Category: Historic foodways
Spartanburg Restaurateurs Make the City’s Burger Trail a Smashing Success
I love my friends at Mindy Bianca Public Relations’ firm. I really do. But if I hang with them much longer, I’m going to have to consider re-upping my gym membership to the mega level because they sure do like their food whether it’s the Cajun Bayou Food Trail, Meat Plus Three, Dollywood’s Flower & Food Festival, 11 great cake places they suggest stopping at in honor Duncan Hines who was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, King’s Cakes and all other yummy Mardi Gras foods, and Four Great Christmas Holiday Destinations and we know what that means–lots of cookies, candies, and cakes. Oh, and I almost forgot–there’s Branson at holiday time when they bake about 30,000 fruitcakes each year and Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas where the list of foods includes herb-roasted turkey breast and citrus-glazed carved ham, eggnog cupcakes, gingerbread-dusted funnel cakes, and chicken pot pie in a bread cone along with a libation called Spazzy Sparkleshot
And now, just in time for National Burger Month, they’re on to Spartanburg, South Carolina where a year ago the former mill town introduced their SpartanBURGER Trail (yes, they’re really called “SpartanBURGERS” and it has nothing to do with the Spartans of Michigan State University) a name honoring both the city’s residents and culinary culture. Since the trail’s inception, additional stops have been added to ensure even more juicy options for visitors to choose. All it takes to travel the trail is a cell phone to check in at each stop. The more stops you eat at, the more swag you earn. And we’re talking burger socks–we’re talking serious swag.
AAnd what is also great–no matter your dietary restrictions or preferences (we’re looking at you, gluten-free vegetarians!), classic burger culture has evolved so that now EVERYONE can enjoy the month dedicated to one of America’s most favorite foods.
Why’s the trail such a tasty triumph? Sure hand-crafted, creative, and definitely yummy are part of it all but credit goes to the chefs and owners at these burger-centric restaurants who are a major part of what makes Spartanburg a delicious destination.
Check out some of the burger stops HERE.
Classic Burger Experience: Sugar-n-Spice
212 S. Pine Street, Spartanburg, SC 29302
Sure, burgers have evolved over the years and now they’re not just the traditional patty, LTO, cheese and bun. But what if that’s your thing? What if you yearn for the good ol’ days when a burger was just a burger? Head to Sugar-n-Spice, a classic drive-in that has only changed its menu once in the 60+ years it’s been open. This place serves as a reminder of not only where the humble hamburger started, but also Spartanburg’s growing food scene. The walls are covered in memorabilia from the community, along with photos from the founders’ homeland, Greece, for an extra-personal touch. Customers come in as strangers and leave feeling like family – perhaps one of the many reasons this retro joint is still thriving more than half a century later. Of course, we recommend any of the classic burgers, which are best enjoyed with a side of fries or onion rings. (Or both. Who are we kidding? They’re THAT good!)
Minority- and Woman-Owned: Chef Ae’s
288 Magnolia Street, Spartanburg, SC 29306
Chef Amonrat “Ae” Zavala brings authentic flavors from her home country of Thailand in every dish she serves at her restaurant … with an American twist, of course! She hasn’t always been a chef dreaming of serving fusion cuisine, however. Formerly a yoga teacher living in Miami, Zavala found her true calling and it led her to Hub City. She’s never looked back. To get a taste of the perfect Thai/American flavor fusion, we recommend ordering the Isan Thai Sausage Burger. This beef patty is topped with American cheese, Thai sausage, pickles, the traditional LTO and the restaurant’s homemade bang bang sauce.
Featured Main Street Business: Burgar
137 W. Main Street, Spartanburg, SC 29306
Full of local businesses from coffee shops to breweries to art galleries, Main Street is a prime example of how Spartanburg has transformed from a former mill town and railroad hub to a thriving area full of growth and opportunity for those who live, work and visit this part of South Carolina. Main Street boasts a few stops on the burger trail, but this one is a stand-out to us. Burgar offers a variety of unique takes on the classic patty, including the Aloha Hawaii Burgar with grilled chicken breast, mozzarella, kale, caramelized onions, grilled pineapple and a creamy chipotle sauce. You can stop in, grab a bite of “burgar” and feel good knowing you’re supporting a Main Street business … all while getting a tasty burger that makes you remember you’re smack-dab in the heart of Spartanburg.
Woman-Operated: Southside Smokehouse
726 S. Howard Avenue, Landrum, SC 29356
Former South Carolina Chef Ambassador Sarah McClure churns out barbecue and Cajun-inspired dishes at Southside Smokehouse. Her success as a chef has led her to represent the state of South Carolina as a Chef Ambassador, nab the runner-up spot in Guy’s Grocery Games, and be prominently featured in several publications. These accolades are apparent at Southside, as what was once a roadside BBQ joint is now a thriving, eclectic spot for a myriad of unique and modern flavors. While Sarah offers a classic burger and even a Bayou Burger, we opt for the FGT & Pimento Cheese Burger because the fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese toppings embody our favorite foods of the South.
Epicenter of Spartanburg’s Food Scene: Cribb’s Kitchen
226-B W. Main Street, Spartanburg, SC 29306
With a variety of restaurants all over Spartanburg County, the Cribb family is an essential chapter of the story of Spartanburg’s booming food scene. One of their most popular joints, Cribb’s Kitchen, hosts an annual burger cook-off. Each year, the winner of the cook-off receives the honor of seeing their burger added to the Cribb’s Kitchen menu – and therefore available to everyone traveling the SpartanBURGER trail. This year, the Berry Good Poppin Jalapeno Smash Burger was the cook-off winner … for good reason! Fresh jalapenos are smashed into the beef patty, which is then topped with American cheese, candied jalapeno bacon, Lake Bowen Lager whipped cream cheese, crispy jalapenos and finished with a Raspberry Weisse Is Right sauce. Put all this between a sesame brioche bun and you have patty perfection.
Does it sound great? Are you ready to hit the road? The people along the SpartanBURGER trail await. @VisitSptbg
A Little Burger History
According to the National Today, a website that lists all the national holidays, the name “hamburger” derives, of course, from the city of Hamburg, Germany. Some residents of Hamburg were headed as far west as the eastern shores of the United States during the 18th century. Many of them brought a snack called the “Hamburgh sausage.” This snack, like its cousin the “Rundstück warm,” combined a meatball similar to the Swedish meatball with a slice of bread for utensil-free handling.
But, and this is according to an article on Food & Wine magazine’s website, the first burger may actually date back to 1st Century AD Rome and a dish called Isicia Omentata that we don’t think you’ll like that much at all as it was made of minced meat (we’re not sure what kind of meat) and also contained pine nuts, pepper, and flavorings of wine and garum. The latter is a fermented fish sauce used in ancient times. As for Omentum, it’s the Latin word for caul fat, an ingredient widely used in historical and traditional Italian cuisine that would have been used in this dish to give the lean meat more flavor and taste.
If you’re interested in knowing more, The World Is Your Burger: A Cultural History, a book by David Michaels and published by Phaidon Press.
Celebrating Ancient Grains: Heritage Baking Cookbook
A history major and bread aficionado, Ellen King became intrigued by the abundance of grains once available and commonly grown in the United States that had, since World War II, completely disappeared from the marketplace and which often didn’t seem to exist anymore.
“I spent some time in Norway and bread was about all I could afford to eat,” says King, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in history and then attended the Seattle Culinary Academy and worked in several Seattle restaurants before she moved to Evanston, Illinois. Shocked at finding that Chicago didn’t have the types of breads she yearned for, she began a search for heirloom grains and began making bread the old fashioned way—using natural wild yeasts as an ingredient, mixing and turning the dough by hand for several hours and then injecting steam for a crisp crust while it bakes in an imported European oven.
But that wasn’t enough for King, who in 2013 opened Hewn Bakerywith partner Julie Matthei in Evanston, Illinois and is the author of Heritage Baking: Recipes for Rustic Breads and Pastries Baked with Artisanal Flour with Amelia Levin (Chronicle Books). For her hand foraged breads she wanted to harken back to the grains of a century or so ago instead of using the homogenous flour currently turned out by big corporate mills.
What good was opening a bakery if I couldn’t find good ingredients, King remembers thinking. Partnering with farmer Andrea Hazard who was interested in growing heirloom grains, the two finally connected with Stephen Jones, a wheat breeder and the Director of The Bread Lab at Washington state University. Jones, who earned a PhD in Genetics from the University of California at Davis, suggested she and, a farmer who was interesting in growing heritage wheat, read old farming journals to find out what varieties that were grown at the turn of the last century.
“There are literally over 10,000 varieties of wheat,” King says. “One person told me 100,000.”
The names are romantic–Rouge de Bordeaux, Turkey Red and Marquis. But the seeds seemed ephemeral. Take Marquis, a hard red spring wheat first introduced in Canada in 1895. It was among the most widely grown wheat in the United States between the 1910s through the 1930s. During the 1920s, Marquis accounted for 59% of the wheat produced in Wisconsin. By the time King went looking for it, Marquis was no longer grown and she couldn’t find the seeds.
But her years during historical research paid off. Countless queries led to a college professor who had 2.2 pounds of Marquis wheat. Planting the seeds King and Hazard were able to produce 30 pounds the first year. Now they hope to have 3000 seeds which will yield enough to both make bread and save seeds.
“That way we can grow more and share with other farmers,” she says.
Selecting a loaf of bread from Hewn is like taking a step back into history. The menu of hand-forged breads made from organic, locally sourced re-discovered wheat varieties include those made with Turkey Red, a heritage variety of wheat grown in Wisconsin and Kansas Lower in gluten the bread has a nutty flavor and Red Fife–a heritage variety of wheat grown and milled in Wisconsin.
Why did these varieties disappear, I ask King.
“After World War II the cherished varieties fell out of favor,” she says. “And when we did that we lost the uniqueness of each region where the wheat grew and we lost the flavor. Along with the homogenization of our wheat, we added fertilizers and products like Round-Up and made bread less healthy.”
It was all about efficiency and mass production.
“General Mills flour is always exactly the same and large scale baking needs that consistency,” she says. “At Hewn, I invest in people, not machinery. For us, it’s about training the baker in how to treat and understand the flour.”
Just as wine connoisseurs can recognize the terroir of grapes, King can do the same with wheat. And though heirloom produce like tomatoes, squash and peppers has become a major player in farming, she says wheat varieties are still lagging.
But she enjoys the challenge of finding farmers who are growing them.
“There are more and more people doing it,” she says. “I met this guy who is growing Pedigree Number 2. At first I couldn’t find any one growing Red Kharkoff anywhere, but now I’m connecting with a farmer in Washington state who is growing it and all sorts of grains. It takes time, but it’s worth it—it’s better for the soil, for the environment and for our health. It tastes great. And also, it’s history.”
Heritage Corn and Berry Muffins
Excerpted with permission from Heritage Baker by Ellen King
Note: Most of the recipes in Heritage Baker require preparing a starter which is a process that takes several days. King recommended that beginners start with one of her muffin recipes as they are the simplest to make. She also notes that the flavor of flint corn is rich and pronounced but if you can’t find Floriani, any flint corn variety from your region will work well for this recipe. You can also, more easily, substitute regular or coarsely ground cornmeal which is found in supermarkets. Be sure to avoid finely ground cornmeal. Brands available in grocery stores like Bob’s Red Mill offer coarse ground coarse meal and a variety of flours. There are several places in Michigan where you can order specialty heirloom flours.
Country Life Natural Foods in Pullman, Michigan is a wholesaler but also sells in small amounts. They offer mail order and delivery. 641 52nd St., Pullman, MI 800-456-7694.
DeZwaan Windmill on Windmill Island in Holland, Michigan sells stone ground cornmeal and flour. Click here for more information about their products.
Ingredients for some of the grains in King’s book such as flint corn can be found online, at specialty stores or at farm markets.
Janie’s Mill in Askum, Illinois offers a wide variety of flours including Organic Black Emmer, Organic Einkorn, and Organic Red Fife Heirloom Flour as well as other products such as Whole Organic Spelt Berries, Organic Bloody Butcher Cornmeal, and Organic Turkey Red Flour among many others.
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 13/4 cups sifted heritage flour, such as White Sonora or Richland
- 1/2 cup fine-milled Floriani Flint or other heritage cornmeal
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 cup strawberries, quartered, or blueberries
- 1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
- 1/2 cup stone rolled heritage oats
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 12-cup muffin pan.
To make the batter, stir together the granulated sugar and eggs in a large bowl until combined. Stir in the heavy cream, sour cream, and vanilla, followed by the melted butter. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and stir just until combined.
Using a wooden spoon, very gently fold in the berries. Do not overmix. Using an ice cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups; the cups should be three-quarters full.
To make the streusel topping, combine the brown sugar, oats, and butter in a small bowl. Using a spoon or your hands, stir until the mixture becomes crumbly. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of the topping over each muffin.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until a metal skewer or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, or freeze in a resealable plastic bag for up to 3 months. To reheat, set on the counter until thawed and warm in a 325°F oven for 10 minutes.
Hewn in the News: Food & Wine magazine featured Hewn as one of the Best Bakeries in America and in the article The Best Bread in Every State. Hewn was listed among the Best Bread Bakeries at the Food Network, and as one of the Best Bakeries in Chicago by Thrillist. Click here to listen to their recent interview on the WBBM Noon Business Hour. Click here to read Midwest Living Magazine’s “Best of the Midwest.” Click here to watch Steve Dolinsky’s recent segment on the bakery on NBC5 Chicago. To learn more about their expansion to Libertyville, click here.
Photos by John Lee reprinted with permission by Chronicle Books. Additional photos by Siege Food Photo, Kailley Lindman and Julie Matthei
Try One or All of These 11 Great Cakes in Honor of Duncan Hines
My friends at Mindy Bianca Public Relations tell me they love representing Bowling Green, Kentucky for many reasons, but at the top of their list is the fact it’s the hometown of Duncan Hines. Most of us know his name from boxed cake mixes sitting on the grocery shelves, but that’s just part of his story as Mindy would say. Here’s a big wedge of American pop culture for you … perhaps best served with a tall glass of milk.
Duncan Hines was a traveling salesman who didn’t know much about cooking but knew a lot about good food and he kept notes during his travels and made recommendations for fellow travelers. His notes became books and his books became best sellers with names like “Adventures in Good Eating” and Adventures In Good Cooking And The Art Of Carving In The Home Tested Recipes Of Unusual Dishes From America’s Favorite Eating Places. Mindy and her team selected these cakes in homage to Hines who was born on March 26, 1880. And these aren’ts any old cakes, they’re confectionary marvels that will make you want to hit the road!
Bundt Cake from The Cake Shop at Boyce’s General Store, Bowling Green, Kentucky
Let’s start close to where Duncan Hines himself did … right near Bowling Green, Kentucky. Boyce’s General Store is a foodie heaven, serving as the kitchen and retail shop for two phenomenal dessert bakers, The Pie Queen and The Cake Shop. Though the dynamic duo who bake the cakes create all sorts of flavors – the display case simply makes your mouth water – we’re most intrigued by the bundt cakes. No matter which flavor you get, you can expect a cake that’s moist and rich and covered in a cream cheese glaze. If you don’t need to serve 10 to 12 of your closest friends, go for the mini sampler, which features one each of chocolate, apple spice, snickerdoodle and red velvet.
7-Layer Caramel Cake from Caroline’s Cakes, Spartanburg, South Carolina
For years, Caroline’s Cakes has been sending its delicacies out through their successful mail-order service. Last year, though, the bakers finally opened a storefront along Beaumont Avenue in Spartanburg, meaning that visitors to this town along the northern border of South Carolina can finally walk into a shop for an immediate taste of one of the city’s most delicious exports. The 7-Layer Caramel Cake features – surprise! – seven layers of moist yellow cake crowned by melt-in-your-mouth caramel icing. It’s a Southern classic that has achieved ultimate success: making it to Oprah’s list of favorite things! (It’s on our list of favorite things, too, but we know that doesn’t carry nearly as much prestige as Oprah’s.)
Hummingbird Cake from Lola
Historic downtown Covington, Louisiana Northshore
When Hurricane Katrina blew through Louisiana in 2005, Keith and Nealy Frentz, who were both sous chefs at the world-famous Brennan’s restaurant in New Orleans, found themselves out of work. They evacuated to Keith’s hometown of Covington and opened their own restaurant just a year later. It’s hard to decide on the very best meal at Lola – we can confirm that everything on the menu is delicious – but one thing is certain: You must end that meal with a piece of hummingbird cake. Nealy uses her grandma’s recipe to craft this moist banana cake that’s filled with chunks of juicy pineapple and a dash of cinnamon. It’s all topped off with a decadent cream cheese icing, ensuring that both the fruit and dairy food groups are beautifully represented. Hooray for Nealy’s take on the food pyramid!
Lane Cake from The Hummingbird Way Oyster Bar
Lane Cake was invented by Emma Rylander Lane more than 100 years ago as an entry in Alabama’s state fair, with its recipe being officially published in a cookbook in 1898. It entered popular culture through multiple mentions in Harper Lee’s 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird, and it ultimately bumped hummingbird cake (sorry, Nealy!) out of the way to become Alabama’s official state dessert. The cake gets its incredible flavor from its rich icing, which is made with chopped pecans, golden raisins, coconut and Alabama whiskey and then spread between layers and layers of moist cake. Chef Jim Smith, proprietor of The Hummingbird Way Oyster Bar, one of Mobile’s favorite restaurants, is the former executive chef for the State of Alabama … so we can confirm he knows his way around the state’s favorite dessert.
Italian Cream Cake from Cajun Pecan House
Cut Off, Louisiana, part of Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou
The MBPR team is proud to represent an array of Southern destinations, and you’ll see a running theme among them when it comes to their baked goods: moist cake, some sort of fruit or nut, cream cheese icing. Our favorite selection in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, aka “Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou,” is the Italian Cream Cake from the charming Cajun Pecan House. The place lives up to its name and tosses pecans on and in pretty much everything. Lots of folks come here looking for a pecan pie or a praline – both of which are delicious – but the bakers also put plenty of their namesake nut into a yellow cake batter that’s made extra-moist by the addition of coconut. Then they slather it in a rich cream cheese icing that’s topped with additional coconut and – you guessed it – more pecans! It feels more Southern than Italian to us, but we are NOT complaining!
Caramel Cake from Deep South Cake Company
Your sweet tooth will get quite a workout at the Deep South Cake Company, which is home to a dazzling array of cakes and cupcakes. But the winner by a landslide – the bakery sells at least 1,400 of them between Thanksgiving and Christmas alone – is the legendary caramel cake. Shannon Rumley and her team put a lot of time and energy into this cake, which features a burnt sugar icing that Shannon’s mother and grandmother taught her how to make when she was just a kid. Achieving the proper consistency for the icing requires constant stirring, so this cake truly is a labor of love. If you’re not into caramel – or if you’re loyal to Caroline’s Cakes (see above) and feel guilty eating a caramel cake from anywhere else – don’t fear: Shannon’s second-best seller is a strawberry cake that cuts the sweet with a little zip from the berries.
Pink Champagne Cake from Spark’d Creative Pastry
The bake shop at the historic HOTEL DU PONT in Wilmington, Delaware
Speaking of strawberries, how about that classic romantic combo of berries and champagne? There’s a lot to love about a stay in the historic HOTEL DU PONT in downtown Wilmington, but we think that being just a few paces away from the offerings at Spark’d, the hotel’s bake shop, is one of the strongest motivators for booking a room here. The Pink Champagne Cake is the delightful merger of strawberry cake, strawberry jam and Champagne buttercream icing. With a little advance notice, the hotel’s pastry team is also happy to create a custom design to ensure that the cake you order is perfectly suited to its recipient.
Gingerbread Cake from Mrs. Johnnie’s Gingerbread House
A Louisiana bakery that proves that so-called seasonal cakes are amazing all year round is Mrs. Johnnie’s Gingerbread House. Locals know – and visitors are finally discovering – that gingerbread is appropriate for every season, not just Christmastime. This low-key shop, which is easily mistaken for a neighborhood home, is hidden in plain sight. But those in the know (many of whom learned about the Gingerbread House thanks to a viral TikTok video last year) can tell you that this popular establishment offers a special cake that throws one heck of a Christmas party in your mouth. Leona Guillory Johnnie, the original owner of the bakery, spent 40 years perfecting the recipe. Today her son, Kevin Ames, continues her legacy, also serving traditional tea cakes and an array of pies.
Pinch Me Round from Jamaica
Mrs. Johnnie’s Gingerbread House
Lake Charles, Louisiana
Look for the “Cake Man” on the beaches of Negril during a stay at Sunset at the Palms
It’s not gingerbread, but some people swear that ginger is the magic ingredient in a dessert that our client resort in Jamaica turned us on to. It’s called “gizzada,” but it also goes by the nickname “Pinch Me Round.” Though it’s technically more of a tart than a cake, the fact that a guy called the “Cake Man” sells gizzadas during his rounds on the beaches of Negril convinced us that the dessert warrants a spot on our list. Each islander has their own spin on this classic Jamaican dessert, which features a pinched pastry shell filled with plenty of sweet, grated coconut. Some bakers like to add a touch of ginger to give it a little kick. The dessert is said to have originated among Portuguese Jews who came to Jamaica to escape persecution, but over the years the Jamaicans have made the dessert truly their own. In fact, they say that the shape of the treat will remind you of the shining sun you’ll see on your trip to the island.
Tricia’s Jamaican Rum Cake from Market Wego
Westwego, Louisiana, in Jefferson Parish
If you can’t get to Jamaica right now, you may be able to live vicariously with a visit to Market Wego, a proper Cajun market in southeastern Louisiana. Its owner, River Shay, says her grandmother, Tricia, simply loved visiting Jamaica. On each of her trips, Tricia liked to sample the island’s rum cakes. Over the years, she took what she loved about each variation to create her very own recipe. Her cake truly pays homage to Duncan Hines, because Tricia swore by using only a Duncan Hines cake mix as the base … and then adding an extra splash of rum at the end. Her recipe is still used to this day, and patrons order the cake at all hours – breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Flower Cupcakes from Dollywood
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Dolly Parton’s theme park is known for its delicious meal offerings – around here, “park food” means way more than hot dogs and funnel cakes – but during Dollywood’s annual Flower & Food Festival (this year held April 21 through June 11), the culinary team really steps up its game to make foods that are as attractive as they are tasty. One of our favorites is the collection of “flower cupcakes” available at Spotlight Bakery near the park’s entrance. Each flower cupcake is a beautiful work of art that celebrates the natural beauty of the park, which is nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. And to bring it full circle, Parton recently collaborated with Duncan Hines’ namesake company, resulting in her very own line of cake, muffin and biscuit mixes.
Tasting History: Explore the Past Through 4,000 Years of Recipes
“even if we never make these dishes of ancient times, Miller’s book is a fascinating read.”
“They say ‘history is written by the victors,’ but in my experience, history is written by those who write stuff down, and food is no exception,” writes Max Miller in the introduction to Tasting History, his new cookbook that delves into the foods we’ve eaten throughout millennia.
Four years ago, Miller had little interest in cooking. But when a friend became sick while they were vacationing and they watched seasons of a cooking shows while overindulging on nachos, that all changed. Developing a passion for baking, he soon was taking his cakes and pastries to Walt Disney Studios where he worked. Besides sharing his creations, Miller also explained the origins of the recipes. Suggestions from friends influenced him to start a YouTube show titled “Tasting History with Matt Miller.” Shortly after, the pandemic hit, Miller was furloughed from his job, as were many others, and his show became a hit to all those stuck at home.
Now Miller has taken it to the next level with this deep dive into food history that includes original recipes and Miller’s adaptations for home chefs as well as photos, original drawings, anecdotes, and cook’s notes.
The recipe for this stew is easy, but even if a person could, though it’s unlikely, find the fatty sheep tails, another ingredient—risnatu—has no definite translation, though Miller says it’s commonly agreed upon that it’s a type of dried barley cake. He solves both those problems in his adaptation of the recipe by providing appropriate substitutions that honor the dish’s origins but make it available to modern kitchens.
But even if we never make these dishes of ancient times, Miller’s book is a fascinating read. As we get closer to our own times—the book is arranged chronologically—we find dishes that are more recognizable such as precedella, a German recipe originating in 1581 that instructed cooks to “Take fair flour, a good amount of egg yolk, and a little wine, sugar and anise seed and make a dough with it.”
Of course, modern pretzels don’t typically have wine and anise seeds in them, but Miller provides a recipe using all those ingredients so we can get the same flavor profile as the precedellas that were baked almost 500 years ago. It is indeed tasting history.
Miller has culled recipes from around the world. The book also includes the foodways of medieval Europe, Ming China, and even the present with a 1914 recipe for Texas Pecan Pie that Miller describes as “a time before corn syrup came to dominate the dessert.” His adaptation of the original recipe uses sugar since corn syrup didn’t begin to dominate until the 1930s. The 1914 recipe also calls for a meringue topping, an addition not found in modern pecan pies. So even within a short time span of just over 100 years, Miller shows us how a recipe has evolved though he assures us, we’ll like the 1914 version best.
This article previously appeared in the New York Journal of Books.
Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking With Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient
I still remember the lard we used during my high school cooking class — big cases of off-white clumpy fat that looked and smelled unappetizing but turned our pie dough and biscuits into luscious tasting triumphs. So I couldn’t resist a cookbook with lard in the first word of its title. And it didn’t disappoint.
“Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking With Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient” (Andrew McMeel) offers 150 sweet and savory recipes, beautiful photos and fond anecdotes from cooks nationwide about an ingredient once frowned upon and now (doesn’t this always happen) purported as healthy in some ways as it contains only 54 percent of the saturated fat found in butter and is free of trans fats when rendered with care.
And, of course, as I found out long ago in junior year cooking class, lard is the secret to turning out such marvels as southern fried chicken, green tomato pie and intriguingly the much more sophisticated Beef Wellington.
The recipes were culled from the archives of Grit, a bi-monthly magazine that’s a paean to rural traditional and values featuring articles like “Modern Day Barn Raising” and “Beyond Iceberg: Heirloom Lettuce Varieties.”
Founded 130 years ago, the names of the recipes found in the cookbook — Sand Hill Plum Dumplings, corn pone, World War II Cake with Basic Buttercream Frosting and Hot Cross Buns — read like a time capsule. And though lard figures into everyone, it often plays a small part, maybe just a tablespoon like that used in Old Fashioned Green Beans.
“Lard makes awesome fried chicken,” says Hank Will, Grit’s editor-in-chief who holds a doctorate in lipid chemistry and molecular biology from the University of Chicago and was a college professor for 16 years before quitting to farm full time. “If you look at lard, it’s very similar to butter. What we did is vilify it.”
Will, who still farms part time, renders his own lard from the pigs he raises. He doesn’t spread it on a piece of bread for lunch like his grandfather did back in North Dakota, but he and his wife use it for baking and cooking.
He blames lard’s demise on the industrial food industry. And indeed, reading about the development of Crisco, the first hydrogenated — the process of turning liquids into solids — shortening shows how advertising and testimonials helped convince a nation that hydrogenated shortening was good and lard was bad. Common wisdom became that unsaturated fats or trans fats of hydrogenated vegetable oils were better than saturated fats found in butter and lard.
Though scientific studies indicated even back in the late 1950s that trans fats weren’t all that good and might be the reason for an increase in coronary heart disease, it took 30 more years for it to finally be established.
And so by returning to lard, Will believes we’re not only returning to a traditional “real food” that improves the taste of what we eat but also is better for us.
But even a lardophile like Will doesn’t recommend gobbling up a lot of lard. It is a fat after all, but like butter healthier than trans-fat.
“Butter and lard are both animal fats — lard from pigs and butter is mostly from cows,” says Corinne Powell, former extension educator Consumer and Family Sciences at the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service Lake County. “If you read the labels you’ll see a lot of hydrogenated fats in baked goods because it lengthens their shelf life.”
According to Powell, many companies put labels on the front of their products saying no trans fats but that doesn’t mean there’s no fat in it and therefore, it’s important to read the list of ingredients.
“Fat is a good source of energy and it provides satiety,” she says, “which is that feeling of being full.”
Alas, we can’t just run out and buy a container of lard at the local grocery store.
“Most lard at the grocery store is hydrogenated,” says Will. “But artisan meat producers and farmers markets should have lard that hasn’t been hydrogenated.”
And though Powell notes that all fats, including lard, have a lot of calories she has tasted its goodness too.
“Lard is usually considered to be the best to use for pie crusts — it has a good flavor and makes flaky pie crusts,” she says. “I’ve judged pie crusts at fairs and the best usually have lard.”
Old-Fashioned Green Beans
- 1 tablespoon lard
- 12 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
- 1-1/2 cups water
- 2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
DIRECTIONS: In a large skillet, melt the lard over medium heat. Add the bacon and fry, stirring frequently, 5 to 7 minutes, until browned. Add the sugar and water; stir and mix well. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the beans and reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 50 to 60 minutes, until the beans are soft and all the liquid has been absorbed. Serve immediately.
- 1 (6.5-ounce) can crabmeat, drained
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon chopped green onion (white and green parts)
- Salt and black pepper
- Lard, for frying
DIRECTIONS: In a large bowl, place the crabmeat, bread crumbs, egg, Worcestershire sauce, and onion. Season with salt and pepper; mix well. Shape into 4 equal-sized patties. (If more moisture is needed to form patties, add a dash of melted lard.) In a large skillet, heat the lard over medium-high heat. Fry the patties 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.
Strawberry Soda Pop Cake
- 3/4 cup lard, softened, plus more for greasing the pans
- 3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour, plus more for dusting the pans
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 (7-ounce) bottle strawberry soda pop
- 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
- 5 egg whites, stiffly beaten
- 2 tablespoons lard, softened
- Pinch of salt
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1 (12-ounce) bottle or can strawberry soda pop
DIRECTIONS: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease two 9-inch cake pans with lard; dust lightly with flour and set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the lard and granulated sugar with an electric mixer on low speed. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Alternately add the flour mixture and the strawberry pop to the creamed mixture, beating well after each addition. Stir in the nuts; fold in the egg whites. Distribute the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely. To prepare the frosting, combine the lard, salt, confectioners’ sugar, and just enough strawberry pop to moisten the mixture; blend well until smooth and creamy. To frost the cake, place one cake layer on a cake stand and frost, using an offset spatula. Position the second layer atop the first and repeat.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
- 3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1-¼ cups lard, cold and coarsely chopped
- 1 egg
- 5-½ tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon vinegar
DIRECTIONS: In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in the lard until the mixture is very fine. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg, water, and vinegar. Make a small well in the flour mixture and add the liquid; mix just until the dough comes together in a ball. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and flatten into disks; wrap individually in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling. To make a double-crust pie with a solid top crust, roll out 2 disks of dough about 1 inch larger than the pie plate. Fit one crust into the bottom of the pie plate. Fill the pie with the desired filling; slightly moisten the edge of the bottom crust. Take the second crust, fold it in half, gently place it over the pie filling, and unfold, centering it on the pie plate; press the edges into the bottom crust to seal. Trim the excess dough to leave and overhang of about ¾ inch. Crimp or flute the edges with your fingers. To allow steam to escape, gently prick the top crust with a fork several times or slash vents with a sharp knife.
Makes 4 single or 2 (9-inch) double crusts.
Grandma’s Homemade Biscuits
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon lard, cold and coarsely chopped, plus more for greasing the pan
- 2-½ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon salted butter, melted (optional)
DIRECTIONS: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with lard and set aside. Place 2 cups of flour, the baking powder, and the salt in a large mixing bowl; whisk together. Using a pastry blender, work the lard into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the milk and stir. On a sheet of wax paper, sprinkle the remaining ½ cup of flour. Turn the dough mixture onto the wax paper and knead for 5 minutes. Roll out the dough to a 1-inch thickness and cut with a biscuit cutter; alternatively, drop the dough using a large spoon and pat down onto the prepared baking sheet spaced 1 inch apart. For color, brush the biscuits with melted butter, if desired. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.
Makes 1 dozen.
Henrietta’s Spicy Fried Chicken
- 1 to 2 teaspoons black pepper
- ½ teaspoon poultry seasoning
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon cayenne
- ¼ teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 (2-½ to 3-½ pound) frying chicken, cut up into 8 pieces
- ¼ cup all-purpose unbleached flour
- 2-¼ teaspoons garlic salt
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon celery salt
- Lard, for frying
DIRECTIONS: In a large bowl, combine the black pepper, poultry seasoning, paprika, cayenne, and dry mustard. Dredge the chicken pieces in the spices. In a paper or plastic bag, combine the flour, garlic salt, salt, and celery salt; shake to mix. Add the chicken, a few pieces at a time, and shake to coat. Heat the lard to 340 degrees and 2 inches deep in an electric skillet or on medium heat in a large cast-iron skillet. Add the chicken pieces and fry for 30 minutes, turning every 10 minutes. Increase the heat to 355ºF for an electric skillet or medium-high for a regular skillet. Fry for an additional 5 minutes or until the meat is no longer pink at the bone. Remove the chicken from the fat and drain on paper towels.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
SOURCE: “Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking With Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient”
The Life of Loi: Mediterranean Secrets
Early on Maria Loi learned to appreciate the bounty of her Greek homeland. She foraged for the aromatic oregano which, caressed by the sunshine, grew wild and flavorful in the nearby mountains. With her grandfather, she harvested the black honey they found in forests that had stood, almost untouched, from ancient times.
In Thermo, the small village in southeastern Greece where she grew up, Loi cooked from her parents and grandparents, not sparing in the use of the golden oil pressed from olives after they had ripened under the hot sun. She raised both vegetables and chickens, and cooked the freshest of fish that came from the waters around her home. Loi’s passion for the foods of her country which she shared in her 36 cookbooks earned her the title of Ambassador of Greek Gastronomy an honor awarded by the Chef’s Club of Greece.
Now Loi, now chef/owner of two restaurants– the award-winning Loi Estiatorio in Manhattan and Kouzina Loi in the port town of Nafpaktos in Western Greece, is takes us further into the culinary treasures of Greek cooking in her 13-part national public television series The Life of Loi: Mediterranean Secrets which premiered on December 31.
The ever enthusiastic Loi takes us on a series of adventures–island hopping from Athens to Naxos to Evia, exploring the olive groves that produce the olive oil she so values as essential to our health, visiting a mushroom farm on Evia Island, cooking on a boat moored in the beautiful Aegean Sea, and in the kitchen of her Manhattan restaurant.
Beyond using the best ingredients from her native country, Loi is also about easily accessible recipes. She certainly makes it look like a breeze on her TV series. But beyond authenticity and ease, Loi is all about healthy eating.
It started, she says, when her grandfather fed her two tablespoons of olive oil—Greek olive oil of course—not that stuff from Italy or Spain–every morning and a teaspoon of black honey every night–the honey she and her grandfather had harvested together.
“He told us the olive oil would flush out the toxins from our body and the honey would kill the germs from our day,” she says.
It’s become such a mantra that patrons seeing her at Loi Estiatorio confide they’re taking their daily dose of olive oil just like she recommends. Her staff has lost weight following her Greek dieta or diet (think Mediterranean but the Greeks really invented it she tells me) and she is healthy as a horse.
“Of course you should always talk to your doctor,” she says with a broad smile, most likely because she believes that any doctor would back up her claims. “Even the FDA has adopted now that we have to do two tablespoons of olive oil every day.”
After a quick search, I find that Loi is correct. According to WebMD, the FDA has approved a new qualified health claim for olive oil based on studies showing that consuming about two tablespoons of olive oil a day may reduce the risk of heart disease.
This, of course, is not news to Loi who has learned from the land and her ancestors about the wonders of eating.
Oh, and not only does she cook and consume olive oil, but she also puts some on her hair at night and shampoos in the morning. Her hair looks great and so does she. Obviously I should put olive oil on my grocery list.
Named one of the top Women Makers by Whole Foods Market and one of the best female owned and operated brands/suppliers with whom Whole Foods Market works, Loi was also selected as one of the Top Women in Food Service & Hospitality and is called the “Julia Child of Greece.”
With her distinctive blonde bob, oversized dark rimmed glasses, wide smile and engaging, friendly manner, Loi comes across as my new best friend. This after an hour Zoom chat. That’s how easily she connects.
Or at least that’s the impression I get after spending an hour chatting on Zoom.
“Oh these are great questions,” she tells me, looking over the list I’d sent her publicist a few days prior to the virtual interview.
“Oh thank you, that makes me feel so good,” she says, when I tell her that after watching her cook on the terrace of the historic Hotel Grande Bretagne, a luxury hotel in Athens that overlooks the Acropolis that I am totally ready to buy every one of her 36 cookbooks and learn to make the dishes of her native country.
“I feel healthy already,” I say, after listening to her extoll the virtues of eggplants, tomatoes, and especially Greek feta.
But when we talk about feta, she becomes much more serious. Loi doesn’t like the idea of us buying inferior ingredients. You can buy feta crumbles in the grocery store to sprinkle over your salad but don’t say that to Loi who is repulsed by the idea. Greek feta, made from either sheep or goat milk or a mixture of the two is a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product as is Champagne (France), spaetzle and sauerkraut (Germany), and such cheeses as Parmesan and Asiago (Italy). PDOs are products that are produced, processed and prepared in a specific geographical area, using the recognized know-how of local producers and ingredients from the region concerned.
“People say they’re buying feta and you know what it is,” Loi asked. But she doesn’t stop long enough for me to answer. “It’s cow’s milk. It’s not feta, it’s just white cheese. Feta comes from Greece because the climate affects the soil, and the production is unique.”
I silently swear to myself that I will never buy anything but Greek feta again. It’s not a hard promise to make. I remember my Aunt Daneise, who was Greek and a great cook, making sure that she always had a block of feta sitting in its liquid so that it didn’t dry out. It glistened when she took it out and cut it into slices which by the way, Loi tells me, is what feta means in Greek—slice. Who knew?
I ask Loi which of her cookbooks she would recommend to readers who want to cook Greek but she says she really doesn’t want to sound like she’s plugging her products. The same goes with her line of foods that includes (and I only know this because I went online and looked) olive oil, black honey, wild thyme and flower honey as well as Greek pastas, and smoked eggplant. There are jars of such items as her Feta-Yogurt Pougi—a concoction that can be served hot or cold and used as a spread, dip, or sauce and her Garlic Potato Dip (Skordalia in Greek), a vegan product that not only is a dip but can also be used for marinating and sautéing.
“How can I make suggestions to readers if you won’t give me some ideas?” I ask. I finally get her to talk about “The Greek Diet,” one of her cookbooks. Oh and she did mention that she’s working on another cookbook that will be out soon. Yes, really. I think that will be number 37.
But what Loi wants to talk about are her charities.
According to Total Food Service’s digital magazine, Loi has become one of the nation’s leading chefs, philanthropists, brand creators and ambassadors. During the pandemic, she turned her Manhattan restaurant into a soup kitchen, feeding the homeless and also prepared thousands of meals for first responders and patients at many area hospitals. She co-founded the Elpida Foundation to help fight childhood cancer. Her Loukoumi Make A Difference inspires kids to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others.
I ask Loi if she’s having as much fun as it looks like she is on her show.
The answer is yes and it boils down to this.
“I’m passionate and driven,” she says. “If you’re not, what is there?”
For more program information, visit: https://www.pbs.org/food/shows/life-of-loi-mediterranean-secrets/
To view recipes featured in the series and more, visit Chef Loi’s social media platforms @ChefMariaLoi (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter).
The following recipes are courtesy of Maria Loi.
Garides Me Kritharaki / Shrimp with Orzo
“This quick and easy take on a Greek classic will have dinner on the table in 20 minutes, from start to finish,” says Maria Loi. “The timeless flavors of tomato, lemon, oregano, and olive oil paired with the delicate sweetness of the shrimp are married perfectly with the tart, creaminess of the feta garnish.”
- 8 ounces orzo pasta
- 1 medium red onion, chopped
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 12 cherry tomatoes
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 8 pieces of shrimp, peeled and deveined
- Dry Greek oregano, to taste
- Feta cheese, for garnish
Preheat oven to 375ºF.
Add orzo to a large pot of salted boiling water, and allow to cook for 7 to 9 minutes, until desired texture. Strain, and reserve.
While orzo is cooking, add the chopped onions, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and 7 cherry tomatoes to an oven safe dish, season with salt to taste, and stir to combine. Add shrimp on top of the mixture, and top with the remaining 5 cherry tomatoes: season with pepper and Greek oregano, and top with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Bake for 4-5 minutes, or until the shrimp turn pink and opaque, and tomatoes have a slight char.
Serve over a bed of orzo, topped with crumbled feta and dressed with olive oil.
Greek Honey Cheesecake (Melopita) – from The Greek Diet Cookbook
“Melopita translates as ‘honey pie,’ but this dish is my healthy version of a ricotta-style cheesecake,” writes Maria Loi in the introduction to this recipe from “The Greek Diet Cookbook.” “Light and fresh with a hint of lemon, this cake has the perfect tang from the yogurt. Drizzle with some honey to keep it classic.”
- Olive oil, for the pan
- 1 pound anthotyro (ricotta cheese)
- 1 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1⁄2 cup Greek honey, plus more for garnish
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1⁄4 cup sugar
- Ground cinnamon, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 9-inch springform pan with olive oil, line it with a round of parchment paper, and lightly oil the paper.
In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, yogurt, eggs, 1⁄2 cup honey, lemon zest, flour, and sugar. Beat thoroughly, either with an electric mixer or a whisk.
Pour the batter into the pan and gently rap it against a hard surface to release any air bubbles.
Bake the melopita for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the filling sets. Remove the cake from the oven and let cool. Refrigerate the cake for 2 or 3 hours.
Run a knife around the inside edge of the pan and release the sides. Invert the cake onto a serving plate.
Carefully remove the bottom of the cake pan and the parchment paper.
Serve the cake sprinkled with some cinnamon and drizzled with a little honey.
Based on a similar article that appeared in the Herald Palladium.
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