Monthly Archives: November 2015

The Story Behind Thanksgiving Dinner – A Micro-History of Locally Grown Thanksgiving Staples


Thanksgiving is at hand, and many of us have already begun preparing some of traditional favorites: corn, shellfish, roasted meat, and deer. Ok, so those probably aren’t the most traditional Thanksgiving foods in most people’s minds, but they were the fare at the first Thanksgiving . I suppose they weren’t traditional for the pilgrims, either, given that it was the first Thanksgiving, but that’s neither here nor there. While your Thanksgiving feast may differ from the original, there is something you can share in common with our societal ancestors. The people at that first Thanksgiving had local fare, and they knew where their food came from. Even if you didn’t raise your Thanksgiving turkey, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy local North Carolina produce with a history. While I can’t cover every dish you may have this Thursday, here’s the history behind a few Thanksgiving staples you may have in your box.

Apples. Pies, crumbles, turned to applesauce or apple butter, or in a recipe kit with bacon. No matter how you fix them, apples have strong ties to fall and the harvest. This week’s apples are from Deal Orchard. Deal Orchards is located just outside of Taylorsville, North Carolina in the foothills of the Brushy Mountains. The Orchard has been operated by the Deal family for three generations. They started in 1939, when Brack Deal and his wife Thelma Isabelle planted their first fruit trees. The Deals started with just 15 acres of orchard, but have grown over the years to over 100. Today, the orchard is run by Bracke and Isabelle’s son Lindsay and his son Alan, who oversee orchard operations along with their family .

Butter and Milk. Whether it’s in casseroles, baked goods, spread on warm rolls, or in a tall glass with dessert, butter and milk are key players in a Thanksgiving spread, even when they aren’t seen on the table. Your milk and butter from Papa Spud’s comes from Mapleview Farm. Mapleview Farm has been around since the 1800’s, originally located in Maine before moving to NC. Mapleview cows produce over 2,000,000 pounds of milk a year. The cows are raised, milk bottled, and butter made all on the farm in Hillsborough, NC. Mapleview products are hormone and antiboiotic free. They even make ice cream .

Potatoes. Thanksgiving potatoes come in a variety of forms, ranging from mashed to salad to French fries (I mean, someone probably has fries on Thanksgiving). Regardless of their final form or consistency, one would be hard pressed to find a Thanksgiving spread without potatoes unless a potato allergy runs in the family. And though potatoes come in a myriad of varieties, any red skinned potatoes in your box come to you from Britt Farms. Britt Farms is family owned and operated by Vernon and Jennifer Britt, and the farm has been in Vernon’s family since the days of his great-great-great-great-great grandfather – land that has been in his family since the 1600’s . The Britt family has been farming in Mt. Olive, NC ever since.

Pumpkins. One can’t forget pumpkins when discussing Thanksgiving staples. Perfect for pies, these pumpkins come from Dean Farm. Located in Wilson, NC, Dean Farm has been around since 1965. Not only are they the source of your holiday pumpkin fix, Dean Farm provides an experience as well as produce. Dean Farm has seasonal activities year round, and if the movie theater or skating rink aren’t your thing, even has a place to host birthday parties. Whether you in search of food, a field trip, or even a hayride, Dean Farm may have just what you’re looking for .

And that’s the history of Thanksgiving – wait, let me try that again. That was a partial, local micro-history of some of the foods you’ll be eating this Thanksgiving. It may not have included everything, but at least you know a few more people you can thank for your Thanksgiving bounty.
While it may not have included buckles on hats or how to use fish to grow corn, but it is short enough to read during commercials of the game. Anyway, size isn’t everything – something I plan on remembering when my belt has to be one notch looser on Friday.

Culinary Sleight of Hand – Recipe Substitutions that Could Save Your Meal

Hand with tweezers beans

You know that feeling when you’re about to make a recipe – or worse, you’ve already started – and you realize you’re missing a vital ingredient? Maybe someone finished off the eggs even though there were some half an hour ago when you checked. Maybe, like me, estimating how much of something you have left isn’t your strong suit. Maybe something got knocked off the counter and exploded. No matter the reason, whether guests are on their way, the birthday cake needs to be in the oven, or a snowstorm has stranded you at home, don’t panic. There’s hope for your recipe. With this handy list of ingredient substitutions, you may be able to have your meal while avoiding a snow-soaked hike to the grocery store.

Dry Ingredients:
• Baking Powder- 1 tsp = ¼ tsp baking soda + 5/8 tsp cream of tartar, or ¼ tsp baking soda + ½ cup buttermilk (reduce liquid by ½ cup)
• Brown Sugar – 1 cup granulated sugar plus 1 tbsp molasses or dark corn syrup
• Cornstarch (for thickening) – 1 tbsp = 2 tbsp flour (simmer for around 3 minutes after thickening for prevent raw flour taste)
• Cream of Tartar – ½ tsp = 1 ½ tsp lemon juice or vinegar
• Flour, Cake – 1 cup = 1 cup minus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour, sifted
• Flour, Self-Rising – 1 cup = 1 cup minus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour + 1 ½ tsp baking powder and ½ tsp salt
• Flour, Corn – 1:1 ratio all-purpose flour
• Flour, Pastry – 1 cup = 7/8 cup all-purpose flour
• Flour (for brownies) – 1 cup flour = 1 cup black bean puree
• Sugar (for baking) – 1:1 ratio unsweetened applesauce (reduce liquid by ¼ cup for every cup of applesauce)

• Butter – 1:1 ratio unsweetened applesauce (Works for sweet breads, muffins, and box mixes. Best as a partial substitution, if you’ve got some butter but not enough), or pureed avocado 1:1 ratio, or 1 tbsp chia seeds + 9 tbsp water (let sit combined for 15 minutes)
• Butter, Melted – Oil, 1:1 ratio (only for melted butter)
• Buttermilk – 1 cup = 1 tsp lemon juice or vinegar + enough milk to make a cup (let sit combined for five minutes before use)
• Cream, Half and Half – 1 cup = 7/8 cup milk plus 1 tbsp butter
• Cream, Heavy – 1 cup = 1 cup evaporated milk or 3/4 cup milk plus 1/3 cup butter
• Cream, Light – 1 cup = 1 cup evaporated milk or 3/4 cup milk plus 3 tbsp butter
• Eggs – 1 egg = 2 tbsp mayonnaise or, 1 tbsp chia seeds + 1 cup water (let sit for 15 minutes)
• Sour Cream – 1 cup = 1 cup plain yogurt, or 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar + enough cream to make 1 cup, or 3/4 cup buttermilk mixed with 1/3 cup butter

Assorted Ingredients:
• Bread Crumbs – 1:1 ratio finely crushed cracker crumbs, corn flakes or quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
• Corn Syrup – 1 cup = 1 ¼ cup sugar + 1/3 cup water, or 1 cup honey
• Dry Mustard – 1 tsp = 1 tbsp prepared mustard
• Ketchup – 1 cup = 1 cup tomato sauce + 1 tsp vinegar and 1 tsp sugar
• Lemon Juice – 1 tsp = ½ tsp vinegar, or 1 tsp white wine, or 1 tsp lime juice
• Mayonnaise – 1:1 ratio sour cream, or yogurt, or cottage cheese (pureed in blender)
• Oil (for baking) – 1:1 ratio unsweetened applesauce
• Saffron – 1:1 ratio Turmeric
• Tabasco Sauce – 4 drops = 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, or ¼ tsp black pepper
• Tomato paste – ½ cup = 1 cup tomato sauce cooked uncovered until reduced to 1/2 cup
• Tomato Sauce – 2 cups = 3/4 cup tomato paste plus 1 cup water
• Tomatoes, Canned – 1 can = 2 ½ cups chopped, peeled fresh tomatoes, simmered about 10 minutes
• Wine – 1 cup = 1 cup chicken or beef broth, or 1 cup juice + vinegar (use grape or cranberry for red, apple or white grape for white)
• Worchester Sauce – 1 tsp = 1 tsp bottled steak sauce or 1 tbsp soy sauce, 4 drops tabasco sauce, 1/8 tsp lemon juice, dash sugar

Whether you’re baking, cooking, frying, or even grilling, there are plenty of ways recipe substitutions can be a huge help in a pinch. The best part is substitutions can, at least theoretically, be combined Inception style. Need self-rising flour, but you’ve only got all-purpose? Substitute it. Don’t have the cream of tartar for that? Substitute that, too. I can’t promise about the outcome when substitutions get stacked since I haven’t tried it, but it works on paper. The possibilities are as vast as one’s bravery or desperation. If you’re still unsure about some of the substitutions above or how they may turn out, know that others have substituted weirder. Chia seeds instead of eggs may not be your thing, but I’ve heard from multiple sources that Richard the Lion Hearted’s chef substituted captured enemy for pork. Compared to the shutter and nausea inducing thought of (alleged) cannibalism, black beans in brownies sound pretty good. (Cannibalism is not good, but black bean brownies actually are).

Texas-style Linguiça and Kale Stew


Portuguese Linguiça sausage from the Weeping Radish Butchery comes together with black eyed peas, bold spices, chiles, and fresh local kale in a slow cooker dish that is super easy to make, but full of flavor. The ingredients take just a short time to prepare, then toss them in the slow cooker, and come home to a meal that will feed the whole family! A delicious Fall stew! Prep time: 20 mins / Slow Cooker Time: 5-6 hours / Serves 4-5

• 6 oz. black eyed peas, dried
• 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
• 1 lb. linguica sausage, sliced
• 2 ribs celery, chopped
• 1 cup yellow onion, chopped
• 1 dried guajillo chile, stemmed and seeded
• 1 dried New Mexico chile, stemmed and seeded
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 tsp. ground cumin
• 1 tsp. dried thyme
• 1 tsp. paprika
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1/2 tsp. pepper
• 2 cups chicken broth or substitute water
• 1 cup water
• pinch of cayenne Pepper, optional
• 4 oz. kale, stems removed, sliced into bite-size pieces

1. Prepare your black eyed peas by soaking them in water overnight (8 hours). Or, cover them with two inches of water in a pot. Bring the pot to a boil, and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let them soak in hot water for 1 hour. Drain black eyed peas and pick through them.

2. Prepare your chiles by cutting off the stems, then cutting down the side to open the chile and remove all of the seeds and membrane.

3. Heat oil in a pan over medium high heat. Cook sausage slices until well browned on both sides. Remove sausages from heat. Add chiles to the pan, and toast for 2-3 minutes.

4. Put black eyed peas, sausages, celery, onion, chiles, garlic, bay leaf, cumin, thyme, paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, chicken broth, and water in the slow cooker, mix well. Turn slow cooker to low, and cook until black eyed peas are soft, 5-6 hours.

5. As you near the end of cooking, remove the chiles from the slow cooker, put them in a blender or food processor, along with a few tablespoons of the stew broth. Blend until pureed, then return chile paste to the slow cooker. Mix well.

6. When the stew is done, add kale pieces, mix well and cook for 5 minutes.

7. Serve stew in bowls with a side of rice.

The Quest for NC Apples


When I started researching apple production in North Carolina, I wasn’t sure what aspect would catch my attention for the weekly update. I expected the subject to fall somewhere in between production numbers and why apples are grown where they’re grown. Then someone pointed out that you never see North Carolina apples in the store. Why doesn’t one see NC apples in the store? I decided this was the line of inquiry to follow.

My great grandparents had an apple orchard when I was growing up, so I never questioned the fact that North Carolina produces apples. Maybe we don’t produce as many apples as I assumed. It turns out NC is in the top ten states for apple production, usually falling around 7th . Of course, if the US doesn’t produce that many apples or almost all come from one state, then seventh place may not be that many. I started digging through the first of many documents, charts, and Excel files to find some actual numbers. In 2010, North Carolina actually produced around 134 million pounds of apples . So a lack of apples shouldn’t be the reason for their absence in box stores.

Perhaps the reasons are geographic. If the area for apples is clustered, they may not get distributed evenly throughout the state. Apple production in the state clusters into five major areas: Henderson, Haywood, Mt. Mitchel, Northwest, and South Mountain areas . The areas aren’t massively spread out, but the spread is big enough and transportation accessible enough that geography shouldn’t be a problem. The reason for the clusters actually dates back as early as the 19th century. Apples have been grown in thermal belt areas of North Carolina since pioneers in the 1800’s discovered that growing apples on hill slopes instead on mountaintops or the bottom of valleys made for a longer growing season . In southwestern NC, there is an average rainfall of over ninety inches (versus an average of forty to fifty-five inches east of the mountains) because a barrier formed by the mountains forces moist, southerly winds over it . Overall, the thermal belts make an excellent place to grow apples.

So if North Carolina has plenty of apples and geography doesn’t prevent them from being moved around, what’s the problem? Poking through some more USDA spreadsheets, I found that in 2010, 50.7 million pounds of NC apples were used for canning. That’s a decent chunk. Excel file revealed that an additional 21 million pounds get turned into juice or cider. So, around 72.1 million pounds of the 134 mil don’t even reach the final consumer as a whole apple (most of this comes to you in the form of juice or apple sauce). What about the 40-ish percent that do reach the last step of their journey still intact? One-fourth of US apples are exported to other countries , and since a breakdown by state isn’t readily available, let’s just use the average. So 30% of 134 million pounds equals a lot of apples still unaccounted for (around 40.2 million lbs.).

The most commonly grown apples fall into one of four types, but there are actually over forty other types grown in the state; however, these are almost exclusively found in roadside stands . Any others will generally be found at the farmer’s market. That’s the ‘where’ of finding North Carolina apples, and the ‘why’ has been answered to a certain numerical degree, but for the bigger ‘why’ one can’t find NC apples in stores, I don’t have an exact answer. With the apple production in North Carolina being spread over around three hundred orchards, maybe it’s easier for stores to import apples instead of dealing with multiple suppliers. Stores may think apples sound more exotic if they come from places that are usually cold. Or perhaps history plays a role. Thinking on the roadside stands and stories of how my great grandfather used to get on his bike and peddle apples, maybe NC likes to keep things old school. Or maybe North Carolina likes to keep its local apples truly local.

Carolina apples may not be as convenient to find as imports in the store, but NC apples are worth looking for. The weather in North Carolina’s apple growing regions is ideal for producing apples with a great combination of crispness, juiciness, and sweetness. Finding North Carolina apples may not always be easy, but like the overlooks and hiking trails in the land where they grow, a bit of effort pays off.