Food Friday: Falling for Apples


Happy first day of Autumn! I hope you have unloaded the last of your zucchini on the unsuspecting, and are ready to roll into fall harvests. Do not consult the weather app on your phone – I know it is still warm outside, but the light is changing, the dogwoods are starting to turn red, and some leaves are floating airily past the Spy Test Kitchen windows. It is time for apples.

I had the good fortune to meet chef Vivian Howard last weekend, and have been binge-watching her PBS show A Chef’s Life ever since. I cannot recommend it too highly. Go support your local PBS station so you don’t feel too guilty about watching this delightful time sucker. It is informative and innovative and heart-warming.

Vivian Howard is a Peabody Award-winning chef, restauranteur and raconteur. She’s not the first farm-to-table chef, but her approach is clever and hyper-local for her corner of Eastern North Carolina. She is a genius at adapting old-timey recipes to the our slightly more sophisticated tastes. We have more resources than our mothers, because we have been able to travel farther, and watch television cooking shows, and order fancy ingredients from Amazon. I am adding Vivian Howard to my list of cooking gods: Julia Child, James Beard, Nora Ephron, Mark Bittman, Nigella Lawson and the dream team at Food52.

Vivian Howard is almost able to time travel in her quests for authenticity. She finds an old lady who whips up sheets of biscuits by hand, without measuring the ingredients. No Cusinart food processors, or KitchenAid mixers, or rolling pins, or even biscuit cutters are used. Then Vivian (I can call her that, and you will, too) tracked down another woman whose family ran the tiny café where Vivian first delighted in Apple Jacks – little hand-held, pan-fried apple pies, wrapped in white grease paper. (The recipe is included with the video link.) These are foods we can cook ourselves, and reinvigorate our repertoires. You don’t have to bake a perfect apple pie like Martha. Try Apple Jacks, and have some fun. There is nothing old-timey about the sprinkle of rosemary sugar as a finishing touch.

Vivian Howard honors the unsung home cooks and her Eastern North Carolina heritage. We cooked (Vivian’s mother’s) Scarlett’s Chicken and Rice for dinner last Sunday. It is updated slightly from her mother’s original recipe. It is twenty-first century chicken and rice. Not only was it deelish, but we had enough leftovers that we ate it again on Wednesday night, and have frozen two more dinner-for-two-sized portions. I love that peace of mind, knowing there are a few meals stashed away in the freezer. We have both Vivian and her mother to thank.

Vivian Howard’s rural southern upbringing meant home-cooked meals of pork, chicken, lard, collards, butter beans, blueberries and apples. Some of these were grown in the back yard, or came from a nearby farmer. And now that it is fashionable (and good for the environment) to shop locally, imagine what great dishes you can make this fall with apples from the farmers’ market. There are recipes in Vivian’s book, Deep Run Roots, for dried apples, apple chips, apple pie moonshine, lentil apple soup with bacon, vinaigrettes, cookies, and slaw. You can be as busy as you want.

P.S. Vivian Howard has two restaurants in Kinston, North Carolina.

“Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple.”
― J.K. Rowling

About Jean Sanders

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