“You just have to have yellow,” says the Southern chef and cookbook author Nathalie Dupree. “It makes things brighter!” The space she and her husband, Jack Bass, have created for themselves since their transition to a retirement community in the “other” Carolina, is a testament to that statement, a joyous backdrop for gems that made the cut in her recent choice to pare down to the essential.
It is hard to imagine Grande Dame Nathalie Dupree anywhere but in her Charleston domain, stepping out onto the porch of her stately Queen Street home. Inside, the staircases were lined with books and treasures from a lifetime of travel and cocooning. But when you step into her new Raleigh apartment, you are instantly transported to the land of Nathalie, and you know that it isn’t the place that matters; it is the person—or people—who inhabit that place.
Selecting the pieces of herself that would embellish her new kitchen was no easy task. While utility played a part, when it came time to cut back, the story and sentiment accompanying a certain platter or piece of fabric was as essential as the item itself. One such piece to travel from South to North Carolina is a paper weight formerly belonging to the French author and fellow cat lover Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. In fact, there are two of Colette’s gems in Dupree’s collection of colorful glass spheres, one laced with yellow patterns, the other with tiny air bubbles and a tender green stem.
More practical items which, by Dupree’s standards, should be found in every Southern kitchen are:
• A corn scraper, “so that you can get the juice out” when making creamed corn, which Dupree adamantly feels is a Southern recipe. For those who wish to experiment with this silky dish at home, cut the kernels off the cob, milk it with the back of your knife or with your corn scraper, melt some butter in a frying pan, and sauté until the kernels are soft and golden.
• A whisk—not a balloon whisk, but a ball whisk, which is much easier to clean, particularly after stirring grits in an iron skillet.
• A trusty non-stick frying pan, “heavy enough to turn out anything.” You might have to replace your non-stick every year if it gets proper use, but “that’s just a part of life,” says Dupree, with a slight throaty chuckle, reminding her followers that “any pan can be non-stick if you get it hot enough.”
• A good-sized chicken frying pan, plus a pair of sturdy scissors for cutting apart chicken pieces. “You kind of have to fiddle with it,” she says of the challenges of finding an appropriate bird-and-pan combo these days. “The chickens are changing in size. It used to be that one two- or three-pound chicken would fit in an eight- or ten-inch pan, but now, with bigger birds, you have to go up a size.”
• A cobbler dish, preferably rectangular, cast iron, or ceramic, as “glass doesn’t do as well for a batter cobbler.” Dupree’s recipe: Whisk together one cup each self-rising flour, sugar, and milk. Pour into hot cobbler dish in which a stick of melted butter is foaming, and top batter with two cups cut fruit. Bake until set.
• Cut-glass containers. Specifically, a spooner to hold coffee spoons at the table, and a tall celery holder.
• And of course, a good sharp knife. Dupree’s are mainly Wüsthof and Henckels, with a few odd favorites of her husband’s thrown in. A paring knife for okra is a must, and a chef’s knife, sized to fit the hands of she who uses it most.
A lagniappe—or bonus item—is a little cruet of hot sauce, and one of vinegar to dress greens at the table. Dupree’s is a banquet table from London. The rest of her cozy furnishings include a military chest, which adorns her living room, as well as a couple of generous sofas and armchairs, each draped in boldly colorful Provençal designs.
While she misses certain books and pans and papers that once filled her Charleston kitchen, Dupree can bask in the glow of having let these pieces go, sharing them with others who are now privileged to hold in their hands a morsel which carries her boundless enthusiasm for both the finer and the simpler things of this life.
Susi Gott Séguret, CCP, CSW, hails from the depths of Appalachia, but honed her culinary skills in France, where she resided for over twenty years, earning a diploma in Gastronomy and Taste from the Cordon Bleu and the Université de Reims. Author of several cookbooks including Appalachian Appetite and Cooking with Truffles, Susi runs the Seasonal School of Culinary Arts and the Asheville Truffle Experience. Learn more here.