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).
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.)
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.