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Posts tagged ‘chicken’

Brunswick Stew.

I’m a creature of habit. When it’s hot out I reach for a tomato sandwich slathered in Duke’s mayo, salt and pepper. When it’s spring, I want to eat new potatoes with local green onions, sweet like candy when sautéed with butter. And at the first hint of cold, when it’s 40 degrees and raining, the worst weather ever in the history of man, weather where it feels like the finger of Winter is reaching down from the gray clouds and tapping you so hard on the shoulder you want to crawl back under the covers forever, I get a taste for Brunswick Stew.

Growing up in Richmond, Virginia we’d have a Fall festival in the parking lot of my elementary school every year. Old-fashioned cake walks, pony rides, games where you tried to bust the balloons with darts, yes, actual pointy darts. The fair itself was pretty low-rent, a lot of tables hauled out from the cafeteria with makeshift tarps over them, but I loved it because it meant our Saturday would be filled with something other than household chores or running to The Imp Peddler for clothing discounts. We’d play games, try to win a cake (and lose), get our faces painted, and look at the ponies because they cost too much to ride.

Then we’d wander over to where guys were stirring Brunswick Stew with paddles in big iron pots, breathing in the peppery, meaty smell, warming ourselves against the cold by standing in the steam being carried off by the wind. At least this is what I see in my rosy-colored nostalgia mind’s eye. We choose what we want to remember. In fact it was probably tired volunteer parents ladling already made stew into to-go containers for other tired, harried parents. Mom would buy quarts and quarts of the stuff and she’d serve it up for the next two weeks, stashing the rest in the freezer. Or at least it seemed that long. Three days feels like two weeks to an 8-year-old.

Just one problem. I HATED Brunswick Stew. I’m not sure if it was the taste or the fact between the ages of 5 and 11 I was served stew every night like some enormous Thanksgiving bird that wouldn’t die, but each time Momma waltzed over to the Stew Tent with her wallet out, I’d sigh and make a stank face. Great. More fucking stew. I remember one year she put two quarts on the roof of our car then drove off. They spilled into the road and I cheered. But no dice, she just gave me a look before putting the car in park and going back to the tent. In our house if it was Fall, we were eating stew. And I got a spanking for cheering.

For the uninitiated, Brunswick Stew is a Virginia tradition, although Georgians would argue against it. There are even arguments about “proper” ingredients. The stew I grew up eating was on the thin side, tomato-based, with pulled chicken, sometimes pork, lima beans, tomatoes, corn, and spices. Lots of peppery spices.

For many years I ate no stew. Left home and ate none. Was proud of the fact every Fall I didn’t have to stuff my face with stew. I’d see the canned variety in my International Safeway in their bright yellow cans trimmed in red and walk proudly past, opting for just about anything else. No stew for me.

Did I see it as poor people food? Too much like the homespun “vittles” enjoyed by my ancestors in their farm-based Shenandoah Valley community when all I wanted was to eat foie gras and just once try caviar with real blinis like I’d seen on “Great Chefs of San Francisco”? A reminder of my supposed “imprisonment” in my often dictatorial childhood where I never had a say and very seldom could voice an opinion? Did I just not like lima beans? It couldn’t be that because I longed for Muddy’s fresh-from-the-garden limas slathered in butter all winter long. So what was it? What fueled the stew disdain?

Even in adulthood, when I’d fully embraced my family’s Nelson 151 roots and began to enjoy homespun comfort food and disdain tweezer food my Brunswick Stew dislike endured. The Hubby and I went to the Apple Festival at Albemarle Ciderworks a few years ago, and they WERE stirring the stew with large wooden paddles. In large iron vats. But I argued the line was too long and why don’t we just get some goat burgers instead. They sounded delicious and exotic and I’d never tried them. Brunswick Stew loses again.

It wasn’t until this year that I found myself craving it. One Saturday afternoon, the very first cold one of October, I was closing out my garden for the season, pulling out all the dead plants and putting away the pots. The wind picked up suddenly and ran through the trees making the dead leaves rattle. I knew it would rain soon. And the chill from the wind cut through my hoodie and I thought out of the blue, “Sure wish I had some Brunswick Stew.” Just like that.

Ran inside to look up a recipe, but every one I found had about 1600 steps and 450 different ingredients. Blerg. It’s cold. It’s Saturday………my Sabbath. Maybe somebody in town? This is where having a blog comes in handy. All I had to do was ask the question. Someone mentioned the stew at the Apple Festival, but that wouldn’t happen for weeks. Then one helpful fan said those fateful words that changed my life, “Barbecue Exchange makes Brunswick Stew every day of the year.”

Um, wut? I mean seriously. . . What. The. Hell!? How did I miss this? I eat there quite a bit, drive past the place every time I go to Richmond, and I missed that Barbecue Exchange has Brunswick Stew? Every day of the year? Now I know I’m a BBQ Exchange addict. Admittedly. I’ve written about them a lot. But hell, when something’s good! So here I am again, recommending the Brunswick Stew at Barbecue Exchange. Yes you can order it in quarts. And yes, you can get it with cornbread. In fact, I highly recommend it.

What was that first taste like after so many years? Did I regress to my childhood self and make a stank face? Quite the opposite. Chef Hartman’s stew is thicker than what my Momma served up, full of big chunks of chicken, pork, and vegetables. What I love most is that first taste, an extreme sweetness followed by a deep tomato flavor which envelops your mouth before descending into a spicy, fiery afterburn. Really spicy, but not so much it prevents you from diving in again. This is the kind of spicy food I can get behind, even at my age. That sweet-to-fire flavor is so unique, and dare I say it? This Brunswick Stew is better than what I ate as a child. Much much better. Granted back then I despised all things stew, but imagine my adult self tasting my childhood stew. Yeah, I know, weird, but cut me some slack here. This stew beats that one all to pieces.

So yes, back then not a fan. But something came along my life’s timeline and flipped a switch. Sometimes all it takes is for the wind to change. Who knows, maybe I’m just a fan of memories. Nostalgia’s a funny thing. Tastes of food, scents in the air can instantly transport us. I still can’t walk into September twilight, smelling the sharp snap of cold and the wet dew that’s fallen on the grass, without thinking of Tuesday night band practice. And I can’t eat Brunswick Stew without thinking of elementary school and festivals. Even if there weren’t any vats or big wooden paddles.

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Southern Foodways Alliance Summer Symposium. The Whiskey Jar.

This past weekend I had the great good fortune to attend the Southern Foodways Alliance Summer Symposium. Long ago in the earliest infancy of my food writing career I knew because of the way I work, I’d more than likely have to focus on just one cause to promote more than any other. It’s how my mind works. When presented with sustainability, local food good corporate bad, evil Monsanto bashing, gluten-free, fat-free, carb-free, vegan only, organic, molecular gastronomy and all the other food causes out there, the only one that really speaks to me is my Southern food heritage.

Southern food got me excited as a kid, and it’s what drives me to write and eat as an adult. For 14 years, the Southern Foodways Alliance has promoted the celebration and preservation of Southern food loudly and proudly. From the first moment I set my eyes on a copy of Cornbread Nation in a Barnes & Noble bookstore, I knew I’d be a member. I knew it was my calling. I knew I’d be a Southern food advocate forever. I spent a few years following the organization, and eventually saved up enough money for dues. This year, I decided it was time to get active.

I signed up for the weekend the minute it was announced. It’s the first time they’ve had a symposium in the summer. And it’s the first time they’ve ever had one in Virginia, picking Richmond as their base city. The first event? Why, it would be in Charlottesville. The topic? Women who work, a program championing female business owners who produce wines, cheeses, vegetables, meats, as well as all the other yummies we enjoy, and lots of talks about the great food women in Virginia’s past. I’d be damned if I was going to miss a chance to crow about my home base, as well as squire about with a bunch of people unfamiliar with my hometown. What an opportunity!

Just one problem. I have horrible social anxiety. Horrible! In fact, part of the reason I became a FOOD writer was because The Hubby is equally passionate about food and most of the time can come with me to the events I attend. I can lean into him the way my dog leans into me during thunderstorms. Except he wouldn’t be attending this event. I would have to go alone.

So it was with great trepidation, tremendous actually that I slunk into the first dinner at The Whiskey Jar and looked around in vain for someone to lean into. Grabbed myself a berry moonshine punch and hoped for some courage. Even a career in fundraising and development (i.e., lots of wine events) has done nothing to ease the anxiety I feel at the thought of having to converse with a bunch of strangers, even if all of us are there for the same reason: we adore Southern food.

And the biggest reason I hate informal dinner gatherings like this? The mad dash for seats. Ugh. Some 200 people descending on a room and trying to jockey for position as to where to sit, and whom to sit with. It sucks. As I was standing there contemplating which seat to choose for dinner, and sweating it, a tall, gregarious woman approached in a long fuchsia scarf and pink spangly jeans. “Dahlin’ now where pray tell did you procure that delicious-looking libation?” she asked sweetly in a heavy Southern accent. I pointed at the direction of the bar, and wished I could be that confident. She was ready for a party and her whole demeanor just screamed, “If you have nothing nice to say, PLEASE sit next to me.” I loved it. And I’d found my seat.

Dinner turned out to be a hoot and a half and pink jeans was a huge reason. Her large personality did a lot to break the ice and helped put me at ease. I was to find out later this attitude is basically the lifeblood of the Southern Foodways Alliance. Wherever they go, the party follows. I encourage every agoraphobic out there to become a member. You won’t regret it.

The other thing that put me at ease was the food. The Whiskey Jar can really cook up a storm! It was homespun without being corny, and full of Southern-fat-is-good-for-you-flavor without being too heavy. Tiny finger sandwiches of BBQ’d rabbit that was by turns creamy and spicy. Imagine a sweeter version of pulled pork with the texture of tuna. Scrumptious! Chard salad from Appalachia Star Farm with velvety cottage cheese from Caromont. Light WhiteWay Bread topped with sorghum butter from Compass Winds. Imagine a light molasses butter, the color of caramel. Maple, molasses, honey, and caramel flavors all play around with the butter and make you want to swoon. I can’t wait to make it at home.

Of course, there were the famous Whiskey Jar collard greens (everyone cheered) and something new to me, Anson Mills Sea Island Peas with bacon and spring onions. Like lentils but with a better chew. Everyone raved and begged for the recipe. It’s my new goal in life to get that recipe and serve it next Thanksgiving. Chef Richey? Can you help a girl out?

The BBQ chicken in sorghum red sauce was tangy and tender and the roasted Rag Mountain Trout was so light and fresh I could swear it was caught out back in some hidden creek in the kitchen.

But the true highlight? DEFINITELY the dessert. A recipe collaboration created by baker Rachel Pennington. Peach trifle consisting of Edna Lewis’s sponge cake, then topped with Mary Randolph’s peach marmalade and vanilla bean custard. An airy sponge of vanilla that melts in your mouth but not before sinking into a sweet peach and vanilla dream. Holy sugarsmacks it was one of the best things I’ve eaten all year. It’s going on my list. They need to add this to the regular menu like yesterday. It tasted like a big ol’ nap! Which coming from me? Is the highest of praise. I usually only eat a taste or two of dessert. This? I. Ate. It. All.

So yeah, all in all the night was a big success. The lovely food artisans got a pretty sash and did their Miss America wave, people scarfed up food and clapped them on the back in congratulations for the good works they’re doing, the chef and his staff trotted out to a standing ovation. Um, why don’t chefs do this every night during service? They should. And one middle-aged woman took a small step toward alleviating her social anxiety. The Veritas Viognier and Foggy Ridge Cider helped. I doubt it will ever be completely gone. I’ll continue to lean into the chatty folks whenever I have to go anywhere. But leaving the event, full moon rising, and The Mall bustling still at 10pm, made me feel really good about myself. And about where I live. We made an excellent impression that night Charlottesville. I wouldn’t be surprised if Summer Symposium 2014 takes place right here in our little ‘ville. Cheers and applause to everyone involved. You certainly deserve it.

Virginia Food Artisans, SFA 2013 Anson Mills Dinner

Kathryn Bertoni, Appalachia Star Farm
Margaret-Anne Burkholder, Compass Winds Sorghum
Diane Flynt, Foggy Ridge Cider
Ellen Nagase, Rag Mountain Trout
Gail Hobbs-Page, Caromont Farm
Sara Miller, Timbercreek Farms
Emily Pelton, Veritas Vineyards
Rachel Pennington, Baker, The Whiskey Jar
Lisa Richey, Red Row Farm
Mary Alissa Wilkins, WhiteWay Bakery

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Chicken Cobbler.

Sometimes, just sometimes, the planets align, the tides synchronize, and you are left with a perfect storm. A perfect storm of cooking when everything comes together and you create a dish that fits like Cinderella’s shoe. Over the weekend, while on “injured reserve” I was participating in a favorite Saturday activity: PBS cooking shows. Jacques makes me sigh, Lidia makes me laugh, and Eric makes me swoon. Food Network and that other sorry channel just don’t measure up. PBS is the best. That day, on America’s Test Kitchen, they were making chicken pot pie.

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