Saturday, November 29, 2014

Evergreen's Appalachian Journey Food Storybank Project And A Recipe For Chicken and Dumplings

~I was lucky enough to get to know a fine group of students from Evergreen Community Charter School  earlier this month, and discovered a story worth sharing. I was invited to participate in their Appalachian Journey Food Storybank project, an extension of Slow Food Asheville's oral cataloguing of local history and food memories. The 8th grade class was divided into small groups of 4, and were each assigned a person within the community to interview.

The story printed this week in the Asheville Citizen Times and is one I feel proud to have been associated with. Kudos to the students and Storybank leader, Marin Leroy: a devoted team of trailblazers.~

(Leader of chicken processing: Adam Billings of Four Feathers Farm)

(Students, teachers and local farmers involved with chicken processing)

This year, Slow Food Asheville and Evergreen Community Charter School teamed up to create the Appalachian Journey Food Storybank Project, an oral history of local food traditions.
An extension of the school’s Appalachian Journey studies, guided by environmental education coordinator Marin Leroy, the project aimed to record stories from voices across the region while giving the students an opportunity to practice conducting formal interviews, to be archived at the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.
Each group of eighth-grade participants collected reflections and recipes from interviewees nominated by fellow community members. The recipes were used by the students for their project’s finale, which included a shindig potluck featuring traditional Appalachian dishes they cooked themselves.
Experiential education was the foundation of the project, with a focus on hands-on learning. The students even learned a valuable lesson about processing poultry.
“They learned to make stack cakes using apple butter they made themselves, cooked collard greens in yesterday’s chicken fat, pickled beets harvested from our school garden, and made scratch-made chicken and dumplings using chickens they slaughtered themselves,” said Leroy. “Through the discovery of Appalachian flavors, the student’s connection with the curriculum has been profound in a way they could have never experienced through reading textbooks.”
As part of a food culture often dotted with drive-thrus and rife with prepackaged convenience food items, Evergreen students chose to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction by getting their hands dirty and creating recipes from scratch.
“For me, this experience was really beneficial with learning about how people used to always do things,” explained eighth grade Storybank participant Ili Wickliffe. “If a family wanted meat, they would have to harvest it themselves. Simply going to the store to buy meat wasn’t a very common option.”
Students from Ili’s group opted to prepare their traditional recipe of chicken and dumplings from the very beginning. With the help of two experienced local farmers, the students processed the chickens themselves.
“I was affected by the experience, because I witnessed something I never had before, and now I have a better understanding of where my food comes from,” said fellow group participant Gavin Reep.
Although the chickens were harvested on one of the coldest mornings of the season, the group showed genuine devotion. They helped pluck the chickens and prepare broth from the harvest for their recipe.
“This project has left many different impressions on me,” said Rebecca Molaro. “But the one that really sticks out the most is the element of reality that is added to what you’re eating when you actually slaughtered it yourself.
“When you don’t see or know the process, it’s easy to just see the chicken on your plate and think nothing about it,” she continued. “Now that I have experienced this, I know how real the animal was and still is.”

Students used their interviews to create written profiles of the interviewees, record recipes and better understand Appalachian history.
The shindig served as a place to celebrate each group’s hard work throughout the project with good food, a video compilation of interview highlights, live music and festive contra dance. Reflecting on the project, student Drake Tomlinson said, “The whole thing was a really unique experience and I’m grateful that I got to participate.”
As the shindig festivities continued in earnest, onlookers could witness the gap between field and plate, middle-schooler and baby-boomer diminish.
A smiling teacher watching the students dance alongside fellow classmates, interviewees, parents and facility, turned to assistant administrator Sarah Shoemaker and said, “This is by far, the best night of the year.”
For more information on the Appalachian Journey Food Storybank Project, visit
(Ili, Gavin, Drake and Becca processing the chickens)

(Becca, Ili, Marin, Drake and Gavin making the dumplings for their dish)

1 whole pastured chicken, roasted, meat removed from bones
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 small sweet onion, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
5-6 carrots, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
5-6 cups chicken broth
Sea salt
Black pepper
1 cup frozen peas
Place a large heavy soup pot over medium heat with olive oil or butter. Add onion, celery and carrots. Saute 5 minutes, stirring often. Add garlic. Saute another 2 minutes. Add all meat from chicken. Season with sea salt and pepper. Pour in the broth. Bring to a slow simmer, and cover. Allow to simmer for at 15 minutes. Season to taste. Meanwhile, make dumplings.
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon aluminum free baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 cup buttermilk
Sift together dry ingredients. Cut in the butter and incorporate into flour mixture with fingertips until it resembles a coarse meal. Add parsley. Stir to blend. Pour in buttermilk and gently mix with a fork until all dry ingredients are incorporated. Working in batches, spoon about 3 tablespoons of batter into palm of your hand and gently form into a ball. Drop into simmering broth one at a time to create dumplings. Repeat with remaining batter. Dumplings should cover the top of the soup pot. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cover for 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Sprinkle contents with frozen peas. Allow to cool before ladling into bowls and serving.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Slow Simmered Heirloom Beans

Thank you Ivy Creek Farm for the absolutely gorgeous bag of dried beans offered at market over the weekend, and for keeping heirlooms in the field and on the table.

Pictured here we have Kenearly Yellow Eye, Tiger Eye, and Speckled Cranberry.
After an overnight soak with a pinch of sea salt and a splash of cider vinegar they slow simmered for the better half of the day with sauteed sweet onion, garlic and chopped celery.
Creamy, buttery, sweet, pretty to look at, and completely different from canned beans in every single way possible. With a wedge of buttered skillet cornbread, this is food you could live on, everyday.
I did kick myself the whole way home from market for not searching out a ham bone.......but surprisingly, it wasn't missed (too much), and it's rare to say such a thing around here.

Viva genetic diversity!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Preserving Apples

Heating with wood has its pros and cons. When you wake up to cold floors and a thermostat needle just shy of 58 degrees and have to go outside to gather wood (before your coffee), it's hard to enjoy. But the pros are hard to beat, like sitting next to a crackly fire when the weather is nasty or warming your hands directly over the rising heat.

I have been using the wood stove more and more each year to dry things, from herbs to stale bread for making crumbs, and now apples. After seeing sliced apples strung on a piece of twine for drying on The Lovely Life, it seemed so obvious. Stringing takes up little space and looks so sweet.

The post translation didn't include any details, but I figured it would be pretty straight forward. And it is. . .

Rinse apples and slice into 1/2'' rounds. You can core them, but the natural star center is gorgeous. 

Transfer sliced apples to a bowl and arrange a place to thread onto twine. 

Once strung, I opted to bathe slices in lemon juice in hopes of keeping some nice color. 

Hang in well ventilated spot, preferably near a wood stove or fire place. Strings will be heavy, so secure well. 

Allow to dry 2-4 days. 

Apples are ready when fully dehydrated and leathery. The chewy consistency and concentrated sugars makes them fairly addictive. 


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Wait...Don't Throw It Away

This could begin by discussing the problems with our throw-away society, or how much food waste goes to the landfill annually while one in five children struggle with hunger. But I like approaching the topic of food thrift on a positive tip, because positivity can be more mobilizing.

Stretching ingredients is no longer a remnant of the depression-era. Being careful with ingredients does not specifically represent poverty, or tough times, or war. In fact, keeping scraps from the trash is in line with today's haute cuisine trend, which some may find kind of ironic.

Watching chef Sean Brock on Mind Of A Chef (a worthwhile production, thanks PBS) fry chicken skins and glaze pig tail to serve to his guests at HUSK in Charleston, SC, I was reminded of this. Being savvy in the kitchen is once again represented by wasting little, thanks to some chefs, home cooks and cookbook authors who are promoting creative ways to serve up the underserved.

I personally remember how much my mom loved pan-fried liver and onions, and I would gag as she ate them, but now blend up a pate with some regularity. I adore chicken feet for a good broth, especially at $3 a bag at farmers market. And often a good loaf of market bread doesn't get eaten fast enough and quickly becomes hard as stone. These are opportunities. Because regardless of what political group we subscribe to, (or refuse to subscribe to), or where we grew up on whatever side of the tracks, or whether we are part of the majority or the 1%, the bottom line remains the same: our resources are not limitless. Waste is u.g.l.y.

Often I feature very pretty, quality food here on this blog, but this may be giving the wrong impression. Yes, our household spends a big piece of its financial pie on food, but this does not mean our pie is big. It's realistically more of a hand pie.

Food is a personal priority, but understandably not the priority of all. Regardless, our income is precious, and much of this is represented on the chopping block. I'll be damned if I have to throw any of it away.
In fact, as I type, eggs and cream are staging a serious Cinderella story on some leftover stale boule in the oven.

So here is the recipe for this post, if there ever was one (measurements are approximate):

*If you buy the best ingredients you are able without compromising other living essentials, don't throw away the scraps, put them in the next meal.
*Underdogs are hidden, affordable treasures.
*Fillet Mignon is overplayed.
*Dogmas are too.
*Carbs are beautiful, and so is butter.
*If you move your body and cook at home, you can relax a bit about a meal's glycemic load. And everything else.
*If you sit down grateful, your food will fully feed you.