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Summer at Anson Mills

May 2009

Ask a chef to name the best season for preparing or consuming food, and nine of ten will say winter. Cold weather stirs the appetite and begets romantic visions: potholders drawing a varnished gratin or tender braise from the oven, plaited holiday bread rising under a towel, scalding marrow bones with molten centers.

Hot weather begets visions of, well, daiquiris. Draughts of pilsner, pitchers of brewed tea, popsicles in a state of ruin—these things make summer the season of crushed ice and liquid refreshment, not the season of food.

I share the bias. Come May, no summer plums dance in my head. Let someone else bring the picnic—I’ll sit on a blanket and slap gnats. Yet, year after year, my worn imagination limps just past lettuce season before it awakens and sniffs. By the time the greenmarkets begin to flaunt their riches in earnest, I’m hooked. Then the ingredients themselves—spit-polished by Mother Nature and fragrant in the sun—shape my inspiration, and I’m dying to chop, cook, or bake everything the season offers. Which is as it should be.

So, please, crack open a beer. Squeeze some lemons. Get out the cocktail shaker. But don’t, for heaven’s sake, stop cooking! Not when we’ve teamed up with the season to make all this great stuff for you . . .

Want to go on a picnic? (I’ll bring the blanket.)


Pickled Shrimp

You might spot pickled shrimp in a Mason jar at a church social on Wadmalaw, sitting out on a table under the shade of live oaks and somehow still brimming with sunlight. You might catch a glimpse of pickled shrimp whooshing by on a tray at a beachfront cocktail party on Sullivan’s Island, the shrimp arranged on a checkerboard of hot grits cakes. There is something wonderfully democratic about pickled shrimp—which appears the moment shrimp is reasonably priced, pristinely fresh, and plentiful all over Charleston—that cuts through crusty social conventions to announce the arrival of summer. It is also, quite possibly, the easiest appetizer you’ll make all year—simple to execute and sparkling with flavor.

Carolina Gold Rice Grits Cakes

Southerners makes grits cakes all the time, but they are usually made from corn, poured like polenta, stamped out, and fried. Our grits cakes for the pickled shrimp recipe, however, in a spirit befitting the season, are made with Carolina Gold Rice Grits. Imagine if you took all your greatest risotto experiences and made them crispy, or you took the best arancini and made them into cakes. You’d be approaching the satisfaction quotient of this recipe, which can be served with all manner of fabulous toppings—not just pickled shrimp.

Ultimate Vegetable Broth

Oh, the pleasures and perils of vegetable broth. I have been around the block with this recipe more than once, having developed, over the years, versions of it for both Cook’s Illustrated and the New York Times. Each experience offered fresh insight. I knew from the outset that some cooks demonstrate a double standard when it comes to vegetables: the very folks who wouldn’t dream of using old meat in a stock will sweep dead vegetables from the floor of their crisper drawer and toss them in a pot without hesitation. I learned that many recipes are less than thoughtful in their vegetable selection. If you don’t get out of Candyland (where sweet vegetables like onions, leeks, shallots, carrots, and cabbage play), a broth will never gain bracing depth or flavor—and may actually detract from foods they’re meant to enhance. I learned that efforts to give vegetable broth body can result in truly awful experiments, and that vegetables must be added at intervals along the cooking process to build flavor and keep flavors fresh.

For this recipe, which I developed to use in our Carolina Gold Rice Grits Cakes, I reprised the best of each of my earlier recipes to include collard greens, butternut squash, and lemongrass. This is a superb broth you will use in many applications, whether you are vegetarian or not. In particular, we adore it with rice because it leaves the delicacy of the grains untrammeled.

Raspberry Tart with Pastry Cream

Though we make an effort to credit the American South with as many gastronomic achievements as decently possible, even we were unable to steal this glorious fruit tart from the sideboard of an 18th century French manor house and sneak it onto a Carolina plantation without anyone noticing. There’s nothing Antebellum about this neoclassical masterpiece. It does, however, represent one of the highest and best uses of Anson Mills Colonial Style Fine Cloth-Bolted Pastry Flour to date. The pastry here? A pâte sucrée of exceptional delicacy, lightly sweetened, crisp, and rich with nutty flavor notes induced by the magical interaction between sugars and proteins during baking. (When good butter and great flour hook up in a dough and brown together in the oven, the results can be irresistible . . . as they are here.)

Then there is the pastry cream. Latter-day creams are often thickened with cornstarch. An easy, slinky starch to work with, cornstarch will dive right into anything, lumping only if flagrantly mishandled. But a cornstarch finish is not always elegant, particularly in a cream, where, in our opinion, it can come on a little slick and high-gloss. Regular flour, on the other hand, has an inclination to become gluey and opaque. (See where we’re going here?) Anson Mills Fine Cloth-Bolted Pastry Flour, on the other hand, possesses adequate thickening power, but remains light-handed. The finished pastry cream is luxurious, yet not slippery-slick.

Together, the pastry and the cream are, quite simply, an unparalleled frame in which to view fruit. No dessert says summer more vividly than this one.

Fresh Hominy and Masa

By the way, we know that for many of you, the fresh hominy preparation on our site appeared to be missing in action. It had, however, merely been conscripted by the recipe for corn tortillas. Well, we took care of it. Recently, I performed a lengthy surgical procedure to separate the two and make each a viable functioning entity. The operation was a success and both patients are reportedly doing well. Henceforth, they will be known as Fresh Whole Hominy and Spring Water Masa Tortillas.

While we have your attention, allow us to mention anew what phenomenal foods fresh hominy and real masa are, and regret publicly that almost no one is making either from scratch anymore. (No, not even in Mexico.) Anson Mills grows special varieties of corn for hominy, varieties whose kernels are fuller, fatter, and have larger germs (the center of the kernel where nearly all of oil and flavor resides); varieties whose flavors may be ordinary when milled fresh, but are spectacular when cooked to hominy. We hope that the solid techniques and manageable quantities we offer in our hominy and masa recipes may tempt you to give them a try.

Meanwhile, here’s to the season of frosty drinks—and Good Food!