In early June of 2016 we were the guest chefs at Cheekwood Botanical Garden‘s Pineapple Room for their First Thursday Summer Southern Roots series and we collaborated with the Pineapple kitchen on a summer picnic dinner inspired by the work of Sadie LeSueur, the long celebrated midcentury hostess of Nashville’s Centennial Club.
Sadie authored the popular cookbooks Recipes and Party Plans (1958) and the expanded edition Recipes, Party Plans, and Garnishes (1970), which served as the Nashville homemaker’s definitive guide to stylish entertaining and dining. The late Berni Arnold, food editor of the Nashville Banner, described Sadie as “the Julia Child of Nashville.” Sadie’s attention to detail is reminiscent of an early Martha Stewart.
Sadie’s entertaining advice, menus, and recipes are very telling of her era as she suggests harmonizing the first course with the color scheme of the flower arrangements. She was a genius menu planner, keeping things fresh for the Centennial Club, and delighted when members commented that she never seemed to serve the same thing twice. Her cookbooks contain hundreds of menu suggestions for every holiday and occasion, including morning coffees, bride’s tea, monthly club luncheons, lap-tray luncheons, plate luncheons, buffet luncheons and suppers, bridge parties, cocktail parties, teen parties, dinners, late suppers, and after-theater snacks. Plus, there are more than 1,000 recipes to go along with the menu suggestions.
The recipes are not difficult, but the presentation is always attention-grabbing, whimsical, and precise. Let’s just say that to recreate this cuisine, you’ll need a large selection of molds in every shape. (And when they suddenly appear in a booth at your area vintage flea market, you’ll know the cookbook to hunt down.)
“Lady-appropriate” chicken recipes are in abundance, thankfully. Our Cheekwood summer picnic menu included chicken salad, of course, but we pulled the salad into the 21st century by dressing chilled poached chicken chunks with a modern verde mayo, our take on Italian salsa verde that replaces the olive oil with mayonnaise. If you have a garden full of fresh herbs, put them to work in your verde experiments. The sauce has a tangy bite thanks to lemon zest and capers and deep umami from a single anchovy and garlic clove. You can add celery or diced red or yellow bell pepper, but skip the fruit this time.
We’ll be whipping up verde mayo all summer to serve on Tennessee tomato sandwiches and artfully dollop on sliced tomato salads. Of course, serve the verde chicken salad in tomato cups. We’re sure Sadie would approve.
- 1 ½ cups Italian flat leaf or regular parsley (a big handful)
- ¼ cup fresh oregano or marjoram leaves
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
- 1 medium garlic clove, peeled
- 1 medium anchovy
- 3 tablespoons capers, drained
- Zest from one lemon
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Crushed red pepper, to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until evenly chopped and well blended. Add more mayonnaise for a thinner, more mild style of verde.
Verde Notes: See the herb measurements as a guidelines. Swap and substitute according to the parameters of the moment. A good rule of thumb is to keep the parsley portion about the same as you change up the other herbs. Try verde batches with cilantro, marjoram, a little rosemary, sage, mint, sorrel, or chives. For a tangier flavor add a few drops of lemon juice or vinegar. For the classic Italian salsa verde use olive oil instead of mayonnaise.