Sherried Shrimp

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Sherried Shrimp

By Damon Lee Fowler

It was a one of those hot, rainy June afternoons, the kind that makes Savannah’s ancient pavements steam and its air heavy and sticky. But the wide, double-drawing room of the Battersby-Hartridge House, with its generous windows, lofty ceilings, and tall mirrors, was airy and cool.

Sitting beside my hostess, Connie Hartridge, on a brocaded settee, surrounded by portraits and furnishings that had been in her family for at least four generations, time seemed to stand still, as if the past had overtaken us and pulled us backward.

A part of that feeling was no doubt due to the old books scattered across the table in front of us, their covers frayed and stained, their pages browned and crumbling with age, their bindings loose and often missing. Unlike the polished family silver and old mahogany furniture, they’d been taken for granted and neglected – used, and used hard.

And yet, these battered little books were treasures equal to the most carefully tended antique in the room. These were the family manuscript cookbooks, whose faded, tattered pages preserve a part of Savannah that has been almost forgotten: a cuisine that could only happen when Old World elegance collides with marshes and wilting humidity. It was a cuisine that had, unlike the parks and architecture of this old city, been nearly lost to the march of progress.

Connie took up a drab little notebook and held it out with both hands, “This was my grandmother’s.”

I took hold of it carefully and gently opened it on my lap. Its yellowed pages were covered with faded old-fashioned handwriting, a handwriting that spoke of another era, a time when penmanship was important and hearts were not considered proper punctuation.

The recipes were old-fashioned and simple, and yet there was a timelessness about them, a lovely simplicity that spoke, not of naïveté, but of a respect for subtlety and balance, and a rare understanding of flavor that is largely lost on us today.

“Oh, my, listen to this” we’d exclaim to one another, taking turns reading them aloud, until we came to a recipe that stopped us both.

It was exquisitely simple, just a handful of ingredients, so vivid and evocative that we could almost taste it: large fat creek shrimp, tossed in copious quantities of butter and a whisper of garlic until they were just curled and pink, then finished with sherry and a handful of freshly chopped parsley.

“Yes,” she said softly, touching the page. “I remember that . . .”

Her eyes got the far-away, hungry look of a young girl, and I knew she was back in another time, sitting at a table laid with crisp linen and glistening silver, her neck chafing from the starched collar of a Sunday frock and her feet, normally bare and sand-crusted, scrubbed and imprisoned in stockings and patent leather.

As the ice settled in our glasses, we sighed and turned the page.

Sherried Shrimp
Serves 4

8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large clove garlic, lightly crushed and peeled, but left whole
48 large shrimp (about 1½ pounds), peeled
Salt and ground cayenne pepper
½ cup dry sherry
3 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
3 cups Lowcountry Steamed Rice

Put the garlic and butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat and cook until the garlic is golden, about 2 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic. Add the shrimp and sauté, tossing frequently, until curled and pink, about 3 minutes. Season well with salt and cayenne, both to taste (Savannah’s inlet brown shrimp often don’t need added salt), and remove them with a slotted spoon to a warm platter.

Add the sherry and bring it to a boil, stirring and scraping the pan, and let it boil half a minute. Stir in the parsley and pour it over the shrimp. Serve at once, over rice or with plenty of crusty bread to sop up the sauce.

Damon Lee Fowler is a culinary historian and author of six cookbooks, including Classical Southern Cooking, Damon Lee Fowler’s New Southern Baking, and The Savannah Cookbook. His work has also appeared in Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and Relish. He lives and eats in Savannah, Georgia.

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Reader Comments:

54321

Paula, I give you a five star rating on everthing you cook.Can't get enough of your recipes.I saw you last nite makine red velvet cake something.I missed the good part. Maybe I will catch it again.

By ConnieMoore on March 20, 2013

54321

Maja, you have made my day! Thank you!

By Damon Lee Fowler on May 31, 2011

54321

Damon.......I love this story about old books and simple - from long ago - recipes. I also love your writing, you have a descriptive, loving way of letting the reader be transported and live in the time your story happens. I am looking forward to more stories from you......hope they will be many! My very best to you......

By Maja's Kitchen Cooking Classes on May 30, 2011

54321

You have all warmed my heart with these comments! Thank you so much. Shannon, I would only say that if you saw these books, they are decidedly worn and drab, and yes, before Mrs. Hartridge inherited those books, they were taken for granted and even at times abused. There is no other way of saying that. But the fact that they were taken for granted is part of what makes them precious, because they survived neglect to become treasures.

By Damon Lee Fowler on May 30, 2011

54321

The Sherried Shri;mp sounds so delicious, I shall create it tomorrow evening for guests. Combined with a green salad with cranberries and almonds, it will be well enjoyed. For dessert I shall serve my old standby Molten Chocolat Lava Cake with cinnamon whipped cream.

By Alysha on May 18, 2011

54321

I loved reading Damon Lee Fowlers story of finding the Sherried Shrimp recipe. I did not find it negative in any way but completely charming. I am fortunate enough to live in NE FL and I come to Savannah often for business travel. I will certainly look for Damon Lee's cookbooks - I hope he tells wonderful stories like this. Cheers!

By woolwoman on May 18, 2011

54321

I am always looking for new ways to fix shrimp. This one sounds like a winner. Thanks for helping me yet again.

By Anna Parham on May 18, 2011

54321

Paula, I love your mini meatloaf recipe. I had two recent deaths of close friends. Everyone was bringing ham and potato salads and pasta salads. I dicided they needed something hot so I fixed about 30 mini meatloafs and everyone said is was so good to get hot food and good food. They had been eating hospital food and McDonalds. Just wanted to tell you a good way to serve them to friends. I also fixed them for my bible study group .I made about 50 and they loved the topping . Thank you very much for all you do. You are a good roll model. Malinda Elder

By Malinda Elder on May 18, 2011

54321

I didn't find any negative connotation in this beautifully told story. It was complimentary of years (and lives) gone by. What treasures we find in our loved ones belongings when it is their turn to pass. Carefully (and often) used cookbooks and recipe cards are treasures beyond words. It's a shame that time takes it's toll on paper. Thank you for sharing this story, Paula. I'm now going to go look for Mr. Fowler's cookbooks.

By Sharon on May 17, 2011

54321

I loved the article! I could picture the stately rooms and the family heirloom books on the table. Well used and well loved. I collect old, handwritten recipe books and notebooks when ever I can find them. Usually they are throw aways at yard & estate sales. But they are treasures to me. Yes, for the most part they are "drab" as they were utilitarian and not meant to be fancy. I can't wait to try the recipe for the Sherried Shrimp on a warm summer evening here in Tidewater Virginia.

By Mary Kelly on May 17, 2011

43211

I liked the article and the way that he wrote it took you to the location as if you were in the room. My only suggestion is that some of his adjectives had a slightly negative connotation to them & I do not think the author intended it to sound that way. Maybe in the future give more creedence to the people you are speaking of & the exact words used bc I can assure you nothing in that house is taken for granted, drab or not.

By Shannon on May 17, 2011

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