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November1999
Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes, and Honest Fried Chicken
by Ronni Lundy
Bill: Hi everybody, and welcome to the bookclub@ket. This month's selection is Ronni Lundy's Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes and Honest Fried Chicken, a veritable feast of words and a lot of good food. And here to help me digest it all is Cait ...

Cait: Hi.

Bill: ... and Rochelle ...

Rochelle: Hello, Bill.

Bill: ... and Jonathan.

Jonathan: Hi, Bill.

Bill: I just noticed that Dava ran out of gravy so we are going to pass that over to Dava.

Dava: Thank you.

Bill: Ronni Lundy, a food critic and music critic for some Louisville newspapers and a writer of some renown certainly in the Louisville and in the Kentucky area too, has put this book together, but it's far more than a cookbook, don't you think so?

Rochelle: Absolutely.

Jonathan: Yeah, well it's not just a collection of recipes, but it's also a collection of family memoirs and interviews with various country and western celebrities and including their mothers and lots of the recipes here in the book are taken from the recipe books of Dwight Yokum's mother and Chet Atkins grandmother and so on and so forth. So it's really a celebration of southern cooking I think in general.

Bill: The written style as Cait was telling me before we went on the air today that other cookbooks do have some literature in them, but this is the first time I'll have to admit -- Jonathan, I don't know about you -- that I have actually read a cookbook and really enjoyed it because of all the passages.

Cait: Yeah, this is a hard one to just cook from because you want to read the stories, too. I had a hard time just sticking with the recipes.

Dava: So many times it's the stories that make the recipe I think because she emphasizes that it's not just food it's like Jonathan said earlier it's a way of life, it's memories you have. I can just think back to my childhood and remember certain things we were eating and associate different times of my life with different foods. It's just more than food. Very much so.

Bill: Yeah, yeah. And some great recipes too.

Rochelle: Oh God, this book just talks to you. I'm hard pressed to say it, but this was my favorite book, and I mean even you know beyond the coal-mining book and the Mae Street Kidd oral history and she just died here in October of '99. So to feel that way about a cookbook was amazing for me, but it was almost visceral, I'd read a recipe and remember my grandmother making something like that because even though it's Kentucky cooking it's southern cooking and southern cooking is love. So I can't wait to try some of them, but I didn't have time to do it because I kept reading the stories and reading her memories like making snow cream which I do for my daughter because my grandmother did it for me and her grandmother did it for her. It's just a wonderful memoir on life as well as cooking.

Jonathan: It's very skillfully put together isn't it. You have got recipes, which you find in any cookbook but they tend to be introduced with a personal memory of eating this, when you were a child. And they are juxtaposed with these boxes where you have got anecdotes maybe folk yarns or some old story somebody's grandfather said about a particular kind of food and then in the margins they have got quotations from country and western songs.

Jonathan: And so on and there are also these photographs of dining scenes from the author's background.

Rochelle: Which are so great, watching somebody shuck peas and stuff like that.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Rochelle: God that brings back so many memories.

Bill: I think that's why you said that it conjures up so many good memories of not only cooking and southern cooking but just as you said cooking in a family like that is love and people being in the kitchen and around the table.

Rochelle: It's a way of life. And even though she has celebrities in the book, some of the people who are sort of far removed from the celebrities (we wouldn't know them by name) sound like people you know, like Marie Barrett who was later John Hartford's wife -- she writes, like most country cooks, Marie doesn't use a recipe for her vegetable soup and no two pots are ever the same since she incorporates whatever ingredients she has on hand when the soup making spirit strikes. My grandmother used to do that. "I think I'll make soup" and it wasn't let's go to the store and get something to match a recipe. She'd say let's see what's in the refrigerator. And she pulls out and we'd never know but it was perfect -- different every time but perfect every time.

Bill: Homemade vegetable soup.

Bill: Can't beat it.

Rochelle: Mmmm

Bill: Especially in the wintertime.

Rochelle: That's right.

Jonathan: Well, there is that theme, isn't there Rochelle, of improvisation in cooking you know.

Rochelle: Absolutely.

Jonathan: These are recipes that you should follow, but by the same token she says over and over again you can make it your own way. If you like you can add something that you find in your refrigerator and your cupboard.

Rochelle: You put your signature on it as my grandma used to say.

Jonathan: You put your signature on it.

Rochelle: That's right.

Jonathan: And she even compares it with singing. Because at one point she has Emmy Lou Harris say when I sing a song I never sing it exactly the same way.

Rochelle: That's right.

Jonathan: And so in the same way when you cook a recipe, you should never cook it necessarily exactly the same way. So that sort of parallel is made, isn't it.

Rochelle: And who thinks that about cooking. I mean you know. Cooking you cook. No you don't cook you make music, and you make fun with it and you have a good time and then you eat it. Like this great food.

Bill: That's what I think is so remarkable about this book. When people have asked me what is your next selection and what are you doing, the first thing I'll say is, "it's a cookbook, but it's so much more" as I said in the beginning. Because of the way she describes where the foods come from and the way she grew up in the country and visiting and all of the relatives that used to gather around the table, I think it's really a fascinating read. And Jonathan one of the things I wanted to ask you too is that we're from this country if you will. (Everyone laughs)

Bill: And we know you are now, too. But growing up in Ireland is it the same sort of gathering around cooking and having a grand experience?

Jonathan: Oh, yes, yes. Of course, family mealtime is very important in Ireland as it is here. The one thing we don't have quite so much of in Ireland is fried chicken.

(Everyone laughs)

Bill: Honest fried chicken.

Jonathan: Fried chicken is very central to this particular book, but fried chicken is now very popular in Ireland thanks to Colonel Sanders.

(Everyone laughs)

Bill: Or as we say here Colonel Sanders.

Jonathan: Colonel Sanders. Well. Yes.

Bill: You had a passage that you were going to read.

Jonathan: Well I mean there is so much here.

Bill: Yeah there is.

Jonathan: It's very rich. I think that it's funny we were talking in the past about these novels of the south -- Fenton Johnson's novel in which there is a very big family-dining scene.

Bill: Yes.

Jonathan: And they'll eat together and the food is described so seriously and in such detail and it makes you want to be there and eat with them. And there is another one in the Wendell Berry novel we discussed at the very beginning of this show and I think that much of this is that kind of appeal and it's celebrating that kind of family -- the family setting.

Jonathan: But the book, as you said, it's much more than just a mere cookbook and she herself pays tribute to the art of the cookbook when she says how she always used to love reading cookbooks as if they were literature. My mother and I would talk about techniques and ingredients the way my professors later discussed plot and character.

Everyone: oh yes.

Jonathan: And then she goes on to say how a cookbook doesn't just tell you about food, but it tells you about a way of life. Cookbooks aren't just introductions to food but windows opening onto a time and its people. So do you think that maybe this is trying to open a window onto a time and its people and if so what would that be exactly?

Rochelle: Oh, I think.

Jonathan: Her childhood?

Rochelle: I think this is a piece of literature about the heart and soul of the south. Women used to say, the way to a man's heart was through his stomach. Well you know that's true of southern men more than any place else and that was just such a way of daily living that everything revolved around the kitchen. I mean you went to the kitchen in the morning; you hung out in the kitchen in the evening. It was the biggest part of life. At least for me growing up half of our house we didn't use because everything we did in the kitchen with my grandmother doing things at the stove making magic.

Bill: I think when we began Dava said that it made her think about memories of growing up and happenings around the kitchen and all of that and I think that happened for all of us. Or anybody that grew up in a home where you might have even gone out to the garden. (Laughs)

Bill: To get fresh vegetables and to bring them back in.

Rochelle: Eating tomatoes like apples.

Bill: Yeah.

Cait: Yeah.

Rochelle: Just pull them right off the vine, there was no such thing as washing. We had cast iron stomachs then.

Cait: Yeah.

Rochelle: We are weaklings now; you know people wash pots and stuff. You don't do that in the south.

Bill: Well we need to pay tribute to our chefs today from Scarborough Fare -- Kate Savage and the group. (Applause)

Cait: Yeah

Bill: Have prepared from the recipe book honest fried chicken.

Rochelle: And I am taking that last piece.

Bill: No no wait

(Everyone laughs)

Bill: Yammy pudding, which was a new one for me.

Cait: Yeah.

Bill: Had any of you had yammy pudding?

Dava: That's good. No

Bill: Yeah isn't it good.

Dava: It's sweet; it's like dessert.

Bill: Yeah.

Rochelle: Well my grandma makes a yam casserole that's like that.

Cait: Yeah my grandmother does too.

Rochelle: It's just a matter of variations.

Cait: She did but yeah it's a little different. The texture of it is real interesting. It's kind of the grated sweet potatoes.

Bill: And then cream corn.

Cait: Yams, excuse me.

Bill: On the other dish. And we had some.

Rochelle: This is a bowl of sin.

Bill: Some milk gravy.

Rochelle: This is nothing but a bowl of sin.

(Everyone laughs)

Dava: Oh it's so good.

Bill: Have some.

Rochelle: I did.

Dava: I ate it by itself. That's just blatant right there. Blatant sin.

Cait: That fried chicken is almost as good as my grandmother's. She could make some magic in the kitchen.

Bill: Yeah what do you remember about some of your growing up and..

Cait: Well my parents are both from Kentucky, but I grew up in California and my Mom was doing that California...

Rochelle: Ohhhhh

Cait: thing. The vegetarian cooking and all of that stuff. And we ate a lot of bulgar wheat.

Bill: Haute cuisine.

Cait: And stuff like that so ...

Cait: We would go back home to Kentucky, and my grandmother was one of those southern cooks who made elaborate meals every single meal, and the dinners were just fantastic.

Bill: Biscuits from scratch.

Cait: Smell that chicken. It was so good.

(Everyone laughs)

Bill: Ronni Lundy does a good job, as you pointed out, and you mentioned Emmy Lou Harris. Have we talked about Dwight Yokum who was not born in Kentucky? But she writes that he often visited here as a young man and came back and did country cooking himself and he has told her a number of recipes and a number of stories, too. So somebody pick out another really juicy passage.

Cait: I thought the anecdotes were so funny and this one's funny because it describes how you know people they know they don't only know what's good about food they know what's bad about food.

(Everyone laughs)

Jonathan: That's good.

Cait: Like also that Ronni Lundy's family friend who lived with them. Remember that woman named Louise who made the cole slaw that was too slick and had too much mayonnaise in it.

(Everyone laughs)

Cait: I thought that was funny. So they even have to trick her into not making the cole slaw.

(Everyone laughs)

Cait: It was too slick. But this one is called real bad coffee. And I thought it was pretty funny. "Chet Atkins Dean of Country Guitarists left his eastern Tennessee home and started his professional picking career in his teens. It put him on the road at the mercy of roadside coffeepots at a tender and impressionable age. On the road out of Knoxville I remember a lot of bad food but the worst of it was the coffee he recalled. Some of the restaurants you could smell the coffee urn for a block away. They had those big old urns in about this high and yea big around and I guess they were hard to clean but they sure didn't clean them often so the coffee had terrible old burned kind of taste. My daddy drove a truck around that same region about the same time as Atkins was on the road and he drank his share of bad restaurant coffee too. But one place near New Haven, Kentucky had coffee so bad he could hardly believe it. So the next time my mother went on a trip with him he drove 50 miles out of his way just so she could taste it."

(Everyone laughs)

Cait: "It was the worst I ever had and all they had was canned milk to go in it she said but you know I think your daddy went back there several times more when he was working up that way. I don't think he ever could quite convince himself that coffee could be a awful as it was."

(Everyone laughs)

Bill: That's a great passage.

Dava: That's good.

Bill: And we have all had some of that coffee.

Cait: Oh yeah.

Bill: At times and on that previous page was the anecdote just entitled real coffee.

Cait: Yeah.

Bill: And it was an apt description of how you really should make a great cup of coffee and I thought that was funny, too. And this was from Emmy Lou Harris' dad, and she describes how her father always was very religious about scrubbing the coffeepot and doing such a good job of getting fresh water.

Cait: That's important.

Bill: And he says, "you don't want water that's been standing in the pipes all night. It just won't taste quite right. In fact you may want to put this in you may not want to put this in but we are going to read it in any way. When I get up in the morning I make sure to flush both the toilets first thing to get the water moving through the plumbing in the house, then I run the water a good bit in the kitchen just to make sure what I use in my coffee is as fresh as I can get."

(Everyone laughs)

Bill: So that's a good way to make the perfect cup of coffee.

Rochelle: I told you it's more than than food, its life. You know who would think about not using standing water in the coffee.

Bill: Yeah. What's another story Jonathan about your growing up and maybe reading some of these recipes and some of these stories that she tells that made you think about your growing up in Ireland.

Jonathan: Well. A very common food in Ireland is fish. We eat a lot of fish because of course we have lots of rivers lots of salmon and trout, and I liked very much this recipe called Durbin Trout which is named after a man who owns a restaurant in Bowling Green, Kentucky called the Parakeet. And he fries this trout using paprika and mushrooms and artichokes and it sounds really very good. I think that I'd like to try that.

Jonathan: That's a feature of this book because it is of course, mainly southern country cooking and also pays tribute to Cajun cooking. And so you know she points out that I thought beignets were normally sweet doughnut like food, but she makes beignets out of swordfish which I think would be marvelous.

Bill: That sounds delicious.

Jonathan: I think, yeah.

Bill: Yeah.

Jonathan: And then wash it down with some killed lettuce.

(Everyone laughs)

Jonathan: Chet Atkins recipe for lettuce covered in bacon grease you know.

Cait: She does offer some alternatives to some of that stuff high saturated fats stuff.

Jonathan: Well-killed lettuce, and then you've got the alternative is killed lettuce that does not kill you.

(Everyone laughs)

Jonathan: Using soy sauce instead of bacon grease.

Cait: You don't think it would be good, but it is good.

Bill: Have you tried that?

Cait: Yeah I mean I tried that one. It's good.

Dava: I'd like to try that.

Bill: We just tried the killed lettuce.

Cait: Yeah.

Bill: We didn't go the healthy route.

Jonathan: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Bill: What about Dava and Rochelle. A story that you remember from growing up and maybe doing some cooking or having a favorite dish.

Rochelle: Well, I can remember two little things. They are not little in the scheme of things because people might think that you can perform witchcraft but I can smell snow.

Bill: Ahhh

Rochelle: And when I read the passage where she was writing about snow cream and how her mother could smell snow and making snow cream I make snow cream for my daughter and her friends. And for her friends who have never heard of this concoction they are always stunned that I will go out and get snow off the ground and actually turn it into something that they really like. But I can tell in the winter when it's about to snow and if it's a really good snow and we know there is at least eight inches, then I have taught my daughter how to go and scrape off the top and get right in the middle without touching the bottom and get the snow cream for us to put the vanilla and everything in to make snow cream.

Bill: Yeah.

Rochelle: And I remember learning that from my mother who learned from her grandmother who learned it from her mother, and that's just been a part of our life for ever.

Bill: And how many times have you run across a cookbook that had a snow cream recipe in it?

Rochelle: This is the first one ever. I have never known that people knew to write it down. It was just sort of a southern secret that everybody knew to make snow cream. But to see it written down almost validates this part of my life.

Dava: I just thought it was taking snow and putting milk in it for so long. That's what I used to do when I was little and I missed out on a whole lot I realized when I looked at the actual recipe.

Rochelle: Oh man.

Dava: But when I look at all these different stories and recipes I realize I'm missing out on this part of life. Because I'm in college I've never really cooked. And half the time when she is talking about things I don't even know what she is talking about. She will be like well this certain dish is kind of like blank. I don't even know what blank is. But I think cooking really comes from necessity and lately in the past two years my father has started cooking a whole lot, and I love my dad's cooking. He is the best cook and I remember last Christmas we had a ham and pork tenderloin, and a turkey and he bought a deep fryer and he deep fries his turkeys and there are only five people at our Christmas dinner with three meat dishes and all of these sides and he just loves to cook now and I look forward to going home so my dad can cook for me. And then both of my brothers are excellent cooks. I'm the only one who can't cook.

Bill: Ohhh.

Dava: So I let the men wait on me. They will hear this and they will make me start cooking. But.

(Everyone laughs)

Dava: It's a good time going home.

Rochelle: How sweet.

Bill: Well that's good. That's good and you will always have that memory with you.

Bill: I remember growing up my dad was a salesman. He was always on the road, and he was out late, and sometimes we would when families still used to sit down at a table and eat together, eat supper, Not dinner but supper. He would come in late though and if we had already eaten, we wanted to go back to the table and hear him tell stories about his day. Have you ever really observed someone eating when you are not eating? He was such an interesting eater because he would, of course, use he was left handed with his fork he had his biscuit or his piece of bread which he always had at that time as a scoop and he was constantly talking and telling stories and he was so animated with and, of course, at that time too the woman of the house if she was preparing the meal usually had two or three vegetables there was a meat there was bread and not always a dessert except maybe on Sundays but that was special. But, I just remember him sitting there and talking and being so animated and eating the food. It was interesting. Yeah.

Rochelle: I was saying that I had two memories. The other one was of my grandfather at the kitchen table. Because our whole lives my grandfather always ate first. And he ate at the table alone and we'd sort of watch and he always had to have two things. Bread whether it was biscuits or some other kind of breads usually cornbread or biscuits and two big glasses of water when he was done. And when he was done then everybody else would go to the table and eat.

(Everyone laughs)

Rochelle: And if the food wasn't like really rich and my grandmother's cooking, he couldn't eat it. The whole idea of fast food and these things we eat now ... There was this line in here from Dwight Yokum where he said my granddaddy didn't eat processed food his whole life other than going down to get a custard. Well that was my Papaw he would call soft ice cream custard and he'd go have a little of that.

Bill: hmm.

Rochelle: Or lime sherbet, but everything else had to be brought from my grandmother's stove to the table for him to eat. I never saw him go in the kitchen to get a plate, I never saw him pick up one after he was done, and in our family that was just the way.

Cait: Isn't that funny. Food habits are a thing.

Rochelle: Yeah.

Cait: She talks about Payton Hogue of Anchorage, Kentucky who cut his corn off the cob just like his grandfather did and his grandfather before him because he was convinced that he would die if he ate the corn straight off the cob without cutting it in half.

(Everyone laughs)

Cait: And he believed that. I thought that was great a funny story because they were convinced that President Zachary Taylor had died from eating corn off the cob.

(Everyone laughs)

Rochelle: Tradition, tradition.

Cait: Yeah tradition gets passed around.

Bill: Ronni Lundy says now she has another cookbook and she's going to leave cookbook writing.

Everyone: Ohhhh.

Bill: And she's involved in a fiction project and a non-fiction project. And I thought actually when I was reading this I knew that but don't you think it's one of those that you look for with anticipation. I think whatever she does whether it's fiction or non-fiction it will be very well done and very easy to read. I have no idea what the subject matter is going to be, but whatever it is I think she's just a good writer. She makes all of this interesting.

Cait: Oh yeah.

Rochelle: This was literature.

Bill: Reading a recipe and finding it interesting.

Cait: And the recipes are extremely simple.

Rochelle: Oh I could do this and you know I don't cook but I could do that.

Cait: Yeah a lot of it I think has to do with just intuitive things and techniques and just watching a lot.

Bill: Tell us a little bit about the title. Have you attempted stack cakes before?

Cait: I have not tried a stack cake, I'm kind of afraid of that. That looks really hard, but I want to try it. It's in my plan.

Bill: I've heard it's really difficult.

Cait: It is.

Bill: And what about shuck beans. Does anybody know the true origin?

Cait: I have some shuck beans this year because I grew a lot of green beans, and they are just dry.

Bill: Are they like a dried bean. Is that correct?

Cait: Yes.

Bill: Its not a lima beans, of course, a lima bean is not a shuck bean.

Cait: No

Bill: And what is the process that you use to put it up before you actually cook it.

Cait: Well, I just have some dried out on the vine, and I have just collected them from the vine just dried out in the sun.

Dava: So you didn't thread them or sew them like the women did in the book.

Cait: No, but I think that's amazing. I mean it's a lot of work to get. I mean you can go to the store and buy a twenty-five cent bag of beans.

Rochelle: Which I would do before I would sit and sew some thread through beans and string them up. It's a great tradition.

Bill: It's the process. Cait: The whole process -- the whole thing.

Bill: And of course,

Cait: They are going to be the most unbelievable beans I have ever had.

(Everyone laughs)

Bill: Well, somebody is going to have to try stack cake.

Dava: Oh I'm going to do one.

Bill: Yeah.

Dava: I'm going to do this, I have never heard of a cake like this high.

Bill: Yeah.

Cait: Well she convinced Bill Monroe to talk to her just by bringing him a stack cake that must have been good.

Rochelle: Way to a man's heart.

Bill: That's pretty good cake, isn't it. If somebody won't do an interview and you bring him or her a dessert or something. And as Jonathan said there are a lot of chicken recipes in here.

Jonathan: Oh yes, considerable number.

Cait: I like the skinless chicken recipe, the buttermilk chicken.

Rochelle: I have done that. It's so good.

Cait: It is good, it's kind of hard because it's hard not to break the crust when you are turning it, but it's really good.

Jonathan: What about the clay pot chicken. She talks about clay pots.

Rochelle: I haven't tried that, but we are getting a clay pot.

Cait: And the other thing the corn bread is an excellent simple thing, but it's hard to get the temperature of the cast iron skillet just right. You really have to stick it in the oven and just get it just right.

Dava: hmmm Cait: It's a technique.

Bill: Well this is certainly a book that everybody should have around. My daughter is not that much older than Dava, but she's away from here now in school, and she calls back ever so often to my wife and says, "Hey Mom, what about that recipe for cornbread" or we talked about grits, and I think she called a night or two ago and said something about pot roast -- how do you do that and do it like you cook it.

Rochelle: Oh I still do that now. I call my grandmother up long distance and she tells me how to make stuff. I made meatloaf for a guy and did the same thing and she was on the phone for an hour. She said do this; I would do that. Now what? Do this and that's how I made the meatloaf.

(Everyone laughs)

Cait: Did you slap it.

(Everyone laughs)

Bill: Isn't that great.

Rochelle: That's right, you got to slap it.

Cait: I'm not kidding you do. It makes a difference.

Bill: Is that right. Really?

Cait: You have got to pat bang it in there.

Rochelle: That's just the way it works just like a newborn baby.

(Everyone laughs)

Rochelle: Slap that meatloaf.

Bill: What about the tenderloin, pork tenderloin.

Rochelle: Oh no I couldn't do it.

Bill: On the grill with onion and what was the other where she said you slather the pork tenderloin with -- that was another recipe I thought that sounded so good and then you let it cook four or five hours.

Cait: I don't remember.

Rochelle: See that's way out of my expertise.

Bill: Well listen there is one piece of fried chicken.

Rochelle: I have already told you that has my name on it.

Bill: Is that right well wait a minute.

(Everyone laughs)

Rochelle: I want it.

Bill: And what about this milk gravy.

Dava: I'll take care of that you, just send it on over here.

(Everyone laughs)

Bill: Here we go pass that back over.

Rochelle: Gravy.

Jonathan: As one of the men said in the book, "My mother's gravy was so good that you could eat it on a shoe."

(Everyone laughs)

Rochelle: Food so good it would make you slap your preacher.

(Everyone laughs)

Rochelle: That is what I used to hear ...

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