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photograph by Charlotte & Johnny Autry

12 is a very small number when we consider all of the incredible things we cook and eat here in North Carolina, but a greatest hits list can stretch only so far. Some of these recipes are beloved from one end of the state to the other. A few are barely known beyond their hometowns. But by showing us why this specific food in this specific place is special, this delicious dozen reveals something wonderful about North Carolina foodways and proclivities. Each delivers The Taste of Right Here.

Let the tasting and debating begin.




Carolina Dogs

carolina dogs 300x405North Carolinians love a Carolina dog “all the way” — topped with chili, slaw, onions, and mustard. Nothing more, and nothing less.

These toppings also sit well on a burger to create a Carolina Burger. This flavor combo is so popular that Wendy’s restaurants in North Carolina once offered a special Carolina Classic Burger in honor of UNC basketball. We appreciate that nod to our tradition, but aficionados know that the best Carolina burgers and Carolina dogs are found in mom-and-pop places and backyards across the state.

 

Yield: 4 to 8 servings.

Chili
1 pound ground beef
2 cups water (or 1 cup water
and 1 cup cheap beer)
1½ cups finely chopped onion
¼ cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

Slaw
½ small green cabbage (about
1 pound), halved and cored
2 tablespoons sugar
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
¼ cup finely grated onion
2½ teaspoons cider vinegar
⅓ to ½ cup Duke’s mayonnaise
Ground black pepper, to taste

Hot Dogs and Buns
8 hot dogs
8 hot dog buns, warmed
Yellow mustard
Finely chopped onion

For the chili: Stir together the beef and water in a large saucepan, crumbling the meat with a spoon. Bring to a boil, stirring to finish breaking up the meat.

Reduce the heat and stir in the onion, tomato paste, chili powder, Worcestershire, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Simmer until the chili is thick, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. As the chili thickens, stir more often.

Remove the pan from the heat and let cool. The texture of the chili should be very fine, so mash the beef with a hand-held potato masher, or purée the chili in a blender or food processor, if needed. Reheat gently before serving.

For the slaw: Finely grate the cabbage on the large holes of a box grater to yield about 2½ cups shredded cabbage. Transfer to a colander and toss with the sugar and salt. Set the colander over a large bowl to collect drips, and refrigerate for 1 hour. Press firmly to squeeze out any remaining liquid. Transfer the cabbage to a large bowl.

Stir in the onion and vinegar. Add ⅓ cup of the mayonnaise and stir well. The slaw should be lightly and evenly coated. If the slaw is too dry, add a little more mayonnaise, a spoonful at a time. Season with pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Stir well before serving.

For the hot dogs: Place the hot dogs in a single layer in a large skillet and cover with water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer until the hot dogs lightly plump, about 1 minute. Pour off the water and return skillet to the heat. Cook the hot dogs, turning as needed, until sizzling and browned on each side, about 8 minutes total.

To assemble, place the hot dogs in the buns. Spoon a generous amount of warm chili over the hot dogs. Run a bead of mustard over the chili. Top with slaw. Sprinkle with onions. Eat ’em up.


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Cheerwine Barbecued Chicken

cheerwine bbq chickenIn North Carolina, barbecue is a thing we eat, not a thing we do. Funny, we’re really picky about how to use the word barbecue when it comes to pig, and then we turn right around and use that same term to describe grilled chicken coated in sticky sauce at a cookout.

Few soft drinks enjoy devotion as deep and true as Cheerwine. In 1917, a general store owner in Salisbury named L.D. Peeler created this fizzy concoction. Bright crimson with a wild-cherry flavor, Cheerwine is common across North Carolina and sought across the country. Travelers often tote home cases as a delicious souvenir from their vacations.

This sauce is good enough to warrant sacrificing a good glug or two from your stash.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Sauce
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup ketchup
1 cup Cheerwine
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar

Chicken
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
12 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (about 4 pounds)

For the sauce: Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the remaining ingredients.
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened, about
30 minutes. Use soon or cool, cover, and
refrigerate for up to one week.

For the chicken: Stir together the thyme, oregano, paprika, cumin, onion powder, salt, and pepper. Pat the chicken dry and then coat with the seasoning mixture. Place the chicken in a zip-top plastic freezer bag. Seal and refrigerate for 4 hours.

Preheat the grill to 350° to 400° (medium-high) heat. (If using charcoal, the embers should be covered in gray ash with glowing centers.) Oil the grill grate generously.

Place the chicken skin-side down on the hot grate; cook until the skin browns, about 8 minutes. Turn the chicken over and continue grilling until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest portion registers 170°, about 5 to 8 minutes longer. Transfer 1 cup of the barbecue sauce to a small dish, reserving the rest. Brush the skin side of the chicken with sauce from the dish; turn skin side down and cook 2 minutes. Brush chicken with more sauce; turn skin side up and grill 2 minutes.

Arrange the chicken on a platter, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes. Discard any remaining sauce in the small bowl because it has come in contact with the raw chicken and would be unsafe to eat uncooked.

Serve the barbecued chicken warm with the reserved sauce.

Note: Chicken thighs or leg quarters are best for grilling because white meat pieces dry out easily. If you barbecue bone-in breasts, keep them on the coolest part of the grill. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are not a good choice for this recipe.


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Sweet Potato Biscuits with Country Ham

sweet potato biscuits 300x405These are the most agreeable biscuits you can make. The dough is dreamy, with little of the peevishness of most homemade biscuits. Unlike white biscuits, sweet potato biscuits actually taste best when made a day or two ahead, which means you can make a batch and enjoy them at your leisure.

The only thing that can make these tender, russet-hued biscuits any better is to fill them with North Carolina country ham. We Tar Heels live in one of the sweet spots of country ham production in the South, so it’s easy to find if you know where to look. Country ham’s salty twang pairs perfectly with these slightly sweet biscuits.

 
Yield: 15 (2½-inch) biscuits.

2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground allspice

½ teaspoon ground mace or nutmeg
½ cup vegetable shortening
1 cup baked sweet potato purée
1 cup heavy cream
Additional all-purpose flour, for rolling
Country ham, sliced paper-thin

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and mace in a large bowl. Use a pastry blender or your fingertips to work in the shortening until the mixture is crumbly.

Stir together the sweet potato purée and cream in a small bowl. Pour into the flour mixture and stir only until the dough comes together and pulls in all of the dry ingredients.

Pour the dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead until smooth and supple, about 8 turns. Roll or pat the dough to a ¾-inch thickness. Stamp out the biscuits with a round cutter. If the dough sticks, dip the cutter into some flour. Push the cutter straight down without twisting so that the biscuits can rise to their full potential. Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. Gather, roll, and cut the dough scraps.

Bake until the biscuits are firm and spring back when lightly touched on top, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature. Store at room temperature in an airtight container overnight before serving. (These biscuits are not great served warm.)

Serve with room-temperature, paper-thin slices of country ham.


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Cabbage Collards and Potlikker with Cornmeal Dumplings

collards and dumplings 300x405Most North Carolinians know their way around a pot of collards, but mild, tender, leafy, pale cabbage collards are an heirloom specialty Down East, and not well known statewide. Cabbage collards grow in loose heads, and are lighter in color and flavor than most collards. Unlike standard collards that taste best after a late frost or freeze, cabbage collards peak in late summer and early fall. Because of their delicate constitution, cabbage collards are usually seasoned with a lighter hand, but people are particular about their collards, so trust your palate to get them and the potlikker right.

 
Yield: 6 servings.

Collards
1 pound smoked pork pieces (such as ham hocks, ham bones, or side meat) OR smoked turkey pieces (such as wings)
12 cups cold water
2 to 2½ pounds cabbage collards (regular collards can be substituted)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
1 to 2 fresh jalapeño chilies or other hot chili (optional)
2 tablespoons brown sugar, sorghum, or cane syrup (optional)
Cider vinegar, pepper vinegar, or hot sauce

Cornmeal Dumplings
1 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 to 1¼ cups potlikker, warmed
1 large egg, lightly beaten (optional, but will lighten the dumplings)
¼ cup very finely chopped onion (optional)

For the collards: Combine the pork and water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, partially cover the pot, and simmer until the liquid reduces to 8 cups and develops a strong smoked pork flavor, about 3 hours. Strain the stock. (Pick any meat from the bones, shred it into small pieces, and return to the stock, if you wish.) Return the stock to the pot.

Remove and discard the stems and tough part of the inner ribs of the leaves by cutting them out with a knife, or by stripping the leaves off the stems by hand. Working in batches, cut the collard leaves into large, bite-size pieces. To remove the inevitable hidden grit, swish the collards in a sink or large bowl of cool water; let sit in the water for a few minutes so that the grit can fall to the bottom of the sink. Lift the greens out of the water and let them drain, but you don’t need to dry them.

Bring the stock to a low boil. Add the collards in large handfuls, stirring them into the hot stock and letting them wilt a bit before adding more.

Stir in the vinegar, salt, and pepper. Add the hot pepper and sugar, if using. Reduce the heat, and simmer gently until the greens are as tender and velvety as you like, 30 minutes to 1 hour. Taste the potlikker and adjust the seasoning as needed. Keep warm over low heat.

For the dumplings: Mix the cornmeal, flour, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Slowly stir in enough potlikker to make a smooth batter that is stiff enough to hold its shape on the spoon. Vigorously stir in the egg, if using. Fold in the onions, if using. Let the batter rest for 5 minutes.

Using hands dampened in cold water, form the batter into dumplings about the size of golf balls. Return the collards to a low boil. Arrange the dumplings on the surface, spacing them evenly. Cover the pot and cook until the dumplings are firm and cooked through, about 12 minutes.

Serve hot with cider vinegar, pepper vinegar, or hot sauce.

Make-ahead note: Greens and potlikker are almost always better when made at least one day ahead and seem to improve with age, up to about three days.


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Pork Chops with Apples

pork chops with apples 300x405Most would agree that North Carolinians love pork, even in preparations other than barbecue. People are perhaps less familiar with the role apples play in past and present North Carolina. Our state consistently ranks among the top 10 apple producers in the country. At one time, at least 1,500 different kinds of apples flourished in the South. More than half of those varieties are now lost, but North Carolina is still home to influential collections of antique and heirloom apples. An excellent example is Century Farm Orchards in Rockingham County. Under the expert care of David Vernon, more than 400 varieties grow on his farm, which functions as both a living museum and an active nursery from which customers can order apple trees. David always acknowledges the mentoring he received from Lee Calhoun of Chatham County, one of the country’s most accomplished apple preservationists and author of Old Southern Apples, a compendium of antique apple varieties.

Yield: 4 servings.

1 cup water
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups ice water
4 bone-in pork chops (each about 12 ounces and ¾- to 1-inch thick)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, sliced

2 crisp, sweet-tart apples, cored and sliced (about 3 cups)
1 cup hard cider, beer, white wine, or chicken broth
1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Make the brine by stirring together the water, salt, and sugar in a small saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring until the salt and sugar dissolve. Remove the pan from the heat and add the ice water, stirring until the ice melts and the brine cools to room temperature. Pour into a shallow bowl that will hold the chops snugly in a single layer. Submerge the chops in the brine. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.

Remove the chops from the brine and pat them dry with paper towels. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat; add the oil and butter. When the butter melts, lay the chops in the skillet. Do not crowd the chops in the skillet or they will steam instead of brown. Depending on the size of your skillet, you might need to work in batches. Cook undisturbed until nicely browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Turn once and brown the other side, about 3 minutes more. Transfer to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

Add the onion and a pinch of salt to the skillet; stir to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom. Cook until the onions wilt, about 5 minutes. Add the apples and cook, until the onions are golden and the apples begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Stir in the cider and bring to a simmer.

Return the chops to the pan and nestle them into the onion mixture. Simmer over low heat until the pork is tender and cooked through, about 15 more minutes, turning halfway through. An instant-read thermometer inserted sideways into the center should register 140° to 145°. Even if the meat is a tiny bit pink in the center, the juices should show no traces of pink. Transfer the chops to a plate, tent with foil, and let rest.

Stir the mustard into the apple mixture and continue simmering to thicken a little while the chops rest. Stir in the thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Serve the chops warm, topped with the warm apple mixture.

Note: It takes a little unsupervised time, but brining the pork for even a brief period adds flavor and ensures juiciness in the finished chops. It’s also important to not overcook the pork, which is novel to those of us raised to think that pork chops that weren’t hard and gray weren’t done.


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Crook’s Corner Shrimp and Grits

Crooks Corner Shrimp Grits 300x405We will never know who invented shrimp and grits. It was likely a hungry, resourceful cook along the coast in the Low Country, where both shrimp and grits were common and plentiful. The earliest records of the recipe describe a very simple dish served as a humble breakfast, little more than fresh shrimp added to a pot of hot grits cooked in clean, brackish beach water.

Over the years, shrimp and grits got fancier, migrated to the dinner table, and became ubiquitous in Southern restaurants. Perhaps no version is more renowned than the one that the late Bill Neal created for Crook’s Corner, the landmark restaurant in Chapel Hill. The dish became famous after Craig Claiborne wrote about it in The New York Times. It’s still wildly popular, and Crook’s has served it in the late chef’s style now for more than 25 years.

Yield: 4 servings

6 bacon slices, diced
1 pound medium unpeeled, raw shrimp
¼ cup sauce flour (such as Wondra or Shake & Blend), seasoned with salt and pepper to taste
2 cups sliced fresh white button mushrooms
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 cup chopped green onions
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Tabasco sauce to taste (four shakes!)
Salt and pepper to taste

Cheese Grits
4 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup stone-ground grits
1 cup Cheddar cheese
4 tablespoons butter
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
⅛ teaspoon ground white pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon Tabasco sauce

For the Cheese Grits: In a medium saucepan, bring salted water to a boil over medium-high heat; gradually whisk in grits. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes, or until thickened. Stir in Cheddar cheese and remaining ingredients. Hold in a warm place or on top of a double boiler over simmering water.

Peel shrimp; devein, if desired. Rinse and pat dry.

In a large nonstick skillet, cook bacon over medium heat 10 minutes or until crisp; remove bacon, but save all of the grease.

Dust the shrimp with the seasoned flour. In the large skillet, begin to sauté the shrimp in the bacon grease over high heat. Turn the shrimp, and then add the mushrooms. Let the mushrooms cook a moment, then begin tossing in the skillet, as for a stir-fry. Pour off some of the grease if it appears too oily.

Cook for a minute or two more, until the shrimp and mushrooms appear to be done and have browned a little. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute, shaking the pan vigorously. Add the lemon juice and Tabasco, and cook 2 more minutes, stirring to loosen particles from the bottom of the skillet. Add the scallions and toss to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon shrimp mixture over hot cheese grits; sprinkle with bacon.

Note: We learned that the shrimp and grits at Crook’s Corner inspires all sorts of variations, and we mistakenly printed one that veered from the original (“The Taste of Right Here,” April, page 130). This is the corrected recipe for the restaurant’s famous dish.


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Fish Muddle

fish muddle 300x405San Francisco has cioppino. Provence has bouillabaisse. Southerners, particularly in North Carolina, have muddle. It’s our classic Southern fish stew made from the catch of the day — seafood and shellfish on the coast and creek fish elsewhere, whatever you caught that you didn’t throw back. This thick stew includes basic vegetables and simple seasonings. And, like the proverbial stone soup, the more people pitching something into the pot, the more complex and robust a muddle becomes.

A defining characteristic of muddle is that it is garnished with eggs, which can be poached in the savory broth, scrambled and swirled into the pot like egg drop soup, or simply hard-cooked and crumbled. To make muddle even more filling, ladle it over hot grits or rice.

Yield: 8 to 12 servings.

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1½ pounds large, wild shrimp, peeled, deveined, shells and heads reserved
6 cups water
8 ounces thick-cut bacon, chopped
2 large celery stalks, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 large carrots, finely chopped (about 1½ cups)
2 large onions, finely chopped (about 3 cups)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 bay leaves
4 short thyme sprigs
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

1 pound new potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce, or to taste
1½ pounds lean fish fillets (such as snapper or striped bass), cut into 2-inch pieces
6 cups freshly cooked rice or stone-ground grits
4 hard-cooked eggs, coarsely chopped
Fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
Buttered saltines

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shrimp shells and heads. Cook, stirring constantly, until they turn pink. Add the water and bring to a simmer. Cook gently until the liquid reduces to 4 cups, about 15 minutes. Strain the stock and discard the solids.

Cook the bacon in a large pot over medium-low heat until it is crisp and rendered, about 15 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towels.

Increase the heat to medium. When the bacon fat begins to sizzle, stir in the celery, carrots, onions, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, bay leaves, and thyme sprigs; cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes and cook, stirring often, for 20 minutes.

Add the shrimp stock, potatoes, and the salt. Simmer until the potatoes are almost done, about 15 minutes.

Discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Season with pepper and hot sauce. Taste for salt.

Gently stir the fish into the stew. Arrange the shrimp over the top of the stew. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover the pot, and let cook until the fish and shrimp are barely opaque in the center, about 5 minutes.

Spoon hot rice or grits into serving bowls. Ladle muddle over the grits. Sprinkle with the eggs, reserved bacon, and parsley. Serve hot with buttered saltines.


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Calabash Shrimp

calabash shrimp 300x405Calabash is a tiny fishing town in Brunswick County. Only about 2,000 citizens call Calabash home, but the community says it’s “The Seafood Capital of the World.” Calabash-style means perfectly fried seafood with a light, crisp, ethereal battered crust. For many vacationers, no trip to the beach is complete without a pilgrimage for a plate of piping hot shrimp and hush puppies.

Although there is disagreement on which family opened the first fish camp in Calabash, we know that at least a pair of sisters ran such camps, starting with outdoor oyster roasts. Over time, the operations moved indoors and offered their now-famous version of fried seafood. The restaurant run by one of the sisters, Mrs. Coleman, was frequented by the entertainer Jimmy Durante, who is said to have jokingly called her Mrs. Calabash. The story goes that that was the origin of the tagline he used to close his performances: “Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Peanut oil, for frying
2 large eggs
1 cup canned evaporated milk or whole milk
1 cup self-rising flour
½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 pounds large or medium-size shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tails removed
Tartar sauce and cocktail sauce

Pour oil to a depth of 3 inches in a deep fryer or deep, heavy pot. Heat over medium-high heat until the temperature registers 375° on a deep-fry thermometer. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain the oil at that temperature throughout the frying process.

Whisk together the eggs and milk in a shallow bowl.

In a second shallow bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and pepper.

Working in batches, coat the shrimp in the egg mixture, letting any excess drip away, and then coat lightly and evenly in the flour mixture.

Slip the shrimp into the hot oil, adding no more at one time than can float freely. Cook until the crust is crisp and golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp. Transfer with a wire skimmer or slotted spoon to drain on paper towels or a brown paper bag. Sprinkle the piping hot shrimp with salt and serve at once with sauce on the side.

Serve with tartar sauce and/or cocktail sauce.


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Strawberry Sonker with Dip

strawberry sonker with dip 300x405Sonker is the signature dish of Surry County. This large, juicy cobbler can be made with almost any fruit, and even sweet potatoes. During the sunny days of spring, it’s hard to beat warm strawberry sonker topped with a generous pour of the sweet, milky sauce known as dip.

Sonker is so loved that the Surry County Historical Society hosts an annual Sonker Festival at the Edwards-Franklin House near Mount Airy on the first Saturday in October. To guide us through the rest of the year, someone mapped out a Surry Sonker Trail to take us from one serving to the next.

This sonker recipe calls for a lattice pastry crust, but other people cut the pastry into irregular shapes to toss atop the filling. Some families make sonker by pouring thick cake batter over the fruit, what some might call a cuppa cobbler because it calls for a cup of this and a cup of that. No matter the construction, sonkers ought to be large enough to feed a crowd. Old recipes for sonker describe baking them in metal bread pans that filled the oven space in a woodstove. Such mega-sonkers were popular at community gatherings and to feed extra work hands hired to bring in a harvest.

Yield: 12 servings.

Pastry
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 large egg
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar

Filling
1 cup sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup water
½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
8 cups fresh strawberries, halved or quartered if large

Dip
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of salt
3 cups whole milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

For the pastry: Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Work in the shortening with a pastry blender or fingertips until the mixture is crumbly.

Whisk together the egg and vinegar in a small bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, pour in the egg mixture, and stir with a fork to form soft dough that pulls in all of the dry ingredients. Form two balls, one using about ⅓ of the dough and the other using what’s left. Place each ball on a sheet of plastic wrap, flatten to a disk about 1 inch thick, wrap well, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or up to overnight.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan.

For the filling: Whisk together the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Whisk in the water and butter until smooth. Gently stir in the strawberries.

To assemble: Using lightly floured fingertips, press the larger disk of dough evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan. Bake until the pastry is dry to the touch, but not browned, about 10 minutes. Pour in the strawberry mixture.

To make a lattice top crust, roll the other piece of dough on a lightly floured work surface into a 13×4-inch rectangle.

Starting on one long side, use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut 4 long strips of dough that are 1 inch wide; arrange them lengthwise over the filling, spacing them evenly. Starting on a short side, cut the remaining dough crosswise into strips of dough that are 1 inch wide; arrange them perpendicular to the long strips of pastry, spacing them evenly to make a lattice. (If you are not the lattice type, just cut the rolled pastry into strips or other shapes and arrange them over the filling however you like.) Brush the pastry with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake until the pastry is deep golden brown and the filling bubbles, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. Meanwhile, make the dip.

For the dip: Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the milk until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring with a heatproof spatula until the mixture thickens enough to coat the spatula, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

To serve, scoop warm sonker into serving bowls. Ladle a little warm dip over the top and serve at once.


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Moravian Sugar Cake

moravian sugar cake 300x405This traditional Moravian recipe has a strong association with Easter, when Old Salem bakers timed the cake to emerge fresh and warm from the oven to serve immediately after the Easter sunrise service. The rich yeast dough is made with mashed potatoes, and the dimpled surface of the cake holds puddles of butter and brown sugar. “Do not stint one bit on either!” advised Beth Tartan, the author of this recipe.

Beth Tartan was the pen name of Elizabeth Hedgecock Sparks, who for many years wrote a food column in the Winston-Salem Journal. She also wrote cookbooks, including North Carolina & Old Salem Cookery. First published in 1955, it remains a beloved cookbook, serving as a countertop reference in many kitchens, both for its wealth of recipes and also for lessons about our state’s distinctive cooking heritage.

Yield: 12 to 16 servings.

1 medium-size russet potato (about 8 ounces), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 (¼-ounce) envelope active dry yeast
½ teaspoon plus 1 cup sugar, divided
¼ cup warm potato cooking water (100° to 110°)
½ cup shortening
¼ cup butter, softened

1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, beaten
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into ¼-inch cubes and chilled
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Place the potato in a small saucepan, cover with water to a depth of 1 inch, and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes or until tender. Drain well, reserving the cooking water. Force the potato through a food mill or ricer into a small bowl, or mash as smooth as possible with a fork. Measure out 1 cup of potatoes into a small bowl and stir in 2 tablespoons of the potato cooking water. Cover and keep warm.

Dissolve the yeast and ½ teaspoon sugar in ¼ cup warm potato water; let stand 5 minutes, or until mixture bubbles. Discard any remaining potato cooking water.

Stir together the warm mashed potato, the remaining 1 cup sugar, the shortening, ¼ cup butter, and salt in a large mixing bowl; stir until the shortening melts. Stir in the yeast mixture. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°) free from drafts, 1½ hours, or until spongy. Stir in the eggs and flour to make soft dough.

Shape the dough into a ball. Place in a greased bowl, turning to grease the top. Cover with a cloth or plastic wrap misted with nonstick spray and let rise in a warm place (85°) free from drafts, 2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic. (Hint: To keep yeast bread dough from sticking to your hands, begin kneading with a plastic dough scraper or metal bench knife. You can lift the dough and fold it over on a floured surface. When the dough becomes less sticky, complete the kneading by hand.) Pat the dough evenly in a greased 9×13-inch baking pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 375°. Deeply dimple the surface of the dough with your thumb or the end of a wooden spoon. Tuck a butter cube into each dimple. Stir together the brown sugar and cinnamon in small bowl; sprinkle evenly over the dough and down into the dimples.

Bake in center of oven for 20 minutes, or until browned and cooked through. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.


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Dr. Bill Friday’s Peanut Brittle

peanut brittleThe late Bill Friday was president of the University of North Carolina system for 30 years, as well as the host for four decades of North Carolina People on UNC-TV. He also was famous for his peanut brittle — so much so that it earned a mention in his obituary in 2012.

Friday’s recipe — which he admitted he “borrowed” from his wife Ida’s family — is chock full of peanuts, with only enough sweet, crunchy candy to hold them in place. He was partial to unblanched peanuts from Halifax County, insisting that peanuts from A&B Milling in Enfield were critical to his candy and explaining that the papery husks on the unblanched peanuts added flavor. He also credited his trusty well-seasoned cast-iron skillet. Starting around Thanksgiving each year, that pan in his hands turned out around 75 pounds of brittle for holiday gifting. He could make five batches at once and never needed a candy thermometer, instead relying on his years of experience to tell him when things were perfect.

Yield: About 1½ pounds.

2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1½ cups sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup hot tap water
2¼ cups shelled raw, unblanched peanuts
1¼ teaspoons baking soda

Generously butter a large marble slab.

Stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and water in an unheated, deep, 12-inch, cast-iron skillet until completely smooth. Place on the stove and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately stir in the peanuts. Cook, stirring continuously, until the syrup reaches 295° on a candy thermometer, about 7 minutes. The syrup should be the color of light caramel and the peanuts a deep golden brown.

Remove the skillet from the heat, sprinkle the baking soda evenly over the hot brittle, and stir rapidly with a long-handled spoon until the mixture stops foaming. Immediately pour the brittle onto the buttered marble and spread to a ½-inch thickness.

Let cool for 2 minutes. Run an offset spatula or metal pancake turner under the brittle to make sure it doesn’t
stick to the marble. Let cool to room temperature.

Break the brittle into large pieces. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.


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Banana Pudding

banana pudding 300x405Few North Carolinians can agree who makes the best barbecue, but we all agree that it should be chased with a dish of banana pudding. A Southern interpretation of an English trifle, banana pudding knows no season, only devotion.

Some people like their banana pudding topped with toasted meringue. Others vote for billows of whipped cream. Some want it warm. Others want it deeply chilled. It goes without saying that banana pudding is layered, not stirred.

Barbecue is contentious. Banana pudding is a peacemaker.

Yield: 12 servings.

Pudding
1 cup sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
6 small ripe, firm bananas, cut into thin rounds (about 6 cups)
8 ounces vanilla wafers (about 60 cookies)

Meringue
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup sugar

For the pudding: Whisk together the sugar, flour, and salt in a large, heavy saucepan or in the top of a double boiler. (If using a double boiler or a metal bowl sitting securely over a saucepan, fill the bottom pot about ⅓ full of water and bring to a simmer. The top pot should not touch the hot water.)

Add the milk in a slow, steady stream, whisking continuously until smooth. Whisk in the egg yolks. Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously with a heatproof spatula, until the pudding thickens and just begins to bubble around the edges, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla.

Line the bottom of a large, oven-safe serving bowl with vanilla wafers. Top with a layer of banana slices. Pour a thin layer of pudding over the bananas, spreading it with the spatula. Repeat the layers until you have used all of the remaining ingredients, ending with a top layer of pudding.

For the meringue: Preheat the oven to 325°. Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in a clean, dry, spotless metal or glass bowl. Beat with an electric mixer set to medium speed until foamy. Increase the mixer speed to high and add the sugar in a slow, steady stream, beating until the meringue is glossy and stiff peaks form, 2 to 4 minutes. Spoon the meringue over the warm pudding, spreading to the edges of the bowl. Use the back of the spoon to make pretty swirls and peaks in the meringue.

Bake until the meringue is golden brown with toasted peaks, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Serve slightly warm, or cool completely and refrigerate until chilled.


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Sheri Castle hails from Watauga County, but came down off the mountain to go to Carolina and now lives in Fearrington Village. She is a writer, recipe developer, cooking teacher, and popular public speaker. She is fueled by mountains, excellent bourbon, farmers’ markets, and searching for the right word. Sheri believes that stories happen only to those who can tell them. Check her out at shericastle.com.