Prudence Hilburn: Simplicity can still be sublime
“Old-fashioned and unforgettable.” These two words came to mind when I was reading one of my favorite cookbooks. A friend recently gave me “Martha Pullen’s Southern Family Cookbook,” and reading it brings back so many taste memories from my past.
When I was growing up, I didn’t realize what a great cook my mother was. I thought everybody ate like we did, but I was mistaken. I later learned the simple egg noodles mother made with ease were actually a form of pasta. We lived in the mill village, and Mother often had to “make do” with whatever we had on hand.
I remember she made her cake layers from scratch. I admit they were not always the most tender and light layers, but they were good, especially when she made a simple frosting to bring it from ordinary cake to a wonderful dessert.
When I first started writing food columns about 30 years ago, my goal was to get people back in the kitchen. To do this, I believed the recipes should not call for ingredients that are not readily available. Also, sometimes when we read recipes in the paper, we decide not to try them because they call for so many different ingredients. The recipes also need to sound tasty and easy enough for a novice to want to try them. This does not mean a professional cook would not enjoy them also.
I have never been critical about the use of convenience foods when used creatively in a recipe. I learned this from the six times I competed in the Pillsbury Bake-Off. Cooks who work outside the home sometimes have to budget their time in the kitchen, and the use of mixes, etc., will help them accomplish this.
One old-fashioned, “from-scratch” recipe that comes to mind is butter rolls with a sauce that forms as the rolls bake. This dessert is made from basic ingredients that are found in most kitchens — flour, milk, sugar, shortening, butter and vanilla extract.
In the South, we prefer self-rising flour, but if you don’t have it, you can make your own by adding a tablespoon of baking powder and a teaspoon of salt to 2 cups of all-purpose flour.
I think there is a lot of truth in the saying “Simple is often best.”
OLD FASHIONED BUTTER ROLLS
2 cups self-rising flour
1/3 cup shortening
2/3 cup buttermilk
6 tablespoons butter, softened
5 to 6 tablespoons sugar
1 quart milk
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter
Combine flour, shortening and buttermilk in bowl of food processor, fitted with steel blade (or make the biscuit dough in your usual way). Process until dough forms. Remove from bowl onto a well-floured surface. Knead until dough is a little firmer than regular biscuit dough. Roll out to a rectangle about 9-by-13 inches.
Spread the 6 tablespoons of softened (not melted) butter over surface and sprinkle with 5 to 6 tablespoons sugar. Roll up jelly-roll style, starting with the 13-inch side. Cut into pinwheels that are about 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick. Place cut-side down in baking pan.
In large saucepan, combine milk, sugar, vanilla and 2 tablespoons butter. Heat until hot and butter is melted. Pour over rolls. Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. Rolls will be lightly browned on top and the milk mixture will have thickened slightly to form a sauce.
Note: Some people like to add a little cinnamon to the sugar that is sprinkled over the unbaked dough.
Prudence Hilburn of Piedmont, Alabama, has won more than 30 national cooking awards and written several cookbooks, including “Simply Southern and More.” Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.prudencehilburn.com.