Tuesday, February 13, 2007

NC eats on my mind

Things to think about when spending time in North Carolina seem to involve food. My fondest memories visiting my grandparents revolve around food. Mom left when she was 19, but she still managed to give us all good education in culinary gifts of her home state. Sure, we ate barbecue. Not ribs, but the finest in slow cooked pulled pork with a nice, slightly spicy vinegar sauce. Cole slaw was sweet and vinegary, too. Dessert must be banana pudding. See the side of a box of Nilla Wafers if you want the best banana pudding recipe. Or you can make one from scratch. But if you want to go all-out, try eating a slice of hummingbird cake.

Hummingbird Cake is a layered, banana cake with crushed pineapple in it. It is moist and delicious. It usually has a cream cheese frosting and pecans scattered around the circumference. I brake for hummingbird cake. One of my grandparents friends baked one and brought it to my grandpa's memorial. Why didn't I know about this cake before he died???? It is up there as one of my favorite cakes, ever! (Next to Blum's Coffee Crunch Cake or Blum's Fiesta Cake.)

Another favorite is going to get fish and eating hushpuppies. Fish is battered and fried, naturally, and the hushpuppies are usually better than the fish. What's a hushpuppy? Fried cornbread balls! Can't understand why I can't find this outside of the South or at Long John Silvers? Hushpuppies are a staple at fish fries. I'll often have fries and hushpuppies with my fried catfish. Then I wash everything down with a sweet tea.

Fine dining establishments like Bojangles have TWO tea options, sweet and unsweetened. In order to be sure the ice tea is sweet enough, your fillings must ache. Otherwise you must add more simple syrup. By the way, Bojangles makes some of the finest fast-food buttermilk biscuits on the planet. Their fried chicken isn't too shabby either. There are EIGHT locations in Greensboro. Yes!

What else is there to eat in North Carolina? Well, it isn't grape season, but there are some native grapes that are highly sought after: Scuppernongs and Muscadines. These grapes make some excellent jellies, as well as something called grape hull pie. Mom used to smuggle them home in egg cartons. The grapes don't grow in large clusters, but in small groupings or individually. Scups are greenish golden in color and almost a perfect sphere. They have a tough skin and lots of seeds. But the flesh is juicy and sweet. Mom now has a couple of grape vines on the hill above her house in San Rafael. Around late August, she'll start squeezing the juicy innards out of the grapes.

Pecans are another staple of North Carolina cuisine. The shells are used for smoking food. Goat Lady Dairy makes a smoked chevre using the left over pecan shells from the trees on their farm. Pecan pie is universal. Candied pecans are a nice addition to any salad, or just for snacking. Mom and I make some great spiced pecans. By the way, the CORRECT pronunciation of the word pecan is: PEE-can. Not pic-CAWN, nor pee-CAWN. You sound uneducated if you say it wrong. Jim, please take note.

Sure, you can find all kinds of food from all around the world in Greensboro today. But I look for the finest examples of regional cuisine. Yeah, there's a couple of good places for pho. Sure, I could go get a good hero at a deli, but I'd rather go to Giacomo's Italian Market to try their home made salami.

After I get through devouring my way across the Piedmont, I think I better go on a diet to lose all of the weight I'll gain eating like a local.

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