There is one food tradition that seems to cross all social, ethnic, and economic boundaries in the South: iced tea, particularly sweet tea. In the movie, “Steel Magnolias” Dolly Parton’s character referred to sweet tea as “the house wine of the South.” In many homes and most restaurants, this is certainly the case. But, why is iced tea such a staple in Southern homes? The history is more complicated than you might think.
Tea was introduced to the United States in South Carolina where it was grown in the late 1700s. In fact, South Carolina is the only state to have even grown tea commercially. It is believed that French botanist and explorer Andre Michaux imported it, along with many unique varieties of flowers. Iced tea began appearing in American cookbooks in the early 1800s, first as alcoholic punches. These first punches were made with green tea, rather than the black tea commonly used today.
Households began to keep iced tea on hand when refrigeration became popular – and with it, ice. The first known version of iced tea, as it is prepared today, was printed in 1879 in a publication called Housekeeping in Old Virginia. Recipe author Marion Tyree wrote that green tea should be boiled and steeped all day. Then, the preparer should “fill the goblets with ice, put two teaspoonfuls of granulated sugar in each, and pour the tea over the ice and sugar.” This first iced tea recipe also called for a lemon garnish.
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.
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.
We frequently talk about the heirloom aspect of our hand-made clothing, the timeless design and lasting quality that allows for an Alabama Chanin garment to be worn for years and, in some cases, passed along to a younger family member. While we know this to be true, we don’t often have the opportunity to witness a specific garment change and evolve over time. Perhaps a perfect example: my daughter, Maggie has been wearing the above dress for five years (and counting).
The dress was made for her, cut from an oliver + s pattern, when she was a curly headed, cherub faced two year old. Made with our organic cotton jersey in Butter and Natural, the dress has been through about a million washes and worn on too many occasions to count. It’s been stained, ripped, appliquéd (to cover the rips), and dyed blue (to cover the stains). No longer a dress but a summer top, she will not give it up.
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).