One of the great pleasures of this past summer has been rereading the works of Pat Conroy, a quintessential storyteller and one of my favorite authors of adult fiction. The Water is Wide, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, and Beach Music hold a special place in my heart, and also on my bookshelf.
In early September, at the time when Hurricane Irma was thrashing coastal South Carolina, I read for the first time one of Conroy’s later works, South of Broad, set in Charleston. Ironically, the climax in South of Broad takes place during Hurricane Hugo in 1989. I also rediscovered one of my favorite cookbooks, a signed copy of The Pat Conroy Cookbook, a gift from my daughter. Not only does the cookbook feature one of our family’s favorite recipes, “Summer Chowder,” but also includes a collection of personal essays by the author about the art and joy of cooking good food.
“A Recipe is a Story …” is the title of the cookbook’s seventh chapter, and I include, for readers and writers alike, a few of his observations from pages 96-97:
Stories have always hunted me down, jumped out at me from the shadows, stalked me and sought me out, grabbed me by the shirtsleeves, and demanded my full attention. I’ve led a life chock-full of stories, and I know now that you have to be shifty and vigilant and ready to receive their incoming fire. Sometimes it takes the passage of years to reveal their actual meaning or import. They disguise themselves with masks, disfigurements, chimeras, and Trojan horses . . .
Alertness is the requirement of the writing life, staying nimble on your feet, open to the stories that will rise up and flower around you while you are walking your dog on the beach or taking the kids to soccer practice. The great stories often make their approach with misdirection, camouflage, or smoke screens to hide their passage through your life . . .
But sometimes stories hide themselves from writers like trolls under bridges. Then the writers of the world must keep their bodies attuned for the sudden appearance of the story that is powerful enough to change their stories and their lives. They must train themselves to recognize the divine moment when a great story reveals itself.
I was so saddened when this great author passed away on March 4, 2016, my 67th birthday. But still, I thank him for his compelling and beautifully written stories, for signing my copy of his cookbook, and for sharing his recipes and life wisdom.
From: The Pat Conroy Cookbook
6 slices smoky bacon, coarsely chopped
1 cup minced red onion
¼ cup finely diced celery
3 cups fresh corn kernels (about 5 ears, or 24 ounces, frozen)
3 cups whole milk (maybe a little less, the frozen corn will create some liquid)
½ pound new red potatoes, washed but not peeled and cut into ¼ inch cubes
½ cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
1 pound sea scallops, rinsed and patted dry
Coarse or kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
- In a medium stockpot over moderate heat, cook the bacon until the fat is rendered and bacon is almost crisp, 5 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, removed the bacon and reserve. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons bacon fat, reserving the extra in a small bowl for later use.
- Reduce the heat to low, add the onion and celery to the stockpot, and cook in the bacon drippings, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, 12 to 15 minutes. As the vegetables begin to exude their moisture, use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits clinging to the bottom of the stockpot.
- Using a food processor fitted with a metal blade, puree 1 cup of the corn kernels with 1 cup of the milk. Add to the stockpot and stir well. Add the remaining corn and milk and the potatoes, stirring to combine. Lower the heat and cook until the potatoes and corn are tender, about 35 minutes. (If using frozen corn, I would cook the potatoes for about 20 minutes and then add the frozen corn)
- Stir in the reserved bacon, heavy cream, Tabasco, and chives and simmer until chowder thickens, another 3 to 5 minutes.
- While the chowder is thickening, place the reserved bacon fat in a small heavy skillet over high heat. When the fat is hot, sear the scallops until golden brown on each side but still slightly opaque in the center, about 2 minutes on the first side and 1 minute on the other.
- Season the chowder with coarse salt and ground white pepper to taste. Ladle into deep bowls and float scallops in the center. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 as a main course or 8 as a first course.