Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Warm Curried Fruit

Here's a short note and an easy recipe for a traditional and unique side for your holiday table. Christmas is just days away and my kitchen is filled with groceries, mulling spices, and two little ones in the floor with monster trucks and tea sets. Experiencing Christmas with my children is a gift like nothing else. Their excitement is literally contagious. I am grateful for every second of the season.
Curried fruit is an old Southern holiday favorite. It's not as common as it once was, but it is worth revisiting. It's divine with roasted duck, turkey and I'm serving it for Christmas dinner with a standing rib roast. Enjoy every bite and each single blessing of Christmas.

Warm Curried Fruit

Serves 6 to 8

1 (20-ounce) can pineapple chunks in 100% juice

1 (15-ounce) can pear halves in 100% juice

2 (15-ounce) cans sliced peaches in 100% juice

3/4 cup dried cherries

1/2 cup dried raspberries

1/2 cup chopped dried strawberries

1/3 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Lightly spray a 7 by 11-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Drain the pineapple chunks, pear halves, and sliced peaches and toss the fruit together in a large mixing bowl. Reserve the juice for another use. Add the cherries, raspberries, strawberries, and pecans and stir well.

Pour into the prepared baking dish.

Melt the butter in the microwave. Stir the brown sugar, curry, and vinegar into the hot butter. Pour over the fruit.

Bake for 45 minutes. Serve warm.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Serve Up a Stuffed Stocking

Christmas stockings are not just for children. If stuffed with the best items, they can be great fun for grown-ups too. I remember mine from childhood very well. My sister and I both had stockings that we colored way before we could stay in the lines. The older I became, my stocking was filled with more and more practical gifts each Christmas. As a teenager, it turned into a plethora of toiletries like toothpaste and cotton swabs. Now, with stockings hanging on my own mantel, stuffing them with fun little things is one of my favorite traditions.

After three emails last week asking for Christmas gift suggestions, I thought I’d share my list of can’t-live-without tools that will create a cook’s dream stocking. They are small in size but make a big difference in the kitchen.

RSVP Spice Measuring Spoons

Microplane Stainless Steel Zester (without the handle)

Kuhn Rikon Corn Zipper

Oxo Mini Angled Measuring Cup

Joyce Chen Kitchen Shears

Progressive International Magnetic Measuring Spoons

Jar Pop jar opener

Lemon Squeezer

Oxo Bag Cinch

Messermeister Pro Serrated Swivel Peeler

Small offset spatula

Peugeot salt and pepper grinders

Cork Pops Original Wine Bottle Opener

The one item I don’t own, but would love to find in my stocking (hint for Santa…) is a Thermapen thermometer.

I always get asked where I shop for items in my own kitchen. I teach a lot of classes at my favorite shop, The Cook's Warehouse in Atlanta. The store has every kitchen tool you can imagine, as well as a deal on shipping for the holidays.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sipping, Shucking, Slurping, and Reflecting

I try to use Thanksgiving as a time to truly appreciate the year and be mindful of all my blessings. After all, if you can’t be thankful on that day, there’s a problem. I am a big believer in blessings and it’s been a year full of them. My children are healthy, my home is comfortable, and my family is happy. The truly important things in life are all incredibly good.
We have a family oyster roast on Thanksgiving eve each year. We bundle up, head outside, sip on a fun cocktail, and shuck and slurp our way to the satisfaction that only comes from a full stomach. It was during this meal last year that I announced to my parents about having a book contract on the way.
During this same ritual last week, I kept thinking about that night one year ago when I was bursting with the news until the right moment emerged. As I shucked oyster after oyster, I couldn’t help but think how much has happened in one year. The very same book that was news rolling off my tongue has now shipped to the printer. It’s hard to believe. One bushel from the Gulf later (tasting as wonderful as ever, I might add) and it was a night filled with briny simplicity and good memories.Cookbooks have been such a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember. Even in high school, I found comfort in cookbooks. With food, I had a place to fit in. My ultimate goal in college was to work as a food editor of cookbooks as a career. As soon as I started my job as an assistant food editor with Oxmoor House, it’s like I found what I was meant to do.
I’d written two regional books before, but I knew that I wanted this book to be different. I embarked on the traditional journey that so many authors know too well. I started working on getting an agent. Once that hurdle was behind me, I listened and learned from her each step of the way. If a journey isn’t filled with lessons, it’s one that’s not worth taking. I can certainly say this one was jam-packed and I’m a better person because of it today.On the day my agent called with the news that we had a publishing contract, I can’t really describe how I felt. I cried. I laughed. I danced in the kitchen. It was amazing. The closest comparison I can make are the moments I learned I was pregnant with each of my children. I didn’t know the details, but I knew that my life just got better.
With the year behind me, I can only wish that I could kick off the next one standing at the press as the first page rolls off. Quick-Fix Southern (Andrews McMeel) will be released on March 8, 2011.

Pomegranate Tonic

3 cups tonic water
3/4 cup orange flavored vodka
1/2 cup Pomegranate juice
Pomegranate seeds, for garnish

Combine the tonic water, vodka, and juice in a pitcher. Serve over ice in rocks glasses. Garnish with pomegranate seeds.
Serves 6

Monday, November 1, 2010

Vegetarians Beware

All cookbooks that enter the Lang household start out in one place: the bedroom. I have spent many nights in bed, propped on my pillows, reading countless cookbooks.

After tucking in with Jean Anderson’s new book, Falling Off the Bone, I woke to the thought that this book has earned both a spot on the reference shelf in my office and a place on my kitchen counter.

I am not a girl to go long without a steak and I’ve always thought of red meat as a lifelong friend. Just at first glance, this book was right up my alley. I have been a fan of Jean’s for years. Her book, A Love Affair with Southern Cooking, is one of my favorite books of all time. When I learned Falling Off the Bone was being released, I knew I wanted a copy. I find myself impressed again.

Falling Off the Bone takes tough cuts of meat and shows readers how to cook them slowly and perfectly to make meals that are not only economical, but also incredibly comforting. The cooking teacher in Jean comes through so the information is clear and educational. The chapters (beef, veal, lamb, pork) are complete with diagrams of cuts of meat and where they come from on the animal. She also includes a dictionary of ingredients, time saving tips, and a list of kitchen gadgets that make life easier. Each chapter even has information on nutrition, storage, and the best uses for each cut.

Most importantly, the recipes are really good. The recipes are clear, obviously well written, and precise. (As a recipe writer myself, I truly respect a well-written recipe.)

With so many great recipes, I had a hard time trying to decide what recipe to make for my family’s supper after trick or treating. I chose a stew of lamb and peppers. We came home, hands chilled, legs tired from walking the neighborhood, and stomachs growling. With the opening of the back door, the house really smelled like home and dinner was ready, without any last minute work. Perfect.

I thought the stew was so pretty when I pulled it from the oven, I ran for my camera. Jean's recipe is below.


Makes 6 Servings

When I was growing up in the “small-town South,” my Midwestern mother often served lamb to the horror of southern neighbors who wouldn’t touch it. Pork and chicken were their meats of choice with more expensive beef a close third. At long last the South has embraced lamb. Even farmer’s markets sell it, pampered organic lamb grazed on pesticide-and herbicide-free meadows. What I’ve done here is update one of my mother’s hearty lamb stews for today’s tastes. She’d be appalled by the amount of garlic, and to my knowledge, had never heard of prosciutto.

3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut in 1-inch cubes

1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour mixed with 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon each freshly ground black pepper, crumbled dried leaf rosemary and thyme (seasoned flour)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 ounces prosciutto, finely diced

2 large yellow onions, halved lengthwise and each half cut in 2-inch wedges

2 large red bell peppers, halved lengthwise, cored, seeded, and each half cut in 2-inch wedges

2 large yellow or orange bell peppers, halved lengthwise, cored, seeded, and each half cut in 2-inch wedges

8 large garlic cloves, smashed and skins removed

2 large whole bay leaves (preferably fresh)

2 cups dry red wine such as Valpolicella, Merlot, or Cabernet (about)

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.

2. Dredge lamb, a few pieces at a time, by shaking in a large plastic zipper bag with seasoned flour and set aside.

3. Heat oil in a large heavy nonreactive Dutch oven over moderately high heat until ripples appear on pan bottom—1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

4. Add prosciutto and stir-fry until lightly browned—2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, scoop to paper toweling to drain.

5. Brown dredged lamb in several batches in oil, allowing 8 to 10 minutes per batch and lifting each to a bowl as it browns.

6. Add onions, red and yellow bell peppers, garlic, and bay leaves to pot and sauté, stirring often, until limp—about 5 minutes. Return prosciutto and lamb to pot along with accumulated juices, add wine, and bring to a boil.

7. Cover, slide onto middle oven shelf, and braise until lamb is fork-tender—about 2 hours. Check pot now and then and if liquid seems skimpy, add a little more wine. Discard bay leaves, taste for salt and pepper, and adjust as needed.

8. Serve hot with boiled brown or white rice, buttered broad noodles, boiled or mashed potatoes. I even like this stew ladled over baked sweet potatoes, halved and plumped.

Excerpted from Falling Off the Bone ©2010 Jean Anderson.
Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Connection at the Cotton Gin

As a chaperone on my son’s field trip, I had an experience yesterday that most people will never have. The preschool outing was to the Bostwick Cotton Gin in Bostwick, Georgia. This is the very same cotton gin that, so many years ago, my grandmother and her family relied on to remove the seeds from their freshly picked cotton. On our visit, the gin was running, the noise was almost intolerable, and cotton was swirling in the air like snow. I had two thoughts (besides keeping an eye on the few children that were around me). One was a new appreciation for the clothes on my back and the people who make those threads possible. The other was how hard Tom, my grandmother, and her family worked to get the bills paid and put food on the table.
Tom grew up a few miles from the gin and growing cotton was a way of life. The house, flanked by a row of pecan trees, still stands up on a hill. At first glance the farm looks eerily the same as when it I was a child.
The cotton had to be picked, loaded, and taken several miles down the road to the gin. We all complain about how hard our lives are today, but really. Compared to 80 years ago, we are all on permanent vacation.
My son, being 5 years old, can’t grasp the amazing fact that his great-grandmother quite possibly stood in the same spot and watched cotton emerge as a clean white bale, just as he did yesterday. I can, and I’m incredibly grateful for the few minutes we had to connect with our past.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Recipe That Almost Died

I have a passion for making recipes that my grandmother, Tom, cooked for our family. Tom and I documented her recipes during her late nineties (when she felt more like an average 70-year-old). But there is one recipe I never approached until now. I'm not sure why I almost let this recipe die with her. Maybe I was scared and maybe it was painful. My sweet, sweet grandmother died in January 2003. Two weeks ago was the first time I tasted her incredible Scuppernong Hull Pie since she’s been gone.

Her pie recipe was personal, distinct, historical, and only Tom had made this pie. The house I grew up in had a glorious scuppernong arbor in the backyard. It had been there for decades and the vine that emerged from the black soil was as large as my thigh. On warm fall afternoons, the sweet smell of the golden grapes filled even the screen porch when the breeze blew towards the house.

Fall always brought some long awaited pleasures. Most importantly, it ushered in the recipe that was worth waiting a year to taste. As children, my sister and I would help the grown-ups by taking empty bowls out to the arbor and fill them slowly, one little orb at a time. Each and every one of us picked the grapes for one purpose and one reason only. The pie.

I remembered the pie like my last bite was yesterday. The crust was flaky, tender, unsweetened and the perfect companion for the sugary filling. The hulls were overly sweet, with a tinge of sourness when they were crushed between my teeth. No pulp, no fancy stuff, just hulls and sugar.

A few weeks ago, I bit the bullet, sucked up my hesitation, and bought some scuppernongs. My parents sold the house we still call home, and unfortunately, the arbor went with it. I found some scuppernongs (a type of muscadine native to the South) from my local co-op. I pulled out Tom’s handwritten recipe from the safe-deposit box, made a copy that could get dirty, and got to work.

I knew no matter what, my pie would not be as good as the ones that Tom brought over, still warm from her oven. In the last two weeks, I have made the pie several times over, cried a few tears, purchased more and more scuppernongs, and missed Tom with each bite.

I not only satisfied a craving that was years in the making, but I also connected with the past and one of the most important people in my life. Pick up a family recipe and share.

Tom’s Scuppernong Hull Pie


8 cups (2 1/2 pounds) scuppernongs

2 cups sugar


2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup Crisco shortening

1/3 cup ice water

1 large egg, beaten

2 tablespoons water

To make the filling, place about 8 grapes at a time in a stockpot or deep mixing bowl. Use a potato masher to squeeze grapes, a few a time. The pulp (containing seeds) should be squeezed out. Transfer the hulls to a mixing bowl. Leave the pulp and any juice in the stockpot as you squeeze more grapes. Continue to mash all the grapes. You should have about 4 1/2 cups of hulls.

Pour the pulps and juice through a fine strainer. You should have about 1 cup of juice. Add enough water to the juice to make 2 cups. Reserve pulps for another use.

Combine the hulls, juice, and water in a clean stockpot over medium heat. Cook, covered, for 15 minutes.

Add sugar to the hull mixture. Simmer, uncovered, for 40 minutes. The hulls will look like preserves. The mixture will be thickened and syrupy. Remove from the heat and cool completely. The filling can be made up to one day ahead and stored covered in the refrigerator.

As the filling cools, make the piecrust. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flour and salt together. Use a pastry blender to cut the shortening into the flour mixture. Sprinkle in ice water and stir just until all the flour is damp. Gather into two equal-sized mounds and wrap each mound in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Working with one mound at a time (leaving the other mound in the refrigerator) roll out dough on a floured surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch glass pie dish. Trim the dough overhang to 1/2 inch. Pour the cooled filling into the crust. Roll out second dough mound on a floured surface to 12-inch round and place on top of the filling. Trim the edges to 1/2 inch. Press the edges of the dough together, fold edges under, and use 3 fingers to flute the edges.

Whisk together egg and 2 tablespoons of water. Brush the top crust lightly with egg mixture. Use a very sharp, small knife to cut slits in the center of the crust for the pie to vent.

Place pie on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the crust is browned, about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes: 1 (9 inch) pie

Copyright © 2010 Rebecca Lang Cooks, LLC

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Better Brown Bag

With the school year in full swing, I find myself making a lunchbox for my 5-year-old three days a week. He looks forward to the days that he stays at school for lunch and loves every minute of eating with his friends. I’m also a mom who likes to pack lunches when we are in the car for much of the day. My homemade food is always a better choice than anything I can find in a drive-through.

Whether the lunch is for little ones or for grownups to enjoy at a desk, the brown bag is now taking a turn for the better. Dress up that lunch away from home to be a meal that makes the morning worth the wait. With a little style, any brown bag lunch can be as delectable as lunch at your favorite restaurant.

Take some time to choose the perfect lunch box to encourage the family to be excited about the midday meal. Lunchboxes vary almost as much as sandwiches. There are cooler bags, metal boxes, cartoon printed containers, plastic cartons, and many more. Brown bags are compostable, so they are always a good choice. For a reusable option, I like insulated lunch bags and reusable (and dishwasher safe) sandwich bags. Check out for an almost endless array of options.

Don’t forget food safety when lunch is away from home. It’s simple - cold foods need to stay cold and hot foods should be hot. Use a thermos for liquids. For an extra cold thermos, rinse it with ice water before filling. For hot items, rinse it with hot water first. Ice packs are a must for a properly packed lunchbox. Clean-up after lunch is part of the challenge of lunches on the go. Load up a small pack of baby wipes in each box for quick hand wipes or desktop crumb cleaning.

Small Children
Because kids don’t like too much change with their food, making lunchboxes for little ones can be difficult. Try cutting vegetables and sandwiches with fun shaped cookie cutters. Put cheese on candy apple sticks (these don’t have the pointy ends like skewers). Add a sticker or fun notes to the lunchbox for a special treat.
Keep cool items cool by freezing little water bottles or juice boxes. By lunch, they will have thawed and kept lunch cold in the meantime. Try pasta salads with noodles in exciting shapes like letters and animals.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Stars

2 slices whole wheat bread
All-natural crunchy peanut butter
Favorite flavor of jelly

Spread peanut butter on one side of one slice of bread and jelly on remaining bread slice. Combine bread slices with peanut butter and jelly touching each other. Use a star-shaped cookie cutter to cut out sandwiches.

It’s all about the look for teenagers and their lunches. The lunchbox must be cool and the food can’t be worthy of gossip. Lunchtime favorite spreads like hummus and spinach artichoke dip are wonderful on pita chips or toasted bread. Muffins can be nutritious and filling for a long afternoon of classes. New tea blends are quite a luxury packed in a thermos.
Pack up snack mixes with nuts and dried fruit or granola. With a low-fat vanilla yogurt to make a quick parfait, lunch is healthy and mirrors a coffee house favorite. Wraps are also a popular way to get some nutrition in a busy teenager.

Black Bean Hummus

2 garlic cloves
1/2 - 1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Tortilla Chips or Pita Chips

Pulse garlic and jalapeno in food processor until minced. Add beans, tahini, lime juice and process for one minute, stopping once to scrape down the sides.
Add olive oil in slow stream while food processor is running. Add salt and pepper.
Serve with tortilla chips or pita chips.

Makes 1 1/2 cups

Saving money is one of the best perks of making your lunch. Since you’re already saving, choose an above average sandwich, like goat cheese and roasted peppers, to treat yourself. Try eating lunch outside of the office for a change of scenery. Saving time and gas by not going out to lunch is yet another benefit.
Leftovers often make the best lunches. Save that leftover morning coffee and take it along for icing down for a noontime pick-me-up. Grilled veggies from the weekend can make a Monday lunch the best. Add a good piece of bread and lunch is a mini gourmet break from the work day.

Chevre and Cucumber Sandwiches

4 ounces garlic and herb goat cheese, room temperature
1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
1 English cucumber
1/2 (16-ounce) loaf very thin whole wheat bread

Mix goat cheese and cream cheese together using rubber spatula.
Slice English cucumber into 1/8-inch slices.
Spread each of 14 slices bread with 2 teaspoons goat cheese mixture. Top 7 slices of bread with 4 slices cucumber. Top with remaining slices bread. Remove crust and slice each sandwich into 2 or 4 triangles.

Serves 6 to 8

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Stir Until Famous

Recently I had a student in a community culinary program assisting me on a job, and when I asked her what she wanted to do after graduation she said, “Get my own TV show.” If you’ve been in the food business you know that is about as realistic as me saying I am going to retire on lottery winnings.

When I inquired what she planned on doing before she got her own show, she told me that having a show was pretty much all she was interested in. This is not the first time I’ve heard this type of career plan. I actually hear it quite often.

In this age of celebrity chefs, it seems that so many are entering the food business with hopes of becoming famous instead of dreams of becoming the most knowledgeable cooks possible. I hope the desire to absorb endless amounts of culinary knowledge is not being lost to the hunger to be famous.

In the search for fame, it is now commonplace for people who simply enjoy cooking to declare themselves food experts, as opposed to the time-honored method of earning that distinction. It seems to be increasingly easy when any and everything can be promoted online. Maybe the days of reaching career goals by gaining experience and soaking up knowledge are over.

I wonder if this is happening in other fields as well? No matter the field, it seems sad to me. A deliberate decision to attempt a shortcut to a dream is to miss out on all the lessons a journey can offer. Reaching the destination also becomes a lot less sweet.

When I started on my career path 12 years ago, I never considered skipping all the tough work and landing at the finish line. Those of you who have worked in a production kitchen know what I mean. And I must say the dues I’ve paid along the way have been worth every penny. Countless times I’ve worked in front of a stove until the wee hours of the night (when my legs and back were done hours before quitting time). I burned the hairs off my forearms on several occasions until I learned better. I’ve run a steamy Hobart so long that my hair was soaked through as if I’d been swimming. Waiting tables for people who considered me beneath them was yet another payment made into my dues account.

I distinctly remember a morning during culinary school when I walked into the building at 5:30 in the morning in the pouring rain. I had parked many blocks away, it was pitch dark outside, and it was already a very warm Charleston day. I was taking meat-cutting class at the time and was wearing 3 layers on both the top and bottom just to keep my knife hand from shivering in the 40˚ classroom. I recall thinking that I was working towards something much bigger, that I was paying my dues.

I will stick with my philosophy even if hard work is going out of style. If you want to reach your lofty goals, you have to do a lot of jobs that you really don’t want to do. And most importantly, learn from them.

To illustrate the food business, think of it as my favorite dessert, a ten layer caramel cake. There are layers of many levels of professionals and amateurs that make up the business that feeds the world. It takes all levels, from start-up home-based businesses resting on the cake plate to those who have invested years to reach the top layer. There is a place for all the layers and each and every one is necessary to keep the cake from collapsing. Talented and hardworking cooks certainly deserve their own piece of the cake.

At this stage in my career, I have written 3 cookbooks and countless articles, taught hundreds of cooking classes, and appeared regularly on national television. I consider myself truly blessed to make a living doing what I love to do. And I don’t believe I could do my job to the best of my ability without a solid foundation of education and experience.

Appearing on television and in the pages of magazines is simply icing on a really good cake. It’s just not the reason to preheat the oven.

To end on a very sweet note, here’s my grandmother’s recipe for caramel cake.

Tom’s 1-2-3-4 Cake

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 cups sugar

4 large eggs, separated

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

Tom’s Caramel Icing

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Grease and flour 3 (8-inch) light-colored cake pans. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer for about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the egg yolks one at a time. Add the vanilla extract.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Add the flour to the butter mixture, alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the batter using a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans.

Bake at 350°F for 23 to 26 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into middle of the cakes comes out clean.

Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and cool completely on cooling racks. Frost with Tom’s Caramel Icing.

Makes 3 (8-inch) cake layers

Tom’s Caramel Icing

2 cups sugar

1 (5-ounce) can evaporated milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup unsalted butter

Combine the sugar and the evaporated milk in a medium heavy saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly until all the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.

Bring to a rolling boil over medium heat. Boil for 4 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1 1/2 minutes.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and carefully stir in the vanilla extract and the butter. Stir constantly until the butter is melted.

Let the icing cool for about 5 minutes before spreading on the cooled cake layers. If the icing begins to look grainy as it cools, whisk a few times. Spoon about 1/3 cup of icing in between the layers and spread the rest over the top and sides of the cake. The icing will set as it cools on the cake.

Copyright © 2010 Rebecca Lang Cooks, LLC

Friday, August 6, 2010

If Only a Fork Could Talk

A trip to our family storage building is always an adventure. What could be a chore for others becomes a magical ride back in time as the door rolls up. On a recent trip, my mother removed two boxes of old canning jars, a dusty cookie tin that was oddly heavy, and my dad’s childhood camping skillet. She delivered them to my house and the stack of treasures sat at my basement door, virtually ignored, for several weeks. (So long that I actually forgot the exact contents.)

Yesterday, I dug into the boxes, washed each jar and set them out to dry. On opening the tin (after several minutes of prying on the lid) I found old, scratched, dented, and very much-loved silver plate flatware. I hand washed each piece and enjoyed every minute.

On picking up a fork, I noticed two initials I didn’t recognize. After calling my parents to investigate just exactly who once owned the set, I learned that it probably belonged to my great-grandmother. I, of course, never met her, but now I can wrap my hand around the silverware she used to serve her meals. It’s almost overwhelming.

I picture my grandfather as a little boy complaining about his vegetables while waving his fork around. I imagine my great-grandfather coming in famished from the farm and to devour supper with place setting now on my counter. It’s hard to have never known these people, my people. I’m sure this silver plate could give me a glimpse into their life around the table. If only a fork could talk.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What Would They Say?

After asking a produce department employee when the okra would be coming in, I received the answer, “It’s always in. We have another shipment tomorrow.” A stupid question on my part – there are no seasons anymore. If our great-grandparents could see our grocery stores today, what would they say?

Would they sit in amazement that we can slice through a plump tomato in January? Would they cringe at the mealy texture and bland flavor? Would their eyes grow wide while walking through the produce department only to find Spanish Clementines, Peruvian sweet onions, and Chilean grapes? Would they laugh at the price on anything labeled as natural?

Would they take in the selection of fish and shellfish with overwhelming awe? Might they wonder why shrimp from Thailand are cheaper than those caught from waters just a few hours away?

Where did we get off track with our food? Was it the interstate system, refrigerated trucks, or the desire to have more, spend more, just in order to hopefully have it all? Was it TV dinners, microwaves, or fast food? Where did the simple concept of eating what is around you, at the time it’s in season, go wrong?

My father, a former farmer, often chuckles at me as I talk about paying $4.00 for an organic tomato or rave about a grass-fed beef farmer. What was his way of life is now chic. I’m sure my grandparents, much less my great-grandparents, would laugh out loud that I stand in line to buy silver queen corn, eggs, and lettuce from farmers near my house. How would they react to the fact that, on occasion, my Volvo can easily be the least-expensive car in the lot of locavores?

Only two generations ago, what came from the farm was the way of life. Pork was salted and put up for winter, milk was from the cow outside, and vegetables were left on the vine until they were ready to eat. If it wasn’t grown on the family farm, or came from a neighbor, it wasn’t eaten. Now, those of us that can afford it, pay a premium for food grown close-by.

We live in a world that we helped to create. Food from other areas of the world is often cheaper than that from home. Finding anything not “made in China” is difficult, to say the least. Eating local, fresher, and better is for the fortunate. What would they say?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hell has Frozen Over

I ate store-bought pimento cheese. And I liked it.

Before today, hell would have frozen over before I ate pimento cheese from the grocery store. Each time I got near the dairy cooler, I cringed at the horrible tubs stacked up like wood filler at Home Depot. Each container of the Southern imposter glowed with a strange orange that I can only imagine resembles nuclear waste. I am positive that not even a tablespoon of it was made by Southern hands. In fact, some Yankee, obviously still intent on destroying the Confederacy, probably sends it down here simply in hopes of slowly killing us all, one slather at a time.

Today was a different day. While innocently shopping for a block of extra sharp Cracker Barrel cheddar cheese (for making a batch of my own pimento cheese this afternoon), I noticed a small container of cheese spread that actually looked like pimento cheese. Considering myself an expert in this sacred favorite, I actually even made sure no one was watching as I moved in for a better look. It’s from Pawley’s Island. Mmm. It’s made with real cheese with jalapenos. Mmmm…

I read the label and it’s something that could have come out of my own kitchen. I could pronounce each and every ingredient. I slip it into my cart and continue my shopping with a shade of shame. I feel as if I turned on my heritage, like trying to dull the accent in my voice, and in general, committed a cardinal Southern sin. I literally know no one that buys pimento cheese from the grocery store, and until today, I didn’t want to. I prayed no one will notice what was on the conveyor belt as my receipt grew from the register.

I actually waited several hours at home before I opened it and spread it on a cracker. With sweaty palms and a racing heart, I was still very uncomfortable with what I was doing. I often buy ingredients and products at the grocery that I haven’t tried. I like to be informed on what’s good and what’s not. But this…this crossed the line. What would my grandmother say?

On the first bite, I was shocked. Stunned really. This South Carolina pimento cheese was good. It’s not like mine, but it is pretty dang good. I’ll buy it again. It’s a little like finding out the truth about Santa. All I believed to be true about one of the most Southern of all foods has been altered. But I can adapt, especially if I can do with the creamy, comforting, slightly spicy spread on a big fat piece of white bread.