Julia Reed, the Southern journalist who died of cancer on Friday at 59, cooked very much the way she lived. Which is to say, she was really into it. Both her appetite and her writing reflected a bawdy sophistication wrapped in a very pretty Southern shawl.
Ms. Reed was a daughter of the South and a woman of the world who had made her name as a writer in Washington D.C., New York City and New Orleans, eating both high and low in equal measure. She could recommend a reliable spot for both albóndigas in Spain and hot tamales in Greenville, Miss., the Delta town where she was born and where she built a house on some family land a couple of years ago.
Ms. Reed loved it all — a French 75, a thick Roman steak, chilled crab meat Maison or a pile of Gulf shrimp “boiled for a nano-second and eaten, still steaming, from the colander in the sink.”
That bit of writing came from her column in the August edition of Garden & Gun, the lifestyle magazine out of Charleston, S.C., that for more than a decade relied on Ms. Reed’s talents as a contributing editor and writer. In the best tradition of Southern storytelling, her columns walked the reader along a long and winding path that turned out to be the perfect way to get to her destination.
That August column, her next-to-last, is hard to read. She chronicled the aggressive online ordering and ambitious recipes that she, like so many of us, embraced during the early days of the pandemic. She took a side trip into her experiences reporting on white supremacists, likening them to the biting buffalo gnats that invaded Greenville last spring. (“These guys were like the damn gnats: You don’t always see them coming and you don’t know the harm they’ve done until you are practically bleeding to death.”)
She ended by reflecting on how the small act of cooking can help with the great reckonings facing America, and some suggestions for what should be on the table at a funeral lunch. We are in the midst of a national wake, she wrote, grieving for lives lost and dreams deferred.
But Ms. Reed put cooking at the center of that column. When she wrote it, she knew that the end of her life was probably not far away. Perhaps she left it for us as a road map.
Over the course of her life, Ms. Reed contributed more than 100 recipes to The New York Times. Here are some of our favorites.
Hot Cheese Olives
Ms. Reed loved to entertain (she wrote books about it!) and hot cheese olives — the classic, easy bites from the 1950s — were regular guests at her parties.
Every good Southern cook has a summer squash casserole recipe. Ms. Reed’s is a perfect mix of homey ingredients like crushed Ritz crackers for lightness and a mix of chopped peppers for character.
Ms. Reed was a traveler, and often told tales about great dishes she enjoyed abroad. One was the rosemary-scented Roman steak she had at Nino in Rome. She adapted Paula Wolfert’s version for us in 2004.
Ms. Reed famously hated eggnog, but she loved a good milk punch, which is eggnog’s lighter, frothier cousin. Serve this at lunch, she wrote, and “by evening, everyone will want a Santa hat.”
Ms. Reed’s second hometown was New Orleans, where African-American cooks adapted the French praline to American ingredients. In a rare fit of economy, Ms. Reed made them for holiday gifts one year, using a recipe from her friend Mary Cooper, who makes the best pralines she ever tasted.
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