For a long time I was more intimidated than excited by The Taste of Country Cooking, the late Edna Lewis’s remarkable account of the foods she ate growing up in a farming community called Freetown, Virginia. Her beautiful and evocative descriptions of a life so wonderfully attuned to the earth and the seasons seemed to preclude preparing her recipes with meat and produce from the supermarket; how could they possibly compare, and wouldn’t it be sacrilege? Lewis doesn’t try to make her reader feel that way—writing in 1976 she recommended Perdue chickens to those of us who can’t find better. But a supermarket bird hardly seems enticing when you’ve been reading about the antics of the chickens of Freetown.
Last March the Wednesday Chef described Lewis’s sour-milk griddle cakes in terms so tempting I had to try them, and thus I eased into this book with baking. My flour couldn’t be too terribly inferior, I guessed, and when breakfast is this yummy, you don’t feel guilty about not having picked and preserved the berries yourself.
Now that it’s summer I feel as if I can explore The Taste of Country Cooking a little more fully, shopping at the Greenmarket and dreaming of a garden of my own. With its descriptions of the intense excitement attending each new arrival on the farm and at the table, this book illuminates the virtues of seasonal eating more convincingly than any other I can think of. And as a portrait of a bygone moment in American life, it reminds me of the work of Laura Ingalls Wilder (which is about the highest compliment I can give).
The recipes here are arranged into menus for everyday breakfasts and dinners next to feasts for holidays and other special events. Though there is no menu for the 4th of July—it sounds as if days were long and full on the farm right about then—I think this yellow vanilla pound cake and blueberry cake are just what they would have eaten.