The winter holidays seem to evoke the strongest food memories from many of us. Certainly there are family Thanksgiving dinner traditions, and the plethora of other delights that come with the rest of the season – pumpkin pie, homemade eggnog, savory soups, and gingerbread cookies. When I was a child, potato candy was one of the treats that only made an appearance in the days and weeks before Christmas. It is hands-down the strangest of holiday treats, but perhaps the delicacy was more delicious as the wait from year-to-year seemed immense.
To those who have never eaten potato candy, the concept may seem a bit odd. But those who have eaten it know that it is incredibly sweet, much like fudge or caramel. In retrospect, perhaps this dessert is reserved for the holidays because it contains so much sugar. It is possible that the adults chose to ration the candy in order to contain rambunctious children. (I know that I am guilty of that.)
The Alabama Biscuit Company is changing the way people perceive (and eat) biscuits. Jonathan Burch of Birmingham, Alabama, has developed a delicious and healthy recipe for biscuits using organic sprouted spelt flour, aluminum-free baking powder, and organic Celtic sea salt.
The biscuit mix is now a favorite of the Alabama Chanin team. We made biscuits with it at the Heath event this past August and are now using and selling it in our café.
For many Southerners, ambrosia salad is a dish often associated with holiday potlucks or aunts and grandmothers. It occasionally gets a bad rap, along with the often-maligned fruitcake, but when prepared correctly it can be light and delicious. The dividing line between love and hate seems to be one ingredient: coconut. But, this much is clear – ambrosia salad absolutely must include coconut.
Ambrosia salad also has a bit of an identity crisis. Depending on your family’s prerogative, it might be considered a salad, but it may also be considered a dessert. It is a fruit dish so, depending on preparation, it can be light, like a salad. Other recipes are sweeter and include layers of whipped cream or even marshmallows, placing it clearly in the “sweets” category. My family always placed it in a different spot in the buffet line, depending on which aunt had prepared the dish.
This year, I’ve been supplementing my garden’s harvest with fruits and vegetables from local farmers’ markets and the occasional Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) box. Typically, participating in a CSA program involves purchasing a share of a farmer’s crop before it is produced, but some farmers (like ours) will accept weekly payments for pre-ordered boxes. While quantities vary, the amount of food in a CSA box, usually a 1/2 bushel, typically feeds a family of four for a week. That is a bit too much food for just me and Maggie, so I seldom order a box unless I’m preparing a large meal for family and friends or needing quality, local ingredients for The Factory’s new café. Our friends at nearby Jack-O-Lantern Farm wrapped up this year’s CSA box program last month and I was able to pre-order and pick up a box for the café from their last batch of the season.
Open any Hallmark card or watch a coffee commercial between now and the new year and you will be flooded with the storybook sentiment of the holidays. Ask anyone their feelings about Thanksgiving and they will tell you it’s a time for family, for great food and for, well, giving thanks. All of those things are certainly true for me. When I was young, Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays. I have strong sense memories of being in my Grandmother Smith’s house, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on television while the smell of roasted turkey wafted in from the kitchen. The air is always clear and crisp in these memories. I can recall running across the farm hills and valleys with dogs and cousins, the smell of barn hay, and the full stomach, distended from too much pie.
Autumn is most certainly the season of the pumpkin. I admit that, though they are beautiful decorations, I haven’t always been a big fan of the fruit. But, as we get older, our tastes continue to change. These days, I find that I crave them more than ever. The flavor can be sweet, even complex, and I am looking for more ways to incorporate them into our meal rotation. Here, I share some of my favorite, easy preparations for adding pumpkin to your table.
Pumpkin soup is, outside of pumpkin pie, perhaps the most common recipe available. While you can find cans of organic pumpkin at many grocery stores (and I’ve successfully used them on occasion), there is a distinct difference between canned pumpkin puree and a fresh, roasted pumpkin. Don’t be intimidated by the idea of roasting a pumpkin, it is easier than you think. I don’t recommend using carving pumpkins for roasting because they can often be stringy and less flavorful. Sugar pumpkins (also known as pie pumpkins) or any of the smaller varieties are tastier but, depending upon size, you may need to prepare more than one.
Recently, the always-inspiring Southern Foodways Alliance symposium, held in Oxford, Mississippi, sponsored a rollicking debate on an intensely dividing subject: Which is better: Pie or Cake? While my love for a good cake has been well documented, some of the arguments for pie, eloquently spoken by Kat Kinsman from CNN’s Eatocracy, spurred me to take another look at the versatile dish. Devoted pie makers everywhere may relate to her statement that, if you are ‘crafting’ a pie crust:
“…it’s most likely because, at some point in your life, someone thought well enough of you to stand beside you at a counter and gift the muscle memory from her hands to yours. Your mother, your aunt, your grandmother, or – heaven forfend – your mother-in-law decided it was time to truly assume you into the sisterhood. She guided your fingers as they worked the flour into the fat, flicked in the water, and kneaded it all to the proper mass.”
Our friend Tasia, owner of Alabama’s Belle Chevre creamery, has been busy with several new projects since we last saw her at Southern Makers. Her first cookbook, which features a foreword by Natalie (and is full of amazing Southern and Greek-inspired recipes), was released last year. Tasia has been crafting new recipes, teaching cooking classes, working on a second book and, most recently, she opened a new cheese tasting room at their flagship storefront in Elkmont, Alabama.
A few months ago we discovered Belle Chevre’s DIY Kits are perfect for gifting (and for starting your own goat cheese tasting room). We often snack on Tasia’s amazing cheese creations here in the studio. Tasia notes that her goat cheese can be used as a base for many of her recipes, as well as a substitute for mayonnaise, sour cream, cream cheese, and butter. The possibilities are endless. We recently substituted some of our homemade goat cheese for mayonnaise in a warm potato salad, sprinkled with fresh herbs from the farmers’ market, and served alongside baked organic chicken. The results were richer and creamier than a traditional potato salad. And a bit of leftover goat cheese was devoured atop fresh pumpkin bread with some local honey. Decadent and delicious. Here’s Tasia’s recipe for making goat cheese at home.
It has been over three years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill devastated the Gulf Coast and, in turn, the livelihoods of many. The Alabama seafood industry was practically devastated, but is rebounding with determination and the support of restaurateurs and loyal customers.
Alabama has 50+ miles of coastline bordering the Gulf of Mexico. Add that to our tidal coastline of bays, creeks, bayous, and rivers that touch the tidewater and the coastline grows to 600+ miles. Because of the salty gulf water, Alabama seafood means fish, shrimp, crab, and oysters. The Alabama Gulf Seafood organization has done a great job connecting Alabama fisherman and oysterman with our state’s chefs and seafood consumers. The beautiful images here are of postcards Alabama Gulf Seafood published (and consequently inspired this post).
Kevin Gillespie grew up in Locust Grove, Georgia, outside Atlanta, with nine cousins within five years of age living five hundred feet from each other. While his parents worked, his paternal grandmother watched the kids, cooking three meals a day so the family could always sit and eat together. At age ten, Kevin became interested in cooking and decided his grandmother shouldn’t be the only one feeding the family. The family supported him one hundred percent, even when he turned down a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to attend culinary school at the Art Institute of Atlanta.
Fire in My Belly is a collection of Kevin’s memories and stories on how he came to love food with classic recipes tweaked and made simple for the home cook. Almost every tale focuses on family and the person who introduced him to a new food or way of cooking. There’s an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients, just the way his grandmother always cooked. Nothing is too fancy and every component is easy to find, no matter what part of the country you live in.