by Jill Warren Lucas
CHOP NC Founder Nancie McDermott
Long before some of the most influential members of Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina
got books deals, they developed their craft making things to contribute to bake sales.
“I love and adore bake sales,” said CHOP NC Founder Nancie McDermott, author of two baking bibles, Southern Pies
and Southern Cakes
, both published by Chronicle Books. “They're like lemonade stands, only more substantial, and they speak of people happy to be baking, to be sharing, to be eating, and usually to be raising money for something dear to them.”
Events supporting the national Share Our Strength Great American Bake Sale
are being held across the country to raise awareness of and end childhood hunger in our nation. Several events are registered
for our area, and CHOP NC would like to help you get involved by sharing recipes that can be used for this or future bake sales.
In addition to CHOP NC members and distinguished friends, like Virginia Willis
, we even persuaded Executive Chef David Gaydeski to share the secrets of the chocolate chip cookies served to visitors at the North Carolina Executive Mansion.
"Bakes sales may seem silly but it shows you the power of people doing a little thing,” said Sheri Castle, author of The New Southern Garden Cookbook
(UNC Press) and a recent winner of an International Association of Culinary Professionals award for foodwriting
."You make a little something, sell the slice for more than it's worth, and it all adds up. It's a great premise and a worthy cause."
The recipes that follow cover a wide spectrum of regional flavors, from Atlanta-based Willis’ Shortbread Buttons to Sandra Gutierrez
’s Chile-Chocolate Brownies, and Elizabeth Wiegand
’s coastal Ocracoke Fig Cake to McDermott
’s Shenandoah Valley Blueberry Cake.
“I for one am always on the prowl for something a little more edgy: the chipless cookie, the lemon bar made with lime, the gingerbread or even savory item,” McDermott said. “Here’s to chipping in for a worthy cause, coming home with an unexpected goodie for your dear ones, and most of all, to the baking folk amongst us, who make the wheels of the bake-sale bonanza go round and round in the direction of good things for all.”Click through for the recipes
Mildred Council will be the guest of Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill.
By Jill Warren Lucas
Mildred Council no longer messes with the heavy cast iron skillets at Mama Dip's, the Chapel Hill landmark she opened in 1976 with just $64 in her apron pocket. But she remains a towering figure in the cozy dining room, where she signals dawdling young servers with a glance and attracts excited whispers from diners.
"What are they doing out there," she said, gazing at a gaggle of her wait staff that, like startled geese, suddenly retreated from the door to her wraparound porch. "Move that table," she said quietly to another waiter, gesturing at one that had strayed from alignment. "Someone will trip over that."
Council, who turned 83 last week, is painfully aware of such potential hazards. She tripped last May and steps, slowly but confidently, with the aid of a wheeled walker.
Not everything in the restaurant, which on Saturday morning was filled with families and regulars, draws the boss's scrutiny. Out of the corner of her eye she spied 5-year-old Brendan Engler-DeSpain of Raleigh tip-toeing toward her. She beckoned him closer.
"I love Mama Dip's," he finally said, his face shining with joy. "Hmm," said the great-great-grandmother, sizing him up as his dad proudly filmed the encounter on his phone. "You look like you'd be good to hug. Come on over here."
Whether it's a pancake-loving child or a seeker of true Southern country fare, Council greets everyone with the same warmth. It's been like this since she charmed her father by taking over household cooking at age 9. After turning away from the cosmetology career he envisioned for her, she got her first paying job as a cook working as a household maid. She later cooked at a UNC dining hall and several Chapel Hill eateries - including Bill's Bar-B-Q, which was owned by her in-laws - before taking a chance on transforming a failed restaurant into the first Mama Dip's location 36 years ago.
Council's fame spread after UNC Press published her two cookbooks. The first,Mama Dip's Kitchen, was inspired by New York Times legend Craig Claiborne - and fostered by the late Bill Neal, who co-founded La Residence and Crook's Corner and dined at Mama Dip's nearly every Thursday.
"I didn't know who Craig Claiborne was. I thought he was a troublemaker, ordering everything on the menu - even chitlins - and making us all nervous in the kitchen," Council recalled with a laugh. "Why would the New York Times care about me? I was just somebody who grew up on a little farm in Chatham County. I never imagined someone so important would be interested in my food."
Council recalls that Claiborne wanted a little taste of everything and was especially keen on her black-eyed peas.
"We were still over there," she said, pointing across the street to her original site on West Rosemary Street. "We only had about 16-17 seats in the place and I didn't have enough of those little bowls to keep up with him. It wasn't like restaurants today. I only had so many dishes."
Claiborne wrote a glowing review of the restaurant a few weeks later and called to get some of her recipes, a few of which he included in his best-selling books. He pushed her to write down her own recipes - a daunting challenge given she never used measuring cups or spoons. It took nearly 10 years to draft her first book, and several more passed before it was published to acclaim in 1999.
"I learned how to cook in the dump style," Council said, instinctively cupping her large hands as if scooping flour for biscuits. "It was the same way in school. We never had a lot of books. You just had to pay attention and learn. That's just how it is when you don't have a lot."
Council is not surprised by the farm-to-fork movement that is influencing major culinary names and home cooks alike. After all, cooking with locally-grown, seasonal ingredients is both smart and frugal.
"I don't look at is as a health trend. It's more about the beauty of food at its best," said Council, noting, for example, that she never uses canned sweet potatoes for her famous pie. "I think we all should eat more vegetables and less meat. I still enjoy some chicken, but this time of year I start thinking about tomatoes and squash.
"Oh," she exclaimed suddenly, her eyes twinkling behind large glasses. "Next month we should have string beans. Yes."
Mama Dip's menu does feature its share of meat, and plenty of fried food, but for Council that has more to do with hospitality than trendiness. When you eat from her kitchen, you should enjoy yourself. And honey, that means putting down your knife and fork and eating fried chicken with your hands.
"When I traveled to promote the books, I was just amazed by how focused some chefs are about food looking pretty," she said, recalling a meal so artfully prepared that she relied on her publicist for clues how to eat it. "I had no idea where to start. I'd rather people relax and just dig in."
Council has no plans to write any more cookbooks but she does occasionally tweak her menu to include items that tug at memories.
"I've been thinking about adding bread pudding for breakfast," she said, picking a classic that similarly stretches ordinary kitchen staples. "It's the same idea as pancakes, really, but you add raisins and custard and bake it up in big pans. It's just so creamy and good."
The recipe for Council's Rum Raisin Bread Pudding is featured in Mama Dip's Kitchen, and more can be found in Mama Dips's Family Cookbook (2005). A few of her recipes are posted on her author page at UNC Press and others, like her sumptuous sweet potato pie, can be found online.
Lucas blogs at Eating My Words. Follow her at @jwlucasnc.
by Jill Warren Lucas
A week ago today, Sheri Castle was in New York City attending a glamorous ceremony. She was seated among some of the most celebrated names in the food world, trying to not dwell on what was about to happen, when her own name was announced as a recipient of a 2012 award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).
On Sunday, however, she was back in Chapel Hill, doing laundry and driving her daughter to the movies.“Back to reality,” said with a laugh. “It’s OK. I’ll never forget how it felt. It was like that deep down from the center of your core grin. To have an award of any kind is such a pleasure, but to be with a group I admire this much really is very special."
Castle, a founding member of Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina
(CHOP NC), was honored along with a cluster of writers at Gilt Taste
responsible for the “Eats Shoots and Leaves” series. Her story, Apple Core Values
, was posted in October. “It was very gratifying to be recognized by IACP for crafting good recipes,” Castle said. “They gave us each a certificate – a blue certificate in a blue envelope, suitable for framing. Carrying it around that evening really gave me a great deal of pride. People I have admired for years came up to congratulate me and to say what a big deal it is.”
This was one of several awards earned by Gilt Taste, launched less than a year ago by former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl to fill the culinary chasm left by the magazine’s demise. “To be affiliated with them feels so good, and working with Francis Lam
is the best,” Castle said. “I’ve never worked with a better editor.”
A few months after the April 2011 release of her The New Southern Garden Cookbook
(UNC Press), Castle met Lam at the Greenbrier’s annual Symposium for Professional Food Writers, a major industry event. Lam said he sought her out become a Gilt Taste contributor.
“I love her smart, approachable way with food, her humor and her voice,” Lam said by email from New York. “The pieces she's done for us all feel like a friend is walking you through her favorite new recipe.”
Castle recalled being intrigued by the theme of “Eating Shoots and Leaves,” which focuses on using the parts of a fruit or vegetable that usually are discarded. She’s invested considerable research and testing time for her next topic, due this week: potato peelings.
“It may run in a few days or a few weeks, so stay tuned,” she joked. “One thing I can say is I’ve learned is that your average three-pound bag of potatoes yields two firmly packed cups of peelings.”
Castle is gratified by the response that being on the Gilt Taste team has brought – not just the IACP award, but also the broad recognition.
“I’ve written things for other publications that I would have thought would get more notice, but people really read Gilt Taste,” she said. “I considered myself very fortunate. It’s too simple to say I was just lucky, but there was a lot of luck involved.”
Lucky is the last thing Castle feels when she sits down to write. “I think a lot of writers are incredibly neurotic, tortured people. I don’t know which causes which,” she said with a laugh. “It’s not that I don’t think my stuff is good, but I’m not one of those people who get excited about looking at a blank page.“
"I work out of lot of things in my head before I ever start writing,” she added. “Even in a round room, I’ll find a way to back myself into a corner. If I have 90 days, I’ll use the last nine.”
Castle's demanding schedule
is equally responsible for her writing habits. In the last nine months, she has edited two cookbooks, tested recipes for two more, and logged more than 27,000 miles on her trusty Volvo driving to judge contests, teach classes and sign copies of her book.
“It continues to amaze me how much people enjoy the book,” she said, humbly discounting both her skill as a recipe writer and the book’s resurgent appeal for those who support local growers at farmer’s markets. Castle still does occasional demonstrations at regional markets, including the Saturday Carrboro Farmer's Market where she used to be a fixture a decade ago.
“It’s still fun for me, and it’s wonderful to meet people who are fans of my work,” she said. “Actually, I came home with two resolutions from IACP. One is that I have got to tweet more to stay connected with people who are so kind to support me.”
And the other? “To get a phone from this century, which I think will make the former easier,” she said. “I’m about one step up from Dixie cups and string, but I’m working on it.”
Lucas blogs at Eating My Words
. Follow her at @jwlucasnc.