The other day, my daughter Nia told me that Maya Angelou had died. Nia knew about Angelou from an early age as I had returned from a trip to her home near the campus of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. with a copy of her children’s book she had inscribed to my daughter. I had been there to interview her for an airline magazine story and one of the first things that this bestselling author of a series chronicling her life, the first being "I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings" and her poetry book, "Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘For I Diiie", won a Pulitzer Prize nomination, talked about was zucchini.
Angelou had made a decision that late summer morning that she must go to the market to buy a zucchini and not just any old zucchini but a perfect one.
“I want to make a ratatouille,” she explained and then we began talking about food. She was the author of two cookbooks, "Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories With Recipes", and "Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart". In the first, she often told stories about the recipes, how she came to cook a white bean and sausage casserole for noted food writer M.F.K. Fisher who called it the “first honest cassoulet I have eaten in years.”
Other recipes and stories told of her growing up in the south like Crackling Corn Bread and Caramel Cake. And then there was also the dish she cooked for one of her great friends, Oprah Winfrey. The famed talk show host loved it so much she asked to have some for breakfast the next day and wanted to know the name. When Angelou told her it was smothered chicken, Winfrey replied, “This is too good for such a simple name. This is suffocated children. This chicken never knew what hit it.”
The following are several of Maya Angelou’s recipes.
4 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
6 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup lard
2 cups buttermilk
All-purpose flour, if needed
Preheat oven to 375°.
Sift 4 cups of flour with salt, baking powder and baking soda. Cut in lard until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add buttermilk and stir until dough leaves side of bowl.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth. Roll out to ½-inch thickness, and cut into 2-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter or water glass. (If using a glass, turn it upside down, dust rim in flour, then cut biscuits.)
Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 20-25 minutes, or until biscuits are golden brown.
Oprah’s Suffocated Chicken
Two 3-pound fryer chickens
Juice of 2 lemons
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour, divided
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil, divided
2 medium onions, sliced
1 pound button mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth
Wash and pat dry chicken. Cut into pieces and put in a bowl with lemon juice and water to cover. Refrigerate 1 hour.
Wash lemon water off chicken, and season with salt and pepper. Put 3/4 cup flour in a shallow dish or plate and dredge chicken pieces in flour.
In a large skillet, fry chicken on high heat in butter and 1/4 cup oil until dark brown. Remove from skillet and keep warm.
Add remaining flour and oil to skillet; cook until brown. Add onions, mushrooms and garlic, stirring constantly. Put chicken back into skillet, add chicken broth and water as necessary to cover. Turn heat to medium and cook for 25 minutes. Serve with buttermilk biscuits.
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
Pinch of salt
3 cups milk
8 eggs, separated
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon pure vanilla pure vanilla extract
3 cups vanilla wafers
4 ripe bananas, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large saucepan, combine 1/3 cup sugar, cornstarch and salt; stir until blended. Mix in milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened and boiling. Boil 1 minute, then remove from heat.
In a small bowl, whisk egg yolks, then whisk in about 1/2 cup of hot custard until blended. Pour yolk mixture back into saucepan of custard; cook over medium heat, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in butter and vanilla until blended.
Place vanilla wafers on bottom of a shallow 2-quart casserole dish. Top with layers of banana slices and custard. Repeat layering, ending with custard.
In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites and 1/4 cup sugar at low speed until frothy. Add cream of tartar; increase speed to medium and gradually beat in remaining sugar. Beat until egg whites hold stiff peaks.
Spoon meringue over hot custard immediately, making sure that meringue touches baking dish on all sides (this prevents it from shrinking). Transfer to oven and bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Remove pudding from oven and cool 1 hour. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.