Home Cookin’ 6: Ava George Stewart

By Alan Lake (Jazzfood)


There’s no lunch in the Carolinas – just dinner at mid-day and supper in the evening. And for breakfast this holiday season, a menu of shrimp and rice and vegetables mostly grown on a small outer island off the coast, along with stewed blue crabs, fried flounder, and oysters. Welcome to the holidays, Carolina style. In keeping with the season, a feast is in order. And for that, Ava George Stewart has got you covered.

Sporting an enormous smile you can feel and an infectious, vivacious laugh, Ava’s a criminal lawyer who got her Master Gardener’s certification while in and out of court defending bad guys all day long – seamlessly balancing hard science with true crime. She’s a multifaceted person with home cooking in her soul. Living in Chicago with a part of her heart in the South, Ava embodies the spirit of the holidays: sharing.

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Ava’s Recipes: Ambrosia and Miss Boston’s Pound Cake, a.k.a. Mr. Good Cake

Note from Alan Lake: The ambrosia recipe is from Ava’s mother, and the pound cake recipe is from Miss Mildred Boston. When asked if Ava’s mom would mind me combining the two desserts, Ava said, “She’d think you were gilding the lily, but go right ahead.”


4 navel oranges, peeled
1 pineapple
3 ripe bananas
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
5 oz. of maraschino cherries


1. Cut oranges into 8 sections; make sure the membrane is removed.

2. Slice bananas thinly.

3. Dice pineapple.

4. Start by placing oranges at the bottom of a glass. Alternate by adding a layer of bananas and then a layer of pineapple.

5. Mix in maraschino cherries and top with coconut.

Miss Boston’s Pound Cake, a.k.a. Mr. Good Cake

A recipe in Ava’s mother’s handwriting


6 eggs
½ lb. butter
¼ cup Crisco shortening
2 cups  flour
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup buttermilk
3 cups sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. lemon extract


1. Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit.

2. Mix all ingredients together for 10-15 minutes. Pour batter into a greased and floured tube pan. Bake for 75 minutes.

Ava’s Recipes: Shrimp and Gravy


2 lbs. of medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

¼ cup flour, plus a tablespoon or two

3 T. oil

½ small onion, diced

2-3 cloves of garlic


1. Pat shrimp dry. Then season them with salt and pepper. Place flour in a bag. Add shrimp and shake to coat.

2. Heat a skillet with oil. Once the oil shimmers, add the shrimp. Cook over medium heat until lightly browned, but still translucent.

3. Remove shrimp from pan. Add onion and sauté until softened.

4. Add flour and garlic to the skillet. Then add 1 cup of hot water. Place the shrimp back into the skillet and cook until done.

4. Serve over rice.

Ava’s Recipes: Hoppin’ John Vegetable Curry


2 T. curry powder

1 ½ t. garam masala

1 large onion, diced

1 lb. sweet potato, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 T. fresh ginger root, grated

2 rooster spur peppers (or other hot pepper)

1 T. tomato paste

1 bunch of collards, washed, chopped, stemmed, and blanched

1 can diced tomatoes, chopped

12 oz. fresh black-eyed peas

¼ cup coconut milk


1. Boil 2 quarts of water in a large pot. Add salt and collards. Cook for seven minutes. Drain. Squeeze all of the excess water out. Rough chop. Set aside.

2. Heat small skillet over medium heat. Add dry spices to hot skillet. Shake pan to make sure spices don’t burn. Adjust heat, if necessary. Spices should darken and your kitchen should smell like a marketplace (about 2 minutes). Remove skillet from heat.

3. In large pot (use the same one you used for the collards) heat 3 T. of oil until glistening. Add sweet potatoes and onions; stir to keep them from sticking to the pan. Cook until everything is golden and there are crunchy bits on the sweet potato (approximately 8 minutes).

4. Reduce heat to medium. Make a well in the center of the pan and add the rest of the oil, garlic, ginger, rooster spur peppers, and tomato paste. Stir the ingredients. Add curry powder and garam masala and cook an additional minute (you want the flavors to bind). Add collards and stir until all items in the pot are incorporated with spice.

5. Finally, add diced tomatoes, 1 cup of water, black eyed peas, and salt to taste. Raise heat to a boil, stir the bottom of the pan and loosen all of the browned spices and seasonings from the bottom (this takes a bit of elbow grease). Cook an additional 10 minutes. Add coconut cream and heat through. Serve with rice, or – if you are lucky enough to have some on hand – homemade lime pickle.