Our latest Cook the Books Club selection was Honeysuckle Season, by Mary Ellen Taylor, this round hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats. The novel was a truly absorbing and enjoyable read, romantic with a mystery, at times heartbreaking, yet uplifting. I didn't find a lot of food inspiration, though was maybe reading too fast? Hey, but we Cook the Bookers are ready for that eventuality. We can get inspired by atmosphere, location and any little off the cuff mention of items from the plant or animal worlds. Sometimes a stretch, but we're generally able to come up with something.
Our library never came through with my request for the book, and after more than a month on the list, I ordered at the last minute from Kindle. Which is why I'm sailing in under the deadline bar here.
From the Publishers:
"Adrift in the wake of her father’s death, a failed marriage, and multiple miscarriages, Libby McKenzie feels truly alone. Though her new life as a wedding photographer provides a semblance of purpose, it’s also a distraction from her profound pain.When asked to photograph a wedding at the historic Woodmont estate, Libby meets the owner, Elaine Grant. Hoping to open Woodmont to the public, Elaine has employed young widower Colton Reese to help restore the grounds and asks Libby to photograph the estate. From bestselling author Mary Ellen Taylor comes a story about profound loss, hard truths, and an overgrown greenhouse full of old secrets. Libby is immediately drawn to the old greenhouse shrouded in honeysuckle vines.
As Libby forms relationships and explores the overgrown—yet hauntingly beautiful—Woodmont estate, she finds the emotional courage to finally sort through her father’s office. There she discovers a letter that changes everything she knows about her parents, herself, and the estate. Beneath the vines of the old greenhouse lie generations of secrets, and it’s up to Libby to tend to the fruits born of long-buried seeds."
Virginia ham biscuits. A southern staple. Brunch, lunch, dinner, tailgate party, reception...whatever the occasion, you'll find these simple, tasty sandwiches on the menu.
2 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons, cold, unsalted butter (cut in small pieces)
2 tablespoons duck fat (or lard)
3/4 to 1 cup cold, whole buttermilk
1 pound Virginia Ham, thinly sliced -- As noted above, I used my home cured bacon, sliced thin and briefly fried.
Condiment of your choice
Plain mustard (whole-grain or Dijon recommended)
Pickled red onions
Your favorite chutney (fruit chutneys pair nicely)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar together into a large bowl. Blend the butter pieces and duck fat (or lard) into the dry mixture with a pastry blender (or two knives) until you achieve a course meal with flakes of butter/fat throughout.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, then slowly pour the buttermilk in the center while stirring the flour into the "pool" of buttermilk. Depending on the humidity levels, it may only take 3/4 cup buttermilk (rainy or very humid day) to 1 cup buttermilk (clear, dry day). Stir in the buttermilk until a dough forms and no dry pieces are left, but it should not be overly wet either.
Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Roll out the dough until it is 1/2 inch thick. Use a biscuit cutter (between 2-3 inches...I use a 3 inch cutter for bigger biscuits) to cut out rounds and place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Gather dough, form, rollout, and cut out biscuits until you're out of dough. Don't over handle the dough as the butter starts to melt. You can dust a little flour over the dough if it gets too sticky.
Place the biscuit rounds on the cookie sheet so they are lightly touching one another. They'll help each other "climb" as they bake. Friendly biscuits...
Bake for 10-12 minutes until the biscuits have risen and the tops have started to brown. Remove from the oven, brush with melted butter (if desired).
When slightly cooled from the oven, slice the biscuits open, pile high with thinly sliced Virginia ham, spread honey mustard (or condiment of your choice) on the top biscuit half, and enjoy! Serve warm or at room temperature.
Adapted from The Southerner's Cookbook