John Carter Cash shares favorite foods and treasured stories from the kitchens of his parents and of his extended family.
Sustenance is food’s most superficial quality. At it’s most fundamental, food nurtures fellowship. Food is a meeting place where people from all walks of life can gather and find equity. Food is a blessing. As John Carter Cash writes in The Cash and Carter Family Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections From Johnny and June’s Table, his family, beginning with his grandparents Ray and Carrie Cash, knew this well. “Through it all, there were two things that remained steadfast. One was the family’s faith in God, the other was suppertime. … But no matter the food upon the table, no time was more important than the daily gatherings at suppertime.”
The Cash and Carter Family Cookbook shares the stories and recipes that were passed down the dinner table. Alongside cheese grits and Brunswick stew are the memories and reminiscences of the tunesmiths and movie stars with which the Cash family broke bread.
The book is a touching collection of dishes and tales including tomato gravy from Cash’s grandmother, the “Queen of Country” Maybelle Carter, June Carter Cash’s “stuff,” June’s beef and barley soup, Aunt Fern’s apple dew cobbler, and pinto beans and ham hocks from the Man in Black himself. There are also recipes from Cash’s children (moose jerky, kimchi, and chess pie, anyone?). A particularly sweet recipe is that of prosciutto-wrapped dates with goat cheese from Cash’s wife, Ana Cristina Cash, which she cooked for him during their courtship. The entire Carter-Cash clan’s favorite foods and family recipes are spread out for all to savor in the beautiful book rich with images and adoration.
Some of those are shared below, courtesy of the author, beginning with June Carter Cash’s “Stuff.”
June Carter Cash’s “Stuff”
One of the staple dishes of my mother’s creation was her unique and memorable “Stuff.” I am not sure of its origin, but we ate it even when I was very young. Hot pepper flavor was typical around our house, and to me this dish does not recall my mother’s specific handiwork without the pepper jack cheese.
(Makes 6 to 8 servings)
2 – 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
3 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
½ large sweet onion (like Walla Walla, Vidalia, or Texas Sweet), thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½ cup mushrooms, sliced
1 large zucchini, thinly sliced
2 yellow squash, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 ounces hot pepper jack cheese, shredded
Place the vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the potatoes and carrots, and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes.
Add the bell pepper, and cook, stirring often, for another 3 minutes. Add the onion and garlic, and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, and cook, stirring often, for another 2 or 3 minutes. Then add the zucchini and squash. Add the butter, more salt and black pepper to taste, and simmer for an additional 5 – 8 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft and tender and nicely browned.
Reduce the heat to low, and add the cheese. Cover, turn off the heat, and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
Uncle Tube’s Cheese Grits
The Carters were kind and gentle people, and none more so than Uncle Tube. Tube was my grandmother Maybelle’s brother, and he was around a lot when I was a child. His wife, Babe, was quite a cook. I remember once visiting them in Hiltons, Virginia. I showed up at eight o’clock in the morning unannounced, but Babe already had breakfast on the table as if she knew I was coming (and these were the days before cell phones). I recall these cheesy grits that were still hot when I sat down. They were so good I ate more than I likely should have!
(Makes 6 – 8 servings)
Vegetable oil for greasing the pan
2 cups water
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2½ cups quick 5-minute grits
2 cups shredded mild Cheddar cheese
4 large eggs
3 cups whole milk
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with vegetable oil.
Place the water and butter in a large saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the salt and black pepper, and then slowly whisk in the grits. Continue to whisk while the grits boil until there are no lumps, for 1 – 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer the grits for 5 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat. Add the cheese to the grits, and stir well.
Crack the eggs into a large bowl, and beat them well with a fork. Add the milk, garlic, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Stir to combine. Slowly pour the milk mixture into the grits, and mix well. Spoon the mixture into the baking dish. Bake uncovered for 50 – 60 minutes, until the mixture is set. Remove the pan from the oven, and allow the grits to stand for 5 minutes before serving.
Fried Bologna and Eggs With Biscuits and Fresh Tomatoes
Fried bologna was one of my father’s favorite breakfasts. I remember smelling the aroma of it frying in the farm kitchen as I walked outside on winter days in Bon Aqua, Tennessee.
Dad would buy canned biscuits, eggs, and sliced bologna. He liked the bologna slices nearly crispy—some almost burned. He always loved crispy and well-done foods. While the canned biscuits were baking in the oven, he would scramble the eggs in the same skillet he had fried the bologna in. He never beat the eggs before putting them in the skillet to cook and simply half scrambled them in the bologna drippings, adding a copious amount of black pepper and a little salt. He piled two biscuits on a plate with the eggs and bologna. There was ketchup for the eggs and bologna, and local honey and butter for the biscuits. Simple, but very much one of his favorite foods. I loved it then and still love it now.
(Makes 3 servings)
1 (16-ounce) can refrigerated biscuits
6 slices bologna
1½ teaspoons vegetable oil
6 large eggs
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 – 3 fresh tomatoes, sliced
Local raw or regular honey
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place the biscuits on an ungreased cookie sheet. Place the sheet in the oven, and bake the biscuits for 12 – 16 minutes until golden brown on top.
While the biscuits bake, cut small slits into the edges of the bologna slices to keep them from curling up while frying. Heat the vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the bologna slices, and fry until crispy and browned. Remove the bologna to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
Crack the eggs into the same skillet. Stir with a whisk, and cook over medium heat until the eggs are softly scrambled. If you prefer, you may fry your eggs. Add the salt and black pepper to taste.
Place the biscuits on a plate, add the bologna and eggs, and serve with the tomatoes, butter, and honey.
June’s Heavenly Hash With Fresh Berry Compote
“No one ever left June’s table hungry!” remembers Karen Robin, longtime friend and wife of my parents’ manager, Lou Robin. “Every placemat was linen, every dish was fine china, and every glass was crystal,” she continued. “Your mother knew how to throw a dinner—or luncheon or breakfast, for that matter! A dinner was an event at your parents’ table. And the food was always special.
“June put many different dishes on the buffet table, directing and consulting with the cooks and kitchen staff as to how many dishes should be served and then adding at least another five. But no matter—at the end of the day, there wasn’t much left over.”
One of Karen’s favorite dishes was my mother’s Heavenly Hash, accompanied by her Fresh Berry Compote.
(Makes 4 – 6 servings)
½ cup halved maraschino cherries, plus more whole cherries for garnish
½ cup whipped cream, plus more for topping (Mom used Cool Whip, but you could use canned whipped cream or fresh whipped cream)
1 cup chopped fresh pineapple
½ cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 cup small marshmallows
Shortbread cookies (like Walker’s), 2 per serving
Fresh berry compote, for garnish
In a large bowl, mix together the cherries, whipped cream, pineapple, coconut, and marshmallows. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Place 2 shortbread cookies on each dessert plate. Cover them with the cherry mixture, and spoon on the Fresh Berry Compote and a bit more whipped cream. Top all with a maraschino cherry.
Cash Family Cornbread
Just like biscuits and gravy, cornbread was everyday fare around the Cash home. Dad loved Southern cornbread, and one of his very favorite meals was cornbread crumbled up in a tall glass of buttermilk—to be eaten with a spoon. It may be an acquired taste, but most everyone in my family enjoys cornbread and buttermilk as a delicious treat.
If you can’t find self-rising cornmeal mix (and it’s often hard to find outside of the South), you can use regular cornmeal and add flour, baking powder, and salt as outlined in this recipe.
This cornbread is traditionally made in a cast-iron skillet. If you don’t have one, you can still make the cornbread. Just use a heavy nonstick or greased baking pan instead.
(Makes 6 – 8 servings)
2 cups self-rising cornmeal mix (or 1½ cups white cornmeal, ½ cup all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt)
¾ cup shortening, divided
1½ cups whole buttermilk
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons finely diced yellow onions
2 tablespoons finely diced jalapeño pepper, optional
¼ cup shredded sharp white Cheddar cheese
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Place the cornmeal mix (or cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt) in a large bowl. Stir with a whisk. Add ½ cup of the shortening, and using a fork, cut the shortening into the mix until small clumps form. Stir in the buttermilk, egg, and vegetable oil, and mix well. Fold in the onions, jalapeños, if using, and cheese.
Place the remaining ¼ cup of the shortening in a medium well-seasoned cast-iron skillet or an 8-by-11-inch baking pan. Place the skillet in the oven for 5 minutes, or until the shortening bubbles and cooks the cornmeal batter when a drop is spooned into the skillet. Carefully remove the skillet from the oven, and slowly pour the batter into the hot skillet. Return the skillet to the oven, and cook the cornbread about 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Recipes reprinted and adapted from The Cash and Carter Family Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections From Johnny and June’s Table by John Carter Cash © 2018 Cash Cabin Enterprises, LLC. Photographs by Tambi Lane Photography. Food styling by Donna Britt. Published by Nelson Books, an imprint Thomas Nelson.
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