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Comfort Food: From the Kitchen of Margaret Agnew

Passed down from generation to generation, family cookbooks are brimming with food for the soul and memories made from scratch.

Photo by Art Meripol

When gathering recipes for her many cookbooks, Margaret Agnew never had to look very far for inspiration. A self-professed recipe collector, Margaret simply turned to the family members who influenced her culinary craving over the years. Her mother, Betty—who Margaret describes as an “instinctively good southern cook”—had dozens upon dozens of family-favorite recipes, as did her aunts, great aunts, and cousins. “Another really important influence on some of my recipes has been my husband’s family,” Margaret adds. “His mom was a very good cook.”

Regardless of where the influence originated, Margaret’s recipe collection essentially came to serve as a way to preserve a part of her family’s history
and traditions.

Margaret’s latest cookbook, The Southern Cook, certainly serves as a tasty reminder. “Whenever we make peach ice cream, we always end up talking about how that was Nana’s recipe, and that starts a conversation about Nana,” Margaret says. “It’s good to remember the people who originated the recipes and how important they were to your life.”

Margaret’s passion for family recipes turned into a career. A former food editor at Southern Progress Corporation, she has published numerous cookbooks. Her
latest book, The Southern Cook (July 2013, Parragon Books), features a variety of family recipes, including her mother’s Pineapple Upside Down Cake.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

There are many variations of this cake which is baked in a cast-iron skillet, including apple and cherry, but pineapple is the most traditional. After baking, the warm cake is inverted onto a plate so that the glazed fruit becomes the top.

½ cup unsalted butter or margarine
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 (20 oz) can pineapple slices, undrained
7 maraschino cherries
12 pecan halves
3 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg whites

1. Melt butter in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over low heat. Sprinkle brown sugar in skillet. Remove from heat.
2. Drain pineapple, reserving ¼ cup juice. Set juice aside. Arrange 7 pineapple slices over sugar mixture. Cut remaining pineapple slices in half; line sides of pan, keeping cut sides up. Place a cherry in the center of each whole pineapple slice; arrange pecan halves between slices in a spoke fashion.
3. Beat 3 egg yolks on high speed of an electric mixer until thick and lemon colored; gradually add 1 cup sugar, beating well. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; stir well. Add to egg mixture alternately with reserved pineapple juice, mixing well. Stir in vanilla.
4. Beat egg whites on high speed of an electric mixer until stiff peaks form; fold beaten egg whites into batter. Spoon batter evenly over pineapple in skillet. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes, or until cake is set. Let cool for 5 minutes. Invert warm cake onto serving plate. Yields 6 servings.

Elegant Pear Tart

Pears are not just for picking and eating. They are at their best enjoyed in this lovely, elegant pear tart.

Tart Pastry

(One refrigerated piecrust can be substituted if desired.)
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
4-6 tablespoons cold milk

Pear Filling

4-5 medium-size ripe pears
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
3 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup peach or apricot preserves

1. Combine flour, salt, and 2 tablespoons sugar in a small mixing bowl; cut in ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons butter and shortening with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle milk evenly over surface, stirring with a fork, until all ingredients are moistened. Shape dough into a ball; cover and refrigerate until chilled.
2. Roll dough out to fit a 10-inch tart pan. Prick pastry with a fork and bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes.
3. For the filling, peel and core pears. Combine lemon juice and water, and dip pears in mixture; drain well. Cut pears in half lengthwise; cut each half into ½-inch thick lengthwise slices. Arrange pears in a prebaked tart pastry so that slices are slightly overlapping. Dot with 2 tablespoons butter, and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar. Set aside.
4. Combine egg yolks and ½ cup sugar; beat well. Add cream, 1 tablespoon flour, and vanilla; beat with a wire whisk until blended, then pour over pears. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until set.
5. Cook preserves in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, just until melted; brush over tart. Yields 6 - 8 servings.

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