Monday, April 26, 2010


BEAUTIFUL SWIMMERS, Callinectes Sapidus, or how 'bout Carolina Blue Crab? They're awake, after spending the winter buried in the mucky muck of the sounds. When the water warms, they emerge, stretch their legs and hopefully, land in the crab pots constructed or repaired all along NC's coastal villages during the winter and which are now being set out in the Pamlico and Albermarle sounds. Because they're rather hungry and rather randy after their long sleep, they're easily lured into crab pots baited with fish, chicken necks or "jimmies" that the females are quite interested in!

On a quick, unexpected trip to a NC beach a few days ago, we scored my first pound of freshly picked crabmeat for the season. I felt like a kid at Christmas who had to wait to ride my new bike until the rain stopped....and I could hardly wait till dinner to warm some in butter. It beats lobster, hands down, any old time. Sweet, tender, bursting with the flavor of the sea, it was divine.
My seafood buddy in New Bern, Ray Hautch at J & B Seafood on HWY 70, tells me that NC crabbers are expecting a rather sad season. Some folks have given up crabbing altogether, he says. Up in the Chesapeake, however, they're expecting a bumper crop. Why's that? I'll have to check it out, and I'll let you know.

It seems almost foolish to give this as a recipe, for there's nothing as simple as spooning cleaned, picked-through crabmeat into melted butter!
I love to serve this as a main course, with perhaps a green veggie, esp. asparagus. You may also ladle it over pasta, or a toasted slice of baguette. For appetizers, I like to fill small puff pastry "bowls" with the crabmeat. You'll find them in the freezer section of your grocery.
1 pound cleaned crabmeat (preferably jumbo lump)
2 to 4 tablespoons of butter (depending on how sinful you'll feel using butter)
1/2 lemon
sprinkle of chopped chives and/or fresh thyme, chopped
sprinkle of Old Bay seasoning, if you like

1. With your fingers, pick through the crabmeat and remove any pieces of cartilege you may find.
2. Melt butter in a saute pan over medium heat.
3. Add crabmeat, and allow to simmer for just 2 to 4 minutes, until warmed through. Gently stir in the juice of the lemon half, the herbs and Old Bay.
4. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Yes, ramps stink. These "Easter onions" linger on your breath longer than raw garlic. Kids used to be sent home from school because of their bad breath after eating a "bait" of them. Put a sliver in your ice chest, even wrapped multiple times in plastic, and you'll still have to bleach the lingering smell away.
No matter. Ramps are one of those special foods that are so wrapped up with the culture and terroir, and, they add a terrific flavor to what could be blase´ foods.
Mention ramps to older folks in the Appalachians, and they'll wax rhapsodic. Ramps are one of the first harbingers of spring, a welcome green sprouting from winter's grasp. Gathering ramps up in the hollers and ridges was and is a time-honored ritual, as much a part of the Appalachian culture as growing apples or making moonshine. Traditionally chopped and fried up with "Irish" potatoes, or snipped into scrambled eggs, or just eaten raw, they are considered by those in the highlands a true gourmet delight. And chefs across America are jumping onto the ramp bandwagon, with ramps being served in LA, Chicago and NY city. (In fact, Chicago got its name from a Native American word for the "stinking onion.")
A recent TIMES magazine article suggested that "the Church of Ramp is one of the fastest-growing denominations in the religion of seasonality." Maybe ramps are the new arugula, it asks. Then the article goes a bit too far, quoting David Kamp, author of The Food Snob's Dictionary. "For food snobs.....ramps are overcelebrated and overly scrutinized, like the first ballgame played in April, even with 161 more games ahead."
Tell that to the folks in the Blue Ridge, who worship the ramp at several time-honored communal festivals.

A member of the Allium genus, the lily family, it's akin to wild leeks and wild garlic. During late March through early May, their tender, broad green leaves shoot up from the ground, leaving the bulb hiding below. They like sandy soil in buckeye flats or under the bare branches of poplar, oak, or sugar maple trees in the hollers and valleys above 3,000 feet.
As with morels, the tasty wild mushroom that pops up about the same time, folks can be rather secretive about where they find ramps. Others nourish their patches. Some obtain permission from the national forests to harvest ramps.
With many chefs featuring wild ramps on their seasonal, spring menus, there's been a higher demand for wild harvests. And that has made some folks angry, because some ramp hunters have depleted entire patches. Folks are being encouraged to select the tender leaves and just a few bulbs, and some sow the bright red seeds back in the wild to enable patches to be replenished.

Note that no ladies took "the bait" at last year's Ramp-Eating Contest at Whitetop Mountain Ramp Festival near Mount Rogers, VA, held annually the third Sunday in May. The deal is to see how many bulbs you can wash down with the bottle of water provided. It seems the trick is barely chewing and swallowing quickly without choking. The winner "ate"57. His prize? A bottle of mouthwash.
During the afternoon, several bands played wonderful old-time mountain and bluegrass music. On the improvised wooden dance floor laid under a grove of huge old trees, folks clogged by themselves or waltzed or two-stepped with partners who didn't mind the smell of ramp breath.
This sweet little lady was 94 years old, and loved to dance. Her husband, her dance partner for 70-some years, had died the year before. It was touching to see the young men in their twenties, and older men, who took turns asking her to dance.

Ramps fried with white potatoes accompanied the barbecued chicken tended by the community grillmasters. Each year, money raised at this Ramp Festival helps to support the work of the Mount Rogers Volunteer Fire Dept. and Rescue Squad.

RAMP FESTIVALS in NC and southern VA for 2010:

April 24 - 25 Ramp Dinner & Appalachian Dinner/Concert at Stecoah Valley Center in Robbinsville, NC
April 24, Buladean Fire Dept, near Bakersville, NC Annual Ramp & Soup Bean Dinner at 11 until the food runs out. 828 688-4322
April 25 Kana'Ti Lodge at Max Patch Mountain, 3 pm Trout & Ramps Fish Fry and Foraged Forest Greens Fundraiser 828 622-7398 At 11 am, there's a guided mushroom hunt.
May 2 Waynesville NC Ramp Festival, NC's largest ramp festival with food, and country and bluegrass music 800 334-9036
May 16 Whitetop Mountain Ramp Festival (VA) 11a - 6p 276 388-3422

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Foodie Feastivals


Spring is my favorite time of the year. Seeing bud break, the first violets, redbuds, daffodils and bluets means that in a very short while the farmers markets will be brimming with fresh produce, greens and fruits that my taste buds are aching for. The chickens will be laying once again, goats and cows will be sharing their milk, and livestock will move to greener pastures.
Ramps, the harbingers of spring in mountain hollers, are slower to bulb this year, due to this year's mean, cold winter, says Palette Butler, co-owner of Veranda Cafe in Black Mountain. She shared a recipe for Rampalicious Chicken Soup for THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK, which will be available next week!
In the meanwhile, April brings festivals for foodies to enjoy:

CUPCAKES FOR CURES (, Saturday, April 10th,
1 to 4 pm at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville. For a donation, you get to stuff your face
with creative cupcakes made by competing professional bakers or amateurs, who hope
to earn bragging rights and fantastic prizes. In keeping with the true spirit of Asheville,
categories include Best Beer Cupcake, Best Gluten-Free Cupcake, as well as best holiday
or birthday or local foods cupcakes.

April 15 through 18th, Blowing Rock. Join winemaker dinners, watch an Iron Chef-like
competition, Fire on the Rocks, join house tours, champagne brunches, and a chance to
taste many of the fine wines made in the Blue Ridge area of NC and VA. I'll be there to
Meet and Greet on Friday afternoon, and under the Big Tent with all the wines and
gourmet foods, when THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK makes its debut

Down east, the little town of Grifton will hold its 40th SHAD FESTIVAL also on
April 17th & 18th along the banks of Contentnea Creek. EAT MO' SHAD as in fried
or in a delicious traditional fish stew and enjoy the carnival-like atmosphere of kiddie
rides and other fair food.

The largest sustainable farm tour in the country is the annual PIEDMONT FARM
Tour, April 24th & 25th, sponsored by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Assoc. and
Weaver Street Markets. In Orange, Chatham and other counties, you can visit buffalo,
a third-generation beef farm, see the work that goes into producing organically grown
veggies and fruits, and the efforts behind getting chevre and other cheeses to the
market. It's a chance to expose your kids, and your friends, to the world of farming.
Get your tickets in advance at Weaver St Markets and area farmers markets.
For $25 per car, you can visit up to 40 farms, although usually only 3 to 4 in one good

Dessert for our Easter dinner! Since cream products bother my kids and me, I cut back on the cream cheese in the frosting, and fiddled with the cake batter, too! It was a winner!!

adapted from Ina Garten

For the cake batter:
2 cups sugar
1 1/3 cup canola oil
4 medium/large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons gorund cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 pound carrots, grated
1/2 cup diced fresh pineapple

For the frosting:
1/2 pound (1 large package) cream cheese, room temp
2 sticks (1/2 lb.) butter, room temp
1 teaspoon vanilla
About 1 pound confectioners' sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans, then line with parchment paper, then butter again and dust with flour.
2. Beat the sugar, oil, and eggs together in a large bowl, using an electric beater. Beat until light yellow. Add the vanilla.
3. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and slowly mix just until all is moist.
5. With a spatula, fold in the raisins and walnuts, then the carrots and pineapple, mixing well.
6. Divide the batter between the two prepared pans. Bake for about 1 hour, more or less, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
7. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans over a wire rack.
8. With an electric mixer, cream together the cream cheese and butter and vanilla. Gradually add the sugar until you've got a spreadable mixture.
9. Place one layer of cake on your serving dish, and spread its top with the frosting. Place the second layer on top, and spread the frosting on the top and sides. Wipe the edges of the plate clean. Lick your fingers and your spreader.
10. Place in the refrigerator under cover.