I’m from a part of the South that’s not very southern, and my mother always cooked healthy food. As a result, I don’t actually have fond childhood memories of most traditional southern foods. It’s only as an adult that I’ve learned to cook things like fried green tomatoes and biscuits—and I still haven’t  mustered the courage to tackle fried chicken.

I do, however, have childhood memories of cheese straws. Not because my mother made them, or because they were “almost always present at celebrations,” as this recipe claims, but because they were sold at A Southern Season, the local gourmet emporium. I loved those things, but yes, even my cheese straws managed to be inauthentic and rather yuppie.

But now, having made the real thing, I see what all the fuss is about. They look like a strange malignant french fry—parsnip fries, maybe?—but they’re cheesy and crunchy and fabulous. And they are, as the recipe suggests, the perfect party snack.

Smile and say "parsnip fries."

I should also note that both these cheese straws and the buttermilk lemon cookies from the last post are Edna Lewis creations or inspirations. Sadly, I do not currently have any of her cookbooks, which are supposed to be incredible. Anyone want to buy me this one?

Cheese straws
From Edna Lewis, in Food and Wine

1 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 pound extra-sharp [high-quality] Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (2 1/2 cups)
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons water

Sift the flour, mustard, salt and cayenne into a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer [or food processor], beat the cheese and butter on low speed until well blended. Gradually beat in the flour until completely incorporated. Add the water and beat for 1 minute. [I found that I needed slightly more water to get the dough to come together.]

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 5 times. [If the dough is still crumbly, turn it out onto a floured cloth napkin, bundle the napkin around the dough, and then use the napkin to help push the dough together.] On a large sheet of wax paper, roll the dough into a 12-by-9-inch rectangle. Slide the dough onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate until chilled, about 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Cut the dough in half crosswise, then cut it into 6-by-1/4-inch strips. Transfer the strips to 2 cookie sheets. Bake 1 sheet at a time for about 14 minutes, or until the cheese straws are golden brown and crisp. Let cool slightly, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

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