Canned cling peaches, sour cream, Ac’cent seasoning, and bulk wine aren’t regular players in my kitchen, but I made a few exceptions this week when Morrison Wood’s More Recipes with a Jug of Wine landed in my hands, and subsequently, my kitchen.
With a pint glass of Chardonnay in hand, I explored the weighty hardcover, which boasts over 400 recipes that “the average man or woman” can master. From casseroles (“There is no easier way of cooking delectable chicken than in a casserole”), to recipes for whole suckling pigs (“The piglet should be 4-5 weeks old”), Wood explains it all, with dashes of consommé, fresh chicken livers, and poetry.
One look at the bespectacled man on the rear cover reveals Wood was an interesting type. Thick white hair and a debonaire smile lead one to believe he loved sophistication and with that, a sophisticated drink. Plus, he wrote cookbooks before Julia Child and the renaissance of American homecooking that’s given way to celebrity chefs and amateur food photography at restaurants everywhere. A West Coast gourmet known for his cooking column, “For Men Only!,” Wood was widely known for his no-nonsense style, and served as a wine judge in some of America’s earliest wine competitions. Throughout the book, Wood reminds us that “Flavor is the soul of food,” and not to forget it.
With that spirit, I’d argue this book took the Julia Child approach to invigorating home cooks well before the eponymous Mastering the Art of French Cooking hit store shelves, although Wood opted to inspire the casserole cooking and canned-fruit-meets-gelatin desserts that Child despised.
The best part of More Recipes with a Jug of Wine is the prose. On every page, Wood regales readers with an anectdote from “The Golden Era Dinner of the American Spice Trade Association,” or “Mrs. Wood’s most famous dinner party dish,” explaining it all in simple American English straight to “savoring the deliciousness of Fritos.”
When it comes to wine, 1950s America had laughably few choices compared to today. Wood simply divides red wines between Burgundy and Claret styles, which need not come from their ancestral home in France, but can be produced from a variety of grapes in growing regions like California, New York, and Ohio. I tried to follow Wood’s advice to shopping for America’s finest wines, most of which sold for roughly $1.45 per fifth. With inflation, that’s not far off from the $5.99 “Hearty Burgundy” that’s available today.
Despite breaking wine into primitive styles, Wood does a fantastic job describing wine grapes and pairings basics, touching on everything from bold Napa Cabernet Sauvignon to floral, domestic Gamay, and versatile dry rosés. His pairing advice is equally sound: “Which wine goes best with what food is easily and quickly learned, and you can forget most of the dogmatic statements you have heard or read about. You can also dismiss, but quickly, all the snobbery and semantics with which a few so-called sophisticates and phony connoisseurs have surrounded the whole subject of buying, serving, and drinking of wine.”
With Wood’s intrepid attitude in mind, the cooking began.
Baked Chicken Czardas, a dish Wood “strongly suspects” is of Hungarian origin “due to the presence of sour cream, paprika, and white wine” took center stage during the Jug Wine dinner experiment. The recipe begins with breaking down an entire chicken, a practice not for the squeamish, but easily tackled with a pair of kitchen shears. The chicken pieces are first browned in butter, and then baked in a sauce of sour cream, white wine, sherry, and lemon zest. The dish smelled amazing (as masses of butter often do), but was overall disappointing. Though not unpleasant, this entree was bizarre thanks to a sauce that was dominated by intense lemon tones, and unsupported by other flavors. While unbalanced, it was nothing an extra glass of Viogner couldn’t remedy.
Our dessert of Peaches in Pineapple Burgundy Sauce yielded similar reviews. After Wood’s proclamation that dessert “should be spectacular,” our hopes were high. Sadly, far higher than what canned fruit, red wine, and unsweetened whipped cream cheese provided in a strange combination that made the cheese taste bitter, and the fruit seem sickly sweet in contrast. Again, opening another bottle helped matters significantly.
Perhaps tastes have changed since 1956, or perhaps today’s wines simply don’t meld quite as well with the high fructose corn syrup that permeates millennial diets, but minor alterations could easily transform the dull into delicious. Regardless of our results, Wood’s “damn good cookbook” provides a delightful and entertaining window into old-school American cooking, and the sizzling adventure that awaits when we swap Seamless for the kitchen. Plus, his advice still rings true: Wine makes food infinitely better.
Baked Chicken Czardas
- 1 3-3/12 lb. frying chicken
- 1 1/2 tsp. Ac’cent seasoning
- 4 tbsp. butter
- 1 small onion
- 3 tbsp. flour
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup thick sour cream
- 1tsp. paprika
- 1/2 tsp. grated lemon rind
- salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp. dry sherry
- 2 tbsp. chopped parsley
- Cut the chicken into serving pieces, sprinkle them with 1 teaspoon of Ac’cent, and let them stand 15-20 minutes.
- Melt the butter in a large, heavy skillet, and brown the chicken pieces in it slowly on all sides. Then transfer the chicken pieces to a casserole.
- To the fat in the skillet add the onion, minced, and sauté gently for 5 minutes. Then blend in the flour, add the dry white wine and the sour cream, and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture boils and thickens. Next add the paprika, grated lemon rind, 1/2 teaspoon of Ac’cent, and salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour the gravy over the chicken in the casserole, cover, and bake in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour, or until the chicken is tender.
- Place the chicken on a hot platter, and to the gravy add the sherry and parsley. Blend, let heat, and pour the gravy over the chicken. This serves 3 or 4.
Peaches in Pineapple Burgundy Sauce
- 1 #2 1/2 can cling peach halves (We used a 15-oz can and had the right amount)
- 3/4 cup peach syrup (reserved from can)
- 3/4 cup Burgundy wine
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 9-oz can crushed pineapple
- 6 oz. cream cheese
- 3 tbsp. peach brandy
- Drain the can of peach halves, reserving the syrup. In a saucepan combine the 3/4 cup of peach syrup with the Burgundy and the sugar.
- Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Then add the peach halves and simmer, uncovered, for about ten minutes. Then remove the peaches to a serving bowl.
- Add the undrained crushed pineapple to the syrup, and boil rapidly until reduced about one half. Pour this mixture over the peaches and chill.
- Whip the cream cheese to a fluff with about 3 tablespoons of peach brandy, and serve as a topping. This recipe serves 5 to 6.