An ode to Southern food and gardening.
This past February/March, my husband and I took an extended road trip throughout the southern United States. It's been quite some time since we took a trip, and my husband, who is really quite superb at planning interesting getaways and events, did a bang-up job of putting this together.
The first part of our trip took us for an overnight stay to Frankfort, Kentucky, the state capital, so we could visit Buffalo Trace, the oldest bourbon distillery in the US, even continuing through Prohibition. If I did one thing on this trip, I learned to drink bourbon. Bourbon is a good thing. Walking through the barrel rooms means smelling an aroma that is often called the 'angel's share', which is a heavenly aroma you will never forget.
We continued our travels to Walland, Tennessee, where we stayed at the Blackberry Farm resort. Lest you think a resort in a tiny town in Tennessee sounds dull, it is anything but. The views of the Smoky Mountains alone are worth it, but so is the resort itself; staying in a luxurious little cottage with a working fireplace and canopy bed and Jacuzzi tub, being shuttled to dinner in one of their fleet of Lexuses, eating food that will blow your mind that is all grown or made at the farm, playing with the Italian water dog puppies they began breeding to hunt for the truffles they grew on the land (!), and riding horses through a creek, watching pileated woodpeckers in the trees…my God. You'd never want to leave. I sure didn't.
We next went on to my favourite city in the whole world, Charleston, South Carolina. If I had a way of doing so, I'd pack my bags today and move there at once. Not only is it stunningly beautiful, but it quite honestly has the very best food and drink in the whole world, has some remarkably nice people living there, and as a bonus you can watch dolphins swimming in the harbour. I've never eaten so well as I have in the Holy City. For me to order fish or seafood off a menu on purpose is really quite notable, but when you're right on the ocean, it's a different story than the stuff that's travelled a long way to me in southern Ontario. I could write rhapsodies about she-crab soup, shrimp and grits, Andouille sausage gumbo, the deep fried chicken skins at Husk restaurant…oh heavens, excuse me while I wipe my salivating mouth. I follow all sorts of Charleston restaurants on Instagram and am always blown away by the food they make. I miss you, Charleston!
Our last stop was New Orleans, in the midst of Mardi Gras. We aren't really party people and didn't partake of the Lundi Gras madness, but I was sort of amused by the fact you can buy booze at a bar at 6 a.m., by the guys drinking shots of vodka on the streets from an open bottle, the, um, half-naked people, and the rather crudely shaped 'go-cups' people carried from place to place. There is something really delightful in all that wildness. I overheard a man say "Don't take my picture; my wife thinks I'm in Dallas on a business trip!" to a photographer and laughed out loud. Even if you aren't incredibly drunk there is plenty to do and see in New Orleans, and to eat; I will never forget the wood fire grilled oysters with chili-lime butter at Cochon.
OK, so what does my travelogue have to do with southern Ontario agriculture? Well, one of the things we did at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee, other than stuff our faces and learn to ride horses and hug puppies, was to have an heirloom seed lesson with John Coykendall, the farm's master gardener.
He was excited to meet the Canadians, and had pulled out some whippoorwill peas for us to shell and take home some seeds, as he thought they'd grow in the harsh Canadian climate. (I didn't have the heart to explain that we're in growing zone 7 here and can even grow bamboo). We shelled peas for a while in the garden shed, and then we got to grind our own cornmeal with him. We shelled some Hickory King corn and then ground it, and we took a bag of the cornmeal home. Hickory King dates back to the late 1800s of Appalachia, and was sometimes known as 'bingo corn' because the kernels are so large they were used as chips.
John often travels across the world to collect seeds and has a story for each one. He had just returned from a trip to Washington Parish in Louisiana; he had driven down there in his truck with his 'chiweagle' dog to collect seeds; specifically 'Snow on the Mountain' beans, which are also sometimes known as Carroll's Calico, and are seeds that date back to the 1800s handed down in the family of Reverend Roy Blount. The stories John had about his seeds I'll never forget.
We took our treasures home from this trip, our seeds, our gas lamp from Charleston, and our bourbon, and returned from 20+ Celsius summery weather in New Orleans to -18 and a giant snowstorm in Grimsopolis. We collected our dog, glumly put the heat on, and began our mountain of laundry and acclimatized again to drab March Ontario weather. You all suffered the polar vortexes with me; you know what I mean.
However, as always summer in Ontario has come on and it has been a nice one. We set up our massive patio garden, and we planted our whippoorwill seeds and Snow on the Mountain beans, both of which are doing nicely. John had said he didn't think we'd get beans to save from the bean plant, but only time will tell; they are beginning to fruit already, and there is lots of time to go yet. It is nice to have growing souvenirs from our trip. I also gave some to Linda to grow, which she has planted; perhaps they'll become a regular feature at Tree and Twig, but even if not, it's nice to share a piece of that trip with her.
My husband found a single kernel of Hickory King corn in the bottom of our bag of cornmeal, and planted it in a large pot. There was only one seed, and to my surprise it took hold and has been growing nicely. We aren't sure if we'll actually get an ear of corn on it; there is a neighbour growing corn a ways down the street, but of course that will cross pollinate. I am not sure what our condo neighbours think of a cornstalk merrily waving over the fence, but regardless of what it does, it's a lovely memory of a lovely trip and seed lesson. Maybe the beans will take for Linda and become part of southern Ontario as so many other seeds around the world have done. One can only hope.
I leave you with a recipe that will use both cornmeal and bourbon in a southern fashion if this piece put you in the mood, Cornmeal Waffles with Banana-Bourbon Syrup, courtesy of the New York Times. This isn't really going to use up your CSA supplies, but it will be delicious anyhow.
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, more for waffle iron
- 1 large ripe banana, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 50 grams toasted chopped pecans (1/2 cup), optional
- 160 grams all-purpose flour (1 1/4 cups)
- 100 grams finely ground cornmeal (3/4 cup)
- 15 grams sugar (1 tablespoon)
- 8 grams baking powder (1 teaspoon)
- 5 grams fine sea salt (1 teaspoon)
- 3 grams baking soda (1/2 teaspoon)
- 1 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
- 1 cup whole milk
- 4 large eggs, separated
1. Melt 5 tablespoons butter either on the stove or in the microwave. Set aside.
2. In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter until foam subsides. Add bananas in a single layer. Cook, without moving, until undersides are golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes; flip and brown other side, 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer to a bowl.
3. Add bourbon to pan and let simmer until mostly evaporated, about 1 minute. Pour in syrup and nuts; simmer until just heated through. Pour syrup onto the bananas and cover to keep warm (or reheat just before serving).
4. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. In a separate bowl, whisk together sour cream or yogurt, milk, melted butter and egg yolks. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients.
5. In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. Immediately fold into batter.
6. Heat a waffle iron and, using a pastry brush or paper towel, lightly coat with melted butter. Cook waffles (using about 1/2 cup batter per waffle) until golden and crisp. Butter the iron in between batches as needed. Serve waffles immediately as they are ready, or keep warm in a 200-degree oven until ready to serve. Serve with banana syrup on top.
YIELD About 10 waffles