I got through a little over half of the book before it went missing. I had not finished the book when I decided to use it for my hosting gig at Cook the Books. Determined that I would find it sooner or later, I went ahead and scheduled it for the December/January round. It would turn up, I thought.
At the beginning of December, I still had not found it. I located a used cheap copy in good condition and started to reread.
A Place at the Table by Susan Rebecca White
Do you like a good traditional pound cake recipe and inspired Southern cuisine?
Do you like a novel with Southern charm (and that Southern Gothic element as well)?
What about a good quirky character ensemble?
Susan Rebecca White’s novel, A Place at the Table, combines all of these elements. The novel’s prologue describes a disturbing scene in Emancipation, North Carolina during the late 20s, but the bulk of the novel takes place during the 1980s in Georgia, Connecticut and New York City. How does a character from an era of lynchings and fear intertwine with more modern characters trying to make their way in NYC? You will enjoy finding out the answer and following the three main characters of Alice, Bobby, and Amelia as they all make their way to find peace with themselves and the world around them.
That was my blurb for the CTB announcement. Actually, I think it makes the book sound quite trite so kudos to those of you who continued on with the CTB challenge and read the book. As I read (and re-read parts), I found White to have combined elements of Southern traditions and mores and all the good and bad that these customs hold. With inspired cuisine and accounts of the deeply personal struggles and trials of the characters, White held me captive as I waited to see if Bobby would recover from all of his losses, if Alice would ever reveal what really happened in Emancipation and if Amelia would ever realize what else life had to offer her. Gus and Meemaw are lovable characters that are oft quoted for their wise (and humorous) ways (especially in the first half of the novel).
And, don’t forget that parting pound cake recipe.
There were lots of Bobby’s inspired dishes that I could have created (and I hope some of the members do just that), but I kept coming back to the scene where Bobby meets Sebastian’s parents. Nervous, Bobby states a couple of times that he needs a drink to make it through brunch.
I am now feeling desperate for a drink, but Sebastian is slow and deliberate with such things. No Mr and Mrs T Bloody Mary Mix for him. He has the Silver Palate Cookbook opened and has pulled out tomato juice, horseradish, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and a lemon from the fridge and is now plucking basil leaves off the plant on the windowsill. (157)
Bobby’s mention of the Silver Palate Cookbook got me to thinking. I had a 25th Anniversary edition that a friend had given me many years ago. The cookbook was first published in 1979. This book was kind of a big deal in the 80s and 90s, the decades in which the book is set. (It broke previous cookbook sales records.) Taking it down from the shelf, I looked up the recipe that Sebastian used. (The Silver Palate is mentioned at least twice more in the novel.)
A Good & Spicy Bloody Mary
from The Silver Palate Cookbook
1 qt. tomato juice
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
2 T. prepared horseradish
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Several hefty dashes of Worcestershire sauce, to taste
Several hefty dashes of Tabasco, to taste
1 1/2 c. vodka
Chopped basil leaves, for garnish
Combine all the ingredients except the vodka and basil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Simmer for 5-6 minutes. Let cool.
Pour a jigger of vodka into an ice-filled glass. Add the Bloody Mary mixture, stir, and top with chopped basil.
This recipes makes a delicious mixer that you can whip up and keep in your refrigerator until needed. No, Mr and Mrs T for you either.
You can vary this basic recipe in the following ways:
- Mexican: substitute tequila for vodka for a Bloody Maria
- Texan: add 2 T. barbecue sauce
- Asian: add soy sauce and grated ginger
- Mountain-top: Serve hot
- May also use other herb garnishes like dill or oregano.
I had to laugh when I started heating the ingredients for the mixer. Poor Bobby, I thought. If Sebastian made this cocktail like indicated in the cookbook, Bobby had to wait quite a while for his emergency cocktail.
Our favorite garnish (which is a meal in itself) is to skewer cubed very good cheddar, marinated olives, and a slice of salami. (Unfortunately my “very good cheddar” decided to crumble rather than skewer for these pictures.)
The book is full of other food references including but not limited to the famous chocolate mousse served at Cafe Andres, Bobby’s banana pudding trifle, his crayfish spread that he presents to Sebastian’s Kosher parents, Alice’s holiday baking, matzo ball soup, Amelia’s meal (including steak with bernaise sauce) for Cam, her pathetic Pepperidge Farm cheese sticks, Parrin’s “of the moment” dinner party menu, recipes from Homegrown, book launch parties.
Besides the plethora of food, I also found some nostalgic comfort in White’s spot-on references to the 1980s and early 1990s in the novel. She captured both the hope and fear of this bizarre decade.
This all being said, however, I did lose my patience with Amelia at times and I did think the final convergence of all the characters’ relationships was a bit odd. Ultimately, though, I did enjoy the book.
As previously stated, I am hosting the current round for Cook the Books. If you are a quick reader, there is still time to participate. (For the announcement post, click here.) Anyone is welcome to join in. Simply create a dish inspired by the book and post about it. Then, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) on or before January 31, 2016. Please include your name, your blog’s name, the name of your dish and a photo (or allow me to pull a photo from your website). Then, plan on joining us for the February/March book selection, The Unprejudiced Palate: Classic Thoughts on Food and the Good Life by Angelo Pellegrini (1948), hosted by Simona of Briciole.
Also, stay tuned for more recipes from our after-Christmas get-together, including Gourmet Veggie Pizza, Cannellini Baked Beans, and Super Bowl Sandwiches.
I am also participating in a very exciting event in February. More to come….