Erika was introduced to the art of biscuit-making at the ripe old age of four and was nicknamed Southern Souffle in college when she was dishing out meals from the hot plate in her dorm room. On her blog Southern Soufflé, she shares her love of Southern soul food through not only her recipes, but the warmth in her writing and stories.
I am so excited to have Erika Council of Southern Soufflé here on the show today.
(*All images below are Erika’s.)
On Growing Up Around Food and Cooking:
My paternal grandmother owns a restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and it’s been there since 1976. A lot of my summers were spent in the back of that kitchen, not always happily, but you learned how to make things like biscuits and fried chicken. She owned what we call a Southern style meat and three, and that’s where you get the meat and three vegetables and side of cornbread or biscuits. So you can imagine how much meat and three we’re turning out on a daily basis.
It was really kind of a drop biscuit that she taught me. It’s kind of a wet dough and you use the scoop and just drop it. You make a lot of batches at one time like that and that was my experience actually just scooping it and dropping it on the pan.
Then my mother’s mother made fancier angel biscuits, which use yeast and rise real high.
When you’re 13, 14, 15, you don’t really appreciate it as much as I do now that I can make fried chicken with my eyes closed. I will say that I learned a lot of valuable lessons just working back there and meeting the average people that wash the dishes, not a lot of the top chefs you see that live this glamorous lifestyle on Food Network. It’s just so far from that actually really running a restaurant and just trying to maintain success over a decades’ worth of time.
I think I learned more about the importance of food and how it was important to the people making it, rather than the whole glamor, a beautiful picture of food, you know.
She (grandmother) is older now and my uncle does most of the cooking in the back, but we do go and visit.
I’m in Atlanta so it’s about seven hours from here. I’ll go every now and then and visit her at home, but she doesn’t do a lot of actual cooking in the restaurant. You can find her every now and then sitting at a booth in the front when you walk in drinking coffee. She kinda makes it her way to introduce herself or speak to everybody, but if you’re from the North Carolina area and around there you know who Mama Dip is.
On Southern Culture:
I guess Southern culture, in my opinion, is kind of the backbone for a lot of things that you see everywhere. I’ll go to San Francisco for work and see someone rolling up collard green wraps and I’ll think about, just actually picking those collard greens out of the ground and hot liquor which is the liquor and the juice from the actual greens boiling down.
The South for me is just so many things. This is where I was born and raised and lived the majority of my life. It’s the people who have a complicated past, but I mean the most hospitable. Everyone says Southern hospitality but you would think it’d be a bunch of disgruntled angry Southerners, but we’re far from that.
It’s a lot of things you don’t see, where communal tables with all different kinds of people sitting together. It’s a melting pot, which is what the South has always been.
On Southern Food:
I think that Southern food is a mix of all cultures. From the very beginning, without getting into historical aspects, you have plantation cooking, which is a combination of European and African, West African cooking, and you’re seeing this sort of Southern revival, everywhere, but here, I think a lot of people are getting more back to the roots, which is, Southern food really was a plant-based diet.
So you think fried chicken and greasy and all this, but it was really the plants, like the greens, and the onions, and things of that nature. And I see a lot of people just getting back to that and just having the greens and their vegetables being the focus of their dish.
I would say that soul food is Southern food. I think that anything that you cook, and you put your heart and soul into it, that is soul food. So whether it is a Boston Cream Pie that you’ve taken your time, you’ve sat down and you made it from scratch, that’s your soul food. When you look at the definition of it, it’s a term actually that came around about the 1960s to describe African American Southern cooking, but the actuality of soul food is, it is the origins of Southern food, because Southern food started out with plantation cooking and you have to look at that and then you look at soul food as being fried chicken, collard greens, and cornbread. Which commercially it is, but a lot of African Americans will say if you’re cooking something from the heart and soul, that’s your soul food.
I absolutely love fried chicken and I love crawfish. It’s hard to get crawfish here in Atlanta like I could get it in Louisiana, but definitely those two items. Any way you got em’, I’ll take em’.
On Some Resources to Learn More about Southern Cuisine:
So my grandmother wrote a cookbook. It’s an older one, Mama Dip’s Kitchen. It’s a great basic book. The basics, she’s got a good forward in there about her life. A huge one is Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking and that’s by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart. Nathalie Dupree is the grand dame of Southern cooking. She’s actually been nominated for Who’s Who James Beard Award this year and that book was nominated for one of James Beard’s Awards. So I definitely would say that book, it’s like 730 pages of Southern food and it’s talking about Southern food.
There’s so many. Charleston Receipts is another one, that’s a Junior League cookbook. It’s an old school book from Charleston. A friend of mine, Adrian Miller, he wrote a book called Soul Food. So that’s a great book to read about the origins of soul food, it won a James Beard Award too.
On Her Blog:
My mom actually never was a cook, and she mentioned to me one day she was reading someone’s blog and she sent it to me. She was like, “Hey, you know what? You should do this.” So when I started out, I just kind of was doing the recipes. I used to email my mom recipes that I would cook and she would try it. So I would just type up a recipe and it’d be a really short little passage or whatever.
Actually, what kind of turned it around for me was, I went to a food blog conference and it just was everything I didn’t want to be. And that kind of made me turn my back towards what I thought was cool and just kind of go with what was actually me. I hate to say that, it’s awful, but it’s just the reality.
I used a different camera, the camera I was using to take pictures of my kids, before I was using my iPhone. You know, I started out kind of, staging the food, but that really wasn’t me either, so now it’s more just taking the pictures as I go and just how I cook it, because that’s really what it’s about to me. If I could make elaborately beautiful layouts of food, then I would do it, but I can’t, so I’m not even going to try.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
I don’t. I used to watch Top Chef.
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
So I’m obsessed with Two Red Bowls and Lady and Pups. Those two blogs are amazing. I guess from learning about different types of Asian style cooking, just how they incorporate different things, I love that.
The Bitter Southerner, if you like to read. They post a kind of journal entry every Tuesday and it’s something that’s about the South. Sometimes it upsets people and sometimes it’s beautiful, but I would definitely recommend reading The Bitter Southerner.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook that make you happy?
What makes me happy on Instagram, Megan from Take A Megabite, because her food is so happy with the animals and the different flags. So definitely Take A Megabite on Instagram. She definitely makes me happy with all her photos.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
The most treasured item I have is my grandmother’s apron. It’s in a lot of the photos. My maternal grandmother passed away a few years ago, but she was a history teacher back in the ’40s, ’50s. She and my grandfather were huge civil rights activists. I learned so much from her as far as just African American history and just things that they don’t teach in school, things that you wouldn’t even know, just having to have been in her presence, learning how to make cakes and along with the struggles of the past, and her apron was always what she wore. So that is probably my most prized possession in my kitchen.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
I like beets and I used to just be extremely anti-beet. The rest of the people in my family, not so much, or in my house, but I’m trying to slowly get them into it. I definitely would say beets.
I think that when they were made for me, they weren’t made right perhaps, but gosh, this was probably about ten years ago and someone made these little appetizers with goat cheese and they had pickled beets on the top. And it sounds disgusting, right, but it was so good, and I think then on, I’d say, “Well, you know what? Maybe I can find a way to make it better.” In the South, we pickle everything.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
So there’s a chef in Kentucky named Edward Lee, and he’s American or he’s Korean-American and his book is Smoke & Pickles and it’s a great… I hate to say fusion because I don’t like that word. It’s a combination of Southern and Asian food, and he’s just done an impeccable job. It’s an older book but I’ve been kind of cooking my way through that just lately. There’s so many. I have a lot of cookbooks but definitely those.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
Right now, Rihanna. I won’t say the name of this song because it’s explicit. I’m a big hip hop fan. We listen to a lot of rap music. Kendrick Lamar and Drake are really kind of on repeat. They make me want to cook. I listen to that all day.
On Keeping Posted with Erika: