9 Things 'Whiskey in a Teacup' Taught Us About Southern Cooking
Our biscuit-making game is about to get a whole lot better.
I must confess, I’m a something of a Reese Witherspoon fangirl. I was once on a train that played Sweet Home Alabama on repeat for eight hours and I never once reached for the remote, if that tells you anything. Speaking as someone who grew up and presently lives in the South, and as someone with a deep appreciation for certain pieces of the culture, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better contermporary embodiment of Southern charm.
So you’d better believe I was the first one at the bookstore the day Witherspoon’s new book, Whiskey in a Teacup, came out.
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Her grandmother inspired the memorable title:
“Dorothea always said that it was a combination of beauty and strength that made Southern women ‘whiskey in a teacup,’” Witherspoon writes. “We may be delicate and ornamental on the outside, she said, but inside we’re strong and fiery.”
It was also Dorothea who inspired Witherspoon’s appreciation for Southern food—and the art of making and serving it properly.
1. In the South, people are bound to drop by unannounced. You’d better have a good sweet tea recipe up your sleeve for when they get there.
Sweet tea is so important to Witherspoon that it’s the core subject of the book’s very first chapter. She details Dorothea’s recipe for Sun Tea, a drink her grandmother prepared every morning. Pro-tip from Witherspoon herself: This tea is best paired with country-fried steak and collard greens.
2. Hosting dinner parties is a science. Take notes!
“I love everything about [dinner parties], including the planning, and I pay attention when I go to great parties so that I can improve my own,” Witherspoon writes.
Not to say that you should completely copy someone’s menu, but we can all learn a thing or two from other people’s success and mistakes.
3. Look at cooking a big meal like a math problem.
Timing is key when it comes to cooking.
“I will look at everything I’m cooking and figure it out like a math problem, what needs to go in the oven when. If you’re cooking or roasting chickens or potatoes, you know it will take a while. Start that bird first!
4. Don’t get hung up on making everything from scratch.
One of Witherspoon’s favorite desserts is Mississippi Mud Pie, made from pudding, Oreo cookies and Cool Whip. Witherspoon calls this recipe “a pleasure of semihomemade decadence” and the “ultimate high-low hack.”
Use this acronym to remember the traditional Southern way to set a table: Fork, O for plate, Knife, Spoon. The author admits that, yes, this does actually spell FOKS. It’s fine, just go with it.
6. Keep dinnertime sacred.
In recent years, the actress has found herself unable to sit still without getting antsy and she’s noticed her friends have the same problem. She attributes this phenomenon to a combination of “our faster pace of life, the onslaught of technology and the feeling there’s so much to do that there’s no time to waste.”
That’s why devices go away when dinner is served in the Witherspoon household.
Family dinner is the family’s “only salvation from this affliction.”
7. Never pick corn more than a day before you make it and never refrigerate a tomato.
This book is chock-full of valuable advice from Witherspoon’s grandmother. One of Dorothea’s most important lessons, in my opinion, relates to her Corn Salad recipe:
“The natural sugars in sweet corn turn to starch soon after picking, so pick it or buy it from a farm stand the day you plan to cook it. Tomatoes get mealy and mushy when refrigerated, so keep them on a counter or windowsill until ready to use.”
To be quite honest, the thought of storing tomatoes in the refrigerator disturbs me to my core. But I suppose it happens, so thank goodness for Dorothea.
8. Never underestimate the value of a good biscuit.
A true Southern cook knows their way around a biscuit. That’s why Witherspoon devoted a whole page to listing 15 of her favorite biscuit-making secrets. For instance, never twist the cutter.
“Press straight down and back up. Twisting the cutter creates a seal around the dough, resulting in biscuits that cannot raise up as high when baking.”
9. “Delicacy is the operative word” when it comes to finger sandwiches.
Another useful nugget from Dorothea. According to her cookbook, the bread must be sliced paper thin. You must be careful, though. While you should be generous with the filling, don’t be so generous that your sandwiches ooze.