Jessica B. Harris

An ode to meals and memories from a summer home on Martha’s Vineyard.
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Shortcut Café Brûlot
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Scholar and cookbook author Jessica B. Harris has been a part-time resident of New Orleans for many years. She shared her shortcut recipe for a Cafe Brûlot, which she likes to serve after a meal at her summer home on Martha's Vineyard. Café Brûlot is a signature cocktail of New Orleans, where it's prepared tableside at restaurants in an elaborate process that culminates in pouring flaming, citrus- and cinnamon-infused brandy down a clove-studded orange peel into a special silver-lined punch bowl, then dousing the flames with chicory-flavored coffee. Instead, Harris eschews the fireworks and special equipment, opting for a greatly streamlined drink that's much easier to prepare at home. In her version, warmed orange liqueur and cognac, fresh lemon and lime juice, cinnamon, cloves, and hot coffee come together in a simple but satisfying warming, boozy after-dinner cocktail that can be quickly prepared, served, and savored. You can serve the drink directly from the heatproof bowl it's prepared in, or do as Harris does:  "I mix it all and pour it out of an antique Victorian tea pot." Note this is a very potent drink. "The booze doesn't burn off," Harris cautions. "Serve in demitasse cups. No seconds."
Cookbook author and scholar Jessica B. Harris serves this roast leg of lamb cooked over a bed of new potatoes as the centerpiece of her Bastille Day dinner party, which she has traditionally hosted to open up her summers on Martha's Vineyard. Dried lavender and fresh thyme lend floral, woodsy flavor to fresh garlic cloves in a simple paste created on the cutting board. The paste seasons the lamb before cooking and helps the dried spice crust stick to the meat. The mint sauce — what Harris calls a "jazzed-up mint jelly" made by cooking mint jelly in a skillet with a splash of rum and jalapeño — will appear very thin when hot but thickens to a glaze as it cools. If you like, serve the leg of lamb and potatoes as Harris does, alongside string beans and a salad of fresh island lettuces mixed with avocado chunks and blueberries, followed by lemon chess pie for dessert.
At her summer home on Martha's Vineyard, food scholar and cookbook author Jessica B. Harris keeps specialty salts and vinegars on hand to bring instant interest to salad dressings. Here, a honey-ginger white balsamic is the backbone of a sweet and fragrant sesame-honey-ginger dressing that adds a mildly piquant kick to the fresh peppery greens and creamy avocado in this colorful side salad. The blueberry-honey sea salt made on Martha's Vineyard is absolutely worth sourcing for both its pleasantly fruity and tart flavor and its stunning purple hue. While these specialty ingredients add an elegant touch, the Food & Wine test kitchen also came up with a few simple substitutions to make this recipe without them (see Note).
Smoked Bluefish Spread
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At her summer home on Martha's Vineyard, Jessica B. Harris serves this bluefish spread with crackers as hors d'oeuvres (with a Ti' Punch cocktail) to dinner party guests and at participants in her "five to sevens" — gatherings on the porch with drinks and small bites, so-called because they take place between the hours of five and seven o'clock. Smoky, rich, and creamy, this delicious spread brings together luscious smoked bluefish with light and fluffy whipped cream cheese, tangy whole-milk yogurt, and a dash of acidic hot sauce and horseradish. Don't skip on chilling the dip for at least 1 hour; time in the fridge allows the flavors and textures to meld. Be sure to re-season the blue fish spread with lemon juice and hot sauce after chilling as these ingredients will often mellow over time. The delicate crunch and neutral flavor of lavash or water crackers allow the smoky dip to be the star of the show. Bluefish is a popular and abundant fish on the Vineyard. Another smoked, oily-fleshed fish, such as whitefish, mackerel, or trout, may also be used here.
Ti' Punch
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Don't be fooled by the simplicity of this Guadeloupean cocktail from scholar and cookbook author Jessica B. Harris — it packs a ton of flavor due to its use of white rhum agricole. Unlike most rums, which are made from fermented molasses or sugarcane byproducts, rhum agrciole is made from fresh-pressed sugarcane juice, which gives it wild, vegetal, grassy flavors and aromas entirely unlike other rums. (Rhum is the French spelling of "rum.") "This is a classical drink of the Creole world," Harris wrote of Ti' Punch in her 2013 book, Rum Drinks: 50 Caribbean Cocktails, from Cuba Libre to Rum Daisy. "It is, in fact, a French Antillian cousin of Brazil's caipirinha. In some parts of the French-Caribbean, it's called a C.R.S for its three ingredients: citron (lime), rhum (no translation necessary!) and sucre (sugar)." Harris prefers unrefined cane sugar for the molasses note it brings to the drink, which complement the more verdant cane sugar-notes from the rhum agricole. Serving Ti' Punch at room temperature as is traditional opens up the aromatic, herbal notes in the rum. If you prefer, you can serve it chilled for a smoother drink; just be sure to dissolve the sugar before adding the ice. Harris likes to serve this potent cocktail with hors d'oeuvres to kick off her dinner parties; try pairing it with her Bacon-Wrapped Watermelon Rind Pickles for a treat.
Jessica B. Harris—scholar, author, and champion of the cuisine of the African diaspora—reflects on a life on the road.
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Prebaked Orange Pastry Shell
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In 2018, Food & Wine named this recipe one of our 40 best: This pastry shell is the basis for Mom’s Citrus Meringue Pie. It uses fresh orange juice to bring flavor to the crust. Because there’s lard in the dough, it softens quickly at room temperature; work quickly when rolling it out.
In 2018, Food & Wine named this recipe one of our 40 best: Legendary culinary historian, teacher, and author Jessica B. Harris has spent years documenting the foodways of the African diaspora. Harris contributed several articles to F&W in the 1980s and 1990s, including a piece on her Southern family’s traditions and heirloom recipes, inspired by her mother and two grandmothers. Of the three women, Harris said, “Each was representative of the major African-American culinary traditions that have marked America.” Her mother’s influence included a spectacular citrus meringue pie that uses fresh lemon and lime juices baked into a pastry shell made with fresh orange juice.
Jessica B. Harris—scholar, author, and champion of the cuisine of the African diaspora—reflects on a life on the road.
Prebaked Orange Pastry Shell
Rating: Unrated
New!
In 2018, Food & Wine named this recipe one of our 40 best: This pastry shell is the basis for Mom’s Citrus Meringue Pie. It uses fresh orange juice to bring flavor to the crust. Because there’s lard in the dough, it softens quickly at room temperature; work quickly when rolling it out.
In 2018, Food & Wine named this recipe one of our 40 best: Legendary culinary historian, teacher, and author Jessica B. Harris has spent years documenting the foodways of the African diaspora. Harris contributed several articles to F&W in the 1980s and 1990s, including a piece on her Southern family’s traditions and heirloom recipes, inspired by her mother and two grandmothers. Of the three women, Harris said, “Each was representative of the major African-American culinary traditions that have marked America.” Her mother’s influence included a spectacular citrus meringue pie that uses fresh lemon and lime juices baked into a pastry shell made with fresh orange juice.
Chicken Colombo
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Like the Hindu temple near Capesterre, Guadeloupe, the curry mixture called colombo is a legacy of indentured servants who came here from coastal India in the last century. Since then colombo has taken a bit from the French and a bit from the African to become truly Creole.Plus: More Chicken Recipes and Tips
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Asopao de Pollo
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Puerto Rico's island culinary heritage is a wonderful mix of Spanish, African, Taino and more—all of which have a role in asopao de pollo, a chicken stew that's a country cousin of Spain's paella. Asopao can be as basic as the rural "three can" variation, in which chicken and rice are fancied up with a can of green peas, a can of pimientos and a can of asparagus tips, or it can be a sublime dish that brings out the flavors of the freshest of ingredients. Amazing Chicken Recipes
Apple-Pineapple Pie
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"My mother is very inventive in the kitchen," says Jessica B. Harris, a cookbook author based in New York City. "I learned a lot about cooking from her and from my grandmothers." One lesson was this delicious fruit pie. Beautiful Desserts