Savor: Heritage Recipes

BY Emily Brown

Teaching and tradition play vital roles in Southern cooking. Inalterable sacred guidelines handwritten on dog-eared burnt-edged index cards are passed down through the ranks for generations. Unique spins on old family recipes are recreated for Christmas reunions graduations weddings and any occasion that demands dining (or even just suggests it). Plates piled high with fried chicken okra and hot buttered biscuits are the stuff of Southern daydreams. Hungry yet?

Southern cuisine is a term used to describe food prepared in the states below the Mason-Dixon Line and to the east of Texas. Many of the dishes prepared in this area implement ingredients brought to the area in the 1700s by African American slaves and emigrants from Europe. Native Americans also helped foster Southern cuisine teaching settlers how to plant corn and hunt wild game. Some of their food preparation techniques (roasting pork over a fire pit for example) are still used throughout the South pig pickin anyone?

Though the southern United States has seen many agricultural and social changes since settlers first arrived here the food of our region has remained remarkably consistent. This is due in large part to “heritage recipes” passed down from generation to generation. Often times recipes are the only handwritten documents people have that link them to their ancestors. In this way the act of preparing food becomes a history lesson; recipes become important artifacts. Two local restaurants The Basics and Masons Haunt have incorporated some of these treasures into their menus serving up helpings of food laced with history.

Mary Long co-owner and chef at The Basics 319 N. Front Street in Historic Downtown Wilmington has found that the success of her Southern restaurant stems from merging tradition with ingenuity. Open since December 2007 The Basics offers simple breakfast lunch and dinner items such as the long-established favorites Hoppin John and collard greens. But just because the items on the menu seem basic doesnt mean their creation is simple. Much attention is paid to the preparation of all the food at the restaurant. It starts with Long in the kitchen.

Almost every recipe used at The Basics was given to Long by her two grandmothers. In fact Long says she references one grandmothers collection of recipes almost daily. Its a resource shes extremely grateful for. She has done much research to determine what staples in Southern cooking must always remain the same and what aspects can be modified often referring to cookbooks from the 1920s and 1930s that were passed down to her. Long seeks a delicate balance between the rituals of Southern cooking and the need to keep things health-conscious for the modern-day generation. All entres served nightly have their basis in historical recipes meaning the essential ingredients havent been altered from original specifications Long has transformed the food to make it appealing to the diners of 2008. “We make Southern food a little more palpable for the modern palate ” she says.

Everything served at the restaurant is fresh; ingredients never come from a can or a jar. Fruits arent processed. Condiments like mayonnaise and salad dressings are prepared in-house. (Bucking one artery-clogging Southern tradition Long never uses animal fat to season vegetables.) These minor details are extremely important as they are just some of the ways that The Basics is redefining the characteristics of Southern cuisine and gaining respect (and happy customers) along the way.

Dave Herring owner and chef at Masons Haunt restaurant 3315 Masonboro Loop Road also emphasizes freshness and the quality of the ingredients used in his kitchen. Herring says all of the items on the menu of Masons Haunt can be classified as strictly Southern.

In its first year of business Masons Haunt has already established itself as a breath-of-fresh-air eatery in the Masonboro area. Its location in close proximity to many neighborhoods draws a variety of people for breakfast lunch and dinner.

A North Carolina native Herring incorporates food hes loved his whole life traditional fried pork chops for instance into his restaurant menu using an assortment of recipes gathered during his 26 years in the restaurant business as well as lessons learned growing up in the family kitchen.

One defining characteristic of Masons Haunt that guarantees it a spot under the Southern Cuisine umbrella is this: Much of the food Herring prepares has been grown locally making it literally well Southern. The dinner menu boasts a wide variety of dishes including seafood caught here on the Azalea Coast. Whenever possible Herring purchases his vegetables from local growers “just up the road” from where hungry patrons will consume them.

For dessert guests can choose from numerous Southern-style sweets and pies including some exceedingly Southern red velvet cake. These scrumptious creations fill a large bakery case at the front of the restaurant greeting guests as soon as they walk through the door leaving them with the quintessential Southern good-bye as they exit: Yall come back now. At Masons Haunt and The Basics they dont have to ask twice.


Fried Pork Chops

Dave Herring Mason’s Haunt

2 4 to 6 ounce bone-in pork chops
1 egg
cup of milk
cup of water
1 cup of vegetable oil

Wash and pat pork chops dry.

Standard breading procedure: use an egg wash of one egg flour cup of milk and cup of water on the pork chops. Dip pork chops in breadcrumbs.

Once pork chops are breaded pour vegetable oil in pan and heat to 350 degrees. When oil is hot place pork chops in pan and cook two-and-a-half minutes on each side. Place on dry towel to drain excess oil. Top with okra and corn relish.

Okra and Corn Relish

1 red onion diced
1 red pepper diced
1 green pepper diced
1 tomato diced and deseeded
1 cup corn
3 cups okra
1 tablespoon minced garlic
cup green onions
cup parsley
cup red wine vinegar
salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together and let set for 15 minutes. When pork chops are plated top with relish.

Collard Greens

Mary Long The Basics

Serves 4-6 people

One bunch fresh collards pulled from stem and chopped into 2″ x 2″ squares
cup salt
cup sugar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
tablespoon kosher salt
tablespoon black pepper
tablespoon white pepper
cup cider vinegar
cup soy sauce
1 tablespoons minced fresh garlic

The night before pull collard leaves from stems and chop to 2″ x 2″ squares. Place in dutch oven or stock pot cover with salt and water. Let soak overnight or at least 6 hours. Drain water from collards. Add all other ingredients and cover with water just to top of collard greens. Boil on high heat for approximately one hour or until collard greens have become tender and dark green. Serve with pepper vinegar chow chow or diced tomatoes and onions.

Hoppin John

Mary Long The Basics

2 cups dried black-eyed peas
3 pieces uncooked bacon diced
1 tablespoon butter
1 red onion diced fine
1 tablespoon fresh garlic minced
1 tablespoon fresh jalapeno minced
tablespoon kosher salt
tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 tablespoon fresh ginger minced
1 green tomato diced
5 cups pork or chicken stock

Soak black-eyed peas overnight drain. Saut first four ingredients until onions are translucent. Add following ingredients and black-eyed peas and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat and simmer for 1/2 hour until peas are tender. Serve over fluffed jasmine rice.

Red Velvet Cake

Dave Herring Masons Haunt

Yields two 10″ cake layers

1 cup margarine
3 cups sugar
4 eggs
cup red food coloring (liquid)
tablespoon plus teaspoon cocoa powder
tablespoon plus teaspoon salt
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups buttermilk
tablespoon plus teaspoon vanilla
tablespoon plus teaspoon baking soda
tablespoon plus teaspoon vinegar

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 pound of butter
4 pounds cream cheese
1 tablespoon vanilla
8 cups powdered sugar

Cream together margarine sugar and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition. In a separate container mix cocoa and red food coloring together. Add to creamed mixture and mix well. Sift together flour and salt. Add to creamed mixture. Add buttermilk in a steady stream to the mix. Stir together vinegar and soda. Add to batter stirring by hand until incorporated. Pour into cake pans and bake 30 to 40 minutes at 375 degrees until center of cake springs back to touch. Cool before removing from pan. Frost cake with Cream Cheese Frosting. Mix all ingredients together until smooth. Be careful not to over mix.