By Clarissa Clifton, 2010
Clarissa Clifton got the idea for her historical Southern cookbook while participating in living history demonstrations at Latta Plantation in Charlotte, NC. Groups who gathered around Clifton's hearth to see her cook, especially the kids, inspired Clifton to write it.
Cooking with a wood-burning stove is part of Clifton's own history as well.
“As a child, I would often search my grandmother's wood burning stove looking for knobs to turn it on. After all, Grandma Lillie was always waiting for the weather to get cool enough to ditch the gas stove and cook on her wood burning stove,” Clifton writes.
Many American dishes can be traced back to the African American culture of the South. Meager rations, lesser cuts of meat and harsh conditions of the past led to some of the most beloved foods in the American lexicon. Barbecue, fried chicken, sweet potato biscuits and fried pies all originated with the enslaved African American community.
Tracing back these roots, Clifton experimented with cast-iron cooking, guided by recipes passed down through generations of her family who lived in South Georgia and South Carolina.
In hopes to get more families to discover the joy of a cast iron skillet, Clifton has recorded such recipes as Fried Yard Bird (Chicken), Crackling Corn Bread and Hoe Cakes (a staple for slaves and yeoman farmers alike).
The Sweet Potato Biscuit recipe is steeped in the tradition of making a little go a long way.
“Passed down to my paternal grandmother from her mother, it's a tasty treat that minimizes the use of flour and sugar because of the addition of sweet potatoes,” Clifton writes.
The recipes translate from an open hearth to a modern day oven. For example, baking in cast iron with coals on top of the lid of a Dutch oven is the same as baking in a 350°F oven.