Saturday, July 22, 2017

Finding a Squash Pie

Imagine getting a daily allowance of vegetables and enjoying dessert – both at the same time. Some desserts are so sweet and hardly have any food value, not so with a traditional squash pie.

A pie made with yellow summer squash may not be familiar to many people. I confess that it’s not a pie that I remember eating, much less ever seeing before.

How do you think children who need encouragement to eat vegetables would react when they see a piece of squash pie? Walking by a potluck table when I was young, I’m sure that I would have skipped over it, but now that I’m older, I know better.

Nestled among apple dumplings, peach cobblers, and sweet breads, a squash pie for sale in Galax, Va., caught my attention.

Because one of my favorite pies is sweet potato, both in childhood and as an adult, I’m tempted to try a dessert made with a vegetable because it likely is based on a long-standing family tradition. Plus it reminds me of a time when desserts could be made without expensive ingredients if they included creativity, love, and maybe a vegetable.

Tables at the farmers market in Galax attract an early crowd when it opens on Saturday morning.

When I was meandering along the tables of foods for sale at a farmers’ market in downtown Galax, Virginia, the label “squash pie” immediately caught my attention. Topped with a baked meringue, it looked like something that I’d enjoy.

Marie Jones smiles at the table with her foods for sale.

The 95-year-old lady who was selling it made buying it an easy decision. She said that she’d been making squash pies since she was old enough to walk. Galax, a small town in southwestern part of the state, also seemed the perfect setting to find a homemade dessert.

When I got home, I enjoyed the sweetness of the pie, which is from the natural sweetness of the squash, not from sugar. The recipe is quite simple. In addition to sliced squash pieces, the pie includes margarine, eggs, and a dash of sugar. Because so much squash is included in the pie, it’s very dense and filling.

After the pie has been taken home and cut, a piece look delicious.

The taste of the squash pie is as good as that of a squash casserole. Of course, you have to be a fan of yellow squash to like either. They both deserve a place on a summer dinner table, but it you can only serve one, serve pie.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Peach Dumpling -- Delicious but Is It a Dumpling?

Stopping at a roadside stand that sells fresh peaches is a frequent occurrence for anyone who lives or travels through the Carolinas, particularly the Sandhills region. This area is remarkable for growing succulent peaches, much better than those that grocery stores bring in from distant states.

Johnson's Peaches has been in business since 1934.

In addition to buying a bushel or a peck, many people buy something else: peach ice cream, peach jam, peach preserves, anything that can extend the pleasure of enjoying peaches. When I stopped at Johnson’s Peaches in Candor, NC, on the menu board was something I don’t remember seeing before: peach dumplings.

The banner "Peach Dumplings" caught my attention when I was parking the car.

Because peach cobbler is one of my favorites, I couldn’t leave without buying some dumplings. Lunch plans kept me from eating them immediately, so I had them packaged to enjoy at home with supper. (Of course, a better idea is to eat them on site – with peach ice cream, naturally.)

What to order? A peach dumpling looks enticing.

Before ordering, I had reviewed the recipe for peach dumplings in a brochure that Johnson’s provides to its customers. Peach quarters are rolled in crescent rolls and baked in a mixture of sugar, water and butter with a topping of sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top.

Johnson's recipe for peach dumplings includes a peach quarter wrapped in a crescent roll.

However, the peach dumplings that Johnson’s sells are different than those made using the recipe. When the server prepared the to-go box, I watched as she scooped a serving from a large rectangular metal tray – no individually wrapped peach quarters. With the pastry crust on top, it looked like what I know as a cobbler but with less breading.

Although I wanted to taste peach dumplings, the order that I took home was more to my liking – more peaches, less pastry. The peaches were superb, as expected. In business since 1934, Johnson’s knows how to please its customers.

A peach dumpling from Johnson's is delicious, but is it a dumpling:

The next time that I stop at Johnson’s, I’ll make sure that my lunch plans don’t interfere with eating a dumpling there – and I’ll also order peach ice cream with it.

Friday, June 2, 2017

A Beacon for Favorite Foods and Entertaining Service

When you enter The Beacon Drive-In in Spartanburg, SC, the sounds of the caller who takes order from customers as they arrive immediately captures your attention. As he barks their menu choices to the kitchen staff, they push their trays down the short line to the cashier. By the time they arrive, all items have been promptly prepared and served.

With a motto of “Where the Food Is Always Good,” the Beacon has been a local favorite since it opened in 1946. As it grew in popularity, it was moved to a new location and then expanded three times. Now the second largest drive-in in the United States, it serves a million customers each year. With a seating capacity of 350, customers are constantly coming and going, regardless of the hour, often in a line extending out the door.

The caller at the head of the order line barks each item to the kitchen crew.
When the drive-in opened, its menu was limited, but today the menu is so extensive that a new customer needs several minutes to decide among the choices: burgers, BBQ, chicken, and seafood are popular. Gizzards, beef hash, and other regional favorites are on the menu, which also includes several specialty items, such as homemade chicken stew.

The kitchen crew prepares orders as customers move towards the cashier.

Plates include two sides and “a-plenty” dishes (similar to combos of fast-food establishments) include french fries and onion rings to guarantee you are full “a-plenty” when you finish your meal. Because the Beacon serves more iced tea than anyone else in the country, I had to order it. Just the sugar needed for making its sweet tea is astonishing: 3,000 pounds each week.

The menu is more extensive than many new customers expect.

Because the Beacon has contributed so much to local culture, the road where it is located has been renamed for its founder, John B. White Sr. In addition, an adjacent street has been designated to honor its long-time caller, J.C. Stroble, who died in 2013 at age 71 after working 57 years at the drive-in.

Tray for two: flounder with onion rings, hushpuppies, chicken stew, slaw, hash tray, and peach cobbler.

Stroble, known as the “Beacon Barker” for how he shouted orders to the cooks, began working at the drive-in as a carhop when he was 14. Although he lost his sight to glaucoma at age 37, he continued to work, and his signature style helped to make the Beacon a celebrated institution. Because Stroble was such a Spartanburg icon, he was featured on a segment of CBS Evening News in 2011. Similar to Stroble, several other employees have been long-term veterans of the Beacon with more than 50 years of service.

The Beacon sells more iced tea than anyone else in the United States.

Eating at the Beacon is more than enjoying food. Listening to the caller, watching customers move through the line and gaze intently as their food is prepared, and being in the midst of repeat customers and first-time arrivals are just as much an integral part of a visit to the Beacon.

A million customers a year have easy access to the Beacon at its current location.