Posts Tagged With: anson mills

Fish and Biscuits, Two Beginnings

(My tradition has been to post memories of the previous year’s Southern Foodways Symposium as the next one approaches. Like most everything, the virus-that-shall-not-be-named put a dent in that practice last year. There was a symposium in 2020, but it was online, I had to cook my own meals, and I didn’t post the 2019 ponderings. Thankfully, we will meet again in Oxford just over a week from now, so it’s time to get back to business. Let’s remember the good old days of fall, 2019, before…you know.)

October is one of my favorite months of the year.  Usually we’ve had a few cold days by then – nights, at least.  I don’t have to mow any more.  (I probably need to give it another cut … but I probably won’t.)  Football is in full swing.  Leaves are beginning to turn red, cotton fields are turning white.  And The Wife and I head to Oxford for the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium.  

This year the theme was Food is Work.  As described on the SFA event page, we heard “stories of the domestic and public labor that powers growing, cooking, and serving food.”  We can all say we have a modicum of knowledge about this when it comes to the personal connections we have with our food.  We interact with servers in restaurants and might know the chefs.  We happen to know a few folks who sell food to restaurants.  If we go to the farmer’s market or participate in a CSA, we’re getting close to where the food begins it’s journey.  Once or twice a week, we exchange money with someone in the checkout line at the grocery store.  

But undoubtedly, as we look at our overflowing grocery cart or even one meal on a plate, a lot of work has been done between the source of the food and the final product.  We don’t know much about the day-to-day work life of the tomato picker in Florida that helps make our Caprese salad, or the risky work of the undocumented immigrant in the poultry plant that allows those chicken nuggets to be so inexpensive.  

Some of the talks were hard to hear; at minimum, eye-opening.  We were on a college campus, and we got educated. In particular, we left with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the folks that made our amazing meals possible.  

Over the years I’ve picked up on the fact that the chefs tasked with creating meals for the 350 plus guests at the symposium put in a lot of work.  And that, I’m sure, is a serious understatement.  They test recipes long before they arrive, and often do prep work before they get to Oxford.  Once they arrive, hours upon hours are spent in the kitchen getting ready.  

I happened to be on the bus on the way to dinner at Rowan Oak the first night and recognized Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue, who would be doing dinner the next night.  I introduced myself, and asked if he’d be prepping all the next day.  He looked at the nice lady who was sitting behind me and they just laughed.  Apparently the nice lady had just learned that she would be making the cornbread to go with his whole hog barbecue.  What I didn’t realize at the moment was that the nice lady was Erika Council, the force behind the Southern Souffle blog and Bomb Biscuits pop-ups in the Atlanta area.  Nor did I realize that she’d be making those biscuits for breakfast the very next morning.  The next 24 hours would be a little busy.  And as always, the attendees got a blessing.

Two Anson Mills bomb biscuits awaited us in our brown bags at the breakfast hour: one black pepper/ricotta, one sausage.  The black pepper ricotta was something entirely new, but when I Googled it to look at recipes, it seems lots of folks are making these.  So, entirely new…to me.  A little apple butter made it even better.  The sausage biscuit, however, was my fave.  It featured Jake’s Fresh Country Sausage, made in vast quantities (because it sells in vast quantities) at the 150 Quick Stop in Bardstown, Kentucky.  In the SEC Network food and culture program, True South, C.P. Smith tells host John T. Edge, “Not too many biscuits make it out of the parking lot.”  Thankfully, some of the sausage did.  

The next morning, we were treated to a tour of the Barnard Observatory on the Ole Miss campus, home of the Center of the Study of Southern Culture, and the offices of the SFA.  We also had a chance to see Angie Mosier’s photography exhibit, Dish Pit Panorama – another view of the work done to make meals happen.  While wandering about the observatory, we dined on fish and grits. 

 

If that seems odd to you for breakfast, I would guess you didn’t grow up near the ocean.  I didn’t either, so I don’t have it for breakfast very often, but if I could have it this way, I’d have it once a week.  Chef Bill Briand from Fisher’s and Playa restaurants in Orange Beach, took Simmons delacata catfish, blackened it, placed it atop Anson Mills grits, then added Creole-style pork gravy on top of everything.   

These grits were some of the creamiest I’ve ever had.  Pillow soft, yet just enough texture to let you know grits were involved.  The catfish was perfectly cooked and seasoned.  And the gravy – I think that’s what took me over the edge.  Caramelized onions, bits of ham, big slices of garlic, herbs, and maybe some magic.  Or love.  Probably both.  It was rich and decadent, and the composed dish was one of my favorite breakfasts in recent memory.  

I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Royal Cup Coffee for anchoring both mornings.  I was particularly fond of the lightly flavored cold brew they served on biscuit day – caramel bourbon, as I recall.  They are always there to take care of us, and never fail to properly caffeinate the masses for the day ahead.  There was much to ponder on these days, and we needed to be attentive. 

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Literary Lunchtime at the SFA (2016)

[What follows is Part the Third of this series on the 2016 Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium.  Working up an appetite for the 2017 meeting…as if that were necessary.]

Over my lifetime the significance of the noontime meal has ebbed and flowed. Even the names have changed. As a kid, we ate dinner at noon and supper in the evening. Meanwhile my friends were having lunch and dinner. If a buddy invited me over for dinner, I wasn’t sure when to show up.
During those early years lunch was likely to be light: sandwiches, soup, maybe just peanut butter and crackers. Either that or whatever the school was serving. Dinner – supper, I mean – was the big meal. That’s where we had the barbecued chicken, lemon pepper pork chops, lasagna, or casseroles. Then I got married and moved across the world. Over there lunch was the big meal, and the evening meal was basically a repeat of breakfast.
So now I’m back where I started, and I have a wife and kids and a chaotic schedule. It’s difficult to find a pattern anymore. One weekend a year, however, we go to a magical place where no meals are to be missed. That place is the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium. But even there, lunch is particularly celebrated and this year brought some interesting twists.
Most of the meals at SFA have a name – “lunch” is just not sufficient. On Day One we were served a “Midday Meal Absent Colonial Thought.” That took some explaining. Chef Sean Sherman of Minneapolis – aka the Sioux Chef – put together a pre-colonial meal taken from the pantry of the South, “when all Southern foods were Native and so were all Southern cooks.” This meant no sugar, no eggs, no pork, no wheat. Nothing that was brought to the land by the colonists. I could not have imagined how to put a meal like that together, but Chef Sherman has been studying this for a piece. And though not everything on the table was something my 21st century taste buds will crave again, it was truly a meal for the bucket list.
The focus of the symposium was corn, and we learned that a grass known as Teosinte is one of the corn plant’s ancestors. For this meal, the Teosinte was bound with a white bean pulse and smoked fish, garnished with wild greens and a crisp piece of fish skin. Consuming the ancient great-great-granddaddy of corn: that’s definitely pre-colonial. Slightly more recognizable were the slices of duck, with a dollop of honey, crab apple, and corn mush. The salad was a mix of wild greens, mixed with sumac-stewed sun-dried rabbit. I didn’t even know sumac-stewed sun-dried rabbit was on my bucket list, but it is checked off now.

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Another meaty dish was cedar bison (that is, bison slightly flavored with cedar) with a corn cake made from Anson Mills Native Coarse Blue Corn Grits. This was probably my favorite dish of the meal. I have looked into buying blue corn grits before – they just look like fun. (Green Eggs and Ham, with a side of Blue Grits – I can definitely see that.) Another favorite at the table was a savory little cake made with sunflower and acorn, highlighted by tiny little beads of popped amaranth.
Would you like to guess what we washed all this down with? You won’t get it right, trust me, so I’ll just tell you. Cedar tea. That’s right. We drank tea flavored by boughs from cedar trees, at least some of which came from Rowan Oak, the home of William Faulkner. One swig and I felt downright literary.

IMG_3519Lunch on Day Two bore the name “Georgia Corn Husker Luncheon” but could have also been called “Corn – Fourteen Ways.” To prepare for this meal, we were told, Chef Steven Satterfield of Miller Union in Atlanta kept a year-long running list of corn dishes. It turned out to be almost a contest to see how many variations of corn he could plant into one lunch. I don’t know who he was competing against, but he surely won the game. Let’s count.
One: Corn Cob Iced Tea. What can I say? We drank corn-flavored tea, and it was better than it sounds.
Two: Homemade Corn Nuts from nixtamalized hominy marinated in lime juice, lime zest and Tabasco. Side note here. Nixtamalization is the process by which corn is soaked in lime (not the fruit – the other kind), hulled, and turned into things like masa, which is then turned into tortillas and such. It essentially transforms the corn into something more nutritious. I’ve certainly oversimplified it, but it’s an important process. The more you know…
Three: Paprika Popcorn. Just a little snack.
Four: Pickled Cornlettes. AKA baby corn on the cob.
Five: Anson Mills Blue Corn Nachos topped with black-eyed peas, green tomato pico, turnip greens, pickled jalapeno, radish. If we had stopped there and jumped to dessert I would have been completely satisfied. But there are nine to go.

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Six, seven, eight and nine: Smoked trout, (6) Jimmy Red Grits, pepper gravy, (7) corn and pepper relish, (8) charred corn, crispy trout skin, (9) skillet cornbread and greens. Just a word here: loved the color-speckled grits. Except for the cornbread, this was all together in one big bowl – as delicious as it was colorful. And the greens were all up in the cornbread – I’ve eaten greens and cornbread together before, but not greens baked into the cornbread.

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Ten and eleven: (10) Sweet corn, field pea and duck confit succotash, (11) cornmeal spoonbread, pumpkin-persimmon jam and arugula. Maybe my favorite (until dessert). The spoonbread had two layers, creamy on top with a little more texture on the lower part. This was a plate for the ages.
And finally, corn-coctions twelve, thirteen and fourteen: Ice cream sandwiches made with (12) cornmeal blondie cookies, (13) sweet corn ice cream (much better and milder than the batch I made a few years ago), rolled in (14) corn dust. I ate several of these. They were little and I am not. Definitely not now.

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