Fall and Oxford, Mississippi

Thursday, November 1, 2007

My blog, like my cook book begins in the fall. The peculiar weather recently has made for a late one, but at last we have had some cool weather and I have finally found time to get started. I hope, initially at least, with this project to invite the reader into my kitchen at Crook's Corner so that they can see the day to day routine that precedes their evening's dinner. This isn't my idea entirely. Years ago I discovered that people seemed remarkably interested, when in interviews or presentations, I would talk about these mundane details. There is a satisfying logic in the way that a fulltime busy kitchen unfolds day after day and season by season. So this will be my initial focus.

In my book I say that, that here in Chapel Hill, it seems as though our year begins in the fall because the University gears up again for a new term then. In normal times, cool weather makes heavier foods seem more appetizing. This year in particular, agriculture has been a little screwy because of the heat and drought, so things haven't always shown up when expected, if at all. Honeysuckle was late and came in two bloomings; Tomatoes were good, but the season was shorter and the fruit had tough skin; figs were all but absent and the word is still out on Jerusalem artichokes. One thing that hasn't minded the drought at all is our wild persimmon. I have gotten them from Mary Andrews, my main supplier for years, and also from Walter Atwater who seems to produce every vegetable imaginable on his farm no matter what the weather. Mrs. Andrews and Mr. Atwater were the subjects of a wonderful article on local farming by Andrea Weigl in the News and Observer on September 19th of this year. Check it out in their archive if you have time. A new source this year is Jason Somers and Kate Fix, who have relocated themselves and Magic Umbrella Films here. I often say that of all the recipes I inherited when I took over this job, the persimmon pudding is my favorite hands down. I'm very pleased to have it on the menu again this year.

Fall for me generally includes a trip to Oxford, Mississippi for the annual Symposium of the Southern Foodways Alliance. I'll talk more about the organization at a later post, but as the trip is fresh in my mind, I'll share a few highlights now. Oxford has no airport, so you have to fly either into Jackson or Memphis. I prefer Memphis because sometimes I have time to visit the city, which I like a lot and should you have a long layover in the airport, there is an outpost of Interstate Barbecue there that illustrates what airport food could be. On the way down I rode with friend Dean McCord, formerly of eGullet and presently blogging about food at http://varmintbites.com/ . We followed Highway 61 and visited several of the restaurants located on what is known as the Tamale Trail. There is a species of non-Hispanic tamale found all around the deep South. Go figure. On the way back, I rode with friend Nancie McDermott ( lately of Southern Cakes fame. I've used her cookbook all summer to the delight of our customers. It was the tenth anniversary of the Symposium and there was a full program, from Alice Waters on edible schoolyards to Roy Blount Jr. on The Rapture. The discussions are always elevated, the lectures always interesting, no matter how arcane. There is always lots and lots and lots of good food and drink. Memorable this year were a cocktail made from Jack Daniels and horchata, the rice drink from Mexico; an oyster stew that had been thickened into a gravy for grits; and a sweet potato and ginger creme caramel from our own April McGregerof The Farmer's Daughter. Next year's Symposium will be on Southern Drink and the mid year field trip will be to Louisville. This seems like a rash choice to me seeing how these people like to carry on anyway, but I can't wait. I'll talk more about the SFA from time to time. Check out my links for theirs.

posted by Bill Smith at 4:42 AM


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December 30, 2008 9:42 PM  

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