This is the time of year when the menu changes each day to show off the best produce our local land can offer. Best of all this season means more and more local products are being worked into the menu from our favorite growers. With all the work getting the patio up and running, I’ve been very slow updating you on those changes. There are many more underway and still to come, but I did find a few minutes this weekend to snap some shots of three of our new favorites, two of which are reinvented Big Jones classics.
A couple of weeks ago on a rainy rainy Wednesday, we came across green tomatoes at Growing Power’s stand at the Green City Market. It made my day. My week, really. They’re supplying us now with beautiful green beefsteaks. We bread them with Three Sisters Garden cornmeal and deep fry them. They’re paired with deviled egg puree (Moore Family Farm eggs) smoked buttermilk (house cultured from Kilgus skim milk,) pickle salad (made in house, many suppliers,) and ruby streaks mustard greens (also growing power.) That combines a lot of southern in a single small plate!
Reezy-peezy is a dish we’ve done in the past and to which I’ve always harbored a special attachment, given my interest in slave cabin cooking and also historic foodways, heirloom crops, and interesting vegetables. When we got our wood grill this spring I couldn’t wait to bring the dish back with vegetables grilled over wood, which I thought would pair well with the haunting smokiness of the sea island red peas. Low and behold, this summer Anson Mills has introduced laurel-aged Charleston gold rice, which is the most astonishing (and delicious) rice I have ever tasted. We prepare the rice, pound it, shape it into cakes, and grill it with the vegetables. This is a vegetable dish for everyone who loves interesting foods packed with unique flavor and terroir. Over the summer the vegetables will change seasonally, pictured here are baby squash from Nichol’s Orchard, asparagus from Mick Klug, spring onions and easter egg radishes from Green Acres, and king trumpet mushrooms from Goodness Greeness.
It’s finished with a drizzle of extra virgin corn oil from Yakuzen for its special nutty, buttery, vanilla notes and supremely creamy texture. As much as this dish seems fancy and perhaps even a bit fussy, it’s interesting to note that all of these ingredients (save the extra virgin corn oil, and the mushrooms would have been different) would have been garden or basic pantry items in slave cabin cooking, so this could very much be considered an ancestral dish of soul food. To you and I it seems exotic, but to many in the Carolina Lowcountry three hundred years ago, this type of ingredient combination would have been routine, down to the specific cultivars of the peas and rice. The irony is that while slaves would have eaten these foods because they were available and cheap or free but for the work of growing or foraging them, they come to us in 2011 Chicago at a price. Ingredients of such humble origins come at a steep price today because we buy them at market instead of growing them ourselves, and these old heirlooms are fussy to grow and therefore are often expensive.
This one is going to be subject to an Anatomy of a Dish post shortly so I’ll be brief. The sea island benne comes in two forms – benne cake flour and whole seeds. We buy both from Anson Mills and as with all of their products, it’s humbling to handle them and we try hard not to mess them up. They give their nutty flavor to a creamy spongecake recipe sweetened with gallberry honey, which is yielded of an interesting holly bush and finds itself unfortunately listed on the Slow Food Ark of Taste. It is one of the finest honeys I’ve ever tasted, with sweet treacly richness besparkled by citrusy notes lent by the intensely acidic soils in which the evergreen grows, so I hope we can keep this historic foodway alive. You can help by buying some of this cake! The herbaceous sweetness of Lillet and gentle floral lift of a hint of violet elevate the cake while the tart, slightly bitter crystallized lime lightens the whole dish while providing a bit of textural interest with its slight crunch. More on the butter roux icing when I write up the recipe in the next week or two – this is voluptuous stuff!