Category Archives: tasting north carolina

11/100 Flossie’s Pound Cake

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Almost six years ago I wrote my very first post for this blog. I was 22, freshly out of college, and had just moved into an apartment with Dan outside of Washington, DC. I was in a job that was meant to be temporary, but the economy had just crashed and it was looking more and more like I was stuck there. I desperately missed home, and I thought that if I could just cook and eat something that reminded me of home I might feel better. I set out to make a recipe from my grandmother, Bobbie. Bobbie, my dad’s mom, was the woman who taught me to love Southern cooking, and Sunday night dinners with her were a memory I cherished and sorely missed. I knew that making her country style steak would be what I needed to snap me out of my funk, so I did just that. That recipe was the first post on Biscuits and Such, a project that has become the part of my life that most closely ties me to the Southern food culture I so dearly missed.

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my great grandparents, Flossie and Stanley Ballenger

Bobbie and I spent a great deal of time with each other during the first 16 years of my life. She was always nearby, whether we lived in Florida or in North Carolina, and she and I were pretty constant companions. We cooked together, swam together, sunbathed together, talked, laughed, and sometimes cried. She was there for me when things were tough, and she never failed to put a smile on my face. She had stories, so many stories, and she was always happy to share with me about her life. I loved hearing stories about her and her siblings growing up in Raleigh, the years she and my grandpa shared in Chapel Hill, about my dad and uncle as kids, her studies at Meredith College (she was an English major and she was full of sayings about language and grammer. My favorite was her response to someone asking where something “was at.” She would quickly reply “after the preposition at!”). One of the things I miss most since she passed away are her stories.

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Bobbie’s father, Stanley, was a professor at North Carolina State. His family, the Ballengers, were from Tryon, in the mountains. Bobbie’s mother, Flossie (I know, best name ever), was a Caudell of St Pauls, in the southern piedmont of North Carolina. After they were married they moved to Raleigh and bought a piece of land on Rosedale Avenue. They had four children- Juanita, Barbara, Theodore, and James.

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Bobbie at the Swamp House, 2001

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The Caudell family (Flossie’s family) tree and Flossie with her parents and siblings

As I enter my late twenties I am more and more interested in the stories of my family. I’m lucky enough to still have my mother’s parents to ask about their lives and their families, but to learn more about my dad’s parents I have to dig a bit, to talk to extended family. I wish I could listen to all of Bobbie’s stories again today, with pen and paper ready. Talking to family- her siblings, her sons, her cousins, is the next best thing. This past July Heather and I spent a morning with her brother Ted and his wife, Ann, in their Raleigh home. We talked about Ted’s life growing up in Wake County (and Ann’s growing up near Smithfield), about Ted’s mom, Flossie (called Nanny by the family), and most enthusiastically about food.

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I asked Ann to help me find a family recipe that reflects their memories of Stanley and Flossie and their life in Wake County. She sent over a few possibilities but captioned the recipe for pound cake with “the best I’ve ever had.” I clearly couldn’t pass up that sort of endorsement! So while Ann and I whipped up a batch of Nanny’s Pound Cake (Ann is quite the task master, I spent a lot of time sifting and resifting of flour), Ted regaled us with stories of our family, showing pictures and pointing to branches on the family tree.

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The Caudell family

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The pound cake came out of the oven piping hot and smelling like heaven. It was delicious, and after digging in ourselves I packed up some of the leftovers to bring home to my Dad (who was in town running megalodon charters) and Dan. After dinner that night I toasted and buttered some pound cake for them and my dad shared his memories of Stanley and Flossie, of his favorite foods on Flossie’s table (namely milk mush), his memories of visiting Stanley’s family home in Tryon, the Ballenger homestead on Rosedale. As I told him everything I’d talked about with Ted and Ann you could see the sparks go off as he connected the dots, remembered people and places and foods and family.

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Flossie’s parents, Ples and Nottie Mae (Big Mama)

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Florence (Flossie) Ballenger

The pound cake was fantastic, but the stories were better. I’m so grateful to have family members that are willing to spend a morning with me, talking family lore over cups of coffee and giving me instructions on the best ways to sift flour. The more I dig into the history of North Carolina the more I feel the desire to connect with my own Carolina roots, and I’m loving exploring all the branches of the family tree. The lesson I’ve learned again and again is that food is the ultimate connector. The look on my father’s face as he talked about eating mush at Nanny’s house for Sunday supper was priceless, and I’m so excited to dive further in, searching for the recipes that mean the most to the people who make and serve them.

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Heather photographing Ted & Ann

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Nanny’s Pound Cake 

3 1/2 cups cake flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 tsp mace

1 cup whole milk

6 eggs

1 lb butter

1 tsp vanilla

Heat oven to 325F.

Cream butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar and continue beating. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until fluffy.

Sift flour. Stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and mace and sift again. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients a little at a time, alternating with the milk, until it is fully combined, finishing with flour.

Grease a fluted bundt pan and pour batter in. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let rest 15 minutes before flipping out onto a plate. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. Try the leftovers toasted with butter!

 

10/100: Blue Crab Stuffed Dolphin Fish

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In the 1950’s the men of the Hillsborough Volunteer Fire Department decided to build a house in Morehead City, a getaway from the families where they could play cards and do whatever men in the 50’s did away from their families. Man stuff. Drinking brown liquor and smoking cigars like country versions of Mad Men characters. That house (and the one that replaced it after hurricane Hazel swept through in 1954), called lovingly by our extended family as “The Cottage” has been used as a vacation house by the descendents of the firemen (all of whom are part of our extended family) in the years since it was built. Like my dad and uncle and their cousins before us, my siblings and I grew up visiting Morehead City each summer, swimming in the marsh, fishing off the pier, boating over to Shackleford and Cape Lookout, buying books and candy at City News.

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

the Hillsborough Volunteer Fire Department, 1950’s. 

The summer after my dad graduated from the University of Richmond he and his friends came down to Morehead to hang out and unwind. According to the Capt’n after waking up and seeing the house in the light of day one of his friends exclaimed “what you’ve got here is a damn swamp house.” The house, which is situated on stilts over a low salt water marsh (not a swamp), is a structure that could only have been built before the CAMA and has stood strongly up to thunderstorm after hurricane. It has, affectionately, been called the Swamp House by our family ever since (the extended family, however, maintains that it should be called The Cottage).

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the swamp house during a particularly high tide the week of our wedding, september 2009

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shackleford banks ponies

Carteret County is surrounded by Craven and Pamlico counties to the north, Hyde county to the northeast, Onslow county to the southwest, and Jones county to the northwest. Its county seat is Beaufort and it includes Cape Lookout National Seashore, Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge, and the Croatan National Forest.

 

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The Swamp House sits on Calico Creek, which feeds into Calico Bay, the Morehead City Channel, the Beaufort Inlet, and finally the Atlantic Ocean. Growing up I mucked in the marsh, water skied in Calico Bay, stalked many a pony on the Cape Lookout National Seashore, and spent countless afternoons sitting on the bow of the boat as dad made us troll through a pack of birds diving into the waters with fishing lines cast. Later, once dad and I (and eventually most of the family) completed our SCUBA certification we explored the waters inshore and offshore in a whole new way, rolling off the sides of our 20″ Robolo onto the decks of shipwrecks. In 2009 Dan and I were married in Beaufort, the town just over the bridge from Morehead City, and in 2011 my parents moved to MHC fulltime so that my dad could devote himself fully to his dive business, Tortuga Charters.

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This is all to say that Morehead, as much as any other place in North Carolina, is dear to me. Driving into town on 1-70 still gives me a giddy feeling, even though it’s a drive I do more often now than ever before. Sitting on the back porch of the Swamp House, drinking a cocktail and shootin’ the shit, I am my most happy, my most at peace. It’s a little slice of heaven, Carteret County, which is why it was near impossible to pick one recipe, one story, one moment to encapsulate it for the Tasting North Carolina series.

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dan & i the morning of our wedding, beaufort, september 2009

In fact, I put off choosing a recipe for almost two years because the task seemed too daunting. But then, as most things do, it all came together perfectly, falling into place like the puzzles my family love to do at the Swamp House’s big family dinner table. This year we headed up to Morehead in early June for the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, an annual big game sports fishing tournament held in Morehead City. My sister Lauren and her husband Bradley came up from New Orleans and spent a few days with us in Wilmington before we all headed to Morehead for a nice long weekend.

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Saturday and Sunday we partook in some of our favorite Carteret County activities- floating in the waves at Radio Island, eating clam pizza at Beach Bumz, fishing and crabbing off the pier, floating on le tube in Calico Creek, grabbing a drink at Queen Anne’s Revenge (and dinner at their sister restaurant in Tight Lines in Morehead), bar crawling along the water front. It was relaxing and reminded me how lovely it can be to just unwind with family, just be together and enjoy each other’s company.

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One of the things on Bradley’s wish list for as long as we’ve known him has been a deep sea fishing trip. Growing up we used to go out fishing with Capt’n Fred, but I hadn’t been fishing offshore in years (I prefer to look at the fish through the lens of my prescription mask), so I was excited to get out there. That Monday, the first day of the Big Rock Tournament, we woke up earlier than any human should, loaded the boat up with refreshments, and headed out to catch us some dolphin fish (not the mammal; the fish often referred to as mahi is called “dolphinfish” in these parts).  It was a big day. Thanks to our guaranteed anti-seasickness formula (cold fried chicken, pickled okra, salt n’ vinegar chips, cold beer) we all fared pretty well, and we all had the opportunity to reel in a few big fish. When it was all said and done we headed home with ten good size dolphin fish and a bonito tuna (also known as a lil’ tunie, according to my dad. As in “what the hell kinda fish is that?” “well, that right there’s a lil’ tunie!”). Thanks to the Capt’n for taking us out on Tortuga and his incredible mate Randy who kicked major ass despite having a serious leg wound, we came off the boats exhausted and thrilled with our haul.

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While we were on the boat we passed the time listening to the radio station that was giving updates on the tournament. Lines went in the water at 9am (it takes about 2-3 hours to get out to where the big fish live around the Big Rock), and shortly thereafter a boat called Inspiration hooked up a marlin. All day as the announcer on the radio would give the latest and greatest they would end with “and Inspiration is still hooked up.” After hours of hearing that the boat was still hooked on the same fish, we were having a hard time believing it. They couldn’t have seriously been reeling in the same fish for 3, 4, 5 hours, could they? They could. Right after 3pm the radio crackled again to announce that Inspiration had brought a blue marlin on board that they estimated weighed 600lbs.

Dolphin Fishing from Elena Rosemond-Hoerr on Vimeo.

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After showering and getting dressed we rushed downtown to the weigh station to see this fish for ourselves. We edged our way to the front of the crowd just as they were hoisting the marlin up in the weigh station. When the number was read, nobody could believe it- the fish weighed in at 754.3 lbs. It’s hard to describe just how gigantic that fish was and what a sight it was to see in person. This was the third largest marlin ever caught in the tournament, and the largest this century. Inspiration ended up winning the tournament on the first day, with the second largest fish weighing in over a hundred and fifty pounds less than the winning fish.

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We spent a lot of time that night over dinner talking about how we would prepare our bounty of dolphin fish. Lauren and Bradley left the next morning, taking a huge bag of dolphin steaks home with them, and a few days later my brother Ryan and some friends from college joined us. One night we decided to make the meal we’d been scheming up with Lauren and Bradley- dolphin fish stuffed with the crabs Bradley had been courting off the back pier all week.

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In reality, our little crab trap off the pier didn’t catch enough crab to feed all of us, so we supplemented with crab from the market. The dolphin fish, stuffed with spiced crab and roasted in a butter and wine sauce and served with cilantro lime rice and a fresh spinach salad, was the epitome of fresh local seafood. It was made even sweeter by the fact that we had caught the dolphin, walked the crab trap into the marsh, enjoyed it together at the big family table at the Swamp House that holds so many memories.

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me, the morning of our wedding, beaufort, september 2009

Blue Crab Stuffed Dolphin Fish
serves 4

4 dolphin steaks

2 cups crab meat

2 garlic cloves

1 stick butter

4 shallots

1 cup dry white wine

Juice of 2 lemons

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp sea salt, plus more for finishing

1 tsp black pepper

Green onions

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium low heat. Add in white wine, minced garlic, and sliced shallots. Simmer 20 minutes.

In a bowl mix together crab meat, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper, and lemon juice.  Mix half of butter and wine mixture into crab. Heat oven to 375F.

Cut a slit in each dolphin filet that goes down to the base but does not cut in half and transfer to a baking sheet that is at least 1″ deep. Stuff each filet with 1/4 of the crab mixture. Top fillets with remaining butter/wine mixture. Top with sliced green onions. Bake for 20 minutes or until the fish is flaky and the crab is browned. Top with fresh green onions and serve hot.

 

9/100: Columbus County Beet & Goat Cheese Pizza

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There are many things to love about a Farmer’s Market– an excuse to wake up early on a Saturday and indulge in a freshly made breakfast, the opportunity to eat locally and seasonally, the chance to taste fruits and vegetables that are as fresh as they can be. For me the best part might be talking with the farmers, getting to hear how things are grown, joking with them about the best ways to prepare certain foods, gaining insight into the food philosophy of the people growing my fruits and vegetables. It’s an empowering experience, something that brings you much closer to your food than standing in a grocery store aisle.

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Recently I met my friend Heather at the Columbus County Community Farmer’s Market, a permanent open-air market in Columbus County, NC. Columbus County is a rural county located in Southeastern North Carolina, about an hour’s drive from Wilmington. In the two years that we’ve been here I’ve traveled to Columbus County a few times to visit Lake Waccamaw, a beautiful fresh water lake surrounded by campgrounds and a small community. When I started researching the area for this series, I stumbled across the farmer’s market, which was established in 1998 and has been funded by the Rural Advancement Foundation International and the North Carolina Tobacco Trustfund Commission. The farmer’s market is housed in a permanent open air structure and boasts space for up to 20 local vendors.

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Strolling through the market on a late Spring Saturday reminded me of all those midwinter days when I found my thoughts drifting to warm summer mornings, fresh fruits, crisp vegetables, air thick with humidity. The drive combined with my total inability to wake up early (ever) meant I arrived at the market midmorning after the early riser rush. I may have missed out on some of the vegetables but the trade off was well worth it- the farmers were free to chat. One of the things I was surprised by was how many of the farmers we met were excitedly offering organic heirloom vegetables. At almost every stand we had a conversation with the farmers about the sometimes underappreciated beauty of mis-shapen heirloom vegetables, why it’s best to avoid using Sure-Jell in your jams, and how a solution of vinegar and soap can keep the pests away. One farmer that we spoke with for a while who was the essence of charm, was John of Higher Ground Organic Gardens. He had a beautiful crop of potatoes, beets, carrots, kolrabi, beans, squash, and (much to Heather’s delight) rhubarb. John was sweet and kind, answering our questions and telling us about how things are growing this year. I walked away from the market with fingerling beets, beet greens, green beans, and patty pan squash.

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Heather came down from Raleigh for the weekend to talk blogging and work on her practicum project. She is a finishing up her graduate work at Meredith and has decided to work with me for her practicum project, helping me research three counties for the Tasting North Carolina series- Wake, Forsyth, and Lenoir. I thought visiting an additional county on my list, Columbus, would be a good way to kick off the weekend, so after meeting at the farmer’s market we headed down to Lake Waccamaw for lunch at Dale’s Seafood. When I was researching things to visit and see in Columbus Co. I found an article from Our State that does a much better job of explaining the history of the lake than I ever could, particularly the theories concerning how it was formed and the life teeming in the water. Dale’s sits on the shores of the lake, overlooking its 9,000 acres. We sat and took in good old fashioned Southern meat and three fare- I had a deviled crab, fried okra, and hush puppies and Heather enjoyed the steamed shrimp platter- and watched the lake, which is serene and breathtaking in its expanse.

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Columbus County is surrounded by Bladen, Pender, and Robeson counties to the North and Horry and Brunswick counties to the South. Its county seat, Whiteville, is where you’ll find the Columbus County Community Farmer’s Market, as well as the community that it serves. The next time you’re driving down to the beach stop by for some fresh vegetables, good company, and a glimpse of one of the Carolina Bays.

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Beet and Goat Cheese Pizza 

Dough: 
1 tbsp dry active yeast
2 ½ cups bread flour
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
¾ cup warm water
½ tbsp fresh rosemary
1 tbsp kosher salt

topping:

6 fingerling beets, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup goat cheese
2 spicy pork sausages, cooked and sliced
Olive oil
Sea salt
Handful of beet greens or kale

Whisk together olive oil, yeast, salt, basil, and water. Whisk until fully incorporated, at least 2 minutes. Add half of the flour and stir with a wooden spoon. Add remaining flour and knead for ten minutes, until the dough feels like a stress ball.

Coat a glass bowl with olive oil. Place the dough ball in the bowl, turn once, and cover with a damp towel. Let rise for at least an hour. Punch down and let rise another 15 minutes.

Roll out your dough and heat your oven to 500 (or as high as it goes).  Spread goat cheese evenly across the dough (as best you can), then follow with beets and sausage. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Top with fresh greens and serve hot.