Tag Archives: Cooking

HIDDEN KITCHENS: THE FORAGER (+ WILD FENNEL CAKES)

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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).

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IN THE (HIDDEN) KITCHEN

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When I was a young girl, my mother’s mother would cook green beans for what seemed like every meal. They would be fresh from the garden when in season or, during the winter, they would come from her reserves of “put up” vegetables that had been canned and stored. By the time I was about 10, I couldn’t stand the sight of a green bean. Though it took years to reawaken, my love of green beans did eventually return.

All of this cooking and storing of green beans and the bounty of summer took place in the makeshift “outdoor kitchen” that was nothing more than a concrete platform that was the roof of my grandparents’ storm cellar. The tools of this summer pop-up kitchen included a single garden hose, several dull paring knives, and a variety of galvanized buckets and tubs that had seen the better part of several decades. Beans, fruits, and vegetables of all sorts were initially washed and left to air dry on the shaded expanse of the concrete roof, which remained cool from the deep burrow below in the hot summers.  Kids and adults alike gathered there in random pairs to shuck, peel, and prod those fruits and vegetables into a cleaner, more manageable form that would then be moved from the outdoors to the “real” kitchen inside. In her small kitchen, my grandmother would boil, serve, save, can, freeze, and generally use every scrap of food that came from the garden—a tended plot large enough to serve extended family and close friends. The preserved treasures would then move from the house, back outside and into the cool depths of the storm cellar to await their consumption—just below the makeshift kitchen, and alongside a family of spiders and crickets who made that dark place home.

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I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, but by offering up that summer kitchen to any willing hand (and by serving all of those green beans), my grandmother was providing love and nourishment the only way she knew how—while teaching all of us kids the usefulness and practicality of growing our own food. Stories unfolded over those buckets of produce, and because of her patience and generous time sitting on the edge of that storm cellar, I learned that food could be used to pass down a love of nature, the earth, family tradition, and culture.

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THE FACTORY CAFÉ CHEF SERIES: THE KITCHEN SISTERS

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This May, Alabama Chanin is featuring two of my personal heroines (and, now, dear friends) as part of our ongoing Chef Series at the café. They might not be chefs, but Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva are The Kitchen Sisters—independent producers who create radio stories for NPR and other public broadcast outlets. Davia and Nikki are two of the most genuine and real women I know. Without their dedication to telling the real story, I would not be the person I am today. Route 66 changed my perception of storytelling in the autumn of 1994. I remember the first moment I heard their tracks: in the third story of a rented house on a square in Savannah, Georgia. Just like that, my life changed.

Davia and Nikki met and began collaborating in the late 1970s, hosting a weekly radio program in Santa Cruz, California. Their name was taken from two eccentric brothers—Kenneth and Raymond Kitchen—who were stonemasons in Santa Cruz in the 1940s. One night, they were discussing the Kitchen Brothers, who were featured in a book about Santa Cruz architects, as prep for an interview with the book’s author—while also cooking dinner for a group of people on the commune where Nikki lived—and got caught up in legends of local masonry (chimneys, yogi temples, Byzantine bungalows…), and food prep fell to the wayside. Dinner that evening was a disaster, and The Kitchen Sisters were (laughingly) born.

Oral histories heavily influenced their style of radio production. Over the years, they have produced a number of series, such as Lost & Found Sound, The Sonic Memorial Project, The Hidden World of Girls, and Hidden Kitchens. Regardless of topic, Davia and Nikki find a way to build community through storytelling.

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THE BLACKBERRY FARM COOKBOOK

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For several years now, Alabama Chanin has drawn ideals from the Slow Food movement (Slow Design is rooted in the tenets of the movement)—a philosophy we share with Blackberry Farm. We are currently featuring some of their goods and recipes on our café menu and are excited to be holding a Weekend Away Workshop there this June.

A few years ago, Sam Beall, proprietor of Blackberry Farm, wrote a cookbook that he hoped would reflect what he and others involved at Blackberry Farm experience every day and that would inspire readers to not only enjoy the recipes born from the Farm but encourage them to “savor [their] own region, meal by meal.”

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BLACKBERRY FARM’S GREEN TOMATO PIE

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It is no secret that Southerners love green tomatoes. We fry them, pickle them, stew them, bake them in pies, and even write books about them. Readily available at the beginning and ending of each summer season, this under-ripe fruit has a firm flesh and an acidic, sour taste—which allows them to be used in an array of dishes.

The Factory Café has been featuring Blackberry Farm’s recipe for Green Tomato Pie on the menu this month, as part of our ongoing Chef Series. The dish’s popularity has been evident the past few weeks—as soon as patrons spot the words “Green Tomato” on our menu, they cannot resist ordering.

The chefs at Blackberry Farm suggest selecting medium-size green tomatoes, since larger ones can have woody, inedible cores and clumps of bitter seeds.

From The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm, page 109:

“Here is our classic twist on a classic Southern favorite, red tomato layered pie. We borrow the flavor and textures of the traditional accompaniments to fried catfish- tart lemon, creamy tartar sauce, and fried hush puppies- and present them in an untraditional way: Green tomato stands for lemon to provide the acid, buttermilk mayonnaise and cheese provide the creamy richness of the tartar sauce, and the flaky crust that holds it all together stands in for the hush puppies.

The lard and the buttermilk contribute flakiness and great flavor to this pie crust, but the real secret to its tenderness is the rolling method. Folding the dough onto itself and rolling it out several times forms thin layers within the dough. When the fat melts in the heat of the oven, the evaporation of moisture contained in the tiny space between the layers forces each layer to rise, just like in puff pastry.”

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BLACKBERRY FARM’S ZUCCHINI CAESAR SALAD

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This month, we are featuring Blackberry Farm and Chef Joseph Lenn as part of our ongoing Chef Series here at The Factory. As promised, we are sharing our favorite recipes with you; this week, a twist on a simple spring salad.

From The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm, page 121:

“When the garden and farmer’s markets are overflowing with zucchini, it’s time for this salad, which pairs lovely long threads of sweet raw zucchini with a creamy yet light dressing and Blackberry’s twist on Italian frico, made with our own Singing Brook cheese (Pecerino Toscano is a very appropriate substitute).”

The café is serving Blackberry Farm’s Zucchini Caesar Salad alongside our Quiche Lorraine and local greens. Stop by The Factory Café this week and explore our menu, or recreate the tasty dish yourself.

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SHORT STACK EDITIONS

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Short Stack is a beautiful series of small-format, hand-bound publications that are half cookbook, half food magazine. Each 4 1/2” x 7 1/2” edition is inspired by a single ingredient and written by an array of chefs, cookbook authors, and food writers. To sum it up, Short Stack Editions are a food-lovers’ pocket-sized dream—and are as functional as they are collectible. (Our staff has been poring over the volumes since their arrival at The Factory.)

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INTRODUCING THE FACTORY CAFÉ CHEF SERIES: JOSEPH LENN + BLACKBERRY FARM

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Beginning today, Alabama Chanin is launching a Chef Series for The Factory Café. Each month, we will feature seasonal dishes on our menu from chefs (or restaurants) that share our values of celebrating place, artisanal craftsmanship of all kinds, and, simply said, good food.

Our focus through these collaborations will be on regional chefs and regionally-inspired cuisine—dishes that we can recreate in our café by locally sourcing ingredients. In the upcoming year, The Factory will host brunches, dinners, book signings, and even cooking and cocktail workshops with an array of chefs.

A few years ago, I made an extraordinary trip to Blackberry Farm, located in beautiful Walland, Tennessee, on the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Ever since that first journey (thanks to friends at the Southern Foodways Alliance), I’ve had a deep appreciation and respect for the artisans and chefs working at the Farm—and have loved using their cookbooks in my own kitchen.

From making biscuits to hosting an upcoming Weekend Away Workshop, my relationship with Blackberry Farm has grown over the years. So, I was thrilled when Chef Joseph Lenn and Blackberry Farm agreed to launch our Chef Series in the month of April.

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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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