Friday, December 27, 2013

Lumbee Fish Market: As Fresh as Being on the Coast

[Note: This post, prepared originally for the NC Folklife Institute's NCFood blog, is hosted on the institute’s website, with excerpts and a link to the website posted here.] 

Drive to the beach along U.S. Highway 74 and tune in a local radio station. If you do, you might hear an ad for Lumbee Fish Market in Pembroke that is so intriguing that you want to visit. It’s a market with fish that you might not expect in a location about two hours inland from coastal waters.

Native Americans have lived in this region for centuries because streams and artesian wells provided an adequate water supply and fish were abundant in the wetland landscape of swamps, creeks, and pocosins. But do the local Native Americans, known as Lumbee, want only freshwater fish? 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Time for Persimmon Pudding

[Note: This post, prepared originally for the NC Folklife Institute's NCFood blog, is hosted on the institute’s website, with excerpts and a link to the website posted here.] 

Cool temperatures mean fall fruits and vegetables. When the summer temperatures drop, one tree becomes more noticeable as its round fruit ripens and takes on an orange-brown hue. Is it time to pick persimmons and make pudding?

Many of us remember days from childhood when we asked if the persimmons could be picked. Impatiently we had to wait until the fruit was ready. Picked too early, persimmons can leave a sharp or bitter taste. As many children learn, being patient and giving persimmons a long period to ripen (sometimes as long as until the first frost occurs) can improve the flavor. The extended time increases the sugars and decreases the acids that cause the bitterness.

Continue reading at the NCFood blog... 

Note: The family recipe of persimmon pudding at the end of the article will be reprinted with permission in Eating Appalachia by Darrin Nordahl that is scheduled for publication in early 2015 by Chicago Review Press.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Food, Service, and Prices from Yesterday at the Chicken Coop

[Note: This post, prepared originally for the NC Folklife Institute's NCFood blog, is hosted on the institute’s website, with excerpts and a link to the website posted here.] 

A few places serving food in our state are caught in a time warp and remain unchanged since the days that they opened. Price’s Chicken Coop, established in 1962, in the South End of Charlotte is definitely one. Seeing the name of Chicken Coop, you know exactly what to order.

The classic southern dish is fried chicken. Although just about every home in the South has a favorite family recipe, in the Charlotte area the preferred chicken is marinated in a secret blend for more than a day before being fried in peanut oil by the Price family. The prices are almost as popular as the chicken itself. A to-go chicken box is as low as $6.25, and a chicken sandwich only $3.40.

Friday, August 30, 2013

New Farmers in North Carolina: Karen Refugees

[Note: This post, prepared originally for the NC Folklife Institute's NCFood blog, is hosted on the institute’s website, with excerpts and a link to the website posted here.] 

More than 14,000 refugees have been resettled in North Carolina in the past decade, according to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. As these refugee communities grow, they are beginning to transform food traditions of our state and expand the agricultural offerings at farmers’ markets and farm-to-home deliveries provided through community-supported agriculture.

Open house at community farm of
Karen refugees provides opportunity
to observe agricultural achievements.
Just last year more than 2,000 refugees fleeing persecution in their homelands were resettled in North Carolina by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. More than 20 counties now serve as their homes, although the majority have been resettled in the Triad (Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point region), the Triangle (Wake, Durham, and Orange Counties), and the Charlotte metropolitan area.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Peach Dessert Competition: Taking Home First Place but No Leftovers

The first-place winner:
Peach Glazed Cheesecake with Blueberries
Nothing brings out a crowd better than a dessert competition where everyone can sample the entries. So it was when the Sandhills Farmers Green Market set aside a Saturday as Peach Day and announced a competition for the best peach dessert.

I knew that I wanted to attend. On a hot August day nothing can beat tasting all the peach desserts prepared for a contest. However, I wanted to be more than a bystander -- I decided to prepare an entry.  Because peach is my favorite fruit and the contest was in the heart of N.C. peach-growing territory, I quickly signed up to enter.

Setting the cheesecake on
the table for judging
The contest rules specified that each dessert had to be made with N.C. peaches, and each entry required two cups of peaches. After checking the rules, I immediately thought of an old family peach pie (listed at the end of the recent post on N.C. Food blog of N.C. Folklife Institute). Although this recipe is a family favorite, I began having doubts that it would compete well for creativity or appearance. It tastes great but looks like any other peach pie brought to potlucks or reunions in the summer. After lots of thought, I settled on a cheesecake recipe that I modified by adding a layer of sliced peaches on top in a peach glaze – as well as substituting peach moonshine for some flavoring.

Fresh blueberries from
C.V. Pilson Farm can accentuate any dessert.
For the cheesecake, I wanted to use more than only peaches from the farmers market and stopped by the week before the contest was held. Of course, I bought peaches – they had just been picked by Better Be Ellerbe Peaches (Ellerbe, NC). In addition, I bought farm eggs from Riley’s Ranch (Carthage, NC) and blueberries from C.V. Pilson Farm (Cameron, NC). The judges (who included the mayor, the chef of a restaurant known for using local products, the chef of the farm to table program, a TV producer, and the news anchor of a local radio talk show) would select the winners on flavor, appearance, quality, and creativity, and these local ingredients should help to create a successful entry.

Riley's Ranch has the best farm eggs.
The recipe is a four-step process, so it’s not a simple preparation. Even the glaze took extra effort. My chief critic during preparation was my wife, who is tougher than the judges on the Food Channel. Even though I was confident the recipe would be successful, she encouraged me to make the glaze more than once – I did ... four times ... just to make sure that nothing would go wrong on the final effort.

On the morning of the competition, I brought a nice looking cheesecake. The peach glaze itself required the minimum two cups of peaches. In addition, two more cups of sliced peaches decorated the cake’s top around blueberries in the center: very peachy indeed.

Nancy Fiorillo, mayor of Pinehurst,
awards first-place prize of $75.00
At the appointed time, I gathered near the judges area and waited for the results to be announced. I was hoping to place at least third in the contest. When Melanie Riley of Riley’s Ranch announced the third and second place winners (a peaches and cream pie and peach crepes respectively), I was disappointed that my entry had not been selected. When “peach glazed cheesecake” was announced as the first-place winner, I was really surprised and delighted.

After the contest I went to get the platter and the remaining cheesecake, but there was none to take home. It had all been eaten. I guess I have to make another one soon.

Want the recipe? (Remember that it's not simple.)

Peach Glazed Cheesecake with Blueberries


2 cups graham cracker crumbs
6 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons flour
¼ cup raw sliced almonds, chopped

Combine ingredients and press evenly onto bottom and sides of buttered 9x3-inch spring form. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes. Then continue with cheesecake portion.


3 eight-ounce cream cheese
¾ cup sugar
3 eggs 
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons peach moonshine
2 tablespoons vanilla
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind

Beat cream cheese until soft. Add sugar, blending thoroughly. Add eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition. Mix in lemon juice, moonshine, vanilla, and rind. Blend well. Put in spring form. Bake at 325 degrees for 40 minutes or until cake is firm. Then continue with sour cream layer.

Sour Cream Layer

2 cups sour cream
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

While cake is baking, blend sour cream, sugar, and vanilla. When cheesecake comes out of over, spread sour cream mix over cake and return to over for 12 more minutes. Cool cheesecake until it is room temperature before adding peach glaze.

Peach Glaze

2 cups peeled, sliced fresh peaches (approx. 4) 
½ cup water
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon peach moonshine

Place peaches and water in blender; cover and process until smooth. Pour pureed fruit into medium saucepan. Combine sugar and cornstarch, stirring well. Add sugar mixture to pureed peaches. Cook over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until mixture is thick and clear, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add butter and peach moonshine, stirring until smooth. Cool and set aside until room temperature.

Top Layer

2 cups peeled, sliced fresh peaches (approx. 4) 
1/2 cup blueberries 

Arrange peeled, sliced fresh peaches as needed in attractive pattern on top of the cheesecake. Pour peach glaze on top. Add blueberries around side or in center. Chill several hours or overnight.

Final Note: If not served immediately, sliced peaches may start to brown. Use Sure-Jell Ever-Fresh to stop browning. Dissolve 2 teaspoons Ever-Fresh in 2 tablespoons water; toss with peaches; refrigerate and serve within 8 hours.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Festival of the Peach: Candor Is the Scene

[Note: This post, prepared originally for the NC Folklife Institute's NCFood blog, is hosted on the institute’s website, with excerpts and a link to the website posted here.] 

Communities that spread over a multi-county area often unite each year for a common celebration. For the N.C. peach community, that event occurs on the third Saturday in July in Candor, a small town in Montgomery Country that brings everyone in the peach-growing Sandhills region together. Although Candor is the home of fewer than 900 residents, it hosts the N.C. Peach Festival because the peach is so important to its identity and its way of life.

The festival brings out peach
costumes as music is played.
Peaches are clearly the star attraction. Boxes, baskets, and bags of freshly picked fruit are sold on sides of streets, from the back of trucks, and at stands of service organizations and neighboring growers. A common sight is a heavy box of peaches being carried by a person navigating through the throngs of streetgoers.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sorghum Molasses: A Tradition Worth Preserving

Is sorghum molasses sweet and flavorsome for you, or is it a syrup that is sticky and sinister?

Although I only occasionally eat sorghum molasses, I’m sure that I would have learned how to make it if I had grown up on a farm. It was syrup that my father grew up eating regularly, and throughout adulthood he ate it as part of his daily supper -- only his was bought in a store.

Sorghum molasses is a rich, brown, sweet, thick syrup. Enjoying it with hot biscuits at breakfast is a tradition in the South. Sorghum molasses is also used on pancakes and hot cereals such as grits, and the syrup can be used as a sweetener in baking and cooking. Because most sorghum varieties are heat-tolerant, they once were very important for poor and rural people. Many Southerners grew up with sorghum as a sweetener when refined sugar was not readily available or affordable.

Impurities are skimmed off the juice
during boiling as it becomes concentrated.
Sorghum is a species of grass grown commonly as a fodder plant and for grain. Sweet sorghum – one of the varieties of sorghum that has a high sugar content -- is also grown for syrup production. Introduced into the United States from Africa, sorghum has been widely cultivated in the American South since the 1850s, although sorghum is not grown as frequently as it once was. In fact, sorghum syrup is harder to find than other syrups, and only a few family-owned farms in the South still operate sorghum cane mills.

Sign at the farm entrance
welcomes visitors.
When the Charles Martin Farm, in Jackson Springs, NC, invited the public to an “old-fashioned” demonstration, I jumped at the opportunity to see the process. First, the tall canes are cut and stripped of leaves. A worker feeds the stalks a few at a time into a roller mill, which traditionally was pulled by a horse or mule. As the stalks go through the mill, rollers extract a green juice by crushing the stalks. Next the juice is concentrated and purged of impurities by being boiled in a wood-fired evaporator pan. Even after the boiling process, the juice — now brown — still retains most of its nutrients and sugars. When it develops a thick, honey-like consistency, a metal ladle is used to transfer the syrup into a glass container. (If the syrup is still cloudy-looking, then it is not ready.)

The roller mill is typically operated
by animal power (mule or horse).
When I visited the Martin Farm, where sorghum molasses is made annually as a traditional family craft, I was one of the few spectators even though local print and broadcast media had publicized the event. Most of the spectators seem to be friends from neighboring areas who were joining again in a annual community activity. Because making syrup is very labor-intensive, its production has fallen drastically since World War II. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee now grow the most sorghum for syrup production in the South.  In middle to late October many of these states still have festivals that celebrate the sorghum harvest such as the ones in Caldwell County and Sampson County, N.C.

Stalks leaving the roller mill
have little juice remaining.
A previous generation would have told us that sorghum molasses is not only charming and flavorsome but nutritious as well. Perhaps we are missing an opportunity to come together and socialize as a community because sorghum molasses rarely has a place on our kitchen tables.

Note: An earlier version of post was published on the blog NCFOOD by the North Carolina Folklife Institute on Jan. 11, 2013. Components of the original post included in this one, which has been modified by minor edits and updates, are reprinted by permission from the North Carolina Folkife Institute.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Heirloom Seeds and Plants: Preserving State Food Traditions

[Note: This post, prepared originally for the NC Folklife Institute's NCFood blog, is hosted on the institute’s website, with excerpts and a link to the website posted here.] 

            Do you wish that you could grow the same vegetables that Grandma grew? The flavors that she tasted and the nutrients that she enjoyed are legendary, and many of us reminisce about how we miss the flavors of yesteryear. Because this desire to appreciate traditional foods is growing, a cultural movement to preserve heirloom seeds and plants has slowly but increasingly developed in our state. Efforts in the western counties, in particular, are significant.

Plants are grown for heirloom seed
production on farms in the South.
            To understand this trend, we first have to appreciate the difference between heirloom vegetables and their modern hybrids. Although many heirlooms date back more than 100 years, gardeners typically consider any plant introduced prior to 1951 (the year of the first hybridized plants) to be an heirloom variety. However, some date back centuries to the cultures of American Indians, and others can be traced to ancestral countries in Europe and Africa.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Bluegrass Jam: In Memory of Past Tunes and Passed Musicians

The cars and trucks parked outside an old, tattered wood-frame store that appears abandoned are the first hints that a bluegrass jam is about to begin. The sign by the side of the road with an adjacent post holding the oval frame for a missing Esso sign confirms the date. Stopping for an hour or more to connect to the spirit of tunes and musicians still revered can rejuvenate the soul.

The sign by the road tells the
date of the next bluegrass jam.
The oval frame for a missing sign
confirms that life is a-changing.

The jam sessions are held twice a month in a shady area behind the store, which has been a music scene in Chatham County since 1999. The musicians seem more interested in enjoying their own company and collaboration than in entertaining guests in front of their stage. These musicians meet in memory of Reno C. Sharpe who passed in 2009, and they perpetuate the values and memories of an era being smothered by the hustle and bustle of impersonal modern life where a person is more likely to send a text message than speak to a neighbor.

A short path from the store leads to
the area where the jam is held
My wife and I arrived only a few minutes after the session had started. The musicians outnumbered the audience. Nine musicians were on stage with only five people in the audience. She quickly observed that she was initially the only woman present, but soon other women arrived as well as young girls with older men who appeared to be their grandfathers. About an hour in the session, a female guitarist joined the musicians who warmly received her and then were delighted when she picked “Tennessee Waltz,” popular since the 1940s, for them to play when it was her turn to select a song. “It’s in C, y’all,” she coached the others for the right key before starting the tune. She also sang alone except for brief sections when a few of the men joined in. In other songs, her female voice combined eloquently with the lower male voices to create a beautiful harmony.

Photos are taken frequently, even by
young members of the audience.
Almost everyone had parked in the driveway in front of the store except three cars that had parked next to the bandstand. One musician, who seemed to be the oldest in the group, arrived late and left early, and he was one of the drivers who unquestionably had next-to-stage parking. The elevated stand, covered by a rusting sheet metal roof, even has a handicapped-accessible ramp for aging musicians who need a little help as he did and can no longer climb steps easily. The chatter among the musicians after a tune had ended indicated that the sheltered stage had been built in 2010.

The Eagle Scout project
improves the area where
the jam is held.
Twelve benches, all named in honor or memory of community members, enclose the stage in semi-circle patterns in an unmowed grassy area underneath huge, leafy trees that provide welcoming shade in summer months. A marker indicates that the benches were part of an Eagle Scout project by Jason Buchanan of Troop 900 in spring 2012. When I was there on a July morning, the audience changed seats and moved among the twelve benches — to stay out of the direct sunrays — as the temperature began to rise. A musician even commented, “It’s hot – just saw a dog chase a cat, and both were walking.”

The house rules specify that only acoustic instruments can be played. After an hour into the jam session, the group peaked with 14 musicians and instruments – nine guitars, one fiddle, two mandolins, one banjo, and one bass guitar. A bass fiddle also leaned against the rear wall behind the musicians, but no one ever played it. By the time the session ended, the number of musicians had dropped to 11.

The music was harmonious, even when nearby cows joined in with their own vocal parts. “I think the cows liked that one,” one guitar player said as a song ended to acknowledge the accompaniment of the bellowing bovines. When the next song ended, another musician remarked, “The cows want more.” Then as the group played and sang “Take These Chains from My Heart,” the last of Hank Williams’ number-one hits, the cows were quiet, perhaps in respect to the memories that the song and the musicians were evoking.

Jam members play by the rules.
As informal as the jam session is, it has etiquette rules and adheres to other expectations of a bluegrass jam. A newcomer in the audience observes how politely one musician is offered to “take the lead.” Before “Why Don’t You Tell Me So?” by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs can begin, the lead announces, “G chord.” Sometimes a musician asks, “Which way are you going?” Another time a musician is reminded that it’s his turn: “That’s yours, Mac.” At one point, “Whose turn is it next?” is answered with “It’s Paul’s turn, ain’t it?” When the lead singer for a song appears to forget some lyrics, a group member says encouragingly, “Just make one up.” When another song ends, “Y’all make me feel so good,” is heard from the stage. An occasional “Good job” is also heard before the next tune begins.

The audience moves occasionally
to find seats in the shade.
The next song was “Crying My Heart Over You,” a hit written in 1982 by Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Carl Butler, and Earl Sherry. The group moved seamlessly between songs with lyrics and others played as only instrumental tunes. As the sun continued to rise, the chords of “Down Yonder” rang out. The sweet blend of instrumental sounds makes it seem like the musicians play together much more frequently than twice a month — jam sessions at the Reno Sharpe Store are held on only the first and third Saturdays of each month, beginning at 10 a.m. In addition, a special annual celebration is held each August. (A video of a bluegrass jam inside the store with Mr. Sharpe — in the background by the window — uploaded in 2009 also helps to preserve these memories.)

The store maintains its ambiance
even though it is officially closed.
The store, built in the 1880s, was moved in 1920 to its current location. Reno C. Sharpe owned and operated the store with his brother after taking control from their grandfather in the 1940s, but it officially closed in 2003, only six years before Sharpe died. However, its history is another story – best told by the family themselves.

My morning was well spent — a time to observe a close-knit community come together and share cherished memories with their music. My only discomfort was the apparent rule that no song could end with applause from the audience. The musicians clearly deserved that usual tribute of appreciation, but perhaps at this place just showing up is all the appreciation that they need.

After the jam, the community continues to preserve memories by adopting a highway.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Celebrating Freedom: Understanding the Emancipation Proclamation

When we celebrate the Fourth of July, we rightfully embrace the Declaration of Independence. However, the freedoms that we cherish are only partially enshrined in that document. Without the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution, our liberties would be particularly constricted. Citizenship and its rights were also more clearly defined during American Civil War era and its aftermath, although clearly the Civil Rights Movement was indispensable for guaranteeing these rights to Americans who had long been denied them.

After the Civil War had ended, three Amendments to the Constitution were necessary to abolish slavery (13th), define citizenship (14th), and prohibit barriers to voting (15th). However, Congressional resolutions, such as the Crittenden Compromise, establish that the principal initial goal of the war was to preserve the Union, not to end slavery. As the war continued and thousands of lives were invested in establishing a “more perfect Union,” the goal of firmly dealing with slavery as a legal institution and ending its practice in the states in rebellion became equally prominent.

Even before President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Congress had sent him at least four acts significantly affecting the practice of slavery. The D.C. Emancipation Act ended slavery in the Capitol on April 16, 1862. On June 19, 1862, a law ended slavery in all current and future U.S. territories. In addition, two confiscation acts were passed to seize property from Confederate supporters in the South and emancipate their slaves who came under Union control. The Emancipation Proclamation broadened this effort and established the end of slavery as a wartime measure directed against the Confederacy.

Although limited in scope, the Emancipation Proclamation provided an additional foundation for national changes brought about by the constitutional Amendments ratified during Reconstruction. Because 2013 is the sesquicentennial anniversary of the issuance of the Proclamation, it and its preliminary version have received much attention. Even as significant as the Proclamation is in American history, it is often misunderstood and Lincoln's language “henceforward shall be free” is frequently misidentified as the provision that ends slavery.

Exhibit at the N.C. Museum of
History in 2013 included a copy
of the Preliminary Proclamation.
The exhibit Freedom Coming, Freedom for All at the North Carolina Museum of History in mid-2013 brought the preliminary Proclamation for public display. When I visited, only three others were present, and I wished more people were interested in seeing this historic document because few Americans have actually read the Proclamation. If they had, they would observe limitations of the document, unusual exceptions that significantly limit “henceforward shall be free,” different language than that typically associated with Lincoln such as his poetic Gettysburg Address, and the opportunity for Confederate states to avoid the authority of the Proclamation. In fact, reviewing the reaction of critics to the Proclamation also helps to place it in better focus.

Stamp issued in 2013
for the Proclamation's
sesquicentennial anniversary.
Much of the misunderstanding is caused by a tendency to reduce important and sometimes complex documents to only a few words or a catchy phrase such as “All men are created equal” as in the Declaration of Independence. The Emancipation Proclamation is often reduced to “henceforward shall be free,” as the U.S. Postal Service did when it issued a stamp in 2013 to mark the sesquicentennial of the Proclamation. (However, contrast the assertive language of this stamp with the plain stamp issued in 1963.)

First and importantly, the Proclamation did not apply to all states. Exempt were the border states of Maryland, Missouri, Kentucky, and West Virginia where slavery remained legal. In addition, areas of states that had seceded were also except such as parts of Virginia and Louisiana. In fact, the entire state of Tennessee was excluded. Also lost in the passage of time is the irony that the effective date of the Proclamation was known in the South as “Hiring Day.” Many owners “rented out” enslaved workers who were three to five times more likely to be hired out than bought or sold. Throughout the South, New Year’s Day serving as “Hiring Day,” and hiring contracts ran from January 1 to December 25. Thus, the Proclamation became effective on the day that new hiring contracts were also effective.

The stamp issued in 1963 for the
Proclamation's centennial celebration
did not include the assertive language
of the 2013 stamp.
Even though the Proclamation is often interpreted as specifically making the end of slavery a goal of the war for the United States on the level of the aim of preserving the Union, it clearly offers a state in rebellion “an out,” as explained by Prof. Reginald Hildebrand at a lecture on “The Meaning of the Emancipation Proclamation” that I attended. Specifically, a seceded state had 100 days to rejoin the Union, and if a state ended its part in the rebellion, the Proclamation no longer applied to it. In addition, the Proclamation lacks the authority of law. The other limitations on slavery were enacted by Congress, but the Proclamation is only an executive branch policy.

Page 1 of the
Preliminary Emancipation
Further, reaction was particularly less than positive by some critics of Lincoln. If slavery is such a moral issue, how can a 100-day delay be justified? Much of the world had already eradicated slavery, at least officially. In the Western Hemisphere, every nation except Cuba and Brazil had outlawed slavery. The diary of Adam Gurowski, a Polish writer in exile in the United States, establishes what could be viewed as contempt for the Proclamation. When Lincoln issued the preliminary Proclamation, Gurowski wrote on Sept. 22, 1862 that the delay of 100 days and allowance for a state to end its rebellion — and thus keeping slavery intact — was “the last desperate effort made by Mr. Lincoln” to save slavery. Gurowski was equally critical of Lincoln’s language. He wrote that the Proclamation “is written in the meanest and most routine style; not a word to evoke a generous thrill, not a word reflecting the warm and lofty comprehension and feelings of the immense majority of the people on this question of emancipation.”

The Declaration of Independence was indispensable for starting a revolt against King George III, but it only partially explains the freedoms of Americans “created equal ... with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Other documents are equally central, and we need to view all of them carefully and objectively to appreciate their meanings. 

Note: The lecture by Prof. Hildebrand was part of the program "Old and New: Studying the South in the 21st Century" that I attended as a recipient of the Bushing Humanities Fellowship from Sandhills Community College.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Finding the Source of Your Food

[Note: This post, prepared originally for the NC Folklife Institute's NCFood blog, is hosted on the institute’s website, with excerpts and a link to the website posted here.] 

            When you eat in a restaurant, do you think about the farms that provide your meal? At excellent way to visit the source of your food is the annual farm tours conducted in our state.
Farm tour signs direct the way to
find the source of your food.
            Earlier this year I explored several farms as part of the Piedmont Farm Tour, held on the final weekend every April by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. This tour is one of two in North Carolina – the other is the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour – and one of four that the association sponsors. One farm – the Captain J.S. Pope Farm -- in particular is intriguing.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Food Judging and BBQ Contests

A badge indicating certified judge
established credibility.
Do you enjoy tasting award-winning barbeque? When eating barbeque, do you compare it to a standard and rate it for taste or tenderness? If you do, you may want to attend a class and be trained as a certified judge by an authorized organization. Having the credibility of certification is particularly important when cooks are competing against each other such as in a BBQ contest.

Carol Bigler explains the judging process.
The judging class that I attended was taught by Randy and Carol Bigler of Huntsville, Alabama, who have been the Kansas City Barbeque Society's representatives to several state championships. In the class I learned how important the competitions are for the cooking teams and how much expense and effort each competitive event requires. I also realized that judging has to be taught. Even though some in the class might have thought that they are natural judges, they learned to apply consistently the Society’s standards.

Many BBQ cooking contests are now sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society -- not the most Southern of organizations since it is based in the mid-West (and also international) but it seems to be the leading group for sanctioning BBQ contests in the South as well as across the United States. The Society typically judges in four categories:
·        Shoulder, a pork entry that may be cooked in one piece or divided into two (arm picnic and Boston butt)
·        Pork ribs, which can be spare ribs (11 to 13 bones), St. Louis style (with brisket bone and all skirt meat removed), or baby back ribs (also known as loin ribs)
·        Chicken, prepared whole, half, or any combination; with or without skin; and all white or dark meat or a combination
·        Beef brisket, the underside chest muscle from beef cattle.
Regardless of category, I was surprised how the training class focused us on the quality of a meat’s cooking and not the category that the meat represented.

Large trailers haul everything
important for a cooking team.
Each category is judged according to three criteria: appearance, taste, and tenderness. A table captain presents each entry for judges to score appearance. Then each judge receives a sample to evaluate tenderness and taste on a scorecard. Each criterion is scored from a high of 9 (excellent) to a low of 2 (inedible), except when an entry is disqualified (and receives a score of 1). After a brief explanation and a few samples, most of the judges in training scored samples (prepared by a team that has already won regional awards) in relative uniform pattern -- proof that we were learning the Society’s standards.

In a contest, a table of six judges evaluates each entry, which can be submitted chopped, pulled, slices or diced. Each judge has to evaluate by the standards of the Society rather than personal preferences, and KCBS rules can be very specific. For example, although everyone has a personal idea of what makes a rib good, the Society specifies that the meat of an excellent pork rib must come off the bone with very little effort and only where the judge bites. The Society considers ribs overcooked if the meat falls all the entire bone while biting. In addition, a cook can use garnish such as green lettuce or parsley but no kale or red-tipped lettuce.

Sign alerts arrivals to location of class.
After attending six hours of instruction and sampling several entries in each category, I received what I wanted: Certification as a BBQ Judge. Now I’m ready to go on the road and judge. If you like barbecue and are interested in judging, learn more about the Society’s Judge Certification Program. Similar training classes are held in most states several times a year. The perks of a certified judge are great: tasting award-winning barbeque.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Grilling on the Side of the Highway

[Note: This post, prepared originally for the NC Folklife Institute's NCFood blog, is hosted on the institute’s website, with excerpts and a link to the website posted here.] 

What makes our state so special for grilling ribs? Most of us can remember our first cookout when someone in the family, neighborhood, or church served home-cooked ribs. They were so tender that the meat literally fell off the bones. The homemade sauce was delicious, and often the recipe was a secret not to be shared.

Ribs cooked to perfection.
Some of us can't wait for the next home-cooked ribs, yet we do have to wait because family reunions, church suppers, and neighborhood gatherings aren't held that frequently.

Continue reading at the NCFood blog…

Note: This post was also published by Sandhills Tribune on July 26, 2013 on its website with permission of the N.C. Folklife Institute.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Home of Collard Sandwich Expands on Soul Food Day

[Note: This post, prepared originally for the NC Folklife Institute's NCFood blog, is hosted on the institute’s website, with excerpts and a link to the website posted here.]

A collard sandwich is not the typical attraction to establish a regional reputation. But it is for Chef Kenneth Collins and his UPro restaurant in Aberdeen, NC, where he has developed an extensive following of appreciative customers.

Collard sandwich to go is
always an excellent choice.
The star attraction of his business begins with fresh, hand-cut collards. The greens are cooked for an hour with a little fat and a special blend of seasonings and then packed between two round fried pieces of cornbread. Strips of bacon are added over the cut collards for additional flavor and sweetness.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Local Seafood: Kitchen on the Roll

[Note: This post, prepared originally for the NC Folklife Institute's NCFood blog, is hosted on the institute’s website, with excerpts and a link to the website posted here.]

Carolina catfish tacos
are often on the menu.
Where can you get fresh fish prepared by an award-winning chef? Sometimes the location may not be on the coast or a river but instead from a mobile kitchen.

In downtown Wilmington, I found Chef Keith Rhodes hustling to serve customers eagerly standing in line at his food truck parked on North Fourth Street in front of the Brooklyn Arts Center.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ernest Green: Little Rock Remembered

When we read about historic civil rights moments, we typically associate those events to earlier times, and particularly for students of today to past generations. Names like Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, and Rosa Parks are etched in our memory for the challenges they faced, gains they achieved, and sacrifices they made – some who paid the ultimate price by giving their lives.

Ernest Green received high school
diploma in May 1958 from principal
(Photo: Museum of American History)
When I learned that Ernest Green, the sole senior among the nine students who had integrated Central High School in 1957, was coming to my college to give a lecture, I knew that I had to attend and see him in person. Attesting to the contribution by Green to civil rights in the United States, Dr. John Dempsey, president of Sandhills Community College, said that Green “may not belong in the same sentence as Rosa Parks but he belongs in the same paragraph.”

Green (student at right) is blocked with
two others from entering school by
National Guardsman on Sep. 4, 1957
(Photo: Arkansas History Commission)
The events that unfolded in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957 are moments that my classes on the American South discuss each semester. They are significant for demonstrating that state law and officials can no longer overturn federal guarantees for civil rights. In the third year after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, the school board of Little Rock had planned a quiet desegregation of the principal high school in the capital city of Arkansas. However, the plans were thrown into turmoil when Governor Faubus ringed the school campus with National Guard soldiers with orders to block nine African-American students.

As we all have learned, President Eisenhower deployed more than a thousand U.S. Army paratroopers to Little Rock to counter the governor’s show of force and to provide protection for the nine students. The lone senior in the group was Ernest Green, a name many Americans no longer recall, although the events are easily identified as a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement.

Greens gives a Ruth Pauley Lecture
at SCC in February 2013
The lecture that Green gave was uplifting, and everyone in the audience seemed moved by his words and deeds. In addition to the expected points of the speech, a few facts surprised me:
  • The school board had approved 26 or 27 African American students, including seniors, to transfer to Central High as part of the initial desegregation. Green said, “Others dropped out. When I turned around and looked, I was standing by myself.” 
  • His mother had voted for Gov. Faubus. He had desegregated buses and state transportation, and she thought that he represented “ideas of change.” 
  • After high school Green attended Michigan State where he received a scholarship from an anonymous donor. As a college student, Green said he actively engaged in civil rights protests and demonstrations, including several in front of the home of the university president. Green learned much later that the anonymous donor had been the president himself only after he had died.
Green speaks to state labor
convention in 1967 (10 years
after high school integration)
(Photo: Arkansas History
As Green discussed “Living a Fearless Life,” one point was to “not settle on any one moment of your life as being good enough.” Having survived his tumultuous senior year of high school, Green could have easily rested on that achievement. I was taken by the pressure that he placed on himself to attain high achievements throughout adulthood. The Congressional Gold Medal that he received in 1998 attests to his lifetime success, much broader than his role in school integration.

At the end of the lecture, Green entertained a few questions. The audience was stunned when one person rose to say that he had been one of the National Guardsmen on duty obeying the governor's orders to keep Green and the other eight off campus. He rose not to ask a question concerning the lecture but to say that he wanted to shake Green's hand and see if Green would be willing. The long-awaited handshake took place after the event. Imagine how that handshake lifted a burden from the former soldier that he had been carrying for more than 50 years.

With Ernest Green before lunch discussion
The experience was meaningful for me by not only attending the lecture but also joining a small group who enjoyed lunch with Green earlier that day. During that session, he informally talked about being escorted from class to class by soldiers at Central High and how that experience required that he do more with his life than just graduate from high school. “We all have a Little Rock High School moment,” Green said. “The question is, do we accept it and take advantage of it?” He certainly has more than fulfilled the expectations of those who entrusted in 1957 such a fateful task to him.

As Green ended the lunchtime discussion, he said, “The future is always better than the past.” A remarkable life journey like his sometimes might make a person want to forget the past. However, as he told the lecture audience, “Remember where you came from and who went before you.”

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Getting Romantic on Valentine’s Day with N.C. Food Traditions

[Note: This post, prepared originally for the NC Folklife Institute's NCFood blog, is hosted on the institute’s website, with excerpts and a link to the website posted here.]

How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Many celebrate with traditional gifts such as sweet chocolates or red roses. Not me. I take advantage of the foodways traditions of North Carolina to make the day special.

Start Valentine's Day with
something special for breakfast.
First, start with a breakfast treat that says love better than chocolate: BoBerry Biscuits from Bojangle’s, which got its start in Charlotte in 1977. Instead of a standard biscuit, celebrate with a special made-from-scratch sweet biscuit baked with blueberry flavor and topped with icing. This Valentine’s special is a Tar Heel version of the English blueberry scone and gets taste buds thinking about the next foodways tradition to celebrate February 14.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Burns Day: A Time to Celebrate Scottish Food Traditions in North Carolina

[Note: This post, prepared originally for the NC Folklife Institute's NCFood blog, is hosted on the institute’s website, with excerpts and a link to the website posted here.]

Where in North Carolina is Scottish food celebrated, and when can you find authentic Scottish food in our state? Travel no farther than to the multi-county Sandhills where many residents still celebrate Scottish heritage, particularly today – known to many as Burns Day in honor of the birth of Scottish poet Robert Burns on this day in 1759.

Haggis is ceremoniously presented
for dinner as a poem by
Scottish poet Robert Burns is read.
As described in Transatlantic Scots, a recent study edited by Celeste Ray, the “exodus of Scots to America” still shapes the identity of many in our state, particularly in Scotland County, home of the “Fightin’ Scots,” and other locales with Scottish ancestry where foodways constitute a significant part of this identity.