Category Archives: tasting north carolina

12/100: Fried Livermush

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Years ago when I was very homesick and living in Maryland I bought two books- Adam Lucas’  The Best Game Ever and Bob Garner’s Guide to North Carolina BarbecueReading about the historic 1957 UNC team that my grandfather was a part of and the foods from home that I missed so dearly made me feel a little better, a little more connected to home. Those books made me feel as though even while I was not living in North Carolina, North Carolina was a part of me, always.

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A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of talking with Bob Garner, and I was immediately reminded me of that feeling, that desire to connect with my roots. His most recent book, Foods That Make You Say Mmm-mm, takes him across the state, looking into the regional foods and food traditions that are unique to North Carolina. As he puts it, some foods have “stuck” more than others to North Carolina. Yes, you can find traditional Southern foods throughout the state, but there are some foods that you can only find in little pockets of North Carolina, and that’s what he’s exploring.

FoodsThatMakeYouSayMmm

photographs courtesy of Bob Garner

Talking to Bob is like taking a masters level course in North Carolina food culture. As soon as I held the book I knew he would be an incredible resource for Tasting North Carolina, and so I took advantage of our conversation to ask him his input. As expected, he had a lot of amazing suggestions. We talked about the sonker of Surry County, the muddle of Lenoir County, and the liver mush of Cleveland County.

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Cleveland County is located in Western North Carolina and is, among other things, the home of Earl Scruggs. It is also the home of Livermush, a pate-like dish that is comprised of pork liver, head meats, and cornmeal. Despite the rather off-putting name (it’s sometimes called liver pudding), liver mush is a beloved Cleveland County treat, a legacy of the German immigrants who settled in Southwestern North Carolina.

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Coincidentally, a few days after I spoke with Bob I ran into a friend from Cleveland County. She had remembered that I was working on this project and brought me some of her favorite brand of liver mush- Neese’s- and gave me some instructions for eating it. She said that while most people like it fried and served with eggs and grits she prefers it with a touch of maple syrup. The next morning I fried up a batch and served it with freshly baked buttermilk biscuits and a healthy serving of maple syrup.

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Bob Garner has spent his career doing exactly what I’m hoping to do with this project- connect with people from across the state to learn their stories and celebrate their culture and history. Tasting North Carolina grew out of a desire to reconnect with my home state, and thanks to people like Bob I know more and more about my roots every day.

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Fried Livermush Biscuit

1lb block of livermush or liverpudding

Maple syrup

drop biscuits:

4 cups flour

2 tsps baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsps salt

2 sticks butter

2 1/4 cups buttermilk

Heat oven to 400F.

Mix together dry ingredients. Cube butter and work in with your hands, breaking the butter up into small pieces and mixing in with the dry ingredients, until the texture resembles cornmeal. Stir in the buttermilk.

Use a spoon to drop the dough into a drop biscuit pan or onto a lined baking sheet.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Slice liver mush into 1/2″ slices. Fry in a buttered skillet for 2-3 minutes on each side, until browned and crisp. Serve on a sliced hot biscuit with a generous drizzle of maple syrup.

Sauerkraut & Dumplings

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A few months ago I spent the afternoon with my Great Uncle Ted and my Great Aunt Ann learning the secrets of Flossie’s pound cake. We talked about my great grandmother, my grandmother, and the whole Ballenger family, but mostly we talked about Ted’s favorite dish, sauerkraut & dumplins.

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I talked for a long time that day with Ted about his memories growing up, his mother’s family home in St Pauls, his Caudell uncles and the fast and furious lives they led. We talked about Flossie, her life, her roots. And we talked about food.

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Every conversation we had, no matter what it started with, circled back to sauerkraut and dumplings. Ted was incredibly focused. After I left I emailed his niece, my dad’s cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s mother Nita was my grandmother’s older sister, and Bobbie and Nita were inseparable. Elizabeth said while she wasn’t totally sure of the origins of the recipe, she made it all the time for Nita. She worked out a recipe and sent it over to me and I tried it out on my captive Fauxgiving audience.

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I would like to state here that I am 100% team Ted. He is completely right, this was better than every other food I made that day and I want to eat it every day forever. It was delicious- the spicy and vinegary sauerkraut worked perfectly with the fluffy and salty dumplings. This is my new favorite food. Sorry, pie.

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Sauerkraut & Dumplings

sauerkraut:

1 head cabbage, shredded

2 cups apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp caraway seeds

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp ginger powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp cayenne pepper

dumplings:

1 cup buttermilk

1 egg, beaten

1 cup sifted flour

1/4 tsp baking soda

Combine half of your shredded cabbage and your vinegar in a large skillet. Simmer for 10 minutes, and stir in the remaining cabbage and the spices. Simmer over medium low, stirring frequently, for 30 minutes.

Mix your dumpling ingredients together. Spoon onto the hot sauerkraut and cover. Cook, leaving covered, for 30 minutes, long enough for the dumplings to set. Serve hot.

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!