Ford shares her Southern roots

BOOKMARK

August 04, 2004|By Helen B. Jones | Helen B. Jones,SUN STAFF

Memo to Faith Ford: My mother had to have your peach-cobbler recipe. And she makes a mean peach cobbler herself. Yours, she says, is easier to make and tastes great.

Ford, for those who don't watch sitcoms on prime-time network television, played Southern belle/newswoman Corky Sherwood on Murphy Brown for 10 years, and now plays homemaker Hope Shanowski on Hope & Faith.

The latter character is silly and so was the former, but there's nothing silly about Cooking With Faith (Scribner, 2004, $25). In it, Ford shows herself to be a serious cook of the Southern variety and an engaging storyteller. You don't just get a recipe for Sit-Down Sizzlin' Salad, you learn who taught Ford to make it and how, back home in Pineville, La., it couldn't be served until everyone was sitting at the table. You learn that as an acting student Ford got tips on roasting potatoes from actress Jane Leeves (later of Frasier). And that she had the cast of Murphy Brown drooling over the dishes she served them.

The book is subtitled 125 Classic and Healthy Southern Recipes. While a few seem to be no kin to Southern cooking - Dilled Grilled Salmon Nicoise With Zesty Lemon-Herb Dressing and Balsamic-Braised Broccoli, for example - this book's roots are deep in the South.

For a start, there's Southern-Style Fried Catfish, Southern-Style Mustard Greens, Creamy Cheese Grits and Stewed Okra and Tomatoes.

Ford precedes every recipe with a paragraph of cooking tips and/or chatty, nostalgic recollections about food and family. Then her mom, Patricia, weighs in on many dishes. Because her memory is much longer than her daughter's, the reader is taken way back into the culinary lives of a close-knit family.

When Ford moved away from home, she began experimenting with more healthful versions of the foods she grew up with. Grits found a place in Arugula Salad With Honey-Mustard Dressing and Cheese Grits. Southern-Style Fried Catfish became Oven-Fried Pecan-Crusted Catfish. Readers can take their pick of the Old South and the New South.

The book is sprinkled with photographs of Ford and her family at work (in the kitchen) and at play. Only eight of the 125 recipes are represented by pictures, but those eight are full-color beauties.

I made Faith's Sizzlin' Salad (an mmm-good wilted salad of red-leaf lettuce, scallions and turkey bacon) and Cora's Peach Cobbler, which brings me back to the recipe my mother had to have. She came over to help me make it and was happily surprised to see that it took less work than her own version. She uses a pie crust top and bottom, while Ford's version (her grandmother Cora's, actually) has a simple, cakelike topping.

My mother, four other family members, a family friend and I devoured the cobbler and agreed that it was mighty fine, but no one said it was better than my mother's. Before she left for home, though, my mother said to me: "I want that recipe." Being a dutiful daughter, I got a copy to her before you could say "peachy keen."

Cora's Peach Cobbler

Serves 8

1 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar (divided use)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon cornstarch

10 medium peaches (about 2 1/2 pounds), peeled and sliced

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

3/4 cup milk

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. To make cinnamon sugar, combine the 1 tablespoon sugar with the cinnamon. Set aside.

In a saucepan over medium heat, stir together 3/4 cup of the sugar, 3/4 cup water and the cornstarch. Bring to a boil and simmer until the mixture is clear, about 2 minutes. Add the fruit and bring the mixture back to a boil, then immediately pour it into a 9-inch-by-12-inch baking dish.

In a bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup sugar with the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the milk and stir until fairly smooth (this mixture is like pancake batter - better to leave a few small lumps than to overmix).

Drizzle the batter evenly over the fruit. Dot the butter over the batter, then sprinkle batter with the cinnamon sugar.

Bake the cobbler until the topping is crisp, golden-brown and cakelike in texture, about 1 hour. Let it cool in the pan before serving. This cobbler will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 2 days, but it's best served the day it's made.

Per serving: 349 calories; 4 grams protein; 12 grams fat; 8 grams saturated fat; 59 grams carbohydrate; 2 grams fiber; 32 milligrams cholesterol; 172 milligrams sodium

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