Posts filed under ‘Southern Cakes’
I’ve been a fan and a customer of Mr. Stanley Hughes and Pine Knot Farms since we moved home to North Carolina from Southern California in 1999. His family farm out in Hurdle Mills, 12 miles north of Hillsborough, produces a marvelous organic harvest which he sells to area chefs and to the public at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market. His justifiably famous sweet potatoes first caught my attention, as I am a fool for them in any form. His yearlong bounty of tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers and yellow squash, canteloupes, strawberries and watermelon, collards, kale, and Swiss chard have kept me coming back, stopping by the table where a visit with him and his wife, Linda Leach, feeds my spirit just as their vegetables brighten my kitchen. I wrote this story about Mr. Hughes in Edible Piedmont’s Winter 2009 issue. “Stewards of the Land” included him among six Piedmont North Carolina farmers profiled HERE . Pine Knot Farms’ website is right HERE. This past Saturday, I joined hundreds of friends, fans, customers, neighbors, and family members on the 100-year-old Hughes family farm, to celebrate its centennial birthday, which brought designation as a North Carolina Century Farm. From the day in 1912 when Mr. Hughes’s grandfather purchased the farm, it has been in continuous operation, its 125 acres supporting the Hughes family for one hundred years. What a reason to celebrate, and what a fine celebration they created on a gorgeous, late-summer afternoon. Here’s a small peek at a big, bountiful, joyful gathering in rural Orange County, NC. My friend Diane Robertson congratulates Linda and Stanley on their great success, in organic farming, growing and running a successful small business, and in throwing a fantastic memorable party! An abundance of friends-in-farming stopped by, including fellow vendors at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, Alex and Betsy Hitt of Peregrine Farms. Here’s Alex with Stanley. I got to visit over lunch with my friends Kate Medley and Emily Wallace, feasting on an astounding and extensive repast of old-school family-reunion-quality cooking. Here’s my plate; my initial plate, actually. At 12 o’clock, you see a fried chicken leg teetering atop candied yams (sweet potatoes cut into french-fry sized chunks and cooked with butter and sugar). To the right, chicken and dumplings, just like my grandmother made them. Next is “beantown”: greenbeans/stringbeans, field peas (maybe crowders, or lady peas? Please do leave me a comment if you can set me straight here, or just have an opinion about it), and butterbeans, both of which are cooked with corn. Next set is lima beans/butterbeans cooked with curls of streak o’ lean, a beloved porky seasoning meat which is kin to bacon but with the big accent on the fat, and red peas. The grand finale is chicken and country ham, the latter cooked by host Linda Leach, who didn’t let the challenges of putting on this grand, extensive party keep her from cooking up two peach cobblers, a country ham, and more. I loved it when a young family member walked out to greet me as I came up the driveway, handing me my program in the form of a cardboard fan, the kind we literally prayed for when sitting in my grandparents’ church on a July Sunday, back in the days before air conditioning adjusted the summertime for us.
Pieces of the farm’s past arranged inside the big, beautiful ‘shed’ where the crowd lined up for food and enjoyed shelter when rain showed up a time or two. I loved the Hershey’s cocoa can made from metal, the coffee mill, Cheerwine or RC Cola bottle, irons, and a Lodge Cast Iron cornbread skillet. This school desk came from the old schoolhouse which stood on the farm property. Family elders and longtime neighbors reminisced about schooldays there. The piece of wood on top of the desk was used in planting tobacco. Elders recalled (and demonstrated by pantomime right there by the desk) poking the seeds down into a hill of dirt as they worked a row, planting the new crop.
I find this so beautiful and profound. I also find it poignant: I cannot begin to imagine how tired people must feel walking home after another day of ‘working tobacco’, in the blistering, merciless heat of a North Carolina summertime. This is how the tobacco was prepared to be placed in the tobacco barn to cure.
This broom was made by Stanley Hughes’s father, who grew the plants he used in the summertime, dried it in the fall, and crafted the brooms during the winter when the outdoor farmwork took a backseat to the weather.
It was the sweetest, easiest day. As things wound down, I was standing out back talking with Mr. Ricky, Hughes-family friend, neighbor, and pitmaster, who was working the gigantic smoker on which he had cooked a whole pig (starting at 5:00 a.m.). Looking up, I noticed what I interpret as commentary from the universe on the occasion, the celebration, and the location. The Southern Foodways Alliance‘s oral history collection includes interviews Carrboro Farmers’ Market vendors. My friend Kate Medley (and lunch buddy, see above) recorded an wonderful interview and video with Mr. Stanley Hughes, which you can enjoy on the SFA website HERE
Pine Knot Farms 1912 – 2012. Going strong, growing strong. To the next hundred years!
Mother’s Cinnamon Pecan Coffee Cake, photographed by Becky Lugart-Stayner
This classic cake makes an excellent centerpiece for Christmas morning breakfast, which is when my mother always served it to our family prior to the gift-fest around the Christmas tree. She made it ahead of time and warmed it up gently in the oven, covered with foil. I do the same thing, but we go right to the Christmas tree and turn to orange juice, coffee, and this simple and wonderful cake as a breather. Country-style sausage patties, scrambled eggs, cream gravy, and biscuits follow, once every present has been opened, and all that holds us until a Christmas dinner much later in the day. I love this time of year, and I love going to my local grocery store and seeing a major section of the green metal shelves lining the baking aisle completely empty, except for a snowy dusting of flour. Clearly, people who don’t bake constantly turn to it and hooray for that! I hope this time of year pleases you, whether you decorate, bake, and watch favorite movies, or whether you travel, hibernate, or pass the time in simple ways.
Mother’s Cinnamon Pecan Coffee Cake
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, melted
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspooon vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
Heat the oven to 350 F, and grease and flour a 13-by-9-inch pan. To make the filling, combine the light brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a medium bowl, and stir with a fork to mix everything well. Combine the raisins and pecans in another bowl and toss to mix them. Place the cinnamon mixture, the nut mixture, and the melted butter by the baking pan.
To make the coffeecake batter, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl, and stir with a fork to mix them together well. Stir the vanilla into the milk. In a large bowl, combine the butter and the sugar, and beat with a mixer at high speed, stopping to scrape down the bowl, until they are pale yellow and evenly mixed, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and beat for another 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl now and then, until the mixture is smooth and light.
Using a large spoon or a spatula, add about a third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and stir only until the flour disappears. Add about a third of the milk and mix it in. Repeat two more times with the remaining flour and milk, stirring just enough each time to keep the batter smooth.
Spread half the batter evenly over the bottom of the prepared pan. Sprinkle half the cinnamon mixture over the batter, followed by half the melted butter. Scatter half the raisins and nuts over the batter, and then carefully spread the remaining batter over the filling, using a spatula or a spoon to smooth the surface all the way to the edges of the pan. Repeat the process, using the remaining cinnamon mixture, butter, and nut mixture to cover the cake evenly.
Bake at 350 F for 45 to 50 minutes, until the cake is golden brown, fragrant, and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool the cake in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes on wire racks or a folded kitchen towel, and then serve in squares right from the pan. The cake is delicious hot, warm, or at room temperature.
This recipe comes from Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations (Chronicle Books 2007), by Nancie McDermott. All rights reserved.