Virginia Willis Blog

Mama Says It’s Okay: Root Vegetable Gratin

Last week I wrote about “messing around with greens” with a recipe for Meme’s loooonnnggg-cooked greens and the wisdom of not changing the sacrosant and inviolable Thanksgiving menu.

This week? I’m feeling a little frisky. Actually, a lot.

I’ve taught a lovely recipe for a Root Vegetable Gratin for my next book in class several times over the last few weeks. Everyone has really loved it.

Mama was in town as my date for the Georgia Restaurant Association Awards. (They kindly honored me by asking me to be their keynote speaker.) I was showing her my photos over the past month or so. She drawled, “That’s pretty,” commenting on the golden, bubbly gratin. I told her about it and she thought it sounded nice.

I ventured out on a limb, “I uh, I thought I would maybe try that for our Thanksgiving.” She slightly lifted her brow and queried, “Oh?” Bravely, I proceeded, “Well, everyone really likes it.” (Of course, immediately bringing to mind deeply buried memories of being a child and a parent saying something along the lines of “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?”)

Mama smiled sweetly – as only mama’s can do – and replied, “I think we should try it.”

Hope you do, too.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

PS. Here’s a picture of mama down at the pond earlier this year. Shh! Don’t tell.


Root Vegetable Gratin with Sauce Mornay

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

Root Vegetable Gratin with Sauce Mornay

French chef Antonin Carême evolved an intricate methodology by which hundreds of sauces were classified under one of five "mother sauces”: Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Hollandaise, and Tomato. Béchamel, one of the most useful sauces, is a white sauce made by stirring heated milk into a butter-flour roux. The thickness of the sauce depends on the proportion of flour and butter to milk. Mornay, the sauce in this gratin is a sauce derivative of Béchamel created by simply adding cheese.

DON'T get caught up on the vegetable combination! It's a mixture of root vegetable and tubers. Can't find celery root? Use Yukon Gold potatoes. Try sweet potatoes instead of carrots and rutabagas instead of parsnips. Get all crazy and add a turnip or two. Mix it up and don't overthink it.


2 cups reduced fat milk
10 peppercorns
3 sprigs parsley
2 sprigs thyme
4 medium carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
4 small parsnips, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 celery root, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
3 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
1⁄4 cup unsalted butter, more for the baking dish
1⁄4 cup all purpose flour
1 1⁄4 cups freshly grated Gruyère cheese
1/2 cup Panko or dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Heat the milk in a small pot until just simmering. Add the peppercorns, parsley, and thyme. Remove from the heat and set aside to steep for 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°. Butter a large gratin dish and set aside. Combine all the vegetables in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. (You can also parcook the vegetables in the microwave until just tender, about 5 to 7 minutes depending on the strength of your microwave.) Add chopped herbs and stir to combine. Set aside.
  3. Melt the butter in a saucepan, whisk in the flour and cook for a minute or two until foaming. Pour in the milk and bring to a boil, whisking constantly until the sauce thickens. Season and simmer for 2 minutes. The sauce should coat the back of a spoon. Take the sauce from the heat and stir in half of both cheeses until they melt. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the vegetables and stir to combine.
  4. Spoon the vegetable mixture into the prepared gratin. Cover with foil and transfer the gratin to the oven and bake until the vegetables are tender, 45 to 60 minutes. (Or, if using parcooked vegetables, only about 30 minutes.)
  5. Heat the oven to broil. Combine the remaining gruyère, panko, and Parmesan. Sprinkle over the top of the gratin. Broil until golden brown, about 5 minutes, depending on the strength of your broiler. Remove from the oven, let cool slightly, and serve.
  6. To make ahead and reheat: Do not add the layer of breadcrumb mixture. Remove from the refrigerator, and let come to room temperature, 15 to 20 minutes. Cover with parchment paper, and reheat in a 400° oven for 20 minutes. Top with breadcrumb mixture, and broil until golden brown, about 5 minutes.

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Messing with Winter Greens


Check out this mess of collard greens!

I was teaching in Fort Valley, Georgia a few weeks ago at the Peach Palette and I asked Beth to go out and get some greens for the Tangle of Winter Greens. I think I said 4 bunches. This is HALF of what she came back with! And, being that it was Fort Valley – she just pulled up to the farmstand pickup truck and he put them in her trunk. Drive Through Collards. Only in the South. We had a good time with it and my cousin Kathy Waites took this great picture.

Love it. Love greens, too. Cabbage, collards, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens. All are brassicas and have a little bite.

I am on the road again at the Women Chef and Restauranteurs Conference in DC. Great group. But, Mama and I are already talking about the Thanksgiving menu. The amusing thing about Thanksgiving it is the one meal that is almost immovable in terms of menu. Each family member has that one dish that is their favorite and for some, it’s like the entire holiday is absolutely positively ruined if the sweet potatoes are topped with something other than toasty brown marshmallows or the Squash Casserole is missing. A day which is supposed to be a joyful gathering of family and friends instead becomes a day without sunshine. This I know. The deal is, dishes can be added, but nothing can be removed from the menu. I learned this the hard way. As a chef and now in charge of most of the savory aspects of the Thanksgiving meal (Mama still does the desserts) I have tried to branch out a bit. I once put panko breadcrumbs on the squash casserole and I sincerely felt like an enemy of the state.

One dish I absolutely won’t mess with is the mess of greens. I have had without fail, some form of cooked winter greens at every Thanksgiving meal of my entire life. I dare say even longer than turkey because my grandmother, whom I called Meme, cooked them for hours until they were meltingly soft. They were indeed appropriate as pabluum for an infant. During the fall, I generally like them a bit more toothsomeness, but I know better. For Thanksgiving I cook them just like Meme did, in a salty smoky broth flavored with hog jowl. The fat melts and the pot likker is oily and slick, perfect for sipping later and enjoying with a wedge of cornmeal.

In late November, the fields have been kissed with a touch of frost, something that Meme said brings out the sweetness in the bitter collard, kale, or mustard greens. They are at the beginning of the peak of the season and absolutely the epitome of eating local and in season. Sweet potatoes and panko are one thing. Messing with the greens is quite another.

The saying if it’s not broke, don’t fix it comes to mind, but here are a few choices for your fall and Thanksgiving menus.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

Tangle of Winter Greens
Serves 4 to 6
Kale, collards, turnip greens, and mustard greens are dark leafy winter greens that are nutritional powerhouses and familiar friends on the Southern table. Look for brightly colored greens free of brown spots, yellowing edges, or limp leaves. Try flavorful seasonings such as smoked turkey or ham hock for the meat eaters and smoked salt or chipotle chiles for the vegetarians.

I once demonstrated this recipe on a local morning TV show. Aunt Louise was watching and told Mama later, “She took those greens out of that pan just like they were done!” You won’t believe how fast they cook, either.

The best way to clean greens is to fill a clean sink with cold water, add the greens, and swish them around. The dirt will fall to the bottom of the sink. Lift the greens out, drain the sink, and repeat until the water is clear and the greens are free of dirt and grit.

2 tablespoons canola oil
3 medium cloves garlic, mashed into a paste (see below)
1 medium bunch kale, collards, turnip greens, or mustard greens (about 11/2 pounds), cleaned, tough stems removed and discarded,
and leaves very thinly sliced in chiffonade
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and slightly damp ribbons of greens; season with salt and pepper. Cook until the greens are bright green and slightly wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Garlic Paste
To prepare garlic paste, place the broad side of an unpeeled clove of garlic on a clean work surface and give it a whack with the flat side of a chef’s knife. Remove the papery skin and trim away the tough basal plane at the top of the clove. Halve the garlic lengthwise and remove any of the green shoot, if present, as it is bitter. Coarsely chop the garlic, then sprinkle it with coarse salt. (The salt acts as an abrasive and helps chop the garlic.) Then, using the flat side of a chef’s knife like an artist’s palette knife, press firmly on the garlic, crushing a little at a time. Repeat until the garlic is a fine paste.

Serves 4 to 6

Kale, collards, turnip greens, and mustard greens are dark leafy winter greens that are nutritional powerhouses and familiar friends on the Southern table. Look for brightly colored greens free of brown spots, yellowing edges, or limp leaves. Try flavorful seasonings such as smoked turkey or ham hock for the meat eaters and smoked salt or chipotle chiles for the vegetarians.

The best way to clean greens is to first remove the tough stalks and stems. Fill a clean sink with cold water. Place the greens in water and swish around, allowing the grit to fall to the bottom the sink. Lift greens out of the sink and transfer to a large bowl and rinse the sink. Repeat the process at least three times or more as needed until no grit remains.

2 pounds assorted greens, such as collard, kale, mustard, or turnip
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium Vidalia onions, chopped
2 cups water
1/2 pound hog jowl or fat back, sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the water and hog jowl and bring to a boil, gradually stir in the greens, allowing each batch to wilt before adding more; season with salt and pepper.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook, until greens are tender, stirring occasionally, about 60 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Using a slotted spoon, transfer greens to a serving dish.

Serves 8

5 pounds assorted greens, such as collard, kale, mustard or turnip
2 medium Vidalia onions, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1 smoked turkey leg, about 1 1/2 pounds
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fill a clean sink with cold water. Tear greens into large pieces and place in water to soak. Lift greens out of the sink and transfer to a large bowl, allowing grit to fall to the bottom the sink, rinse sink. Repeat process at least three times or more as needed.
Using a large pot over high heat, combine onions, oil, jalapeno and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, gradually stir in the greens, allowing each batch to wilt before adding more. Add the turkey leg and cover with greens, season with salt and pepper.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook, until greens are tender, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes, being careful not to over cook. Remove the
turkey leg, cool slightly and remove meat from leg. Dice meat and add to greens. Using a slotted spoon, transfer greens to a serving dish.

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Out and About: News and Notes


Hi there – Hope this finds you well. I left the sunny beaches of South Florida and have been zipping up some serious skymiles. Currently I am writing from New York en route to Philadelphia for the Les Dames d’Escoffier conference.


Last I touched base I had just taught in Maine. Since then, I’ve made a little jaunt through Indiana and Ohio, had a great time in Greenville SC at Euphoria with Shaun Garcia and his posse at Soby’s, taught in Savannah and had a great food and wine dinner at Local 11 Ten with chef Jeff Rodgers. I always try to sample the local – the really local food when I am in town. So, in Owensboro KY I sample BBQ mutton, West Lafayette IN, I paid a visit to the XXX – no! not that kind of XXX, and in Cincinnati? You’ve got it – SkyLine Chili!


After Philly, I have a brief stop in Memphis on Tuesday 6 October, I will be in Memphis teaching a class on Mother Sauces at the Viking Culinary Arts Center I love, love, love teaching that class!

I’m kicking of The World of Coca Cola Cooking with Coke Series on October 10. Click through on the link above to buy tickets. It’s a great value for a fun night out. I’ll be doing a demo and there will be free samples created by Tony Conway’s team at A Legendary Event as well as Wine and Specialty Beverage Tasting and a Tour of the World of Coca-Cola. Finally, parking is FREE. I’ll be doing a booksigning, so you can purchase books onsite or bring your copy to have signed. The holidays are just around the corner, so think about anyone who may need a copy of BAY for a gift. (Shameless plug, I know.) The deal is, the folks who follow me are none other than Atlanta chef Richard Blais and Food Network star Paula Deen! They told me that, and I was pretty incredulous, to put it mildly. You want ME to lead off?

Paula & VA

Speaking of Paula – my appearance on her show aired again recently. Thanks so much to everyone for their notes, emails, and FB messages. She was a blast. I’ve also been asked to write for her new website, so keep your eyes open for that!


Another really pretty cool thing going on is that my friend, colleague, and James Beard award winner Martha Foose and I are featured Cookbooks of the Month on Chowhound ! Can you believe it? Pretty ding dang awesome if you ask us! It’s really, really great. Real live readers, real people are cooking from our books, giving feedback, and asking questions. You know, I wrote yesterday that all the awards and nominations in the world mean a lot, but there’s nothing like someone showing up to my class with a dog-eared, stained copy of my cookbook. Nothing. Thanks Chowhounders!

There are a couple of professional events I want to tell you about, as well. My colleague Lisa Ekus-Saffer and I have developed a program called Honing Your Edge It’s media training for culinary professionals. We have 2 series of seminars coming up, one in DC and one in Seattle. There is also an additional seminar in DC on Cookbook Publishing 101.

Click on the link to find out more about it. In DC IACP members receive a 15% discount and in Seattle, we are extending the discount to members of LDEI. For more information, shoot Daniele an email at

Just around the corner? Charleston SC, Athens GA, and St. Louis MO! Mexico, DC, and Seattle! Who knew there were so many folks liking Southern food all over?! Lot’s of fun classes, events, and ways to participate in good food and cooking all over. So, please come out and have a great time.

In the meanwhile, please enjoy my recipe below for Mama’s Apple Pie. Apple season is upon us and there’s not much better than a steaming, spicy slice of hot apple pie.

Bon Appetit, Y’all!





Mama's Apple Pie

Yield: Makes one 9-inch pie

Even though peaches are considered the quintessential Southern fruit, the phrase “as American as apple pie” applies to the South, too. Apples grow in the cooler mountainous regions from Georgia to Virginia. There is no longer an issue with refrigeration, but apples were an important fruit for people in the country who lived off the land. When held in a cool cellar, apples lasted for months, providing much needed vitamins and nutrition in the winter.

Many factors affect an apple’s juiciness: the age of the apple, the weather and climate where it was grown, and how it has been stored. In a pie, there’s sometimes a fine line between juicy and sopping wet. Flour is one ingredient that will help absorb some of the cooking juices.

This is my sister’s favorite dessert and she always requests it on special occasions.


Double recipe All-American Pie Crust, in 2 disks (see below)
7 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
3/4 cup to 1 cup sugar, plus more for topping the pie
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of fine sea salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 tablespoon water
All-American Pie Crust
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup solid vegetable shortening, preferably Crisco, chilled and cut into pieces
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
3 to 8 tablespoons ice water


    for the crust
  1. In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the flour and salt, then add the vegetable shortening and butter. Process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.
  2. With the processor on pulse, add enough of the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough holds together without being sticky or crumbly. Shape the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill until firm and the moisture has distributed evenly, about 30 minutes.
  3. Flour a clean work surface and a rolling pin. (If making a double-crust pie or 2 pie shells, work with one disk at a time, keeping the second disk chilled.) Place a dough disk in the center of the floured surface. Starting in the center of the dough, roll to, but not over, the upper edge of the dough. Return to the center, and roll down to, but not over, the lower edge. Lift the dough, give it a quarter turn, and lay it on the work surface. Continue rolling, repeating the quarter turns, until you have a disk about 1/8 inch thick.
  4. Ease the pastry into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim 1 inch larger than the diameter of the pie plate; fold the overhanging pastry under itself along the rim of the plate. For a simple decorative edge, press the tines of a fork around the folded pastry. To make a fluted edge, using both your finger and thumb, pinch and crimp the folded dough. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
  5. for the pie
  6. To make the filling, place the apples in a bowl; sprinkle over the sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Stir to combine and coat. Place the apple mixture in the unbaked pie shell. Dot with butter bits.
  7. Roll out the remaining half of the pie crust on a lightly floured surface. Cover the filled pie crust with the round of dough, and trim so that 1 inch overhangs the pie plate. Fold the dough under, and crimp the edges by pressing with a fork or your fingers. Chill in the refrigerator until the crust is firm, about 15 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, to bake the pie, preheat the oven to 400°F. Brush the top of the pie with the water. Sprinkle over a teaspoon or so of sugar. Bake until golden brown, about 50 minutes.
  9. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly before slicing and serving.

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The Maine Course: Lobster and the End of Summer

Maine Summer

Rocky windswept cliffs capped with lighthouses. Salt soaked ocean breezes. There’s little more beautiful than a summer weekend in Maine reveling in all her glorious beauty. Last weekend I traveled to Stonewall Kitchen to teach and enjoy a brilliant weekend in New England. I want to give a big shout out to Patty and her team. They did a great job and it was absolutely fantastic! We had a sold out class in Maine! And, it wasn’t a bunch of displaced Southerners, either!


The weather was perfect – crisp and clear for a day or so, then, I am told, a storm was “ordered up” especially for me! (The photo above is of Bald Head Cliff.) I was able to experience tropical storm Danny that produced cold, wet, and nasty weather that was far from tropical for this Southern girl more used to 90 in August. The storm begged for a lunch at Barnacle Billy’s where I shared a steaming bowl of delicious lobster stew and a piping hot basket of steamers.

Barnacle Billy's

I stayed at the The Cliff House Resort and Spa a property that’s been hosting guests for fine Maine summers since 1872. The vista was absolutely breathtaking and the grounds were phenomenal. I wanted a supreme Maine experience, wanted to experience properly cooked lobster, and The Cliff House Resort and Spa was the perfect base. Only 75 miles North of Boston, it truly fit the bill.


The dining room looks out onto the mighty Atlantic and at night the floodlights illuminate the cliffs for a spectacular setting. I enjoyed shockingly brisk and briny local oysters with a pungently delicious sauce Mignonette for a first course. It was an absolutely perfect way to start the meal. We also had the Peekytoe Crab Cakes with Grain Mustard Cream and of course, steamed lobster with drawn butter served with earthy sweet salt-roasted Maine potatoes. Given my rich and indulgent dinner, I paid a trip to the spa the next day for some exercise, and yes, a little hot stone treatment, which was fantastic as I had never had one before. Many of the spa treatments utilize products from the area, including local blueberries as well as stones and shells from the coastline. While resting in the steam room afterwards I wondered if I was actually perspiring drawn butter.


Just down the road is Perkin’s Cove, a cluster of shops and art galleries perfect for dawdling away an afternoon. It couldn’t be any more picturesque. It’s more Maine-like than one could ever imagine, as if a Hollywood set decorator crafted the entire scene.


On Saturday night I dined at MC Perkins Cove owned by chefs Clark Frasier & Mark Gaier, who were nominated by the James Beard Foundation as Best Chefs of the Northeast, 2009. The food couldn’t have been better as we watched the stormy waves crash outside. We started with an incredible seafood tower, continued with perfectly cooked Peekytoe Crab Cakes, enjoyed Southern Fried Chicken Wings (just couldn’t help myself!), and Lobster Mac and Cheese. Huge emphasis on Lobster. Really incredible. Sweet, succulent chunks of lobster married with perfectly cooked macaroni and bathed in a creamy coating of cheesy goodness.

So, check off the Absolute Perfect Maine Weekend on my to-do list. It simply couldn’t have been better. I love immersing myself in a culture, in the food of the region, in the history and flavor of the people. I love eating, breathing, drinking it all in so it soaks into me. Truth be told? I never liked lobster. But, now, I know the truth, I haven’t been having it cooked properly. Up North Maine way, they know what they’re doing, that’s for sure.

I have an idea for you this Labor Day weekend, I want to suggest a little something different than ribs or burgers on the grill. How about some steamed lobster with drawn buttter? I can’t offer you a hot stone treatment, and I am not capable of ordering up fierce storms, and can’t offer briny breezes, but I think steamed lobster would be the perfect way end to your summer.

Bon Appetit, Y’all!




Lobster Steaming Instructions




  1. Choose a pot large enough to hold all the lobsters comfortably; do not crowd them. A 4- to 5-gallon pot can handle 6 to 8 pounds of lobster. Put 2 inches of seawater or salted water in the bottom of a large kettle. Set a steaming rack inside the pot and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the live lobsters one at a time, cover the pot, and start timing. Halfway through, lift the lid (careful—the steam is hot) and shift the lobsters around so they cook evenly.
  2. If the lobster weighs: Steam:
    1 pound 10 minutes
    1-1/4 pounds 12 minutes
    1-1/2 pounds 14 minutes
    1-3/4 pounds 16 minutes
    2 pounds 18 minutes

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Summer Sunflower Celebration & Mustard Crusted Pork Loin

Sunflower at Persimmon Creek

After the maelstrom of controversy my last post created about Julia/Julie and food writing, I think perhaps this week I need to go with soft, warm, and fuzzy. Something along the lines of sunflowers, baby lambs, and harvesting mint from a crystal clear burbling mountain stream.


I still stand by what I wrote. It certainly stirred the proverbial pot. I was quoted, well really, I was misquoted, but (mis)quoted alongside Laura Shapiro and Judith Jones. If my grapes were as sour as some of those folks were suggesting over on I would be able to talk my mouth would be so puckered. It was a pretty enlightening experience. But, let’s move forward.


I was recently a guest chef at Persimmon Creek Winery in North Georgia owned by Sonny and Mary Ann Hardman. The setting is just beautiful. It was my sister’s birthday so she and my mother joined me for the weekend. They’ve recently built some beautiful cottages so one can stay on the property. We had a lovely time in the Sassafras cottage. To be clear, this was no rustic mountain cabin. The cottages are beautiful. The attention to detail was impressive. Sub zero fridge, gas stove, wine cooler (of course). The bathrooms are over the top, spa-like – the kind that makes you want to linger in the tub all day….. but I digress.


When we arrived late afternoon on Friday, Mary Ann took us around the farm and vineyard. There are huge patches of sunflowers, heirloom corn, pumpkins for fall, and herds of dairy sheep. And, I think Mary Ann pretty much has her hands in most of it. She is one busy woman. While we were herding the sheep for milking – yes, she does that, too — she described her day. Mama, incredulous, finally asked her, “When do you sleep?”


Then, I had a sheep milking education session. It’s not so easy. First, the ewe is positioned on the milking stand and her head is secured between two wooden bars. Mary Ann put a couple of scoops of food in the bowl. There’s a whole rhythmic movement that starts with grabbing the udder, pushing up, and the fanning your fingers and pulling down. I struggle with rhythm at the best of times, much less when confronted by the hind end of a sheep in a hot barn in July in Georgia. (I will say this – the barn is clean – no take-your-breath-away animal odors.)
Mary Ann says her hands are too small to milk two teats at once. I have serious, thick, working chefgirl hands and still couldn’t manage to get two going at once. But, I did have some success and it was very satisfying. A whole scant 3/4 cup of satisfaction.


Saturday morning mama and I tromped around taking pictures before I had to start prepping and the sun rose too high. I like taking photos in the morning before the light is so harsh. The dew was still on the grapevines, the sunflowers were holding their heads high, and the bees were busily buzzing about. It was really glorious. We ran into Mary Ann who was herding the sheep for milking. I passed this time. I didn’t want to ruin my milkmaid memory with a poor sophomoric effort.


Mary Ann had mentioned the creek flowed through the national forest before it coursed through their property and was clean enough to drink. Those of y’all that know me well know that I had to get in there to taste that cold mountain water. The minute she told me I knew I would. It was crystal clear, sparkling and beautiful. I tromped down the creekbank and was overcome with the scent of crushed mint. I see there was wild mint growing on the creek bank. I harvested some for dinner that night. Large dark evergreen sprigs with dark, almost purple stems.


That experience triggered a thought. While Mama and I were walking around I also noticed purslane. Purslane is pretty much treated like a weed in the US, but it was grown as a garden lettuce at the potager for LaVarenne where I worked in France. Purslane is a low growing succulent herb. I also had noticed tangy wild sorrel growing on the slope near the house, as well. Now, I am not one of those foraging types that could survive in the wilderness with a pocket knife and a shard of broken glass to start a fire. (See cottage reference above for preferred lodging in the woods.) But, I was like a kid in the candy store foraging for herbs. It was beautiful. All the ingredients for the dinner came from the farm or from North Georgia.

Persimmon Willis dinner 3 e

A few hours later, I was joined by my friend and colleague Joy Crump who drove up from Atlanta to help me for the day. Mid-afternoon Tasia Malakasis of Belle Chevre, an artisan goat cheese made in Alabama showed with a cooler of her amazing cheeses. It was a great, great day.

Here’s the menu.

Persimmon Willis dinner 16 e

Wild Herb Salad tossed with Apple Cider Vinaigrette and topped with Panko-Crusted Fried Green Tomatoes and a disk of Tasia’s Montrachet goat cheese.


Mustard Crusted Pork Loin on a Bed of Honey Roasted Vidalia Onions with Heirloom Vegetable Succotash

Heirloom Stoneground Cornbread with Bacon


Sheep’s Milk Panna Cotta with Blueberry Compote and topped with a Hearty Sprig of Persimmon Creek Mint

Bon Appetit, Y’all!


Mustard-crusted Pork Loin with Herb Pan Sauce

Serving Size: Serves 4 to 6


3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 (3-pound) boneless center-cut pork loin
1/2 cup yellow mustard seed
1/2 cup brown mustard seed
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil (optional)
2 shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1-1/2 cups chicken stock or low-fat, reduced-sodium chicken broth
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces (optional)


  1. To season the pork loin, combine the garlic, bay leaf, mustard, and thyme in a large bowl or sealable plastic bag. Add the meat and turn to coat evenly. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes, or refrigerate up to overnight, turning the pork occasionally.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the mustard seeds on a baking sheet. Remove the meat from the bowl, season it with salt and pepper, and roll it in the mustard seed to coat evenly. Place the roast in a shallow roasting pan.
  3. Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the meat registers 140° to 145°F, 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. The pork will be slightly pink in the center (this is desirable).
  4. Remove from the oven and transfer the pork to a warm platter; cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes to let the juices redistribute (the internal temperature of the roast will rise to 150°F from carryover cooking).
  5. Remove all but a couple of tablespoons of fat from the roasting pan and place the pan on the cooktop over medium heat. (If there is no fat, add 2 tablespoons of canola oil.) Add the shallots and saute, stirring frequently, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the white wine and cook until reduced by half, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and increase the heat to high, scraping the skillet with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits.
  6. Cook until the sauce is slightly reduced, an additional 5 minutes. Thinly slice the pork and transfer to a warmed serving platter. Pour any accumulated pork juices from the cutting board into the roasting pan and stir to combine; decrease the heat to medium. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. To finish the sauce with butter, remove the skillet from the heat. Whisk in the butter one piece at a time. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the pork slices; serve immediately.

Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, LLC © 2009

Adapted from Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press.

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