Friday, May 31

RVA Eats: The Jefferson Hotel

Chef Walter Bundy of Lemaire at the Jefferson Hotel. Photos by Nicole Lang
Throughout the spring, Nicole Lang has blogged for us about her adopted hometown of Richmond, Virginia (aka RVA). Richmond is the site for this year's Summer Foodways Symposium, which will take place from June 20–22. This post concludes Nicole's RVA Eats series. Thank you, Nicole!

I've so enjoyed exposing the people and their passions that help make Richmond and our region so unique.  Summer symposium weekend is almost upon us and I'd like to leave you with a taste of what's to come at symposium headquarters, the Jefferson Hotel

"Old Pompey" is the hotel's unofficial mascot.

The Jefferson, aside from being an historic hotel with all of the accompanying lore—built by a tobacco baron, former home to alligators, resting stop for Elvis; you know, the usual stuff—it also houses, to my mind, the best kept dining secret in Richmond: Lemaire. Long known as an high-end destination, in the last few years Chef Walter Bundy and Lemaire Manager/Wine Director Greg McGhee have embraced a modern and more casual aesthetic, hoping to attract a new generation of devotees, of which this writer is decidedly one.

There are nods to the hotel's history throughout Lemaire and the menus reflect Virginia's many food traditions, with offerings from nearby  shores, forests, fields, and farms. They recently added hyper-local honey—installing bee hives on the hotel's roof—and an on-site vegetable and herb garden. Those herbs feature heavily in both dishes and cocktails (one of my favorite parts of the menu). 

Lemaire's summer cocktails are debuting just in time for the arrival of the SFA Summer Symposium. Greg McGhee and barman Scott Harris invited me to sip a few previews. Scott prepared a Fancy Tequila Cocktail, an Old Maid (kind of like a mojito's cousin, with cucumber and gin), and a Whiskey Peach Smash, which I predict will be a favorite among SFA members. Greg and Scott even consulted the pages of Mary Randolph's 1824 cookbook, The Virginia Housewife, to create a strawberry cordial for thirsty history buffs. I snacked on smoked peanuts and their signature and addictive pimento cheese (its recipe is so guarded, even I could not gain access!). 

Don't fret if you can't make it to Richmond for the sold-out Summer Symposium. you can be there in 'spirit' with your own Whiskey Peach Smash! Cheers, and I look forward to seeing many of you in RVA!

Whiskey Peach Smash
courtesy of Lemaire

4 small peach quarters plus one thin peach slice for garnish
6 mint leaves
2 small pieces of lemon
1 oz. water
1 oz. simple syrup
2 1/2 oz high proof rye whiskey

Muddle all ingredients except for whiskey in a shaker.
Add whiskey and shake.
Strain into a high-ball glass with ice.
Garnish with peach slice.

Southern Six-Pack

1.  It's 25 miles to Rougemont, NC, she's got a full tank of gas, a six-pack of beer, it's spring, and the Bologna Burgers are sizzling on the Orange County Speedway concession stand flat top. Hit it, Emily Wallace. 

Photo(shop) by Joe York
2.   Shuagnhui Group, China's biggest pork producer, announced plans to purchase Smithfield Foods for 4.7 billion dollars. Smithfield, founded in Virginia in 1936, is the worlds largest hog producer and pork processor. "These are the ham people, y'all, and if you ask me, no one does it better." -- Paula Deen

3.  Chiquita, based in Cincinnati, OH, started growing bananas in Colombia in 1899. Villagers in Colombia are now suing Chiquita (using the Alien Torts Claims Act) for its role in financing the death squads and guerillas that plagued the Colombian countryside (and disrupted work on Chiquita's banana farms) for nearly 4 decades. Do the villagers have a case? Likely. Chiquita Brands International has already pled guilty in a US District Court to one count of "Engaging in Transactions with a Specially-Designated Global Terrorist" and were assessed a 25 million dollar fine.  Bananas, Guns, and Money.

Jackson, Mississippi
Woolworth Sit-In
May 28, 1963
Tougaloo College Professor, John Salter
Tougaloo students, Joan Trumpauer and Anne Moody
4.  Fifty years ago this week, a group of Tougaloo college students and professors sat-in at the Woolworth's lunch counter in Jackson, Mississippi. Medgar Evers, Mississippi chair of the NAACP, who organized the protest and the larger boycott of Jackson's segregated businesses, was assassinated at his home just two weeks later.

5.  Unfortunately, racists aren't a thing of fifty years ago. YouTube was forced to disable the comments section for this Cheerios ad because it was inundated with racial slurs and abuse. Most troubling to many commenters, the notion of a happy bi-racial family.

6.  Look, ma! No hands (on my Whopper)!  Seriously. And, if you're going to eat like a horse then you're going to need to exercise like one too. Cue, Prancercise!

Thursday, May 30

Food As Architecture, Rendered in Fiberglass

Emily Wallace guest-blogs for us about food, art, and design. You can check out more of her work here.
Hills of Snow, Smithfield, NC. Photo by Kate Medley.

As kids, we used to talk about the meal of a great Giant. His appetite was imagined, of course, but he was real: a six-foot, headless fiberglass man that lay half covered by grass in a field near my home in Smithfield, North Carolina. We glimpsed him often when biking near Massey Street, a residential road that cut through to Hills of Snow—another larger-than-life sculpture and building that resembled the snow cones it sold. The proximity of the two made us wonder: Did the Giant lose his head after too many snowballs and a subsequent brain freeze?

The Gaffney, SC, giant peach. Photo by Emily Wallace.

The Giant (his purpose and origin are still a mystery to me) was removed from the field years ago. But I still think of him often when I spot similarly large fiberglass foods, including the Gaffney peach-painted water tower I passed on my way into South Carolina last week. “There’s the Giant’s fruit,” I thought, echoing the game of my youth. “There’s the Giant’s corn,” I said a few months before, eying a stand at the North Carolina State Fair.

Photo by Emily Wallace.

A pig watches over Crook's Corner on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro (NC) town line. Photo by Kate Medley.

Such sculptures encompass some of my favorite pieces of artwork. They are beacons, often indicating good food served nearby: Think of the pig perched high above Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, NC. And they’re landmarks, offering better directions than any GPS coordinate could ever provide: “Turn left by the taquería with a cow on top.” You could call them my go-to southern roadmap.

La Vaquita taqueria, near the author's Durham, NC, home. Photo by Emily Wallace

Wednesday, May 29

Nicole Taylor Shares Her Favorite Tastes and Sounds of Summer

Southern Expat Walter Youngblood serves up goat's milk ice cream in New York City.

SFA guest blogger Nicole Taylor is Brooklyn-based writer and radio host with Georgia roots. You can follow her on Twitter at @foodculturist.

Graduation announcements are filling my mailbox and my Facebook stream runneth over with adolescents achievements—it must be the unofficial start of summer. Here in New York, mulberries are swaying and grills are smoking. Barbecue is a ongoing obsession all over the country, and the sparring over styles and sauces will continue to take center stage for the next few months. I'm declaring zero losers and making a winner out of families that keep Southern cookouts alive. Here are three reflections of good grub and tasty summer traditions from my radio show, Hot Grease, on Heritage Radio Network. These simple stories from North Carolina, Texas, and Kansas City natives and are the true knockouts!

Click here to listen to Curtis Brown talk about bringing North Carolina barbecue to the East Village of New York.

Not a meat lover? Click here for tips on vegan grilling.

We all scream for...goat's milk ice cream? Click here to listen to Walter Youngblood explain his special recipe.

Tuesday, May 28

Sustainable South: A Healthy Farm is a Happy Farm

Infographic by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
As the debate over the current farm bill heats up, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has published a friendly infographic of a vision for U.S. agriculture. Specifically, the graph illustrates its vision of a healthy farm. The visual offers recommendations that suggest—with apologies to John Donne—no farm is an island entire of itself. The UCS's tips for healthy farming practices include:
  • Landscape approach—Uncultivated areas of land can play a significant role in the health of farmed land. The trees, shrubs, and grasses along the edges of crops can serve as resources for farmers by fostering biodiversity, providing habitat for pollinators, and reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Crop diversity and rotation—The SFA seeks to set a table where all may gather. The UCS envisions a field where all may grow. Just as we believe diversity is good for society, there are many benefits to growing an array of crops in a single field. It increases soil fertility. It reduces the need for pesticides. It produces higher yields. The list goes on and on. Despite these benefits, many American regions tend to be dominated one or two crops. Southern states can attest to that.
  • Integrating crops and livestock—Along the same lines as crop diversity and rotation, plants and animals are good for each other. Recycling the nutrients left behind by plants and animals as fertilizer reduces the pollutant run-off from fields into waterways, prevents soil erosion, increases soil fertility, and provides a habitat for beneficial microorganisms that keep livestock healthy.
  • Cover crops—We’ve heard it over and over again: Cover crops are essential to soil health. When fields are left bare between growing seasons, soil erodes, and nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers contaminate groundwater and streams. Cover crops nourish the soil and help farmers maintain long-term productivity of their land.
Click on the picture above to learn more about the practices and benefits.

Women Work & Food in Richmond, Virginia

Find the SFA on Cowbird
Back in March, we offered a preview of our latest oral history projectWomen, Work & Food in Richmond, Virginia. Well, that project is now complete. As you may or may now know, though, we're currently revamping our website. Until we can unveil all of the bells and whistles that are part of our new-and-improved online archive, we thought we'd share this project with you in different way.

Allow us to introduce you to twelve amazing working women from Richmond, Virginia, via Cowbird, an online storytelling community. There, you'll find portraits of each of the women we interviewed, as well as audio clips and short biographical sketches.

Look for the full project to be published to our fancy new website in the coming weeks.

Friday, May 24

Southern Six-Pack

1.  The fourth annual International Biscuit Festival and Southern Food Writing Conference wrapped up this past weekend in Knoxville, Tennessee. You don't have to be Southern to appreciate a good biscuit or a great biscuit festival. 

2.   As remembered in posters from the United States Food Administration, a Memorial Day reflection on the importance of food in war-time.

3.   The Gulf of Mexico dead zone, an oxygen deprived stretch of the Gulf where only algae survives, is now estimated to be about 5,700 square miles in area. The only way to resuscitate that dead zone is to re-engineer the way the entire Mississippi River works. How to re-engineer the Mississippi? Answers may vary.

4.   The time has come, To talk of many things: of PVC pipe -- and spats -- and seafarms, Of the Georgia oyster industry poised to rebound. (with apologies to Lewis Carroll)

5.  "Once again, owning an exotic pet was proving to be nothing but trouble." Christopher Boffoli's utterly charming collection of photographs, Big Appetites, is on display in New York beginning June 6.

6.  Unless your calendar is incredibly thorough, you may not know that May 20 was National Strawberry Picking Day.  Don't despair.  In this case, missing the holiday doesn't mean missing the fun!  The cold wet spring heralds a bumper crop of the sweetest strawberries in years.  In the mid-South, they're ripe for the picking.  Go find some.

New Greenhouse Film! Smooth Ambler: A West Virginia Distillery

Ladies and gentlemen, we are pleased to share our second Greenhouse Film with you. (Did you miss the first one, Mile High Pie? Watch it here!)

In Smooth Ambler: A West Virginia Distillery, filmmakers Dale Mackey and Shawn Poynter take us to Maxwelton, West Virginia, to learn how the folks at Smooth Ambler Distillery make their small-batch vodka, gin, and whiskey (both bourbon and rye).

Enjoy the video while you daydream about the spirits you'll enjoy this holiday weekend.   

Thursday, May 23

RVA Eats: A Day Trip to Caromont Farm

Photos by Nicole Lang.
Throughout the spring, Nicole Lang is blogging for us about her adopted hometown of Richmond, Virginia (aka RVA). Richmond is the site for this year's Summer Foodways Symposium, which will take place from June 20–22. Over on her own blog, Food Punk, Nicole is telling more stories of the folks—from musicians to fashion bloggers—who make Richmond awesome. Check out her "One Day in RVA" series to meet these men and women.

Part of my job at Richmond's Secco Wine Bar involves sampling a wide variety of cheeses. Lucky me! Even more fortunately, one of my favorite Southern cheesemakers, Gail Hobbs-Page, is just an afternoon’s drive down the road in Esmont, Virginia, at Caromont Farm

Gail was raised on a peanut and tobacco farm in northeastern North Carolina, where, she says, “if you wanted French fries, then you grew a potato.” She fried her first chicken at 8 years old. Gutting a deer came not long after that. Gail's upbringing was centered around farm and family. She says that working the land and learning both self-reliance and sustainability from her parents and grandparents primed her for a career in food. In her house, “A souffle was just spoonbread. I pieced my culinary education together intuitively from my farm background."

After 26 years of cooking in restaurants in North Carolina and Virginia, constantly on the lookout for top-quality ingredients, Gail decided to try her hand at a different side of the food business. Before starting Caromont Farm, she says, “I knew I could make cheese, but I really didn’t know what I was doing." The experience was "a crash course in everything!”

Esmontonian, Caromont’s signature offering (pictured above), is an aged, raw milk goat cheese, bathed in a local Viognier vinegar brine. It's a stunner: nutty and complex with a gentle tang. Her cow’s milk bloomy rind, Bloomsbury, could hold its own against any French triple-cream. Gail attributes her success to the quality of milk her cows and goats produce. “I am a milk farmer," she says. "I can’t make good cheese until I know how to make good milk.”

Gail feels that cooking in testosterone-fueled kitchens prepared her for life as a woman farmer, yet she still has to deal with sexism. “Someone tried to sell me bad hay, because they assumed I didn’t know any better—stuff like that." She adds, “It’s a man’s world, but you have to get over it. That’s the reality of being a woman in this business. You can’t whine about it.”

Despite the challenges, Gail loves what she does. “Is it fun everyday? No! It’s a seasonal life, and you do the work in 104-degree heat, or in freezing rain.” She tells me that Southern cheesemakers, once isolated from one another, have formed an alliance and want to help each other succeed. Two of her cheesemakers have left to start a sheep’s milk farm of their own. In the years to come, I imagine Gail will be a mentor to others like them.

“Now that I’m older, I can look back and see the significance of my life in food; in the way I was raised," she says. "I don’t think folks raise people like that anymore—or maybe they do. I hope that they do.”

Director's Cut: Cologne Water and Flights of Barbecue Fancy

An early copy of The Virginia Housewife. Image courtesy of the Virginia Historical Society.

"Director's Cut" is a weekly post from SFA director John T. Edge.  

One of the things I like most about my job is that I get to conspire with cooks and chefs and other smart folks on SFA menus. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been juggling two assignments from Melissa Hall, SFA’s assistant director and organizer of events.

For our first Summer Symposium, set for June 20-22, I’ve been talking to collaborators in Richmond who are devising menus for a dinner that pays homage to Mary Randolph, author of The Virginia Housewife (1824). Yesterday I talked to Beth Dixon, a member of the RVA Swappers, about the tomato marmalade she plans to serve, and the gin cocktails she plans to mix with “cologne water.”

My second assignment has been managing the menus for the Potlikker Film Festival, set for the evening of June 7 at Blue Smoke in New York City. Unlike the Summer Symposium, tickets are still available.

The lineup, which showcases the state of modern Southern cookery, will include Shem Creek barbecue roe shrimp from Mike Lata of the Ordinary in Charleston. And ramp salt–cured Simmons Farm delacata catfish with sweet peas and homemade buttermilk ricotta from Kyle Knall of Maysville in NYC.

Matt Kelly of Mateo Tapas in Durham will dish ensalada de chicharrones with baby collards, toasted peanuts, fried shallots, and Eastern N.C. BBQ vinagreta, while Joseph Lenn of Blackberry Farm in Tennessee will serve smoked quail, glazed with jam and black pepper in the [Leah] Chase style, with smoked potato salad, pickled ramps, and hickory gastrique.

I didn’t do much conspiring with Kenny Callaghan, the chef, pitmaster, and partner at Blue Smoke. After all, the event will take place on his home turf, within reach of his pits. I named his contribution "Flights of Barbecue Fancy."* If you know Kenny, you know that he’s a man’s man, and you recognize that my description of what he’ll cook and serve sounds a little fey. That’s another thing I enjoy about working on these menus: Sometime I get to mess with my friends.

*Editor's note: Just before this post went to press, Callaghan informed us that he will be serving spice-smoked lamb ribs with minted yogurt. We can't wait. 

Wednesday, May 22

Sustainable South: Leann Hines

Leann holding a chick. Photo by Amy Evans.
In 2011 Amy Evans, the SFA’s lead oral historian, conducted an oral history project on the Downtown Greenwood, MS Farmers’ Market. One farmer, Leann Hines of Levee Run Farm, told us the story of farming in the area. As the Farmers’ Market, established in 2008, nourished economic recovery in downtown Greenwood, it planted seeds of inspiration in Hines’s own recovery from a debilitating illness. 

“They said, ‘Oh, well you’ve got a virus.’ Well, yeah, I had the virus to end all viruses. The next morning when I woke up, I couldn’t move anything but my left hand, my left arm. And so and I have not been able to walk since then. That was 2007. As it turned out, they finally got a diagnosis of West Nile Virus Polio, and it’s a demyelinating disease.”

What began as an activity to get her out of the house proved to be a source of both income and personal satisfaction. In response to Greenwood’s demand for fresh eggs, Hines, formerly a labor and delivery nurse, bought her first chicks in March of 2009. “I mean, we’re in the Delta and we’re still a farming and agriculture community and for nobody to offer any produce or eggs, I just thought was awful.” Now, shoppers and restaurants across North Mississippi seek her products, from chicken, duck, goose, and quail eggs to mesclun baby greens, figs, blackberries, and cut flowers.

We caught up with Hines this week at the new Oxford City Farmers’ Market. “The goose eggs are a fun product to sell,” she says, adding that the duck eggs are also becoming popular with market customers. For those wanting to try something new, Hines reveals that quail eggs are the perfect size to fry and top a sausage patty on a hot homemade biscuit.

Hines points out that very few people today realize the work involved in raising animals or vegetables for food. “But there is hope!” she adds. “Farmers’ markets are so important for promoting community, healthy eating, exercise, animal welfare, and entrepreneurship.” There is a "long row to hoe" to make our state healthier, she says, but farmers’ markets are providing a variety of fresh foods that cannot be found in many grocery stores.

“One of the greatest things that you can do in a community is have a Farmers’ Market, not just from the financial point of view but for, you know, building community, getting out—everybody seeing what’s going on, exchanging ideas.”

To read more about Hines’s story, visit our Oral History Index. To learn more about becoming a vendor at Oxford City Market, click here.

Emilie Dayan, our office intern/assistant/chief collaborator, blogs weekly about issues of nutrition, sustainability, and food policy in the South.

Tuesday, May 21

Kitchen to Classroom: Eating in the Archives, Part I

Fannie Lou Hamer at the 1964 Democratic National Convention

Kitchen to Classroom is a weekly dispatch from our postdoctoral fellow, Angela Jill Cooley. We'll miss Jill when she moves on next month—she has accepted a position as an assistant professor of history at Minnesota State University-Mankato. We look forward to welcoming our 2013–2014 postdoctoral fellow, Zac Henson, at the end of the summer.

Eating in the archives? Well, no, everyone knows you can’t eat in the archives. Archivists are understandably prickly about protecting the historical documents, rare books, and other delicate material under their care. So you won’t find any actual food, but you will find loads of information about food in the archives. From personal papers to government documents to old cookbooks, historical repositories tell the story of our foodways.

Recently, I went to New Orleans to research at the Amistad Research Center on the campus of Tulane University. As the country’s largest independent archive specializing in African American history, the Amistad Research Center might be the region’s best-kept secret as a repository of the history of black foodways. My research focused on the personal papers of civil rights activist and Mississippi native Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977). Hamer is best known as a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) worker who fought for the voting rights of black Mississippians. She came to national attention during the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City when she tried to convince the credentials committee to seat a biracial delegation to represent Mississippi instead of the all-white group nominated by state party officials.

After SNCC’s decline, Hamer advocated on behalf of the region’s poor. Her papers reveal efforts to ameliorate food insecurity for Mississippi farm families. In 1969, Hamer founded Freedom Farm, a cooperative designed to feed hungry farmers in her native Sunflower County. Her best-known project was a “pig bank,” whereby Freedom Farm loaned hogs to needy farm families in exchange for the farmer’s promise to return two of the hog’s offspring to pig bank. Freedom Farm also grew okra, peas, butter beans, corn, cucumbers, and snap beans for the sustenance of disadvantaged families. Freedom Farm served more than 850 poor families. Proceeds from cotton and soybean cultivation helped finance Freedom Farm’s land notes. Despite these efforts—including a fundraising campaign led by the singer and actor Harry Belafonte—Hamer’s papers reveal that Freedom Farm had a difficult time financing its operations and holding onto its land. Sadly, this was a common story for African American farmers.

In addition to feeding the hungry, Hamer served as an ambassador for the extreme deprivation hidden from most Americans in the 1960s. Her papers include the script for a film entitled Hunger: American Style, which aired in February 1968 on public television. Hamer appeared in this documentary describing the struggles many Mississippi Delta families experienced obtaining healthy food. In the script, Dr. Aaron Shirley, a pediatrician and activist in the Delta, describes problems associated with a food desert long before anyone coined the term. “We see people who are not under weight because they get enough calories,” Dr. Shirley says in the film, “but they don’t get green vegetables; they don’t get fruits; and they don’t get some of the minerals and vitamins that they need.” Hamer’s personal papers remind us that food insecurity is not a recent problem and that it has historically had a disproportional effect on black families in our region.
Note: A finding aid for the Fannie Lou Hamer manuscript collection is available at the Amistad Research Center’s online finding aid database. This post is the first in a three-part series on locating our food history in the archives.

Friday, May 17

Southern Six-Pack

1.  May has been the cruelest month for barbecue pit-masters. We bid farewell to Ricky Parker of Lexington, TN; Donald Pelts and John Willingham of Memphis, TN and Douglas Fincher, Jr. of Macon, GA.  Who's going to fill their shoes?

2.  Douglas Fincher saw his barbecue travel into outer space. Donald Pelts saw his barbecue circumnavigate the globe. Move over pork, it's chicken's turn to travel. Now comes word that KFC is being carried across an international border and through a smuggling tunnel to reach fast-food hungry patrons in Gaza. It's a four hour journey from counter to table, making this the slowest fast food around.

3.  Bully pulpit, n. -- as for making ones views known or rallying support.  Wendell Pierce has the bully pulpit but he isn't just talking about transforming New Orleans' food deserts, he's doing something. His Sterling Farms grocery store (and two smaller convenience stores) opened earlier this spring.  Spend $50 in the store and get a free ride home in the Sterling Farms' shuttle.

4.  Grits, Demystified answers several bubbling questions:  Are grits the same as polenta?  What's the deal with instant grits?  May I, in the privacy of my own home, put sugar on my grits?

N.B. I went to high school with a girl who, bless her heart, ordered "a grit" at the Cracker Barrel.  She wanted to try grits without committing to an entire portion.  The waitress obliged.  And, my high school pal recoiled at what she described as "a hangnail on my plate!"  Our lesson that day was one we might have learned in the classroom -- grit is gross and unappetizing and has no place on the plate but, grits are delicious.

5.  The food world took to the internet today to express its collective outrage at the firing of long-time Village Voice food critic, Robert Sietsema.  As well they should.  During Sietsema's 20 years at the Village Voice he found the city's best food in the city's most unlikely places.  And,  wrote without ever losing his sense of wonder and whimsy.   Also, he once called the patty melt the tuna salad sandwich's slutty cousin.

6.  Trevor Runyon broke into the ValuMarket in Mt. Washington, Kentucky and ate six steaks, a couple of pounds of shrimp, a dinner salad, a birthday cake, a case of soft drinks, and 57 cans of Reddi-wip.  And then fell asleep in the ceiling of the store.

RVA Eats: Heritage

Emilia and Joe Sparatta (L) with Emilia's brother Mattias Hagglund.
Together, they opened Heritage in the fall of 2012.
Photo by Nicole Lang

Throughout the spring, Nicole Lang is blogging for us about her adopted hometown of Richmond, Virginia (aka RVA). Richmond is the site for this year's Summer Foodways Symposium, which will take place from June 20–22. Over on her own blog, Food Punk, Nicole is telling more stories of the folks—from musicians to fashion bloggers—who make Richmond awesome. Check out her "One Day in RVA" series to meet these men and women. 

As you may have noticed, I’m quite smitten with Richmond’s food scene. But there is one establishment that, for me, encapsulates RVA’s movement toward not just greatness in our collective gastronomy, but the elevation of our community. That place is Heritage.

Joe and Emilia Sparatta, along with Emilia’s brother Mattias Hagglund, opened Heritage in the fall of 2012. They put their passion on every plate, in every glass, and prove their love for Richmond with dedicated and expert service. A trip to Heritage is rejuvenating, like a visit home. You leave feeling well cared for and full of good food and drink.

Photo by Nicole Lang

Heritage is a true mom-and-pop establishment. Joe and Emilia welcomed their first baby just months after opening. Little Hunter Ryland is named for the restaurant where the pair first met.

“Joe and I met at the Ryland Inn in 2002. We were both line cooks,” Emilia recalls. “We later worked together at two other restaurants and then helped to open Elements in New Jersey. We asked Mattias, who was then in Richmond, to join us and manage the bar.”

Behind the bar at Heritage. Photo by Nicole Lang.

Opening a place of their own was the goal, so they returned home to Richmond.

“Eventually, there comes a point where you have taken in as much as you can from your mentors—when it's time to get going,” Emilia explained.

“We knew that we worked well together—that we each bring something different and important to the table—so it just made sense for us to open a place of our own,” adds Mattias.

Leaving the network of friends they established up north was difficult, Joe tells me, and I wonder if he had a plan—an inkling to what Richmonders wanted to eat, not having grown up here himself.

“I really believe that people are looking for food that is not too intimidating and handled with care. We make just about everything in house and having value-added product is very important to me. I keep in mind that we're here to make people happy.”

As I tuck into a spectacular dish of red snapper collar, I can report happiness is an immediate condition. The care that Joe mentions extends beyond folks dining at Heritage: they regularly host and collaborate with other restaurants on benefits and are heavily involved in local charity work.

I ask Emilia why she thinks Richmonders are taking to Heritage with such zeal. “It’s a place where you know you can consistently get great food; friendly, intelligent service; quality crafted cocktails in a casual setting. You can pop in and not have to be too serious.”

Cocktail menu at Heritage. Photo by Nicole Lang.

Mattias is quick to note the collective support of the RVA restaurant community. “It's great being in a place where people work together to promote the whole scene, rather than just themselves.  I love this city.”

Thursday, May 16

Sustainable South: Jones Valley Teaching Farm

All photos by the Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about urban agriculture and the solution it provides for sustainable and healthy living (on Sustainable South, we wrote about it in Houston and Atlanta.) The Jones Valley Teaching Farm (JVTF) in Birmingham, Alabama, however, is much more than an urban farm. Their vision is to educate 10,000 Birmingham children annually.

The project started in 2007 as the Jones Valley Urban Farm, when the organization transformed three and a half acres of vacant downtown property into an agricultural oasis. The mission was to make the downtown Birmingham community a healthier place. Soon, the farm’s educational programs proved to be the most relevant of all the organization’s initiatives. As a result, the leadership shifted the focus of the farm and changed the name. 

Today, it is the Jones Valley Teaching Farm, and it is a place where young minds blossom. By connecting young people to their food, and helping them understand where it comes from, the JVTF believes that future generations will be empowered to eat smarter, think healthier, and live better. The JVTF works with parents, principals, and teachers to provide educational programs that are responsive to the needs of 21st century learners. This school year, JVTF built a "farm lab" at Glen Iris Elementary School with the help of a design fellow from the Rural Studio and piloted its "Good School Food" curriculum. As part of the program, fifth graders developed a business plan and ran a farmer's market at the school, selling 1,000 pounds of produce from the on-campus farm lab.

JVTF has developed hands-on, standards-based enrichment kits that will be distributed in 8 Birmingham elementary and middle schools in 2013-2014. These kits provide the materials and resources needed for students to work in small teams, developing skills such as problem solving, critical thinking and communication—all relating to food systems and nutrition. The JVTF also provides field-based education to students so they can actively participate in the learning process.

If the farm’s produce is any indication, the JVTF is planting seeds that will grow into a vibrant and healthy young generation in the Birmingham community.

Emilie Dayan, our office intern/assistant/chief collaborator, blogs weekly about issues of nutrition, sustainability, and food policy in the South.

Wednesday, May 15

Director's Cut: The Future of Food Scholarship

The field of food studies has come a long way in the 21st century. Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1943, courtesy of the Library of Congress
"Director's Cut" is a weekly post from SFA director John T. Edge.  

Last week, the Food Studies program at Indiana University hosted an interdisciplinary workshop, “The Future of Food Studies,” underwritten by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 20-odd scholars from around the country gathered in Bloomington for two and a half days of discussions.

In attendance were Krishnendu Ray, chair of the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University; Analiese Richard, faculty chair of the School of International Studies at the University of the Pacific; Richard Wilk, director of food studies at Indiana University; and more than a dozen other energetic and engaged thinkers.

I met scholars who approached food studies from a variety of disciplines: A literature professor who explores food imagery and recipes in immigrant memoirs. An anthropologist who does ethnographic work with farmers in the West African nation of Mali. A historian who studies the American school lunch program.

Open, curious, and without posturing, the group worked to define the field and plot its trajectory.

Together, we talked through strategies for undergraduate education. We debated the efficacy of interdisciplinary studies. And we settled on a canon of texts and then dismissed said canon.

No matter the seriousness of their scholarship, many seemed to grapple with what Krishnendu Ray called the “triviality barrier.” They recognized that, in this American moment when food sovereignty and food justice are pop memes, those of us who study foodways and food studies claim a space that is both at the center of the current American cultural conversation and, for now, on the fringe of academic legitimacy.

Monday, May 13

Women at Work: Wrapping up "Give Me Some Sugar"

Photo (and pie crust) by Emily Hilliard.
Writer, folklorist, and baker Emily Hilliard has been blogging for us this spring about Southern female pastry chefs. Here, she reflects on what she learned.

For the past 3 months, I’ve been talking with women pastry chefs from across the South for the Southern Foodways Alliance’s series "Give Me Some Sugar." One of the questions I asked each chef was how being a woman has informed—or hasn’t informed—her work. I asked this, fully understanding that the question has its problems (as described by this Eater piece that was published when I was working on the series), as it marks women as an “other” in the professional culinary world, where women chefs are no longer a rarity.

But I still wanted to ask the question. I knew some might feel indifferent, but also thought that particularly in the world of baking, a realm that at least in the home sphere is still commonly associated with women, that it might elicit some interesting responses. And though a few did laugh at the question, it evoked some powerful stories in others.

Table 310’s Stella Parks spoke of her disbelief in gendered flavors—how to her, ingredients like tobacco and bourbon don’t feel masculine, but instead feel “homey,” inciting her memories of growing up middle of a Kentucky tobacco field, a stone’s throw from the world’s most famous bourbon distillery.

Phoebe Lawless said that while she doesn’t feel like being a woman has necessarily informed her baking, being a mother certainly has. As a parent, she’s had to adjust her schedule to cook more meals at home and choose recipes that she can make with her 8-year old daughter—both of these factors have influenced her baking repertoire and the menu at Lawless’s Durham, NC, bakery, Scratch.

Many of the chefs I spoke to, including Cheryl Day, Christina Tosi, and Carla Cabrera-Tomasko, learned to bake at home from the matriarchs in their family. As adults, they professionalized these domestic skills they developed with their mothers and aunts and grandmothers, some supplementing them with formal culinary training.

I thought about how I might answer the same question when applied to my own work—as a writer or folklorist or home baker, and I realized that being a woman doesn’t affect how I write or research or bake, but it does inform in part why I do those things and what I chose to write and study and recognize. I believe it’s important to acknowledge the legacy of women’s work from past generations, whether in a field that was typically seen as feminine, or one that was always male-dominated. In my academic work and writing at Nothing-in-the-House, I seek to bring attention to the power of creative domestic skills not only within the home itself, but in the ability for those skills to transfer to and influence other public spheres—commercial, social, and communal.

Though women pastry chefs may no longer be a rarity or a marked category, there is something about preserving the memory of women’s contributions that I think is important. And the exciting thing about baking, is that we can make this memory manifest, as many of the chefs I interviewed do, in the form of baking our grandmother’s chocolate cake, using our mother’s lemon juicer, or carrying on the tradition of making something beautiful and delicious with what we have.

Friday, May 10

Nicole Taylor Takes the Cake

Lemon-coconut stack cake. Photo by Nicole Taylor.

SFA guest blogger Nicole Taylor is Brooklyn-based writer and radio host with Georgia roots. You can follow her on Twitter at @foodculturist. 

“Let's do a cakewalk!”

I over-zealously emailed this suggestion to my CSA (community-supported agriculture) group as a fundraising option for a farmer wiped out by Hurricane Irene in the late summer of 2011. Silence ensued.
I remember my first experience of musical chairs and numbered, layered confections at the Thomas N. Lay Community Park in Athens, Georgia. The centerpiece of the fete was a long table of grand, stout, tall, showstoppers: coconut filled, chocolate covered, and vanilla laden. Popular radio tunes from the boombox filled the air while kids strutted in a circle to win desserts. The songs stopped, and the winners swooped up the prizes.
Young ladies do the cake walk in Van Cortlandt Park, New York City (date unknown). Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

According to narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration, cakewalks began as a pastime for southern slaves, where individuals mocked the ballroom-style strides of their masters and the best dancers were gifted a cake. After emancipation, the plantation dance became popular in white Northern nightclubs and was then labeled a dance style.

The cakewalk—both the dance and the game—has almost vanished from pop culture and grade school carnivals. I'm ready to do it again. With the growing movement of food swaps and blogger bake sales, I’m predicting a comeback of the entertainment that put smiles on the faces of young and old, black and white.

We're Bringing Potlikker to the Big Apple...

...the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, that is.

Potlikker Film Festival

at the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party
Friday, June 7, 2013

6:00 – 9:00 p.m.

116 East 27th Street, New York, NY

On June 7, 2013, the Southern Foodways Alliance will celebrate the annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party with SFA-produced films about barbecue, smart talk about barbecue, and riffs on barbecue from some of the South’s best chefs.
The SFA, a University of Mississippi–based institute, documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. For the past eleven years, we’ve worked with Union Square Hospitality Group to make films about American barbecue culture. Debuting will be a Joe York-produced film on McClard’s Bar-B-Q, smoking since 1928 in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Chefs leading the way include:

Kenny Callaghan, Blue Smoke, New York, New York

Matt Kelly, Mateo Tapas, Durham, North Carolina

Kyle Knall, Maysville, New York, New York

Mike Lata, The Ordinary, Charleston, South Carolina

Joseph Lenn, The Barn at Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tennessee

To Begin:

Potlikker Shots

To Savor
Lowcountry Barbecue Blade Oysters

Simmons Catfish Farms Delta Delacata

Texas Salt and Pepper Beef Ribs

Barbecue Bocadillo with Piquillo Cheese

More Flights of Barbecue Fancy

To Sip: 

Full Steam Brewery Beer

Foggy Ridge Cider

Tito’s Vodka

Mountain Valley Spring Water

To Watch
Joe York films on the Skylight Inn, Ayden, North Carolina, and McClard’s Bar-B-Q, Hot Springs, Arkansas

Tickets, priced at $75 per person, include food, drink, and films, and are ON SALE NOW. No tickets will be available at the door. Snap yours up quickly; last year, they sold out in 4 days.  We can't wait to see you in the Big Apple!

Questions? E-mail

Thursday, May 9

RVA Eats: Leni Sorensen

Photo courtesy of Sarah Cramer Shields and Andrea Hubbell.

Throughout the spring, Nicole Lang is blogging for us about her adopted hometown of Richmond, Virginia (aka RVA). Richmond is the site for this year's Summer Foodways Symposium, which will take place from June 20–22. Over on her own blog, Food Punk, Nicole is telling more stories of the folks—from musicians to fashion bloggers—who make Richmond awesome. Check out her "One Day in RVA" series to meet these men and women. 

On a road flanked by the Doyles River in the Blue Ridge mountain town of Crozet, Virginia, is Dr. Leni Sorensen’s home, Indigo House. There, she and her husband garden and raise hens and livestock. 

A few weeks ago, I visited Indigo House for the first time. From the end of a long hallway decorated with paintings and framed early blues 78s came a yell, “We’re in the kitchen, come on back!” Leni Sorensen spends a lot of time in her kitchen. And in her garden. In fact, she keeps daily diaries on both. She is warm, direct, and prone to dropping all kinds of knowledge in causal conversation—which she tends to punctuate with a salty phrase here and there. “If I’m talking about food, I’m also talking about history," she says.

Sorensen's journals. Photo by Nicole Lang.

An expert in culinary history and agriculture of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, she was the African-American Research Historian for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello. Her resume also includes folk singer and former cast member of the musical Hair. She is now retired—which means that on any given day at Indigo House, she might be butchering a lamb or constructing a garden hoop house. 

Sorensen started cooking at age 9 alongside her stepfather, a Louisiana native who was an avid home cook. “He was my first food mentor, and he left me alone to cook. If something didn’t work out, I fed it to the dog and tried again,” she says. 

Sorensen's chickens. Photo by Nicole Lang.

Because Sorensen learned to cook by following her stepfather's example and tasting as she went, cookbooks were a revelation later in life. Her kitchen is bursting with them, from every shelf and nook. One of her favorites is the 1970s baking classic The Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown. Sorensen says that she likes to make several loaves at a time, because “you always end up eating the first loaf when it comes out warm from the oven.”

Sorensen has taught others to cook since the 1960s. “Anything you see in the grocery store, somebody cooked it. Maybe it was in a factory and they added a bunch of stuff, but it was cooked somewhere," she says. "You can make it, too—without the additives.”  

She continues to teach cooking and rural skills classes out of her home. Over the summer, she hosts a monthly open house where folks are invited to show up on her doorstep, tour through her gardens and talk food. "I have a beautiful garden and house, and it's fun to share it," Sorensen says. "They bring some local cheeses or some wine, and lots of conversation—and I make fresh bread!" 

Dr. Sorensen will be a speaker at the SFA’s Summer Foodways Symposium, discussing the relationships between white and black women in 19th-century kitchens.