From Small Herb Plot to Table

mmherbFor area food providers who don’t have the space or time to farm a full-fledged kitchen garden, herb plots are emerging as an attractive way to localize their ingredient lists.

The Charleston RiverDogs last year installed a self-serve “taco herb” station: The trough of cilantro, parsley and other edible greens was so popular in its first season that the team this year added two more gardens. And Mellow Mushroom Avondale has just planted a collection of pizza-and-cocktail herbs in the Magnolia Community Park & Garden, the community’s first shared growing space. Continue reading

Welcoming Wild Asparagus Season

asparagus1In an era when most urban Americans were suspicious of food that wasn’t boxed, bagged or canned, Euell Gibbons made a landmark case for plucking meals from the landscape. Stalking the Wild Asparagus, published in 1962, was the first major foraging manifesto.

But the title, pun value aside, is slightly misleading. It doesn’t take much stealth to gather wild asparagus. At this time of year, the skinny green plants are just as likely to come find you.

“It seems like they’re everywhere,” says chef Frank Lee, who last month put his backyard haul on the menu at Old Village Post House. It took Lee about 20 minutes to collect a half-pound of the seasonal delicacy. Continue reading

Putting a Lowcountry Spin on Dessert Plates

pastryChocolate, the fallback dessert ingredient for many young chefs, doesn’t fare well in the Lowcountry. “It’s hot down here,” Kelly Wilson, an instructor at Trident Tech’s Culinary Institute of Charleston, this week explained during an American Culinary Federation regional conference session dedicated to regional pastry.

“In terms of climate, that dictates what you can make and what you can store,” Wilson said.

But Wilson urged her audience to think beyond chocolate for other reasons, too: While chocolate has a long central American history (and shorter European history), a bevy of other ingredients are more closely tied to the Native American, African, British and French cultures that are reflected in traditional Charleston foodways. Chefs who reflexively localize their savories sometimes forget about fortified wine, black walnuts, rice, sweet potatoes and coconuts when planning last courses, Wilson suggested. Continue reading

Celeste Albers Halts Egg Operation

albersThe sun has set on the Lowcountry’s most celebrated egg operation, with a land use dispute forcing Celeste and George Albers to focus exclusively on dairy and beef production.

The Albers’ Sea Island eggs were a coveted commodity, and the centerpiece of many of Charleston’s cherished high-end restaurant dishes, including FIG‘s legendary coddled egg.

“Cracking one open reveals a yolk as golden as a sunset,” The Glass Onion‘s owners enthused in a 2010 blog post. “They literally make our béarnaise, deviled eggs and desserts. During the heat of summer when the hens simply refuse to lay enough, we enter a time of mourning.” Continue reading

More Chillie Bear Memories

chillieMy recent story about Chillie Bears, Charleston’s classic frozen summertime treat, prompted readers of The Post and Courier to reminisce about buying (and selling) the icy cups. Since there’s not much in the way of a written record when it comes to Chillie Bears, their memories significantly enhance what’s known about the early history of the snack – including its demographic and geographic reach:

Growing up on Rutledge Avenue in the 1940s, we bought Chilly Bears, two for a nickel, at the Coastal Ice Cream Parlor on Rutledge near Spring Street. The small cup was decorated with polar bears and we warmed it between our hands, flipped it, and enjoyed. –  Sandra Lee Kahn Rosenblum Continue reading

How Far Do Chillie Bears Roam?

chillie“The secret to Chillie Bears is you have to work with them,” says the clerk at Seafood Alley, one of the last local joints to still offer the frozen treat. Seafood Alley sometimes deviates from the traditional recipe (which calls for nothing but Kool-Aid) and freezes pineapple juice, but the rules are the same.

“You have to use your teeth,” the clerk explains.

Chillie Bears’ secrets don’t end there, though. The history and reach of the iced snack — and the underground economy surrounding it — are largely undocumented.

“Every neighborhood had a lady who sold them,” says Brandon Myers, the 31-year old owner of Seafood Alley. Although he describes himself as “out of the loop,” he suspects the practice has dwindled away since he was a boy. “Charleston has changed so much.” Continue reading

Maker of Non-Stick Brittle Ready to Take Town by Storm

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Patrizio’s Gourmet Italian Brittle doesn’t stick to your teeth, its inventor claims, but now Patrick Tracy is grappling with how to get his confection to stick with the local market.

Tracy is a former oil rig worker, one-time Navy sailor, lifelong candy hobbyist and tireless pitchman. He five months ago moved here from Daytona Beach, hoping to find an outlet for the peanut brittles he sold at flea markets and craft shows in Florida.

“By God’s mercy and my God-given talent, I’ve figured out a way to make peanut brittle that doesn’t stick to your teeth,” Tracy, 59, says. “I would say, literally, without being pompous about it, 75 percent of people who tried a sample would be buyers.” Continue reading

Extension Service Seeks Canning Pros

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As a release announcing Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service’s current recruitment drive for canning coaches makes clear, unskilled canning is a serious matter.

“Canning done wrong wastes money and time, and can very possibly make you sick or kill you,” it warns.

To help the many South Carolinians who want to safely freeze, dehydrate, pickle or can their gardens’ bounty, the extension service three years ago launched its coaching project. “Coaches may teach an individual or small group canning (class); assist agents during classes and help promote classes at farmer’s markets,” country extension agent Gayle G. Williford explains. Continue reading

Farmers Market Accepting Vendor Applications for Upcoming Season

While the city warns that very few food artisans, growers and farmers will qualify for spots at the Charleston Farmers Market, it’s put out a call for vendor applications.

According to the official announcement, “While the Market is presently near capacity, and in fact faces additional space constraints arising from nearby construction, the Office of Cultural Affairs remains committed to ensuring the continuing success of this vital resource.”

In considering applications, the Market Advisory Committee gives highest priority to farmers who sell products grown and harvested in South Carolina, using environmentally responsible and sustainable techniques. For more on the committee’s priorities and expectations, check out the complete vendors’ manual here.

The application deadline is Feb. 24 at 4 p.m.

Following the Chicken Feet Story Further

chxfeetMy blog post about chicken feet, which last Wednesday migrated to print, gave a number of readers occasion to reflect on the Gullah-Geechee tradition of enjoying the same portion of the bird.

The trick to eating feet, according to a Gullah-speaking caller who left a message on Life Editor Teresa Taylor’s voicemail, is avoiding the toenails.

Maverick Southern Kitchens chef Frank Lee concurred in an e-mail, describing the local dish as tender-cooked chicken feet surrounded by potatoes. “Just chew ‘em up and spit out the toenails,” he writes (he also sent along this photo of stock-making at SNOB.) Continue reading