FRIED PIE | SALT & PEPPER CHOCOLATE | BLACK WALNUTS
spenser personalizing food & drink.
smoke-stained Memphis BBQ tennessee
SWEET GRASS smoky mountain COUNTRY HAM fall 2013 | ISSUE EIGHT spensermag.com
features: 46| OF WATER AND GRAIN:
What it means to buy bread from a baker
by Beth Kirby
Whole-animal butchery in the Music City
Muddy Pond Sorghum is fall in a bottle
by Ross Johnson
by Mike Dundas
76|HILLBILLY HAM: Allan Benton shows no sign of slowing down
by Brendan Lynch
56| BARBECUE AS GOSPEL: A Memphis matriarch watches over her flock
by Brendan Lynch
departments: BUTLER'S CHOICE: nashville nook
STOCKING THE PANTRY: tennessee's finest
STOCKING THE BAR: bourbon & beer
FRONT OF HOUSE: the catbird seat
MEREDITH'S PAGE: tennessee style
SEASON'S SWEET: sweet potato pie
SEASON'S HARVEST: black walnuts
BUTCHER'S BLOCK: "hot chicken" skin
recipe index: cocktails Death & Taxes (Ben Clemons) | 27 The Golden Suit (Doug Monroe) | 25 Mrs. Lindy’s Laughing Liquid | 18 The Listless Ease (Terrell Raley) | 24
pork Bacon Stock | 90 Beans and Greens | 89 Country Ham-Wrapped Sturgeon with White Bean Ragout | 86 Red-Eye Brined Smoked Pork Loin | 106
snacks “Hot Chicken” Skin (Erik Anderson) | 43
soups and stews Beef & Barley Stew | 74 Black Walnut Soup | 39 Carrot Soup (James Kicinski-McCoy) | 113
sweets Apple Stack Cake | 109 Candied Sweet Potato Fried Pie | 34 Pecan Tart | 110
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letter from the editor:
y grandfather was born and raised in Morristown, Tenn., in the shadow of the Smoky Mountains. And while I never knew him as other than a Californian, he never lost the sensibility of being a southern gentleman. Always quick with a sly joke or generous pour of a cocktail, he was my closest connection to the Volunteer State. It is to him that this issue is dedicated. For those keeping score, this Tennessee focused edition is only our second themed issue-following our famed “Fishue” published last summer (there was a moment when we actually considered running with “T’ssue” on the cover but time and tide got the better of that idea). Tennessee is in the midst of a renaissance, with entire regions working to refocus their efforts toward more sustainable foodways. What’s different about this place is that folks down here aren’t reinventing the wheel. They are, as contributor Beth Kirby notes, reinvigorating
a way of life that is only one generation lost. Leaders in this food movement like Earl and Colleen Cruze, buttermilk producers in Knoxville, or Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman, chefs at Hog and Hominy, a Memphis restaurant blending Southern Italian and southern cooking, are influencing national trends. In this issue, we head to Memphis to meet mother and son duo, Flora and Ron Payne, owners of Payne’s BBQ, via the writing of Brendan Lynch and the photography of Denny Culbert. From there we move east to Nashville, to ride along with the guys from Porter Road Butcher as they head out to visit Phil Baggett of Tennessee Grass Fed Farm. We then move south, to Chattanooga, through the words and lens of Beth Kirby, as she focuses her “latent gothic sensibilities” and fascination with the southern culture on the simple, nourishing act of baking a loaf leavened bread. We visit a small town in Middle Tennessee to learn from a Mennonite family about the time-old process of making sweet sorghum. And we check in with Allan Benton at Smoky Mountain Country Hams to discuss the impermanence and seasonality of hand crafted foods. We were, of course, sure to reach out to a few of our favorite folks, like Erik Anderson at The Catbird Seat and Ben Clemons at No. 308 to pull together a collection seasonal recipes like red eye brined pork loin, apple stack cake, and candied sweet potato pie. Our only regret is that, in a state with such a rich food heritage, we were unable to give attention to all those who deserve it, like Crema coffee, Link 41 sausage, Corsair whiskey, Fall Mills grits, or Martin’s whole hog barbecue. I guess that just means we’ll have to come back another time. Let’s call it, “T’ssue 2.”
mike dundas editor-in-chief fall 2013 | spensermag.com
magazine MIKE DUNDAS
co-founder & editor-in-chief LEIGH FLORES
co-founder & executive editor JEN WHITE
design director COREY ABSHER
interactive producer MAX FOLLMER
lead copy editor HILARY KLINE
lead photo editor JOEL LEVANGIA & BRENDAN LYNCH
staff writers MEREDITH PAIGE
meredith's page editor & staff photographer contributing writers
ROSS JOHNSON, BETH KIRBY
contributing photographers DENNY CULBERT, CHRIS HIGDON, BETH KIRBY, JESSIE KRIECH-HIGDON, HANNAH QUEEN
fall interns KATHERINE FLYNN, MARGOT TUCHLER
CHASE, CHLOE, JACKSON, KAUFMAN, OLIVER & SCOUT
advertsing & sales inquiries: email@example.com
editorial & business inquiries, questions & comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
cover photo: CHOPPED PORK photograph by DENNY CULBERT
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contributors: BETH KIRBY | WRITER & PHOTOGRAPHER Beth Kirby is a writer, cook, and photographer from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and she publishes a consistent stream of photography, lyric essays, and original recipes with an emphasis on local, seasonal, from scratch cooking on her food & lifestyle blog Local Milk. A sorghum evangelist with southern gothic leanings, she aims to both preserve the traditions of the past & reinvent them for a new generation of cooks looking to discover the modern Dixie kitchen.
DENNY CULBERT | PHOTOGRAPHER Denny Culbert is a Lafayette, Louisiana based food photojournalist. He has spent a significant amount of time documenting barbecue culture in North and South Carolina for the Southern Foodways Alliance, so he felt right at home while making pictures in the smokey kitchen at Payne's Bar-B-Que in Memphis. When not shooting, eating, or cooking food, Denny can be found plotting the next Runaway Dish dinner with his wife Katie Culbert. Runaway Dish is non-profit supper club they founded earlier this year.
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ROSS JOHNSON | WRITER Ross Johnson has canned salmon in Alaska, waited tables in New York, taught classes in Danville, Kentucky, and written a few things in between. His introduction to bourbon came not in the Bluegrass, but in the Big Apple, where he sipped only the worst as an undergraduate in the storied halls of Columbia University. His taste has since, unfortunately, gotten more expensive. He now blogs under the Nom de Plume, Bluegrass Barfly, at www.VtheMarket.com, where he also slings drinks at the Danville bourbon establishment Wayne & Jane’s Wine & Whisky Bar.
HANNAH QUEEN | PHOTOGRAPHER Hannah Queen, the 22-year old publisher of the beautiful Honey & Jam food blog, lives in northern Georgia, a mountainous region known for its scenic beauty. She is an avid self-taught baker who likes to focus on simple cooking with fresh ingredients. She works as a freelance photographer and helps out her mom who is a professional caterer. Aside from baking, she passes the time with good music — bluegrass and big band — and trips to the farmers market.
JESSIE KRIECH-HIDGON & CHRIS HIGDON | PHOTOGRAPHERS Based in Louisville, Kentucky, Chris and Jessie are the husband-and-wife team behind Kriech-Higdon Photography. On their path to falling in love and establishing a business – whether as a touring musician, a psychology student in rural Indiana, a taxi driver, or a restaurant server – neither was ever without a camera to document the experience. These days, inspired by the everyday beauty of real life, their on and off hours are a near seamless blend of family, friends, food, music and animals – and that’s just the way they like it. Becoming parents to son Ewan has been their best assignment to date! Recently, Country Living and O, The Oprah Magazine, has featured Chris and Jessie’s work. Their diverse portfolio can be seen at www.kriech-higdonphoto.com.
“I love the entire English scullery kitchen vibe,” says Nashville designer Jeannette Whitson. “I used to watch period films and pause the movie when they were down in the kitchen.” And so began Whitson’s long love affair with, as she says, “the downstairs.” Today, Whitson is the owner of Garden Variety Design, a small design and antique store located in the Belle Meade Shoppes antique complex (with items also listed for sale on 1stdibs). “I love to repurpose outdoor items for inside. That’s the tenant of Garden Variety Design. These things, because they have been left outside, take on a beautiful patina. It’s something you cannot replicate,” says Whitson. She and her husband built their Nashville house from the ground up providing Whitson the perfect opportunity to incorporate an art history background, memories from those old English movies, and the treasures she had collected
traveling the world doing joint venture work as a lawyer (what Whitson refers to as a “brief deviation” from art). A woman after our own heart, she has a particular fondness for butler’s pantries, leaving no stone unturned in designing one for her own home. The centerpiece of the new pantry is an old pig trough from England. Whitson points out that, obviously, the sink isn't practical for everyday use because it’s only 5 inches deep, but it’s length and strong character create a striking focal point for the room. Despite its limitations, however, the trough plays the pivotal part of the practical tub for icing drinks and bottles of wine and champagne during parties. And who doesn’t love that? Whitson knows that having a pantry is a luxury, but she points out that it is a utilitarian space as well. Cloth hung by brass rods underneath the sink area provides coverage for an 18-inch dishwasher and a wine fridge.
“There are people who put an extra refrigerator in the garage,” says Whitson. “I just put mine in the pantry.” One wall of the pantry is stone, giving it a cobbled effect. She also added a swinging door with an antique porthole to see through out to the living room and, of course, floor to ceiling cabinets to store those treasures and collectibles. Time spent abroad in Indonesia afforded Whitson the opportunity to collect Dutch Colonial antiques, silver monogrammed pieces, bride and groom chalk pieces, and an extensive bone collection. It was there she developed what she refers to as “a bit of a China problem”. “A lot of people would have a closet to hide these items,” says Whitson. “They are creating that space, but they are creating the space to hide things. I created a walk through space that puts them on display.” “I’m intrigued by the history of beautiful things,” she adds. Ultimately, Whitson has successfully repurposed history into practical function, finding that sublime balance for her pantry. Indeed, her Nashville nook is perfectly suited to our Butler’s Choice.
(Clockwise from top) Silver monogrammed napkin rings; Whitson's silver collection; an antique ship's porthole provides a peek into the living room. Opposite Page: Whitson placed a wild boar's head directly above the pantry's vintage English pig trough-turnedsink.
stocking the pantry:
THE SWEET SOUND OF CHOCOLATE IN MUSIC CITY
Just because the folks at Olive & Sinclair happen to be some of the best bean-to-bar chocolate makers in the world doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten their southern roots. The Nashville based company, owned and operated by Scott Witherow, has carved out a niche for itself by combining both traditional and modern European production techniques with a quintessential southern flavor profile.
(which adds a nice molasses flavor) to create a rich line of chocolates that are as good as it gets. Our favorite O&S flavor, and the bars that we always keep stocked in the spenser pantry, are the dark and buttermilk white chocolates flavored with salt and black pepper. Like many good things in life, this popular flavor combination happened somewhat by mistake. A while back, Scott brought in 600-700 pounds of organic cacao from Panama. Despite their best efforts, he couldn’t get the flavor profile he wanted no matter how long or at what temperatures the beans were roasted. On a whim, Scott and his staff thought, “Why not season the dark chocolate like a tomato?” So they did, and it worked. Today the Salt & Pepper Dark Chocolate is made with beans from Ghana. The bars are 67% cacao and taste like salt and pepper figs with brown butter.
After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University, Witherow headed off to Europe to attend culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu London. It was here where Witherow discovered he wanted to work with chocolate for a living. By the time he returned home to Nashville - after stints cooking at Nobu and the Fat Duck - the chocolate seed had been planted and the idea for Olive & Sinclair began to grow. Witherow started small, purchasing tabletop machines that allowed him to make three to five pounds of chocolate per batch. It took a little creative thinking to piece together the It was only a matter of time before Scott added the necessary equipment, but he made it work. same boost of salt and pepper to his white chocolate, which is made with a classic southern ingredient, fresh “I was oven roasting and hand cracking the beans buttermilk. This white chocolate bar has a definite and with something resembling your grandmother’s old delicious tang from the buttermilk but it’s also rich and sausage grinder that clamped to the side of a kitchen creamy, with a slight nuttiness and generous spice counter,” Witherow says. “I would separate the nibs from the pepper. from the shell using a hair dryer and an old french ‘chinois’ that I brought back from my time in London.” $6.99 for a 2.75 ounce bar. Available nationally at gourmet food stores and online at Today, select single origin beans are slow-roasted and oliveandsinclair.com. stone ground, then combined with pure brown sugar
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HAUTE-SAVOIE MEETS CUMBERLAND PLATEAU Grazing your dairy cows in such a way as to produce a specific flavor of milk seems intuitive, but, admittedly, it is something we’ve never thought about until Nathan Arnold, cheesemaker at Sequatchie Cove Creamery, mentioned it to us during our interview. “You get in the discussion of what is quality milk and it means a totally different thing when you make cheese. Learning how to produce consistently high quality milk is everything,” says Arnold. “When you go the Europe, it’s a well understood practice that the farmers have to think like a cheesemaker. The cheese starts in the field.” Arnold’s creamery is part of Sequatchie Cove Farm, a biodiverse 300-acre farm run by Bill and Miriam Keener located 25 miles northeast of Chattanooga in the Sequatchie Valley. The valley itself is nestled between the eastern edge of the Cumberland Plateau to the west and Walden Ridge and the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians to the east. In simple terms, the farm is surrounded by pristine Tennessee wilderness. Nathan Arnold spent about 15 years working on organic farms throughout the South with his wife, Padgett. The couple eventually made their way back to their hometown of Chattanooga to start work on a new urban farm, which sold produce at the Chattanooga farmers market. It was here where Arnold met the Keeners, who sold Sequatchie Cove Farm meat, eggs, and produce at the same market. After making the move with Padgett to Sequatchie to work on the farm, it didn’t take long for Arnold to get hooked on Keener’s diversified livestock program, with grazed beef and lamb, forested pork, and chickens raised on pasture. “We came across this heritage breed call the American Milking Devon, a triple purpose cow, and started thinking about how cool it would be to get milk and beef out of the same herd,” says Arnold. “We went from rotational grazing of beef to thinking about how we could get more value out of our grass.” Not wanting to fight the commodity war of selling fluid milk, especially when they only had 50 acres of pasture and no ability to compete on volume, Keener and Arnold decided to focus on making farmstead cheese to add value to the milk. After breaking ground on the creamery, Arnold realized the Devon wasn’t producing enough milk to make cheese, so he turned to a Jersey-Holstein crossbreed and has found success. “Right now we are milking a herd of about 35 Jersey-Holstein crosses. We’re milking twice a day and we’re milking year round,” says Arnold. “The cheese is being made seven days a week, which means that we don’t use any milk that is older than 12 hours.” Arnold has only made cheese for a few years now and yet Sequatchie Cove Creamery products are already distributed nationally, thanks in part to the fact that his Dancing Fern, a Reblochon style cheese, was judged the single best farmstead soft cheese at the American Cheese Society competition in 2012. Dancing Fern, a raw milk cheese that is aged for sixty days, has a washed rind with a soft interior that tastes of cultured butter, grass, and bit of mushroom and earthiness. Stating the obvious, Dancing Fern has earned a permanent place in the spenser pantry. Price varies per pound. Shipped in 1 to 1.25 lb. wheels. Available across the South and in many large cities with gourmet cheese shops like New York, New Orleans, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
stocking the pantry:
SNACK PACK Our Design Director Jen White didn’t have to twist our arm to get us to fall for Nola Granola. All it took from her were the words, “salted caramel snack pack.” This Tennessee granola is made for eating right out of the bag, not as cereal with milk in the morning. With just the right balance of salt and sweet and a creative mix of dried fruits, nuts, and toasted oats, you should think of it as a tasty trail mix. Nola Granola is a family owned “snackery” run by sisters Dawn and Liz Craig in Nashville. The company, which is named after Dawn’s daughter, was started almost on a whim after Liz, a commercial real estate agent, made family, friends, and coworkers a batch of cranberry coconut granola for Christmas in 2011. So many folks came back asking for more that that the sisters conceived to start selling the granola to the public. It took a bit of trial and error to scale up the batches for their commercial kitchen space, but in early 2012 the sisters were off and running, selling at a number of independent grocery stores around Nashville and direct to the public at a local farmer’s market. “We are attracted to the idea of granola as opposed to, say, a granola bar because each bite can be its own individual taste,” says Dawn. “You pick up a bit of cranberry in one bite and the coconut and almonds in the next, whereas a granola bar would be a bit more uniform.” Each ingredient is individually toasted in the oven for a specific amount of time to ensure that nothing is overcooked and then all are mixed together. Along with the original cranberry coconut mixture, Nola Granola offers salted caramel, chocolate and almond, and apricot and almond. There is also a spicy pecan flavor in the works. Our favorite flavor, the salted caramel granola, draws its inspiration from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream’s Salty Caramel. And just as Jeni Britton Bauer uses scratch made, stovetop caramel in her ice cream, Liz makes her own caramel using fresh cream sourced from the Hatcher Family Dairy Farm in College Grove just south of Nashville. “If you think beyond cereal or a topping for yogurt, you can take the flavor of granola anywhere,” says Dawn. “But it takes a long time to develop new recipes. People have pretty high standards for the idea of something like salted caramel and we want to be sure we hit that flavor just right before releasing it.” Take it from us – Nola Granola hits the mark, which earns it a spot in the spenser pantry. $7.00 for a 6 oz. bag. Available online at mynolagranola.com or in shops around Nashville.
EXTENDING THE SUMMER Started in 2011 by sisters Amy Lorber and Erin Ackley, Bathtub Gin is a business after our own heart. Spurred on by the two sisters' passion for homemade jam and handcrafted cocktails, Bathtub Gin offers up a line of unique fruit preserves, each spiked with a tipple of booze. But don’t think that these are novelty hostess gifts simply because there is alcohol involved. Bathtub Gin products are made with peak of the season produce, preserved without the use of added pectin, and hand packed in small batches. Lorber and Ackley grew up making jam with their mother using fresh ingredients from the family’s garden. Early on, the sisters learned that once they had tasted warm jam made from the fruit they had picked that same morning, nothing else would do. As adults, they’ve incorporated their love of Prohibition era cocktails into their jams by using fruit in the same way that many speakeasies did – by combining it with spirits and liqueurs. Their “emporium” of offerings includes Rum Raisin Mission Fig, London Pink Gin Marmalade, and Chai Cordial Blueberry Apricot. Our favorite Bathtub Gin flavor is a straightforward nod to the South, Peaches ‘n Cream. The sisters source the majority of their peaches close to home, buying mainly the Prince varietal from Delvin Farms in nearby College Grove. Delvin Farms is family owned and certified organic. “They [Delvin Farms] are a source for much of our produce and terrific people who care about sustainable farming,” says Lorber. “In fact, the peach orchard is fertilized by their grazing sheep.” To make the preserve, Lorber and Ackley cook down the sweet summer peaches with a pinch of cinnamon. The mixture is then steeped with sweet basil and finished with a generous pouring of cream sherry. This preserve is a true southern delight sure to satisfy any fall and winter longing for a front porch swing, flickering lightning bugs, and a warm summer breeze. “We believe that some flavors should be saved and savored, because there’s nothing quite so lovely as a juicy bite of a blushing summer peach on a cold and dreary day,” says Lorber. Try it plain on toast or brioche, or on top of waffles with a pat of vanilla butter, or, as the sisters like to do, mixed into a craft cocktail for that perfect taste of summer any time of year. $12.00 for an 8 oz. jar. Available online at www.bathtubginonline. com and from specialty shops across the country (a complete listing is available on their website).
Mrs. Lindy’s Laughing Liquid Amy and Erin make a summer cocktail called Mrs. Grundy’s Giggle Juice using their Peaches ‘n Cream preserve along with fresh muddled peach, sage, brandy, orange cognac, and lemon juice. With farm fresh peaches out of season, we wanted to come up with a new drink that’s better suited for the fall. Think of it as a piece of spiced peach pie in a glass. Makes one cocktail 2 oz. bourbon (We used Belle Meade) ¾ oz. spiced ginger syrup (below) ½ oz. lemon juice 2 tsp. Bathtub Gin Peaches n’ Cream 2 dashes peach bitters 1. Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously until well chilled. Strain into a single old-fashioned glass filled with one large ice cube. Garnish with a twist of lemon.
Spiced Ginger Syrup Makes one cup ½ cup fresh ginger juice 5 green cardamom pods, cracked 3 whole cloves ½-inch cinnamon stick ½ cup turbinado sugar ½ cup water 1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Once the syrup starts to simmer, remove from the heat, cover and allow to steep for ten minutes. Strain and chill completely before using. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
stocking the pantry:
fall 2013 | spensermag.com
stocking the bar:
A BEER NAMED SUE
24 | spensermag.com | summer 2013
stocking the bar: We doubt there is a single food item consumed in the South that hasn’t been smoked at one time or another to delicious result. There’s the smoked bacon at Benton’s in Tennessee, smoked mahi fish dip at Mrs. Peters Smoke House in Florida, smoked tomato pie at Poole’s Diner in North Carolina, smoked linguini & clams with scampi butter at The Spence in Georgia, smoked crawfish salad at Bouré in Mississippi, and even smoked grapefruit in the cocktails at Cure in Louisiana. So it wasn’t much of a leap of faith when Linus Hall, Founder and Brewmaster of Yazoo Brewing Company in Nashville, Tenn., decided to brew a smoked beer. Of course, adding smoke can be a dangerous proposition for any brewer as a little smoke can go a very long way. We’ve tasted a number of smoked beers where the flavor is truly off putting and now approach the category with trepidation. To his credit, Hall shows a deft touch in brewing Yazoo’s Sue smoked porter, which is 9% ABV. The beer, in Hall’s words, is a big, rich malt bomb of a beer, with mellow smokiness coming from the cherry wood-smoked barley malts. He balances the smoke and sweetness of the malt with an assertive hit of bitterness from Galena and Perle hops. While Yazoo Brewing was founded in 2003, Linus Hall actually started making his own beer 10 years earlier after purchasing a home brewing kit advertised in the back pages of Rolling Stone. Early success brewing “something that actually tasted like beer” inspired Hall to keep brewing for friends and family. With encouragement from his wife, Lila, Hall eventually quit his job working as a tire engineer for Bridgestone, earned an MBA from Vanderbilt, and then spent time working for the Brooklyn Brewing Co. and the American Brewer’s Guild. Upon returning to Nashville, Hall opened the doors to Yazoo Brewery (the business was named after the Yazoo River, which runs through the Halls’ home state of Mississippi) and began wholesaling kegs of his highly regarded Yazoo Pale Ale, Dos Perros Mexican style beer, Spring Wheat, and Onward Stout. Yazoo Sue was first brewed in 2009, after the brewery obtained a state distillery license because of the beer’s high alcohol content. spenser staff are happy to have met the acquaintance of a beer named Sue. $5.00 for a 750 ml bottle. Available in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama.
summer 2013 | spensermag.com
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BELLE OF THE BALL In the late 1800’s, three whiskey distilleries dominated in the state of Tennessee. They were Cascade (now George Dickel), Jack Daniel’s, and Charles Nelson’s Greenbrier Distillery. Of the three, Charles Nelson’s distillery in Robertson County was king, producing nearly 380,000 gallons of whiskey in 1885 alone (compared to Jack Daniel’s 23,000 gallons produced that same year). The good fortune didn’t last long, however, as Greenbrier’s whiskey production shuttered abruptly in 1909 when Tennessee enacted prohibition at the state level. Almost one century later, Charles Nelson’s great-great-grandson Bill Nelson found himself with his two sons, Andy and Charlie, in Greenbrier, Tenn. to pick up a hindquarter of beef from a local meat packer named Chuck Grissom. When the trio arrived to collect their order, they struck up a conversation with Grissom about the old Nelson Distillery. As luck would have it, Grissom’s processing facility was located on Distillery Road, near the Greenbrier’s old barrel aging warehouse. He sent the Nelson’s down the street, pointing out the spring stream that still runs through the old property, which once provided the distillery with fresh water. As the story goes, after Bill, Andy, and Charlie quenched their thirst with the crisp, cool spring water, Grissom pointed them in the direction of the Greenbrier Historical Society, which had in its possession two bottles of Nelson’s Tennessee whiskey from the 1800’s. It was here inside the historical society where the idea for restarting the business was born. After three years of research and planning, Andy and Charlie Nelson relaunched the family business that Prohibition had closed 100 years earlier. “We had heard the story of Charles (Nelson) coming to America with his father and working his way up from nothing,” says Andy. “But we had no idea how big the distillery was in its time. That trip to Greenbrier was a total coincidence that changed our lives.” The most popular product of the 30 liquor brands produced by the original Nelson distillery was the Tennessee whiskey, but that whiskey is not the brothers’ first release. Andy and Charlie still need to build up capital to build out a Nashville distillery, which will allow them to produce and bottle Charles Nelson’s original Tennessee whiskey recipe. In the meantime, they’ve contracted with MGPI, a distillery operator in Lawrenceburg, Ind. (formerly Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana) to distill Belle Meade, a high-rye style bourbon, which is aged in barrels built by Independent Stave Company. “We chose a combination of three different recipes, with four barrels in each batch that are made up of two different mash bills and two different yeast strains,” says Andy. “One of the mash bills has about 40% rye and the other about 25%, so when you put them all together it comes out to about 64% corn, 30% rye, and 6% malted barley.” The juice in the elegant Belle Meade bottle is between 6 and 8 years of age and is 90.4 proof. This very smooth bourbon has a rich mouthfeel and a medium finish. It has a nice jolt of spice from the rye but ends sweet with the traditional notes of caramel and vanilla. $38.00 for a 750ml bottle. Distributed in 13 states, mostly in the Southeastern United States, plus Illinois, California, and Nevada.
The Listless Ease Recipe by Terrell Raley Terry Raley, the owner of the Holland House Bar & Refuge in East Nashville, spent a fair bit of time working behind the bar before opening his own place. With The Listless Ease, he has created a delicate bourbon drink that balances Belle Meade’s spice with the floral notes of Atsby vermouth, essential oils of grapefruit, and the calming effect of chamomile. Makes one cocktail 2 oz. Belle Meade Bourbon ¾ oz. Atsby Amberthorn Vermouth ¼ oz. chamomile syrup (recipe below) 12 drops grapefruit bitters 1. Add all of the ingredients to a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir thoroughly to chill and combine. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Express a grapefruit peel over the top and then use it for garnish.
Chamomile Syrup Makes one cup 1 cup sugar 1 cup filtered water 1 ⁄8 cup chamomile flowers 1 tea bag buckthorn berry green tea 1. Combine sugar and water over heat and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and steep flowers and tea for 15 minutes. Strain and refrigerate up to 1 month.
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The Golden Suit Recipe by Doug Monroe Doug Monroe, bartender at The Patterson House in Nashville, created this cocktail to ease customers into the coming cold months. The name "The Golden Suit” comes from the story of John Philip Nelson, the great grandfather of Charlie and Andy Nelson. John decided to move his family to America for a better life so he converted the family’s possessions to gold for ease of travel. He even bought special clothes that allowed him to carry the gold on his body during the trip. During the Atlantic crossing, strong storms sent John overboard and the "golden suit" pulled him to the bottom of the ocean. Makes one cocktail 2 oz. Belle Meade Bourbon ¾ oz. fresh lemon juice ½ oz. apricot liqueur (Marie Brizzard) ¼+ oz. Velvet Falernum ¼- oz. simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) 1 dash Fees Old Fashioned Bitters Nutmeg 1. Combine the first six ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until very cold. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Grate fresh nutmeg over the top of the cocktail as garnish. Serve immediately. (Note: Monroe uses the plus and minus symbols to indicate a little less or a little more than the measured amount.)
Death & Taxes Punch Recipe by Ben Clemons On any given night, Ben Clemons, co-owner of Nashvilleâ€™s No. 308 with his wife Alexis Soler, can be found behind the bar cranking out highball after highball using house made syrups and fresh CO2 from a tank hooked up to a gas station tire hose built right into the bar. Point being, the drinks are popular because Ben is a master at making flavored syrups. For this easy drinking holiday punch (and it does pack a punch), Ben mixes up a bittersweet cranberry syrup that acts as the backbone of the drink by balancing out the heat from the bourbon and the acid of the lime. Serves 20 30 oz. Belle Meade Bourbon 15 oz. cranberry syrup (recipe below) 10 oz. Harvey's Bristol Cream Sherry 10 oz. fresh lime juice 10 oz. cold earl grey tea (one bag steeped 5 minutes and allowed to cool to at least room temperature) Large format ice block 1. Combine all of the ingredients in a punch bowl and stir thoroughly. Add the ice block and allow at least 10 minutes for the ice to melt for proper dilution. Garnish with lime wheels in the bowl and skewered dehydrated cranberries for serving.
Cranberry Syrup Makes enough for two batches of punch 1 lb. cranberries 4 cups water 1. Add the cranberries and water to a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat. Cook down the cranberries until they burst. Smash the cranberries with a waffle head potato masher to extract as much flavor as possible. Strain the berries using a fine mesh strainer, measure the remaining liquid, and return liquid to stove. Add an equal part granulated sugar to the liquid and stir until fully dissolved. Allow to cool completely before using.
front of house:
If there’s ever a seat we want to land on in Nashville, it’s The Catbird Seat. These days more restaurant spaces bring the diners in direct contact with the chefs creating their meals. At New York’s Momofuku Ko, 12 diners sit in stools along an L-shaped bar, while at Houston’s Oxheart, it’s an 11-seat kitchen counter. At The Catbird Seat, it’s a lively 32 seats focused around a U-shaped kitchen where Chef Erik Anderson and his team prepare a meal (of the chef’s choosing). There are 20 seats that look directly upon the kitchen with two 6–top banquettes “closer than they look,” set in two corners, according to Ben Goldberg, owner of The Catbird Seat. Their Web site says that “the experience can be as interactive as you wish,” but with the chefs before you and nearby diners either a few courses in front or behind you, the communal interaction with the kitchen clearly has its own place at the table. With a name like The Catbird Seat, we had to ask, who’s got the upper hand. Chef Anderson admits, “It’s a mixture of both.” For the diners, it’s an opportunity to witness details and ask questions they never had a chance to ask in the past. For the chefs, well, they created the environment, so they know how it runs, although no two performances are alike. Anderson accepts that the front of house kitchen
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Photos by: Kari Skaslen (top of this page and opposite page) and ANTHONYMATULA (bottom of this page).
is quite small, but “once you understand what box you have to work in, you can do whatever you want to do inside it.” “Food is not about just subsistence anymore. People are excited about it,” says Anderson. “They are going out to learn something.” At The Catbird Seat, the focus of the design highlights the interaction. There’s no art on the wall and the plates and glassware are simple. For Goldberg, who is co-owner along with his brother Max, it was important to design the space for a unique view into the chef’s domain. are making reservations, they are researching and talking to friends and wanting to learn from friends who works in the “We had a really limited space, but we were also really kitchen, what they are going to be serving, what they did thoughtful about laying out that table and the equipment. last week,” says Goldberg. We wanted people to see what was going into each dish. The ability to have actual conversations and not snippets A particular favorite element of the design is the handwritten of conversation was taken into account,” he says. “Of menu given to diners at the end of the meal. Chef Andersen course, we made sure the chefs had what they needed to states that the genesis of the handwritten menu was a desire turn out the food that they wanted to turn out.” to give something with character. To Goldberg, the biggest surprise of the open format and the conversations it fosters is the research the diners have put in prior to their visit. To diners, a night out at The Catbird Seat has become more than a meal, it’s dinner and a show.
“The Paul [restaurant] used to have menus with coffee rings on them,” Anderson says. “I always thought that was great.”
He adds, “Everyone involved in The Catbird Seat believes that there’s no reason that really delicious food should only exist in a fine dining restaurant. We believe you can cook “I am amazed about how much people know about that food in a somewhat relaxed environment. Nashville everyone that works up there. To me, not only are they has, thankfullly, been super-supportive of that.”
BREAD SLEDS, THUMP TRUNKS & BANANA PEELS
I'm from Texas. I know -it's not the South, it's Texas. But I'm always going to consider myself a southern gal. I love the quirky sensibilities, the slightly slower pace, the food (of course), and the fiesty spirit inside every southerner. On top of it all, I just love southern design, y'all.
Hatch a Print
Hatch Print Show is one of the oldest working letterpress print shops in America. In a town music helped build, Hatch Print Showâ€™s posters have, over the years, featured a host of country music performers including Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams. Their shop, part of the Country Music Hall of Fame, is a Nashville classic. Posters range from $10- $20
On a Banana Peel:
Straight from Chattanooga, jewelry-designing cousins, Marian and Laura Jones, take design inspiration direct from nature. The banana collection, you ask? Yes, cast from a real banana peel. The pieces are cast in bronze and silver or gold-plated. From $242- $330
Memphis’ own Paper & Clay features modern handmade ceramics inspired by classic American and Scandinavian midcentury design. Each piece is hand-thrown, glazed and fired. $168
What’s a Thump Trunk? Glad you asked. A Thump Trunk is a boom box made out of a vintage suitcase. Each case comes with a charge port, and an audio input for a phone, mp3 player, or a computer. Pack up and go tunes brought to you by Nashville’s Zachary Paul Sullivan. Prices range $300+
Sled for Bread:
Each HollerDesign bread sled is constructed of locally sourced, responsibly harvested lumber; most of which originates from designer Matt Alexander's farm located in Cainsville. Pass the sled. I'd like some bread, please. $110
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SWEET POTATO PIE
In the spring you’d pull them tater slips and ship them far and wide, In the fall you’d grabble taters with a hamper by your side.... You never know what twist of fate will bring prestige or fame, God made the sweet potatoe [sic], which gave "Tater Town" her name. - Poet Billy O. Williams (1922-1985) Gleason, Tenn., also known as Tater Town USA, is home to the annual Tater Town Special, which celebrates the unique place the sweet potato holds in the town’s agricultural history. The long, hot summers and sandy, loam soil in the area around Gleason, as in much of the South, is the ideal environment for growing sweet potatoes. Even in the early 1900’s, agricultural experts were heralding sweet potatoes as a perfect crop for southern farmers. “Rich, heavy soils,” like those in the Midwest, “give a light yield of poor appearance and quality,” said W.R. Hawk, speaking before the East Tennessee Farmers’ Convention and Institute in 1914. “Our light sandy soils of the South give a good yield of the best quality [of sweet potato].” Because of the ideal growing climate in the South, the orange-hued sweet potato was historically cheaper for the southern cook to buy than the starchier white potato, which was typically shipped down from the North. The price difference, along with the fact that the sweet potato provides more protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates, resulted in the extensive use of the sweet potato in the southern larder. Our favorite dessert preparation of the sweet potato is, of course, the sweet potato pie. But the custard-style fillings that are traditional at Thanksgiving don’t always do the tuber justice. So we turned to Dale Mackey, owner of Dale’s Fried Pies in Knoxville, Tenn. for inspiration. In August of 2012, Mackey began serving freshly made, fried hand pies at local events and farmers markets. Today, Dale's Fried Pies offers up a rotating menu of pies, selecting from 40 different sweet and savory flavors that range from the more traditional like apple and peach to new favorites like mac & cheese and the Elvis (banana, peanut butter and Benton's Bacon). “The candied sweet potato pie was a happy coincidence,” Mackey says. “I had a friend who planted too many sweet potatoes in his garden and just kept bringing me boxes and boxes of potatoes. I had to figure out something to do with them.” She forgoes the standard custard filling, using instead, mashed sweet potatoes softened with just a bit of goat cheese, cream cheese, and maple syrup. Candied walnuts are added at the very end for a little crunch. It’s the best sweet potato pie we have in a long time and it is this fall season’s perfect sweet.
Candied Sweet Potato Fried Pie Adapted from a recipe by Dale Mackey When making a fried hand pie, Dale Mackey, owner of Dale’s Fried Pies in Knoxville, Tenn., reminds folks that the consistency of the dough should be a little bit “wetter” than regular pie dough. “With a regular pie dough you are just rolling it out once and you are done manipulating it, but with a fried pie you are cutting it, folding it and crimping it,” she says. “If the dough is erring on the side crumbly, it is going to be too hard to work with when trying to crimp it shut.” Makes 24 individual hand pies 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes 2 tbsp. butter 1 tsp. cinnamon 2 oz. soft goat cheese 2 oz. cream cheese (room temperature) 1 cup pure maple syrup 1 tbsp. grated ginger 1 cup candied walnuts (see opposite page) Two batches of double crust pie dough, refrigerated (See recipe on the spenser blog) 1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the sweet potato cubes and boil for 7 minutes or until easily pierced with a knife. Remove the pot from the heat, drain the sweet potatoes and transfer to a large mixing bowl. 2. Add the butter, stir to combine, and then let cool to just above room temperature. Once the potatoes have cooled, add the cinnamon, goat cheese, cream cheese, maple syrup, and ginger and blend together using a hand mixer at medium speed. Using a spoon or spatula, fold the candied walnuts into the pie filling. 3. Preheat your frying oil to 375°F in a large cast iron skillet. Roll out the refrigerated pie dough on a lightly floured surface to about ¼-inch thickness. Use a 4- or 5-inch diameter biscuit cutter to cut out dough circles. Stack them with a small piece of wax paper in between each. (If you are working in a warm kitchen, keep the dough circles in the refrigerator as you form each individual pie, otherwise the crust will not seal properly.) 4. Lay out one dough circle and add about 2 tsp. of the pie filling to the center of the circle. Fold the circle in half, making sure none of the filling spills out, and pinch the two sides together with your fingers. With a fork, crimp the outer edges of the folded pocket to seal the pie. Return the prepared pies to a sheet pan in the refrigerator until you have finished prepping the rest. Fry 3-4 pies at a time in the cast iron skillet (or home deep fryer) for about 6 minutes, turning if necessary, until they are golden brown. Note: You are likely to have a bit of filling left over because it is hard to get the flavor balance right in smaller quantities. We used our leftovers as a filling for ravioli, which was served with brown butter and sage. For an easier midweek meal, consider using the leftover sweet potato mixture as lasagna filling.
Candied Walnuts 1 cup walnut pieces (we used black walnuts to great success, see pg. 36) 1 tbsp. unsalted butter Âź cup granulated sugar 1 tsp. cinnamon 1. Heat walnuts over medium heat in a sautĂŠ pan until just starting to brown. Add butter and mix until melted. Add sugar and cinnamon, stir and remove from heat.
A TOUGH NUT TO CRACK, LITERALLY
American black walnuts are a subject of passionate debate. Described as having a “bold” and “rich” flavor by the country’s largest processor, for each person who loves black walnuts, there is another for whom the nut’s earthy, raw (even when toasted), tannic, and slightly bitter taste is offensive. For the uninitiated the American black walnut is to the standard English walnut a little like a strong British Stilton is to brie, although both made from cow’s milk there is slight resemblance in taste. Tennessee is one of 15 states in the South and Midwest where black walnut trees grow wild. They are a harbinger of fall for many families who celebrate the arrival of black walnut season. While some orchard growers successfully cultivate black walnuts, for the most part, the nuts you buy at the grocery store or farmers market are foraged. For those who enjoy the taste of the black walnut, they are loaded with Omega 3’s, antioxidants, and have more protein than any other tree nut, which puts them are right up there with flaxseed in terms of health benefits. But first, you have to coax them out of their shell. A reporter, writing on black walnuts in The New York Times, once jokingly suggested that a recipe should start by saying “Step 1: Drive your S.U.V. over one cup of walnuts.” That isn't far from the truth. You see, the strong outer hull looks like a green ball and won’t come off without a fight. The tough hull also contains juice that stains better than black lacquer. Some folks really do use the weight of their car, or their tractor, to remove the hull. Others toss them in a cement mixer with rocks and “give ‘em a few hundred spins." Hammonds, the main black walnut processor in the US, uses chains and mechanized cage, which sounds like it belongs in Thunderdome. Once you get the nut out of its hull, they must dry for a few weeks before you try cracking them. A good tip is to wait to crack the nuts until you can hear the meat rattling in the shell when you shake it. Whether you choose a hammer or a vice, a 2x4 or a large rock for the job, know that you aren’t alone in your struggle. Just be careful with that sledge hammer when you finally get down to work. (For those short on time, you can buy bags of ready to eat black walnut pieces in many supermarkets - Ed.) Black walnuts are traditionally called for in recipes on the sweeter side of life. Fudge, cookies, breads, and ice creams are suitable candidates for an added twist of black walnuts. Just take one taste of Jeni’s Splendid black walnut divinity ice cream and you’ll know what we’re talking about. In this issue, however, we want to showcase a little bit of the nut’s savory side. We couldn’t possibly compete with grandma’s recipe for black walnut cake. Nor do we want to try.
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Black Walnut and Fresh Hop Pesto This is a bold and bitter sauce that pairs well with a ricotta and mascarpone cheese-filled pasta like ravioli, agnolotti, or tortellini. To help tame the bitterness, we use grapeseed oil and quickly blanch the hops. Beyond the blanching, the sauce doesn’t need to be cooked at all. Just toss it in the pan with the warm pasta. Reserve a splash of the pasta water just in case the sauce needs a little thinning. Makes approximately 2 cups ½ cup fresh hop flowers ¼ cup fresh hop leaves ¼ cup fresh mint leaves ½ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley ½ cup grapeseed oil ½ cup toasted black walnuts ¼ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano ¼ cup finely grated Pecorino Romano 2 cloves garlic, peeled Kosher salt Freshly cracked black pepper 1. Blanch the hop flowers and hop leaves in boiling water for 30 seconds, then shock in ice water. Drain and dry the hops thoroughly. Combine the hop flowers, hop leaves, mint, parsley, oil, walnuts, parmesan, pecorino, and garlic in the bowl of food processor. Pulse until finely chopped, adding oil if necessary, and then season to taste with salt and pepper.
Black Walnut Soup Serves 3-4 2 tbsp. unsalted butter ¼ cup minced shallot 4 cups good quality vegetable stock 1 tsp. kosher salt (amount will depend on salt content of your stock) 2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper 2 bay leaves 1 cup black walnuts ½ of a fresh vanilla bean 1 ¼ cups heavy cream 1 tsp. chives, minced 1 ½ tsp. walnut oil (optional) 1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan; set over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the stock, salt, pepper, bay leaf, and walnuts to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes. 2. While the soup is simmering, split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the back of a knife. Add the vanilla seeds and the pod to the simmering soup. After 15-20 minutes, add the cream, return the pot to a simmer, and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf and vanilla bean pod. Carefully puree the soup in a blender until very smooth, working in batches if necessary. 3. Prior to serving, taste, adding salt or pepper if necessary. Divide the soup between the bowls and garnish each with the minced chives and a drizzle of walnut oil.
summer fall 2013 | spensermag.com
SLAP ME SOME SKIN
Chicken skin is everywhere in the Volunteer State. You’ll find it in the usual places, all crispy and crunchy, acting as a protective coating for pieces of fried chicken at Gus’s Fried Chicken in Mason or Chandler’s Deli in Knoxville, or all smoky and spice-rubbed, ready to be torn off of pieces of bbq chicken at Martin’s Bar-B-Que in Nolensville or Helen's Bar-B-Q in Brownsville. But it’s also found out there on its own, alone in the world, away from any actual meat. Take, for example, Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman, chefs at Hog and Hominy in Memphis, who use shards of fried chicken skin in place of croutons on their updated take on a caesar salad. Or there is Chef Sean Brock’s fried chicken skins appetizer served at Husk in Nashville. Brock first marinates the chicken skin in buttermilk. Then he smokes and deep-fries it and serves it with honey and hot sauce for dipping. The chicken skin that really had us slapping high fives (metaphorically speaking) was the cayenne-tinged skin found in Nashville’s hot chicken shacks. Nashville’s hot chicken is a fried chicken style unto itself and isn’t for the faint of heart. Places like Prince’s, Bolton’s and, more recently, Hattie B’s, generally marinate their chicken in a thick, wet cayenne paste before dredging it in flour and frying it. The resulting chicken, which is served simply with white bread and dill pickle slices, has the color of rusted, molten lava. The heat registers somewhere near molten lava too. Erik Anderson, award-winning chef at The Catbird Seat in Nashville, has a thing for the Music City’s hot chicken but he did not plan for it to end up on his menu. Anderson was playing around with pigeons in the kitchen for what ultimately ended up as his roast pigeon dish with porcinis and hay-infused yogurt. His original idea for the dish was to serve a poached pigeon breast with a piece of the crispy skin, so he cooked up a crackling between two sheet pans and just started playing around with different flavors. “While I was cooking the pigeon, I was thinking, what if we do a little snack with chicken skin, because using pigeons would be insanely expensive; just a little sweetness, a little chili, and the dill pickles and the Wonder bread all one one bite.” says Anderson. “To me it is important for the guests to have something that looks familiar but tastes different or tastes familiar but looks different.” The resulting bite, served at the start of each meal at The Catbird Seat, is a crispy, crackling of chicken skin, brushed with sorghum and covered with chili flakes and paprika, then topped with “Wonder Bread” puree and dill salt. It’s a whimsical tip of the hat to Nashville’s most famous food and the perfect dish for the next morsel of chicken skin that passes through your kitchen.
fall 2013 | spensermag.com
Hot Chicken Skins with White Bread Puree and Dill Pickle Salt
Adapted from recipe by Erik Anderson
Skin from a whole chicken (or various pieces) ½ tsp. + ½ tsp. kosher salt 1 tsp. Korean chili flakes (“Gochugaru”); use cayenne as a substitute 3 tsp. smoked paprika 2 slices white bread, crusts removed ¼ cup whole milk 1 tsp. dried dill weed 1 ⁄8 tsp. citric acid ¾ tsp. granulated sugar 2 tbsp. sorghum; use honey as a substitute 1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with a silpat or parchment paper. Spread chicken skin on silpat in one layer, overlapping as necessary to fill any gaps. Season the chicken skin with sprinkling of kosher salt, about ½ tsp. Place a second silpat or more parchment on top of the chicken skin followed by another cookie sheet. Apply weight to the top of the second sheet using oven-safe items, such as a cast iron pot, to press down on the chicken skins and keep them from curling up. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven, separate the cookie sheets, and place the chicken skin on a wire rack or paper towel to cool. 2. While the chicken skin is cooking, grind together the Korean chili flakes and smoked paprika. Set aside. To make the white bread puree, combine the crustless bread with the milk and a pinch of salt in a blender. Puree, using a ladle to move the bread around as necessary, until smooth. Place the puree in a pastry bag (or a small zip-lock bag) and set aside until ready to use. (We passed the puree through a tamis to remove any grittiness before bagging - Ed.) To make the dill pickle salt, combine the dried dill weed, citric acid, sugar, and the remaining ½ tsp. kosher salt in a small bowl. Adjust the seasoning as necessary so that mixture tastes sour, salty, and slightly sweet, like a dill pickle. 3. Once the skin has cooled, break the skin into bite-sized portions. Brush each with sorghum and then dust the top of the chicken skins with the chili mixture. Using the pastry bag, squeeze a couple dabs of the white bread puree onto the chicken skin. (If you are using a zip-lock bag, cut a tiny snip off of one of the corners to pipe out the puree.) Sprinkle the dill salt over the hot chicken skin and serve.
fall 2013 | spensermag.com
story & photography by Beth Kirby
It was early, earlier than I generally wish to have occasion to wake. The air was muggy and thick, the street lamps still buzzing, and the sky liminal blue as another Tennessee night began to cross the threshold into morning. I pulled into the quiet loading dock off of Main Street in Chattanooga and parked in the gravel lot next to a lone bread truck. While the rest of the city was just waking, just beginning to curl their toes and lengthen their spines, I was inhaling the sweet smell of yeast and hedging my bets that a bakery would have coffee in good supply. In all honesty, I hadn’t just woken up. I’d stayed up all night because there was no amount of self-deception that could lead me to believe I could wake at a baker’s hour. No, if I was going to witness the ghost in the machine, the wild yeast coming to life, I couldn’t trust myself to interrupted slumber. A light flickered over a break table on the loading dock as I walked up to the back door, and I imagined, without envy, the guy on first shift—which starts at a bleary-eyed 2:30 AM—sitting out back drinking coffee or smoking cigarettes in the dark. The windows of Niedlov’s Breadworks glowed warm saffron. Behind them, plumes of flour bloomed in the still morning air and great mounds of naturally leavened dough were in the process of being deftly portioned out and formed by hand in an energetic assembly line. Walking into the bakery was like intruding on the cobbler’s elves from a Grimms’ fairy tale as they covertly crafted shoes in the night, not a stitch out of place. Witnessing bread production on that scale, the velvety mounds
This page: John Sweet, owner of Niedlov's Breadworks.
fall 2013 | spensermag.com
of amorphous, living dough being pushed and pulled, being formed and fired, is an act of creation akin to the animus and anima arising out of dust and bones in that antediluvian garden. The bakers were all moving so quickly, like atoms bouncing around the atmosphere. I feared it was a secret quantum moment that I might destroy by simply observing it, so I took to hiding behind my camera lens, weaving in and out of rows of industrial sized mixers and peering studiously into the maw of the deep, glowing oven as they scattered meal, sprinkled pepitas, and filled baskets with warm scones. A pretty redhead with tattoos and a bandana tied around her hair placed tray after tray of loaves on cooling racks with a great wooden peel, heavy with hot baguettes. She graciously paused her flurry of activity every so briefly while I rhapsodized over the oblong loaves, clicking away. After watching the secret life of the bakery unfold over the course of the morning, the hard pre-dawn work that lassos wild yeast and through some old magic produces our daily bread, I sat down to talk with the owner, John Sweet, over a much needed cup of coffee.
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As it turns out the name Niedlov’s is an old Eastern European surname. Sweet wanted a name on the shingle because of his belief that food should be bought from a person and nothing he was baking at the time was particularly sweet. You see, John is a serious man, not the Willy Wonka of bread I think I’d been expecting. He is intent on providing hearty, nutritious loaves, and the name Niedlov’s, sounded like what he wanted his bread to be: dark, dense, and crusty.
When I asked him what he did before he was a baker he gave a short laugh and said, “I’ve done nothing before I was a baker.” And that’s mostly true. He’s always been a worker, taking odd jobs in high school—at a movie theater, painting houses, peddling soft-serve at the Dairy Queen—but it wasn’t until he spent a year abroad in Germany that he was “really turned on to the idea of buying food from an individual. You know... eggs from a farmer, meat from a butcher…bread from a baker.” Thinking back on my first Italian sandwich at 15 years old, I knew exactly what he meant. I think for American kids that grew up in a culture where you buy groceries once every two weeks from a fluorescent-lit supermarket, the cobbled romance of the European way of buying food is undeniable. It changes you. You come home and all of the sudden there’s something very disconcerting about bread that doesn’t mold for weeks, and the aisles of the Bi-Lo become Kafkaesque, at least to a teenager just back from Europe. Sweet brought that idea of buying food
from a real human, an idea that was only one generation lost, back home to Tennessee and tucked it away until he finally encountered the last catalyst that led him to be a bread maker: a lousy college job. Peddling his bike in the oppressive summer heat past Koch’s Bakery on Broad Street each morning he recalls “It always smelled so good, and I remember looking in there and thinking ‘Man, I’d much rather be working there’.” So the next summer he committed, moving all the way to Michigan for a job at the best bakery he could find, the legendary Zingerman’s Bakehouse in Ann Arbor. He remembers standing at a big wooden workbench on a concrete floor, very similar to the one that now stands in the back of Niedlov’s, hand shaping artisan loaves of bread all day long. It was here where he really fell in love with baking bread. When he applied he’d thought “maybe I’d like to own my own bakery one day”, but when he came out he was thinking, “I know I want to be a bread baker; I really love bread.”
I wanted to know why, why did he really love bread? And I expected profound answer laced with romance, a spiritual connection to the wild yeast. I expected a damn metaphor! What I got instead was a simple, utilitarian answer: it’s hard work, and Sweet likes hard work. It’s physical, and he can feel it in his body. He sleeps well. His reasons are commendable, enviably disciplined even, but I felt a twinge of disappointment. But as he continued describing the hard work I realized his answer wasn’t as simple as it had first seemed. I thought about the weight of your whole body pressing down through your forearms, the relentless kneading of the dough that ultimately produces sustenance, and it occurred to me that the process of transmuting air, water, and flour into a loaf of bread isn’t just hard for the baker, it’s hard for the dough, at times a near violence. Becoming a loaf of bread isn’t an easy transformation. Wild yeast, once free, finds itself trapped in a thick sludge. It rises, foams, and sighs. It’s punched down, deflated, and then comes the kneading. It’s worked hard into the bench
spring 2013 | spensermag.com
with the heels of palms, pushing and pulling it, building the gluten, giving it bite and body. It’s left alone and kneaded yet again, and after it’s been abandoned and battered, it’s fired it in a blazing hot oven where it swells and cauterizes. And then, finally, it emerges as what it was always meant to be, what it could have never known it was becoming: a loaf of bread. Then and only then can it nourish anything at all. I began to empathize with the loaf of bread. Realities mirror realities ad infinitum, macrocosm to microcosm, and we can understand ourselves better by understanding the things around us. Life forms us in ways we could have never anticipated, and the trials that seem senseless might just be aligning our gluten, giving us our own body and bite. The way I figured, my mad, lousy twenties were the bread maker’s bench, the fire, and everything from my failed marriage to the tracts of time afterwards with nothing but a cheap bottle of vodka to the subsequent stint in rehab was absolutely necessary to make me capable of nourishing anything at all. Every moment was necessary, from the moment I was lassoed wild from the air into this world to the moment I was stuck in traffic yesterday and all the mess and love in between. We are all of us formed in weird, rough ways. So there I found it, my damn metaphor. I was a happy loaf of bread, dark and dense and crusty, fresh out of an infernal oven, ready to finally, at 30 years old, nourish the people in my life. How intricate it seems that the bread that nourishes us would undergo the same process to develop its character that we undergo to develop ours. The truth is bread is an easy metaphor rife with clichés, and
innumerable writers have gone on about the smell of freshly baked bread wafting through some imaginary bucolic kitchen, about the soulfulness of baking. But there’s a reason for that. Bread is an ancient food, seemingly braided into our DNA, and the baking of it is wild magic not unlike the magic of becoming exactly who we are, of existing at all. The most basic breads, born of water and grain, are a miracle of biochemistry, life pure and simple. Baking bread is meditative, hard work: it plants your feet and quiets the mind. It slows you down and yields a tangible result, a living symbol we can hold in our hands and break together. The rhythm of bread is circadian, cycling with us through our days for thousands of years. It is the fastidiousness, work ethic, and passion of our bread makers like John Sweet and the others at Niedlov’s that keeps the fine tradition of hand made, naturally leavened bread alive to nourish our communities, to allow us to buy a real loaf of bread from a human being, from a baker.
fall 2013 | spensermag.com
story by Brendan Lynch â€˘ photography by Denny Culbert
The chopped pork sandwich with barbecue sauce and mustard slaw at Payne's Bar-B-Q in Memphis. Opposite Page: (From top) Flora Payne mops a sandwich with sauce; The rib plate, with beans and slaw.
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BBQ is not a circumspect cuisine. One’s BBQ can win, not just one over, but a world championship. Sauces have names like “Slap yo Mama”, international competitions, like Memphis in May, are commonplace, and a pit-master’s girth often gives credence to the craft. Proclamations such as the best or the greatest or even greatest of all time are frequently bandied about as so much braggadocio and herein lies its seduction. Everyone knows a backyard BBQ-er who, modest in life, when the coals are lit, transforms into the greatest. And then there are the professionals. Those with smoke stained walls, invoices smudged with pork grease, bills paid and due, and eponymous shacks located on distant back country roads. They rise before dawn to stoke the fire day in and day out and, like smoke, the best rise to the top. These folks have a natural talent and certain mindset that separates them from the average and the work-a-day. Along a steadily busy Lamar Avenue is a tire service station with three signs and three names. Each spells the same name a different way: L’ill Gipson, L’ll Gipson, and L’il Gipson. Directly across the street sits the white cinderblock walled building with improbably red lettering and fading awning that houses Horton Payne’s Bar-B-Q. Behind Payne’s on narrow streets are small houses with welcoming porches, low fences, and many, many smokers. From Tuesday through Saturday, the Payne’s BBQ pit fills the neighborhood with the smell of hickory charcoal smoke. Those home grills just don't compare. In a town with its own style of BBQ, a town that hosts a world championship, a town where opinions of the best and the greatest BBQ joints are conversationally as common as a comma, Payne’s BBQ is both a participant in the BBQ cliché and an outlier. It is not the ribs and it is not the dry rub that makes Payne’s famous, but rather a chopped BBQ sandwich soaked in sauce and covered with slaw. Even the color palate is Payne’s own. On top of the perfectly browned and blackened BBQ pork shoulder is a sharp yellowgreen slaw striking for its very brightness when the colors of Memphis BBQ trend towards the smoke-kissed browns and blacks of pork and (if called for) ketchup based-sauces whose colors are softened by smoke, time, and development of flavor. BBQ is usually patina’ed. Payne’s is shockingly bright. Payne’s BBQ is of its own, and so too are the Payne’s of BBQ. Memphis in 1972 saw an Elvis Presley in demise riding his motorcycles on the just named Elvis Presley Boulevard. A small company that would later shape the city, Federal Express, incorporated. After years of protests, a federal judge ordered 13,000 African American schoolchildren bused throughout the massive Memphis school system in an effort to desegregate. It was 78 degrees one day in January. Against this backdrop a 25-year-old Horton Payne, with the help of his mother Emily and his young wife Flora opened Horton Payne’s Bar-B-Q. Horton moved from the back yard to the big leagues on Lamar Avenue just two blocks from the present location. The town changed, the times changed, the family— at times tragically—changed, but the recipes remained the same. Flora made sure of that.
(From left) Flora Payne; Ron Payne.
Tallish with whitening hair and an utterly disarming smile, Flora Payne is far from the prototypical BBQ pitmaster. Charming yet self-deprecating, chatty yet reserved, and fiercely loyal to her family, Flora proclaims not the greatness of her BBQ, but her thankfulness for simply being able to cook. “I am blessed” Flora is fond of saying and she clearly means it. After fathering two children and only ten years of running the restaurant, Horton suddenly passed away at the age of 35. Flora, her mother-in-law Emily, and, eventually, the children Candice and Ron took over the operation. Upon taking over the helm, Flora found herself working alongside her mother-in-law Emily. What could easily have been an awkward dynamic was anything but. “All those years we worked together and we never had harsh words,” recalls Flora. To this day, Horton’s name is still emblazoned in bright red letters on the awning of Payne’s Bar B-Q. Similarly, Horton’s recipes and his unique take on BBQ carry over unchanged. And unchanged is how Flora prefers it. Taking obvious joy in the day-today operations, she says with a smile, “this is my ministry.” With almost every order there is a pleasant banter with a customer. Almost all customers are known
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faces and on this day most welcomed her back from vacation. She serves each plate with what she describes as “a smile and a word of comfort." "Only then do I know I've helped somebody,” she says. The quick counter banter reveals that the long line of customers that forms so close to noon is filled not with first timers, but regulars. Payne’s keeps pulling them in. Payne’s BBQ has a gravitational pull for the Payne’s the family as well. “The heart of the restaurant is the family,” Ron says with more than a hint of pride in his voice. Born in 1978, Ron was just a boy when his father passed away. Now he wears many hats in the operation including, as he says, Flora’s “PR Man.” Ron came to the restaurant after school and did what a young boy could do; from refilling napkins to wiping tables to the day to day details so seldom glamorized yet so essential to being, well, an open restaurant. Taking a cue from his father, Ron took an
abiding interest in the quality of the BBQ and the sauces. Eventually he went on to Tennessee State University and earned a degree in information technology. After a few years, he returned to his roots and began full time work at the restaurant. Flora, clearly appreciative, warmly mentions, “My kids did not have to come this way.” Inside Payne’s the air is thick with smoke, the cinderblocks a smoke-stained white, and a rhythmic chop-chopchop of a cleaver cutting through pork shoulder is heard over the soft hum of a small oscillating floor fan. One pot on a stove simmers sauce. Flora is making a sandwich. Much like Flora herself, the Payne’s BarB-Q chopped pork sandwich is one of a kind. It is the same sandwich that has been made since 1972. A huge portion of slow cooked pork shoulder drenched in a rich ketchupy sauce that is further sluiced with that electric green cabbage slaw. The shoulders are smoked in a hickory pit built into the wall. About two feet deep and three feet wide, the Payne’s pit runs the entire height of the building.
Sunlight freely mingles with hardwood charcoal smoke creating an ethereal haze. The shoulders are slow smoked until crisp on the outside, charred from the heat flares caused by the shoulders’ fat dripping directly onto the coals below. For each sandwich a shoulder is removed from the pit, a portion sliced and then chopped, mixing the crisp smoky exterior with the soft interior. Only then is each sandwich is topped with the sauce and slaw. The buns don't stand a chance. Turning back to the counter, Flora doesn’t miss a beat as a line begins to form for the day’s lunch rush. No music is playing; just the ambient banter of the waiting customers broken up by that metronomic chop-chop-chop of the cleaver. Flora passes each plated sandwich to Ron. Ron rings them in. And on it goes with mother and son, dancing together in this tiny space of a kitchen. Whether it’s their talent, or mindset, or dedication to a craft, it’s clear that customers keep coming back for Payne’s BBQ as well as the Payne’s of BBQ.
fall 2013 | spensermag.com
story by Mike Dundas â€˘ photography by Meredith Paige
or most of us grass is something to be mowed, watered, and mowed again. But to James Peisker and Chris Carter, co-owners of Nashville’s Porter Road Butcher, and the farmers from whom they source their meat, grass is the keystone of their livelihood. “When we were first opening up, we got a random tip about this farmer named Phil raising grass fed cattle,” says Peisker. “And so we gave Phil a call and set up a date to come up and visit the farm.” The farm Peisker’s referring to is the Baggett family farm, in Clarksville, Tenn., which has been owned and operated by the same family since 1837. Phil Baggett, the current owner and great-grandson of the farm’s founder Adam Stack, was more than happy to oblige. Originally planted with traditional commodity crops like corn, tobacco, and soybeans, Baggett has remade the pastoral 300-acre family property into Tennessee Grass Fed Farm, dividing the land into 28 tree-shaded paddocks that have been sown with a specific mixture of summer and winter grasses for raising cattle. It is a pristine patch of earth that is about as far as man can get from the “square mile of abominations” that Upton Sinclair so vividly described in The Jungle. “We knew we were in love with Phil and the way he farms in the first twenty minutes of talking to him,” Peisker says. “All he talked about was his grass. The different kinds of grasses he had, his different paddocks. To us, matching the right grass to the right animal is what makes being a grass farmer so hard. Phil uses the cows to manage his grass and his grass is what makes his cows so special.” Back at the shop, Peisker and Carter educate their customers to expect variations in flavor in beef, which they generally dry age for 21 days, from cows grazed on different grasses in different parts of the state, contrasting the differences to the effect that soil and weather have on wine. Even with the meat just from Tennessee Grass Fed Farm, there are distinct seasonal differences in flavor. In the spring, the meat can be more herbal and grassy, while in the winter the taste is more peppery and earthy. The guys at Porter Road generally think the fall season is when Baggett’s beef is at its absolute best. “What’s amazing, this time of year, is that we can hold Phil’s beef right next to the grain finished and it is tough to tell the difference,” says Carter. “It’s true,” Peisker adds. “During the fall months when Phil’s cows are getting the last of the tall summer grass and a little bit of haylage, you get this real intense beef flavor with delicious fat.” Grass-fed cattle production is much more land intensive than the traditional methods of raising feed-lot cattle because the animals are allowed to graze freely without the use of growth hormones. And you can’t just put any breed of cattle on any type of grass in any climate and expect the right result. The challenge is to establish a variety of grasses that provide high-quality grazing throughout the year. Without the right mix of nutrients, proteins, and sugars, the resulting beef can be stringy, tough, and inconsistent. Get it right, however, and the grass-fed beef will have a substantially cleaner, more aromatic, and downright beefier flavor than grain-fed.
Large pieces of post oak burn in the traditional open floor pits at Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas.
“People always talk about genetics of the cattle,” says Baggett. “Good grass will offset to a large degree bad genetics, but the reverse is not true. If the grass is not right, the best genetics in the world will not produce what the Porter Road guys are looking for. The grass has got to come first.” In Phil’s case, grass means a rotating mix of Eastern Gamagrass, Indian Grass, Bermuda, and MaxQ, a tall fescue grass, much of which has been inter-seeded with rye grass or red and white clover to provide the finished beef with superior flavor. This seasonally rotating mix of grasses, what livestock and animal science experts refer to as the forage chain, allow Phil’s cattle, an Angus-Gelbvieh cross that thrives in the temperate climate of Middle Tennessee, to be pastured year round. What makes Porter Road special is the fact that Peisker and Carter search out farmers like Phil Baggett who have, in their lifeblood, the experience, dedication, and patience it takes to humanely raise an animal and still be able to make it taste as good as it possibly can. Peisker and Carter also take the time to learn not just about the anatomy of the animal so they can be better butchers, but about how the animal eats and walks and sleeps, so they can teach their customers how to be better cooks. This enthusiasm filters down to the Porter Road employees, like Chris Hudgens, who are now whole-animal experts in their own right. “Once a year, in February, we bring our employees out to all of our farms to learn directly from the farmers,” says Carter. “We want them to be able to tell their own stories to the customers about how the animals are raised and what makes these farms special.”
(Clockwise, from top left) Hay, tractors, and balers sit in the barn at Tennessee Grass Fed Farm; Cows in one of 28 paddocks on the farm; Tennessee Grass Fed owner Phil Baggett; Most of the cows on the farm are an Angus-Gelbvieh cross; Carter (left), Baggett (center), and Peisker (right) walking together.
summer 2013 | spensermag.com
Peisker and Carter met while working as chefs at the Capital Grille inside Nashville’s historic Hermitage Hotel. Peisker had recently moved to Nashville from St. Louis, having attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. and, Carter, who was born and raised in Nashville, had just returned home from Arizona, where he attended Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale. They instantly hit it off and discussed starting a business together. They didn’t have the money to open their own restaurant, so they started catering. “That’s when we found how difficult it was to get good, fresh meat,” says Carter. “Even at the farmer’s market everything was frozen.” Peisker and Carter realized there was no distribution channel for the farmers to get their meat to the Nashville marketplace, so they had to parcel everything into cryovac bags and freeze it. After a bit of research and some visits to local farms, they put together a business plan that eventually led to Porter Road. Despite the attention that many of the country’s younger, whole animal butcheries have recently received from the national media, running a small, farm-to-table butcher shop is no easy task. Sure, the startup costs are lower than opening a restaurant, but once you get up and running the financial pressure is on. Unlike a restaurant, butchers don’t get to charge customers 300% of the wholesale cost for the meat and the customers don’t pay a substantial portion of their employee’s earnings in the form of tips. Not to mention the fact that if your farmer’s tractor or truck breaks down you are going to have to chip in to get it up and running again.
72 | spensermag.com | fall 2013
(Clockwise, from top left, across both pages) Co-owner of Porter Road Butcher, Chris Carter; PRB employee and sausage king, Chris Hudgens; James, Peisker, PRB co-owner, is seen slicing chuck eye steaks; A chalkboard list of PRB's local farmers; All meats are fresh ground daily at both PRB locations.
“We are in this together with our farmers and our customers,” Peisker says. “It’s very different than any other butcher shops around here. They talk to a supplier and we talk to our farmer. If the farmer is having a bad season, we’re having a bad season.” Even stocking a display case in a whole animal shop is different. It’s easy to buy a box of beef tenderloins that come wrapped in plastic from some large packinghouse, but that isn’t why Peisker and Carter started their business. When they bring in a whole cow, there are only two tenderloins, a few pounds of flank steak, and a handful of ribeyes. A whole-animal butcher has to know how to accommodate consumer demand while convincing home cooks to break out of their ruts. “The chuck eye steak we cut is $12 and the tenderloin is $30. I’ll eat a chuck eye steak any day over a tenderloin,” says Peisker. “And it’s my job to teach that to the customer.” Every part of every animal brought into the shop that doesn’t make it into the display case must be turned into grind for sausage, rendered down into cooking fat, made into stock, or utilized in some other way so the shop can equalize its input and output. Nothing goes to waste. “Being a whole-animal butchery, it is all about utilization,” Carter explains. “We’re even talking about making bird feed sticks with extra suet and Phil’s wife dries offal into jerky that we sell as dog treats.” Increasing sales to small businesses around town have helped with that calculus. There is the occasional pig roast for local bar No. 308 and house made breakfast sausage served on buttermilk and lard biscuits for the caffeinated customers at East Nashville’s Barista Parlor. Sarah Gavigan, owner of the popular ramen pop-up Otaku South, will buy hundreds of pounds of fresh pork bones at a time to make her rich, fatty 48-hour tonkatsu broth. “The guys at Porter Road are right across from my commissary kitchen,” says Gavigan. “It’s a natural fit because they are breaking down pigs on a bi-weekly basis and I get to take the bones off their hands.” At first, Gavigan notes, sourcing from Porter Road was as much of a hindrance as it was a help, because most ramen makers buy boxes of frozen bones from very specific parts of the animal that yield precise flavors and collagen content. While she could have easily decided to use only knuckles and feet because that is what the ramen makers in Tokyo do, she worked with Porter Road to find what was local and sustainable. “What’s available to me is beautiful, whole hog bones with really nice meat on them from Porter Road,” Gavigan says. “In many ways, after much experimentation, their bones have given my broth its own unique flavor and texture. It’s not Tokyo ramen, it’s Tennessee ramen, thanks in no small part to them.” Gavigan even admits to leaning on Peisker and Carter, with their culinary training, for help in working out early issues with her broth. In her eyes, they are the closest things she has to “food brothers” in Nashville. As more and more people are starting to understand the food supply chain and want to be aware of where their food is coming from, Gavigan thinks Porter Road only has room to grow. “For people in Nashville,” she says, “Porter Road is the only place to go.” fall 2013 | spensermag.com | 73
Beef and Barley Stew Each fall, when the weather turns cold, the guys at Porter Road Butcher start serving up a house-made beef and barley stew that customers take home by the quart. This recipe, which also calls for a good amount of mushrooms, is our version of that hearty cold weather dish. Serves 6 2 tbsp. + 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil 2 Â˝ lbs. chuck roast, trimmed of fat and cut into Âž -inch pieces 2 tbsp. kosher salt 2 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper 12 oz. mixed mushrooms, such as crimini, shiitake, chanterelle, and oyster 1 large yellow onion, diced 5 cloves garlic, minced 1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves 1 tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped 1 bay leaf 1 cup good quality red wine 2 quarts good quality beef or veal stock 2 medium carrots, diced 1 cup pearl barley 1 inch knob fresh horseradish (optional) 1. In a large Dutch oven set over high heat, add 2 tbsp. grapeseed oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Season the cubes of beef with 1 tbps. salt and 1 tbsp. pepper. Working in batches, sear a single layer of beef cubes until well browned, about three minutes per side. (Lower the heat if the oil starts to smoke.) When all sides are seared, remove the meat to a bowl and repeat with the remaining batches. 2. Add the remaining 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil to the Dutch oven, set over high heat. Again, working in batches, add a single layer of mushrooms to the pan. Cook, without stirring, for one minute. Stir and continue cooking for another two minutes, until browned. Transfer the mushrooms to the bowl with the meat and repeat with the remaining batches of mushrooms. 3. Reduce the heat under the Dutch oven to medium and add in the onions. Cook the onions, until translucent, stirring often, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf and cook for another minute. Add red wine to the pan, and stir with a wood spoon, scraping up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring the wine to a simmer and allow it to reduce down until almost dry. 4. Return the meat, mushrooms, and any juices that have accumulated in the bowl to the pan. Add in the stock, carrots, and the remaining salt and pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover with a heavy lid, and cook for 90 minutes. Add the barley and cook, uncovered, for another 30 to 45 minutes until the beef and barley are tender. Taste the stew, adding salt and pepper as needed. Serve in individual bowls and, if preferred, garnish with a grating of fresh, peeled horseradish.
story by Brendan Lynch â€˘ photography by Hannah Queen
(Clockwise, from top left, across both pages) Fog sits down against the low slung mountains outside Madisonville, Tenn.; Hand written tags track the cure date of each country ham; Fresh made sausage hangs at Benton's; A small farm house outside Madisonville.
A clock is counting down on craftsmen who privilege product over production. Competition is fierce, economies of scale limit sources, and consumer tastes are fickle. To succeed in the face of these challenges often requires the sheer force of personality. That, or resilience so strong that it could be forgiven if mistaken for an act of faith. A hand crafted product has a time and a place; a beginning and an end; a seasonality. Allan Benton is charming, avuncular and deeply committed. His faith is to an old world way of making a product and an old fashioned way of doing business. In an economy where time is money, as Benjamin Franklin advised to the young tradesman, Allan Benton and his products are unhurried. Allan Benton is a craftsman. Madisonville, Tenn. projects a tranquil air. It is immaculate and unassuming. A stately red brick and white trimmed courthouse dominates the town square. Charming diners sit catty corner and small, family-owned businesses abound. The town, surrounded by rolling hills, provides just about the perfect backdrop for Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams. There, just beyond the town limit, in a surprisingly small cinder block building, Allan Benton is quietly working away. By now, we’ve all likely read the story of how Benton’s came to be. His bacon and hams have taken on the role of a cult ingredient in the American food zeitgeist. This humble former subsistence food is now a showpiece. Whether spun into cotton candy by Sean Brock, rendered into an old fashioned by Don Lee, transformed into consommé by Damon Wise, or written into a conversation on HBO’s Treme, Benton’s products are put to use in a way that amaze Benton himself.
Despite the acclaim, Benton’s “ham house” – as he fondly refers to the facility – is an exemplar of understatement. It is a low-slung building with a welcoming bench on the front porch and ham hanging overhead. Hickory smoke sits suspended in the air scenting all. Once yellow, now tan Post-it notes, flyers, and magazine clippings festoon the front room. On the walls are several clocks. None of which has even close to the correct time. But it doesn’t matter. Benton’s craft is more calendar than clock. It takes a special kind of businessman to repeatedly turn down offers to sell an operation, take on investors, or otherwise rapidly expand. It takes a special kind of person to leave money on the table. Comfortable with his station in life, Benton projects a contentedness with his operation and a concern for modern food business. Speaking of the recent buyout of Smithfield by a Chinese company, he says, “The implications petrified me.” Even now as he endeavors to expand his operation, the goal is merely to reduce production delays that have resulted in a five-week waiting period for new orders. This is not growth for growth’s sake. This is growth restrained by quality control. “When I was younger I wanted to go to the beach and drink beer all day,” Benton recalls. “And here I am running this business that’s a lot like a dairy farm. It's a 7-day-a-week job.” Regularly clocking 70-hour weeks, the 67-year-old Benton is a happy man. Energetic, with the same force of personality that built the business, Benton looks forward to another 20 years making hams and bacon with perhaps a brief trip across the pond to, in his words, “see how my European cousins do it.” It is hard to imagine Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams without Allan Benton. Long before social networks, Benton promoted himself to the social network that mattered the most: chefs. His Rolodex is a who’s who of American cookery. He’s on speed dial at America’s best restaurants; their chef’s numbers, handwritten onto those smoke-stained Post-it notes next to his desk. Since his first calls with Chef John Fleer, Benton has been the go to call for sui generis product. America does not have a Protected Designation of Origin. Instead the imprimatur of authority is word of mouth. Chefs of the highest caliber with a singular fidelity to quality call upon Benton’s product. They wait, if need be, as there is no substitute. With no children currently working for the business and no apprentices in training, eventually the question must be asked: are the cult ingredients of Benton’s bacon and Benton’s hams separable from the Cult of Benton? ”I can think of no other person so intimately intertwined with his product,” says Fleer. “One hundred percent of it is Benton himself.” fall 2013 | spensermag.com
Allan Benton at his desk.
Fleer, who discovered Benton’s when he was the head chef at Tennessee’s acclaimed Blackberry Farm, was one of the first to champion distinctly regional food producers. He came for the bacon but was quickly swayed by the man. “My loyalty and fidelity to Allan’s product is really a loyalty to Allan himself,” says Fleer. “It is as much the intangible human element as the production of a hand crafted product.” Much to the relief of Fleer, and David Chang, and Sean Brock and so many of others who champion Benton, we are secure, in the immediate future, in our ability to obtain Benton’s products. The longer view is much less clear. As a young adult, Benton worked as an educator because he “wanted to make an impact on the world.” However, Benton has never taken on an apprentice and has resisted the stagier system widely prevalent in the restaurants that use his product. An apprentice in the operation would simply be a disruption. “Sometimes I’ll get a call from someone who wants to intern and it doesn’t work,” says Benton. “It’s such a distraction that it takes away from what we are doing and it costs us in production. Maybe if I had more time.” He continues, “I can tell you everything I know in five minutes and I could teach somebody the elementary things in two hours. But, to really know what you are doing, you need to do it for years. What I do is really quite simple, but it’s taken me 40 years to learn.” A Benton ham is a case study in time. Starting raw, salted by hand, and left to cure while time runs its course, it takes about two years (including three days in the smoke house) for this humble piece of pork to become a Benton Country Ham. For an American ham that is simply ancient, the only proof of seniority a hand-dated tag attached early on in the process. Steadfastly adhering to hand crafted production in an automated, world Benton’s end goal is always the end product. He is, however, keenly aware of his role in, and the state of, modern cuisine. “I believe good old boys in America, whether in New York or Alabama or California, can make ham or bacon as well as the Europeans,” Benton says. “If we focus on quality and produce the best we know how, the results will speak for themselves. It's like what my father said, ‘There will always be a market for quality.’” Benton’s long-view philosophy sustained him through leaner times when he dialed his rotary phone more than he answered it. Devoutly focused on the family curing recipes passed down from generations gone by, he heeded carefully his father’s advice that if you play the other guys game in a race to the bottom you are always going to lose. “At one time a lot of people lost sight of quality,” says Benton.
“As a culture, we don’t have that luxury. We need to all be pushing or pulling the cart in the same direction.” While interns, apprentices, or stagiaires have never found their place at Benton’s, his children have both played essential roles in the growth and ultimate success of the business. It was his daughter who first suggested that his country hams be sliced paper thin and sold as an American prosciutto. “I thought prosciutto must be some kind of pasta dish,” Benton says laughing. Equally important, Benton’s son Darrell incorporated online sales by creating a website for the business from his college dorm room. By bringing Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams into the Internet age, the son was able to teach the father how to reach a national audience. According to the senior Benton, Darrell, now in his second year of medical residency, occasionally considers whether to follow in the family footsteps. Seeing his father’s joy for the work, it can be all too easy for the son to begin to harbor disillusionment with the challenges of modern medicine. “Darrell might change his mind and come up in here and do this for a living,” reflects Benton. “But I still hope that he goes on to be a doctor and finds happiness doing what he is doing.”
Asked what he thinks the future holds, Fleer contrasts Benton’s products to those of the competitors. He recognizes that by their very nature, corporations and the mass-produced foods they manufacture seem to last forever. While, at the same time, a truly craft product carries an innate urgency simply by dint of it not being infinitely replicable. “One of the things we all have to accept in terms of seasonality is that every product has a time and a place,” Fleer says. “Like the end of strawberry season in the first week of June, when it ends, we all have regret. But we move on, looking forward to another year.” Part of the allure of Benton’s hams and bacon are their very impermanence. A cure is not a recipe for immortality; it simply prolongs the season. An old world American ham aged for years may be unhurried, but it is not timeless. To find that taste again, once the ham is gone, you must repeat the same process anew, patiently waiting for the cure to take hold once again. Without mincing words, Fleer states that the Benton product requires a Benton. It would not be enough for some apprentice and enthusiast to inherit the mantle. It has to be family. “The only way the product, this amazing product, would ever outlast Allan is if Darrell stepped up and took the plunge,” Fleer says.
With no spare time for trainees, and no inkling of retirement on the horizon, Allan Benton’s fidelity to finished product is unalloyed. The classic rotary phone in the office is still ringing and the broken clocks are still inconsequential. Not one to lapse into the abstract, Benton insists he still has room to improve. He’s playing long ball. Focusing on the basics, repeating what works, Benton continues to push his craft in new directions. It’s easily overlooked, but hanging with a hand-dated card in its own corner of the “ham house” is part of the first Mangalitsa pig ever raised in Tennessee. Purchased from a purveyor whom Benton admires and taken on as a challenge, the curing heritage-breed ham is a testament to all that is still possible in the future. It will be done when it is done, and that will be a while.
fall 2013 | spensermag.com
Country Ham–Wrapped Sturgeon with Fennel & Sun-Dried Tomato White Bean Ragout Recipe from The Blackberry Farm Tennessee was one of the first states to farmraise sturgeons. The enterprise was started in order to restock rivers and lakes with the big fish that was once king, but it became clear that at least one out of ten of the farmed sturgeon should be sold, especially now that landing wild sturgeon is illegal in most states. Those who do not have the good fortune to live within cooking distance of country ham and very fresh (and legal) sturgeon could use prosciutto and grouper instead. The beans can be made well in advance of dinner; in fact, they improve with several days’ rest. Just keep in mind that they need to be soaked overnight. Serves 4 For the ragout: ½ cup dry navy beans 1 tbsp. vegetable oil ½ white onion, diced 1 carrot, peeled and diced 1 small fennel bulb, sliced very thin 3 cups vegetable stock ½ cup sun-dried tomato halves, cut into thin strips 1 ½ tsp. kosher salt ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper For the sturgeon: 4 4-oz. skinless sturgeon fillets 1 tsp. kosher salt 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper 4 paper-thin slices of country ham 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1. Soak the beans overnight in water to cover. 2. Drain the beans, place them in a medium saucepan with 4 cups cold water, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer the beans, uncovered, for 40 to 45 minutes, until tender. Strain and set aside. 3. To make the ragout, in a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring frequently, for 6 to 7 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Stir in the carrot and fennel and continue to cook for about 15 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender. Add the beans and the stock to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for another 10 minutes to allow all the flavors to meld. Season with the salt and pepper. 4. To make the sturgeon, preheat the oven to 400°F. Sprinkle the fish with the salt and pepper, then wrap each piece of fish in a slice of country ham, leaving the ends exposed. 5. In a large ovenproof skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add the fish and cook on all sides until the ham is golden brown. Transfer the skillet to the oven and continue to cook for another 4 to 5 minutes; the fish is done when it feels firm to the touch. Serve the fish on top of the ragout.
Beans and Greens Recipe from The Blackberry Farm There are few more authentically southern foods than beans and greens, and no other green is more tied to the South than collards. Brought to the New World by the British colonists, collards were used by arriving Africans as subsistence food. The African method of cooking down the greens and bits of seasoning meat into gravy, known as “pot likker,” became an integral part of present-day southern cooking. An old mountain recipe reads: Take a big poke of collards, a piece of middlins, a pod of red pepper, more’n a pinch of salt and a right smart of water. Bile it all down till it’s slam limber. Eat with a pone of cornbread to sop the pot likker. The pot likker promises that every forkful of greens delivers a symphony of sweet, smoky, earthy, and spicy flavors to the tongue. For the beans: 1 lb. dried pinto beans, picked over and well rinsed 1 medium carrot, quartered 1 sweet onion, quartered 1 smoked ham hock 1 tbsp. kosher salt For the greens: 6 oz. thick-sliced smoky bacon, cut crosswise into ½-inch lardons 1 sweet onion, thickly sliced 1 head of garlic, minced 2 ½ to 3 lbs. collard greens, stems removed, leaves torn or sliced into pieces or strips 1 to 3 tbsp. sorghum, or to taste (See our sorghum feature on pg. 92) Pepper vinegar and cornbread, for serving
1. To prepare the beans, place the rinsed pintos in a large saucepan with 8 cups water. Let soak overnight. Drain and return the beans to the saucepan. 2. Add the carrot, onion, ham hock, and 8 cups cold water to the saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until the beans are tender but not falling apart, 2 to 2½ hours. About 10 minutes before the beans are done, gently stir in the salt. 3. Meanwhile, prepare the greens: In a large cast-iron Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium-high heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crispy, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the onion and reduce the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and very fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add about half the greens and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Add the rest of the greens, in batches if necessary, until they all fit in the pot. Add 2 quarts water and cover. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the greens are very tender, but not falling apart, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir in the sorghum 1 tbsp. at a time to taste. 4. To serve, place the beans and greens in 6 warmed shallow bowls, making sure to include plenty of pot likker from the greens in each bowl. Serve, passing the pepper vinegar for sprinkling on the greens and with corn bread at the table.
Photo by beall + thomas photography
fall 2013 | spensermag.com
Bacon Stock Recipe from The Blackberry Farm We love to use bacon from Allan Bentonâ€™s Smoky Mountain Country Hams for this stock because it makes it incomparably rich and smoky, as if the essence of the best bacon has been suspended in translucent liquid. Excellent results can also be had using other bacon; choose the smokiest bacon you can find at your market. Makes about 3 quarts 1 lb. smoky slab bacon, cut into 1-inch chunks 3 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped 2 stalks of celery, coarsely chopped 1 medium-size sweet onion, quartered 1 bay leaf 4 3-inch fresh thyme sprigs 1. In a large stockpot, combine the bacon, carrots, celery, onion, bay leaf, thyme, and 18 cups cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, partially cover the pot, and gently simmer the stock, stirring occasionally, for 3 hours, until the stock is very flavorful and the liquid reduces to about 12 cups. 2. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl. The stock can be used immediately, or cool it to room temperature, transfer to airtight containers, and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze up to 6 months.
fall 2013 | spensermag.com
story by Ross Johnson â€˘ photography by Jessie Kriech-Higdon & Chris Higdon
In the heart of Middle Tennessee, Mark Guenther sails a sea of sorghum cane soaring ten feet high. Mark’s gaze is unflinching under the flat brim of a straw hat, though a spray of sorghum seeds surrounds him like salt spray on the boardwalk. He pilots an unusual craft along the straight rows of stalks—“the spider,” the grandchildren of the Guenther clan call it. The machine creeps along, blades spinning, as seed heads fall on the soil below in a cascade of colors—fresh yellow-green, light copper, ochre, and the ripeness of umber—colors of the earth. As it has for more than a century and a half in the South, the sorghum cane harvest has come again.
their pure sorghum syrup. And Mark and Sherry are also members of the Fellowship of Southern Farmers, Artisans, and Chefs, a sixteen-member strong forum supported by the Southern Foodways Alliance that endeavors to reinforce the bond between field and table.
Despite these many distinctions, the Guenthers have not grown, as a southerner might say, too big for their britches. Mark and Sherry have not moved more than a mile or two from his childhood home on Muddy Pond Road. As self-appointed ambassadors of sorghum, the two still demonstrate the old craft of sorghum milling and syrup making at county fairs, heritage festivals, Mark and his wife, Sherry Guenther, the and historic Cades Cove in the Tennessee second of three family generations farming Smoky Mountains. sorghum along Muddy Pond Road, are riding a wave of renewed interest in the Their one concession: the husband and wife provenance and production of food. Like team no longer pitch a tent when they travel. the thick, sweet syrup, this sea change has flowed slowly across the land bringing “We used to camp out,” Sherry says, as she with it a national appreciation for all things offers a pitcher of sweet tea. “We had a cattle southern. trailer to haul all the stuff we needed when we went to the festivals, but there was no This wave of attention carried the Guenthers room for us,” she laughs. to Washington, D.C., where, in 2012, their 50-year-old family business, Muddy Pond Now the two have a custom-built fifth Sorghum Mill, was one of only 11 craft wheel to house their horse, equipment, and producers selected for a prestigious American themselves on the road. Treasures Award. The tide of success has also brought the family recognition from For the Guenther family, that road has not the National Sweet Sorghum Processors and always been easy to travel. When John and Producers Association for the fine quality of Emma Guenther, the clan’s patriarch and
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matriarch, landed in Tennessee from rural Saskatchewan in January of 1965, they spoke only Low German. John returned to his new home, a drafty tobacco barn they shared with several other Mennonite families that winter, and cried to his wife. “I came in, big tears rolling down my cheeks, and told Emma, ‘We’re never going to make it here,’” John says, a natural raconteur in any language. “I couldn’t understand the southern accent, let alone the English.” Mark, the firstborn child, came that March. Two months later, John planted his first rows of sweet sorghum. “A few old timers around here had a small press,” says John. “They told me, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get some cane growing in this country.’ It was a big sorghum country around here in those days.” The South has been a big sorghum producer since the mid-19th century and earlier. Slaves from Africa carried sorghum seeds with them as ships traveled the Middle Passage. The hardy grass cane
(From left, across both pages) Jenelle Wilson, Mark and Sherry's niece, stacks sorghum cane on a fork lift; Sweet sorghum cane stands tall one week before harvest; "The spider."
The colorful seeds of the sorghum plant.
crop, drought-tolerant and weed-resistant, came in two varieties: shorter milo and tall sweet sorghum. The former was sought as silage for livestock; the latter, sweetener at the dinner table. By the 1850s, the American patent office further distributed sorghum seeds to farmers across the States. It was just in time for the shortage of granulated sugar brought on by the next decade’s civil strife and it cemented sorghum’s place in the southern larder. The sweet cane grows straight and tall in this part of Tennessee, as it has for the past century and a half. Mark grew up among the cane, with his younger siblings, three of whom are also involved in the family business. All the children learned to harvest and press the stalks with machetes and mule-driven mill. It was backbreaking, labor-intensive work, so it’s no wonder that Mark, as a teenager, sought a different way of life. As he demonstrates the manual harvest, his machete making quick work of seed heads and sorghum stalks, he tells of a time he left for the larger world. “When I was younger, I rebelled against this sorghum making. I thought, ‘This work is too hard. There’s got to be a better way,’” Mark recalls. “So for a couple of months, I went out into the world. I took a public job for a time. I found out the world is a mean place if you don’t know what you’re doing. I didn’t like the idea of giving some other man eight, ten hours of my day.” Instead, Mark returned to Muddy Pond Road to modernize his family’s operation. He speaks modestly
Opposite Page: (Clockwise from top) Sherry Guenther drives the farm's forklift; Harvesting the cane is a family affair; Mark Guenther.
about his mechanical skills, but his handiwork around the farm shows otherwise. “I’ve been blessed with talent to figure things out and build things, along with my dad and brothers,” says Mark. “That’s the way the sorghum business goes, you have to find something and fix it to what you need.” Take, for instance, the uncanny craft Mark’s children call the “spider.” An old Hagie 472 Hi-Tractor, equipped with a cutting system and once used as a corn detasseler, has become, with a few modifications, a deheader for sorghum. Mark points out blocks added to each leg raise the clearance 18 inches and a hydraulic system that raises and lowers the blades to match the height of the cane. Using this machine, Mark estimates, his yield has improved by ten percent. “When I grew up, we had to strip the leaves and take the tops off so they wouldn’t clog up the old mill,” Mark says. “But we didn’t dehead in the field.”
Now the sorghum cane, headless in the last week before harvest, redirects its energy to produce more juice with higher sugar content.
family affair, with spouses, children, and grandchildren trickling in to take their places skimming the pan or filling bottles.
The difference, Mark explains as he palms a pocketknife and slices open a stalk, is inside, a woody pith saturated with sweet juice. Offering up a piece, he shows a trick the old timers taught him to stave off thirst in the fields.
“When I hear that whistle, I know it’s sorghum making time,” says Sherry.
“If you take it,” Mark says, “and chew it, you can get a lot of the juice right out of the cane. Just don’t forget to spit out what’s left,” he adds. The juice, just slightly sweet, is also vegetal. This is Tennessee terroir, taken by the sun, turned to sweet nectar right in the plant. It’s also a tantalizing promise of what’s to come, when the juice is boiled down to sorghum syrup. The next day, a train whistle splits the Tennessee morning air as a steam boiler behind the mill house shrieks with 120 horsepower. It's calling the Guenther family to service. The production is a
Teenagers in the Guenther clan take turns feeding the furnace. Stripped from a locomotive and installed 20 years ago, the boiler heats steam piped beneath the evaporator pan; the pan, a maze of baffles spanning almost 200 square feet, fills with sorghum juice harvested the day before. Overnight, that juice was preheated to a temperature just below boiling, preventing fermentation and allowing most of the impurities and chlorophyll to slough off. Now the juice boils briskly, making its way down the pan in thick, sticky bubbles. Skimmings — impurities that boil to the surface — are scooped into a gutter, destined for the hog trough, while each ten gallons of hard-earned juice reduces down to just one gallon of syrup.
fall 2013 | spensermag.com
While the Guenther’s keep a refractometer in the boiler room, Marks explains that the sorghum’s brix level is really just determined by experience and feel. “Our juice comes in at about sixteen to eighteen brix,” says Mark, explaining the sugar content of the liquid. “We want our syrup at 78 to 80 brix. Honeybees make their honey in that range, so that’s what we aim to do.” Soon the family joins together for lunch, a spread that includes sorghum, of course, sweetening the baked beans and making a subtle appearance in a sauce for meatballs. Though long a star of the southern breakfast table, a mainstay for biscuits and pancakes, sorghum’s mellow sweetness with a long finish – less bitter than blackstrap molasses and deeper in flavor than maple syrup – is versatile enough to make any recipe that calls for sugar a little sweeter. A high antioxidant, vitamin, and mineral content also ensures that sorghum isn’t a guilty choice among a vast slate of sweeteners. The syrup is cooled, bottled, and sold that same day to visitors at the farm, who come three days a week during harvest season each fall. Today, even as lunch is served, the visitors continue to stream in steadily, telling stories about their ancestors who once grew sorghum cane, stopping to watch steam rise from the bubbling syrup. Mark often sets his plate down to check the syrup’s progress or shoot the breeze with visitors between bites. During a lull, he ruminates on the future of his family’s business. “I’d still like to have more people learn about sorghum. We’re on a war path to let people know what sorghum is,” Mark says. One of his biggest concerns is the public’s confusion of sorghum syrup with molasses, a byproduct of sugar cane processing. Sorghum syrup is the sole, pure product of the Guenther’s cane. “I’ll admit, sometimes it can be discouraging,” Mark says. “But when I’m standing here, seeing a line of people going through and getting a product they’re going to like, it makes it all worth it.” Carried to Muddy Pond by the rising tide of southern foodways, the sweet smiles of those who traveled far and wide to visit the Guenthers, at this deep-seeded home of southern tradition, are certainly proof enough that Mark is right.
Photo by beall + thomas photography
THE BLACKBERRY FARM Nestled in the blue mists of Tennessee's Smoky Mountains, the 10,000-acre refuge that is Blackberry Farm houses a top-rated small inn with one of the premier farm-to-table restaurants in the country. In this part of the world, the saying goes, you don't eat to eat, you eat to talk, to remember, and to imagine what you will eat tomorrow. These dinner conversations ultimately meander their way into discussions about the roots and rich traditions of what the folks at Blackberry Farm call “foothills cuisine.” It is here where the stories of the people who practice the traditional mountain food arts — the bacon man, the heirloom gardener, the cheese maker, and the fly fisherman — are woven together with local lore and regional history, all reflecting the spirit of the cooking at Blackberry Farm. Starting with Chef John Fleer and continuing today with Chef Joseph Lenn, the Blackberry Farm kitchen has been a champion of the regional craftsmen and women who produce the state’s best foods, like Cruze Dairy buttermilk, Muddy Pond sorghum, and Benton’s bacon. These ingredients are utilized in creative, approachable, and distinctly regional recipes in both The Blackberry Farm Cookbook and The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm. Both cookbooks offer recipes that are as inspired by the traditional rustic cooking of the mountainous South as they are by a fresh, contemporary, artistic sensibility. For all the artfulness, however, the cookbooks are best considered odes to a well-loved cast iron skillet, backyard smoker, or wood-fired grill. The seasonal recipes featured in our Muddy Pond and Benton’s stories come from these two cookbooks. We thought, who better to help showcase the taste and versatility of these wonderful ingredients than the chefs and cooks who discovered them years ago. The country ham and sorghum recipes have been published with permission from The Blackberry Farm Cookbook (© 2009) and The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm (© 2012). Published by Clarkson Potter.
Red-Eye Brined Smoked Pork Loin
ature or colder before adding the meat; place the brine in the refrigerator to cool more quickly if desired.
Recipe from The Blackberry Farm
2. Place the meat in a container large enough to hold both it and the brine. Pour the brine over the meat. The meat should be submerged, so weigh it down with a small plate if necessary. If it is not completely submerged, lay plastic wrap directly against the surface of the meat and rotate the meat once or twice during brining. Cover and refrigerate 8 to 10 hours or overnight. Remove the meat and discard the brine. Let the meat return to room temperature. This can take a couple of hours, depending on the temperature of the room, so plan accordingly.
A coffee-based brine inspired by red-eye gravy, along with slow and steady smoking, transform ordinary pork loin into a delicacy with a pale pink hue and a sweet and smoky flavor that is as heavenly cold as it is warm. Start this recipe a day before you want to serve it; the meat needs time to bask in the brine. There are two important secrets to success here. First, begin with a smaller fire—using fewer coals—than if you were preparing a grill for direct heat. You need to wait for the fire to die down quite a bit and if the initial fire is too big, you’ll be waiting all day. The second trick is to use dry chips; wet chips will put out the fire too quickly and the smoke will dissipate. Serves 6 3 cups brewed coffee 1½ cups balsamic vinegar 2 tbsp. soy sauce ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce 1 cup (7.7 oz.) kosher salt 1½ tbsp. smoked paprika ½ cup (3 ½ oz.) lightly packed light brown sugar ½ cup sorghum, cane syrup, or honey 1 large jalapeño pepper, sliced 2 tsp. cumin seeds 2 tsp. chili powder 4 cups ice water 1 3½-lb. boneless pork loin with a ¼-inch cap of fat 1. In a large saucepan, bring the coffee, vinegar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt, smoked paprika, brown sugar, sorghum, jalapeño, cumin, and chili powder to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the salt and brown sugar. Add the ice water and stir to melt the ice. The brine must be at room temper-
3. Following manufacturer’s instructions and using natural wood lump charcoal, start a small fire in a charcoal grill with a lid. When the coals are covered with gray ash, rake the coals to one side of the grill, creating a cooler zone on the other side to use for indirect cooking. Let the grill cool to 250°F. Scatter 4 cups of dry hickory chips over the coals. Place the cover on the grill until the chips begin to smoke. Adjust the vents on the bottom of the grill and in the lid so that there is sufficient airflow to keep the chips smoldering, but not so much that the chips ignite or flare. 4. Place the meat fat side down on the grate on the cooler side of the grill, not directly over the chips. Cover the grill. Smoke the meat until it reaches an internal temperature of 135°F, about 1½ hours. The grill temperature must stay between 225°F and 250°F while the meat smokes, so regulate the temperature by opening the vents wider to increase temperature and closing them slightly to reduce temperature. Add more dry chips every 30 to 45 minutes, or as often as necessary to maintain the smoke. 5. Let the meat rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
Photo by beall + thomas photography
Apple Stack Cake Recipe from The Blackberry Farm Stack cake, layers of thin, torte-like cake that are tiered with spiced reconstituted dried apples, was a sensible solution to the lack of fresh fruit in the cold months and the wealth of apples that were traditionally dried in the fall. Since refrigeration became commonplace, there’s been no practical need for the cake, but that has not lessened the appetite for it. Apple stack cake is a point of honor in the mountains of Southern Appalachia. Our version borrows from a number of historic and family recipes to create the flavor of the mountains in the fall. Like all stack cake recipes, ours must be made at least one day ahead and wrapped in plastic to “age,” and to allow some of the juice from the reconstituted apples to seep into the cake. Only home-dried or organic dried apples can be used; commercially dried apples frequently contain chemicals that make for an unpleasantly acrid taste. Serves 6 For the cake: 4 cups all-purpose flour 1 tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. baking soda ½ tsp. salt 5 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature ½ cup plus 2½ tsp. granulated sugar 1 large egg, at room temperature ½ cup buttermilk ½ cup sorghum For the dried apple filling: 1½ lbs. home-dried or organic dried apples 1 cup (packed) light brown sugar 1 tsp. ground ginger 1 tsp. ground cinnamon ½ tsp. ground allspice ½ tsp. ground nutmeg 1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease and flour five 9-inch cake pans and set them aside.
2. To make the cake layers, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set it aside. In another large bowl, beat the butter and ½ cup of the sugar with an electric mixer for 5 to 7 minutes, until creamy. Add the egg and beat until the yellow disappears. 3. In a small bowl, stir together the buttermilk and sorghum. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk mixture, beating well after each addition. 4. Divide the dough into 5 equal parts. Use your fingers to press each piece evenly and firmly into the bottom of a prepared cake pan. Prick the dough evenly with a fork and then sprinkle each layer with ½ teaspoon of the remaining sugar. 5. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the layers are firm when lightly touched. Cool the layers in the pans for 5 minutes, turn them out onto wire racks, and cool to room temperature. 6. To make the filling, in a large saucepan, stir together the apples, 6 cups water, and the brown sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until the apples are soft and most of the water has cooked away. Stir in the ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg and cook, stirring occasionally, until the remaining water cooks away. Set aside to cool to room temperature. 7. To complete the cake, place a layer on a serving plate or cake stand. Cover with one fourth of the filling. Stack a second layer over the filling and top with one fourth of the filling. Repeat the stacking and filling to make two more layers, finishing with a bare cake layer on top. 8. Cover the cake with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for at least 1 day and up to 3 days before slicing.
Pecan Tart Recipe from The Blackberry Farm John and Emma Guenther, a Mennonite couple from Saskatchewan, Canada, moved to Tennesssee’s Cumberland Plateau forty years ago. They’d never heard of sorghum, the dense, reed-shaped grass that produces a sweet juice; nor did they know that sorghum juice could be cooked to a thick, brown elixir that is often mistaken for molasses (much to the horror of sorghum connoisseurs). But they bought a farm and learned how to hand-thresh the sorghum grass, extract its juice, and boil it over fire to create sorghum syrup. When they deliver jugs of their sorghum, the Guenthers’ children often take the time to talk about cooking with sorghum; they are the inspiration for what has become one of our favorite pies. Serves 8 to 10 ½ basic pastry recipe (recipe can be found on the spenser blog) 6 tbsp. (¾ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature ¾ cup (packed) light brown sugar 2 large eggs, lightly beaten ¼ cup sorghum 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract ¼ cup all-purpose flour ¾ tsp. ground cinnamon ¼ tsp. fine sea salt 2 cups toasted pecan halves 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. 2. On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry dough out to a circle 11 inches in diameter. Fold the dough over your rolling pin and unroll it over a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Ease the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Run your rolling pin over the top to trim off any excess dough and refrigerate the tart shell. 3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, sorghum, and vanilla and beat until combined. Stir in the flour, cinnamon, and salt. Fold in the pecans. 4. Pour the mixture into the tart shell and bake for about 30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the filling is set. Cool to room temperature before slicing and serving.
fall 2013 | spensermag.com
b.y.o.b. - Bleubird James Kicinski-McCoy is, in her words, a seventies child living in the city of Nashville, Tenn., raising and home schooling her four incredibly sweet children-- Julian, Milla, Birdie, and Sailor. She also just happens to be one of our favorite bloggers. When she isn’t arguing with her husband over where to eat dinner, she spends her time like we all wish we could, building forts with her kids, searching the racks at the thrift store, reading, dancing to old records, and dreaming of moving to the country to living on her own little farm. This little corner of the Internet is called Bleubird, an online vintage shop turned blog, and while it is typically focused on fashion, we spoke to James about family, food, and design.
are the yummiest thing in the world and I have been meaning to recreate the recipe. It could be a good blog post.
SPENSER MAGAZINE: You recently moved to Nashville. What was it that brought you to Tennessee and why do you like to call it home?
SM: You’ve got such a keen eye for vintage design, are there any classic tools in your kitchen that you are particularly fond of?
JAMES KICINSKI-MCCOY: We decided to move here just on a whim. We were thinking about Portland, Ore. but it was kinda far. Aubrey, my husband, lived out here for a while when he was in a band and recording an album. So we piled the kids in the car, drove out here, and fell in love with it. It’s down to earth and beautiful and three months later we found a house. There is a really big sense of community here, with people helping each other. We’re all just in love with it.
JKM: My kitchen is pretty white and when I first moved in I knew I needed a pop of color. So we invested in a new Le Creuset set. It was something I’ve been wanting for ten years. It’s red and bright and classic. The place where we got married, it’s a friend’s ranch in Round Top, Texas. She has this beautiful set of red Le Creuset in this absolutely incredible and eclectic kitchen and I’ve wanted my own ever since. That and wooden spoons. I’m so into wooden spoons that I purchased a wooden spoon carving knife and a book about how to do it. I found a great reclaimed wood yard here in Nashville. I think it’s something that Julian (age 13) would enjoy too.
SM: There are so many great pictures and stories on your blog in the kitchen with with your kids. What is it that is important to you about your time cooking with them? JKM: I home school. And I think it’s really important not just to provide them with an education, but to teach them life skills. I find that when they help cook, they tend to eat a lot healthier. They’re learning how to cook and about nutritional value, but most importantly, it is fun to have with them in there with me. SM: Anything that you guys particularly like to do in the kitchen? JKM: Baking is pretty fun for them. Milla (age 10) is getting into salads, mainly because she likes to chop. She helps me chop all the vegetables. And Birdie (age 3) loves to stir just about anything. I’ve been meaning to start pickling and preserving for a really long time. There is this place in Houston – the Revival Market – that I miss so much. They have these pickled red beets that
SM: Now that you’ve had a chance to get your bearings, have you found any favorite places to eat in Nashville? JKM: I love this place called Sperry’s. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but a friend of mine invited me out to eat there one day. They served one of the best steaks I’ve ever had. It’s just very old-school with leather and mahogany and great service. I also love Rolf & Daughters. Of course. Their food is incredible. And Burger Up is fun for the kids. They have this great ketchup that the kids and I actually tried to recreate at home recently, which became the subject of a blog post. We combined a few different homemade ketchup recipes that we found online, got a bunch of heirloom tomatoes, and tried to come up with something that tasted pretty close to the ketchup at Burger Up. It was maybe even a little better.
Carrot Soup Recipe by James Kicinski-McCoy I have to say that I’m pretty famous for my carrot soup. I make it for all of the major holidays and my son, Julian, just requested it for his 13th birthday. It’s simple and delicious. Serves 4 4 tbsp. grapeseed oil or butter 1 large yellow onion, diced 2 garlic cloves, minced 8-10 unpeeled carrots, washed and sliced 6 cups good quality chicken stock (you can substitute vegetable stock to make this dish vegetarian but I prefer using the chicken) 1 ½ tsp. dried marjoram 1 ½ tsp. dried parsley 1 ½ tsp. dried thyme 1 ½ tsp. dried dill weed 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper ½ cup heavy cream Salt, to taste 1. In a large pot set over medium heat, heat the grapeseed oil or melt the butter, then add onion and sauté until golden brown. Add garlic, and cook for another 1-2 minutes, stirring to make sure it doesn’t burn. Next, add the carrots, chicken stock, marjoram, parsley, thyme, and dill. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. 2. Whisk in the heavy cream and let simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Using an immersion blender, purée until completely smooth. (You may also purée, in batches, using a stand blender. Just be sure to remove the center of the lid and cover with a kitchen towel so the hot soup doesn’t splatter. – Ed.) Taste and add salt if necessary. (It will depend on the salt content of your stock.) Then serve & enjoy.
s Dedicated to: Joseph Oren Rice
Published on Oct 3, 2013