Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sweet soul desserts

February is both African American History Month and Valentines, so what's more perfect than a book that's apropos to both? This is a review that I did a couple of years ago for The Sacramento Bee, and the book is still available (click here).

"Sweets: A Collection of Soul Food Desserts and Memories"

By Lori Korleski Richardson 


You can take soul food out of the South, but that doesn't diminish its draw one whit, as Patty Pinner attests in "Sweets: A Collection of Soul Food Desserts and Memories" (Ten Speed Press, $24.95). The Saginaw, Mich., woman grew up in a large African American family, where she helped her collection of aunts, cousins and her grandmother, My My, earn their town nickname: "The Queens of Soul Food."

Pinner includes more than 100 recipes in her book, but she spins at least that many tales about her relatives, neighbors and church members, gossipy and vivid, that recall a bygone era.

The desserts tested all were crowd-pleasers, especially the old-fashioned walnut-raisin pie. But for the most part, the recipes rely on entirely too much fat and sugar to suit most diet-conscious Californians.

The family philosophy is summed up on page 80 in a quote by My My: "If you go'n put sugar in something, put sugar in it." It was used in this case to explain why the original 3 tablespoons of sugar in the recipe for "Little of Nothing Pie" was increased to 1/2 cup when the "Queens" got hold of it.

If a little fat makes a piecrust flaky, the featured crust in "Sweets" must be the poster pastry for flakes everywhere. I've had many things leak out of my pie plates over the years, but Crisco hasn't been one of them. Until now.

And it's quite the mystery why that happened. The crust ingredients are quite similar to Crisco's basic crust recipe, except that an egg is added. It was incredibly easy to work with, rolled out without tearing, and I was ready to adopt it as my basic pie crust, too, until I saw that puddle on the cookie sheet I had placed on the rack below.

But everyone who tasted the crust loved it, so what's a little grease fire among friends? 
All told, readers of "Sweets" will get a good family history and some insight into what makes Southern cooking taste as good as it does. And there's plenty of cakes, pies, cobblers, puddings, candies, cookies, ice cream and other desserts for all experience levels to try.

Recipe: Old-fashioned walnut-raisin pie
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes
Serves: 8

This spicy delight from "Sweets" (Ten Speed Press, $24.95) is similar to mincemeat pie in taste and texture.

1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust 

1 cup of walnuts, chopped 

1 cup seedless raisins 

5 eggs 

1 cup granulated sugar 

½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¾ teaspoon ground allspice 

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 

3 tablespoons milk

Instructions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 
Spread the walnuts and raisins evenly on the bottom of the pie crust. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until they are frothy. Gradually beat the white and brown sugars into the egg mixture. Add the spices. Blend well. Add the lemon juice and the milk and mix well. Pour the mixture over the nuts and raisins.

Bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the over and cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

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