I came across Sook’s Cookbook, Memories and Traditional Receipts from the Deep South in a box at an estate sale, which was a serendipitous find. It turns out that it is a compendium of old recipes from the Faulk family of Monroeville, Alabama – Sook Faulk was Truman Capote’s great aunt and her special fruitcakes are immortalized in Capote’s lovely and sad short story “A Christmas Memory.”
Compiled by Marie Rudisill, Sook’s niece, the recipes (dating as far back as 1836 in plantation record books) were given to Marie with the understanding that she would share them with Truman who grew up with her in Sook’s hometown of Monroeville. She and Truman started work on the cookbook in 1947 but when he skyrocketed to fame in 1948, the book project was put aside until 1972 when she and Truman collaborated again, mostly by phone.
Marie wrote a great deal about the characters in the Faulk household: the cook, Little Bit; Corrie, the housekeeper and sometime cook; Sem Muscadine, another cook and handyman; and Truman, Aunt Jenny, and Aunt Sook. Marie must have inherited the Faulk family storyteller gene because her writing is wonderful and transports the reader back to that time in a small town in the South.
She writes in her introduction:
“A house filled with with the smells of good cooking is one of the things all of us remember from our childhoods, from the world we grew up in. Memories of food, all our deepest memories, are like musical phrases in an intricate symphony; they come in modestly, swell to importance, fade into oblivion, and later return, often livelier than they were before.”
As a bonus to the great recipes and the wonderful writing, the book has charming watercolor portraits by Barry Moser.
The book is divided in sections:
- Receipts from the Faulk Household
- Reminiscences of a Southern Christmas
- Receipts from Plantation Farm Ledgers, Day Books, and Journals (Dating as Far Back as 1837)
- Receipts from Various Alabama Towns
- Typical Sunday Dinner Receipts
Now on to the recipes I tested.
Little Bit’s Sour Cream Pound Cake
Rebecca’s Note: This receipt called for cardamom and I thought that was exotic and interesting for an old Southern pound cake recipe.
- 1/2 C. butter, softened
- 1 C. sugar
- 3 whole eggs
- 1 and 3/4 C. flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. ground cardamom
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 C. sour cream
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350° and grease a loaf pan well. Dust a little flour over the greased pan.
- Cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Sift the flour with the baking soda, cinnamon, and cardamom, and stir half of the dry ingredients into the batter.
- Beat in the the sour cream and the vanilla, then the rest of the dry ingredients.
- Pour the contents into the pan and rap the pan sharply on the the table to remove any air pockets.
- Bake in the center of the oven for about 60 minutes or until the top of the cake is golden brown and lightly spongy to the touch.
I followed the recipe exactly. Where the recipe was unspecific I used standard ingredients (unsalted butter, large eggs, all-purpose flour, full-fat sour cream). It was incredibly good. The scent of the cardamom and cinnamon wafting through the kitchen smelled like Christmas.
The crumb was tender and the cake was not too sweet the way some modern pound cakes are. I felt it could have been even more tender and refined if I had used cake flour (many pound cake recipes specify cake flour), so next time I will try it with that. But it was delicious and everyone who tried a sample wanted a second piece.
Buoyed by my positive results with Little Bit’s pound cake, I decided to pair it with Aunt Sook’s Burnt Sugar Ice Cream.
This was going to be more of a challenge for three reasons:
1) I had never caramelized sugar before.
2) The recipe as written was for an old-fashioned hand freezer and needed to be adapted for my Kitchen Aid mixer ice cream attachment.
3) I think making ice cream is hard and even though I’ve tried several times, I have never been satisfied with my results.
Oh my goodness, OKRA readers, this was ice cream to die for! Seriously, seriously good. When paired with the cardamom cake, the combination was sublime. The blackberry garnish (in my photo) was extraneous. A bite of the spiced cake with a dollop of the caramel-infused ice cream was perfect. Truly, transport me to Monroeville, Alabama in the 1940s if they ate like this!
Aunt Sook’s Burnt Sugar Ice Cream
(From the recipe in the book as written.)
- 2 C. sugar
- 6 whole eggs, slightly beaten
- 1 and 1/2 C. sugar
- One pinch salt
- 2 quarts cream, one half-whipped
- Pure vanilla extract, to taste
Caramelize two cups of granulated sugar in a heavy iron pot and let it boil until it is a good brown. Combine in the top of a double boiler the beaten eggs, one cup of sugar, the salt, and the first quart of cream (unwhipped.) After the custard has thickened, add the caramelized sugar while it is very hot. Strain and cool.
Add the vanilla and the other quart of half-whipped cream. Freeze in an old-fashioned hand freezer. When the ice is chipped fine and layered with coarse salt around the metal cylinder, it’s time to start turning the handle to freeze the custard. Always place a clean cloth around the neck of the freezer to prevent the salt from getting in the ice cream.
When the crank gets hard to turn, you hear, “It’s ready!”
Remove the handle from the cylinder and drain the briny water through the bunghole. Carefully wipe the top with a clean towel and take it off. Let the ice cream sit for about ten minutes to mellow.
Then lift the dasher, filled with frozen jewels clinging to its blade, from the churn. Being allowed to lick this tasty treasure is one of childhood’s fondest memories.
I used the recipe ingredients exactly as written. (I used heavy cream where it calls for ‘cream.’)
I read a couple of tutorials online about how to caramelize sugar before I started. They basically said the same thing Aunt Sook said in her directions but were more specific about how not to burn oneself, or burn the sugar, or burn the pan.
I used a double boiler for the custard as written and was careful not to let it get too hot and scramble the eggs.
When I added the hot caramelized sugar to the warm custard, the whole thing seized and sputtered and the sugar hardened into a ball. I thought I had ruined it, but not giving up I let the whole shebang sit on the counter for a while, letting the caramelized sugar ball infuse the custard.
I decanted the mess into a plastic container and added the vanilla and additional quart of heavy cream, put a lid on it, put the whole thing into the refrigerator, and went to bed to sleep off my disappointment.
Overnight, magic happened. In the morning, the custard had a wonderful, toasty, caramel scent and the sugar ball had softened so I could smush it into the cream. I decided to proceed and put it in the frozen Kitchen Aid ice cream bowl and turned the dasher on. It worked! The caramelized sugar was soft enough that the dasher worked it into the cream and the ice cream came together.
It may sound like a lot of work for dessert but I made the pound cake a day ahead and the ice cream the day (and night) after. And I didn’t have to hand-crank anything or chip any ice like Little Bit did.
The results were spectacular. No wonder Truman Capote was inspired.
Sook’s Cookbook: Memories and Traditional Receipts from the Deep South
Author: Marie Rudisill
Designed and Illustrated by Barry Moser
Longstreet Press, Inc., Marietta, Georgia
Text copyright, 1989 by Marie Rudisill
Illustrations copyright, 1989 by Pennyroyal Press, Inc.