Side Dish: Cookbook embraces traditions of river

“Mississippi Current Cookbook: A Culinary Journal Down America’s Greatest River” by Regina Charboneau

Lyons Press, $30.95

326-page hardcover

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I first met chef Regina Trosclair Charboneau in the kitchen of Brandon Hall, a private antebellum home on the Natchez Trace, at a luncheon featuring Mississippi foods.

It was 1992 and Charboneau had returned to her hometown to help ply cookbook authors Julia Child and Marion Cunningham and winemaker Robert Mondavi with “new South cooking using indigenous ingredients.” The legendary trio were in Natchez to try to entice Mississippians who care about wine and food to form a chapter of the American Institute of Wine & Food.

At the time Charboneau was a young mother and operating restaurants in San Francisco. She had already returned to California when I realized I had questions about the Yam Carre recipe she had prepared for the luncheon. Forgetting about the two-hour time difference between here and there, I called and woke her up. Oh, it’s no bother, she insisted as I apologized.

Ever the gracious Southerner, she gives the impression that she’s always ready for spontaneous cooking and entertaining and enthusiastic about sharing her love of traditional Southern cooking with a modern flair.

In 2000, she and her family moved back to Natchez where she operates Twin Oaks, her antebellum home, as a bed and breakfast. Her first cookbook, “Regina’s Table at Twin Oaks,” which she organized by seasonal menus, was a favorite of the food staff. I still occasionally pull out the book for menu ideas.

Now, she’s written another cookbook. This one, “Mississippi Current Cookbook: A Culinary Journey Down America’s Greatest River,” with a foreword by Julia Reed and photographs by Ben Fink, also is organized by menus. However, it’s divided into three parts and begins at the river’s headwaters in Minnesota and flows down through Mark Twain’s middle Mississippi River country, and finally along the lower Mississippi from Memphis, Tennessee, to the Gulf of Mexico.

Her husband, Doug, is from Minneapolis, but it was her becoming culinary director of the American Queen, the paddlewheel boat that travels the Mississippi, that led to her decision to write a cookbook embracing the foods and culinary traditions of the 10 states that border the Mighty Mississippi. The book opens with recipes for a Great River Road Picnic for six and ends with a menu for a Blessing of the Fleet Lunch for four. Her recipes are sure to be ones that you’ll want to eat, like Blueberry Pie With Lemon Drop Candy Dust, Mock Turtle Soup, Eggs Sardou With Artichoke-Potato Hash, Curried Chicken Salad With Cranberries and Pecans, Creole Corn and Crab Bisque, and Blackberry-Rum Fizzes.

I’m looking forward to working my way through the cookbook’s recipes.

Cheramie Sonnier is The Advocate’s food editor. Her email address is csonnier@theadvocate.com. Buttermilk Custards With Berries

Serves 6. Recipe is from “Mississippi Current Cookbook: A Culinary Journey Down America’s Greatest River” by Regina Charboneau (Lyons Press).

32 (1/4-oz.) envelopes (2 tbls.) unflavored gelatin

1 cup heavy cream

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest

2 cups buttermilk

2 tsps. pure vanilla extract

11/2 cups fresh blackberries

11/2 cups fresh raspberries

3

1. Place 2 tablespoons cool water and the gelatin in a small bowl and stir to blend. Let stand until the gelatin softens, about 5 minutes.

2. Combine the cream, sugar and lemon zest in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat, add the gelatin, and stir to dissolve. Stir in3 the buttermilk and vanilla, and pour into six 1/2-cup glasses or bowls. Cover and refrigerate until set and firm to the touch, about 4 hours or overnight.

3. Combine the berries in a large bowl. Divide the berries evenly among the six custards and serve immediately.