Community cookbooks – collections of recipes gathered by churches, women’s societies, rotary clubs, and other regional clubs and foundations – have been the foundation of home kitchens across America for decades. These collections often present an air of nostalgia, using old-fashioned techniques, offbeat ingredients, and occasionally include really great anecdotes. They are—in their best versions—a direct reflection of the region of their origin and an admirable labor of love. The recipes are seldom fancy, and most often highlight the kind of meal that is made in an average kitchen on an average evening by an average cook who finds an epiphany of enlightenment in a great recipe. Even more captivating is the community cookbook filled with family recipes passed down from prior generations and lovingly shared with the community at large.
Caxton Press in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania published what is believed to be the very first charity cookbook in 1864, during the time of the Civil War. This assortment, titled A Poetical Cook-Book, by Maria J. Moss, was filled with foods common to that era, like leg of mutton, mince pies, johnnycakes, and hasty pudding. The book was sold to provide funds for field hospitals and aid wounded soldiers.
Many, like the ones I was given by my mother, grandmothers, and aunts, are overflowing with sense memories of a location and an era. While similarities exist among the cookbooks, there are distinct differences between what the women of the Virginia Eastern Star were making in the 1920s and the dishes prepared by the late 1960s Junior League of Coastal Louisiana. Regardless of the when and the where, there is copious information on what the (mostly) women were like in each specific time and place. The ingredients tell a story of rural vs. urban landscape and wealthy vs. working class cooks. If a recipe called for a pinch or a handful, you might assume that the writer was a seasoned home cook who learned passed down recipes and perfected dishes by taste, not by measurement. If a recipe was “eggless” or “butterless”, you might suppose that it originated during wartime, when certain foods were rationed.
Blueberries have made their way to peak season here in Alabama. While they have many health benefits, their taste and convenience are equally valuable. Ever since Maggie and I planted a bush in the backyard, there are days that we eat them by the handful. Recently, we’ve been serving a variety from our local farmers’ market along with our café’s crepes (a not-so guilty pleasure).
Today in the café, we debut our monthly menu curated by Peabody award-winning chef Vivian Howard. Vivian provided us with an array of seasonal, flavorful dishes from her restaurant Chef & the Farmer, including the (absolutely) delicious recipe below – Blueberry BBQ Chicken Flatbread.
Stop by the café during the month of July to experience tastes from Vivian’s repertoire, as well as beloved recipes from The SFA Community Cookbook. Also, make plans to join us on the evening of July 25 for A Piggy Bank Dinner fundraiser for the Southern Foodways Alliance, featuring Vivian and friends.
The recipe below is straight from Vivian’s kitchen at Chef & the Farmer. Come and enjoy our version for lunch at The Factory Café, or recreate the dish in your home kitchen.
I feel a certain kinship with Vivian Howard, even though we’ve never met. We both left home at an early age, finding big lives and successful living elsewhere; we also both followed our inspirations as they directed us back to our regional homes, where we’ve found hard-won fulfillment. Vivian works with food as her medium, much in the way that Alabama Chanin works with cotton jersey. She explores regional food traditions and seeks to translate them into a modern light.
We are thrilled that Vivian Howard will be the featured chef for the month of July in our café, and also visiting us here at The Factory on July 25th for our second “Friends of the Café” Piggy Bank Dinner, benefiting the Southern Foodways Alliance.
This month, we launched our “Friends of the Café” Dinner Series with James Beard award-winning chef Chris Hastings. When searching for like-minded chefs and restaurants to collaborate with for our ongoing chef series in the café, Chris was one of the first people who came to mind. His dedication to locally-sourced ingredients is something we value highly here at Alabama Chanin, and it was wonderful to see (and sample) his work at The Factory.
A big hit of the evening was the Hot and Hot Tomato Salad, a fresh and colorful take on an old Southern favorite: succotash. Guests watched in awe as Chris and members of the Alabama Chanin team put together mouthwatering layers of the tomato salad. The special version of the salad presented at our dinner was topped with fresh Alabama Gulf shrimp (and bacon), and served with fried okra on the side.
Last week, we hosted our inaugural “Friends of the Café” Dinner, featuring chef Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club. Chris and his team came to The Factory for an evening of superb food, lively conversation, and support for the Alabama Gulf Seafood organization.
Nothing tastes like summer quite like a fresh, home-grown tomato. In fact, I embark on a tomato sandwich diet each summer. While I’m still patiently waiting for my own garden plants to get ripe enough for picking, I’m enjoying the vegetables from my CSA share each week (and of course, our locally-sourced café ingredients).
Good tomatoes don’t need to be dressed up to be delicious. But, it can be difficult to source really great tomatoes – just another benefit of buying local produce and knowing your farmer. Unfortunately, most tomatoes that you find in chain grocery stores are there because they survived the journey; they were the toughest and able to maintain nice color and shape in transit. Tomatoes bred for shape, color, or endurance don’t always have the best flavor.
Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club, whose recipes are featured in our café this month as part of our ongoing chef series, understands that delicious produce offers complex flavors. When you take the time to find quality ingredients, they shine on their own, without too much fuss.
Alabama Chanin’s slow design ideals are deeply rooted in and inspired by the Slow Food Movement, whose tenets call for good, clean, and fair food for all. Local, organically sourced food echoes through the pages of the Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook by husband-and-wife team (and friends) Chris and Idie Hastings. In continuation of our Factory Café Chef Series, the café will feature recipes inspired by Chef Chris Hastings during the month of June. Additionally, we are proud to host Chris for our inaugural “Friends of the Café” Dinner Series on Thursday, June 12. He will also hold a brief discussion and sign copies of his book after the farm-to-table meal. A portion of ticket and book sales from the evening will benefit the Alabama Gulf Seafood organization.
Chris graduated from the Johnson & Wales Culinary School in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1984. After graduating, he began working for Frank Stitt, as Chef D’Cuisine of the Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama. In the introduction to his cookbook, Chris describes how he and his wife later moved to California “with a trailer in tow, in 1989 journeyed three thousand miles from Birmingham, Alabama, to San Francisco—a hotbed of great food in America—in just two days.” In California, he helped Bradley Ogden launch the Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur, California, and witnessed the rise of the farm-to-table movement first hand.
Allison Kave, a truly creative baker and expert on all things pie related, credits her mother with her passion for food. Her mom, Rhonda Kave, is owner of Roni-Sue’s Chocolate in New York’s Essex Street Market. Growing up, Rhonda had a rather unexciting childhood filled with canned and boiled vegetables and she wanted more nutrition and excitement for her own children. Research into various cuisines led to a love of chocolate, which inspired her very own confectionery shop. All of this unbridled love of food couldn’t help but inspire Allison and her brother, Corwin, a renowned executive chef in New York City.
Like some of us, Allison did not find her calling immediately. Her route to the culinary life modeled the circuitous path her mother took. Eventually, her boyfriend encouraged her to enter the First Annual Brooklyn Pie Bake-Off – and she walked away with the award for Best Overall Pie. So, she asked: Why not make pies? In fact, Allison recently partnered with fellow baker Keavy Blueher, and together they are opening Brooklyn’s first dessert and craft cocktail bar, Butter & Scotch.
We all have different definitions of comfort food—the dishes that make up those meals that leave our bellies (and our hearts) full. They are the dishes you crave when you are far from home; a hankering for something familiar and soothing. For me, this includes an array of casserole dishes, fresh garden vegetables, and my Gram Perkins’ egg salad.
When Davia and Nikki of The Kitchen Sisters agreed to be our featured chefs this month as part of our ongoing Factory Café Chef Series, I started browsing through my copy of Hidden Kitchens. Soon, I found myself totally immersed in the stories I’d heard on the radio years before. I began re-telling stories to the staff at The Factory, and we were all excited about a recipe I found in the chapter about NASCAR kitchens, titled “Slap It On the Thighs Butter Bar”—aptly named, since the ingredients called for yellow cake mix, egg, margarine, powered sugar, and cream cheese. The recipe was originally from the 25th anniversary edition of the Winston Cup Racing Wives’ Auxiliary Cookbook, published in 1989. Curious to know what other comfort food recipes from the kitchens of racing existed, we tracked down a copy of the book on Ebay.
Foraging is the act of searching for and gathering wild food. Perhaps you remember learning about nomadic hunters and gatherers in grade school—these early societies moved from place to place, following animals, fruits, and vegetables in order to sustain life. Modern humans followed this way of life until about ten thousand years ago, when agriculture was developed.
Today, most of the world’s hunter-gatherers (or foragers) have been displaced by farmers and pastoralists. Modern foragers often look for food in their surrounding environments, and do not move from camp to camp like their predecessors. In fact, foraging has become a livelihood for some—by sourcing wild food resources for restaurants, chefs, markets, and the like.
Below, The Kitchens Sisters share their discovery of modern-day forager Angelo Garro (and his hidden kitchen).