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Carolina Red Rice

This past weekend Dan and I loaded into the car and headed the hour west to Sharpsburg, Maryland, for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. Antietam, the bloodiest day of the Civil War, saw 23,000 casualties (defined as dead, wounded, or missing). It remains the bloodiest single day of war in American History. And we were there to see it reenacted.

The reenactment was a first for both of us, and while it was fascinating and impressive to see, the reason we made the trek was because my cousin, Sean, was fighting. Sean is a Charlotte, NC resident who fights in the 88th New York Irish. He got into reenacting recently and, from what we could tell, loved it. The atmosphere was amazing, a mix between a group camping trip and a Renn Fest. Beyond the battle there were food vendors, people selling gear for the reenactors, souvenirs for the tourists, and actual Civil War era artifacts. It was impressive. I’m pretty sure after getting to hold Sean’s bayonet and seeing the camp site Dan is ready to sign up.

As a white Southerner I have very mixed feelings about the Civil War. I am fiercely proud of my heritage, but with that comes the understanding that we have to take responsibility for the events that occurred, and how those events have impacted today’s America. I disagree with the notion that we should just forget what happened, and why it happened, which is why I find reenacting so intriguing. It’s a wonderful way to teach and learn history. And while some argue that it glorifies war and the ideals around which the war was fought, I believe that it helps promote a deeper understanding of the people that fought in those bloody battles and their reasons for fighting.

Coincidentally, a week earlier at my cousin Michael’s wedding, my cousin Mary (Sean’s wife) gave me a collection of Civil War era cookbooks. They ranged from Confederate Home Cooking to Soul on Rice: African Influences on American Cooking and I have loved going through them. Some are recipes I’m familiar with, others are so clearly made for war time or depression (like mock apple pie) it’s incredible.

Last night I made a recipe from Confederate Home Cooking called “Carolina Red Rice.” The flavors were intensely familiar, reminding me of the tomato and rice dishes that Bobbie and my dad would make. Even Dan said that it tasted like childhood, an assortment of flavors so very American that it rang true for both Dan, the Pennsylvanian, and me, the Carolinian.

P.S. Lovers of Confederates in the Attic like myself will appreciate that while we were hanging out with Sean’s unit they TOTALLY described something as “farby.” And I died of excitement.

Carolina Red Rice
Confederate Home Cooking by Patricia B. Mitchell 

1/2 lb bacon

2 cups cooked brown rice

1 large can whole peeled tomatoes

1 tbsp olive oil/butter

1 white onion

Tabasco

Salt & pepper

Cook your rice, set aside. Cook bacon in a skillet. Remove the bacon and crumble. Dice onions and cook in bacon fat. When they are tender, add tomatoes, rice, bacon, and spices. Break apart the tomatoes with a spoon and cook 30-35 minutes.

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Steamed Crabs

Last year my friend Jamie taught Dan and I how to pick crabs the Maryland way. Jamie is a very particular person who feels as strongly as crabs as I do about barbeque. He believes passionately that there is a correct way to steam, pick, and eat fresh blue crabs. And because he’s the expert (and I came to the table with no opinions about crabs), we do as he says. Since he converted us to whole-crab lovers Dan and I have eaten them a few more times, but hadn’t made the jump to preparing them ourselves.

Thankfully Jamie, along with many of our friends and family, see Biscuits and Such as the perfect excuse to experiment in the kitchen, be adventurous, try new things. And while he had grown up watching his parents and grandparents steam crabs he hadn’t actually replicated the process by himself. He suggested it, Dan and I enthusiastically agreed, and this past labor day we tried our hand at steamed crabs.

The Keffer family method goes something like this- combine water, a few seconds’ pour of vinegar, and most of a can of Natty Boh in a large pot. In the steamer basket layer live crabs and a combination of spices. As you can see, this is often more difficult than it sounds.

Most people in the mid-Atlantic will agree that a steamed crab is not a steamed crab without a generous dose of Old Bay, the magical spice blend invented by Jewish immigrant Gustav Brunn (who will soon be immortalized in paper doll form by the ever-amazing Lisa Perrin & the JMM). Old Bay is a mixture of salt, pepper, red pepper, black pepper, and about a thousand other things making its recipe impossible to copy (the genius of Gustav Brunn). Jamie’s recipe combined a thick coating of Old Bay with mustard powder, mustard seed, salt, red pepper, and celery seed.

Once the water has been brought to a boil the crabs start the steaming process (lid on), and 15-20 minutes later, once the crabs are bright red, you’re ready to pick and enjoy!

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A Day for Pie

Yesterday was the second annual B’Eat More Pie Fest, a feat that means we have officially created an annual pie festival. I am exhausted, proud beyond words, and incredibly grateful to this community for making such an awesome event possible. Baltimore, you rock my world.

We had 30 pies entered in the contest (10 more than last year), between 250-300 pie lovers attend (much more than last year), and we are going to be able to donate $700 to Heart’s Place, the family shelter that the fest supports (significantly more than last year). All because people love pie.

We could not possibly have pulled off such an incredible day without the judges, musicians, vendors, sponsors, and volunteers who donated their time. We are so lucky to have a group of people who wanted to lend us their talents, palates, and Sunday afternoons. And a huge, giant, crusty thank you goes out to the 2640 Collective for supporting the fest and letting us hold this homage to pie in their amazingly breathtaking space.

It’s crazy to think that something this magnificent hatched in a long car ride home, but somehow we’ve made it happen twice. We’re already planning next year, so hold on to your hats!

photos by dan & elena

Peach & Ginger Pie

pie dough:

2 1/2 cups all p flour

1/4 tsp salt

3 tbsp sugar

1 tsp powdered ginger

1/4 cup vegetable shortening, cold

1 1/2 stick cold butter

1/4-1 cup ice water

filling:

6 peaches, a combination of ripe and unripe

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

2 tbsp fresh ginger

Corn starch

1 egg

Brown sugar

Sift dry ingredients.  Add shortening and break it up with your hands as you start to coat the flour.  Add butter and work it in until it resembles coarse corn meal.  You should be able to pinch the dough together to form chunks.  Add the ice water, a little at a time, stirring in with a wooden spoon  Only add as much as it takes to make a ball.  Any more than that and you will be left with chewey crust.  However, make sure you’re using enough for your dough to hold together.

Form a ball and divide it in half.  Cover each half with saran wrap and flatten into a disc shape.  Pop in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Combine water, sugar, and ginger in a medium sauce pan. Heat until sugar dissolves. Let cool.

Peel peaches. Slice. Toss the peaches in syrup.

Roll out your bottom pie dough and place in pan.  Coat the bottom crust with a layer of corn starch. This will help the filling stay solid as the peaches release their juices. Depending on how juicy your peaches are add more corn starch. For a group of juicy peaches I put 1/4 inch layer of corn starch on the bottom. Toss your sliced peaches in an additional two tablespoons of corn starch. Scoop filling into bottom crust..  Roll your top pie dough out and, using a knife or a pastry knife, cut into strips.  Overlap the strips in a lattice pattern.  Whisk egg, and brush egg over the top of the pie.  Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 30 minutes at 350.

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