by Kathie Bennett
One of my favorite places in the entire world is the home of writer, Cassandra King, and her late husband Pat Conroy located in Beaufort, South Carolina. No sooner than you walk through the door, you want to take your shoes off and sit with Cassandra for an entire afternoon. The view of the water is inspiring; it’s easy to guess why she will always call this place home. Cassandra first invites us to join her in the kitchen as she makes the best chicken salad I have ever tasted. She lets us know that this is her “go-to” welcome meal as her family and friends descend upon the house. We enjoy the chicken salad with plates on our laps so we can fully take in the beautiful view. After, Cassandra brings me to her late husband’s study where she begins writing the recipes included in this article.
Cassandra King: An Author of Love
Cassandra King’s book is a memoir detailing her life with Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides and other blockbuster novels, who passed away on March 4, 2016. While sitting in the home she shared with Conroy, Cassandra muses about the memoir’s title, Tell Me a Story: “Pat collected stories the way some people collect rare objects,” she says. “He believed everyone has a story to tell, and he encouraged them to share it.”
Writing a memoir the year after Pat’s death was painful yet therapeutic for Cassandra, who is preparing for the book’s paperback release in November. She is reminded of the special moments she and Pat shared, moments discussing upcoming favorite family meals, moments assembling the ingredients, moments preparing the dishes. “Whenever I introduced him to an old recipe from the King family celebrations, he was more interested in the story behind it than the recipe itself.”
And Everything Nice
Pat’s favorite story was about Cassandra’s father sneaking in to pour bourbon over her mother’s fruitcake that she put in the pantry to ‘cure’ before Christmas (the teetotalers in the family would beg for seconds of Mama’s fruitcake). But he also loved that her grandfather had a pecan orchard and how the whole family picked up pecans then shelled them together for holiday treats. Every year, Cassandra King begins to fill tins with Sugar-and-Spice Pecans to have on hand when friends and family drop in. Pat would pass them around and say “This is an old family recipe, and there’s a story behind it.”
So without further ado, here are two family recipes that Cassandra King generously shared with us. We hope they’ll bring a little flavor to your holiday season!
Sugar and Spice Pecans:
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Put 2 cups of pecans in a bowl.
Step 2: Take one large, room temperature egg and separate the yolk from the white, reserving the yolk for another use. With a fork, slightly beat the egg white. Pour the egg white over the pecans, stirring.
Step 3: Mix together 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon and add to the pecan mixture, stirring to coat.
Step 4: Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Store in tins or jars.
Step 1: In a food processor, carefully chop 4 large cooked chicken breasts into chunky pieces (it’s much better to use seasoned, poached, bone-in breasts but rotisserie will do in a pinch), place in a large bowl.
Step 2: Peel, core, then process 1 large or 2 small tart apples – Arkansas Black if available – into slightly finer pieces, add to the bowl.
Step 3: Thinly slice about 1/2 cup celery, 1/2 cup dried cranberries, and 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans, add to the bowl.
Step 4: Sprinkle the mixture with celery salt, lemon pepper, and a small amount of dried crumbled tarragon. Add a heaping tablespoon of pear relish (my mother’s secret ingredient. If unavailable, finely chopped chutney will do).
Step 5: For the dressing, in a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup good-quality mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of curry powder. Pour this over the chicken mixture and stir to combine. The dressing should well-moisten but not overcoat the salad.