There’s a spate of books this year about food, proving the diversity of food choices in our state and providing the adventurous with all the information they need for a North Carolina food expedition, whether they want to hit the road or cook it themselves. A couple of the books below are by local chefs while others profile North Carolina restaurateurs and brewmasters. You can travel the state, using just your nose and your taste buds.
Stephanie L.Tyson oversees the kitchen at Winston Salem’s Sweet Potatoes Restaurant in Winston Salem, preparing soul food and tasty variations on soul food staples. In her Soul Food Odyssey (John F. Blair, $19.95) you’ll find everything from Skillet Cornbread, Fried Chitterlings and Mustard Green Salad to Fried Chicken and Beef Short Ribs. These recipes are easy to follow and generally require no exotic ingredients.
For something a little more challenging, check out John Batchelor’s book, Chefs of the Coast: Restaurants & Recipes from the North Carolina Coast (John F. Blair, $19.95). In this book, you’ll be introduced to the chefs behind long-standing coastal restaurants as well as new ones. Each chef is profiled, as is their restaurant. After the profile, they share some of their most popular recipes. There’s a concentration on seafood, of course, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find recipes for Blue Point Pound Cake and Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake. Among the seafood delicacies are a Carolina Bouillabaisse from Kelly’s Outer Banks Restaurant and Tavern and Baked Oysters with Onion Bacon Jam and Creamed Collards from City Kitchen in Beaufort, NC.
Continuing with the seafood theme, we have local culinary mainstay Jay Pierce and Shrimp: A Savor the South Cookbook (University of North Carolina Press, $18). In this volume in the series (which includes separate volumes on Tomatoes, Buttermilk, and Okra, among others), Jay provides 50 recipes for the many-legged creatures ranging from the classic to the modern and he makes the case that shrimp is one of the last wild proteins our culture regularly consumes. Interspersed with the recipes, Jay tells stories about his childhood on the coast and his personal relationship to seafood. You don’t want to miss his recipe for Rhubarbecued Shrimp.
D.G. Martin’s North Carolina’s Roadside Eateries: A Traveler’s Guide to Local Restaurants, Diners, and Barbecue Joints (University of North Carolina Press, $16) is exactly that, a traveler’s guide. It’s organized by the highways of North Carolina, so you can plan a trip along I-26 and hit every restaurant you find, or you can check the route to grandma’s house and find a place to stop for lunch along the way. There are no recipes here, but there’s a little history on each restaurant, suggestions on what to order, detailed directions to each restaurant, and things to do in the area before or after the meal. The real joy of this book is finding those places only in-the-know locals are privy to and building your own road trip of discovery.
Arising from a different perspective altogether, The Carolina Table: North Carolina Writers on Food (Eno Publishing, $17.95) brings together a wide variety of writers in the state to revel in the scents and textures, the tastes and the history of their favorite foods and food experiences. Jaki Shelton Green sings the praises of food as a communal experience and of cooking as a kind of living history, embodying all the cooks she’s known and meals she’s ever had. Jill McCorkle writes about her personal history with pound cake and includes a recipe. Diya Abdo writes of an Iraqi refugee women living in Greensboro and how food and cooking holds her life together, gives it meaning. There are many other stories, by Lee Smith, Michael Parker, Randall Kenan and a host of others, all steeped in the experience and history of our Southern Culinary heritage.
And, these days especially, we can’t talk about food without talking about beer. Craft beer. It seems that a new brewery opens every other day on one block or another. Don’t worry, though, Erik Lars Myers and Sarah H. Fickle are here to help you navigate the thicket of state breweries with North Carolina Craft Beer & Breweries (John F. Blair, 19.95). In this book, Myers and Ficke profile over 135 breweries from all over the state. From Banner Elk to Wilmington, you can read capsule histories of each craft brewery along with hours of operation and website address. Here again, they make suggestions about flagship brews and talk with the people who make them. A Second Edition was released this year to add newly opened breweries.
Steve Mitchell’s short story collection, The Naming of Ghosts, is published by Press 53. You can find him at www.thisisstevemitchell.com or at Scuppernong Books, where he is co-owner.