Daisy King is a Nashville legend – heck, she’s a legend across the country, for her cookbooks, her appearances on network television and her old school Southern approach to cooking. “Miss Daisy” is the grande dame of Southern culinary culture in many ways, and her spiritual heirs, including Martha Phelps Stamps and Tammy Algood, owe her a bit of debt for making regional cooking a matter of pride since the early ‘70s.
Of course, those of us who live in the Nashville area see her regular appearances on local shows like Talk of the Town, but most of us haven’t had the chance yet to realize the magic she’s making happen at Grassland Market with her amazing catering and take out items.
And the books keep coming (buy them here). Her recent “Meet Me At …” series includes recipes from Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville, the Hermitage Hotel’s Capitol Grill, Georgia’s Jekyll Island and more. If you’re reading this on November 9, chances are, at this moment, Miss Daisy is hosting a tea on Jekyll Island in conjunction with Chef Abigail Hutchinson, who contributed to Meet Me on Jekyll Island. Right now, Miss Daisy and Chef Abigail are probably serving up soup in demitasse cups to their guests (Daisy is a whiz with artful serving).
We’re a little bummed we can’t actually be there for it, but we can be there in spirit. One of the first things on the menu is a sweet potato and bourbon soup – pretty much a classic use of Southern ingredients.
Here’s Miss Daisy’s recipe (I’m sure my Lexington and Louisville bourbon drinking buddies like Paul Koontz will appreciate it).
Sweet Potato and Bourbon Soup
3 Tablespoons Butter
4 medium Sweet Potatoes, peeled and sliced
6 cups Chicken Stock
¼ cup Bourbon (1/3 if you’re Paul Koontz or just love bourbon)
½ teaspoon Salt
Freshly ground black Pepper to taste
Assemble ingredients and utensils (a crucial bit of Daisy advice – always have everything on hand from go!). Heat the butter in a large skillet or heavy saucepan. Add a layer of sweet potatoes and brown on both sides. Repeat the layering and browning until all potatoes are browned. Add 5 cups chicken stock. Cook, covered, until potatoes are tender. When tender, remove potatoes and mash to a chunky texture. Blend in the remaining stock and stir until the soup becomes a medium thick consistency. Add bourbon and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 4-6 servings.
(Published in Meet Me On Jekyll Island).
Daisy tells me the story of making this recipe on Talk of the Town the day Caroline Kennedy was also on the show. (The Kennedys are old Jekyll fans.) Miss Daisy was pre-cooking away, unaware of the other guest on the show. Noticing the off camera fanfare, she asked host Amy Watson what the fuss was about. Shortly thereafter, the producer came over and told her that Caroline wanted to talk with her. Turns out, the delicious smell had lured her in too, and she wanted the recipe to use for her own Thanksgiving dinner.
The rest of today’s menu is the kind of lusciousness you’d expect: curried shrimp sandwiches; smoked turkey sandwiches with sherried Vidalia onions; Daisy’s pimento cheese sandwiches with asparagus and Parmesan; praline cheesecake, plus petit fours and the scones from Daisy’s first little yellow cookbook (circa 1974, but still full of must-cook recipes). Four of Daisy’s cookbooks provide recipes, along with some of Hutchinson’s own creations. I’m sure you can hear the chamber music playing, smell the sea air, and imagine the food as you read this.
Highlighting this particular meal is a beginning point to emphasizing just what Miss Daisy is making happen quietly but effectively over at the Grassland Market (2176 Hillsboro Road, Franklin, Tenn.). Yeah, it’s the one that says “Foodland,” but it’s independently owned, and aside from the usual staples of grocery-dom, you’ll find a whole lot of specialty items that Daisy had a hand in, and that means if you’re planning a party, from cocktails for a few to a huge dinner, you can do as well at the small, apparently unassuming spot as you might do at any of the huge specialty food retailers in town.
I think it’s especially relevant since for some reason Trader Joe’s hasn’t had the sense to move into the Franklin area, and because the whole of the larger Nashville area has only two Whole Foods and one Fresh Market outlet. I mean, what’s up with that? Well, fine, our needs can be well answered independently – and by one of the area’s most beloved culinary figures.
If you wander into Grassland Market, go to your left and you’ll find the deli counter, which is pretty much unlike the standard deli counter in most supermarkets. While Miss Daisy makes sure it offers Boar’s Head meats and cheeses, certainly, but it’s the only deli case in Williamson County where you can also buy Allan Benton’s bacon and pork products.
A giant end cap displays a collection of sauces, jams and assorted condiments from Stonewall Kitchen. The cold cases in front of the deli are brimming with handmade pimento cheese, chipotle salsa, fresh artichoke dip, chicken salads of various types, and a huge selection of side items – not to mention pound cake (it’s soooo good!) and myriad other desserts. Keep walking to your left, and the dairy aisle offers up a collection of high end cheeses, imported from Britain and France, and other fine products – oh look! Hummus!
When Miss Daisy’s choosing the products she needs to stand behind, you can bet she’s taking great care. And these days, she’s also put a lot of stock into the fresh, local food movement, and looks in askance on some of the heavily processed foods we’ve all become so dependent upon.
The point is, Miss Daisy has changed the shopping paradigm here, and not enough of us have been aware of it. Hopefully, we are now.
If you’re in doubt as to what you need for an event, ask her (or her staff of course, she’s got knowledgeable peeps behind that counter). She’s have you headed down aisles, basket in hand, picking out absolutely perfect items for your party in seconds.
Contrary to the notion that “working in a grocery store” might not be the best way to further a culinary career, Miss Daisy will let you know it’s the best. “It’s the greatest avenue to help people. Sometimes, you need to help those with dietary problems make substitutions, help with party planning or maybe help with making a health-conscious dinner for a sick person or a couple with a new baby. It’s endless, what you can do to help people someplace like this.” She laughs. “There are times I wish I could roller skate, I’ve got so much going on.”
Of course, right out in front is a table covered with her many books (she’s sold more than 1.5 million). Right next to them are food and coffee samples to enjoy.
Daisy King is the culinary South at its classic best. If you’re on Jekyll Island right now, I hope you’re enjoying tea with her. If you’re in the Middle Tennessee area, take the time to check out Grassland Market this weekend. And if you’re neither, then for heaven sake, order her books and cook from them. Start with Meet Me at the Hermitage Hotel or Meet Me on Jekyll Island.
Then check back here the beginning of Thanksgiving week, and I’ll give you all of Miss Daisy’s tips for getting the holiday right, and a few more recipes besides.