24 February 2012

Edna Lewis' Game Changing Old-Fashioned Cheese Straws

Old-Fashioned Cheese Straws
Not only was Edna Lewis a tall, commanding woman but she was a giant in the culinary world as well. Edna was born in Freetown, Virginia, in 1916, which was a small farming community. She was the granddaughter of one of the founding fathers. Edna would grow up to be a great chef, culinary ambassador, caretaker of genuine Southern cooking and deserving of her place on the list of 50 Women Game Changers. She lived her life with grace in often difficult times and epitomizes what the South and Southern cooking means to me. She went on to become one of the best known Southern cooks of her generation and someone who cared deeply about preserving her heritage and all Southern cooking.


On About.com it says," Edna acquired her cooking skills and love of freshness and seasonability growing up in Freetown, where such things were a part of life. She learned most of her cooking from her Aunt Jenny. They used a wood-fired stove for all of their cooking and didn't have measuring spoons or scales, so instead they used coins, piling baking powder on pennies, salt on dimes and baking soda on nickels. Edna could tell when a cake was done by listening." 


Edna left Freetown when she was 16, after her father passed away and eventually moved to New York City where she met and married Steve, a retired merchant seaman and a Communist. She became interested in political causes and her life gained momentum.

In New York Edna's cooking made her a local legend. She met John Nicholson, an antiques dealer, and in 1949 the two decided to open Café Nicholson on the East Side of Manhattan which was a huge success story. She did all the cooking and shared delicious Southern dishes earning high accolades from her patrons, famous or not.

Miss Lewis, as she was almost always called, went on to cook elsewhere and in the early 1970s published her first book, The Edna Lewis Cookbook after needing  break due to a broken legEdna and her book caught the attention of legendary Knopf editor, Judith Jones, who published The Taste of Country Cooking, the book that put Miss Lewis firmly on the culinary map. Her next book, also with Judith Jones, was In Pursuit of Flavor. Edna's books are as much personal memoirs as a collection of recipes. They contain wonderful histories of Southern food and reflections on rural life. Her books are full of tips acquired from  a lifetime of cooking. Edna's pioneering chapters on fresh foods and seasonality predate the American culinary revolution. She will be sorely missed. Watch this amazing video starring Edna Lewis herself called Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie which chronicles her life.


One of our simple pleasures in life is navigating the blogging community and participating where the feeling takes us. Our group is now well past the halfway point on the list of Gourmet Live's 50 Women Game Changers. The past ninth months have flown by as we experimented with dishes from each of the 50 influential women on "the list." Whether you agree or disagree with the authors chosen fifty and their order it has been an enjoyable and creative outlet to cook from the masters and those we admire. There have even been a few successful bloggers on the list. We have checked out books from the library, borrowed cookbooks from friends, surfed the Internet and browsed our own cookbook collections seeking that one recipe that will highlight that weeks outstanding woman. This group is spearheaded by my favourite well-travelled blogger Mary of One Perfect Bite who back in June 2011 invited bloggers to travel along on a culinary journey throughout the year. It is still not too late to join in in 2012. 


What have we been up to with our latest Game Changer....


If you grew up in the South thin, crisp pastry sticks with the tang of cayenne and sharp Cheddar cheese would have been present at every celebration. These cheese straws taste remarkably like goldfish crackers which is perhaps what drew me to the recipe. They have a bit of zing and a true cheesiness from good Cheddar cheese. I cut them into short, twisty sticks and served them standing straight up in large cups, along with pitchers of sangria and platters of fruit skewers at a brunch. Unlike many baked goods, they improve in flavour when they're made a day before they're served. They were gone in nearly as little time as it took to make them, which isn't saying much!


**Old-Fashioned Cheese Straws**

  • 1 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature cut into pieces
  • 1/2 lb (2-1/2 cups) 8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
  • 2 tablespoons water
1. Sift the flour, mustard, salt and cayenne into a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat the cheese and butter on low speed until well blended. Gradually beat in the flour until completely incorporated. Add the water and beat for 1 minute.

2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 5 times. On a large sheet of wax paper, roll the dough into a 12-by-9-inch rectangle. Slide the dough onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate until chilled, about 15 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 425°. Cut the dough in half crosswise, then cut it into 6-by-1/4-inch strips. Transfer the strips to 2 cookie sheets. Bake 1 sheet at a time for about 14 minutes, or until the cheese straws are golden brown and crisp. Let cool slightly, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and or owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison.
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39 comments:

  1. I never knew Cheese Straws were Southern, how interesting. Thanks for sharing Edna Lewis' story with us this week.

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  2. These would be fun to make for when guests come over.

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  3. Lovely and interesting post, Val. May I take one of these delicious straws?

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  4. These sound delicious, Val. They really were a great choice to illustrate the recipes and cooking of Edna Lewis. She led an amazing and inspiring life. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

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  5. Wonderful! That is one of my favorite snacks.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  6. Oh, I'm SO making these! Lovely :D

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  7. This looks totally delicious..I would love to try this..Bookmarked.

    Aarthi
    http://www.yummytummyaarthi.com/

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  8. Wonderful post, Val. I love the video, I wonder if PBS has done a special on her life? I want to make those cheese straws, they look delicious and easy.

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  9. What a nice recipe to try, my kids would like. I have never heard of Edna Lewis before. Have a great week-end!

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  10. My mother used to make cheese sticks from puff pastry, but these sound pretty interesting. Perhaps they were from the French influence in the South.

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  11. I could just sit and eat a ton of these. You picked a great recipe. Thanks for sharing with us.

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  12. Just add Champagne...beautiful post!

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  13. These would be fantastic for entertaining!

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  14. What a great recipe! Bread sticks ... all the satisfaction of a crusty bread slice, but in a much smaller portion! Genius for those of us trying to diet a bit!

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  15. I'm home. It's snowing and I have every ingredient in the house. It's Kismet. These are grand and Ms. Lewis even grander.

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  16. I'm so glad you have featured cheese straws Val. They, along with toasted pecans, are about as "southern" as one can get. I have to hid them if I'm serving them at a party, because I'll look around and they're gone.

    Edna Lewis is one of the most interesting ladies in this entire group. I'm really enjoying reading everyone's post about her.
    Sam

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  17. Vall sound and look delicious! love this!! gloria

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  18. These are crunchy, cheesy addictions waiting to happen!

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  19. Cheese straws should be charged for being so easy to make, there's no excuse in the book to not make them :D These look lovely!

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  20. What a wonderful synopsis of Edna's life, great job. You can tell what a warm, kind person she was from her smile. Your photos are gorgeous, so colorful and inviting!

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  21. I love the composition of the photo! Thanks for sharing Edna Lewis story and hand me some bread sticks please :D.

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  22. What a lovely photo you found of Edna Lewis, Val.
    And I've made these cheese straws. They are fabulous.

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  23. These are a hit at any party and I thank you for the recipe and learning about another wonderful woman.

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  24. I'm enjoying your series very much, Val. I have learned a lot about important women in the culinary world and have gotten some great recipes along the way. Many thanks.

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  25. I love cheese straws! These look delicious and so easy. I definitely need a recipe like this for those nights I want something with a soup or salad but don't want to go through the effort of making a loaf of bread.

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  26. Awesome. You totally made me want to try these, so glad you posted the recipe.

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  27. Mmm, those cheese straws wouldn't last very long in our house either. I think we'd struggle to even let the flavours mature for a day, they look so good!

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  28. I loved these cheese straws and your photos are just beautiful!

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  29. I so enjoy reading your post; and these cheese straws look so good; beats the ones you buy at the supermarket.
    Rita

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  30. love these! puff pastry is just full of possibilities, and cheese straws are perfect for parties!

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  31. What a great post, Val! So excited that you did such a detailed recap on a woman that's totally underrated. I wish more ppl would talk about her. I'm guilty. :( Cheese straws are incredibly popular here in Atlanta. I'm not a huge fan but I respect their place.

    Bren
    Flanboyant Eats™

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  32. A very different recipe - no leavening at all. But the cheese and fat will make them nice and tender. I will have to try this.

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  33. Val, I love your write ups and reviews. This is wonderful.. and I love this recipe for cheese straws! Sharp cheddar and dry mustard with a dash of cayenne.. it sounds cajun! yumm. I am definitely printing this out. Thanks for sharing!!

    http://www.onefavoredlife.com/

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  34. Great to learn about Edna Lewis! The cheese straws look awesome!

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  35. oh yes the cheese straw or should we call them crack straw? lol
    i made these once with extra worcheshire (sp?) sauce. So good

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  36. Another wonderful post and another great cook! I can see why these would make it onto a special occasion dinner table. These look delicious!

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  37. Having moved to the South 16 years ago, I (first) had never heard of Cheese Straws (since I am a native mid-westerner from Iowa). I've indulged in them a few times, and think that from what I've read in your recipe that these ingredients are the reason why they are so popular! I'm a huge fan of 'goldfish' mini-crackers myself, so this recipe must be truly addictive, Val! Cheese straws have a strong presence on luncheon and holiday buffets here in the South; not only Southern magazines, but in also every Souuhern cookbook published! I can see why!

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Welcome to my home. Thank you so much for choosing to stay a while and for sharing our lives through food. I appreciate all your comments, suggestions, daily encouragement and support.

Val

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