Kitchen Accomplice

Cracker Cookery

Of the many mistakes I have made in my lifetime, one stands out now as I travel the southeastern coast of the country.  I had always assumed the word “cracker” when applied to an individual was a term of derision.  How wrong I was.  There is much pride (and intelligence) among those who gladly assume that appellation. 

What is a “cracker?”

Looking into this issue has been almost as confounding as it has been illuminating.  A cracker in Georgia is not the same person as one in Florida.  And while the term may be used in a pejorative sense, it also has come to mean a person who has deep ancestral roots in the region.  This is the meaning of the term as I use it here – a cooking heritage carried on from precursors.  These crackers have a lot to teach us – or, at least, me anyway.

The byways of America’s oldest city are filled with opportunities to buy stuff.  A bookstore I happened upon contained a wonderful tome about the area’s cooking lore – with an introduction by Pat Conroy, no less.  My wife read it all the way home.  And while she thought it no Marjory Kinnan Rawlings, she liked it well enough not to put it down – something, I would say.  When we got home, I latched onto it, and right away saw how compelling the narratives were about the recipes the author shared.  And, just for those moments thought I was living among some of the areas earliest pioneers and cooking innovators.  Plain cooking?  Yes.  Delicious outcomes?  Yes.

These are made to be shared.  And if you do not make them tonight, decide now to make them some night.  You can create a heritage of your own – your family and guests will be the appreciative beneficiaries. 

My first choice for this venture would be the crab bisque.  It is one of the featured recipes in “The Cracker Kitchen” by Janis Owens.  It is simple and simply delicious.  She tells us about living in a Florida fishing village, one I have not personally visited, but from the sounds of things the seafood must be abundant.  For the rest of us, I think we could do no better than taking a well-planned trip to a local fish monger.
And, while these recipes are handed down from generation to generation, gradually modern-day conveniences have been introduced to make preparation a snap.  Note, here, for example, the use of a blender.

She tells us this soup is a good introduction to any meal.    I believe that.  She reminds us, “It is a little on the rich side,” so a small bowl is perfectly satisfactory.

Crabs Bisque

You will need:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter (called sweet butter in the region)

1 tablespoon flour (Wondra works well here)

3/4 teaspoon ground sea salt (or Maldon salt flakes)

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 small Vidalia onion, finely chopped

2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup light cream

Pinch of paprika

6 ounces fresh crab meat, cleaned and “picked out”

1 tablespoon cooking sherry

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

Put the butter, flour, salt, pepper, onion, milk and cream in a blender and whir until smooth.

Add the paprika and crab and pulse a few times until well blended.

Place the mixture into a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and heat over a medium low heat until it simmers.  Let it simmer 2-3 minutes until it is warm and slightly thickened, stirring to make sure it doesn’t scorch.

Stir in the sherry and place in small heated bowls.  Sprinkle the chives on top.

Coca Cola Baked Ham

Here is a surprisingly delicious way to prepare a pre-baked ham.  It not only fills your house with those wildly delicious aromas but then you have those delectable ham sandwiches to look forward to.  It is so simple you will have lots of time to fuss with the rest of the dinner.

One 12 ounce bottle of coke

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

One cooked 5 pound ham

In a large sealable bag, mix the coke and the sugar until dissolved.   Add the ham and move it around to make sure it is covered.

Place overnight in the refrigerator, turning it over a few times.

Preheat oven to 350.

Place in a roasting pan and bake for an hour, basting it once or twice.  Let it rest a few minutes before slicing if you are serving it warm. 

Otherwise, let it cool and refrigerate.

She says this serves 8 “regular people or 4 crackers!”

Judge Kirkendall is a retired Probate Judge. He presently serves on the Elder Law Advisory Board of the Stetson University College of Law. He has taught cooking classes for more than 25 years at various cooking schools in the Ann Arbor area and has himself attended classes at Cordon Bleu and La Varenne in Paris, as well as schools in New York, New Orleans and San Francisco. I am (thankfully) past president of the National College of Probate Judges. He can be reached at


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