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 collaborated with the 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 food editor of the Nashville Banner, Berni Arnold, described Sadie as “the Julia Child of Nashville,” and we think her 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 Porter Flea, you’ll know the cookbook to hunt down.)
“Lady-appropriate” chicken recipes are in abundance. 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, here is a fun way to put them to use. 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.
Note: Use the herb amounts as a guideline. You can easily change them up according to what you have on hand and what you like. Other herbs can be added or substituted as long as you keep the parsley about the same. Consider adding cilantro, marjoram, a little rosemary, sage, mint, sorrel or chives. Add a few drops of lemon juice or vinegar for a tangier flavor. And use olive oil instead of mayonnaise for the classic Italian salsa verde.
This story appears at NfocusNashville.com and we include it here for our rbandmindy.com readers.