Category Archives: IN THE KITCHEN

20 YEARS @ RURAL STUDIO + SCOTT PEACOCK

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I have a deep respect and admiration for the work happening at Rural Studio, located in Hale County, Alabama. Founded in 1993 by the late Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee and D.K. Ruth, the studio is now celebrating its 20th anniversary.

After having the chance to visit the stunning Yancey Chapel in 2008, I noted on the Journal that “the work and life of Samuel Mockbee is a yardstick for us to hold up to our lives each and every day to take measure of the road that we walk on this planet.”

I will be heading to Hale County this weekend, for a special dinner and pig roast as part of their yearlong 20th anniversary celebration. My friend (and acclaimed chef) Scott Peacock is preparing the menu and family-style meal. The evening will be a celebration of Rural Studio and an acknowledgement of their ongoing community project at Rural Studio Farm—where students are working to construct a greenhouse, irrigation system, planter beds, and more. In fact, a few of the vegetables that will be served over the weekend were grown by students at the farm. The Hale County community is contributing to the dinner, providing fresh hen eggs for deviled eggs and the local pig that was raised to be roasted just for this occasion. Friends of Rural Studio are also making contributions—Alabama Chanin donated 170 organic cotton jersey napkins for the event, which students of the studio will manipulate and design for the dinner. It will be an evening filled with laughter, community, delicious food, and storytelling.

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GRAM PERKINS’ EGG SALAD + HOMEMADE PICKLES

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My Gram Perkins passed down several recipes to me through the years. I keep most of them in a recipe book my mother compiled of family recipes. From Chocolate Pie to Thanksgiving dressing, Gram Perkins’ delicious Southern dishes continue to make their way onto my table—always tasting amazing, but not quite as good as when she made them.

One of the simplest (and most beloved) recipes she gave to me was for egg salad, featuring homemade Fourteen-Day Pickles (also known as sweet or bread-and-butter pickles). I think of it as one of the ultimate comfort foods. When I was a child, Gram Perkins often served it to me as a summer lunch or afternoon snack. I have vivid memories of sitting in her kitchen, watching her prepare her famous egg salad sandwich for me—always with extra pickles in a jar on the table.

After my Gram Perkins passed away, my granddaddy, lovingly known as Perk, continued making the famous Fourteen-Day Pickles. My mother carries on the family tradition today by gifting pints of these treasures every holiday season. Egg salad is definitely better with this homemade version but there are great bread-and-butter pickles available on the market today that you can use for your homemade egg salad. We recently taste tested the Blackberry Farm version and found it delicious.

No one really knows when egg salad itself was created, but it became a popular luncheon salad in the early 1800s, after French chef Marie-Antoine Carême invented mayonnaise as we know it today. A sister to tuna and chicken salad, egg salad is a nice option for those looking for a simple lunch, packed with protein.

We’ve started serving Gram Perkins’ egg salad in The Factory Café, complete with homemade pickles, made from her recipe. Stop by for lunch (new menu below) and try it on whole wheat sourdough toast, served with julienned honey crisp apples. (Trust me—the pairing of eggs and apples is delicious.)

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MULETOWN ROASTED COFFEE + THE FACTORY BLEND

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My mornings always start with coffee. Like many of you, the act of drinking coffee has long been a part of my daily routine. So, I was excited when approached with the idea of crafting my own organically-sourced blend. If you’ve visited The Factory lately, you’ve probably enjoyed a cup of our house coffee, which is roasted by Muletown Roasted Coffee, based in nearby Columbia, Tennessee. I drink it at home, in the car, at work (and I’ve noticed most of our staff does as well. If you happen to drop by when we are having a meeting, you’ll find most of us taking sips between taking notes). We have several former baristas and coffee aficionados on our team and we all agree: our Factory blend is borderline addictive. The flavor is smooth, yet dark, with a buttery feel and a slight dark chocolate finish. Delicious.

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THE HISTORY OF LANE (DRIVE) CAKE

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Alabama Chanin’s first-ever sewing workshop took place in 2008 alongside a seminar on Southern cooking, organized and presented by our friend and collaborator, Angie Mosier. While the sewing participants stitched and chatted, the food preparers fried up some chicken, steamed collard greens and made pot likker, then baked the most delicious Lane Cake. At each meal, Angie explained the history of each dish and its significance within Southern culture. This is where I first learned the details behind one of Alabama’s culinary specialties, the Lane Cake.

Lane Cake was created by Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Alabama, as her entry into a county fair baking competition in Columbus, Georgia. She originally called the recipe, “Prize Cake,” but eventually leant her name to the dessert for all posterity. She self-published a cookbook called Some Good Things to Eat in 1898 and included the recipe as one of her featured desserts. Lane Cake is a white, layered sponge cake (originally designed for 4 layers) iced with a frosting that includes coconut, raisins, pecans, and bourbon. It is often found in the South at receptions, holiday dinners, or wedding showers. Chef Scott Peacock writes in The Gift of Southern Cooking that he was served a Lane Cake every year on his birthday.

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BLOOD ORANGE POMEGRANATE COCKTAIL

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Ever since I read about classic Southern drinks in the latest issue of Garden & Gun, I’ve been craving a crisp, refreshing cocktail. We’ve shared some grenadine-inspired libations before and, in keeping with that theme (and continuing our love affair with Jack Rudy’s Small Batch Grenadine), we created a blood orange-infused pomegranate cocktail.

Boasting a deep and rich citrusy flavor, blood oranges are considered to be among the finest dessert oranges in the world and are at their seasonal peak right now. These oranges are quite sought after by most bartenders—they are only ripe for a few months each year. The perfect pairing with a range of spirits, we chose to mix ours with Cathead Vodka.

Tip: Blood oranges will only last a couple of days at room temperature, so we suggest refrigerating them; they will last up to two weeks that way.
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CHICKEN STEW

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As a Southerner and a cook, I often find myself included in lively debates about regional cuisine, long-winded discussions of the dozens of types of barbecue preparations, cornbread recipe swaps, or conversations on the perfect biscuit dough. Those of us who love food treasure the dishes we were raised eating and love to swap recipes and tips.

In my travels, I have done my fair share of boasting about my hometown’s specialties. One dish that I speak of frequently, that is such a big component of The Shoals’ local food culture, is chicken stew. And almost every time I mention it (outside of my home region), no one else in the room seems to know quite what I’m describing.

“Is it like a vegetable soup?” Not exactly. “A Brunswick stew?” Hmm. Not really.

So, I gradually came to understand that this dish—that was as ubiquitous to every neighborhood kitchen as cornbread or tea—wasn’t a staple meal for the rest of the world. In fact, it really doesn’t exist much outside of our small region of the Tennessee Valley.

Truthfully, the origins of chicken stew cannot be traced. And, no one can explain exactly why it is so specific to this region. I remember being told by an aunt that, once upon a time, chickens were kept for the eggs they produced. By the time a family killed a chicken for its meat, it was a “tough old bird,” only suitable for stews and other slow-cooked dishes. As with many rural households, you made the most of what you had and, logically, a stew fed more mouths than one fried chicken. Most likely, as with most regional foods, the recipe was created when poverty crossed paths with farmers, native people, and West African-style dishes. The result, in this case, is a dish that’s similar to existing recipes but that remains explicitly exclusive to one place.
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NAPKINS + A COLOR UPDATE

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With the launch of the new collection and several new fabric colors, we have also updated our selection of cocktail napkins and organic cotton jersey dinner napkins to include fresh, new, seasonal colors.

The neutrals and greens (shown above) are a nice reminder that spring is on the way. Lime—a color exclusive to collection pieces (until now)—is being offered as both a cocktail and organic cotton dinner napkin color and will give your bar or kitchen area a nice pop of color.

Previously, our line of cocktail napkins was limited to five colors: Sand, Baby Blue, Forest, Carmine, and Burgundy. The selection now includes 15 colors: Denim, Storm Blue, Navy, Baby Blue, White, Plum, Ochre, Butter, Nude, Natural, Tea, Emerald, Lime, Burgundy, and Dark Grey.

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HOMEMADE MINI MOON PIES

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Our café kitchen has been testing, developing, and tasting new items for our dessert menu. We are intent on staying true to foods that reflect our roots, incorporating traditional Southern elements into decadent dishes.

Moon pies are treats that fit the criteria of being both definitively Southern and decadent. For those who have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing one, a moon pie is a sandwich cookie consisting of two layers of a soft graham cookie, a marshmallow filling, and a flavored coating, typically chocolate.

The first Moon Pies were made by the Chattanooga Bakery in 1917 and were based upon requests from hungry coal miners. When a Chattanooga Bakery salesman visited a company store that catered to coal miners, the miners told him they wanted something solid and filling, because they often didn’t get time for a full lunch. When the salesman asked them how big the snack should be, a miner framed his hands around the moon hanging in the sky and said, “About that big.”

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GARDEN & GUN DRINKS

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These days it’s rare that I get the chance to sit down and read. Between second grade homework and taking out the compost (which seems an endless—and perpetually thankless—chore), my days don’t involve moments to sit, read, and ponder. In fact, “pondering” seems to have become a lost art in our busy, busy, busy (badge of honor) lives.

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So, it was with relish that between listening to “Mary Had a Little Lamb” played on our new piano (43+ times—right hand, left hand, right hand, left hand, and one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four…) and watching Spy Kids: All The Time In The World, I was able to thoroughly read the new Garden & Gun magazine—cover to cover. And what an issue it is: Patterson Hood, Do-It-Yourself Moon Pies (more on this story next Wednesday), and Classic Southern Drinks (my personal favorite).

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A CAKE FOR GEORGIA GILMORE

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Today, in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. week, we turn the spotlight to one of the unsung heroes (or heroines, rather) of the Civil Rights Movement: Georgia Gilmore.

Georgia (whom we have written about before) lived and worked in Montgomery, Alabama, and was a true servant to the cause of the movement. Georgia was a big lady with a big personality—frankly put, she didn’t take any bull from anybody. She worked as a midwife, as well as a cook at the National Lunch Company. After Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to leave her seat on a bus in December of 1955, a group of black ministers and community leaders formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA)—and initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Led by Martin Luther King, Jr., the Association often held secret meetings around the city. As soon as Georgia heard of Rosa Parks’ arrest on the radio, she joined the MIA, determined to aid the effort in any way she could.

Outspoken and feisty, Georgia let her disapproval of the discriminatory bus drivers be known—an action that got her fired from her job at the cafeteria. When that happened, Dr. King and other leaders helped her set up a restaurant in her home kitchen. Georgia was well-known around town for her fried chicken, pork chops, and stuffed bell peppers and often served these and other dishes to Dr. King and fellow supporters of the boycott. She even hosted secret MIA meetings there in her kitchen.

Georgia’s love (and talent) for cooking and her passion for equality and change led her to start a club with a few of her friends, named “The Club from Nowhere.” The ladies in the club, most of them maids and cooks, sold homemade pies and cakes (and even Georgia’s chicken dinners) to supporters of the movement in order to raise money for the boycott. The Club from Nowhere often set up shop in beauty parlors, Laundromats, and on street corners in downtown Montgomery. Both black and white supporters of the boycott were able to contribute anonymously. The Club from Nowhere used the money they collected to buy gas and station wagons, which were used to transport people to and from work during the boycott. Georgia always said that the money came “from nowhere.”

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