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.