Growing up in the Deep South I was exposed to all kinds of greens – except kale. Now I see kale’s prominent position in cookbooks, its regular appearances on restaurant menus and the abundant supplies at grocery stores. I decided it was time for this Southern girl to try cooking this sturdy vegetable that is at its peak in the fall and that Northerners have loved all along.

While I was at it, I stocked up on some other favorite fall vegetables such as butternut squash, which makes one of my favorite soups, and sweet potatoes, one of Louisiana’s best and most available products. This time I tried a dish I had never cooked before: sweet potato pone, which became popular in the early 1900s when vendors sold it on the streets of New Orleans along with calas, pralines and ginger cakes. But it didn’t die there. As Jazz Fest-goers know, it’s dished up at the festival every year along with seafood au gratin and spinach with artichokes. All together they make a delightful meal.

When looking through recipes, every one I found was similar to the Pain de Patates Douces (sweet potato pone) in the 1901 The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book.

They all use grated raw sweet potatoes, sugar, milk, butter, eggs, pumpkin pie spices and sometimes molasses. It has been described as a pudding, but I take this to imply a consistency similar to bread pudding. As we know from the Jazz Fest version, “pone” is a solid thing, cut into squares and eaten with a fork or picked up and eaten like bread.

Until this discovery, the only pone I knew about was a corn pone, a cornmeal product sometimes cooked without milk or eggs and baked in a pan or fried in a skillet like a flapjack. There are as many versions as there are Southern cooks, and a lot of recipes include milk and eggs. Corn pone goes well with any kind of greens or peas.

Soups hit the spot as the weather cools, and I like nothing better than a hearty pot of butternut squash soup. Adding andouille raises the soup to the entrée level, so that all you need to add for a complete dinner is a hot crusty loaf of French bread. I have cooked butternut squash soup for years with great results, but I followed a friend’s suggestion and threw in some chopped andouille sausage, thus adding a Cajun stamp to the pot.

If you’re like me, you feel more like cooking in cooler weather.  This is a good time to start trying out recipes because Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner. And don’t forget mirlitons, acorn squash, broccoli and cauliflower, all great companions to turkey and ham. Time flies, and I’m planning my holiday menus already.

Sweet Potato Pone
4    large sweet potatoes
1/2     cup butter, softened
1/2    cup sugar
4    eggs
1    cup milk
1/2     cup Steen’s cane syrup
1/2     teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2     teaspoon ground cloves
1     teaspoon ground cinnamon
1     Tablespoon vanilla
Salt to taste, about 1/4 teaspoon
1    Tablespoon lemon zest
1    Tablespoon orange zest

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Peel and grate sweet potatoes.

In an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well. Add milk and mix, followed by cane syrup, spices and vanilla. Blend well. Add salt and zests, and stir well.

Pour into a greased 10-by-13-inch baking dish and bake for about 1 1/2 hours or until pone is set and top is browned and crisp.

Serves 8 to 10.

Sautéed Kale and Spinach
4    Tablespoons olive oil
1    small red onion, halved and
    thinly sliced
2    garlic cloves, minced
1    pound kale, tough stems
    discarded and leaves cut
    into 1-inch wide strips
6    ounces fresh spinach leaves
1    teaspoon hot red pepper
    flakes
1/2    teaspoon Italian seasoning
1    teaspoon sugar
3    Tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper  
  to taste

Heat oil in a heavy pot. Sauté onion until soft. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Add kale gradually and cook, stirring, until wilted – about 5 minutes. Add spinach and wilt. Reduce heat and add seasonings and vinegar, and simmer a couple of minutes more until as tender as you like.

Serves 6.

Butternut Squash Soup
1    large butternut squash
1    Tablespoon extra-virgin
    olive oil
1/2    pound andouille sausage,
    cut into half-inch cubes
1    medium onion, chopped
2    garlic cloves, minced
3    14.5-ounce cans
    chicken broth
Freshly ground pepper and Creole seasoning to taste
Salt
1/2    cup half-and-half

Cut squash in half lengthwise. Remove seeds. Rub insides with olive oil, place on baking sheet and bake on 350 degrees until soft when pierced with a knife, about an hour. Set aside to cool.

In a large, heavy pot, sauté sausage in oil for several minutes. Add onion and garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes over low heat. Add chicken broth. Scoop the squash from its peeling and mix into the soup. Add pepper and Creole seasoning. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.

Ladle out as much of the soup as you can without the sausage and place in a blender. Make sure to include any large chunks of squash. Set blender on liquefy setting and blend. Return to pot. Taste for salt and add some if needed. (Chicken stock will usually include salt, but low-sodium and no-sodium varieties are also available.) Stir in half-and-half. When ready to serve, heat gently just until hot.

Serves 4 to 6.