For five of the last eight years, I had the privilege to travel to all parts of North Carolina to meet local cooks, hear, and record their favorite recipes and related stories. This eye-opening experience gave me the opportunity to see a little of the local magic that takes place in each cook’s kitchen and county and share some of the beautiful natural wonders that each place possesses. Though it was not necessary, many cooks actually prepared their special foods; others relayed recipes handed down through generations. All were gracious, down to earth, friendly, and generous.
My experience was heart warming, broadening, and fun. I’m honestly humbled by the kindness of North Carolinians, mostly strangers, who welcomed me, though I have to say I had always heard that North Carolinians were just like that. I learned much about our regional history and how we’re connected to the rest of the world. Mary Deal from Rowan County lived and worked in Hawaii during World War II; her husband inserted the plaque commemorating the end of the war on the deck of the USS Missouri. John Pridgen of Greene County lost 40 pounds carrying a radio on his shoulder during the Battle for Manila in the Philippines at the same time. I learned a lot about how traditional foods are grown and prepared. Myrtle and Richard Freeman of Montgomery County took me under their wings and showed me how they grow sorghum and prepare syrup from it. Charity Ray and her sister, Dorothy Coone, took me about a reunion held in Yancey County where the family members are descended from three emancipated slaves who are buried there. I met three generations of the Blankenship family on the Qualla Boundary including Lula Owl, an octogenarian, who vividly remembers her Cherokee grandmother, a farmer not even five feet tall. Becky Paul, a down east resident, told me about white clam chowder. I learned that people in North Carolina are just folks, no matter where they come from. Overall, it was a personal and spectacular adventure into history and local culture.
Originally I planned to compile all the recipes into one volume. However, the quantity of recipes created the need to select collections. I am very fortunate to have found a publisher, the University of North Carolina-Press in Chapel Hill, that is in the process of preparing the first book, to be called Sweet Carolina: Favorite Desserts and Candies from the Old North State. This book will be available in the fall of 2009. You can see more details on the link called “Buy the Book”. All of the cooks who contributed recipes receive a free copy and full credit for their contributions. In addition, a portion of the profits from the book will be contributed to the North Carolina Food Bank.
My adventure traversing North Carolina is not over yet. I’m ready to begin traveling again. Are you a North Carolinian and do you have a favorite recipe that you’d like to share? I'd love to meet you and hear your stories. I meet all the cooks individually at their convenience; I’m very flexible and can work around most schedules. I’m now compiling collections for the following foods:
If you’d like to participate, please go to the link called “Submit a Recipe”.