As the spring line of cookbooks comes across our food desk, there's one in the stack that speaks volumes about community, and a little about recipes.
The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook by Alexe van Beuren, with recipes by Dixie Grimes, (Clarkson Potter, $29.99) will be in bookstores on March 18. You'll want to pick up a copy, if you like reading about a small southern town, its people, and its food styles.
B.T.C. is a grocery store and café in Water Valley, Miss., a town of 3,500 "in a rural county in a depressed state."
In an historic building that her husband saved from demolition, Alexe van Beuren opened The B.T.C. (Be the Change) in 2010, and found that hope and dreams proved insufficient for running a business.
It was when five-star chef Dixie Grimes walked through the door looking for a job, that things changed.
"I'm fully convinced the Lord sent Dixie to the B.T.C.," van Beuren wrote. The B.T.C. soon became the center of town life, and its menu reflects the town's diverse customer base.
Tomato gravy and chocolate gravy are served over skillet biscuits for breakfast; shrimp and sweet corn chowder is on the menu in summer; and the town is hooked on Dixie's pimento cheese.
Desserts are made by Cora Turnage who uses a regular stand mixer and a cheap electric stove, and "every single one of her desserts turn out fabulously each time," van Beuren said. Her family runs the Turnage Drug Store down the street.
When it comes to planning the café's menu, van Beuren and Grimes work with what they have: "Lots of local vegetables in the summer, fewer in the fall, practically none in the winter. Local milk, ice cream, eggs, grits, honey, bread, and coffee year round."
Every recipe has a story. This one goes with breakfast grits: "Between 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday, the odds are good someone will be sitting in a back booth eating grits. People love our grits so much we put a bowl of 'em on the menu, and it comes with a side of sausage or bacon for $3.99.
"People from the North think of grits as a peculiar obsession of those who hail below the Mason-Dixon Line. That is because they have never had good grits. Dixie cooks them the way they need to be cooked — with whipping cream and butter."
Here's the recipe for grits.
4 cups heavy cream
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups fresh stone-ground grits
In a large saucepan set over high heat, bring 6 cups of water, the cream, and the butter to a medium simmer. Gradually whisk in the grits. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until creamy and thick, about 1 hour. Salt to taste and serve immediately. Makes 6 to 8 servings.