?
JH: Well, there's a couple things at play here. And the first is the almonds are going to kind of tame the acidity of the lemon, you know, they're they're taking it down. The other part is we're not really using the juice, we're just using the lemon zest, so you're not getting quite that sharpness that you might expect from it. And when you combine the zest with the starchy pasta, water and the almonds, uh, you know, you're actually getting kind of a gentle sweetness and a gentle brightness that plays really well with the pasta.
CK: So in other words, you have enough almonds to balance the zestiness of the zest. Exactly. And olive oil Of course,
JH: yes. And actually one of the things we did you know, so the Amalfi lemons tend to be sweeter and less harsh than the lemons that we get here in the US. And so we wanted to compensate for that because that is probably one of the reasons that you had a negative reaction to your lemon passes so many years ago, and in order to compensate for that we put just a little hint of sugar into our pesto, just to kind of mellow out the rougher edges of the lemons that we get here.
CK: Now do you cook the zest in the boiling water too or is just added in the pesto in a food processor.
JH: So for the pesto itself, it is not cooked we just combine it and then toss it with the finished pasta. However, Giovanni had a neat trick for adding like an extra layer of lemon flavor to her pasta dishes. She does take big hunks of lemon zest and puts them in the water as she simmer it when she's cooking the pasta and it infuses it with a little bit extra layer of lemon for the finished dish. So we use it both ways.
CK: Jan, thank you very much spaghetti with lemon pesto. It's the marriage of an odd couple but it seems like they're getting along just fine. Thanks. Thank
JH: Thank you. You can get this recipe for spaghetti with lemon pesto at milk street radio.com
CK: This is Milk Street Radio next up Dan Pashman fixes a cocktail. We'll be right back I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to milk street radio. Now it's time for some culinary wisdom from one of our listeners.
Listener: Hi, my name is Carolyn wolf. Here's my tip. Open a leaf of a large leaf vegetable such as collard greens placed on top of it. A bunch of small leaf spokes such as parsley or cilantro, roll up the large leaf, cut it in a shift rod and when you open it, you will have made the shift and you will have chopped up the other vegetable. This is good for lazy cooks.
CK: If you'd like to share your own cooking tip on Milk Street radio, please go to 177 Mill Street comm slash radio tips. Next up, it's the unpredictable Dan Pashman. Dan, how are you?
Dan Pashman: I'm doing alright, Chris, I am doing my best to stay warm. And I have moved from drinking hot beverages to stay warm outdoors to drinking alcoholic beverages to stay warm outdoors.
CK: This is mulled cider or do you have something more passionate like?
DP: Well, that's I I come to you hand in hand this week, Chris because I need some help. I need guidance. I feel like I need more cold weather drinks. I love an old fashioned which to me is a cold weather drink. Right a priest once made me a Gaelic flip. It's got whiskey vermouth, all spice lecouvreur simple syrup and then an egg, which was fantastic. But I need something else. Okay, the
CK: first one is patterned after my great aunt Caroline. And she used to come to our family gatherings. And she brought her on grapefruit juice in a large plastic takeout cup. And it turned out to be mostly gin with a float of grapefruit juice on top. That's so so right is my bass line alcohol with a float of cider. on top. I go back to the old fashioned I mean it's called the old fashioned because it was the first cocktail I believe. But what you can do is there's so many other things you can put in it. You can put orgy at
DP: oh right that's a good
CK: syrup because you can put a lot of flavored syrups in it. And lots of bitters Of course in it as well. And I mix hafer I have bourbon to make it not quite as sweet. But I one word of warning and all these drinks is beware of sweet Okay,there's a lot of hot chocolate consumption happening in my house my wife has big hot chocolate kids hot chocolate in the winter especially this winter because we're outside more socializing outdoors more even in the cold. So there's often hot chocolate around and I think to myself I should do something with this. This should be a component of a cocktail. What should I put in the hot chocolate to turn it into a drink? Well
CK: first of all don't use any dairy product with chocolate because if you want a really good hot chocolate you make it with water not dairy interesting. Why? Well because the dairy obscures the flavor of the chocolate. It says like milk chocolate, right? Right.
DP: Okay, that makes sense.
CK: Secondly, Mexican hot chocolate obviously uses a little bit of chili heat and right. So if I were going to do an adult hot chocolate I'd have a little heat to that little chili flavor in that as well. And then you know there's a million liquors you can add to that fernet another bitter.
DP: Some of the Italian never thought about that but I can see that being really good.
CK: But I would think about his layers right you have heat. You have a little sweet you have chocolate and you have some baseline alcohol in there. Another one is, you know, in Austria, they have all these clear alcohols made from elderberry and other things. Those are exceptionally good, right. As a flavoring in in almost any you can even put them in an oral fashion if you just put a small amount Those, those alcohols are really good. That sounds fantastic. There's one of my wife's been into lately, which is going to be too sweet for you, but she loves it. It's equal parts hazelnut liqueur, and raspberry lacouture. And then you take a few ounces of like cream, and you shake it all up real good with ice and it's like frothy. It's called nuts and berries. It's basically like liquid ice cream,
DP: but it is delicious.
CK: Do you have a half gallon bottle of crammed into? I don't know, I,
DP: I don't know, I figured that one would not be up your alley.
CK: The only last thing I would say is the classic English punch. Okay, you know, some of those things. They let sit, you know, around for a month to age. But those those were substantive and build for cold weather. So I think a great English punch is something to look at. Okay, well,
DP: I'll do that. This has been very helpful. My winter drinking game has already been elevated. Thank you, Chris.
CK: Dan Pashman went to drink during the cold weather, rye with a float of cider, or an old fashioned with some snaps in it.
DP: Take care. Thanks, Chris.
CK: That was Dan Pashman, host of the sportful food podcast. You know these days the term old fashioned imply something that really needs an update. Well, the old fashioned cocktail was simple enough spirits bitters, water and sugar. And in America that evolved into whiskey rye preferred over bourbon, with the addition of a lemon or maybe an orange peel. Well, then came the maraschino cherries, the slice of orange and in a worst case scenario, the addition of blood orange soda, so maybe just maybe old fashioned is a pretty good thing. After all. If you tuned into later this one Listen again, you can download and subscribe to milk street radio, on Apple podcast, Spotify or wherever you find your podcast. To learn more about milk Street, please go to 177 milk street comm there you can download each week's recipe watch the latest season of our television show or you can order our latest cookbook cook ish. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's milk Street and on Instagram and Twitter at 177 milk Street. We'll be back next week and thanks as always for listening.
Christopher Kimbell’s milk street radio is produced by milk street in association with GBH executive producer Melissa Baldino, senior audio editor Melissa Allison. Producers Sarah Clapp and Jason Turetsky production help by Debbie Paddick additional editing Sidney Lewis audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic public media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Theme Music by to Bob crew. Additional music by George brandel Edwin Christopher Kimball's milk street radio is distributed by PR