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What Ya' Got Cookin'? Soul Food and Southern Cuisine

Courtesy of Raqui Minwell

Welcome to another edition of What Ya Got Cookin? -- Midday's bi-monthly tribute to the wonders of good food, good cooks, and good eating.  Today the topic is soul food and southern cooking.  

As always, Tom is joined by Midday’s resident foodies, John Shields and Sascha Wolhandler

John is a chef, author and the owner of Gertrude’s Restaurant at the Baltimore Museum of Art. He’s also the host of Coastal Cooking and Chesapeake Bay Cooking on Maryland Public Television and PBS. Sascha and her husband Steve Susser recently retired from their long career running Sascha’s 527 Cafe in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood of Charm City

Our special guest today is Chef David Thomas, a career food professional with more than 25 years in the restaurant and food service trade. Previously the chef and owner of The Herb & Soul Café, Thomas has now partnered with the media company, Real News Network, on a new restaurant in downtown Baltimore calledIda B’s Table.

It will serve what Thomas calls “modern soul food” -- and also pay culinary homage to its namesake, the 19th- and 20th century African-American journalist and civil rights activist, Ida Bell Wells, who died in 1931. The 6,000-square-foot restaurant, located in the Real News Network’s building at 235 Holliday St, plans a "soft" opening for the week of August 20th, with its grand opening slated for late September.

Chef John Shields' Recipes

Here are two recipes that illustrate the southern cuisine connection of the Chesapeake region. Both recipes are excerpted with the author's permission from the 25th Anniversary edition of Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields, Johns Hopkins University Press (2015).

Pauleen’s Seafood Gumbo

Serves 15 to 20

Mumbo jumbo who’s got the gumbo? Well, Miss Pauleen Lee, down in Pocomoke City, Maryland, does. She confides, “Darling, it’s all in the roux. Don’t want it looking like oatmeal and don’t want it burnt to the devil. Got to be the color of a rusty old nail.” In case you’re fresh out of rusty nails, the shade you’re aiming for is a dark reddish brown. The roux not only thickens the gumbo and gives it its color, it also imparts a distinctive nutty flavor to the dish. Cook up a big pot of white rice while the gumbo is simmering. Serve the gumbo ladled over the rice and pass plenty of hot Old-Fashioned Skillet Corn Bread.


3/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup bacon drippings or rendered chicken fat

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 large onion, cut into 1/4 inch dice

1 cup diced celery, cut into 1/4 inch dice

1 green bell pepper, seeded, deveined, and cut into 1/4 inch dice

1 cup finely chopped green onions

3 tablespoons minced garlic

2 cups chopped peeled ripe fresh tomatoes, or 2 cans (16 ounces each) diced tomatoes

8 live, or previously steamed, blue crabs, cleaned and cut in half

5 cups water or Fish Stock

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

1 1/2 pounds kielbasa or andouille sausage

1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 pound claw crabmeat, picked over

1 pint shucked oysters and their liquor


Heat the oil and bacon drippings in a heavy-bottomed soup pot (not cast iron) until smoking hot. Whisk in the flour and stir constantly over medium-high heat until the mixture turns a dark reddish brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Keep whisking the roux or it will burn and stick to the bottom. Be careful not to splash it on your skin.

When the roux is properly browned, turn off the heat and stir in the onion, celery, bell pepper, green onions, and garlic. Return to medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the vegetables are soft and browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, crabs, water, salt, black pepper, thyme, basil, oregano, bay leaf, cayenne, and Tabasco. Add whole pieces of sausage. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour. Remove whole sausage and cut into thin (1/4 inch) pieces and return to pot.

Stir in the okra and simmer for 30 minutes more. Add the shrimp, crabmeat, and oysters with their liquor and bring almost to the boil. Remove from the heat and serve at once.

St. Mary’s County Stuffed Ham

Stuffed ham is a grand culinary tradition of southern Maryland. And no one did it better than the late William Taylor, The Dinner Designer, of Hollywood, Maryland. Here is his recipe, and detailed instructions, for the perfect stuffed ham. If a corned ham is not available from the butcher, substitute a fresh ham. A fresh ham is the same cut of meat as a corned ham, only the latter has been cured in a brining solution.

Stuffed ham is served cold and sliced very thin; however, ham slices may be placed on small biscuits or rolls, slathered with mayonnaise, and then heated very slightly in a moderate oven. Because this recipe makes such a large quantity, it is best suited for a well-attended party or large family gathering.

Serves 20 to 25, with some left over!


½ bushel (about 8 pounds) kale, thick stems removed

2 medium cabbages, cored and cut into wedges

12 bunches of wild field cress, if possible, or watercress, tough stems removed

12 bunches of green onions

1 bunch of celery

½ cup salt

2 tins (1¼ ounces each) mustard seed

¼ cup crushed red pepper

1 corned ham (20 pounds), fat removed, boned, and tied

1 clean, extra-large white cotton T-shirt

Bunches of watercress and sliced ripe tomatoes, for garnish


Clean and coarsely grind or chop all the vegetables. Put them in a large deep tub and work in the salt, mustard seed, and red pepper with your hands. Place the ham on a large baking sheet or tray with an edge. With a boning knife, cut deep half-moon slits in the ham. Starting at the butt end, make a row with 4 slits, about 2 inches apart, across the ham. Move about 2 inches down and make a second row across with 3 slits, making sure the slits are not parallel to the first row. The following row below will have 4 slits, and the next row 3 and, if room, a final row with 4 slits. It will create a checkerboard effect. With your fingers, poke some of the vegetables into the holes, filling them. Turn the ham over and repeat the process of cutting the slits and filling them.

Spread out the T-shirt on a clean tray. With scissors cut it up the front and lay it open. Spread half of the remaining vegetables on the T-shirt and place the stuffed ham on the vegetables. Pack the rest of the vegetables over the top of the ham. Bring up the T-shirt over the ham, stretching it. Tie the ham round and round with strong twine, adding a loop for lifting.

Put a small rack in the bottom of a deep canning kettle and half fill the kettle with cold water. Put in the ham and add additional water to cover. Put a lid on the kettle and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer slowly 4 hours. After 4 hours, remove from the heat and take the lid off the kettle. Leave the ham in the pot liquor overnight.

In the morning, drain well, put the ham in a plastic bag, and refrigerate for 1 day. To serve, cut away the T-shirt and lift the ham onto a large platter. Scoop up any vegetables remaining on the shirt and pat them all over the top of the ham and around the edges. Decorate the platter with watercress and tomatoes. Carve the ham into thin slices, exposing the green veining. Serve ham cold or slightly warm with the extra greens.

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