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True South

A pro-Richmond writer puts the slow cooker into overdrive with a new book.

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Kendra Bailey Morris frequents local farmers' markets for ingredients for her slow-cooker recipes.
  • Kendra Bailey Morris frequents local farmers' markets for ingredients for her slow-cooker recipes.

If you’ve read anything about food in Richmond, you’ve probably read something by Kendra Bailey Morris. Having written for nearly every local and regional publication, as well as her blog, Fatback and Foie Gras, Morris has been instrumental in getting the word out about the explosion of quality food to be had here.

“Richmond always had interesting food, just on a smaller scale,” Morris says. “Recently, though, it has exploded due to all the great people working in this town. It reached a critical mass and the national media have begun to take notice.”

Major publications have turned their attention to the local food scene, including restaurants and such businesses as Hardywood Park Craft Brewery and Sausage Craft, along with, as Morris says, “the plethora of purveyors creating great things in Richmond.”

Morris is a promoter of Richmond, and while she avoids jumping on the trend bandwagon, she’s enamored of movements toward local ingredients and craft cocktails. She cringes when presented with an otherwise gorgeous plate that contains prepackaged, canned or frozen components, shortcuts she calls lazy.

Morris was born in West Virginia, and that familial connection instilled her love of good Southern food. Childhood memories are of Ceres Hollow, eating coal miner food slow-cooked with ingredients driven by poverty and the need to use every edible piece. West Virginia also was the inspiration, after her grandmother died at 100, for her latest project, a crockpot cookbook, drawing on hundreds of handwritten recipes that were bequeathed to her.

But creating “The Southern Slow Cooker” wasn’t simply transcribing her grandmother’s cache of index cards. Just because a recipe is successful when cooked slowly on a coal-burning stove doesn’t mean it will work well in a crockpot with very different moisture levels and temperature settings.

Take her granny’s applesauce cake, a challenge that gave her fits. She discovered the key was to leave the eggs out, reducing the amount of retained moisture and changing the texture of this daylong-cooked cake from gelatinous to tender.

There’s some competition in crockpot cookbooks, with as many as five coming out around the same time as Morris’ August release. She attributes this to busy families and a desire to “set it and forget it,” along with changing tastes that reject overly processed, prepared foods in favor of home-cooked meals.

And that may be part of what sets her cookbook apart from the others — real ingredients without the lazy shortcuts. Where other guides might advise you to add a sodium- and chemical-laced French onion packet as a thickening agent, “The Southern Slow Cooker” will direct you to combine a tablespoon of butter and one of flour, knead them into a little ball, then drop into her potato and rice soup with smoked ham recipe. It’s a simple, more effective and less processed way to get that soup to the thick and hearty texture you’re hankering for.

Morris is at heart a Southern country girl. Her blog may be named Fatback and Foie Gras, but she’ll pick fatback every time, and believes it maintains what she calls the integrity of the style. You might just agree on that choice after tasting her West Virginia brown beans and fatback, the pork adding a deep and difficult-to-replicate richness to the dish. If you’re squeamish about fatback, she offers alternative ingredients that will nearly re-create the flavor. But really, you don’t want “nearly” Southern food.

“The Southern Slow Cooker: Big-Flavor, Low-Fuss Recipes for Comfort Food Classics” (Ten Speed Press) can be pre-ordered at Fountain Bookstore. Kendra Bailey Morris’ blog can be found at fatbackandfoiegras.blogspot.com.

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