Friday, July 30


Eating the SFA Cookbook: Refried Black-Eyed Peas

This week, my family has been in Litchfield, SC on a beach vacation. Besides enjoying the sun and the water, we've been enjoying some great food. Having an army of mouths on hand is a perfect opportunity to try out another recipe from the SFA Community Cookbook.

In menu planning, my appetite immediately leaned toward fresh seafood when at the beach. Being land-locked most of the time, I like to take advantage of the local catch. My sister-in-law, Becca, and I were deciding between shrimp and grits or fish tacos. Eddie Hernandez's recipe for Refried Black-Eyed Peas helped tip the scales for the tacos.

True to every week on this cooking adventure so far, this recipe made me venture into the unknown. Until now, I have never cooked raw beans. It's something I've meant to do, but just never had the excuse to take the time to soak, cook, season... I am glad to have the occasion to learn a new skill! Becca and I had the first night of cooking, so early grocery shopping was in order. It also means we couldn't soak the beans overnight. We did the "quick soak" version (the word quick is a stretch, at best). In my search for fish dripping with Atlantic sea water, I found myself in the Farmers Market store in Murrells Inlet. They didn't sell fresh fish, but they did sell me a delicious link of chorizo for the beans (and could point me in the right direction to a place they bought grouper from earlier that week). Score!

After the "quick" soak and cooking the beans, they rested while we prepared the other dishes. The wonderful thing about this recipe is, the prep work is the hardest part. I did have a learning moment. When the recipe calls for 6 cups of cooked black-eyed peas, 6 cups of raw peas makes MUCH more than you'll need. Good to know.

Charring the jalapeno and tomato was a breeze; adding onion, chorizo, and garlic was a snap. And that's pretty much it. Heat through and enjoy. It was delicious! I knew it would be good (or had the potential to be) because I scraped up my portion at the dinner by Taqueria Del Sol at the SFA Field Trip this summer. And also I've never met a dish with chorizo that I didn't like.

I have a house full of people who will second that emotion. Eddie Hernandez admirers abound in Litchfield, SC!

Wednesday, July 28


Photo by Kate Medley

The Southern Foodways Alliance Skillet Brigade recently landed in Georgia's Chattahoochee Hills Country for its latest assignment: A Southern Chef's Potluck to benefit Wholesome Wave Georgia. The mission: to enjoy good food and drink provided by, and in the company of, some of the area's leading chefs at the famously gorgeous Serenbe Community. The assignment required the squad to file through a dauntingly long table of food and heap their plates with the likes of Anne Quattrano's fried okra and padron peppers, Linton Hopkin's sweet and sour eggplant, Nick Melvin's corn tomato salad, Hilary White's pickled green beans and Marie Nygren's fried chicken legs. Those who made it through the first barrage, filed through again for Steven Satterfield's field pea salad, Michele Nischan's mac & cheese, Jim N' Nick's smoked White Oak Pastures brisket and beef sliders on H&F Bread Co. parker house rolls, and Sweetgrass Dairy cheeses. Thirteen chefs in all provided more than enough food to feed an army.

Fortified by a little of Greg Best's 'Shine On' Punch, Quivera Wines and Terrapin Beer, most everyone found the courage to brave the desert line as well. Kevin Gillespie's banana pudding, Cynthia Wong's blueberry cobbler, Joe Truex's peach buckle, Shaun Doty's sweet potato meringue pie, Dan Latham's goat cheese blueberry bars, and Ford Fry's coconut cake were a few of the encounters.

Tough duty, right? Yet there was some heavy lifting involved. The brigade managed to raise nearly $20,000 for Wholesome Wave Georgia, a non-profit dedicated to making locally grown, healthy and sustainable foods available to all communities in Georgia by using private funds to double the value of SNAP and WIC benefits spent at local farmers market. Wholesome Wave Georgia, which partners with seven farmers markets statewide, is part of a national network of farmer markets and good food advocates working to ensure that everyone has access to food that is good, clean and fair. The live auction alone, led by SFA Board President and Brigadier General Angie Mosier, raised almost $10,000. According to Wholesome Wave Georgia Program Director and founder, Gina Hopkins, the funds came just in the nick of time. "We have seen a tremendous interest in our program this year. We are only half way through the season and have already doubled nearly $5000 in market sales across the state. Plus, farmers markets are popping up all over and we want to be able to support them all."

Doubling SNAP & WIC benefits means more than good food for everyone. It means more money for the local food economy. Think of it this way: Wholesome Wave Georgia is incentivizing people who have access to federal dollars to spend them with a local farmer. Every dollar WWG spends on a program market becomes two for a local farmer. Following that logic, the $20,000 raised by the brigade just became $40,000 for Georgia's Local Farmers. Keep up the good work brigades. Do-gooding can be delicious.

Friday, July 23


Women of the Storm, a New Orleans advocacy group formed after Hurricane Katrina, is now fighting for a plan to restore the Gulf Coast. Watch their video, above, and click here to visit their Web site with information on the petition.

Also, remember to follow the travels of Gravy correspondent Ashley Hall on her blog, Third Coast Byways, as she investigates what's happening on the Gulf Coast in the wake of the oil spill.

Thursday, July 22


Fabulous image of a BLT via Scanwiches.

Get that package of Benton's bacon out of the fridge, pull a tomato off of the vine, and celebrate National BLT Day! 

A couple of years ago, we asked SFA members to send in their favorite BLT recipes and stories. So, if you want to mix it up a bit, check out some of the variations on this classic sandwich that are featured on our website.

While you're eating, take a moment to wipe that mayonnaise off of your hands and check out our film Saving Seeds, a portrait of Bill Best, heirloom bean and tomato farmer in Berea, Kentucky. Bill has a thing for tomato sandwiches.

Wednesday, July 21


The SFA announces its newest media project: OKRACAST (our version of a podcast). Each month, we'll feature a different interview from our oral history archive in its entirety. We’ll hear from pitmasters and soul food cooks, oystermen and bartenders, and more. 

This month, we turn our attention to the Gulf Coast. Featured is our 2008 interview with Frank Parker, a seventh-generation shrimper in Biloxi, Mississippi.

To access OKRACAST, visit our page on iTunes via this link.

Check back each month for new interviews or simply subscribe to OKRACAST on iTunes to make sure you don't miss hearing any of the stories behind the food.


The Last Kings of Cotton Row from Thomas Gregory on Vimeo.

For those of you who have traveled to Greenwood, Mississippi, on your own or as part of the SFA's annual Delta Divertissement, you might remember Hambone, shoeshine impresario at the Cotton Row Club and regular man about town. He always wore a stylish hat and had a smile for all. Hambone passed away on June 28 at the age of 72. The streets of Greenwood are a little less lively.

The Last Kings of Cotton Row is a short film that was produced by Matt Boyer in 2009 and is a wonderful portrait of the Cotton Row Club on Ramcat Alley in Greenwood, where Hambone held court for twenty-five years.

For more on the Cotton Row Club, visit our 2003 oral history interview with Stacy Ragland, the Cotton Row Club's previous owner,  that is part of part of our Greenwood Restaurants oral history project.

Tuesday, July 20


Eating the SFA Cookbook: Buttermilk Biscuits

Since we're headed to the coast of South Carolina for a week, I am on Operation Clean Out the Fridge. Good news though: I have leftover bacon (from the fabulous Tomato Pie I made last week). Can't let bacon go bad, right? And the chickens out back are producing eggs faster than we can eat them. That's all I needed to know--nursery supper it is.

I was surprised to find five different biscuit recipes to choose from in the SFA Community Cookbook. Which one to choose? Though I was immediately drawn to the Miracle Biscuits because there are only two ingredients (thank you, Sheri Castle--I will try these soon!), I decided I'd give myself a challenge with Natalie Chanin's Buttermilk Biscuits.

Once again, these are something I've never attempted at home. Call me lazy, but I've always been plenty happy with the--as Jerry Clower calls them--"bang-on-the-counter-biscuits." But this is no time for comfort zones. My first task in baking the biscuits was tracking down my pastry cutter. Though handed down to me by my Grandma Pete over five years ago, I haven't needed it until now.'s been a baby toy for my daughter. Listen, to make a long story short, she liked it (and licked it), I wasn't using it've go to pick your battles.

The recipe leaves it up to the reader whether to use butter, lard, or shortening. I didn't have any lard, so I could take that off the list. Online research led me to the conclusion to use half butter and half shortening to get the benefit of taste (from butter) and texture (from shortening). The pastry cutter was great help! The fats were incorporated with the flour (into pea-size pieces, of course) in no time...much easier than a fork. Rolling out the dough was a cinch--especially with my new rolling pin! I don't own a biscuit cutter; that's a pretty specific tool for someone who doesn't do much baking (or didn't use to do much baking, as it were). So I used an empty tin can, and it worked great.

My conclusion: well who doesn't love a hot biscuit? The flavor was great; my husband and daughter both agreed. Or I assume they did since they helped me polish off more than half of the batch in one sitting. However, they were a little thin. Think that was more my fault (maybe I got a little carried away with the rolling). Though there is a satisfaction from bringing biscuits to life from scratch, I'm just going to say it--I still like the frozen variety of "bang-on-the-counters" like Mary B's. Tasty and no clean up. On a more positive note, I realized there was no good reason to be intimidated by baking biscuits. It's not an elite skill. There are tricks to the trade, like gentle folding vs. kneading, but the introduction to the recipe in the Cookbook gives you that tip. Will I make them again? Definitely! As Jerry Clower would say, these biscuits are "fit to eat."

P.S. Those of you who may be worried for my child's well-being...below is a picture of my pastry cutter. Not sure how they are made these days, but in my grandma's day, they didn't have any sharp edges. Just wanted to make that clear.


Biloxi Salon owner Leonie Johnston was getting her hair done the day I visited her business.
MONDAY, JULY 19, 2010
I checked in today with Leonie Johnston, owner of Lavish Salon in Biloxi. Leonie let me interview her on June 22 while she was getting her hair done. Now that there’s at least a temporary fix for the well head, I wanted to see how she was doing. When we sat down the first time, Leonie choked up more than once. But today, “It’s almost a numb feeling,” she told me.
She seemed cautiously pleased about the cap on the well head. “You know my biggest fear? That if this cap works, immediately our government is going to do the dance and get out of here.”
Biloxi had government agencies, church groups, and individual volunteers in town for years after Katrina, helping to rebuild. She fears that might not happen twice.
A month ago the din of anger, fear, and despair rattled loudly in Leonie’s salon. But today her mood seemed lighter.
Yesterday she and her husband Bobby were driving across the Interstate 110 bridge in Biloxi when he offered her an apology, she told me. He said he realized that he’d been bitter and cranky lately; he was sorry for dumping that on her. “I said, Honey, you were a lot worse a few weeks ago! It’s OK!” She laughed.
Leonie laughs a lot. She’s tough and extremely active in her community. She has an inviting manner and a warm sense of humor. She calls me “Sister,” even though we’ve only met one time.
To me she has demonstrated a combination of pragmatism and optimism, sorrow and toughness, determination and fear. A lot of folks I spoke to had this spinning pin wheel of emotion. Having endured hurricanes, droughts, recession, and now a massive oil spill, people from the Gulf Coast have both the thick skin of those who have triumphed over tragedy, and the weariness of those who are sick of having to triumph over tragedy.
“I’m waiting on the locusts,” Leonie quipped.
Besides her salon, Leonie and Bobby own Fins and Grins Charter Service, where they offer a menu of private fishing trips. But the federal water closures have all but killed their business this summer.
Leonie said they had one reservation this week. “You’re so grateful to have one trip and then you just giggle. How many ways can I split this? How many bills can I pay?” she said laughing. They have applied to work for BP skimming oil, but have not been called up.
In a normal year, Snapper charters are their bread and butter. “The morning Snapper season opened, they closed the federal waters,” she said last month.
Before the spill, they had all but recovered from Katrina. “We were back!” she explained. “It was so exciting that bid K-word seemed more foggy. But this oil has opened the wound and poured salt in.”
They reopened the charter business in 2008, and business had expanded steadily. So last summer, they bought a bigger boat. They ran more charter trips between January and April than they had the last two charter seasons combined. Since the Deepwater Horizon explosion they have weeks with no reservations at all.
“We were buying the big boat last summer and having all of these big plans looking forward,” she described, “Now I know, for us, that seems so far away. We’re back to square one, which is absolutely pathetic.”
Still, she said Biloxi is hanging in there. “The beaches seem fine. The casinos seem full,” she said. “Overall it could be a lot worse, but it’s just the fear, the unknown.” Afterall, there’s plenty of oil still out there. “You’ve got to keep hoping for the best-case scenario,” she continued.
“Next Spring will this all seem like a big ugly dream? Yeah, I hope.”
* * *
Ashley Hall is an SFA member and contributer to Gravy, the SFA's foodletter. She is traveling along the Gulf Coast to capture stories relating to the oil spill as a traveling Gravy correspondent. We'll be posting relevant entries here, but visit the blog she's set up for the project, Third Coast Byways, for more.

Monday, July 19


Florida Scallop & Music Festival
, August 6-8
Downtown Port St. Joe, FL

The Patron Dinner will be Friday, August 6, 6:00 p.m. at the School of Fish Restaurant. Chefs include: Jim Shirley, Louis Osteen, Martha Foose, Todd Richards, and Jason Alley. Reserve your spot at the five-course family-style meal for $45/person (plus tax and gratuity) by calling the School of Fish at 850.229.1122.

Want to learn more about Florida's Forgotten Coast? Check out the SFA's oral history project on that region.

Wednesday, July 14


Eating the SFA Community Cookbook: Tomato Pie

Three words for you: A. Freakin. Mazing. Hats off to Billy Reid! Though I do love tomatoes, I did not expect to gush over a tomato pie recipe.

At first glance, I thought I had really gotten off easy this time. The ingredients are fairly simple (tomatoes, bacon, cheese, mayonnaise...). But like any good Southern woman, "Southern guilt" took over. First, I heard the voice of Nan Davis's Aunt Lella. She shows up in the first recipe in the SFA Cookbook. Lella tells Nan in a "bless her heart" sort of tone, that she may as well "not bother" making pimento cheese if she's not going to make the mayonnaise. If most of my ingredients are easy to work with, the least I can do is make the mayonnaise (something I've never tried before, by the way). And what about the pie shell? Am I going to use the "perfectly good" store bought one in my fridge? The one with absolutely no taste? Well...I have always been meaning to try making my own crust...

So, I go out and buy a rolling pin (something that should be in my kitchen anyway...I realize this; don't judge). And: I make my own crust. Easy! I mean really easy. Why haven't I been doing this all along?

And, while the bacon is cooking, I make my own mayonnaise (using Aunt Lella's recipe from the Cookbook, of course). Also, easy to do. It seemed runny at first, but as the oil slowly dripped in the food processor, it took on the perfect consistency.

I assembled the pie, baked as directed, and tried to let it cool for a few minutes before serving (not easy when your husband is pacing the kitchen, eagerly awaiting his first slice).

It was better than great! We joked, before slicing, that we could eat it out of the pie dish. After eating my slice, I sort of wish we had! The crust was flaky and tasty; the Mississippi tomatoes, straight from the garden out back, were juicy and tangy; the crispy bacon--well, bacon always belongs with tomatoes; and the mayonnaise made me a believer, Aunt Lella.

So: SUCCESS! In many ways. Not only did we enjoy the first recipe, but I also learned why people might take the time to make ingredients at home. And that I can make them. I truly am capable. Something to be said for that Southern guilt.

One of the best parts of the cookbook? No calorie counts.

Tuesday, July 13


TUESDAY, JULY 13, 2010

Almost all of the rest of the open federal waters off Louisiana’s coast were closed to fishing this morning.  Before today, the off-shore, federal waters west of Vermillion Bay were still being fished. Go here to compare today’s map to the closure map of  July 4. NOAA Fishing Water Closure Map 07/04/10

This closure does not apply to inner waters — lakes and bayous–many of which are the dominion of the State and are still uncontaminated.
The only bright spot in the Gulf so far is that the oil has not made it to Apalachicola Bay, nor the west coast of Florida. And Texas is still a big source of healthy seafood. You can check for updates, if you like, by going to
The amount of seafood coming from the Gulf is dwindling every day. No self-respecting fisherman would sell product from closed or contaminated waters. But, as today’s map shows, those areas are becoming harder and harder to find.
“Our situation right now is that we have many, many more fishermen harvesting a much, much smaller area,” explains Richard McCarthy, executive director of Market Umbrella and the White Boot Brigade in New Orleans.
“New Orleans is a city that loves its seafood, that is obsessed with its seafood,” he says. “If you have product right now, it sells.” In fact, he sees locals hoarding the dwindling catches, buying in abundance and freezing it. “The fact that we may not have ample supply is creating a great sense of anxiety.”
But Fisherwoman Kay Brandhurst of Slidell, LA fears that local attitudes are changing. Kay and her family own Four Winds Seafood. They catch shrimp, fish and crab and sell them directly to consumers, both at Farmer’s Markets and via mail order. According to Kay, it seems that people at the Louisiana farmers markets are beginning to get nervous about the quality of the local seafood. ”I don’t blame them. I thought it would be that way from the beginning,” she told me.
I want to share an email that Kay wrote to Richard on July 9. It describes a shrimping trip she went on with her two young boys:

As we were trawling in Lake Pontchartrain today,  The porpoises were trying to talk to us.  The kids felt they were trying to tell us something.  As we picked up our first drag of  the day, there was no Basque  tradition with the Brandhurst boys to eat the first shrimp of the day for good luck raw with olive oil and sea salt.  The trawl was full of tar balls.  The oil has reached our sweet brown shrimp in Lake Pontchartrain.  The catch had to be thrown back.  The factories have shut down because of too much pressure with the FDA.  We have signed a contract with BP for work, so far no one has called us.   Our next move is to head to Cameron our last shot to shrimp.  This will be  a 2 day boat trip.

I will not be making it to the market tomorrow…. I hope to be there with shrimp from Cameron on Saturday.  We will attempt as always through sickness, hurricanes and oil spills to preserve our heritage and fish off this beautiful land.  We will prevail.

Love k "

* * *
Ashley Hall is an SFA member and contributer to Gravy, the SFA's foodletter. She is traveling along the Gulf Coast to capture stories relating to the oil spill as a traveling Gravy correspondent. We'll be posting relevant entries here, but visit the blog she's set up for the project, Third Coast Byways, for more


Eating the SFA Community Cookbook

When John T asked if I'd be interested in picking recipes in the forthcoming Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook and then blogging about the experience (i.e. Julie & Julia), I was floored. Heck--I was planning on doing the first part anyway. Might as well put myself up for either movie rights or public humiliation (or both??). And my husband was more than a little excited about this new "work project."

I love cookbooks. I get them as presents. I give them as presents. I read online recipes. I don't understand how people wouldn't like reading cookbooks! Personally, I need a road map to my culinary destinations. Great cook, I am not. Good cook? Yeah, I'll take that.

As I raced over the pages of the SFA Cookbook in my mind, my palms began to sweat a little. I mean, there's everything from Austin Leslie's Fried Chicken to Bill Smith's Braised Possum with Sweet Potatoes. Not exactly my comfort zone. But as I thought of the load of fresh, ripe tomatoes sitting in my kitchen, I turned to a recipe that would not only use my resources, but would be an easier pill to swallow for my first foray into cooking and blogging. So for tonight's supper: Tomato Pie from the kitchen of Billy Reid.

Monday, July 12


My Lunch at Bayley's, June 22. For now, Crab Claws are Off the Menu
JULY 10, 2010
Fowl River, Alabama
Bayley’s restaurant, the storied home of the West Indies Salad and fried crab claws, is sputtering along without regular access to oysters or crab. They still have access to fish and shrimp; they are still serving their mullet and grits on Wednesday night and their comfort food such as country fried steak.  But without crab meat, their signature dishes are — for now — off the menu. The business is holding on by a thread, and Katie Smith, the owners’ granddaughter says they won’t last long like this. Negative perception of the area and meager supply is their enemy. “My grandfather is having a hard time letting go,” she said. He’s vowed to close rather than to serve imported seafood. But today, the doors are still open.

* * *
Ashley Hall is an SFA member and contributer to Gravy, the SFA's foodletter. She is traveling along the Gulf Coast to capture stories relating to the oil spill as a traveling Gravy correspondent. We'll be posting relevant entries here, but visit the blog she's set up for the project, Third Coast Byways, for more

Friday, July 9


SFA enjoyed touring the Buford Highway in Atlanta. Now we'd like to give back.

A note from SFA board president Angie Mosier:

Dear Atlanta Area SFA Friends,

We have another great opportunity to answer the call to community service through the Southern Foodways Alliance Skillet Brigade. The brigade was formed last year as a way to engage our members in their individual communities. I am proud of our Atlanta brigade because we have already helped local Atlanta farmers through partnerships with Slow Food Atlanta and also Georgia Organics. This time, we partner with Wholesome Wave Georgia--a non-profit organization that strives to promote availability and access to healthy and affordable locally-grown food for everyone. SFA members Gina Hopkins and Judith Winfrey work for and lead the charge for Wholesome Wave Georgia.

We could use about 10 Skillet Brigade volunteers to help us work the event, so please join our brigade by contacting Angie Mosier at

If you would rather support the effort by purchasing tickets and attending the event, that would also be grand. We would love for you to be there and hope you will tell your friends and family to join you.

Many thanks,
Angie Mosier

Thursday, July 8


Once again, praises are being sung [rightfully!] for Joe York and his recent film, Smokes & Ears, about Big Apple Inn in Jackson, MS. The film was awarded Best Short Award at the NYC Food Film Festival 2010. Congrats to Joe and to Big Apple Inn owner, Geno Lee.

Click here to watch the award-winning film, Smokes & Ears.

Click here to read the latest article in the Clarion Ledger about the film and the award.

Wednesday, July 7



This morning I pulled together a handful of stories that I find relevant. I’ll be following up with some folks in Mississippi and Alabama this morning, and hope to have updates posted later today.
It looks like the fishing closures haven’t changed at all since I left the Gulf.
But the New Orleans Times-Picayune is reporting that the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has closed parts of Lake Pontchartrain to fishing because tar balls have made it up there. Read more here. Tarballs have also made it to Texas. The winds from Hurricane Alex have been pushing the oil northwest for more than a week. It’s arguable that these same winds have spared the Apalachicola Bay so far.
Renowned New Orleans Chef Susan Spicer has slapped BP, Transocean Limited, and Halliburton Energy Services with a personal injury law suit. Check out the conversation between Susan, Chef Jose Andreas and reporter Jacki Lyden that aired on NPR this weekend. The chefs offer up a powerful analysis on how the spew has affected the way we eat, but also how the safety of our food sources is a matter of national security.
Since my visit, it has become obvious to me that the only hope of saving some of these areas was to suck up the oil before it gets to the shores. They’re pulling out the big guns with this Taiwanese “Whale” that supposedly eats up to 21 million gallons of oil-tainted water each day. So far tests have been inconclusive.
* * *
Ashley Hall is an SFA member and contributer to Gravy, the SFA's foodletter. She is traveling along the Gulf Coast to capture stories relating to the oil spill as a traveling Gravy correspondent. We'll be posting relevant entries here, but visit the blog she's set up for the project, Third Coast Byways, for more