Joni Woolf: Soul food for the body

Published 11:28 am Saturday, June 10, 2017

Yesterday I found a pretty bunch of collards at the grocery store, and, having not cooked any in quite a while, decided to have a “soul food” kind of supper. I had a rutabaga, decided to add meat loaf and corn bread … my mouth was watering before I left the store.
I know that the way we Southern women cook vegetables is not considered the healthiest of ways. And when some of my relatives visit, I cook with a little butter or olive oil. But this was about me and what I wanted, so I put pots of water on to boil, with a slice of bacon and a little salt in each. I washed (and washed and washed) the collard greens, cut off the thick stem ends, and chopped them in pieces while the water boiled. Then I dropped them in, filling the large pot to the top, knowing it would sink to half-full shortly. It did. I used no modern method: I cooked them two hours. I prepared the rutabaga by cutting it in pieces. As I’ve gotten older, this has gotten harder: I use a hammer to drive the large knife through the rutabaga and into pieces about two inches wide, then drop those pieces into the boiling water (with the bacon and salt) and cook until a fork pierced through a piece indicates they are tender. Then I drain most (but not all) of the liquid and mash the rutabaga with a potato masher into soft, large pieces. This is easy cooking.
I made the meat loaf by a recipe that was featured here 1/12/17, combining ground chuck with half as much sausage; it is a favorite of my son-in-law, Marshall Wooten. I keep two slices for myself and give the rest to his family. I also decided to make a pan of cornbread, and instead of using a recipe, I threw together a cup of meal, a half-cup of flour, an egg, a cup of buttermilk, a little vegetable oil and cooked it in a large cast-iron skillet at 425 degrees F. for about 25 minutes. When it was all done, I sliced a tomato, and served up a lovely plate of green, orange, red, yellow and brown! Color coordination does matter, even when the only person who sees the presentation is yourself.
Sometimes it’s fun to put together a meal that simply satisfies impulsive cravings. In my case, I get to share it with my daughter’s family up the hill. Even if there is no one with whom we might share, all of the above foods could be stored in containers and heated up the next day or put in the freezer for next week.
The only thing missing from this meal was something sweet. I did not even have an Oreo cookie tucked away to satisfy the craving. So, I decided I would today make a cake that is small, easy, and never fails. I recently shared it with a friend, who assured me her attempt was successful. Though small, it is dense and rich, and a little slice goes a long way. Try it soon. It keeps well, as we learned when we had the little restaurant called CJ’s in the Maze.

Butter Almond Tart (from my daughter-in-law, Elizabeth North, an excellent cook)
(8 servings)
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
¾ cup melted butter (1.5 sticks)
2 eggs
1 ½ teaspoons pure almond extract
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups plain white flour
3-4 tablespoons sliced almonds, slightly toasted*
1 tablespoon granulated sugar (garnish)
Grease (I use some of the melted butter) and flour a 9-inch round cake pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and toast the almonds lightly. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar and melted butter. Don’t bother to use a mixer, it’s more trouble than it’s worth, and a whisk works fine. Beat in eggs and extracts. Add salt and flour and mix well.
Spread batter evenly in pan. Cover with the toasted almonds. Sprinkle a little sugar on top as garnish. Bake for 30-35 minutes. When it is done, it will pull slightly away from the edge of the pan. Cool in the pan. When completely cool, run knife lightly around edge and turn out. Flip back onto plate.
Variations: Use toasted pecans in place of almonds and place them on top of the tart in a pretty design. In that case, use 2 tablespoons bourbon and 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla in place of almond and vanilla. Also try fruit (sliced Bosc pears, fresh figs or plums) in place of the almonds. If the fruit is on the dry side it works better. You can experiment with fruit brandies or other liquor in the tart batter, but it’s too bland if you just use vanilla.
* Toast for a few minutes in the oven as it’s preheating to 350 degrees F. Watch carefully — they burn in a split second! Three to four minutes is usually sufficient. They will continue to brown on top of the tart, so you want them a light beige color.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at