Cooking with Pat Conroy

I believed we would read Faulkner.

This, to paraphrase, is what my kid wrote to his high school English instructor as a portion of an end-of-semester examination last spring. It must have struck a chord because she reacted with a note that arrived in the mail if school let out for the summer.

I understand my son’s sentiments. As still new transplants from the Midwest, our memory card in the South is just a few years old. When it comes to literature, it is one thing to be taught Faulkner. It is another to be taught Faulkner in the South.

I think exactly the identical way about Sure I understand his best-selling books turned into movies, “The Prince of Tides” and “The Great Santini.” However, I have a great deal of work to perform if it has to do with getting up to speed on all Conroy’s functions, and certainly wonder if I would be lacking in this section if I had grown up in those components.

I remember a day back in late 2015 when a reader’s letter landed in my mail inbox. The person was angry by Wyatt Williams’ restaurant inspection of Southern Gentleman in Buckhead, a zero-star inspection that Wyatt penned with the voice of a cynical Rhett Butler.

“Is Pat Conroy with a bad day?” Asked the reader.

Wyatt believed the entire thing humorous and required it like a high compliment to be than a Southern literary fantastic. Me? I was still figuring it all out. Who exactly was Pat Conroy?

March 4 marks the second anniversary of Conroy’s departure. While I never met Conroy, nor was a pupil of his functions, it is curious that I suddenly find myself “convening” along with him.

Recently, a chance visit to a secondhand book in Birmingham, Ala., brought me face to face with Conroy. Well, his profession, really. But that’s him and his big smile on the cover of “The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes and Stories of My Life,” published in 2004.

The book is a signed copy. The inscription, to a person by the name of Lyela James, reads: “For the love of food and books.”

“The topic of food is almost a sacred one to me,” he writes in the introduction, explaining that he learned his way round the cooker together with French chef Auguste Escoffier’s cookbook to direct him.

The book was in my possession for just a week. I’m still reading through it, but I wished to get started drinking out of it. So, I switched through the almost 300 pages and settled on Conroy’s “Southern Ratatouille with Bacon.”

Ratatouille is basically a stewy Italian vegetable dish. It has been go-to for me in summer time, when zucchini summer squash and tomatoes are at their peak and, if I’m lucky, plucked from my very own garden. Conroy’s version doesn’t veer far from the typical rendition (I usually insert eggplant; he leaves out it), except that he adds bacon and corn. He explains the decision in regards to the latter ingredient in the introduction to the recipe: “Southerners cannot seem to cook anything without peeling it using some portion of a pig. I still cannot pronounce or spell ratatouille, in spite of the bacon in it.”

No matter your foreign language abilities, it is a fantastic call to use bacon as opposed to a fat such as olive oil to cook down the veggies. Those few pieces of bacon impart just enough flavor not to take the spotlight off from this create.

The final dish stuffed a big skillet easily enough to feed. This was confounding, because the recipe says it serves one particular person as a principal course or twice as a side dish.

“That’s standard of Pat,” said Conroy’s widow, ” the novelist Cassandra King, speaking to me in the couple’s home in Beaufort, S.C. “He was a huge man, but he had this huge personality. He did everything large, even cooking. He always made huge dishes, particularly if we were entertaining. I used ton’t have to be concerned about if we were going to have enough,” she said with a laugh.

Conroy dedicated the cookbook to King, calling the “cooking partner of my life”

As we all chatted about the ratatouille, King remembered her late husband’s love affair with Italian cuisine, born from if he lived in Italy and his hankering for seafood. “He adored his seafood,” King stated. Conroy’s recipe for crab salad, published in the cookbook, is still the one she relies on. That, and his crab cakes.

King reminisced about cooking using Conroy, divulged that he disdained leftovers and recounted how restaurants and food were an integral part their journeys. “This was always the highlight of our trip,” she said.

Listening to King talk about Conroy’s relationship with meals makes reading this article — one full of humorous storytelling — much more vivid. Just like Chapter One, titled “Nathalie Dupree.” Conroy wrote that this grand dame of Southern cooking “appears more like a literary character than a flesh-and-blood person.” He wrote that in 2004. Some 14 years later, the same rings true to me, a newcomer among food writers in this area.

In fact, so lots of Conroy’s observations about meals resonate deeply with me. Much like Conroy’s comments about the delight that comes with reading a cookbook, or even thinking of a recipe like “a narrative that ends with a great meal” or the power of funeral food. “Cooking meals for a grieving loved ones members and their friends is still among the classiest approaches to deliver a love note that I can imagine,” he writes in a chapter titled “Why Dying Down South Is More Enjoyable.”

His reflections are reassuring to this lady who often wonders if she isn’t overly food crazed.

Often, once I finish reading a book, or perhaps head cover to cover using a cookbook, there’s a part of me that feels a little bit miserable. In the case of “The Pat Conroy Cookbook,” I really don’t think I’ll have problems with “book hangover” after savoring every delicious word out of the book.

Why? It ends up King has to inform us about Conroy’s culinary side. She’s now writing a memoir on her time with him. “We’d talked about doing a job together. After he died, I believed, I think I’ll do so. We spent so much time cooking”

The book is tentatively titled, “Supper for One: A Love Story With Recipes.” The publication and release date are still to be determined.

Southern Ratatouille with Bacon

Excerpted from THE PAT CONROY COOKBOOK by Pat Conroy, with permission of Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House.

This can be named Southern ratatouille as it comprises bacon. Southerners cannot seem to cook anything with no repainting it with some portion of a pig. I still cannot pronounce or spell ratatouille, in spite of the bacon in it.

Serves 1 as a main course or two as a side dish

Author Pat Conroy walks around Ansley Park, 1988. AJC FILE

Pat Conroy’s Southern Ratatouille with Bacon. Photo by Ligaya Figueras

“A Lowcountry Heart” by Pat Conroy

Pat Conroy’s widow Cassandra King, right, is escorted out of St. Peter’s Catholic Parish after her husbands funeral mass in Beaufort, S.C., Tuesday, March 8, 2016. Conroy died on Friday at age 70 at his home in Beaufort surrounded by his family, according to his publisher. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Novelist Cassandra King and her husband, novelist Pat Conroy will discuss the writing relationship in a panel at the AJC Decatur Book Festival called “Marriage by the Book.”