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Muscadine merriment + a perky salad for your Thanksgiving table

1 Muscadines

I know it might be too late now for Muscadines since it was a whopping 19 degrees outside our Asheville door this morning. But this celebrated southern native grape keeps well when refrigerated, and as of Monday, growers at the WNC farmer’s market still had some baskets stashed away. If you live around the Asheville area, you really should run over there this very second and grab them …  or be ready for their arrival next fall.  Since Thanksgiving is truly the only American holiday that celebrates our legendary native foods, deep purple Muscadines fit in nicely, bestowing a splash of vibrant healthful bling to the festive table.

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Muscadine grapes grow from West Virginia clear down to Florida, but North Carolina lays claim to the origins of this voluptuously-flavored southern belle. The bronze-skinned Scuppernong variety was discovered/found growing, by colonists in the mid 1500s. The term Muscadine refers to both the black cultivar (my particular favorite) and the greenish/bronze varieties, but most folks call the black ones Muscadines and the greenish bronze ones Scuppernongs. I’m no expert but there are a LOT of people who are, namely these North Carolinians and these.

I sauce the grapes and then water-bath can several versions of the innards. First wash, de-stem, and put them in a non-aluminum pot. This 5 quart pot holds about 5 pounds of grapes. Do NOT add any water. Squish the grapes however it suits you, the guts are green. Notice the matching pot.

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Ready, Set, Go!!! It’s Hart Square Cabin Village Time.

smokin hams

Grab your bonnet and pony up, it’s almost Hart Square time. If you enjoy visiting historic villages, you will not want to miss a visit to this one on October 26th (2013). Hart square, in little old Hickory, NC is home to the largest collection of historic log structures in the United States. Plus, you can’t even begin to believe the killer regional primitives inside the 70 plus cabins. Read more about Bob Hart’s story below and also in Our State Magazine and my post from last fall.

The 1840 “village” is only open to the public once a year; each building is hosted by costumed docents who are experts on their various crafts from sorghum making to doctoring, to chair making, spinning, cotton ginning, quilting, hearth cooking and so much more. The Catawba Historical Society is selling tickets to individuals beginning October 1, and they go fast. Do not dawdle if you are serious about attending. You’ll find ticket information below. I will be there with an old-timey picnic and my feller, Wayne, who will be appropriately attired to fiddle and frail porch-side with plenty of his talented pals. See you there!!

daniel boone man

hearth cooking

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Southern cowpea, butterbean & legume greed

field peas

Here’s why you should slow down and take the back roads. You might run into a Georgia roadside stand with zipper peas, crowder peas, lady peas, and pink-eyed peas. Honey sweet peaches, silver queen corn, and greasy beans. As if that’s not enough, along comes the roadside Spring Creek dairy with fresh churned buttermilk, butter, cheese and ice cream. It’s summer in the south.

osage farms

 There’s a whole other world just down the mountain from this summer’s rainy chilly Asheville. It’s 23 minutes longer to take 441 instead of I-85 to Atlanta to visit our daughter, Rita. So says Google maps, but they’re wrong. It’s a good two hours and possibly two days/weeks/months longer because there’s so many fun things to do along the way. Roadside vegetable and dairy stands, scores of antique stores, “Goats on the Roof” (not kidding),  picnicking, and the drop-dead-gorgeous Smoky mountains.

sharing lunch

This is not a goat on the roof, but it is a goat. On the right is my nephew, the coolest little kid ever. Anyway, Rita and I ended our sweet visit on Monday by going to the DeKalb international farmer’s market in Atlanta. Holy moly, if you ever get a chance, go there. Food and people from everywhere on earth it seems. I spotted fresh chickpeas and pretty much grabbed all that were left, being as I’ve never had them before. It was the beginning of legume greed. Now I  have legume tummy, which I will spare you the details of, but it’s worth it. So here’s my official advice, if you see a shelled peas sign like this at a roadside stand …  seize the zipper. I bought 5 pints that were already shelled ($4 is a good deal), but shelling is fun if you get a chance.

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Pie Lady Class at the John C Campbell Folk School

rhubarb pie

Sometimes the stars all line up and the electromagnetic vortex of life just falls into place … for example, last week at the JC Campbell Folk school where I had the great honor to teach A WHOLE ENTIRE WEEK of pie-making to a lovely group of ladies from all over the US. (Cooking classes are usually mixed-gender, this was my first ladies class.)  In case you are not familiar with the JCC Folk school in Brasstown, it was established in 1925 as a place where “folk” could come together as a community in a non-competitive environment to learn a trade/craft/skill in the gorgeous western NC mountains.

super flaky quiche crust

And while it might seem like the task at hand for us last week was to learn the craft of the flaky pie crust (oh do get a load of the flakes these ladies produced!), that’s not the actual point. See, pie’s about bringing folks to the table. It begs to be shared, adored, savored, and enjoyed along with the conversation that takes up where the last flake of buttery crust leaves off. Now, that’s the good stuff .. the blabbing among friends and loved ones. Sort of like what the Folk School is all about.

Ladies in black rollin the dough

Just look at the deft handling of these pie crusts. These were Pillsbury pie crust ladies, for real, before last week.

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A cooking class from the magic storybook-land of Aosta

There’s a fairy tale behind the Rustic Italian Alpine cooking class I’m teaching next week…. Once upon a time (in 2007), our eldest, Annie decided to walk the 900 km Camino de Santiago from the Pyrenees in southern France to the coast of northern Spain. Alone.

They say you meet your soulmate on the Camino … so along comes Gianluca, an Italian engineer  …

and blah blah blah … before you know it, this happens …

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A visit to Hart Square 1840 pioneer village

It was 47 degrees in our bedroom this morning. And not much less than that outside. Our bedroom is in the uninsulated 1880 part of our house which we don’t even bother to heat. We just pile on the quilts and snuggle down. Our sleeping arrangements aren’t much different that those who inhabited the gazillion and one log cabins that have been lovingly rescued and restored at Hart Square in Hickory NC, where we visited last Saturday. If you are a fan of NC pioneer heritage, then this is the place/book for you.

The short version of the story is that Bob Hart, a retired family physician in Hickory, NC has been rescuing and restoring antique log structures within a 25 mile radius of his 200 acre farm for the last 40 or so years. With 80-some-odd buildings or more at present (he’s not done), this is the largest collection of authentic historic log buildings in the US. The village hosts groups and events throughout the year, but it is open to the public for a living history extravaganza the fourth saturday in October and you better get your ticket quick because they sell out in about 30 seconds.

Not only are the log buildings themselves shocking (we’re talking homes, school, post office, tavern, chapels, covered bridge, smokehouses, general store, millinery, pottery, on and on and on), the innards are packed with period primitives that will leave you quivering, if you like that sort of thing, that is, and you know who you are. I once heard a rumor that when Bob Hart went to an auction, nobody had the “heart” to bid against him, and that might be true from the looks of his collection of hand-hewn furnishings that you just don’t see anymore. Hardly.

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