Sunday, May 13, 2007

Eating local challenge, NC style

Eating local.

I've always eaten local. The media is enamored with people Jessica Prentice, a Bay Area chef who preaches the virtues of eating local and celebrating your "foodshed." She's a locavore. In my family, we've always eaten local, handing our $$ directly to the growers of our apples, eggs, potatoes, beef jerky, cheese. It is probably why I love to seek out those local treasures in small town grocery stores and farmer's markets.

There is a slight difference here in the Piedmont between eating locally and eating like a local. I try to do both. As I have said before, I love finding regional food. I don't want to eat at some fancy-shmancy restaurant. Read Calvin Trillan's "American Fried." I want to eat at the place that has the best fried chicken in town. (If you're in Kansas City, make a beeline to Stroud's. Their cinnamon rolls are superb, too.) If I DO go to a nice restaurant, they better have some local food on the menu. North Carolina has fantastic shrimp. The coastal waterways are home to some fantastic seafood that I can't find in California. This is what I want on my dinner plate.

My locavore challenge: eat as much barbecue from as many places as I possibly can before I leave on May 29. Now THAT is eating local. North Carolina has a huge pork industry. It is so big that the waste from the hog farms is a major pollution problem. The water quality of many towns is threatened by ponds of pig poop. But I digress….Barbecue. I go to the Blue Mist when I feel like something quick. But I've found a new favorite in Asheboro. Jed's Barbecue and Seafood on N. Fayetteville Street. Around here the barbecue is "Piedmont Style." The sauce is sweet and tangy, a blend of cider vinegar, brown sugar, pepper, salt, and ketchup. It is thin and juicy. Jed's barbecue plate is piled high with shredded pork shoulder that has been slow-cooked for 9 hours (at least.) It comes with freshly fried hushpuppies, barbecue slaw, fries, and must be washed down with ice tea. The barbecue is liberally covered with "dip," their own special barbecue sauce. The coleslaw is minced cabbage mixed with the barbecue sauce so it is slightly red in color. The slaw is sweet and crunch. I like to pile my fork with both barbecue as well as coleslaw so I get both flavors in one bite. Delicious!

If I want to find some good, eastern style barbecue, I must drive east, beyond Burlington. That's the continental divide for North Carolina barbecue. East of Burlington is Eastern 'cue with its spicy, vinegar based sauce. West of Burlington is Piedmont style which adds to the eastern style with a bit of brown sugar and ketchup. This is also called Lexington Style barbecue, I believe. Then comes the other contender, western style barbecue, which has mustard. I haven't had any western style 'cue around here because the locals hate it. There is a bitter rivalry between the styles and folks will argue for days about it. I hope to try a place north of Chapel Hill called Allen and Sons. A gentleman I met at a Dinner at the Dairy says I MUST try it before I go. Too bad they're closed Sundays.

What else is on the menu when you eat locally in North Carolina? Molasses. The traditional stuff is harvested in the fall and cooked down over a wood fire. I just bought some today that was made in Reidsville. Reidsville is north of Greensboro. It is home to another famed barbecue joint called Short Sugar's. I hope to eat there before I go, too.

Other local food finds: Today I took a drive past Piedmont International Airport to The Old Mill of Guilford. It is a water powered grist mill from the Colonial era. It is still in operation today, grinding corn and grain. I walked into the rough hewn timber building. The front room is filled with barrel label "Spelt flour." "Yellow Grits." "Corn Meal," "Rye Flour." The grindstone is on one side of the room and there are many mechanical devices used to convey the grain and the power from the water wheel outside. I threaded my way through the barrels and went into the anteroom on the right. This is the mill store. It is filled with many bags of freshly ground cornmeal, grits, scone mix, sweet potato muffin mix, several types of flour, and hushpuppy mix, among the wide selection. If you are lucky, you might catch "Mother" grinding the grain. They don't have a set schedule, the just grind whatever they need when they need it. I ordered several things and had it shipped home. Look out, Jim, another box is arriving! The corn is grown locally in Davidson County. I'm not sure where the wheat comes from. The shop was filled with other local items like jam, pottery, ironwork, honey, as well as molasses. It was a great find, and a beautiful spot on Highway 68.

My other local favorite: fried chicken. Every country kitchen/down home restaurant makes fried chicken. Even K&W Cafeteria makes a good one. Just ask my mother. Ginnie makes a fantastic fried chicken about every couple of weeks. She also chases it with a peppery milk gravy to die for. There are lots of local chicken farms so I must be eating locally when I eat fried chicken. This is my kind of eating local challenge!

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