Bill Smith, chef at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, will be the guest speaker of Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina (CHOP NC) at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 15, at Flyleaf Books. His book "Seasoned in the South: Recipes from Crook's Corner and from Home" will be available just in time for summer cooking.
Jill Warren Lucas
The combination of UNC graduation and Mother’s Day weekend always means big business for Crook’s Corner. Add to that the long awaited arrival of soft-shell crabs and you’ll see lines of eager customers wrapping around the block.
“I cleaned 39 dozen soft-shells, which took me from 9 in the morning to 2:30 in the afternoon,” Smith says just before the doors open for business on Thursday afternoon. “I think this should hold us through the weekend, but you never know.”
Standard blue crabs become soft-shells when they molt and shed their hard exoskeleton. They are among a select group of seasonal delights Smith prepares that cause regulars to go wild; others include honeysuckle sorbet, which will follow soon, and persimmon pudding, a delicacy of fall.
“I’ve seen fights break out over our soft-shell crabs,” he says, doffing his ball cap and smoothing his unruly hair. “I can’t list it on the menu because it sells out so fast. If we have soft-shells and honeysuckle sorbet at the same time, people will break down the door.”
Smith quietly announces their arrival to loyal followers of his @Chulegre Twitter account and the Crook’s Corner’s Facebook page. No matter how much someone pleased or begs, they will not reserve orders. “Oh, Lord no,” he says. “If you want some, be here at 5:30.”
His reputation as an expert on soft-shells, and seafood in general, has earned Smith a volume in the Savor the South
series of cookbooks being produced by UNC Press. His entry will focus on crab and oysters and should arrive in 2014.
Smith grew up catching crabs with a chicken neck and string when he was a boy in New Bern. He keenly recalls his first taste of soft-shells with his aunt and uncle, who often took him for Sunday drives.
“We would go down to the town of Sea Level in Carteret County,” he recalls. “There was a restaurant there right on the water with a wall that was all windows. It took forever to get there and it always seemed like the end of the world to me.”
On one visit, Smith figures he was around 8 years old, he looked at the menu and told the server he’d have the soft-shell crabs. “My aunt said, ‘No, you mean deviled crabs.’ I wouldn't admit I didn't know what they were,” he says some 56 years later, “but I loved them."
Unless ordered in a restaurant, crabs were largely viewed as “free food” at the time by coastal residents, who found and ate them in abundance. “I learned how to catch and clean them when we’d visit my grandmother in the summer. She would make a crab stew that was very good,” he says. “Now, of course, crabs are very expensive.”
Soft-shells are even more costly because of the extra effort involved in catching them just after they molt. While usually available locally by now, Smith had to import his current order from Virginia’s Eastern Shore, which has been warmer that the North Carolina coast.
While he’s glad that customers rush to Crook’s Corner to enjoy them, Smith says home cooks should give them a try. If squeamish about dispatching them to crab heaven – for safe consumption, it is essential for soft-shells to be alive when purchased – most bona fide fishmongers will do the deed for you.
Smith recommends seeking out medium size soft-shell crabs. While jumbo specimens may look tempting, they are more difficult to prepare without overcooking. And don’t panic if a claw or leg falls off before the finished dish makes it to the table. “No matter how careful you are, it happens,” he says with a shrug. “Sometimes we save the loose claws in a bowl and enjoy them at the end of the night.”
Smith is collecting a variety of soft-shell recipes for the Savor the South book, which is likely to include a grilled version tossed with fettuccini that he enjoyed in Venice. Of all the possible variations, there are just two methods he refuses to consider.
“Don't fry them,” he says protectively. “The ones we do here are sautéed in browned butter with lemon juice, garlic and basil.”
The other unspeakable practice is to steam them, which a health-conscious customer requested a few years ago. “Browned and crispy is the way to go, but she thought it wasn’t healthy cooked in butter,” he says, laughing and shaking his head. “I told her I thought they would taste like crickets. It's important to me for customers to be happy, but I wouldn't do it.” Crooks’ Corner Soft Shell Crabs
Reprinted with permission of Bill Smith from Seasoned in the South: Recipes From Crook’s Corner and From Home
(Algonquin Books, 2006).
8 fresh soft-shelled crabs
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup Maseca instant corn masa mix
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup clarified unsalted butter
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons chopped garlic
Juice of 1 lemon (about ¼ cup)
¼ cup thin basil chiffonade
Clean the crabs (if you seafood market won’t do it for you) by first snipping off the face with kitchen shears. They should be soft and squishy all over. Then lift up each side of the carapace and snip out the gills. (These are four or five white, curved, pointed “devil’s fingers” extending from the center of the crab to the end of the shell on both sides.) Flip the crab over and cut off the tail flap – on males it is narrow; on females it is fat. Hold the crab under cool running water and gently squeeze out the yellow guts that are inside and just under the top of the shell. You don’t need to squeeze the main part of the body beneath this shell. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry. Very appetizing so far, yes?
Mix the flour and Maseca together and season with the salt and pepper. It is very important to use enough salt, so taste the flour before you begin.
Dip the crabs in buttermilk and then dredge in the flour. Shake off any excess flour and sauté them in very hot clarified butter – a quarter inch deep – until pretty and brown, turning once. The crabs should be crispy and very hot at the center. Remove them to a warm platter. Be careful, because they pop and spit a great deal, especially when very fresh. My staff refers to this as frying fire crackers.
Pour off the butter, but try to keep as much of the crumbs and browned flour in the pan as possible. Put the pan back on high heat and add the 3 tablespoons of whole butter. Begin swirling the pan at once. The butter will begin to melt and smell toasty. When the butter is pretty and brown, quickly add the garlic, swirl to spread it around, and immediately add the lemon juice to prevent the garlic from browning. Remove from heat, add the basil, and pour over the crabs. Serve at once. (They are not good cold.)
This process sounds tricky, but once you have done it correctly it will always be easy because the smell is so divine it will guide you ever after.By Jill Warren Lucas. Visit her blog "Eating My Words", and look for her regular feature stories in Indy Week.
Chef Bill Smith's
"Atlantic Beach Pie"
Best Crust EVER!
This is a newer version of a pie that is commonly served at seafood restaurants on the North Carolina coast. I’ve been serving this at Crook’s Corner and at special events for about a year. It’s the easiest recipe in the world.
FOR THE CRUST:
1 1/2 sleeves saltine crackers
1/3 to 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
FOR THE FILLING:
1 can sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup lemon juice, lime juice, or a mix of the two
fresh whipped cream and coarse sea salt for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Crush the crackers finely, but not to dust. You can use a food processor, but if I’m just making a pie or two I use my hands. Add the sugar, then knead in the butter until the crumbs hold together like dough. Press into an eight-inch pie pan. Chill for 15 minutes, then bake for 18 minutes—or until the crust colors a little. While the crust is cooling, beat the egg yolks into the milk, then beat in the citrus juice. It is important to completely combine these ingredients. Pour into the shell and bake for 16 minutes until the filling has set. The pie needs to be completely cold to be sliced. Serve with fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of sea salt.
MAKES: 1 pie
Karen and Ben Barker will be the guest speakers for Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina from 7:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. A reception will precede the reading from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. next door at Foster’s Market.
Jill Warren Lucas
There are many home bakers and professional chefs who aspire to be as creative Karen Barker. But now and then, the James Beard Award-winning pastry chef – who used to dazzle customers at the much-missed Magnolia Grill – finds herself in the position of a fan who just has to know how a certain treat was made.
“There is a great coffee place in the East Village of New York City that Ben and I really like called Abraco,” Barker says from the kitchen of the couple’s Chapel Hill home. “They make a sweet-savory black olive biscotti that is just delicious.”
Barker has made her share of biscotti; the twice-baked cookie can be made from a wide variety of ingredients (different flours and fats, with or without eggs) and endless flavor profiles. But there was something about this one that was especially memorable.
“I’m not a big sugar person, so sweets don’t often excite me,” Barker says as she gathered ingredients on the heavy butcher block counter. “Once in Provence I saw someone make a dessert with black olive and tomatoes and herbs. But this was the first time I’d ever tasted a biscotti anything like that. I loved it.”
Barker was making a batch to bring to a meeting the next day of their dinner party club. Ben was prepping an appetizer of brined lamb tongue to be simmered with shallot in a red wine sauce. Karen was making the biscotti to provide a crunchy counterpoint to the final course, a dairy-free chocolate mousse served with a red Italian dessert wine.
“A savory cookie is not for everyone,” she concedes while giving the fragrant, purplish olives a quick mince and grinding a generous amount of black pepper into her mixer’s work bowl. “But dunk this into some wine, or scoop up some chocolate mousse … it’s just perfect.”
Barker says the recipe could be easily tweaked to substitute other ingredients: use lemon zest instead of orange, leave out the olives and add walnuts. “I wouldn’t try green olive, though,” she says, wrinkling her nose. “I just don’t think that would work.”
Barker leaves the end slices on the counter after she returns the cookies to the oven for their final toasting. “Baker’s privilege,” she says, nibbling a slice deemed not pretty enough to serve. She closes her eyes for a moment to let the flavors fill her mouth.
“I have to say, I find these pretty addictive,” she sighs. “I have a hard time just having one of them."
Karen Barker’s Olive Oil Biscotti with Rosemary and Orange
Makes 1 loaf (about 24 slices)
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup semolina (fine grind)
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 tsbp. minced rosemary
zest of 1 orange
1/3 cup fine chopped black olives (such as kalamata)
a few grinds of black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine first three ingredients in the work bowl of mixer; combine well with paddle attachment.
Add remaining ingredients, mix again. Ensure that all ingredients are thoroughly blended but avoid overworking the dough, which will be sticky.
Transfer dough with floured hands to a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Lightly press into the shape of a 12x3-inch log, adding pinches of flour if needed. Chill for at least 40 minutes but preferably about several hours.
Bake for 30 minutes or until loaf is lightly browned. Remove from oven. When cool enough to handle, use a serrated knife and cut half-inch slices on the diagonal; should yield about 24 pieces. Arrange flat on the baking pan - it's OK if they are crowded - and return to oven until toasted, about 5-7 minutes. Turn slices over and toast again, about 3-4 minutes, until golden and crisp on both sides.
Cool biscotti completely. Wrap in parchment paper or keep in airtight container.
Sheri Castle will be the guest of Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina (CHOP NC) at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 20, at Flyleaf Books. She will talk about the strong link between Southern foods and storytelling and sign copies of The New Southern Garden Cookbook.
by Jill Warren Lucas
A natural-born storyteller and instinctive cook, Sheri Castle poses a classic chicken-and-the-egg conundrum: Which came first, the pencil or the whisk?
The award-winning food writer and teacher grew up on the fringe of Appalachia in the western mountains of North Carolina, where she tended her grandmother’s garden and learned to cook the seasonal foods it produced in her kitchen. A precocious child, she entered her first recipe in a national contest at age 4. She didn’t win, but it was the start of a journey that led to an appreciation of the strong bond between Southern food and storytelling.
“Because Southern food is so evocative, particularly for a Southerner, it is practically impossible for us to tell you about a food without telling about its context,” she says. “When we tell about a recipe, it’s almost never about the ingredients. It’s about how you found the ingredients, how it works and doesn’t, and who it reminds you of.”
Not surprisingly, many of Castle’s fondest cooking memories track straight up steep mountain roads to her grandmother’s home.
“I am a hardcore hillbilly, and I use the term with the deepest affection,” says Castle, who arrived in Chapel Hill 34 years ago as the first in her family to attend college. “Even as a very, very small child, I understood that there was a connection between who people were and what they ate. I knew I was part of something special.”
As a “mountain kid” eager for adventure, Castle wrote stories and devoured books that fueled her imagination. She also spent quality time sitting on the front porch stringing beans and apples while talking and sharing stories.
“There is a very defined sense of place deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains,” she says, drawing comparisons to distinct rituals of the South Carolina Low Country or New Orleans. “Place defines what you eat, and who you are. I am very thankful today that I grew up with those traditions.”
Her appreciation of the links between Southern food and storytelling was well expressed in her 2011 Aut
. (UNC Press). An in-demand cooking teacher known for as much for her wit as her carefully tested recipes, she was featured this month at the prestigious Hilton Head Food and Wine Festival
Like O. Henry, another North Carolina native, Castle deploys quirky, well-drawn characters to pull you in for an unexpected twist; in her case, a dollop of culinary anthropology. Her smart humor and astounding baking skills were on full display last summer when she preached to the choir at a decadent breakfast gathering of the Southern Foodways Alliance
’s (SFA) “field trip” to New Bern. SFA director and culinary legend John T. Edge watched Castle from the edge of a church community center, where he tried to balance a plate of pie on his knees while laughing with the audience.
“I admire the heck out of Sheri,” says Edge, who offered a ringing endorsement last week. “She tells honest stories about her people and her place with humility and humor. She's smart, but she's no show off.”
Edge says Castle “reveals truths” with her takes on classics like leather britches, Appalachian-style beans dried on string, and biscuits with chocolate gravy
, the latter of which was posted on the upscale Gilt Taste blog. Her contributions to Gilt Taste’s “Eats Shoots and Leaves” column earned her a writing award
last year from the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
Growing up in a remote place with brutal winters gave Castle enough indoor time to imagine herself elsewhere, like the stylish city homes of characters in soap operas that her grandmother enjoyed.
“That’s how I discovered there were people who ate dinner as opposed to supper,” she says. “Even though I knew it wasn’t very accurate, I could see a big difference between what those fancy rich people were eating for dinner and what I saw on my plate.”
Castle’s comment is no reflection of poverty. Rather it was one of a series of incremental discoveries that both beckoned experimentation – as an increasingly worldly eighth grader, she begged for and received The Joy of Cooking
for Christmas – and reinforced her appreciation of the plenty at her grandmother’s farm.
When she was old enough to drive down the mountain, she often returned with food stuffs her curious teacher had never seen: tofu and duck, and broccoli, asparagus and okra. “None of that was agreeable to our growing season, which was more like New England,” she says. “It made me feel good to share things with the woman who taught me to cook.”
Sheri Castle's Blackberries and Peaches in Basil Syrup with Cornmeal Poundcake, as featured (with recipe and story by Andrea Griffith Cash) in Chapel Hill Magazine, July 13, 2011 (recipe incl
Castle trained as a journalist but worked writing technical manuals and advertising. While on maternity leave with her daughter Lily, who will leave the nest for college in the fall, she decided against going back. Her generous employer offered a career transition package that allowed her to attend the Culinary Institute of America.
“I talked them into letting me take cooking classes for a couple of years without doing the whole program,” she laughs. “I cannot image what sort of yarn I spun for them to let me get away with that.”
After taking additional classes in San Francisco, Castle returned home determined to teach people to cook. True to form, she marched into the Raleigh Williams-Sonoma and stated that she wanted to teach there. That was on a Tuesday; four days later, she led the first of countless Saturday classes.
She loved instructing home cooks but the itch to write returned. A satisfied student was an editor at The Spectator, a now-defunct local weekly where Castle was invited to write a food column. She soon was published nationally and carved a career as a recipe tester and ghost writer for big names in the food world.
Recipe testing is more complex than simply trying one and saying whether it’s good or bad, Castle explains. “If you are developing recipes for someone, you have to cook like them, not me. And if the recipe doesn’t work, you fix it.”
While taught to be polite at home, Castle has mastered unimagined levels of tact working with clients – none of whom she can identify due to contractual obligations. She has worked on about 20 book projects, including 13 complete works published under other people’s names.
“I’ve learned how to write not only in the style of my client but in the voice and style of their publishers,” she says. “However, if I knew then what I know now, I’d be a with-er, not a ghoster. It’s hard because I can’t use any of that experience to market myself.”
Castle says writing her own book was the most taxing of all her projects. She has accumulated enough stories and recipes to fill another collection, but she’s not sure when she’ll start.
“I have never been more proud of anything or done something that utterly sucked my brain out of my nose,” she says. “It really is exhausting. I have some ideas, but it’s the one thing I just can't talk about."
To give you a taste of Sheri's cooking, here's a recipe from her book, perfect for the
Sheri Castle's Creamy Baby Turnip Soup with Smoked Trout Butter
This soup is silky, soothing, and mild. I like to use those little thin-skinned white Japanese turnips about the size of a ping-pong ball, but any variety will do so long as they are not so large that they are pithy, woody, or strong smelling. The effect of swirling the richly flavored butter into the soup when it’s served is amazing. The heat of the soup melts the butter and releases its aroma, and the smokiness of the trout and bacon make the soup complete.
Be sure to use hot-smoked fish in the butter. That means that the fish is fully cooked, meaty, and deeply flavored. I use trout because North Carolina’s rivers yield some of the world’s best trout, but you can use hot-smoked salmon or whatever the specialty is where you live. This butter is good in other simple soups, such as potato soup or corn chowder. It’s also good as a spread for crackers. It does wonders for a plain baked potato.
Makes 2 quarts of soup and 1 1/2 cups of butter
2 tablespoons butter
2 leeks (white and tender green parts only), cleaned and sliced
1 medium onion, peeled and diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 pounds very small and mild turnips, trimmed and sliced (about 5 cups)
1 medium russet potato, peeled and diced (about 2 cups)
4 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 cup whole milk or half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to taste
Smoked Trout Butter, for serving (recipe follows)
1. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and onion and a pinch of salt and stir to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the turnips, potato, stock, and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, partially cover the pot, and simmer until the vegetables are completely tender, about 25 minutes.
2. Purée in a blender (working in batches to not fill the blender more than half full) and return it to the pot, or purée the soup directly in the pot with an immersion blender. Stir in the milk and heat through. Season with the nutmeg and pepper, plus more salt if needed.
3. To serve, ladle the hot soup into serving bowls. Top each serving with 3 tablespoons of Smoked Trout Butter and serve at once.
Make-ahead note: You can make the soup up to 1 day ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Stir well and check the seasoning when you reheat it for serving.
Sheri's Smoked Trout Butter
Makes 1 1/2 cups
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup finely chopped cooked bacon (from about 3 thick slices)
3/4 cup skinless hot-smoked trout, crumbled (about 3 ounces)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Beat the butter in a medium bowl with a wooden spoon until smooth. Fold in the bacon, trout, and dill. Wrap well and chill until firm.
Make-ahead note: You can make the butter up to 4 days ahead. Store covered and refrigerated.
Chef/Author Stephanie L. Tyson (Winston-Salem Monthly)
Stephanie Tyson and Vivián Joiner of Sweet Potatoes Restaurant in Winston-Salem will be the special guests of Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina (CHOP NC) at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13, at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. The event is free and open to the public. Tyson will sign copies of her book, “Well, Shut My Mouth.”
By Jill Warren Lucas
There was a time when Stephanie Tyson felt like her hometown of Winston-Salem was too small for her big vision. The civil rights movement provoked national headlines at a now-famous lunch counter in nearby Greensboro when she was a baby, but change was coming too slowly for a black female entrepreneur with an evolving dream.
“I just had to get out,” Tyson recalls during a recent phone call from Sweet Potatoes
, the popular arts district restaurant she opened in 2003 with partner Vivián Joiner. “At the time, I never imagined being here today, having this place with such a great vibe and so many regulars.”
Convinced her destiny was waiting on a stage in New York City, Tyson left home in the late 1970s for theater school and the Great White Way – which at the time was not entirely hospitable to dark-skinned, starry-eyed Southerners. Particularly a full-figured woman with a lisp.
Frustrated after years of playing mostly mammy roles, she decided to start over in Washington, D.C. It was there that she met Joiner, another seeker who had a knack for corporate management. Tyson enrolled in culinary school to learn how to maximize the kitchen secrets she learned from her beloved grandmother and four older sisters. Then, together, they worked in restaurants around the country – Virginia and South Carolina, and later Florida, Arizona and Maryland – mastering diverse cuisines and learning what it takes to own and operate your own business.
“We talked about coming back to Winston-Salem quite a bit, but we also talked about how the timing wasn’t right,” Tyson says. “At some point, I just said I was tired and wanted to come home. My parents were getting older.”
Vivian Joiner and Stephanie L. Tyson
They set about converting a former rooming house in the arts district into what became Sweet Potatoes. Though civic leaders initially discouraged their efforts, they quickly found a grateful audience of satisfied customers. The grand opening provided bittersweet, however, when Tyson’s father died only days before.
“The people of Winston-Salem surprised me,” Tyson says of the instant and enduring support. “It had been so staid. It was like a lot of large cities that went downhill with the malls opening in the suburbs, but they were embracing change. It worked.”
A good location with a hip décor was one thing. Convincing diners to have a night on the town and pay for food their grandma used to fix was another.
“There weren’t a lot of restaurants that did real Southern food at the time,” Tyson says. “You could get Chinese food here, and plenty of Mexican food. In the last few years, Southern has become more legit.”
Tyson’s award-winning cooking and Joiner’s deft management combine to feed both the bellies and souls of loyal customers. The place offered them a fresh start, along with some hard-luck employees who were given the structured support to overcome bad habits. Word of mouth and solid online reviews have made the 55-seat Sweet Potatoes a destination dining spot.
“I just can’t believe how fortunate we are that we get to do what we like, where we’re at, and
be successful at it,” Tyson says. “I’m very proud of the food we do and the atmosphere. It’s the music, the feel of the restaurant, the diversity of our customer base. It’s reflective of everything we’ve always wanted in a restaurant.
“It’s kind of an extension of our home. Even if it wasn’t my place, I would go there,” she adds with a laugh. “It really does have a good vibe.”
And it remains busy even though Tyson shared recipes for many of the most-requested dishes in her cookbook, Well, Shut My Mouth: The Sweet Potatoes Restaurant Cookbook
) in 2011. The title is taken from a message on a folk portrait painted by a customer that hangs in the restaurant.
Playing off the motto, “Life is short; eat dessert first,” the book amusingly addresses desserts in its first chapter. “I’m not much of a baker but I like banana pudding,” Tyson admits of the recipe shared below, which opens the book. “I make the cookies, too, so it takes a little longer, but I enjoy that. I can focus on that and it gives me a moment to settle down and think.”
Not all menu items have Southern roots, but regional influences do season many of the dishes. “It’s not fusion cuisine, but I can’t ignore the things I learned before I got here,” says Tyson, noting the Gullah and Creole specialties she learned while cooking in Charleston and Joiner’s paternal Geechee roots.
Among the recipes included in the book is V. V.’s Mamma’s Meatloaf with Wild Mushroom Gravy
, Credited to Joiner’s mother, it is described as a budget-friendly, crowd-feeding meal. “We sell a lot of meatloaf, which is really great,” Tyson says. “It doesn’t have the cornflakes anymore, but Vivián’s sister says it still tastes good.”
Cost is important to Tyson, who features local products when feasible but makes no pretense of being a locavore.
“I like to keep the meals consistent, and that’s either very expensive or impossible if you only use local ingredients,” she says. “To keep it reasonable, I may get strawberries from California. And I don’t buy local grass-fed beef because nobody who comes here wants to pay $30 for a steak.”
There is one thing that Tyson always sources locally, and that’s their namesake starch.
“North Carolina has the best sweet potatoes in the country,” she says with pride. “The food we serve is prepared well, with a great deal of love. It’s not organic – but it’s from me organically.”
Tyson enjoys sharing her passion about food and is grateful to have such a strong operation that she and Joiner can step away from the restaurant now and then to promote their book or just take a break.
“Every day it’s like mounting a show,” she says, drawing an analogy to her theater days. “We’re always behind the scenes getting things set. And we’re not done until the curtain falls.
“Everyone has to be ‘on’ all the time. It’s a production every day,” she says with a sigh. “Fortunately, we enjoy the production.” This recipe is reprinted by permission of Blair Publishing from “Well, Shut My Mouth” by Stephanie Tyson (© 2011). Stephanie L. Tyson’s Banana Pudding
In the restaurant (Sweet Potatoes Restaurant in Winston-Salem NC), we make these in individual serving cups. My grandmother would make one individual serving in a big ole bowl (which explains my hips)! Serves 8 to 10
2 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Approximately 1 pound ripe bananas, peeled and sliced
Vanilla cookies (see recipe below)
In a medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs and yolks well and add the sugar and flour. Pour in the milk and place over a pan of boiling water; the pan should be just wide enough to hold the bowl without it being submerged in the water. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring constantly, until the pudding starts to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla extract.
In a 9x13-inch casserole (or your favorite bowl), layer sliced bananas. Top with vanilla cookies. Repeat for an additional two layers, ending with a layer of bananas. Pour the pudding over the bananas and wafers, then top with a final layer of cookies. Chill and top with whipped cream. Vanilla Cookies
1/3 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, beaten
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons almond extract
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Cream the butter and sugar. Stir in the beaten egg and milk. Stir in the vanilla and almond extracts and the salt. In a separate bowl, sift the flour and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until smooth. Refrigerate for ½ hour.
Roll the dough into small balls (1 teaspoon) and place about 2 inches apart on a greased sheet tray. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack and allow to cool.
Audra Ang will speak and sign her new book, To the People, Food Is Heaven: Stories of Food and Life in Contemporary China at Flyleaf Books
Wednesday January 16, 2013, 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
By Jill Warren Lucas
Like Dorothy on her journey to Oz, Audra Ang had an opportunity to travel far from her comfort zone to experience a world in which she had connections but felt like a stranger. The environment she experienced was just as bizarre in its extremes of hospitality and threat, and it took a long journey home to fully understand it.
Ang chronicles the seven years she spent in China as an Associated Press reporter in her compelling new memoir, To the People, Food Is Heaven: Stories of Food and Life in a Changing China
(Lyons Press, 2012). She will talk about her experiences - which vary from savoring home cooked meals and reporting about dissidents to spending weeks amid the heartbreaking rubble of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake - at Wednesday’s meeting of Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina
(CHOP NC). The free talk gets under way at 7 p.m. at Flyleaf Books
in Chapel Hill, where she will sign copies of the book.
For one of her last assignments in China, before she returned to accept a prestigious Neiman Fellowship at Harvard, Ang was asked to write a story that would reflect the span of her tenure. “I came up with a few ideas that were all shot down,” recalls Ang, who recently located to Durham and works at Duke University. “I decided to just write what I wanted to write about, which was food.”
Ang realized that having food, and especially not having food, played a role in most of the reports she filed while abroad. It may have started with the novelty of a foodstuff not often consumed in America, but she quickly came to appreciate the satisfying burn of sweat-inducing spice and, later, the calming aroma of a hot meal amid sickening decay.
“I wrote four vignettes involving food, but I always felt there was so much more to the story,” Ang says. “The article always felt unfinished to me. It was the one thing I felt strongly enough to commit to the need to turn it into a book.”
Ang traveled from Boston to Berkeley to focus on the yearlong project. “It was the most emotionally difficult thing I’ve ever done,” she says, explaining that she retreated to a cottage where she would write all night, sleep from morning to afternoon, then start again.
She did not return to China during this period and instead relied on her reporter’s notebooks and thousands of collected photographs. They were especially valuable in drafting the difficult final chapter about the catastrophic earthquake. The 7.9 temblor provoked global outrage when reporters revealed that thousands of children needlessly died in the wreckage of poorly-built schools.
“The last chapter is my favorite, but I sometimes worry that it’s too intense,” says Ang, who details unfathomable horrors in a restrained tone that nonetheless makes a reader’s heart race. Woven throughout is the importance of food as more than mere nutrient.
“Food is a very central part of life in China. Indirectly, I think cooking and receiving food did help people to heal,” she says. She tells the story of a mother and her critically injured son, who at first refused to eat but eventually asked for his favorite meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken. “She knew it meant that he was getting better. It fills a bit of the emptiness you feel after so much loss.”
Ang’s own initial connection to the earthquake has a link to food. She and a photographer were having lunch hundreds of miles away when they felt the restaurant suddenly rock. They had been reporting about babies who died from ingesting counterfeit formula, but it turned out they were closer to the epicenter than other colleagues. Ang manages to condense their harrowing journey, and the extraordinary weeks that follow, in 46 mesmerizing pages.
Ang is taking a break from such intense writing and is unsure if she wants to return journalism, though friends predict she will.
“Right now, I’m pretty happy to have a relaxed, stable, boring life,” she says with a laugh. “I have a good job in a wonderful city. I am excited and grateful that’s there is so much great food in one area.”
While glad to have found delicious Chinese and Vietnamese fare close by, Ang says she is especially enjoying her exploration of Southern cuisine. She finds contentment in a place that celebrates both traditional foods and cutting-edge cooks.
“Food is a big part of living in the South, too,” she says. “I’ve found that it usually it takes a year to settle into a place, but I’ve met great such people, including people who are very involved in the local food scene. I can see myself being happy here for a long time.” Jill Warren Lucas is the managing editor of Philanthropy Journal. She blogs about food at Eating My Words and freelances for Indy Week.
While your butterbeans are simmering and your cornbread is baking, read up on local treasure Fred Thompson, in the Herald Sun. He'll be our guest at the November 14th meeting, speaking of the side dishes that populate the Southern table and often outshine the "official" main course.
To read Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan's Herald-Sun
In three years, the TerraVITA Food & Wine Event
has grown from a modest one-day celebration of sustainable food practices to a three-day event that features top chefs and growers, cookbook writers and tastings that raise funds for like-minded local organizations.Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina
(CHOP NC) was among the recipients of a grant last year, and TerraVITA organizer Colleen Minton has extended a special offer to members for discounted tickets. Some events are close to selling out, so be sure to order yours right away.
Colleen has arranged for friends of CHOP NC to purchase discounted tickets to the signature event, Grand Tasting on the Green. Here's the deal:
- An all-inclusive pass for the Grand Tasting on Nov. 3 for $55 (full price, $65)
To get the discount, visit TerraVITA's tickets link athttp://www.terravitaevent.com/TerraVITA/BuyTKTS.html
. Look for the you will see a blue link below the published price that reads "Enter a Password or Discount Code." The CHOP NC passcode is: CHOP12NC
For more information about TerraVITA, read Andrea Weigl's story in theNews & Observer
John Martin Taylor will be the guest speaker for Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina (CHOP NC) at 7pm this Wednesday, October 17th, at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. He also will be signing copies of the 20th anniversary edition of his book, Hoppin’ John’s Lowcounty Cookbook: Recipes and Ruminations from Charleston & the Carolina Coastal Plain (UNC Press) from 12-2pm Tuesday October 16th, at Southern Season in Chapel Hill.
By Jill Warren Lucas
Much has been made of the rise in popularity of Southern cooking in recent years. There is endless speculation about the best way to make fried chicken and pimento cheese. And let us not, especially on a Sunday, debate whether sugar bowl is permitted to dance with the cornbread, or what constitutes real barbecue.
The commercial homogenization of modern Southern fare may lead some to believe that butter-laden sweets and bacon-wrapped, deep-fried everything formed the primary sustenance of our forebears, no matter when or in what part of the South they called home. In fact, many who lived below the Mason Dixon – and particularly those who survived the lean years after the Civil War – counted themselves lucky to have a plate of beans and rice for dinner.
The contrast between pre-war plenty and the deprivation that followed – including due tribute to the culinary contributions of freed slaves – is eloquently defined in Hoppin’ John’s Lowcounty Cooking: Recipes and Ruminations from Charleston & the Carolina Coastal Plain
. Released to critical acclaim 20 years ago, the out-of-print classic has been reissued by UNC Press with a new introduction by author John Martin Taylor.
“It was important to me for the book to be published by an accomplished university press,” said Taylor during a recent call from his home in Bulgaria, where his husband is the country’s director for the Peace Corps. “It has a great home now and will help to preserve the food traditions of the Lowcountry.”
While Charleston is now a celebrated restaurant Mecca, Taylor said Lowcountry Cooking
was written long before its status as a foodie’s dream destination. His research began unexpectedly in 1984 when he noticed a hand-sewn plantation cookbook from 1919 in a trash heap on a Newport, R.I., sidewalk. The discovery pretty much blew his mind.
“I grew up there but I didn’t even recognize this food,” Taylor said, recalling his astonishment. “When I was first writing about Charleston’s food history in the late 1980s, it was pretty much falling on deaf ears.
When I moved back to South Carolina in 1986, you couldn’t find stone-ground grits anywhere. With the exception of hunters, fisherman and farmers, people pretty much lost touch with the land.” Lowcountry Cooking
speaks to the essential question of what is local food and how it defines the lives of those who consume it. His engaging writing recalls the vivid sense of place established by Diana Kennedy and Paula Wolfert. In the manner of a rapturous nonfiction novel, you feel the pride of Mary Clare for her caramel cake as deeply as the humility of former slaves who made belly-filling, soul satisfying meals from the bounty of the land and scraps discarded by wealthy landowners.
“People were insanely wealthy,” Taylor said. “They were shipping 60 million pounds of rice every year and never dreamed it would end. They were not prepared for what hit them.
In a sense, the cookbook addresses Reconstruction through the lens of rebuilding the ravaged foodways of the South. Food became a social equalizer, with rich and poor eating the same basic items that remained after the combined impacts of war and a hurricane that swept choking salt water into once thriving rice and cotton fields. Indeed, Taylor’s moniker of Hoppin’ John comes from the hearty rice and cow pea dish that became a favorite of both master and slave.
The book also draws clear distinctions between the traditions of Charleston and the humid, subtropical Lowcountry to other Southern cuisines.
“You won’t find any barbecue, the way you do in the Piedmont,” Taylor said. “Because of the climate, things grow there that do not grow elsewhere in the Carolinas. And because of the port, Charleston always had access to things like great olive oil and sherry and pineapples from Cuba.”
Taylor writes that his goal was to “present the sumptuous fare of antebellum Charleston for the modern cook” – a task that included denuding “authentic” recipes offered to him of such modern ingredients as canned soup and margarine.
While the book has been hailed as definitive – the New York Times raved that it “should be on the National Registry of Great American Food” – Taylor demurs that “this is not ‘Mastering the Art of Lowcountry Cooking.’
“It’s my version of the cooking of the time based on the records that remain,” he said. “The food reflected a great fusion of international flavors – especially those of Africa.”
Ports in the Lowcountry are believed to have been the entry point for between 40-60 percent of all Africans in the North American slave trade. In a more hospitable vein, it also was the landing point for immigrants of many faiths, who likewise contributed their diverse food traditions to what remained one of America’s 10 largest cities though 1840.
Before the Civil War, immense tables in Charleston’s fashionable plantation homes groaned with a gracious plenty raised and cooked by slave labor. Rich landowners regularly held grand soirees to ensure their position in society. This sort of conspicuous consumption is evident in menus that survived from the era – vast food orgies that featured not only the Lowcountry’s abundant natural resources but also imported delicacies that regularly flowed through the city’s bustling port.
Post-war poverty brought down the aristocracy, but such advances as the railroad and refrigeration – chilled butter! ice cream! – introduced new prosperity. Later, air conditioning and the highway system beckoned travelers, and corporate money helped to rebuild Charleston as a tourist destination with a renowned reputation for the arts and fine dining.
While Lowcountry Cooking
contains about 250 recipes, Taylor said there is one simple dish that truly provides a taste of antebellum Charleston.
“The whole cuisine at once would have to be Chicken Country Captain, but it takes two days to make it right,” he said with a laugh. “But the composed rice dishes, the pilaus, really give you a sense of what defined Lowcountry cooking.” Carolina PilauDishes like this one appear in various cultures as pilaf, jambalaya, and just plain chicken and rice. In Charleston and the surrounding Lowcountry, they started as pilau, but they’re often spelled perloo (though I’ve seen purloo, perlo and perlau as well). The word is pronounced “PER-lo,” “per-lo,” and “pee-LO,” but that o is a distinctive Charleston sound – and make--people not from here think we are saying “oo.” Some people say, “oo, la, la”; others say “oh, la, la.”
1 3½-to-4-pound chicken
2 quarts water
¼ pound (I stick) unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped (about 1½ cups)
2 cups chopped celery
2 or 3 large tomatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups long-grain white rice
Cover the chicken with the water and boil in a large pot, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the broth and reserve the broth. Skin the chicken and remove the bones, pulling the meat from the bones. Cut the meat into uniformly sized pieces. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a Dutch oven on the top of the stove, then add the onions and the celery and cook over medium heat until the onions start to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice and the seasonings, adding a little more salt than you might think is necessary. Add the chicken meat, the rice, and 1 quart of the reserved broth. Cover, bring to a simmer, and cook slowly, without lifting the lid, for 30 minutes. Serve with a green salad and corn bread.Published with permission of John Martin Taylor from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking: Recipes and Ruminations from Charleston & the Carolina Coastal Plain (© UNC Press, 2012). Jill Warren Lucas blogs at Eating My Words. Follow her at @jwlucasnc.
Wednesday, October 17th, 2012 at Flyleaf Books 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
“Splendid recipes that should be on a National Registry of Great American Food. It’s a stunner!”
said The New York Times when this book was first published in 1992.
Come early and plan to head home with a signed copy for your reading chair and kitchen.
Our guest author, John Martin Taylor, shaking things up with a traditional sweetgrass basket handcrafted in the lowcountry. Come early: you will want to savor every minute with this fascinating writer, historian, storyteller and cook.
Join us at CHOP NC if you are in the Chapel Hill/Raleigh/Cary/Durham vicinity. If you are elsewhere, perhaps you can treat yourself to a visit with John at another stop on his 20th anniversary book tour.October 2012 Tour: John Martin Taylor and Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking.
October 5, 2- 4 pm, booksigning at The Preservation Society of Charleston Book & Gift Shop
October 6: “Charleston’s Culinary Heritage,” a lecture at the Charleston Heritage Symposium
October 9: Book signing at Crescent City Farmers Market
, New Orleans (public invited)
October 10: A Fundraiser Dinner at Calcasieu
* in New Orleans (public invited, reservations required). Calcasieu is the private dining room upstairs at Cochon
, Donald Link & Stephen Stryjewski’s wonderful restaurant. Proceeds will benefit the St. Bernard Project
, a non-profit organization that rebuilds the homes and lives of Katrina survivors.
October 12: 10 am, Live interview on Walter Edgar’s Journal
(SC ETV radio stations) 3 pm: Speech and booksigning at The Oaks
; Orangeburg, SC (open to public, but limited seating, contact email@example.com)
October 14: 3 pm, Speech and booksigning, Richland County Public Library
, Columbia SC (public invited)
October 16: 12-2pm, Booksigning, A Southern Season
, Chapel Hill, North Carolina (open to public)
October 17: 7 pm, Lecture and booksigning, Flyleaf Books
, Chapel Hill, NC, open to public but limited seating (details available from Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina
October 18: Dinner at Langermann’s
of Baltimore. Open to the public. Reservations required.
Oct 22: Dinner at London Grill
in Philadelphia. Reservations required.
*Here’s the menu for the fundraiser at Cochon. PLEASE JOIN US:
Chef Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon, Cochon Butcher and Cochon Lafayette, is hosting a benefit-book signing and dinner at Calcasieu on Wednesday, October 10th at 7pm
to introduce the new edition of John Martin Taylor’s Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking
. Tickets to the dinner are $100 per person and include a signed copy of the cookbook (a $25 value) and a bag of Hoppin’ John’s® stone ground grits (a $10 value). These are the grits that we serve at our restaurants.
Proceeds from the event will benefit St. Bernard Project
.For reservations: 504.588.2188Menu
(served family style)Hors d’oeuvres
Roasted pecans1st course
Spanish mackerel Ceviche with Alligator Pears2nd course:
Fried quail with Sausage and Oyster Cream & Grits
Blood Pudding and Caramelized onions
Ribs with Roasted Garlic3rd course:
Rice pudding with Fig Preserves
Muscadine Grape Pie
Macaroons and Bourbon balls