Showing posts from 2016

Christmas Eve with Big Ray

For several years, every Christmas Eve, my mother and I would make the long, winding drive up to Big Ray’s house.  Big Ray was Ray Hicks – the famous storyteller, recipient of the National Heritage award, subject of several books and a Smithsonian exhibit – the teller of the Jack Tales.  To us though, Ray and his family were like our family and going up to Ray’s was as much a part of our Christmas tradition as presents under the tree. Orville (pronounced Arville) Hicks (a famous story teller in his own right) introduced us to Ray, his wife Rosa (pronounced Rosie) and their son, Ted.  Arville was (and continues to be) a close family friend.  Over the years, we accompanied Arville to Merlefest and Jonesboro, and through him, met many famous folks, Doc Watson, Ora Watson, Emmylou Harris, Mac Wiseman, Earl Scruggs, Sam Bush, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Etta Baker, Roy Bookbinder, Guy Clark, Frank Profit Jr. and so many others, but none meant more to us than Ray and Rosie Hicks and their fa…

Stew Basics

My friend, Tim Roper (a.k.a. The Meat Trapper) just emailed, asking if I had a stew recipe.... actually, I don't.  Stew, as he pointed out about chili, is more of a style of cooking than a recipe and can be made with a variety of ingredients.  It may be surprising to some that where I come from, beef stew isn't the norm.  On the coast, we have traditional salt water caught fish stews that have origins in the British Isles.  Around the rivers and swamps, we have catfish stews and even catfish stew festivals.  Further inland, venison stew or bear meat stew is a meal for special family gatherings.  Somewhere in between those regions, we have North Carolina style Brunswick Stew.... named for either Brunswicktown (an abandoned colonial fort), Brunswick County or a British royal... which does not get the respect it deserves. 

NC Brunswick Stew may be older than Virginia Brunswick stew, and is certainly older than Georgia Brunswick Stew.  Unlike VA and GA, NC Brunswick Stew is not so…

Free Meat

I was just talking with a guy who owns a deer processing center. It is the rare processor, that has facilities for aging the meat and makes really good sausage. Of course, we got to talking about what is done with the odd cuts and the deer skin. He sells the hides when he can for less than $5, to a tannery. This would be a huge opportunity for anyone wanting to make leather goods, btw - just go to your local deer processor and buy the hides. Your state will likely require... a paper trail, but you could make anything from fine upholstery and jackets to decorative items. But, what really bothered me was the waste of the meat. Most folks field dress their deer (gut) and few take the heart, liver and kidneys home. To not do so is wanton waste of good food. Sometimes a deer comes into his place not gutted..... by then, he has to throw away the spoiled organs. That is such a shame. Of course, the tripe and lights should also be utilized, but convincing folks to eat such things is…

The Perspective Of A Meat Hunter and Angler - LIFE IS NOT CATCH AND RELEASE

One thing that I will not discuss much on this blog is "catch and release." fishing.  I do not believe in catch and release fishing and I do not practice it.  Sure, if the fish is too small or cannot be legally kept, I will throw it back.  I hunt, fish and trap for meat.  I am not a "sport fisherman."

I realize that catch and release fishing has played a roll in restocking waters that were over fished or polluted in the past, and for introducing new species of fish in areas where they are not native.  This has especially been true for trout fishing in mountain streams.  However, I think it has been over done.  Too often, catch and release fishing is portrayed as the only ethical style of fishing and those who take fish for eating are looked down on, and even prohibited from certain waters.  This really hit home for me when I was reading a cookbook published by one of America's largest fishing tackle companies.  It had some good recipes and some interesting stor…

Leftover Barbecue Soup

I took the bone from an uncured ham that
I smoked for 10 hours over live hickory coals last week. This, I boiled for several hours. After removing the bone, I added about 1 pound of chopped barbecue, 1 lb of white beans, an onion chopped fine, a few cloves of minced garlic, a big can of stewed tomatoes, frozen chopped spinach, salt,pepper and crushed red pepper to taste.

A different sort of pepper sauce

Often, I want the flavor of a pepper sauce without the vinegar/fermented taste of Tabasco, Texas Pete, Louisiana, Franks, etc or the heat of a Mexican sauce like El Yucateca (which is my favorite hot pepper sauce), and not a sauce made from dried or roasted peppers. I love those in the right combination, but some times, I want a less hot or acidic taste. I want the fresh, green flavor, enhanced by making a sauce. I have come up with a wine and fresh pepper sauce: Take the peppers of your choice... cubanelles. anaheim, poblano, wax, banana, peperoncini, cherry, bell, baby bell.... anything from sweet to a bit hot. Remove the seeds and stems. Toss them in a blender or food processor or along with a few cloves of garlic, onions, scallions or shallots, a good handful of parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Add to this about a half cup of white wine. If you use chardonnay, or another low acid white, add a splash of lemon or lime juice. If you use a wine with sparkling acidity like a good sauvi…


I just returned from a remarkably unsuccessful surf fishing trip.  It was just before a hurricane and the fish were just not biting.  The only "keepers" I caught, I did so with my cast net while catching minnows for bait.  I continued to fish every high tide, because the simple act of surf fishing is enjoyable - the sand, the water, the sea birds, the indescribable beauty of the shore... but, at low tide I visited a little tidal creek.  I caught blue crabs down there but mainly, I gathered shellfish.  I ate my fill of raw oysters daily, just shucking them and slurping them down while standing in the mud.  I gathered beautiful, sweet, meaty clams and buckets full of mussels.

The clams went into a simple chowder - onions and celery sweated down in butter until translucent, bacon, whole milk and half and half, potatoes, salt and pepper.

The Mussels were the star of the table.  I found them along the edges, in huge colonies clinging to the aquatic grasses and reeds.  I could have …

Broth and Stock

There are some things so ubiquitous in my daily cooking that I rarely give them the attention I should.Perhaps chief among these are broths and stocks.A good cook wastes nothing.In my family tradition of cooking, all scraps of meat, vegetables, fish, bones, etc were utilized.A good deal of kitchen scraps were used to feed pets and livestock.... it is strange for me to think that most dogs now days eat only store bought dog food -our dogs on the farm, lived long and healthy lives eating "dog bread" (leftover cornbread or stale biscuits) soaked in gravy, meat scraps from the kitchen and plenty of cut offs from butchering livestock and game.The choice bits though (and plenty of not so choice bits) fed the family and enriched countless dishes by being utilized for broths and stocks.
Generally speaking the difference between broth and stock is that broth is made with meat and stock is made with bones. However, this is not a hard and fast rule.It is more useful to consider meat the…


Although pizza is not generally considered Southern, in recent decades it has become as ubiquitous as hamburgers. I was very fortunate to grow up in a small resort village in the Appalachian mountains of NC, where Italian-Americans were perhaps 1/3rd of the population. I grew up on good pizza, homemade dough, homemade sauce, home made sausage, herbs and tomatoes from the garden. Over the past few years, I have had the remarkable misfortune to lodge in a "village" comprised of at least 90% yankees, with the worst pizza on earth. They all claim to be experts on pizza... and most everything else, but there is only one restaurant in town that makes fresh dough... and that is Little Caesars - the rest all use frozen dough, canned sauce and other abominations! Here, in this "village" (I put it in quotes, because one cannot have a village comprised entirely of rude and/or unfriendly retired yankees... a village denotes community), I must make even what is generally consid…

Fried Cornbread

Where I come from, fried cornbread has only 3 ingredients: Plain  Cornmeal, Water and Salt..... as my great-great grandmother taught my great grandmother, my great grandmother taught my grandmother, my grandmother taught my mother and my mother taught me.  Actually, this recipe goes back at least to the 1600s in my family.

Actually, I can't give a specific "recipe", because one does not exist.  Each person who cooks it alters the proportions to taste.  Some add more water for thinner, crispier, lacier edges.  Some add less water for thicker, softer patties.  Some add more or less salt.  Some like it browner, like the dark, caramelized areas on pan fried chicken.  My uncle added fresh chopped onion, a dash of garlic powder and a dash of cayenne pepper (which was considered heresy.... tasty, tasty heresy).

Basically, you just make a slurry of cornmeal and water and salt to taste.  It should look about like this:

Then heat oil for frying in a cast iron pan about medium hot.  D…

My Chili Recipe

I've eaten a lot of great chili. Texas chili is awesome and has no beans. New Mexico chili (red and green) is fantastic... my great uncle makes an awesome pork chili verde! Midwestern chili is great in a diner, with freshly chopped onions an cheddar cheese. Carolina (N&S) style hamburgers would not bee complete without that specific style of drive in chili and a Nathan's hotdog just has to have that coney sauce. That said, I make damn good chili. I don't know what style it is, but I've spent years perfecting it. I use beans, not for filler but for flavor. The right beans add richness and sweetness and savoriness. Honestly, the technique is at least as important as the recipe - I'll probably need to do a video. Rex Stout, in a Nero Wolfe novel, wrote that chili was America's original gourmet food. European tradition says that we have 5 tastes; salty, sweet, savory, sour and bitter. Japanese tradition adds one more "umami", which is that hard to des…

A Primer on Cornmeal and Cornbread

As any elementary school student knows, corn was first cultivated in the "New World" by natives.  This was one of the first great foods taken back to Europe by explorer's and a staple of colonial cooking.  Cornmeal is simply ground dried corn.  Early Americans took to corn quickly and began figuring out ways to make bread and whisky from it.  Corn is actually more "American than apple pie", as it was a staple crop that enabled the independence of settler's from British and European imports.

Today, when one shops at a grocery store, one is likely to see several different brands and varieties of cornmeal.  There will be "Plain Cornmeal" in white and yellow varieties and "Self Rising" cornmeal also in yellow and white.  Most of these will be fine ground.  If you go to a specialty store (or  gristmill), you may see medium and coarse ground options, as well as other colors of cornmeal.  But, the average person only comes into contact with a fe…

Advice on Collards

If you don't like collards, here is my advice: You never know what type of collard greens those are in the grocery store or where they come from. Collards can actually be grown and harvested most of the year, but the best, sweetest ones come straight from the field after the first frost. The old fashioned "cabbage head", also called Morris heading, are best. Stay away from loose or "Georgia" collards. You'll know they are good if you try a tender bit of a stem right where it joins the leaf. It should be sweet with just a hint of bitterness. We only cook them with fatback and salt ( no sugar or hamhock), but to each his own. To cook collards: wash the leaves thoroughly, tear out the stems, chop the leaves into long, thick ribbons, chop the tender parts of the stems and discard the tough parts. Render out a few slices of fatback in a deep, wide pot. Remove the fatback and add some collards. Place the lid on just long enough for that bunch to wilt down and make…