Last year, my brother-in-law, Ben Johnson South, conceived the “67-County Alabama Garden Party,” a weekly series published by his hometown newspaper, The Cullman Tribune. It features his 67 unique pen and ink quilt square drawings and highlights descriptions of each county, its stories, history and links to the Alabama Garden Party. The genius of Ben is that the order of publishing the 67 articles wasn’t alphabetical, regional or anything ordinary – but the order in which each county joined the state of Alabama. We all learned some history!
The series also included a recipe chosen to link to Ben’s quilt square art and the county’s heritage. Food! This is where I got involved in the series – helping develop recipes and share food that tied to each county and the focus of the article. During this year-long process, it became apparent that several of them would go together quite naturally into a menu for a special event or gathering, something that we Southerners love to plan.
This is the first of 12 monthly menus that will highlight a few of the 67-County Alabama Garden Party recipes. This menu is envisioned for a January Wintry, Fireside Supper – a super cozy fireside chat with comfort food and a warming drink such as hot cocoa or a brandy.
- Start with the Randolph County Black-Eyed Pea, Goat Cheese and Sun-Dried Tomato Bruschetta.
- Follow that up with the Monroe County Hearty, Chunky, and Wordy Soup.
- If you’ve saved room for dessert, top off your fireside supper with the Washington County Sweet Honey Blues Cobbler.
The Randolph County quilt square art was a lovely hydrangea blossom. Ben’s article articulated a very easy method we’d learned for drying hydrangea blooms while in their summer splendor. (Cut long stems while in peak bloom, place into a tall vase in about 3 inches of water, store them in a cool and dark place and forget about them. In a few weeks they will drink up all the water and morph into a perfect dried flower. They are not indestructible and will shatter a little if abused (won’t we all), but if handled gently they can add to arrangements all year.)
This Randolph County appetizer, utilizing dried peas and tomatoes, was a natural fit with the theme of using dehydrating procedures for both florals and foods from the Alabama Garden. Ben’s article and my recipe can be found in the Cullman Tribune’s online archives at www.cullmantribune.com/2019/09/21/67-county-alabama-garden-party-randolph-county.
The main course for your wintry evening, the Monroe County Hearty, Chunky, and Wordy Soup article highlights Monroeville and Monroe County’s literary heritage. Acclaimed as Alabama’s Literary Capital, Monroeville has been home to many famous writers, including Harper Lee and Truman Capote. The soup starts out “Hearty and Chunky” with sautéed Monroe sausage and a variety of vegetables and broth flavors. Then, the soup becomes “Wordy” like Monroe County writers, with the addition of alphabet shaped pasta – ABC soup is not just for children! A perfect accompaniment to this hearty and warming meal would be a chunk of buttermilk cornbread made from cornmeal from Monroe County’s Rikard’s Mill, a restored grist mill in the heart of a beautiful rural landscape. The link in the Cullman Tribune’s online archives to Ben’s article and my “Wordy” soup is below.
Washington County was the first county in the state of Alabama, therefore the first in the 67 County Alabama Garden Party series. Ben’s focus of this county’s tribute was the honey producers who are prolific in the area. The recipe, Sweet Honey Blues Cobbler, contributed by Rebecca Catalina of the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, is a perfect combination of sweet blueberries and local honey, with a crunchy topping for a warm cobbler to top off a January Wintry, Fireside Supper. Ben’s article and Rebecca’s recipe can be found using the following link to the Cullman Tribune’s online archives.
Enjoy your cozy fireside supper, and next month, watch for the 67-County Alabama Garden Party recipes to combine for a perfect February Romantic Valentine’s Dinner at home!