A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Whenever customers walked into Fred’s General Mercantile, I’d watch from behind the deli counter as they paused to take in the scents of chili and hot cocoa that traveled from

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Whenever customers walked into Fred’s General Mercantile, I’d watch from behind the deli counter as they paused to take in the scents of chili and hot cocoa that traveled from

Baby, It’s Cold Outside: 4 Cozy Snow Day Recipes

Italian sandwich, chili, and tuna melt

Whenever customers walked into Fred’s General Mercantile, I’d watch from behind the deli counter as they paused to take in the scents of chili and hot cocoa that traveled from the kitchen to the front door. I worked at the old-fashioned general store while studying at Lees-McRae College in the late 1970s. I spent my afternoons slicing deli meat and wrapping brownies for skiers who’d just come off the Beech Mountain slopes for lunch. Tourists, their ski boots clopping across the wooden floor, would visit the store to pick up everything from a tuna melt to a Woolrich flannel, and they would stop to ask the owners, Fred Pfohl and his wife, Margie, about the weather forecast and if they needed snow chains.

At the time, the Pfohls and five of their eight children lived in the upstairs apartment of the red-roofed building that housed the store. Fred and Margie treated everyone who came into the shop like family because their customers were, after all, in the Pfohls’ home and likely met a few of their children if school had let out for the day.

Snow covering Fred's General Mercantile in Beech Mountain, NC.

Sitting at 5,506 feet, Fred’s General Mercantile is the highest-elevation general store in the country. Photography courtesy of FRED’S GENERAL MERCANTILE

Although Margie died in 2020, Fred still runs the store. When I found myself craving Margie’s chili last year, I reached out to him to ask for the recipe. Though it had been decades since we’d seen each other, he remembered me when I mentioned that he and Margie had visited me at my parents’ house in Greensboro while I was recovering from a ski accident in 1981. I told him how much their visit had meant to me and that I’d never forget it. He was happy to share the recipe.

With the blueprint for my favorite chili in hand, I broke out my Dutch oven and filled my kitchen with the scent of Margie’s chili. I’m happy to report that it tastes the same today as it did more than 40 years ago.

Italian sandwich

photograph by Matt Hulsman

Hot Italian Subs

Yield: 2 sandwiches.

4 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 (8-inch) fresh sub rolls, sliced open lengthwise
4 ounces sliced ham
4 ounces sliced salami
4 ounces sliced pepperoni
4 slices provolone cheese
1 cup iceberg lettuce, shredded
1 medium tomato, thinly sliced
2 to 4 slices red onion
¼ cup pickled banana peppers, sliced
Extra-virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350°.

Spread mayonnaise evenly on inside of rolls. Layer ham, salami, pepperoni, and provolone on bottom of each roll.

Place sandwiches, open-faced, onto a baking sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until cheese melts and rolls are lightly toasted.

Remove subs from oven. Top each with lettuce, tomato, onion, and banana peppers. Lightly drizzle olive oil and vinegar over top, followed by oregano and pepper. Cover with top of roll, slice sandwich in half, and serve.

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Hearty, snow day chili

photograph by Matt Hulsman

Margie Pfohl’s Chili

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, cored and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chili powder
2½ tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon celery salt
2 bay leaves
2 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
2 cups original V8 juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar (for serving)
¼ cup sour cream (for serving)
Green onions, sliced (for serving)

In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, brown ground beef with onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Drain fat from beef mixture and discard. Stir chili powder, cumin, and celery salt into cooked beef mixture and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. Add bay leaves, kidney beans, tomato sauce, V8, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour. Remove the bay leaves. Serve with shredded cheese, sour cream, and green onions.

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Open-faced tuna melt topped with tomato and pickles

photograph by Matt Hulsman

Fresh Tuna Melt

Yield: 4 open-faced sandwiches.

For the tuna salad:
10 to 12 ounces fresh tuna
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 stalks celery, diced
1 tablespoon red onion, minced
3 tablespoons sweet pickle relish juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

For assembly:
4 slices rye or wheat bread
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
8 slices American cheese
4 slices tomato
4 dill pickle spears (for serving)

Brush tuna with olive oil and place in hot cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Cook for 6 to 7 minutes per side or until tuna is cooked through. Refrigerate cooked tuna for 30 minutes.

In a mixing bowl, combine Old Bay, mayonnaise, celery, onion, relish juice, and Dijon mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste. Roughly chop the tuna and combine with mayonnaise mixture. Refrigerate tuna salad until ready to assemble sandwiches.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Place 4 slices of bread on baking sheet. Spread mayonnaise on each slice, followed by 2 slices of American cheese and a quarter of the tuna salad. Bake sandwiches, open-faced, for 5 to 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve open-faced with a pickle spear.

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Brownies topped with ice cream and hot fudge

photograph by Matt Hulsman

Hot Cocoa Fudge Brownies

Yield: 9 servings.

¾ cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
5 envelopes milk chocolate hot cocoa mix
1 cup mini marshmallows
Hot fudge sauce (see recipe)
Vanilla ice cream (for serving)
Chocolate shavings (for garnish)

For the brownies: Preheat oven to 350°.

Prepare an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Line pan with parchment paper, leaving extra over sides of the pan. Spray parchment with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, add butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Using a hand mixer, beat for 1 to 2 minutes, until the mixture is well combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and hot cocoa mix. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and beat on low speed, scraping down sides. Do not overmix. Fold in marshmallows.

Pour batter evenly into the prepared pan.

Bake for 35 minutes or until a cake tester comes out with moist crumbs. The brownies will continue to set once removed. Remove from oven and let set for 10 minutes.

For the fudge sauce:

Yield: 1 cup.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces bittersweet (70%) baking chocolate
4 ounces evaporated milk
¼ cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt together butter and chocolate, stirring frequently. Once melted, slowly whisk in evaporated milk until combined. Whisk in sugar, cocoa powder, and salt until combined. Cook, whisking frequently, for about 5 to 6 minutes, until mixture comes just to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for another 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

Place brownies in individual mugs or on a dessert plate. Top with vanilla ice cream, hot fudge sauce, and chocolate shavings.

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This story was published on Jan 01, 2024

Lynn Wells

Lynn Wells is a personal chef with more than 20 years of experience in the food and hospitality industry and a degree in Nutrition Management from UNCG.