Southern Cooking Inspired by Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe

It's time at Cook the Books Club to report on our current read.  Which, right at this moment would be  Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe, by Heather Webber.  We are reading and posting cooking inspiration gleaned from the book. This round being hosted by fellow Hawaiian blogger, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen.  

I enjoyed this book, the sometimes wacky characters who visit the cafe, the strange occurrences with neighborhood blackbirds, and the development of the protagonists and antagonists as they finally are able to forgive long held bitterness and preconceptions about one another.  A little romance adds a nice dollop to the overall picture.

From the Publishers: 

"THE USA TODAY BESTSELLER Heather Webber's Midnight at the Blackbird Café is a captivating blend of magical realism, heartwarming romance, and small-town Southern charm.
Nestled in the mountain shadows of Alabama lies the little town of Wicklow. It is here that Anna Kate has returned to bury her beloved Granny Zee, owner of the Blackbird Café.

It was supposed to be a quick trip to close the café and settle her grandmother’s estate, but despite her best intentions to avoid forming ties or even getting to know her father’s side of the family, Anna Kate finds herself inexplicably drawn to the quirky Southern town her mother ran away from so many years ago, and the mysterious blackbird pie everybody can’t stop talking about.

As the truth about her past slowly becomes clear, Anna Kate will need to decide if this lone blackbird will finally be able to take her broken wings and fly."

Posting a pie would seem to be the way to go.  Maybe for some.  I'm not really a pie baker, though I have been known to prepare one on occasion. The food of our American South covers a much bigger palate, however, and I was inspired to do a combination of Red Rice and Beans with a side of Collard Greens and Ham Hocks.  Perhaps items which would have appeared on a menu at The Blackbird Cafe.  Plus having the added benefit of using collard greens, tomatoes and gandule beans from our back garden.  Also, I was lucky enough to find ham hocks at my local Natural Foods store, so from humanely raised pigs.  Always good.

Red Rice with Gandule beans 

     adapted from Cooking Hawaiian Style

Ingredients - Serves 4

  • 1/2 c. achiote oil (I used a heaping teaspoon of achiote paste, dissolved in hot water)
  • 2 tablespoons bacon fat
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 1/4 c. green onion, chopped
  • 1/2 medium green bell pepper, seeded, diced
  • 4 or 5 (depending on size) fresh tomatoes, cored and chopped
  • 1 TB fresh tropical oregano, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 1/2 cups broth
  • cup rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup  gandule beans(pigeon peas) boiled and shelled 
  • 1/2 cup sliced olives, drained


  • In a large saucepan over medium heat; brown onion in bacon fat. 
  • Add garlic, bell pepper and oregano. 
  • Stir in seasonings, tomatoes and broth; bring to a boil. 
  • Add rice, beans and olives. 
  • Reduce heat; cover. 
  • Simmer 30-40 minutes; until rice is cooked through. 
  • Check periodically if additional stock is needed. 
  • Sprinkle cilantro or parsley on top before serving if desired

Collard Greens with Ham Hock


For the collard greens (to which I added some red cabbage, also from the garden), I simmered everything a few hours in stock -  a ham hock and a bit of onion and garlic. Awesome!  There was enough ham on the bone to make a decent addition to the meal.  Totally delicious, we both thought so!

Thus, my inspired meal for our current round of Cook the Books Club, which I will also share at Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marge, the Intrepid Reader, and with Heather for the September edition of the Foodies Read Challenge. Come one and all for some good food and book suggestions.  There is still time as well to read the book and post your own inspired cooking before September 30th.


Marg said...

I am posting about this book next week! Like you, I haven't chosen something from the book to share, but rather something that could have been on the menu!

This was my first Heather Webber book but I have already started reading my next one.

Beth F said...

This sounds like a book I'd like! Perfect escape reading for food lovers. Love how your dish both fits the book and uses your garden-fresh produce.

A Day in the Life on the Farm said...

Love the southern inspiration. Your meal is amazingly delicious and comforting looking. I enjoyed this novel too.

Melynda@Scratch Made Food! said...

I think I need to find this book...thanks for the review.

gluten Free A_Z Blog said...

I don't think I would ever survive with Southern cooking being a vegetarian - although I could leave out the bacon fat and enjoy the beans.

Tina said...

That is a book I think I'd like, I need to get that one. Everyone else seems to like your recipes here except vegetarians! I'd eat it :-)

Deb in Hawaii said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the book! In typical me fashion, I am trying to start it this weekend. ;-) I love your southern dishes. Not being much of a paper, I was going to open up one of my vegan souther cookbooks and look for inspiration! Thanks for joining in.

cathy.branciaroli said...

I know this is supposed to be Southern, but I would substitute swiss chard, an Italian vegetble instead. The red beans sound great. I will have to try

Claudia said...

Cathy, I love Swiss chard as well, and it could be added in at the end of the collards cooking. The collards can take the longer, slow braise with the ham hocks.

Terri Steffes said...

I'm a big fan of red beans and I can see why you were so inspired. I loved everything about this book. I think I was in need of a comfort read.

Simona Carini said...

Great choice of recipe. I like slowly braised collard greens: they are tender and substantial. You are such a magician with your garden, Claudia :)