Nashville Seasons


(Editor’s Note:  Brady Potts, stalwart recipe-taster, occasional food photographer, and general better half, will be stepping in from time to time with a little feature called Drinking With the Junior League, a round-up of cocktails from the cookbooks we’ve explored to date.  Nearly every Junior League cookbook includes a section dedicated to lively punches and potent potables suitable for entertaining, and let’s face it, most of us could use a little branching out of our mixology skills.  This week’s interlude will feature cocktails from Nashville Seasons, Bay Tables, and Charleston Receipts.  Cheers!)

I like to imagine that those of you who’ve been following along with Mary’s journey into the hallowed archives of Junior League cookery have been as impressed as I have with my sweetie’s historiculinary exploits.  “Golly,” I imagine you saying as you scroll past pictures of crawfish beignets and cereal tycoons, “there’s a gal who’s on the ball and cute to boot!”  But most of all, I like to imagine that you are deeply, profoundly jealous of the amazing food I get to eat every week. And oh, you should be.

(Except for the aspic. Hooboy.)

So in an effort to give Mary a breather – and in a transparent, sad attempt to be more like Don Draper – I’ve volunteered to plunge headfirst into the boozier chapters of the Junior League cookbook history, to a time where afternoon cocktails were a given, and a party just wasn’t a party unless there was a large crystal bowl filled with something pink and flammable, maybe with a pineapple floating in it. First on the list? Straight from Nashville Seasons, we have the classic strawberry Daiquiri.

Strawberry Daiquiri

Nashville Seasons's Strawberry Daiquiri

Nashville Seasons's Strawberry Daiquiri

6 jiggers dark rum
2 jiggers lime juice
Strawberries
Grenadine and sugar to taste

Sweeten lime juice with grenadine and sugar. Combine with rum and 1 tablespoon crushed strawberries. Place in blender of crushed ice, whirl and serve to four delighted guests.
-Mrs. Walter M. Morgan Jr.

My initial foray into boozing with the Junior League is a strange beast indeed. I’m not usually one for boat drinks, but after a long walk to the liquor store on a hot day to procure fixins for one of the more esoteric drinks on this week’s menu, it sounded like just the thing.

(Well, there was that, and then there was the part where I hadn’t noticed that the one I’d been planning on making is to be frozen before it is served.)

As dedicated rummies know, a real daiquiri has almost nothing to do with crushed ice and neon red syrups; the original recipe is really more of a rum gimlet and what most people think of as daiquiris are really little more than booze smoothies. And that’s what we have here, though I admit to being a little baffled by the recipe.  Only a tablespoon of crushed strawberries? What madness! I halved the recipe – I do have things to do tonight, after all – and threw in about three rather large strawberries. The result?

A lady, as they say, is never photographed with a drink in hand, but a few more of these and a drink in your hand would be the last thing you’d worry about, picture-wise. Clearly, Mrs. Walter M. Morgan, Jr. enjoyed a good tipple now and then, because her strawberry daiquiri packs a bit of a wallop. That said, it’s very refreshing, and who wants a weak drink anyway? Even with the sextupling of the strawberries in the recipe, the lime was pretty strong, so next time I might err on the side of even more strawberries, or perhaps a little more grenadine.

Still, it isn’t syrupy or oversweet, and for that I give it three swizzle sticks out of four.

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The plan for this week’s meal from the very high-toned Nashville Seasons was a selection of the sorts of dishes that might be served at a ladies’ spring tea on the terrace of some fine old Nashville plantation-style home in the early 1960s.  And an occasion like that, my friends, calls for an aspic.

These days, you’re most likely to encounter aspic either in The Gallery of Regrettable Food, or in a former Soviet state (a couple of my friends spent time there, and independently informed me that aspic dishes were both abundant and uniformly awful).  However, for most of the 20th century, aspic dishes commonly turned up in American cookbooks and women’s magazines, until, for reasons unknown to this day, the nation collectively came to its senses.

Of the many aspic recipes featured in Nashville Seasons, this one offended my sensibilities least, and in fact, seemed like it had the potential to be both savory and refreshing.

Tomato Aspic I

Tomato Aspic with Lettuce and Droid Garnish

Tomato Aspic with Lettuce and Droid Garnish

2 packages lemon Jello
4 cups tomato juice
1/3 of a large size cucumber
1/3 of a medium onion
1/3 of a green pepper (optional)
2 cups shredded lettuce
Dash of ground red pepper to taste

Heat two cups of the tomato juice. Add to Jello and dissolve thoroughly, then add two cups of cold tomato juice. Grind cucumber, onion, green pepper, and lettuce in a meat grinder and add to tomato juice mixture. Add red pepper and pour in a large mold (or this amount will make 10 small molds). Put in refrigerator to congeal and serve with a spot of mayonnaise on a crisp lettuce leaf.

-Mrs. Robert W. Bolster

(A brief note about unmolding an aspic:  Loosen the edges of the mold with a warm knife, then plunge the mold into a bowl of warm water for 10 seconds.  It should pop right out.)

After I’d unmolded the aspic, I called Brady in to come see.  He regarded it for a moment, eyebrow raised and lips curled, before saying, “Well, it looks like the devil’s own sphincter.”  Perhaps it was this remark which impeded my enjoyment of the tomato aspic, and not the fact that it was a slippery, quivering, blood-red, and possibly sentient monstrosity, but I don’t think so.  I really cannot find words to describe the experience of eating aspic other than “unsettling.”

Into the trash it went – I called it an interesting lesson in culinary history, Brady called it grounds for divorce.

It did help matters somewhat that we had these little cocktail biscuits to serve as aspic chasers.

Sesame Seed Biscuits

Sesame Seed Biscuits

Sesame Seed Biscuit

2 cups flour
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 tsp. salt
Dash of red pepper
1 cup sharp cheese, grated
1/2 cup roasted sesame seed

Mix flour, shortening, salt, and pepper. Add cheese and roasted sesame seed. Roll on floured board very thin and cut in small round wafers. Place in biscuit pan and cook slowly in 300 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. Before removing from pan and while hot, sprinkle with salt. Makes several dozen. These may be kept in covered tin, and run into slow oven to crisp before serving. Good with cocktails.

-Mrs. John M. Ezzell

You might notice a serious omission in this recipe, namely, something to bind the dough together.  I added a few tablespoons of ice water, just enough to hold the crumbs together.  Make sure you roll them very thin, and err on the side of overbaking – they’re crispier that way.  We took the leftovers to a beer-tasting party at a friend’s house, and what do you know, they are VERY good with cocktails.  There was not a biscuit left at the end of the night.

Running a close second in sheer number to aspic dishes in Nashville Seasons are variations on the avocado salad.  This uncredited recipe featured four different suggested fillings, including one involving aspic.  I opted for chicken.

An Avocado Well-Filled

An Avocado Well-Filled

An Avocado Well-Filled

Peel and half 3 avocados, place on a bed of lettuce and fill with the following:

1 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken
6 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 hard cooked egg, grated
1 cup watercress chopped
1 tomato, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp. grated roquefort cheese
French dressing

Bind all ingredients with French dressing and pile into avocado halves.

Were this served on an episode of Top Chef, it would probably be presented to the judges as a “deconstructed Cobb salad.”  And while it would probably not win the challenge, Tom Collichio would probably admit it was tasty, if somewhat lacking in presentation.

Finally, because Brady had been rather sporting about the aspic, I let him pick the dessert, a recipe that reminded me why people don’t bake cakes from scratch anymore.

Maud S Devils Food Cake

Maud S Devils Food Cake

Maud S Devils Food Cake

2 cups sugar
1 cup milk
4 squares chocolate
4 eggs
1 1/2 sticks butter
2 cups flour
3/4 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tbsp. vanilla

Put 1 cup sugar, 1 cup milk, chocolate and 2 of the eggs in top of double boiler and cook until thick and smooth like mush. Let cool. Cream butter, add 1 cup sugar, then 2 egg yolks, one at a time. Combine flour, soda and baking powder. Add mush and flour mixture alternately to butter and sugar mixture. Add vanilla. Beat remaining 2 egg whites until stiff but not dry, and fold in. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour batter in two 8″ square pans, covered on the bottom with greased waxed paper. Cook for 25 minutes or until straw comes out smooth. Set pans on wire rack for 5 minutes and then turn out.

This cake is named for one of Vanderbilt’s race horses – Maud S – because the cake is so good it disappears like a race horse! It can be frozen for a month. Ice with white icing.

-Mrs. A. MacDowell Smith

This cake is a little on the dense and dry side, and I’d probably use slightly less flour next time.  Still, when you make a devil’s food layer cake for somebody, they tend to get pretty excited about it.

A head of lettuce lost its life garnishing this meal

A Meal from Nashville Seasons

And there ends the story of our Nashville garden party meal, and of my first (and last) aspic.  I need a little time to catch up this week, so I won’t be doing a new cookbook this week.  However, Brady has agreed to do a little Junior League mixology in my stead, so polish your punch bowls, and cook up some simple syrup.  One can never have too many recipes for pink cocktails.

nashville-seasonsPublished in 1964 by the Junior League of Nashville, Nashville Seasons has a split personality.  But then again, it was the 1960s, an interesting time in the American culinary landscape where home cooks were quite over casseroles and post-war convenience foods, but hadn’t yet remembered what good food actually tasted like.  As a result, good food was often confused with fussy food.

One of my favorite websites, The Food Timeline, describes this era of American cooking, saying,

The 60s encouraged showy, complicated food with French influence (Julia Child, Jacqueline Kennedy), suburban devotion (backyard barbecues), vegetarian curiosity (Frieda Caplan) and ethnic cuisine (soul food, Japanese Steak houses). This was also the decade of flaming things (fondue & Steak Diane) and lots and lots of junk food (aimed at the baby boom children).”

While the 1950s were a time when women were bombarded with the idea that cooking was hard, time-consuming, and something to be rushed over, the 60s ushered in a new edition of The Joy of Cooking, Jacqueline Kennedy’s lavish White House dinners, and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  All of these contributed to the idea that a) it was worth taking the time to cook and entertain, and b) even you could pull it off.

(Side Note:  I’m visiting Washington, D.C. this summer, and am planning a special trip to the recently reopened National Museum of American History to see Julia Child’s kitchen.  This excites the bejeezus out of me.)

One side of Nashville Seasons documents the tables of Nashville’s most affluent, grandest old families, families who prefer elegant entertaining, rich food, and fine wine.  The first section of the cookbook features etchings of the city’s graciously landscaped plantation-style homes, followed by menus served by their residents.

Dinner at Northumberland, Home of Mr. and Mrs. Guilford Dudley, Jr.

Dinner at Northumberland, Home of Mr. and Mrs. Guilford Dudley, Jr.

Soiree at West Meade, Served at 11pm, Home of Mrs Ronald L. Voss

Soiree at West Meade, Served at 11pm, Home of Mrs Ronald L. Voss

So, there are a lot of canapes, foie gras, and caviar, but Nashville Seasons isn’t all quite so grand.  There are plenty of more middle-brow recipes for everyday meals like Perfection Salad, a vegetable aspic that calls for shredded cabbage, canned peas, stuffed olives, and unflavored gelatin, molded into 12 individual servings, and Mrs. Cooper’s Atomic Meatballs (which contain absolutely no spices or seasonings of any kind, so I’m not quite sure why they’re “Atomic”).

This week, I’m preparing a menu that blends the fine dining and everyday meal aesthetics of Nashville Seasons.  And I’m definitely making an aspic, though I’ve chosen one a little bit less scary than Perfection Salad.  But in return for actually eating aspic, I’m going to let Brady pick whatever dessert he wants.