When asked to list his strengths at school, my then 10-year old stepson wrote “I’m a good eater”. I, too, am firmly in the “live to eat” camp, and never miss a chance to dine and drink, well and often.
But it is “appetite” in the larger sense that grabs my attention these days—our appetite for learning, friendship and experience that informs and enriches life. The Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium in Oxford, MS offered the perfect platform for exploring appetites of all kinds. From Chef Linton Hopkins’ State of the Nation opening remarks, Michael McFee’s poetry and Shirley Sherrod’s moving story, to a closing opera on collards, this year’s SFA was a feast for the heart, soul and stomach.
First, you have to love an organization with a food letter called The Gravy, Potlikker Film Fests and an Order of the Okra. Incoming SFA president, Linton Hopkins, chef and co-owner of Atlanta’s Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch Public House, said that growing and producing food (and beverages) is “a life not a lifestyle”. The advice, “know who’s making your meal; food tastes better when you know the cook”, applies to meals, meats, wine and cider.
Poet Michael McFee began his remarks with the University of North Carolina’s Writing Program’s motto—”fun wants us to have it”, a generous theme for dining well on food, beverage and life. My husband, Chuck, slaughters a pig a year for our home use so we laughed especially hard at Michael’s poetic description of pig skin—”the apotheosis of the epidermis”. Poets do “recalibrate things”, and I can’t help but think that wine and cidermaking are better with a little poetry on the side.
Even if you cringe when you think of Tosca, don’t miss the 25 minute podcast of Leaves of Greens, a Southern Oratorio in Three Parts, commissioned by the SFA for this year’s Symposium. Every good opera is full of appetites—love, lust, revenge and drama. You’ll laugh and cry at this touching tribute to well lived lives and, of course, collards. Expect poetry from Fred Chappell, James Applewhite and a rousing finale by Cicely C. Browne:
“Yes, keep your cordon bleu—By Gollard!/I’d trade it all for one big collard!”
In early October, New York’s New Amsterdam Market overflowed with late fall produce, artisan bread and cider. Brooklyn’s Marlow & Sons satisfied appetites at their Cider Bar with snacks and cider including Foggy Ridge, and our friends at Farnum Hill, Slyboro Cider and Bellweather Cider. Andrew Tarlow and his team served oysters from Virginia’s Rappahannock River Oysters—Travis Croxton grows plump briny oysters for top chefs around the US and they are the very best. For me, there’s nothing like a naked oyster to stimulate appetite, and the RRO oysters sold out early. Seek out Travis and his cousin Ryan, generous young men whose vision and drive has created a new version of a 100 year old family business, and garnered a 2005 Food & Wine Tastemaker’s Award for top talents who’ve changed the world of food and wine by age 35.
For chefs, “more is more”, so NY cider enthusiasts dined on house cured meat, head-on shrimp, eggs and anchovies, while drinking prodigious amounts of Foggy Ridge Sweet Stayman, Slyboro Hidden Star and Farnum Hill Dooryard ciders.
New York’s Cider Week continued at Glynwood in Cold Spring, NY, an education center that hosted Hudson River Valley food producers and visiting French cidermakers. We’d had dinner with the French crowd the night before at Marlow & Sons, so after friendly greetings (three kisses, not two), I wandered around the elegant Glynwood barn sampling rillettes oozing duck fat, the most beautiful bread I’ve ever seen, smoked venison and funky French cider.
The French cidermakers participated in an exchange program with Hudson River Valley cidermakers and food growers—I was struck by the differences in approaches to farming and cidermaking. Many of the French visitors were 4th or 5th generation farmers, growing fruit, pigs and vegetables on land farmed for hundreds of years by relatives. Labor is expensive (13 euros per hour minimum) so they use mechanical harvesting and other approaches we might label “industrial” not “artisan”. The French seemed more tied to tradition—”why do you ferment this way” was often answered by “this is the way it’s done”. But the French side of the Glynwood barn was rich with complex flavors, deep family connections and lots of love.
The Hudson River Valley side brimmed with well made jams and chutneys, slow rise brick oven bread and cider from Dan Wilson and Susan Knapp of Slyboro Cider. Their Ice Cider explodes with fresh apple flavor—you’ll need to wait until next year since they are, no surprise, sold out for now.
On the train ride from Cold Spring to Manhattan I was full—full of ideas, new friends and deep connections. For a moment, my appetite was satisfied. I took a few notes and tried to make sense of the rich stew I’d enjoyed in Cider Week, but mostly watched slanting light on the Hudson River.
Back home I learned my dear friend’s husband had been struck by a car and is in critical condition at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. Armed with late apples, I drove to NC with the aroma of Arkansas Blacks in my car. Outside Intensive Care, this big loving family was tight with worry, concerned with Robert’s future and full of love for one another. A wide windowsill overflowed with sandwiches, chips and donuts. I sliced the deep burgundy apples into a big pile, and cut sharp cheddar cheese. No one had an appetite—but by the end of the day, the apples were all gone.